My Translation-Related Pet Peeves

My Translation-Related Pet Peeves

I’m sure that, whatever the field of work, you all have things you don’t like to do, maybe making phone calls to clients or answering to your boss about where you’ve been on your 3-hour lunch break. A few years ago, when I was working as an employed translator, I made a list of pet peeves based on my activity back then. Although nowadays I’m a freelancer and have more freedom to choose my clients and my work, I find that some of the items on this list still apply.

Without any further ado, here they are:

I really don’t like it when:

  • I have to translate in the insurance, medical or technical field.

This is no longer a problem for me, because I’ve specialised in certain areas and only accept work I know I can do fast and accurately, but when I was a beginner and, especially, when I was employed and couldn’t refuse the work assigned to me, I struggled with texts in fields I didn’t like. Research took a long time, since I wasn’t familiar with the terminology, and some of the documents were utterly depressing: imagine translating a report on infantile mortality or on causes of death and illnesses.

  • I have to format the text and work on small, detailed, annoying tables or charts.

Do you know those pie charts or diagrams of all sorts which were created in Excel and imported in Word? Or those long .ppt files with tables and pictures with small lettering? I’m sure you do. Yeap, I’m sure you, too, hate those.

  • I’m expected to work under pressure, like 1 zillion pages for yesterday.

I’ve noticed that some people don’t think of translation when they plan a project and only realise they need it when it’s already late. So, instead of scheduling let’s say a week for the translation of the entire documentation, they find they only have one day. The translator is expected to work miracles, which (s)he sometimes does, or the entire project is delayed because of bad planning.

  • I get a text that is so badly written in the source language that I need to rephrase it/”translate” it into the same language before I can properly translate it into the target language.

Understanding of the source text is essential for a good translation. However, some people are in a hurry or just don’t bother to read the text once again before submitting it for translation, hence the unfinished sentences, the anacolutha, the disagreements in number or gender, the annoying repetitions, etc. If the translation needs to be reviewed before delivery, so does the source text.

  • I have to review a translation that is so bad that I’d rather translate the text myself all over again.

We’ve all had that. Hey, maybe we’ve all been there when we first began… Then again, maybe not. Research, proofreading, attention and dedication are just a few ways of avoiding that as a translator. As for the reviewers… I don’t know, it may all come down to a ”take it or leave it” situation.

  • Clients don’t know what to ask for and I have to waste time and patience to find out what they really want.

Time is money! It’s as simple as that. If it takes half an hour to figure out that the client needs me to do half an hour’s work, it’s just not worth it. A piece of advice: clear instructions save time and help the translator deliver the job you wanted.

  • People look down on translation and translators, like this is a job anyone can do and which requires no special skills.

This is my last pet peeve, but I think it’s the most important of all. We all need to be respected and acknowledged for what we do. Dismissing translators’ work and treating them as machines won’t motivate them and won’t win their respect and dedication. Translation requires excellent knowledge of both languages (including grammar!) and of the field one translates in, attention to details, an ear for natural, nicely-flowing phrasing, the ability to stay focused for a long time and to do thorough research, when needed. It’s not an easy job, so give translators some credit!

Wow, a lot of pet peeves… Maybe I’m in the wrong business.  But maybe I’m not the only one fighting these “minor” annoyances. Would anyone else like to share?

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