Trust me, I’m a translator

Before getting started with today’s blog post, I just wanted to quickly mention a recent post I was featured in. Over at the Balance Your Words blog, Sara has started a great new series entitled ‘What’s on your desk?’ that gives translators out there a little insight into their fellow professionals’ quirks and working habits and I was lucky enough to be the first translator featured. Be sure to check out the upcoming posts.

But now it’s time for today’s main course and I want to look at something that has a part to play in every single translation project out there – the issue of trust (I guess the title and the huge flashing image to the right give it away somewhat).

Traditionally, there is a widespread air of mistrust surrounding the translator – this wily, shadowy character who lies between cultures, hides behind their computer screen and turns one language into another in a terrifying act of textual alchemy… It’s not natural, surely!

And in some ways, this sense of unease is quite justified. We are taught to mistrust that which we do not fully understand and the fact that the translator possesses a means of doing something completely alien to the end client will instantly raise their guard. In either turning their beloved text into a strange foreign tongue or producing flowing prose from something that previously made no sense, the client is forced to trust that what they are receiving is the genuine article, so to speak.

This video from the hugely popular series Game of Thrones sums up the dilemma entirely: how do you know that the words you are receiving actually represent those that they should when you do not speak the source language..? In the video, the interpreter (Missandei) is put in the unenviable position of trying to mask her master’s obscene language in order to maintain diplomatic negotiations. Requiring a sharp mind able to produce a complete reinterpretation of the source words in an instant, the role sees her rendering phrases such as ‘because I like the curve of her ass’ as ‘because Master Kraznys is generous’ (1:05).

And this particular conception of trust is something that has been considered by leading translation scholar Anthony Pym. In his 2009 ‘On the ethics of translator’s interventions’ (an intriguing talk that is available in its entirety on Youtube and is well worth a watch!), Pym focuses on the issue of trust and trustworthiness – albeit in a different context to the one explored here – and suggests that as one party is always out of control they must always maintain trust in the intermediary.

Ultimately, that is why professional translators charge what they do: they understand the importance of your message and have spent countless hours learning how to transfer that message as fully as possible to a new culture and audience.

However, I choose to look at trust as a two-way relationship rather than just a single level of faith on the part of the client and this is something alluded to by another leading translation scholar in Andrew Chesterman. While considering the development of a professional code of conduct for translators (his ‘Proposal for a hieronymic oath’), Chesterman highlights trust as one of the key categories involved along with truth, loyalty and understanding.

In labelling his notion of trust as equal and something to be subscribed to by all parties involved, my conclusion coming from his ideas is that, just as the client must trust in the translator, the translator must also trust in the client. Issues such as timely payment, the resolution of problems outside of the translator’s control (source text errors, for instance) and setting reasonable deadlines that are subsequently respected are all examples of occasions when the translator must place their faith in an equally unknown client and this shifts the initial representation of trust that we explored above.

With this taken into account, the notion of trust becomes a reciprocal relationship and should be respected as such: the key to successful collaboration lies in interacting with professionals that share the same standards and expectations as you. My belief is that ultimately, if you can trust yourself to handle a project well, then you can trust your like-minded professional translator to do the best job possible. Trust me, I’m a translator.

Book Review: ‘Balance Your Words’ by Sara Colombo

Given that I’m a big fan of Sara’s Balance Your Words blog, it seemed a no-brainer for me to try to get hold of her new book. Subtitled ‘Stepping in the translation industry’ – which gives you an indication of what is to be found within – the book is based on material from her blog (alongside updates, amendments and completely new sections) as it chronicles one translator’s journey into the world of freelancing – and it’s quite a journey.

It is often said that there is no set path to follow into the translation industry, and Sara’s book is just one further illustration of that point; her transformation from a keen university student into a respected professional encompasses ventures into volunteering, nightmare interviews, battling the contrasting challenges of working life in different countries and the endless search for the perfect work-life balance.


For newcomers to the translation industry, the book provides an excellent glimpse into some of the industry’s plus points, perils and pitfalls from an extremely practical point of view, providing valuable insights into common issues and how to avoid them. Yet beyond that, it also has plenty to offer to established professionals looking for ways to boost their mood, productivity or working results – Sara stresses her belief in the importance of regular exercise and her passion for yoga (while something that does not interest me personally), with all of the perceived benefits that it offers on both a personal and professional level, provides food for thought for freelancers looking to address their own work-life balance.

One stand-out chapter from a personal level was Sara’s perspective on the state of the economy in Italy and the tough conditions (such as the poor client-translator relation) that a freelancer will face when attempting to make a living there. This honest and direct take on the realities of the situation was refreshing yet grim, a sombre account to put my own situation into perspective.

On a slightly negative note, the edition I received (I believe an update is on the way) contained a fair few typos which, as well as proving quite an annoyance at first, came across as slightly careless given the tendency for our profession to place so much importance on linguistic accuracy and with a target audience made up of linguists alert to such errors. However, once I had managed to quieten the pedantic grammarian living in my head, the unique phrasing and the clear development of characteristic writing tics come to represent a welcome part of this journey we are undertaking, ultimately adding a certain sense of charm to the experience.

Overall, Balance Your Words: Stepping in the translation industry proved to be an ideal travel companion – its light, interesting content, its unique journey through the eyes of one translator, and the pertinent topics covered make it well worth a look. Enjoy!

Top 100 Language Professional Blogs – Voting

Hello again everybody! Just a quick one. I’m excited to announce that my blog has been selected as one of the Top 100 Language Professional blogs in the ‘Top Language Lovers 2013’ competition and I need your votes to get as high up that list as possible!
Voting runs from 22nd May to 9th June and I’m counting on your help. So if you’ve enjoyed the blog then please take a few seconds to click the link above and vote for Jaltranslation: I will be forever grateful! And don’t be shy about sharing this page too, every vote counts!
Thanks, and ciao for now.