Translator´s states of mind

By Vanessa García, Translator and Editor at Nóvalo

Estados de ánimo

Some time ago, one of my FB contacts published this nice cartoon that, as funny as it may be, caught deeply my attention because of its eloquence and accuracy as a synthesis of the different translator´s states of mind. Let me add “freelance”. It is, on one hand, very curious to feel oneself so reflected by it and comforting, on the other, noticing you are not the only one, feeling understood.

I am sure that translators working at big companies (the ones that can afford having translations teams; fortunately, the rest cannot, and due to them and thanks to them freelance translators exist), as a part of a translator team may have also felt this way (described by the cartoon) sometime in their working lives. However, in translation departments, the work usually develops among colleagues, you work together with other translators so these feelings are easily overcome when they appear because a rewarding word (along with a relaxing cup of coffee shared among mates) is usually enough to compose yourself.

That´s the reason why I presume what this cartoon is really describing are freelance translator´s states of mind (I would even dare to point at a very illustration-skillful translator as the author of this cartoon). Because, when you are alone with these feelings, there is no one but you to find the strength to manage them and use them for your good. And I must say, supported by my own experience, that it is fully possible.

During any working day (I would go even further, during any project of any working day) a freelance translator can go through all, or almost all, the states described by the illustration. And I say “any project” because, whether they are different or similar, facing a new translation always arises a pile of sensations (mechanically managed by the effect of passed time and acquired expertise) sometimes positive (which cause no problem), but others not so much so. Anyway, at the end of the day, there is no alternative but to learn to recognize them, overcoming them and channeling the emerging energies in the right direction to carry on the translation that inspired them.

At the beginning, when you first find yourself overwhelmed by one, or several, of these states of mind, it can physically block you, make you go blank, get convinced that you have forgotten the foreign language and even your own mother tongue, and get to think that you are not born to translate. As time, projects and clients pass by and you gather experience, you learn how to deal with all those sensations, moreover, how to profit them as a support point to creativity and inspiration and as tools to defeat stage fright. Seeing yourself confronted to “lack of confidence”, “confusion”, “frustration” or even “terror” and finding that you are able to turn them into “enthusiasm”, “self-confidence” or “positive energy”, may not avoid these negative feelings arising again but it can absolutely help you to understand that you do not need to pay much attention to them and that what has been overcome once, can be equally overcome again. How? And here it comes my little and humble advice as a professional translator and sufferer of these states of mind: taking a deep breath to compose yourself and calmly approaching the project, step by step. The main thing is getting rid of the anxiety. This is what breath is used for. Once calm is recovered, everyone of us has to be conscious of their own capacity to manage time and schedules, know her or his limits and try to draw up a working plan adjusted to them. And then, comply with it as willingly as possible in other for the workload not to accumulate, thus becoming again a source of stress.

Then, since, obviously, we do have born for translation and we don´t have, indeed, forgotten neither the foreign language nor our own mother tongue, as soon as we get on with our work and the job goes forward, we also gradually regain self-confidence, trust in our ability to face the project and enthusiasm for our profession. Certainly, sometimes it is harder than others and clearly the relationship between the lack of self-confidence and the time it takes to regain it is directly proportional to the number of times we had faced it. But this goal is perfectly achievable. Most of all, because there is no alternative and when there is no other way, the only way is to follow it.

And new projects will arrive and we will again feel overwhelmed, in need of self-assurance, frustrated or even discouraged. However, since this will not be anymore the first time we walk this way, we will have already acquired the tools and resources to go successfully through it. And when I say “tools”, I mean abstract, psychological tools, as well as real, actual ones such as useful Websites, handy colleagues within the reach of a call or an email, previous projects you can use as reference… I left the ellipsis as an open door to imagination which, for these cases, happens to be very useful and provides the most varied solutions.

All the above mentioned could seem just wandering, vague guidelines or easy answers. Actually, they are not and anyone who had gone through these states of mind any time in life will have had to apply these or other similar resources to recover the mental balance and stability required to keep on working. Every one of us develops their own ways but the most important thing is learning from the experience, being aware that nerves in the stomach disappear at keyboard touch, with the addition of characters in the PC screen, characters that come from our hands, from our minds and, ultimately, from our defeated “lack of self-confidence”, “frustration” and “terror”.