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Does this apply to you as a seasoned translator? (quote from Mona Baker on translator training)
Thread poster: Elías Sauza

Elías Sauza  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:00
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
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Jul 1, 2004

Many may have read this, but many may have not. I want to share this with my colleagues in translation. I felt identified with it the first time I read it. I would like to point out that this is only for the purpose of illustrating the vocational training side of our profession.

Discussing the two main types of training for any profession (vocational and academic) Mona Baker writes in her translation textbook "In Other Words," the following.

"Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be on your prime."

"The first stage of the career pyramid-the apprenticeship stage-is the time we devote to investing in ourselves by acquiring knowledge and experience in life. Let me propose a lifepath: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe, and love your own language. Then roam the world, make friends, see life. Go back to education, but to take a technical or commercial degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and your early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin.
(Lanna Castellano, 1998:133)


Elías Sauza

[Edited at 2004-07-01 23:02]

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-07-02 00:31]


Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
Spanish to English
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There's something nostalgic about that Jul 1, 2004

like the "old school" of translation apprenticeship.

I was lucky enough to sit in a curriculum committee debating about whether or not to institute T&I studies in a state university when I was just a fresh graduate. (Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut most of the time and only looked forward to the day I could take advantage of the results of that debate.)

The question began to revolve around T&I as an undergraduate or graduate program, and the weightiest concern on the table was, on the undergraduate level, what would students translate? They didn't have any experience, would expect things to be fed to them off a silver platter, would still be acquiring the source languages (hence, delaying the expected progress of a program), and worse, might come out of it with that chip on their shoulder feeling they were entitled to the biggest slice of the cake, when in reality, they were just barely beginning, and the course itself might have restricted their experience (by keeping them in the same place for four years, to begin with, or restricting their contacts to the purely academic). Needless to say, the people actively discussing were old-timers in the field.

My own interest in the issue was sparked by my "other job" at that time: while lecturing on Fine Arts, I was also working at the city's International Convention Center, and I seriously meant to end up translating and interpreting. At my job, where things were run by the strictest international standards, my own trainers/supervisors were saying the same things. Our "big boss", sent over from Switzerland to organize the Center, was some 40+ years old, and still swore up and down that he had not reached his peak; the second in-charge -- an interpreter from Peru who later ended up in the UN -- felt the same way. My supervisor, a Belgian lady from the same organization, was wont to lecture on something similar to what Umberto Eco calls "scientific pride and scientific humility" (having the grace to at least know what you don't know). And of course, all this was washing over us without the time perspective.

This absence of perspective was the "danger" the curriculum committee perceived in institutionalizing T&I as an academic offer. And yet, it was a need.

The compromise was a graduate program. As I said, this was a State University debate -- basically concerning what to do with taxpayers' money -- and the expected mortality from an undergraduate course simply too high to make even a partial subsidy a worthwhile investment.

So I'm really sad whenever I meet young undergraduates thinking translation is just a course like another. As though you could go into MacDonald's and buy it, with the potatoes done just right to your taste. (And I DO wonder if they didn't just do proficiency while they were there).


Rubén de la Fuente  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
English to Spanish
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I Agree to a certain extent Jul 2, 2004

First and foremost, let's provide some context (i.e. my background, the point from which I state my opinion):
-I'm 27
-took a B.A. on translation and interpreting
-been working on the field for nearly 3 years now (2 as freelancer and 1 as in-house; think I have a rough idea of the whole picture by now).

Now, I agree that's what the ideal profile of a translator should be. What bothers me, though, it's the ideal bit of it. I mean, as translator you always have room for improvement (in terms of technical knowledge, life experience, so forth- yeah, indeed it would help to marry someone from a different nationality, specially from your source language/culture). Yet it seems as translators we always fall short of the glory, so to say. Sometimes it feels standards on translation are much higher than in any other profession (would an engineer be asked to take a degree in a different field to his trade, to roam the world, to take an spouse from a different country and so forth, in order to be a good (ideal) engineer? -don't think so).

I think somehow this trade ressembles the never-ending story. What makes a good translator is the lust for learning (in terms of language, culture, field-specific knowledge). That's the basic component, and once you have that, you'll succeed to make it all come together.

This recipe for the perfect translator though sounds like Math and I do not think it applies to a trade so weird (so to speak, I mean peculiar, different from anything else) as ours.

Anyway, I love this trade. Hope to get as good at it as I can. My 2 cents. Cheers!


ps: pretty interesting topic you brought up, Elías. Hope it gives room for a lively discussion.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:00
English to Spanish
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Sounds familiar... Jul 2, 2004

About the only thing that deviates from the "lifepath" that Elías describes is my grandparents; I never knew them.

As far as the rest, what was under my control, it pretty well describes it.

One thing for sure, you can never stop learning, because right from the start you are expected to know it all. And if you don't, then you have to have the talent to fake it until you do!


Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:00
German to English
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I agree with Rubén ... Jul 2, 2004

... My CV is very similar to his - I've been freelancing for just over 3 years and did a short traineeship in PR and Marketing. Whilst not yet having worked as a translator for decades, after three years of freelancing I still feel that I've got a generally good idea of what I'm doing. Incidentally, I also moved to Germany to be with a German boyfriend, so I suppose this kind of conforms to the old-school notion of translator training.

What bugs me a little however is that so many translators seem to be judged by age. As the original quote says "A translator is of no use until he is 30" - Incidentally, I am 26. Whilst I agree that experience helps make a better translator, age is not the be all and end all and I think many people should take this into account - incidentally, I don't really like being asked my age or saying it, because I get worried that people might think I'm no good. I started out at about 22, but in England (where I come from), the whole education system is a lot faster than in e.g. Germany, where, as far as I can see, many translators start out in their late 20s ...

As a translator you need a good general knowledge, an avid interest in learning more and a great writing style in your native language and these are things you can have whether young or old. If you're older you may have more life experience, but really it depends on the individual.

All the best,


[Edited at 2004-07-02 08:49]


Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
Italian to English
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Couldn't agree more with Rubén's point Jul 2, 2004

about the "ideal profile" of a translator - when you put it like that, it seems absurd to expect anyone to be able to conform!

Having said that, it's more or less what I did. I'm 35, worked in various industries before graduating in Chemistry while working as a Technical Service Chemist with clients throughout most of continental Europe and Scandinavia. Then I fell in love with an Italian, moved here and worked first as a teacher (TEFL, of course) and then as a translator. So apart from my age (at least I'm still "too young" for something!) and my all-English grandparents, I suppose I have the ideal profile... but I'm seriously considering taking some kind of professional training course in translation anyway.

[Edited at 2004-07-02 08:39]


German to Romanian
+ ...
Just a remark Jul 2, 2004

The quote is very interesting and real. May be it is a little exagerated in some points.Having grandparents or parents of different origin and language can be an advantage but not a must for a translator. Also the marriage with a foreigner.
Regarding the age: the young people here disagree with this idea. The point is not really the age, but the time you need to finish your education in order to be a good translator.
Till 25-26 you only have the time to finish University let's say.
Many people here don't understand, or is it me who has the wrong information and feeling, that if you have graduated a high-school for translation (university) which is related to the phylological schools, you are a translator.
I don't know what exactly you learn at such a school, what kind of specialization you can get, except literature maybe.
As the qoute sais you need to study some other fields: engineering, economics, law, medicine a.s.o
These fields have such a complex language and thesaurus and you also have to understand the practical aspects, how it works, before translating.
It is the same like wanting to make a technical design, a project, but you can not do it unless you know how every piece looks like, works, where and how it is to be placed on the assembly. I had this experience. I had to make such a design and couldn't do it, so I went to a workshop close to my house and asked people there to show me the pieces. Then I understood and put it on the design.The same thing is when you work in a ministry or any high body but you do not have the experience of a plant, or a company or a basic institution and how they work.Still you want to manage or coordinate them.
Languages you can learn and improve the whole life, certificates you can get whenever you want, but first of all you need to have a solid ground of skills. You have to know what kind a specialization you want, in what fields you want to translate.
A translating school only, can not teach you engineering, medicine, law or economics. Probably it gives you some idea of it and some terms.
So you finish a University at 25-26, then you practice your profession for a while, in most cases also using languages and later you can say you are fit to make translations. Also a woman has to have babies before 40 years and needs some years to spend with then and so you come to 35-40 years, like they say in the quote.
Regarding the high quality requirements for translators, they are in a way normal and are : basic skills (University for specific fields), good language skills (certified by some institution) and some abilities (talents).The other aspects are only secondary and refer to all professions.
Remember how many exams and practice a doctor or a lawyer need. At least doctors learn and graduate exams almost their entire professional life.
Now it depends on each of us wether we want also some other titles and certifications:PhD,universitary titles a.s.o These require another period of time and are also secondary requirements for translators.
I have followed all these steps: technical university,experience in a plant, then in a ministry, certificates for languages, working with languages.Secondary I married a foreigner and live in another country, I am over 40 years (yes, I needed all this time to study and work and get experience). Still I can not get any translation job.Why? Am I not a translator yet?!
Something is always missing in this world.


Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:00
German to English
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It depends on the individual ... Jul 2, 2004

Hi Ruxi!

I certainly agree that you need a good grounding before starting out as a translator. However, I finished university at 22 rather than 25/26, but I don't think this makes me underqualified.

Before starting out as a freelancer I worked for a short stint in a German PR and Marketing company and did a lot of company translations from German into English - This is what made me change my mind about translation, which I had previously considered to be boring. I then also realised that I was not that bad a translator, added to the fact that I have always enjoyed writing.

In the end becoming a freelancer was not part of my plans, but I'm glad it happened, because it's turned out well.

When I started out it may have helped me to work for a translation agency, but that's just not the way it happened. The way of starting out as a translator, as portrayed in the quotation, is rather idealistic - it certainly doesn't take into account the indirect entrants to the profession (and there are a lot of good ones ...)

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules - study this until this age, etc. A translator should be judged on the translations they do, not on their degree (or lack of it) - Incidentally, many British translators don't study translation as such but some language-based course, which doesn't make them less qualified, does it?

So, what I'm trying to say is that age and qualifications are indeed helpful, but not the be all and end all and neither is a membership in the BDÜ or a similar organisation. Just today, I was asked for certification (by an agency for their end customer) that I am qualified to work as a translator. I don't have any official certification, but I'll have to send them my B.A. degree, which I think is rather silly - just because you've got a degree, doesn't make you a translator.

When it comes down to it, I wish that people would just judge people based purely on their skills (previous translations, test translations) rather than demanding certain criteria, because every translator has a different career path, but ultimately it's down to the individual whether he or she can make it or not.

All the best,



Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:00
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Opposite end of the scale Jul 2, 2004

Like Sarah Downing, I do not like being asked for my age (though I give it honestly if I am asked) because I think people may reckon I'm past it! (I shall be 73 later this month).


Pamela Cruz  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
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'All I know is that I know nothing'... Jul 2, 2004


I just read your answers and I agree with all of you. I started as a translator when I was 23; today I am 34 ( and still growing oldericon_wink.gif ) and I remember how mad I got when people looked at me like saying 'too young for knowing what is this all about'. I felt very confident about my skills as a translator then; nowadays I am still confident, but less 'blindly': It is highly possible that the subject has new structures, terminology, approaches, whatever... And I HAVE TO be able to convey everything to my native language -If I can understand the subject, I can recreate it in my language. I do feel is my duty to devise an approach to solve the at-first-sight undeliverable ideas. The experience of knowing how to deal with 'unknown things' is what makes the difference in time, but it gives no one the right to look down on younger translators. There are some translators that are convinced to be better just because their ages, but they certainly work with younger translators, not so acquainted with the market to be able to charge what their work really costs, but who do really know how to learn about their weaknesses, their 'Oh my God, I have never seen this before', and come up with a perfect translation of the assigned text.



[Edited at 2004-07-06 15:29]


BelkisDV  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:00
Spanish to English
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One of the most positive aspects of our profession Jul 3, 2004

The beauty of it is that we never cease to learn. We learn from new technologies, which in turn create new terminology and ideas about how to convey the meaning behind those super-duper intricate procedures, features, etc. etc. etc. We learn from our peer's experiences and by sharing them with each other, we never cease to learn from the clientsicon_smile.gif and most importantly, we may get worn out from time to time but we always come back with renewed enthusiasm (especially after finishing the translation from hell!). I wouldn't trade it for anything, would you?


[Edited at 2004-07-03 15:25]


Local time: 06:00
German to English
+ ...
Can't agree with Lanna C. Jul 5, 2004

I really can't agree with the comment that one only starts to be "useful" as a translator when one's reached the age of 30.

I can only speak from personal experience, but by the time I was 30 I had already had five years of translating experience at a language school, in a mechanical engineering company and at a scientific research institute (all of these in Germany) and don't recall anyone ever suggesting that my work was useless. OK, it was a bit difficult at first getting the hang of things, but I was at least able to benefit from the experience of older (translator) colleagues and - just as important - the people I actually worked with and commissioned the translations. With a few exceptions, people were quite willing and able to help me out with problems connected with the subject matter, besides which I was willing to invest the time and mental effort involved to become familiar enough with the various subjects - it didn't have to be to the level of a specialist either - in order to produce decent translations.

Of course, I had some built-in advantages in that I had previously studied German language and literature at university and already, through numerous translation exercises, had an intimate knowledge of the way the language functions, on top which living in the country was a great benefit.

As regards having grandparents of different nationalities - I've no idea how this might help one to become a competent translator, on top of which I guess it's not exactly easy to stipulate to someone on birth that their grandmother should for example come from France and their grandfather from Croatia.

As far as I can tell, age has nothing to do with competence as a translator. I've seen very good work done by translators in their mid-20s and dross produced by others well into their thirties and forties. Besides this, the picture which Lanna Castellano puts forward is very idealised and, I would suggest, virtually impossible to translate into reality.




Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
German to Italian
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my 2 cents Jul 7, 2004

Elías Sauza wrote:

\"Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be on your prime.\"

Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin.
(Lanna Castellano, 1998:133)

Thanks for proposing this topic, Elías. My cv is quite similar to Sarah\'s and Ruben\'s: I\'m almost 27, took my degree 4 years ago and have been working as a translator since then (almost 3 years as a freelancer). Of course I know that I\'m not a perfect translator - and I\'ll never be, not even after 40 - but no one has ever told me I\'m not useful, let alone the 40/50-year-old translators in top-notch publishers and companies who trust me as a cooperator. What about all those translators in their mid-20s earning their living? So, dear colleagues, why don\'t you divorce your husband or wife if both of you have the same nationality, and marry someone else?icon_smile.gif


Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
English to Turkish
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So I had everything the wrong way around Jul 8, 2004

I did have a grandmother who spoke a foreign language when I was around - with my mother, usually about my father. I understood it perfectly, but never attempted to speak - they would have stopped talking thenicon_biggrin.gif And now, I don't think I will understand even one word of it any more. I did have a foreign partner, but our language of communication was native to none of us. Maybe this has been a factor that we don't communicate any moreicon_lol.gif I do live in a foreign country - its language is not my working language! In my first inhouse job, I was 24 and petrified with horror: boy, everybody else had a PhD, the average age was about 45 when mine was left out, and there were even some famous men of letters around. My first realization there was that I was alingual and illiterate. Later, I became the oldest staff member in another place, only to realize that I didn't know anything about computers! With every new source text, I still set out with the feeling that I don't know any English at all; with every translation completed, I still have the feeling that I cannot master even my native language. After 20 years now, I'm trying to learn the CAT tools - and the German tax system, on top of all thisicon_biggrin.gif Still, one thing I know for sure: translation is the right pursuit for meicon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2004-07-08 01:03]


Leonardo Parachú  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
English to Spanish
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Great! I´m just started then... Jul 16, 2004

I´m 28 by now with 1 year experience in an in-house position (translator/editor/"on-line QAer"/assistant PM) come as may. I only knew my grandmothers and one of my great grandmothers (they spoke French on my mother´s side and Italian on my father´s, either as natives or as a SL). Since early childhood I took a fairly strong dislike towards French, though I loved my great grandmother (she was French, Suzanne Desdames or "memé Susana", and served as a nurse in World War I). My parents were both engineers and I got my high school degree in "Construction" as a starting point to entering University. Daddy´s reward: a one-month study trip to England (what I least remember is the classes but I do recall riding either by myself or in groups on buses, subways, trains), then a two year course to get a degree as a "Technician in computer science" (honestly I don´t remember much now but I became close friends with the PC world). My father died when I was 19 (my mother had passed away 4 years before that) and I found shelter to this shock in my English classes, which I had been taking since I was 5-6 (remember "Malvinas" or "Falkland" as they call it in GB, 1982?), well I wanted to learn English to write to Ms. Tatcher asking if she would stop the war, if only I knew back then what it was all about, I still don´t know it now... Then came the Teacher Training College (1996-1999; never finished, but boy did I read a lot of English those four years) and the Translator College (2000-2003; still missing 7 subjects). Never got married or have many girlfriends but lots of friends and pen friends from all over the world until I was 20-21... "Served" as an interpreter in many a trip to the South of my country: helping people from Britain, France and Germany order a coffee or get some place or other...
Well... that should be my road to becoming what I am now, and what I will be in the future... My travelling abroad will be "censored" for a while due to domestic issues (not Argentina but personal)...

Many thanks for the trigger Elías, you all now got a full picture of me.
All the best,
Leonardo Parachú

[Edited at 2004-07-17 01:01]

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