By Antonio Montañez, Project Manager – Senior

A couple of weeks ago, when I thought it was gone for good, I came across the same question that many of you, fellow translators (hopefully I didn’t lose too many readers here), have faced a thousand times, no matter how long you have been in this business.

So what is it that you actually do?


I must have answered this question a thousand times during my university years, only to discover later on, when I actually started working as a translator, that what I said back then couldn’t be more different from my current reality. And there it was, the same question. And the poker face again… But this time nothing like just “languages », nothing like “translating books and movies”, nope. It’s about localizing this time, because localizing it’s what we do… Wait, I do know the answer for this one now.

-You know… we translate manuals of all sorts, websites and all that… computer programs also, a bit of everything really… (no fancy technical terms, mind you)

-I see. Doesn’t Google do that already?

That gave me the creeps… again. Well, words escape me…

Is our job really so invisible to the eyes of people?

Sure there are no translation agencies in shopping centres, and I am well aware that translating has not always had a good reputation, if you stop to think about it. Cervantes already said so, quoting our beloved character Don Quixote, as translated by John Ormsby:

Still it seems to me that translation from one language into another […] argues neither ingenuity nor command of words, any more than transcribing or copying out one document from another. But I do not mean by this to draw the inference that no credit is to be allowed for the work of translating, for a man may employ himself in ways worse and less profitable to himself.

But comparing our work with what Google Translate does is something else. Have these people not read something translated on it? Did they not re-read it and not understand a word? Have they not read it again and tried Babylon because maybe it works better…? As I said before. I do not get it.

You can surely use it for Chinese sites, just to know where is the OK button so you can unlock your mobile phone, not really knowing whether you are actually hitting the Sell Your Soul button instead. But when you get asked by your friend to translate a couple of paragraphs of some psychology book, written in English by a renowned author, but hey, if you don’t have time that is okay, he would try Babylon and no problem…

I am convinced that translating does not have a better reputation because many people do not think it is hard work. If only they knew… They should see those texts about hydraulic pumps with no translation memory or glossary whatsoever, all those software strings from a cardiopulmonary monitoring system with no context at all and no clue at all of where those two words will appear, that translation of thousands of keywords from eBay, from dog breeds to types of knifes (more than 25 types? you kidding, right?)… At least they make for good fun when your well-trained eye recognizes a mistake in a final product and you find it adorable. That is, providing the error is not yours, of course.

Another token of not knowing what translating implies is that old friend we try to avoid… the I have already translated it myself but please have a quick look at it that turns into hours and hours of reviewing. And the awkward moment when you have to ask your friend for the source text just to get a glimpse of what he really meant. That is either ignorance, or otherwise your friend is no friend at all and just wants to spoil your evening.

I have to admit that translating means going unnoticed in a way, as a good translation must always read as an original. If that is true, we translators are doing an excellent job at going unnoticed. If that is true, let’s go down this road until we conquer the world… And raise the fees while we are at it.

Because, obviously it is hard to dip into one’s pocket for something you don’t really value. Ask any of your friends and those cents charged per word will seem expensive to them. Then, there’s those companies that consider translation a necessary evil and keep recycling translations done ages ago by amateurs, or publishers that can tell the price of a translation just by holding the magazine on one hand. I am still trying to recover from this one.

Sometimes it is hard to explain that, in written media, the way you express something tells a lot more about yourself than what you are really trying to say. It doesn’t matter if you are an individual or a company. That is your first impression to others. And it is something you might want to care over. Sometimes this seems so obvious to me. Just sometimes…

Well, seeing is believing. Unless you are religious, in which case the opposite is true.

See you around!

* Image property of Ethan Lofton. Creative Commons License.