Poll: Do you ever experience "translator's block"?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 16:25
Mar 8, 2015

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you ever experience "translator's block"?".

This poll was originally submitted by Narut Tangsuk. View the poll results »


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:25
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Especially when proofreading inadequate translations or editing MT! Mar 8, 2015

I have learned more or less to refuse to proofread poorly translated texts, because honestly, it is quicker and easier to begin again from scratch.

I do some times get caught, íf a translator has started well and then run into difficulties in a later section, got tired or not had time to proofread properly...

I sit there fully aware that the translation is wrong, but I sometimes have to go away for several hours before I can find the an alternative answer, or I have to search and look up every word. If I am blocked that badly myself, whatever I come up with is not going to be much better, so I drop it for a while!

Sometimes MT is so awful that if I delete it, make a cup of coffee and only look at the source text, I can get back to work faster. Sometimes I can do that, only to be blocked again a couple of sentences later.

The only thing to do then is to tell the client it is hopeless and give up.


Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:25
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Define "block"! Mar 8, 2015

If it means "How often doesn't the perfect solution flow trippingly through my fingertips?", then I'd have to say 'fairly often'. My authors are capable of saying the darndest things and I rarely get to translate source material that has been carefully edited. I pride myself in turning a sow's ear into a silk purse, and that can slow me down.

If a document is well edited in the source language and I'm familiar with the topic, then I usually don't hesitate.


Noura Tawil  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:25
Member (2013)
English to Arabic
+ ...
. Mar 8, 2015

Come on! Who doesn't?


Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:25
Member (2008)
English to Italian
yes Mar 8, 2015

at the end of a period of particularly hard work, and I start a new translation with maybe a comfortable deadline... it seems I cannot even translate the sentence "My name is....", and this lasts till the end of the translation. The second one then goes smoothly


brg (X)
Yes, right now Mar 8, 2015

Unable to start a new translation. I have three on my desk, with all documentation needed and CATs functioning properly.

Once I get started, work goes on fluently, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the thought 'where and when will I get criticism and be thrown out by the agency'. For instance someone told me some time ago not to put the verb 'worden' at the end of the sentence, this is called a germanism, so I have now the idea that it should be in this way, although it does not sound naturally to me. And I suppose that the next time I get the work back with the remark 'wrong word order', o' 'translator does not write naturally'.

But it is even worse for making invoices or bookkeeping. This is not my cup of tea.


Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:25
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Yes occasionally Mar 8, 2015

It happens - we're all human.

It can happen for a 1,001 reasons:

- biorhythm
- poor physical condition (colds, flu, just plain run down)
- just plain tired
- hangover (not so much these days, thankfully)
- stress
- lots of phone calls from 'we've got work to be done yesterday' kind of clients
- a phone call from your bank manager
- poor source text which happens a lot with Japanese due to the ambiguous nature of the language
- difficult source text written by someone who 'thinks' he or she knows what he or she is writing about and the text is basically stream of consciousness drivel (you have to be creative and turn the proverbial sow's ear into a silk purse)
- aggravation from an unreasonable PM or client
- aggravation with friend/family or other private things that keep on niggling you however hard you try to get rid of the thought
- aggravation from all directions (hence, the bank manager phone call)
- earthquakes (yes, we have these over here)
- typhoons (a frequent occurrence from summer onwards)
- thunder and lightning
- a succession of deliveries or other interruptions that totally disturb you and destroy your concentration
- burst, leaking pipe above a bookshelf (yes happened last year)
- cats in heat meowing all over the place outside the window
- advertising blimp destroying the peace of your neighborhood (yes, we have these as well!)
- paper recycling collectors advertising their services by loudspeaker (a daily occurrence in Japan)
etc., etc.

Please feel free to add your own bug-bears that make you think that you brain has reached a cul-de-sac you just can't maneuver out of.

There's nothing worse than feeling as if you have a shotgun cocked and ready pointed at your head with only 30 minutes left to go to find the right word or phase so that you can deliver something you're happy with.


Stephanie Mitchel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:25
French to English
Simple fixes Mar 8, 2015

When this happens, it's invariably because I've been working too hard for too long, in which case there are two fixes:

1. For tight deadlines: Let pressure be my fuel, and put down whatever I can think of until I can review it


2. For more generous deadlines or longer projects: Take a nap / call it a day - and the next time I look at it, the solution will jump right out at me.


Yetta J Bogarde  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:25
Member (2012)
English to Danish
+ ...
I replied Other Mar 8, 2015

because I never heard that expression before.

However, sometimes I just cannot remember a particular word/term and have to look it up in the dictionary although I normally know it perfectly well.

And of course, when you are very tired nothing works well.


Melissa McMahon  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:25
Member (2006)
French to English
Types of block Mar 8, 2015

It's an interesting question, because as the responses show, there's many kinds of block and many kinds of reasons.

First interpretation:
block = when you get stuck on a phrase, can't seem to come up with a good solution
- happens all the time, but unlike writer's "block", I never sit and stare and bang my head against it. I walk away and/or move on, confident that my unconscious will beaver away at it. Often you come back and it's sorted, sometimes it takes a few 'walks away'. When timing is tight, I am often amazed at how adrenalin takes over the job of the unconscious and feeds you answers

Second interpretation:
block = can't concentrate, can't 'get into' it
- happens often, usually stress/overwork/blues, sometimes you just sit with it and find you get over the 'hump', sometimes you have to walk away as per the above

Third intepretation
block = what linguists call "linguistic lameness", ie the inability to use language properly due to thinking too much about language. Sometimes I stare at a translation and wonder if I even really speak English any more. I can't tell, I'm too close, I've thought too much.
- Once again, if at all possible, STEP AWAY FROM THE TRANSLATION.

Happy unblocking!

[Edited at 2015-03-08 22:54 GMT]


Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:25
English to Polish
+ ...
All the time Mar 22, 2015

All the time, actually.


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