Life-cycle of a translator

I chatted with a translator colleague my age via the Facebook chat box earlier this week, and was most amused to read our previous conversation about three months prior. For there, among incredibly witty self-deprecating remarks about the dubious delights of menopause, there were a couple of remarks about translation.

I was wondering why a lot of younger translators do not seem to grasp the essentials, especially since translators our age or older who blog or have anything to say publicly are all saying the same thing: up your game, specialise, know your stuff, improve your translation skills, collaborate with direct clients and charge more.

My learned colleague nodded her Facebook-chatbox head and commented that she felt as if we were either too old or “they” were too young and too inexperienced.  I replied that I did not feel too old – because, basically, there are still people 20 years older than I who can translate the pants off me. Figuratively, of course. I stated that we generally produce a similar semi-final quality, only that the more experienced people do it much more quickly, to which my interlocutor readily agreed.

This brought me to the “life-cycle of the translator”, which I cobbled together as we were chatting, and therefore it also comes with a disclaimer that it cannot be either complete or representative.  Here it is:

Assume (humour me) that we translate 2,000 words per day. The process for the experienced translator is completely different to that of the newbie, and the experienced translator may not even find it desirable to square away 2,000 words per day, for a host of quirky reasons, including those related to quality.

The newbie flips through a million dictionaries (or um, GT, and then stuffs it up even more), reaches the last segment in a CAT tool, possibly does spell check, then hits Send.

The person with 5-10 years’ experience looks up less, uses GT less, revises a bit more, and even looks at the document in Word or Powerpoint ,or whatever, makes corrections, then hits Send. Might ask a question or two in a forum, but then again, might not. Has a baby, picks up the other kid from nursery school. Makes dinner. Rinse and repeat endlessly.

With 10-20 years’ experience, it dawns on translators that most agencies suck big time because they are still paying them newbie rates, despite experience and care taken with documents. All of a sudden, they find themselves doing a lot of revision of newbie translations. They finally get up the gumption to find themselves some better clients. They learn to pair up with other translators in translator/revisor pairs, so that they can handle these new clients properly.

Lifecycle funnel

Finally, after two decades or more (and quite a lot of CPD, life, kids, adverts, wars, elections and a whole lot of fun), the translator realises how fabulous he or she is, collaborates with colleagues almost all the time, sends quotes to people which say ‘like it or lump it, love me or leave me alone; it is all the same to me’. He or she takes every Thursday afternoon (or whatever) off for yoga, fails candidates in accreditation exams after agonising over whether it is ethically justifiable to have one more incompetent translator let loose on the world, blogs, and thinks about his or her health while walking the dog, does charity work, sometimes related to translation, sometimes not.

Sometimes these folk spend half a day or longer thinking about one sentence. They realise there is still so much more to learn, and that honing one’s craft is pretty much a full-time job on its own.

©2017 Allison Wright

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