Here We Start
Sometimes in life, you might be lucky enough to find yourself doing a job you really love, a role that suits you to a tee, the job you always dreamt of doing as a child.
I feel there’s always been a translator within me, even though as a child I didn’t even know what one was. Books, writing, languages and words have always deeply fascinated me. My grandad was a hobby Latinist, and as a reward for passing my end-of-middle-school exams I asked him for an etymological dictionary. What a nerd! you might be thinking. Anything but!—I was spirited, so inquisitive and eager to discover what lies behind words and why.
It wasn’t until some years later that I embarked on the path towards translation, having found the courage—or having lost my grip on sanity as some friends have said—to leave behind the security of employment to dive into the certain uncertainty of going freelance. With language studies and translation qualifications under my belt, along with a good dose of humility and willingness to learn, I began the journey that brought me to where I am today, 25 years on from that decision. This urge to share my story, and in doing so overcome my natural shyness, is born from a desire to explain—not to translators but to anyone who needs to use translation—what the work of a translator involves, and what you should expect when using a translation service.
A chance business encounter with an engineer, who became for a long time the reviser of my translations, led me to realise that by specialising in technical and scientific translation I could combine my love for writing and languages with my passion for research and technology. And so I did. Nowadays I meet new people who ask me what I do for a living and when I say, ‘I’m a translator’, more often than not they reply, ‘How wonderful! What sort of books do you translate?’ I can sense their disappointment when I explain that what I do is technical, not literary, translation. And I have also noticed that many people have quite a romantic and unrealistic vision of translators, imagining us spending our days translating literature, frequenting literary circles and deliberating over word choices with the likes of writers and poets. In actual fact, the translation market is largely made up of technical texts that, despite having no artistic ambitions, represent an area that is as vast as it is intricate.
Accurately translating a technical text requires in-depth understanding of the subject in question, not to mention considerable familiarity with the technical language and textual norms that characterise it.
The correct translation of technical documents can be key to a client’s success. By contrast, an incorrect translation can cause incalculable damage, for example, even going as far as risking the safety of those who use or operate a piece of machinery or equipment. I strongly believe that technical translation should only be done by specialist translators. Otherwise, the risks are just too high.
There are numerous types of translation, and just as many skills and fields of expertise required for each specific sector. As there is no one-size-fits-all way of approaching translations in different specialist fields, what I think is most important in a translator is having an open mind, always striving to expand your horizons, staying up-to-date with your field of expertise and always being ready to learn more.
Knowledge and understanding of the foreign language are fundamental for translation, but there are parallel skills that go beyond the mere coding and re-coding from one language to another. These skills cannot be improvised; they are the fruit of studying, effort, time, energy, dedication…I could go on. I’m thankful for my job. It gives me the opportunity to enable communication between worlds, all thanks to my ability to interpret and reproduce the language of the authors and technicians, from whom I learn something new each time.
What more could I ask for?
Carefully and Patiently
I clearly remember what Saturdays were like when I was growing up.
I’d wake up early in the morning, have breakfast, and then get my ‘work clothes’ on, ready to head to the workshop, in the garage.
On the wall at the back there was a panel where all the tools were: spanners, screwdrivers, the drill, the saw, hammers and the soldering iron. Oh how I loved the soldering iron, it was such a magical tool to me. The spanners and screwdrivers were arranged in size order: ‘so they’re organised and easy to find’.
Below the panel was the workbench, which ran along the whole length of the wall, with boxes full of nails and screws, nuts and bolts, pins, washers and everything we needed for our tasks.
We devoted ourselves to what I loved most; taking things apart, fixing them, putting them back together: the blender, the radio, the vacuum cleaner, the record player… anything that appeared to be broken. We dismantled them, retraced the wires, screws and mechanisms to find out what was the cause of the problem.
We took apart, we fixed, we put together again, over and over again if we needed to. We didn’t always get it right first time.
‘Work carefully and patiently’, I was told.
We kept on taking them apart, repairing them and putting them back together until we had fixed everything. Back in working order, most of the time.
If we didn’t have anything to fix, we built things: pieces of furniture for the bathroom or kitchen, boxes for toys or tools. Otherwise I would just sit and watch while Dad checked the car engine or its oil; while he cleaned the spark plugs or topped up the screen wash.
Now, whenever I translate technical texts, I find myself back there, in our workshop.
My workshop is not in the garage, and I don’t repair things, but I dismantle texts written in English or Spanish, word by word.
On the wall, carefully organised on the bookshelf behind me, are my tools: dictionaries, glossaries, books and journals filled with notes from finished projects.
My workbench is my desk, and on it everything I need to translate: the computer, keyboard and mouse, a pen and notebook to jot down any queries and notes on terminology, and the dictionaries I need for the project I’m working on.
When I translate a text, I retrace the screws, wires, mechanisms and cogs to work out how they all function and why.
I do the same with the words and sentences. I take the text apart and then I put it back together, word by word, into Italian.
I dismantle, fix and reassemble the text, until it’s ready for use.
Carefully and patiently, always.