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Translation is Not an Exact Science — Interview With Translator

Henry Mcdowell 07 Oct 2021
Interview with translator

“You only can do it if you can’t do anything else.”

Says everyone about their work.

The truth is, every profession comes with a fair share of boring, confusing, and annoying. But seeing the value of your work gives you enough motivation to keep going.

We made an interview with translator from the TheWordPoint team, Benjamin (the name’s changed upon the interviewee’s request) and asked if pursuing a career in translation is a good idea. 

About Benjamin.

Benjamin works with English, Spanish and Dutch translation for over 15 years now. He has substantial experience in completing lengthy projects, works with legal translations, and can offer a helping hand in biology and chemistry-related topics. TheWordPoint team’s been enjoying having him around since 2019. Remarkably, Benjamin had never received any negative feedback from clients and colleagues. Hopefully, his answers to our translator interview questions will reveal his secret.

Now, let’s get to the interview with translator itself:

How long have you been a freelance translator? How did you start?

I started working as a translator in 2006. I had just come back from an exchange program in the Netherlands and the company required someone to translate an Operations Manual. They asked participants some translator interview questions, and it turned out my English level was better than my friends’ so I accepted the task.

The manual was about a special Intel laptop donated to Central American countries. The only issue was that the company didn't have a budget to hire a professional translator, that’s why they decided to ask me to do it. I was very young and since that manual was going to be used by kids in the schools of those countries, I accepted doing it for a very small price (it was a 200-pages manual!). 

They were happy enough with the result, and I realized it could be a living. I started my own business in 2009 and in 2016 I was accepted as an in-house copywriter and translator for an international company. The truth is that that company provided the training I required to become a better translator, and since then I am always taking courses and to keep my skills up to date.  

What do you like about being a translator?

I love working with words. Translation requires me to check the origin of the words, so I can know if I am selecting the right option. And I love etymologies.

Regarding the process, I love the fact that I can work from home and home can be anywhere in the world

What do people not realize about your job?

Some people and especially clients do not realize that translation is not an exact science. Language is a social construction, and we all add up to it. 

In my opinion, translating a book, especially a literature book, is harder than writing it. When you are writing you are the owner of that universe, you are free to go anywhere, and you can create and delete whatever you want. You can play with the time and tones.

But when you are translating a book, you are chained. You need to get the correct words and make them in a beautiful way to catch the attention of the local readers. I would say translation requires at least as much creativity as the actual writing. On the inner side, the translator receives the energy from the reading and transforms it in such a way that the translated content generates similar energy.  

What is the most annoying thing about your work?

Proofreaders believe that there is only one possible outcome for a translation. 

In the past I worked with another company and without notice, they said that my translation of the word “disclaimer” was wrong. Due to the topic, I checked in UNESCO, and they translated “Disclaimer” as “Descargo de responsabilidad.” But that company said the correct translation was “Baja de responsabilidad legal.” By whose authority? Only their word. 

I could not say that was a bad translation, but mine was neither. Especially because there was no previous notice saying they wanted the disclaimer to be translated like that. As I said before, language is a social construction and since this is not an exact science, I can't pretend that as a proofreader I have the ultimate voice based on my personal preferences.

What's it like to work for TheWordPoint?

It is a great opportunity to learn from a great team. I feel that my work is valued, and I am protected. It is challenging sometimes, but I always have the best attitude to solve everything that comes up. I also appreciate being asked to participate in an interview with translator as an interviewee:)

How much time does it take to become a translator?

In my case, it took some years. 

What is your typical day like?

Every day I write down in my notebook all the projects I must work on the next day. When I wake up, I check that and start working until I am done. 

I am basically sitting in my chair all day, nothing too exciting. But on the inside, I am making a lot of strategies to ensure the potential readers of the translated files get the same information as the readers of the original file.

How do you stay productive — especially when you have to be productive on demand (urgent tasks, etc.)?

Well, my secret is to train my body, so I am physically strong. Without that, it would be impossible to stay productive. 

How do you approach a translation task? Do you research before starting?

I first read the file from the beginning to the end. I do that because most of the time, hard terms or specific names are solved within the same file. After that, I start translating. 

I translate all in general, and then I go into rounds of reviews until I feel the file respects the sense of the source file. I do a lot of research online, and I also have a vast network of friends. Whenever I’m unsure, I always call them with questions. This way, I am positive that at least several more people use the terms as I do it in the translated file.

Also, my mother has a scientific education in Chemistry and Biology, and I can ask her questions regarding those topics.

What technology do you use?

I use a lot of online dictionaries, Linguee, and Word Editor.

What do you think is a good translation?

A good translation can be defined as a text that respects the original meaning of the source file. That’s the main challenge of a translator — to decide what is the best strategy to achieve a good result.

What do you do to develop your skills?

I take translation courses regularly. But my first training was a book by Umberto Eco called Translations Experiences. I think that book is a must for every translator.

Translation is being one on one with a computer most of the time. Does it ever feel lonely?

Sometimes I miss being an in-house translator. I loved to have teammates and being able to discuss which words we could use to translate our source files. But at this moment of my life, I have a very strong inner balance, so I don’t feel lonely at all.

On an average day, what’s the best part of your day?

Lunchtime! Haha. To be honest I love my job and I love that all my time is productive.

Who is the translator you admire and why?

Pilar del Río. She is the Spanish translator of the books of José Saramago (and she was married to him) who is my favorite author. I admire her so much, I agreed to this interview with translator hoping she will read it one day, haha.

Her translations shocked me, she was able to make me feel very deep things when I was reading the books. 

I remember that I had to throw away the book The gospel According to Jesus Christ because I was struck by the profound conversation between Jesus, God, and the Devil. It was just too much, I almost could not do it. No author has ever been able to make me feel a similar way. 

Final words

Now you know what happens after you click the Order button. 

The work of a translator isn’t much to look at, as most of the job is done inside the translator’s head. On the other hand, it is everything but boring.

Want more information from behind the scenes? Let us know by sharing this post with your social media friends. You can also send us ideas for more translator interview questions!