I don’t usually publish two posts on the same week, especially not just one day apart, but there is a rich debate going on in one of the many online forums I check out from time to time and the Professor in me simply cannot help commenting on it while it’s still a hot topic from which we can learn a thing or two.
These are the facts as I know them. A translator with a degree in translation applied to an agency specializing in technical translation, apparently in two very specific subject areas. The agency allegedly reviewed the translator’s application and –very politely in my opinion– thanked her for applying and explained that the nature of their work requires professionals with degrees in these two subject areas. They added that, although they don’t often receive much work that fits her profile, they will keep her on record in case anything comes up that matches her background.
In what to me was a very childlike reaction, the translator then posted the e-mail (including the name of the agency representative) on a blacklist group and then went on to whine about non-translators (i.e. those of us who don’t necessarily hold degrees in translation) who translate. This brings me to Tip #1: Learn to handle rejection.
As it turned out, the agency who claims to use professionals with degrees in these two technical fields also advertises very low rates on their site. Therefore, it is perhaps safe to assume that they, in turn, pay their translators with peanuts. THIS would have been a legitimate reason to blacklist the agency in question IF they had made this translator a ludicrous offer. But that simply wasn’t the case, the reason the translator was so outraged had nothing to do with rates and everything to do with her inability to handle rejection. Tip #2: Learn to focus on the big picture.
This sparked an endless and at some points even absurd debate on whether or not a degree in translation is a prerequisite for working as a translator. I’m not going to get into that debate itself because if you part from the premise that translation is not an undergraduate area of study in every country (just in some) and that there are international certification processes designed to compensate for that (which take into account academic background, experience in translation, and actual skill), the debate is rendered moot, which brings me to my third tip. Tip #3: Learn to zoom out and see the world from a broader perspective.
Although I don’t care much for the issue that sparked the debate, what I do want to get into is what the debate revealed to me about how some translators see translation. Here’s the gist of some of the comments in the discussion:
Nobody can teach me, as someone who has a degree in translation, about language or what I can and cannot translate.
In context, this was phrased a little differently and was in response to some very reasonable comments about specialization and knowing your own limitations. But, aside from the obvious appeal to authority fallacy, what this statement is also revealing is a complete lack of understanding of what an education in a specific field has to add to training/education in translation. If this person had a clue of the underlying sophistication or complexity of certain subject areas of translation, she would be more than willing to learn from field experts and to use that training and knowledge to add value to her degree in translation. Tip #4: Learn from others.
If lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. can translate, then why can’t translators practice law, medicine, engineering, etc.?
This failed reductio ad absurdum is not even worth addressing directly; but the fact that so many people supported it reveals the massive lack of knowledge –even among some translators– of the limitations of education and training and just how much additional learning is required to do a good job as a translator. Tip #5: Learn your limitations (if you can’t even see them, you’ll never be able to overcome them).
There was also a certain level of animosity toward professionals from other areas, which revealed a total lack of self-esteem. What you say about others really says a lot more about you than it does about them. This animosity took several forms; from claims that lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc. think they are somehow “better” than people with degrees in translation to this:
Why would engineers, lawyers, doctors, etc. want to work as translators if they can make more money in their original field of study?
Well, not really. I make about the same as a lawyer-linguist as I would working at a law firm and I know for a fact (having done the actual math) that I make at least as much as a first instance judge with 10 years on the bench (in Argentina, which is where I live). I am not the exception to the rule; people with similar backgrounds make as much money from translation as I do. The question is what makes YOU (translator) believe you CAN’T make as much as an engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc.? Tip #6: Learn to respect your profession and value its worth.
These self-proclaimed translators without degrees in translation are stealing our jobs.
Of course we’re not. We work and thrive in different markets and the world is big enough for us both. If you are the kind of translator who works in a market where a translation degree is the sole prerequisite for translating (where experience, specialization, subject-matter training, etc. don’t count or can be replaced by a certificate that reads, “yes, this person sat through a few years of translation school”), then you can’t compete with me and you have a lot of catching up to do. If instead you are translator with a degree in translation PLUS the added value of subject-matter education, training, specialization, experience, etc. then perhaps I can’t compete with you and I have some catching up to do. However, given our respective positions in this debate, as things currently stand, we’re aiming at different target markets. Tip #6: Learn to identify what league you’re in and who you are really playing against.
It is no accident that all my tips begin with the word “learn.” Growing up professionally is a learning process. It can be at times painful (especially in the beginning) and at times incredibly rewarding. But we must all go through the process of growing up if we wish to succeed in any walk of life. This leads me to my last tip, lucky #7: If you feel you have nothing left to learn, then there is no doubt you have failed.