Marija Hladni, a teacher, translator and creative writer from Serbia, gives us an insight into the life of a translator, as well as a few words of wisdom for anyone considering a career in translation.
‘Translation is a craft,’ said one of my faculty professors, apparently with the heartfelt desire to belittle my dreams. Luckily, I disagreed, held true to my goals and eventually ended up as a young and relatively successful translator. I always thought that translation is an art, a beautiful way of ignoring the dividing differences between two cultures and letting them exchange ideas and learn from one another.
It is an unwritten rule that a translator should specialize in two or three areas of expertise, but in order to work in my country I had to adapt, so right now I am translating everything from scientific papers dealing with medicine or agriculture to legal documents and literature. Of course, I would like to be able to choose what I do, and hopefully in the near future I will be, but for now it’s sunflower breeding immediately followed by multiple sclerosis parameters.
Another thing that I have learned working as a translator is that everybody needs their translations finished yesterday – if there was a medical condition that prevented people from distinguishing between a phone and a time machine it would almost certainly be called translationitis. The ailment would be characterized by violent outbursts of frustration and disbelief on the subject’s part whenever his or her desire to ignore temporal laws wasn’t met with the utmost enthusiasm and a binding urge to comply.
So, if you are thinking about becoming a freelancer within translation profession, remember that in this line of business sleep is a rare pleasure you can indulge in only once you’ve managed to defy the laws of nature. I’m half expecting to be asked to finish a translation before it is even sent to me. The best way to deal with this type of situation is to stay calm and remember that people who are not translators naturally don’t know as much about the process as you do, so they really can’t be expected to know that you actually need time in order to do the work. Give them an estimate on how long it will take you to finish the translation and if it doesn’t suit them feel free to refer them to your wizard/mad scientist friend who might be able to help them out with their demands.
Apart from translating I also dabble with editing from time to time, and recently one of my colleagues pointed out how he loves the ‘translator’ versions of the translations i.e. texts translated in one of the online machine translators and sent to us for a review and correction. We all agreed that editing of such texts should be additionally charged. Sadly, with the appearance of apps for this type of translation, there are more and more ‘translators’ out there and they are lowering the price of translation regardless of the poor quality that they offer.
No language scholar should stick to only one profession; in my opinion, diversity does everyone good. That’s why during my faculty years I took a lot of teaching subjects, like methodics, that helped me prepare to be a teacher and not only a translator. I have started giving private lessons at my first year of faculty, after that I have worked in a private school for another three years and I am still teaching now, mostly FCE and CAE levels. This gives me a nice break from translation, it is a great chance for interaction with living creatures and not just my laptop, and most of all, keeps me informed about the current topics in the world of teaching, as well as the vocabulary used by younger generations.
If you are a teacher thinking about introducing some translation work into your life, I would suggest being prepared to lose the routine that classes dictate and to brace yourself for a lot of unpredictable, yet exciting and responsible work. And if it is the other way around, I whole-heartedly recommend teaching to translators to help them relax, interact, and in a way, step away from the computer screen they are constantly glued to.
Have you considered translation work? Do you already work in this area? Share your experiences in the comments below.
13 December 2011 at
I think that way, too. I’ve been working as a translator, but I love teaching also very much. It’s really great if you have a chance to do these activities in your life both, but usually it does not suit the employer, they don’t like it.
14 December 2011 at
“Variety is the spice of life,” said William Cowper, and I tend to agree. This claim applies to translators especially, for their job is not only to transfer a text from one language to another word for word, but to transfer the essence, the very soul of the matter and to some extent even create themselves rather than simply transfer the notion. In order to do this, a top translator has to have an incredible knowledge span within a plethora of fields and topics, and often the matching abundance of junk knowledge as well.
3 April 2013 at
I’m a translator and I’ve liked your post a lot! It mirrors my dreams, my reality, my frustrations… I love translating and I love teaching as well. How curious that these two “arts” should so often go together 🙂
29 October 2019 at
Quite an interesting text. True, as well. The thing is…I’ve been doing both for quite some time now, at times simultaneously, at times exclusively. Not all language professionals can do both nor should.
However, people who are skilled and talented for both teaching and translation should not deprive themselves of the opportunities to do both. Different kinds of creativity and chances for personal growth are immense!
Go translators! Go teachers!