The question arose recently about whether a translator should translate into their own mother tongue (direct translation) or into their second language (inverse translation). Someone expressed the adamant opinion that you should never trust a person who offered to translate into a language other than their own – they’d be bound to do it badly.
I actually disagree quite strongly.
It depends a little on the reason behind the translation, and the type of text being dealt with, but if we are talking about factual and informative texts, rather than literary and creative, as a reader, I want the translation to tell me as accurately as possible what the original says. I want the facts, not the translator’s interpretation of the feelings.
Some years ago, I was asked to help with a translation of a series of government memos from English to Spanish. The Spanish translator had got completely bogged down and could barely work out who was sending the memo from which department etc., let alone what they intended to say. I read and unravelled the thread of messages, and put it into functional, although probably ungrammatical, Spanish. The document I produced was enough to communicate the meaning and clarify who had known what at what point in the proceedings and so help uncover the possibility of corruption that was being investigated.
Of course, if the text in question is a literary text, however, you want to read a smooth and well-phrased piece of writing. You want a novel to read as a novel, and a poem to work as a poem in the target language. Which means that it’s important that the text is written by a native speaker of the target language. And if they produce a successful creative work in their own language, that’s probably enough, even if they have missed subtleties or omitted details of the original.
Ideally, though, I think, translation involves teamwork: a native speaker of the source language should produce a half-way document and a native of the target language should take it from there. Preferably with the former having access both to the original writer and to the person who is producing the final text.
Of course, few people are prepared to pay even one professional translator, so the chances of them paying two for a single project are probably less than minimal.