28. Aug, 2017

The Life of a Translator

Luisa is an amazingly patient person. She almost always has the ability to take what life throws at her and make the best of the situation. My wife is an amazing person with a lot of positive traits, but her patience is probably the best of all. She is extremely hard working and goal oriented. She doesn’t quit when things get hard, and just pushes through, she always says: “that when the going gets tough the tough get going.” She is not too talkative but she is able to talk and be friendly with strangers. 

Luisa is a professional translator. I can say many great things about her as a professional but one of the things that her clients like about her, is that she loves her profession and is excellent with languages. Throughout the years that we have spent together she has mentioned many times, that being a freelance translator is tough and is very much like being a taxi driver: "a customer call for a job to be carried out urgently, if you don't answer the phone or  you are busy then the customer will ask someone else." Also not knowing where your next pay check is coming from is one of the hardest challenges. On the upside, one of the best perks is the fact that the workday is pretty flexible. Most of the time she can organize her day in such a way that she just gets enough free time for all of the important things in life like having coffee with friends and getting to the gym before it gets really busy in the evening. with a smile on her face she says: "It takes a little organisation to manage all my tasks without missing any deadlines, translation work is often like waiting for a bus  lot’s of time waiting for one to arrive and then three turn up at the same time!" But more than once she works right through the night and weekends without breaks. Sometimes I despair seeing her work so many long hours nonstop, but her good mood and happy face makes me wonder if I choose the right profession.

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Translation is a peculiar beast she says: Just because you work as a translator, people seem to think you know the meaning of every single word in the language, and expect you to translate absolutely everything on the spot; as if we’re some kind of walking dictionary. These are some great expectations, considering the fact that language most definitely isn’t just a collection of words! Culture and context are an inseparable part of translation and have to be considered, in order to transfer the meaning. This means that translators  are explorers. Translators have to look up words, search for expressions and uncover idioms typical for the language they are translating into, which can be a real obstacle and it often demands additional research. That’s something that clients don’t often think about, but its true.

Working from home definitely has its benefits, especially when it comes to time. If you’re at least a little disciplined like Luisa the alarm goes off just like it does for everyone else but there’s no subway to ride, bus to catch or traffic jams to sit in. She just walks to the coffee machine, a switch to flick and a capsule to load. She's lucky to have a Nespresso machine, I remenber that sometime ago she had one of those little silver Italian things you have to put on the stove.  Luisa often likes to wake up a little earlier than me and make the most of that precious extra few hours of peace and quiet before the world gets going. Sometimes half asleep still not fully recovered from an 18 hour translation day, she says; Toni you know what…and closes her eyes again I’m still a little hazy today.....Five more minutes won’t hurt…and that's dangerous!! she then has a tough time getting up.

In my opinion translation is similar to writing. We’ve all heard of writer’s block and I guess that the translators version is: translator’s block! Luisa says: "You need to get creative and to find your way through the translation maze." and goes on to point out that: "Humans have a real habit of breaking the rules when it comes to using language so I’m always trying to figure out how, and why they’re breaking the rules so I can work out what they’re really trying to say and say the same thing, with the same impact in the translation." A manual needs to instruct, a position paper needs to convince, a story needs to captivate and an advert needs to entice. A single word can be the difference between a nice translation and a beautiful one. A word can really throw you off balance sometimes. and there are sites that sometimes help to point her in the right direction but she tells me that she never uses them without checking both her monolingual and conversion dictionaries which she always has on hand. 

I asked Luisa a few questions and these are her views:

What type of person makes the perfect translator?

"There are many traits one could associate with being a good translator: subject matter expertise, mother tongue proficiency, research skills, planning skills, communication skills, patience, curiosity, willingness to learn… You should be able to work independently and remotely and to manage your working routine — there’s no boss telling you what to do (and when), so you have to watch your deadlines (and payments) yourself. If you like noisy team meetings and busy open spaces, and human interactions inspire you more than anything else, being a freelance translator is probably not for you. I think the most important thing is keeping the right balance: of being meticulous and curious, assertive and flexible, independent and cooperative, of devoting yourself to your job and having a life outside of it."

What is the biggest misconception people have about working as a translator?

"I think it’s the idea that being a translator is a job that everyone speaking a foreign language could do. Certainly, knowing at least two languages is a must, but, as I said before, being a good translator requires much, much more. Translation is not a commodity; it’s a combination of an exact science and an art. The quality of the final product depends on many factors, such as the translator’s background, writing skills, knowledge, experience, and engagement. On the other hand, people often believe a translator can translate pretty much anything. That’s just not true, every good translator has his or her area of expertise, be it law, IT, biology, history, fashion, or linguistics. Also, a translator is not a dictionary. No, I have no idea how you call “muchołówka żałobna” or “korbacz bojowy” in English. However, I can quickly find it for you or point you to the right resources."

Does the growing trend towards Machine Translations worry you as a translator?

"Not really. I tend to perceive new trends as an opportunity rather than a threat. There are some areas where MT can be tremendously useful already — it helps to deliver some jobs much faster and more consistently. Think technical documentation, application interfaces, repetitive texts with large corpora like legal acts… There are some texts that will always need a human translator because of their highly-sensitive/specific nature or strict requirements regarding quality."
 
Why did you choose a career in translation?

"I chose this profession for the simple fact that I have always been madly in love with languages, different cultures and countries. Learning a new language allows me to communicate, gives me a unique outlook towards and understanding of a country’s culture and further helps me to appreciate things that I would never notice as a monolingual speaker. My native languages are Portuguese & English, but I also speak French and Spanish."

A few words of advice from Luisa…

Whether you’ve just started learning a new language or if you are thinking about a career in languages, I can advise you one thing from my personal experience; only become a translator if you truly enjoy languages! There is one very important word that floats around the industry and which is somewhat of a holy grail; quality.When working as a freelance translator, the quality of your work will be something that can and will determine whether you will receive work or not.Can you possibly imagine delivering a 6,000 word project, then proof-reading it only to be told that it is lacking in quality? Even if you did manage to deliver it on time, the quality of your work is so important, because without a high standard of you can seriously damage your reputation or the reputation of your company.

Some of the challenges that come with being a translator, such as the tight deadlines, unhappy customers or staying up all night finishing a project, would be a subject for a completely separate article, and because I'm trying to encourage and inspire future translators,  let’s leave those out for now. Every job has its downfalls and if you have a passion for languages then the drawbacks are minimal compared to the rewards. After 17 years of working in the industry, I’ve established my position with the companies I work with. I get to choose to take on or decline various projects and I get to choose when and how I want to work.

Being your own boss is one of great rewards of being a freelance translator.  Also, I’d be lying if I said that the satisfaction of completing a project or learning more about a language isn’t an advantage, because it certainly is.