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Poll: Do you find most of the material you translate to be
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 12:52
Jul 10, 2006

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you find most of the material you translate to be".

This poll was originally submitted by Patricia Rosas

View the poll here

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:52
English to French
+ ...
I would love to say everything is exciting... Jul 10, 2006

...but I ultimately work for money, and if I was to limit myself to work that is fun to do, I would probably be doing this only part time.

However, I think I am very lucky that most of the work I do is interesting. I guess eventually we all end up translating things we like to translate. It's the age-old idea of becoming great at things we like and not so great at things we don't care much about. I've been working on a lot of environmental-flavoured text lately, and my client is really happy - so am I, because not only the money is in the bank each month, but I really enjoy the work.

When one is passionate about a subject, it's hard to do a bad job - and the clientele usually follows. Still, I realize I am probably more fortunate than many translators. Those specialized in finance probably feel like going to sleep sometimes...icon_biggrin.gif


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:52
English to Spanish
+ ...
Boring Jul 10, 2006

I think this is an interesting poll, but I would suggest a better array of answers:

a pleasure to read?
mostly interesting?
sometimes interesting?
mostly boring?
too technical to enjoy?

A "pleasure to read" and "compelling reading" are too similar.

That said, I would have to say that most of what I do is intensely boring work, so the fact that I love it must indicate some serious character flaw. Whatever the case, it works to my advantage, because it is work that has to be done.

Legal documents, government regulations, technical specifications, contracts, company documents, work rules, etc. are just not the kinds of things people love to read, and I often wonder if anyone ever really reads my translations. In fact, I put a little hidden bomb inside each one of them so that when someone gets to that point, whammo! So far no one has been blown up.

Nonetheless I do gain a great bit of knowledge from the work I do, knowing that probably no one will ever study it so closely. I also love legal documents because of the stories they tell, they are revealed very slowly and tediously, but as they unfold I am always ready for the next chapter, which sometimes never comes.

Certainly I would love the challenge of translating a great work of art, something that would be read and appreciated by many, and I am sure I would be equal to it.

However, we must face reality. They pay us to translate boring stuff that no one will read.


Jennifer Gal  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:52
Hungarian to English
+ ...
Subtantial agreement with Henry Jul 10, 2006

I am largely in agreement with Henry's comments. I also found the categories to be poorly defined. "Interesting" and "pleasurable" are not gradients of the same thing. As to "compelling", I find that I'm always compelled to read the things I translate, or I can't translate them.

I also sometimes wonder if anyone reads the things I translate. They are often international development texts that might end up on the citations page of some graduate student's thesis, and/or some one up the ladder from my end-user client probably claims to have read them, because it falls within his/her job description (humanitarian annual reports, and such).

However, I find H.H.'s view a bit too pessimistic on this point. Most things I translate are almost certainly read by someone - e.g. medical records, technical summaries, letters. If I really thought that the majority of the things I translate were never read, that would be depressing.

Which brings me back to one more point where I do agree with Henry. Namely, if he really believes no on reads what he translates, and still loves it passionately, then perhaps he does have a mental deficiency of some sort. But who doesn't (myself squarely included)?

That said, H.H. seems no worse for the wear!!! I have come to respect him a great deal via his postings on this site, and I suspect that he is an excellent translator, and an interesting and original guy. My comments are made endearingly. icon_smile.gif

Finally, althought no on will probably read this little treatise, it has served its main purpose of helping me procrastinate what I should be doing, i.e. translating dust cover comments for a book headed to the publisher next week. I bet someone will read those. icon_smile.gif



Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
All over the map Jul 10, 2006

I'd say that I really love about 25% of the work that comes in, and some years are better than others. I like to get on a roll: one year I had a fascinating series of in-depth country reports on the tobacco industry. I felt sad when they ended.

A lot of jobs look like they're going to be boring but end up holding my attention. Some start out OK but get worse as they go along. I especially don't like manuals written by know-at-alls (AKA "short-term consultants") who preach to "underdeveloped" countries. These manuals (especially when they have nothing to say) are often puffed up with fancy formatting, text boxes unresponsive to global searches, objects that need to be translated, etc., which makes them even less endearing.


Marija Stojanovich  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:52
Serbian to English
+ ...
Fairly interesting Jul 10, 2006

Although there are times when I end up working on IFUs for a series of household appliances (hey, I work for cash too!), which ends up being an endless tirade about "outstanding new features" and "ground-breaking innovations" for every single letter added to the product code, I mostly enjoy my work. Considering that 90% of it is automotive - what's not to enjoy?

I mean... Come on, isn't it every little girl's dream to write about turbochargers and off-road vehicles when she grows up?

Err... Someone? Anyone? LOL


M. Anna Kańduła  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:52
English to Polish
Too technical.... Jul 10, 2006

... but then - I can use most of home electrical appliances without their "native" manuals, as most of manuals are quite similar, and I translate mostly themicon_wink.gif



Leonor Maia
Local time: 19:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Even when it' s too technical... Jul 10, 2006

... I always enjoy the challenge of finding out the meaning of a new word, even if in the end it's nothing else but a type of a screw.icon_smile.gif


Ingrid Lovric
Local time: 20:52
English to Croatian
+ ...
Mostly boring Jul 10, 2006

I agree with Marija and Anna! Most of my translations are operator's manuals for various construction vehicles, or household appliances. I must say sometimes I feel like buying those household appliances, because they seem like a great pleasure (especially foot massagersicon_smile.gif)

But I did translate some web pages for Nature Parks which was a nice thing to do, so every once in a while there comes a translation that not only pays well, but it is fun to do.


Simon Bruni  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:52
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
absolutely Jul 10, 2006

Leonor Maia wrote:

... I always enjoy the challenge of finding out the meaning of a new word, even if in the end it's nothing else but a type of a screw.icon_smile.gif

A boring subject matter is often interesting linguistically.

Obscure terminology, unusual syntax or ungrammatical sentences are often a real chellenge for us to decode, and these are present in all kinds of text.


Sam Berner  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:52
Member (2003)
English to Arabic
+ ...
Why do we do it? Jul 10, 2006

If it's mostly technical and boring (I do heaps of community information pamphlets and marketing materials for education providers) - why do we do it? Is it the eternal spark of hope that one day we will get the REALLY INTERESTING STUFF? How many of us, and how many times, picked up a good book - not necessarily literature - and sighed thinking they'd love to translate THIS, then turned on their laptop and did another national park tour, or washing machine, or a piece of software localization?

22 years now - the first time in my life I am seriously thinking of doing something else. Teach, sell books, breed dogs - ANYTHING.


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:52
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Almost more important: is your translation readable? Jul 10, 2006

I am in the lucky group like Victoria - most of what I translate is quite interesting reading.
Or at least it tries to be - there is a lot of marketing and publicityicon_biggrin.gif

Sometimes I get jobs that between the lines radiate professional pride in indispensible fields of technology, but are clearly written by engineers and technnicians who rarely express themselves in writing... Optimum quality and close collaboration with the customer can sound a little unimaginative at times ...

Others are subject to the dictates of the Danish 'Jantelov': 'Don't imagine you're anything special' and a series of other pseudo-commandments in the same tone of voice. 'Not too bad' is the highest praise you can get from people like that - but it will not sell their products!

I do tweak things a little to make the product sound like something the target group might actually buy!

The readable ones can be a challenge - neatly written and well thought out. How can I make the English version just as good?

But on the whole somebody needs to read what I translate, even the law and clinical notes and maybe especially the technical stuff! So I try to keep the reader from falling asleep at least.

Not to mention myself!icon_smile.gif

I've just spent the weekend, nights and all on a rushed job that has to be readable... It would be easier for everyone if they cut out the repetitions and came to the point. Then of course it would be only half as long, and I would only get paid half as much for it... but I could sleep with a good conscienceicon_biggrin.gif

You can't win every time...

[Edited at 2006-07-10 12:31]


Rebecca Garber  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:52
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
linguistically it's always interesting Jul 10, 2006

I do both technical patents, and encyclopedia articles on my specific areas of interest, and both are always interesting, mostly for the linguistics.

I always learn something from the patents, which are always different, and I love learning how things work, even if it's just the geometry of input/output switches in a computer board.

The encyclopedia articles rarely have something *new* in them, they are, after all, foundation articles, not cutting edge. However, they were written by German academics, so the lnguistic levels provide a layer of intense fun, or frustration, or expletives, depending on the quality of the original text.

Sometimes my interest fields feel a little schizoid, since most people seem to think that train buffers and monastic history shoudn't exist in the same sentence, but I love the variety.

And lately I've gotten to translate articles on the latest recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg prize at the University of Michigan: that was fascinating reading! I hope I get to meet her!


Reed James
Local time: 16:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Always interesting Jul 10, 2006

I always translate with the philosophy that: 1) there is always something I can learn from each translation and 2) there is always something I can do to make each translation better than the last one I did. Given those two conditions, it is utterly impossible for translation to be boring, no matter the topic or quality of the source text.

Translating can be like running a race with no finish line in sight. Of course, there is always the task at hand; the translation to complete by tomorrow at a certain time, those KudoZ questions to be asked and considered, the paycheck that one is expecting.

Nevertheless, I always try to keep the big picture in view. In other words, where do the terms in the translation I am doing today fit into my global terminology database? Do I understand these terms on a superficial level, or can I successfully explain them to the layman? It is quite exciting to slowly put each piece of this endless puzzle in its proper place.


[Edited at 2006-07-10 14:25]


Claudia Aguero  Identity Verified
Costa Rica
Local time: 13:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Poorly written documents Jul 10, 2006

I would add "poorly written." Most of the documents I translated are so poorly written, that I spend a lot of time just trying to understand what they wanted to say.

At the end, some of them turn to be interesting ones and I learn a lot. In fact, I have been lucky enough to translate medicine documents at the same time I teach reading comprehension for medicine at the university or computing texts with my reading comprehension for systems engineering courses. This way I have been able to use my new knowledge in both fields.

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