What is Your Thought Process When Someone Translates Better Than You? Part 1

I volunteered to do one of my first Spanish translation activities for someone (really a family) who prefers to speak in Spanish. I had my struggles, but I was able to translate from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English for the most part during that activity. At the end of my experience that day, someone else was called in to complete the translation that I didn’t know would be working there that day.

I immediately thought to myself: “Why am I here? Why am I trying to do Spanish translation?” because the person who was called in spoke much better Spanish than I did; most likely, the person was a native Spanish speaker.

What is your thought process when someone translates better than you? What would you say to me right after I finished volunteering translating?

By the way, you can see my short video where I talk more about this experience at: What is Your Thought Process When Someone Translates Better Than You? Part 1 - YouTube

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I am quite cynical so my first reaction would be there are plenty of Spanish speakers so it’s completely useless. However, that’s the thing there are always going to be people who speak, write, etc. better than you in your L2.

I would ask myself why do I do this?, for example, am I doing this for gloating/bragging rights or am I doing this because it is a way of helping another people or using it as a mental exercise.

I’d like to paraphrase Johan Cruyff a former football player and coach who revolutionized football. I think he epitomes positivism without the sort of naive “Hippie positivism spiel”.

  1. Every bad thing has a bright side.

So, someone is a better translator than you, but that is the nature of the game (native speaker is always better), you got a change to use the language for a real life purpose and you’ll got to know in what areas you need to prove.

  1. Don’t focus on negative aspects

Cruyff said in his autobiography that he never gave much thought to matches that he lost and emphasized that the important thing is to move on. When you dwell on things to long you get into a bad mind set and you’ll get less done.

P.S: Like a said I am paraphrasing, I know who Cruyff was and what he achieved but hes life philosophy has been sort of a blur so unfortunately I can’t put it to words as eloquently and coherently as I would like to. I am pretty sure that there are a few more Cruyff quotes or life lessons that one could apply to your situation but they escape my mind at the moment.


Are you talking about translating or interpreting?

The native Spanish speaker, despite being advanced in English, is almost always going to be better at translating from English into Spanish, while the native English speaker, despite being advanced in Spanish, is almost always going to be better at translating from Spanish into English. Only a truly bilingual person is going to be equal at both.

Anecdote: My niece was a top student who studied Spanish for over 8 years, including studying abroad, and thought she would become an interpreter for the federal government. But there were native Spanish speakers who were miles above her in that field. She’s a lawyer now.

What I would say to you right now is:
Keep doing what you enjoy doing, but be realistic about where that might lead you.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Swedishfinngermanophile!

That question about why am I doing this is very important. I think that my focus more so turned into bragging rights when I starting thinking about why am I here when someone else who spoke Spanish better than me took over. If I was truly thinking about helping the family all the way through, then I should’ve been happy for the help that came.

In fact, one person suggested to me that I should’ve gotten the contact info of this Spanish worker to see if I could shadow her in the future. I should’ve done that, and I’ll definitely keep that in mind for the future.

Yes, I did have a great learning opportunity, and I’m glad I went. I plan on sharing on Sunday some of what my language motivational partner shared with me after I told her my story (more in detail). It was encouraging; she said some of what you said, and had some other tips that I think language learners will find useful.

I really brought out this story because I just want to sometimes talk about challenges in language learning; this is a way to relate to others who might have gone through a similar experience in the past. In addition, I want to share the mindset of a successful language learner in spite of challenges because I believe having the right mindset is critical to continue and endure in a language learning marathon.


Thanks for your comment brucenator. I also hope that your niece is able to still use her Spanish with her work as a lawyer.

I was really talking about interpreting, I believe.

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Hey Franklin, I don’t know what your situation is, but you may want to look into getting into some sort of tutoring program, tutoring Spanish students. That might be right up your alley. When I was in college, I used to do peer tutoring and it was some of the most rewarding work I ever did. When I was in the peer tutoring program, the college also offered informal classes to us tutors to help us improve our listening skills, which applied directly to tutoring. I loved it. I did peer tutoring for almost the entire time I was in college. The pay isn’t great, but it’s rewarding to know that you’re helping other students and who knows? it might lead to something else. In any event, it should prove to be a great experience.


I have a lot of Italian friends on Facebook, ranging from people who speak English at a high level to people whose English is very limited. If their English is at a higher level than my Italian, then I use English with them. If my Italian is better than their English, or I do not know how good their English is, then I use Italian with them. If I am making a comment on a posting in Facebook, then I use English if the original post is in English, and Italian if the original post is in Italian.

I have done some web searches to find information about how fluent Italians are in English… Only a small percentage of Italians are fluent in English. People under the age of 50 probably studied English in school, and college graduates are now expected to be at the B1 level (low intermediate) in English. However, the English classes tend to focus on grammar and reading English literature. Many people over the age of 50 in Italy have very limited English. I think that most of the English programs on radio, TV, movies, etc are still dubbed into Italian, or there are Italian subtitles. When they tested listening comprehension in different European countries in 1992, 75-80% of the people in the Scandinavian countries could understand it, while only 2% in Italy could understand it. So, their reading comprehension is probably much higher than their listening comprehension.

Here are some quotes from the Internet:

“I have very few Italian friends who can speak even passable English.”

“We don’t really have many occasions for practicing English, since everything is in Italian here. The majority of young people here know basic English, but few of them are fluent in it.”

Sad but need to improve your knowledge.

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@Brucenator, if I was closer to a college, I would probably seek to be a tutor. However, I’ve had 2 Spanish language partners from other countries. I’ve had one Spanish language partner now for probably 2 or 3 years (I forget), and we did a pretty serious language exchange especially for 1 of those years. In real life, I’ve sometimes gone to a Spanish church, which probably the closest I can get to a foreign country while being in the US because the service is for native level Spanish speakers, and it’s all in Spanish. This was a more challenging experience than going to a language meetup, which I went to one time. I’ve been to the Spanish church probably 20-30 times.

I should be completing my first 1,000 hours with Spanish sometime this year (if I haven’t done so already). I haven’t kept a strict count of my hours, but I spend a lot of time reading, listening, and watching things in Spanish.

My goal at this point isn’t to be an interpreter; it’s to read 12 books in Spanish this year and also complete my first 1,000 hours. I read 6 Spanish books last year. I’m lagging behind in my 12 book goal, but I’ll finish my first book for this year, a 500 page book or so tonight or tomorrow. I’m planning to read to more books that have a lot of pages, and then the rest should be around 100ish pages in Spanish. I’m really thankful to be able to use LingQ to help me with these reading goals.

However, if I get real life opportunities to use Spanish as a tool, then I will take them, regardless of if I make mistakes or not.


@dbopperman, it would be interesting to see the comparison between Italians’ grasp of English vs Americans’ grasp of other languages, specifically those who were born in the US.

TomFT, if this comment was directed to me, I do agree with your statement where you say, “[you] need to improve your knowledge.” I, too, at first thought my experience was sad. However, as I reflected on it and got encouragement from my language motivational partner and others, I realized that I had a fantastic learning opportunity. I personally improve my knowledge of Spanish by putting myself in challenging situations that force me to grow. If I don’t challenge myself, I don’t grow. Also, I personally believe that making mistakes is an integral part of language learning.

well, that all sounds awesome, Franklin. It sounds to me like you’re definitely cut out to be a tutor. If not at a college, then maybe in another capacity.


Part 2 is up about some of what my language motivational partner shared with me and my commentary on those thoughts: What is Your Thought Process When Someone Translates Better Than You? Part 2 - YouTube

One thing she said was: "Don’t let other ppl intimidate you…Oh suzie over there is perfect at English & Spanish. That comparsion doesn’t do anything to help you. It’s only helpful for education.

I think of languages as an internal competition with myself

Then I don’t worry what other ppl are saying or doing because I’m in my own private world so to speak."