Do you have to speak a language well to translate it?

The short answer is, it doesn't hurt.

Of course it's not an absolute prerequisite. As a counterexample, lots of people put out fine translations of dead languages — languages nobody speaks any more.

But speaking a language well implies the ability to quickly comprehend and manipulate a rich variety of language constructs. Knowing the language at this gut level makes you a much faster reader, and less likely to make wild misinterpretations because you don't know common phrases and idioms.

I'm not talking about the mythical "perfect accent" here. Andrei Codrescu is a perfect example of someone with a notable foreign accent in English, but whose mastery of the spoken and written language surpasses that of almost all native speakers.

Now, I just need to convince the tax office that 飲み会 are a business expense because the conversation improves my translation ability…

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