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Is our profession not valued highly enough? Does this differ from country to country?
Thread poster: Renassans LS
Renassans LS
Local time: 02:59
German to Swedish
+ ...
Feb 7, 2003

How are translators actually looked upon?

I recently received an e-mail from a Swedish colleague, in which she complained about how badly translators are payed on the European continent. She has mainly worked on a regional level, or at the most, on a national level in Sweden, but now wanted to enter the international market, since she started getting less jobs locally. She now realised that the payment was worse when contacting international agencies, and she felt that translators were not justly appreciated outside Sweden. Now – it might just be that she was unlucky with the people she got in contact with. This is quite likely, since, in my eyes, the vast majority of project managers are very friendly and easy to deal with. But somehow, I’ve a hunch that she might be right in general. I think that many people regard translation as a quite easy task, not worthy of due respect.

Let me give you an example. I did a job together with an English translator a while ago. He translated a business proposal from Swedish into English, and I translated the reply to the Swedish company, from English into Swedish. A fairly complicated business proposal, involving descriptions of various hardware products.

After having finished the job, I met up with a friend for coffee, and during the smalltalk I told my friend about the job and my English colleague. As it happens, the English translator has a Swedish wife, which I incidentally mentioned to my friend. The reply was a baffled: “But why didn’t he just ask his wife to do the translation into Swedish then?”. Implying that anyone speaking both English and Swedish could translate the business correspondence without a problem.

Do you think this is a common way to look upon translation? Is our profession not valued highly enough? Do you think this differs from country to country?

Best regards


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Arthur Borges
Local time: 08:59
+ ...
Well, "My" French Scene Was... Feb 7, 2003

Jonas writes

Is our profession not valued highly enough? Do you think this differs from country to country?

Well, you know the Church of Rome destroyed most of the Greek classics that Europe only recovered thanks to backtranslations from Arabic.

Like all artists, we pose a political threat and promise. A promise because society needs to change, and artists are on the leading of that change with the tools to find keys that help people understand the process but also a threat because artists are on the leading edge of change, where it HURTS. So the best artists always have a seditious component to their personality.

On a more banal level, when I got to France in 1973, anyone I met naturally assumed I could translate just because my French pleased their ear. All I had was pen, paper and a secondary school diploma. By 1983, a number of clients were more interested in my hard/software than in any relevant experience I may have had in their domain - finding translators was something companies delegated to secretaries who were essentially interested in not having to retype or reformat my output.

Only in the late 1980s did some ask about both software compatibility and relevant experience.

But there are still a lot of jokers out there who figure that handing you copies of previous translations they\'ve commissioned is like helping you cheat on an exam or who figure translation is easy: they\'re easy to spot because they ask how many words per minute you type: you just have to read it in French and type it out in English, right?

Then there were my lowbrow alcoholic neighbours in one building I lived in just outside Paris. They didn\'t like the look of me because (1) I was under 60, (2) I was a foreigner, (3) I didn\'t live by 9-to-5 hours and (4) my visitors came in all different sizes shapes and colours. Well one day the alcoholic son of his alcoholic parents dropped in, asked my job and furrowed his brow like a primate when I said \"translator\" before finishing off every available bottle and staggering out the door; As of the next day, all the tacit tension disappeared. Several days further on, one of upstairs witches gave me a very respectful \"Bonjour\" and so I chatted her up, and she told me how delighted she was to have an \"artist\" in the house. \"An artist?\" I replied. \"That\'s right, you\'ve got an oil painting in your living room, don\'t you?\"

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Mirjam Garber  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
French to German
+ ...
Could you just quickly....... Feb 8, 2003

I think I don\'t have to continue, everybody possible heard this already.

I think that most people still have no idea what translating really means. Most of them also think, just because I am translator, I am a walking dicionary and that the subject doesn\'t matter..

The time I make myself some more customers, I am working half time in an office. I get quite a lot of freelance translations by that company as well, so most of my collegues know that I am translator. Now, what happens every now and than is this very special sentence: They come with a 3page document and say: Could you just quickly translate this for me? Most of all I love it , when they add: It doesn\'t have to be a complete translation, there\'s no need to translate every word...

AT the beginning this made my furious. Now, I just ask them if they want a translation or not. Because if they want a translation (especially a written one), of course I need to translate everything or make a correct translation which takes it\'s time. It\'s different if they just want to get a rough idea about the content of the document. Most of the time they actually need a \"real\" translation, as the translation is going to be the basis for a meeting or so...

I simply tell them that I could do it, but that it would take a certain time. Now they seem to get a clearer idea about the fact that translating isn\'t just typing it down in the other language...

ups, I think I got carried away a little bit...

All I wanted to say, is that, as long as they didn\'t have closer contact to a translator or tried to do a translation by themselves, I think, that yes, most people just have no idea that translating IS a responsible and difficult job.

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:59
Flemish to English
+ ...
Not quite a highly estimated job. Feb 12, 2003

First of all, the general public mixes up the profession of a translator and an interpreter.

Moreover, in a multinational company a translator\'s degree will be the basis for a P.A.-role, whereas an economic, scientific, law and engineering degree are the basis for climbing the corporate ladder.

A certain magical three-letter word helps to climb that ladder a bit faster and is an entry-ticket which opens doors which otherwise will stay closed for anybody with an \"ordinary\" translator\'s degree.

Having said that, in the current competitive economic climate and given the competition between translators, being a freelancer is not easy at all. You have to stand out, know a few specialist subjects, have an in-depth knowledge of Office, CAT-tools and DTP-tools. Such a combination as well as a thorough knowledge of at least two foreign languages will make you “a competitive product”.

But whether you will be paid accordingly depends on finding those rare pearls in the market or that market segment that pays best. Traduttore, tradittore?

Why is it that the market-value of some languages (Japanese) is higher than the market value of other languages?

I may be wrong, but I have the impression that the profession of interpreter is valued ($/€-wise) a lot better than the profession of translator.

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Antonio Posada
Local time: 19:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
"Can't get no respect" Feb 28, 2003

Yes, we translators are sometimes like comedian Rodney Dangerfield: we \"can\'t get no respect\". That said, we often present ourselves in a very informal manner. We have trouble explaining how we add value (when we add any) or fail to provide value by being less than dependable. Succesful translators are like any succesful business person: organized, dependable, good on their word, and, above all, available when needed. Success demands persistence, knowledge and time. Respect comes from consistently performing well. This is not a job for the faint of heart or for those who are not self-motivated. After 20 yrs I know their are no shortcuts. Time and quality will get one respect.

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