Effortlessly bilingual

I came across this guy on TV and I’m wondering whether for those who are bilingual or those like Steve with basically near-native commands of foreign languages, are you able to effortlessly translate without even having time to think?

Is this normal or a skill?


The majority of my relatives are bilingual, but in fact they can’t effortlessly translate. Moreover, some phrases they can’t translate at all. Perhaps the reason is that everybody around them understands both the languages and they don’t have to speak either this or that language. That’s why they are used to mix Russian and Bashkir. When they speak Bashkir and a proper Russian word comes to mind, they don’t bother to translate it at all and just use it, and everyone understands them. If right at this moment you interrupt him and ask: ‘Tell me this word in Bashkir’, he will not, other relatives will not, as well. They fail to translate in both directions. First, I thought that they failed to translate “home-language” from Bashkir to Russian and “work-language” from Russian to Bashkir. But this theory was not proved. The languages live their own life in my relatives heads :slight_smile:

Last July I saw Tatar girls taking photos in Kazan Kremlin. One of them said “let’s take photo against this green background”. She did not remember Tatar variant of word “background”, so she said all the phrase in Tatar, and ‘background’ in Russian. It is not very funny when it is translated to English, but in Tatar the phrase “against background” is one word. Something like “backgroundagainst”. So, she took the Russian word and declined it according to grammar rules of Tatar.

So, I think ability to translate effortlessly, as well switch from one language to another, is a skill. Not everyone can do it. But practice makes perfect :slight_smile:

I agree, I think it’s a skill. I translate occasionally from Russian to English for my husband when my parents come, so I can do it, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely effortless. Sometimes I draw a complete blank on some word or phrase, particularly if it’s something that’s really hard to translate (like a joke or a pun).

Also, I think since I learned a lot of English words from context or by using a monolingual dictionary, they are simply not that easily ‘associated’ with their Russian counterparts in my head.

It is actually a normal skill in the case of your video.

Words and phrases in a sermon are often repetitive. After doing it a few dozen times, you will get used to them.

Also, Cantonese and Mandarin are structurally very similar. The translator only needs to “Cantonize” the original Mandarin messages.

It is often the case that the translator is also a pastor, so he is very used to all the preaching phrases and Bible verses.

Beyond this, I know someone who is able to translate simultaneously, meaning that the main speaker spoke at a normal pace without any breaks and she is able to translate everything while listening. Even though her translation was a sentence or so behind, her accuracy was impeccable.
I know another guy who is native in English and Chinese and near-native in Korean, but he had never practiced translating and found it very unnatural and difficult to do so.

I’m still convinced that translation is an acquired skill and something that does not come natural, regardless of how good you speak the languages.

Take it from someone who’s been translating professionally for almost two decades: translation is a skill. And so is interpreting (that’s what the person in the video is doing, aside from the fact that it’s a show that has been rehearsed).