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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Confessions of a translator heretic

Confessions of a translator heretic

By Michael Deliso | Published  05/2/2006 | Business of Translation and Interpreting | Recommendation:
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Michael Deliso
מאיטלקית לאנגלית translator

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Confessions of a translator heretic

This could be the story of anyone in anyplace at anytime and may be too strong for weak hearted and thin skins.
Is this reality just reserved to translators/interpreters? Like…ehhmm myself? Anyone?
Is this me or somebody else? I wrote it as being myself the subject because I don’t like to write using third persons and then again it may just be about myself.
Working for a living, especially as a full fledged hired employee, gives one a feeling of security, sense of belonging, opportunities of developing new acquaintances, new experiences, both in life and living and so on and so forth. You don’t worry about the salary because every end of the month it is there for you to use at will. As time goes by on your job, you don’t ever worry about money for all kinds of every day life expenses and needs; it’s there at the end of the month.
As time goes by, you reach a point where you don’t even think about your salary; will it be there available at the end of the month? Are you sure it will all be there? Are there any problems that would prevent you from getting your salary? You, just subconsciously, ignore/forget about any and all reasons as to why at the end of the month your salary could not all be there or it may not be enough for survival, for you and/or your family.
It makes no difference what kind of job you have, executive or plain labourer, your salary is there, punctually every end of the month. Of course, if you do your job, you do it correctly, conscientiously and, above all, if your employer doesn’t go broke or bankrupt. It’s there!! Period or...Full stop, as the British would say. .
I have all my life lived in this kind of mental and unaware psychological disposition and feeling and social environment, all I had to do is do what was expected of me and my salary was there, every single month, every single year.
You acquire such a feeling of security or psychological tolerance that at one point in time you decide, like me, “I’ve had it” or “this job stinks” or “my employer is a real jerk” so you, like me, throw it all off and with a sense of security and strong of years of all types of experiences, you quit the job, like me.
You feel like you have vindicated your reasons, frustrations, better senses, claims of greater experiences than your boss, your unsolved frustrated senses of knowing what’s better for your company, your bosses inability to appreciate and understand your knowledge and expertises, all of these can amount to uncontrolled and subconscious pride and/or arrogance at times, which you really struggle to understand, mind you, not the symptoms, but the non-cure.
So, now you have done what your pride and frustration have dictated you to do, leave and look for or do something better.
Little did I know what was awaiting for me out there or shall I say in there, in the world of translation/interpreting, at least for those who for long, long time have lived in a reality whereby unconsciously you rely on due process and true work relation and relinquish any obstructing fictitious walls and go about your merry way in working and not concerned with all the traps and high walls and risks and uncertainties provided by the world of translating/interpreting.
What now?, now you walk into another situation or world you did not even know it existed or better you knew about it through some of the things you came into contact or across every day, i.e.: users manuals, instruction on assembling electronic gadgets, things, furniture and the likes, but did not stop to examine or to understand. It was not your world. After all, the entire world does not rotate around translations. Or does it? I’ll never know.
Translations and interpreter and the likes, how did I enter this environment? Mostly through incitements by my former better half, who continuously incited, spurred and prodded me to get into it, “With what and how much you know and your experiences and education, you can do wonders and money”.
Experiencing new things in life helps moulding a better person, but what a way to make experience and be moulded still. So! One gets on his/her happy merry way and walks into this world.
Insidious, unreliable, wavy, unpredictable! For a lack of better words or terms.
If you, like some others or myself, did two jobs, teaching/colleges lecturing and translating/interpreting at the same time, you come across some the most presumptuous, uncanny, ASS..UMERS, pretentious, ignorant, untrained, shrewd, selfish and illiterate (and not necessarily in that order) individuals or collection of individuals.
Even though I speak and write other languages, but not at the level of translating into/ from them and do not know the realities of other languages, English must be the most misunderstood, taken for granted, claimed to be known and spoken by many, language.
I have personally witnessed individuals coming to this Country for holydays/vacations and who never went past the 5th grade of elementary schools in their home towns or country, remain and be hired to teach the English language in private schools where they charge “beaucoup argent” to attend. No other reasons for, than the one of being so called “Natives” and who can make the difference for a private school between obtaining/not obtaining appointments/contracts in teaching/tutoring.
And the thousands of new comers, who not only have spent the better part of their inheritance to get educated but loaded with eagerness and presumptions to enter the world of the glamorous, glorifying and fulfilling “Translation/Interpreter”. God! Do they know what they are doing and getting into?
There are more opinion leaders and experts of the language out there than the number of dialects around the world. Many equipped with so many degrees in disciplines that if they were to practice them outside this reality, would make money hands over fists.
Native or mother tongue? What’s the difference, when even the so called natives “can be so ignorant and illiterate” than any foreign speaking individual or one that has studied/spoken the language, can be a teacher if compared to the statistics, which speak for themselves. Look for instance at the illiteracy statistics all over the world, especially in those English speaking countries of “Natives”. In some of those highly industrialized countries, illiteracy of the “Natives” range anywhere between 45% and 63%, and some of these “Natives” are sometime those who go off into another country and get hired in private schools. Some examples?
Illiterate Digest Index:
1. Miami FL: 63%
2. East LA CA: 57%
3. East St. Louis IL: 56%
4. Compton CA: 55%
5. Newark NJ: 52%
6. Brownsville TX: 50%
7. Union City NJ: 50%
8. San Fernando CA: 49%
9. Camden NJ: 49%
10. Detroit MI: 47%
11. Laredo TX: 47%
12. East Orange NJ: 46%
13. Gary IN: 46%
14. East Palo Alto CA: 45%
15. Orange NJ: 45%
16. Passaic City NJ: 45%
17. Paterson NJ: 45%
18. Augusta GA: 43%
19. Elizabeth NJ: 42%
20. Atlantic City NJ: 42%
21. Miami Beach FL: 41%
22. Hartford CT: 41%
23. East Chicago IN: 41%
24. South Miami Heights FL: 40%

Source: The National Institute for Literacy

You see posting of questions of terms for vocabularies, words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and the likes that are totally out of this world and what’s more routing is that some of these terminologies wind up on users manuals, assembling instructions, directions, specifications, texts, books etc. etc. etc. and one asks, is anyone of these translators ever bought and tried to assemble things by following the instructions given on the users manuals and perhaps translated by themselves? Or do they live on Mars? Or, do they think that they are writing a text on universe philosophy, high tech medicine or scientific astronomy or astrophysics? Are the translations of the works done to make it easier for users to understand in plain language or are they trying to prove how highly educated and highly sophisticated they are? Do they know what “plain or common language/terminologies are? Are they aware that most of these works will be read /used/implemented/followed by common people? At times they seem to talk from both sides of the mouth. How about your hard work, facing improvised or alleged “bona fide” proofreaders/reviewers/peers/, does anyone have any doubt in their minds that this task means “Dough- argent-dineros?” for the job, and not one will ever say: ”good translation”? because they have to justify their in house or “out-house” jobs.
What about then agencies/principals who will send back a job and have it changed to fit their language knowledge level, at times limited to couple of years in a private school or high school level language knowledge, and you ask yourself, ”why did it/she/he send out this job for translation when they were so experts in terminologies/grammar enough to put your work in doubt, why did they not do it themselves? Doubt, a worst feeling/nightmare that can be spurred or provoked into a translator, when a job is questioned. All the weaknesses, insecurity, feelings or doubts about one’s own abilities and inadequacies all gush out by some of these doubts planted by some illiterate individuals.
All of this may not relate at all to the real subject of this writing, but it helps to walk right into the next theme...
Now one is faced with: uncertainties in payments, objections to terms utilised/chosen, ghost agencies which disappear nowhere, agencies which contest your work (many times unsubstantiated by any documents) and refuse to pay but all along have used and sent the work to their clients and one has no way at all to verify; rates wars, documents at best illegible or with some initialled terms non-existing in any dictionaries, grammar that at best may be non-existing and expected to be understood and deciphered by the translator, reception of files in some unspecified formats, a rigmarole of glossaries, the tension of deadlines, additions, subtractions, changes, variations, adjustments to texts/documents and on, and on, and on. One who does this work for living knows it too well. Most of the clients, be them agencies or companies, will literally dump on your laps jobs that are made or produced in countless formats, countless language accents and texts styles, countless countries of origin, countless dialects innuendos, often little readable or understandable etc. etc.
And all of this for the glorious objective and achievement of telling your former boss/company to shove it you know where.
All of this for sitting day in and day out, lonely and alone, emotionless and impersonal, out of touch and contact with anyone, all in a virtual reality, faceless persons, faceless contexts, faceless clients, faceless agencies, in front of a piece of electronic gadget chasing down jobs that may turn out to be unpaid or payments from agencies or clients hiding out or becoming vanished, looking at yourself, at times, and seeing a fool, full of frustrations and demoralising feelings?? Frustrations, demoralising feelings, sense of not counting anything, !!! But.. but those were also the same feelings as in my former secure employment. Darn it!!!.
Anyone who’s gone through such itinerary knows the feelings and experiences.
Someone or anyone may honestly and rightfully so ask: “what are you doing in this context if it stinks”? I really and honestly don’t know, and I don’t know that it stinks... may be I like to sit home or office rather than face again working directly for an employer or may be I have other reasons or whatever, but not up for discussion.
Well, what’s all this? one may ask.
Not the reinvention of the wheel.
All of this is borne from reading and pondering about all that surrounds this profession.

It is the balancing out of the pro and cons about this profession. Mind you, there are lots of benefits/satisfactions too. But do all these satisfactions outweigh the frustrations, implanted doubts about oneself in the course of fulfilling this job?
About the Whys! all of this?. Once again, how does one go from one secure but unconsciously taken for granted situation, to another so unpredictable or better yet, uncertain.
This is not about philosophy, but pure and simple reality.
Anyone seen/felt/experienced this? Than I am not walking alone!!!

Quotation: “Translation provides the book for the readers. Literacy provides the readers for the book

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