Friday, August 28, 2015

Why Translation is a Fascinating Career

If you're not a translator, you might think that translation would be a really boring career - after all, a translator's primary task is to take someone else's writing and convert it into a different language (which should be their native language, if you want the translation to sound natural). On the surface, it doesn't sound like a particularly fun or creative job. However, I'm here to tell you that if you think translation is boring, you're completely wrong!

Since I completed my master's degree in translation, I have translated all kinds of texts, and each one has taught me new things and required the use of different skills. When I translated a tourism brochure for a Spanish town on the Mediterranean coast, I spent the week learning about different types of fish that they use in all kinds of delicious recipes, many of which I had never heard of before. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be researching fish species for work, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Unsurprisingly, the Spanish tourism brochure also focused
heavily on beaches, like this gorgeous one in AndalucĂ­a.
A few weeks later, I translated an entire e-book on agile web development. I certainly wasn't an expert on the topic when I started (I didn't even know what "agile" referred to), but through extensive research while translating, I became at least somewhat knowledgeable about the subject. Soon after, the topic randomly came up in conversation with friends, and I was excited to be able to apply that new knowledge.

I spent an entire week on a translation related to industrial lubricants used in machinery. Sure, it was boring, but there was still the occasional amusing moment when I would use Google to verify certain terminology and end up getting results related to other types of lubricants. I've translated marketing materials for furniture sales, cover letters for people applying to jobs, magazine articles about famous artists, and each one has allowed me to dive into new topics and learn new things, as well as increase my Spanish vocabulary (and occasionally my English vocabulary too!).

One of the most fun projects was translating a short story about a dystopian society that is struggling to survive after a cataclysmic event. While most translation projects do have an element of creativity simply because there are always linguistic choices for you to make ("Should I use terrific or fantastic here?"), literary projects are often brimming with opportunities to be creative. As I translated the story, I had to imagine the world the writer had invented, consider how to translate the names of items they'd created that don't exist in reality, and think about how the characters' dialogue should be written, all so that the eventual reader would get just as lost in the story as I had been.

Throughout my degree program, we were told that the best way to be a successful translator is to choose a specialization, and many translators do this. There are people who only translate official documents like CVs, those who stick to legal documents, and people who build an entire business around translating financial reports.

I can certainly see the benefit of doing this, since specializing in one type of translation means you can focus on learning the specific terminology related to it. For example, a legal translator would (hopefully) quickly become an expert in legal terminology and the format of legal texts, and therefore be able to complete translations more quickly, and most likely to a higher quality.

The problem is, I love the variety that being a translator can provide. They say that "variety is the spice of life", and I wholeheartedly agree. I love that one day I can be translating a dry academic paper, and the next day I can be working on a literary translation filled with metaphors. I never know what I'm going to learn about next, which I find exhilarating. I know that I'm new to this business, and perhaps in a year or two I'll decide that I'd rather zero in on one specific topic in order to make my life a bit more routine and the translations more predictable. For now though, I'm just going to enjoy going where the translations take me.