Over the years, whenever I said I was a translator or I am in the translation business, people have normally responded by saying one of the following:
“So, you translate what other people say?”
“Oh, so how many languages you speak?”
Yes, it has to do with languages, but a professional translator works with language in the written form. Translators are indeed competent in their mother language (language A) and in one or more foreign languages (languages B and C). They primarily translate from languages B and C into language A. The reason for this is that often the highest level of competence will be in the mother language or language A. Some translators are highly bilingual or very knowledgeable in one specific subject matter, and are capable to translate from language A into language B or C.
Translators’ linguistic skills focus mainly on reading and writing therefore, many translators may not be fluent speakers of languages B and C, and that is fine as what they really need is high reading and writing linguistic skills.
When buying translation services, you want to make sure that the translator is a native speaker of the language your document is going to be translated into, or at least highly competent in language B or C, and with a good knowledge of the subject matter.