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Speed

Speed and income are not directly related for all translators. They are for freelancers.

The situation is somewhat more complex than this, but basically the faster a

freelancer translates, the more money s/he makes. (Obviously, this requires a large

volume of incoming jobs; if, having done a job quickly, you have no other work to

do, translating faster will not increase your income.)

For in-house translators the links between speed and money are considerably

less obvious. Most in-house translators are expected to translate fast, so that employability,

and thus income, is complexly related to translation speed. Translation speed

is enforced in a variety of unofficial ways, mostly though phone calls and visits from

engineers, editors, bosses, and other irate people who want their job done instantly

and can't understand why you haven't done it yet. Some in-house translators,

however, do translations for other companies in a larger concern, and submit records

of billable hours to their company's bookkeeping department; in these cases monthly

targets may be set (200 billable hours per month, invoices worth three times your

monthly income, etc.) and translators who exceed those targets may be given

bonuses. Some translation agencies also set such targets for their in-house people.

A translator's translating speed is controlled by a number of factors:

1 typing speed

2 the level of text difficulty

The translator's view 29

3 familiarity with this sort of text

4 translation memory software

5 personal preferences or style

6 job stress, general mental state

(1—3) should be obvious: the faster one types, the faster one will (potentially) be

able to translate; the harder and less familiar the text, the slower it will be to

translate. I will return to (4) in the next section. (6) is also relatively straightforward:

if you work under great pressure, with minimum reward or praise, your general

state of mind may begin to erode your motivation, which may in turn slow

you down.

(5) is perhaps less obvious. Who would "prefer" to translate slowly? Don't all

translators want to translate as rapidly as possible? After all, isn't that what our

clients want?

The first thing to remember is that not everyone translates for clients. There is

no financial motivation for rapid translation when one translates for fun. The second

is that not all clients need a translation next week. The acquisitions editor at a

university press who has commissioned a literary or scholarly translation may want

it done quickly, for example, but "quickly" may mean in six months rather than a

year, or one year rather than two.

And the third thing to remember is that not everyone is willing or able to force

personal preferences into conformity with market demands. Some people just do

prefer to translate slowly, taking their time, savoring each word and phrase, working

on a single paragraph for an hour, perfecting each sentence before moving on to the

next. Such people will probably never make a living as freelancers; but not all

translators are freelancers, and not all translators need to make a living at it. People

with day jobs, high-earning spouses, or family money can afford to translate just as

slowly as they please. Many literary translators are academics who teach and do

research for a salary and translate in their free time, often for little or no money,

out of sheer love for the original text; in such situations rapid-fire translation may

even feel vaguely sacrilegious.

There can be no doubt, however, that in most areas of professional translation,

speed is a major virtue. I once heard a freelancer tell a gathering of student

translators, "If you're fast, go freelance; if you're slow, get an in-house job." But

translation divisions in large corporations are not havens for slow translators either.

The instruction would be more realistic like this: "If you're fast, get an in-house job;

if you're really fast, so your fingers are a blur on the keyboard, go freelance. If you're

slow, get a day job and translate in the evenings."

Above all, work to increase your speed. How? The simplest step is to improve

your typing skills. If you're not using all ten fingers, teach yourself to, or take a

typing class at a community college or other adult education institute. If you're using

all ten fingers but looking at the keyboard rather than the screen while you type, train yourself to type without looking at the keys. Take time out from translating

to practice typing faster.

The other factors governing translating speed are harder to change. The speed

with which you process difficult vocabulary and syntactic structures depends partly

on practice and experience. The more you translate, the more well-trodden synaptic

pathways are laid in your brain from the source to the target language, so that the

translating of certain source-language structures begins to work like a macro on

the computer: zip, the target-language equivalent practically leaps through your

fingers to the screen. Partly also it depends on subliminal reconstruction skills that

we will be exploring in the rest of the book.

The hardest thing to change is a personal preference for slow translation.

Translating faster than feels comfortable increases stress, decreases enjoyment (for

which see below), and speeds up translator burnout. It is therefore more beneficial

to let translating speeds increase slowly, and as naturally as possible, growing out of

practice and experience rather than a determination to translate as fast as possible

right now.

In addition, with translating speed as with other things, variety is the spice of life.

Even the fastest translators cannot comfortably translate at top speed all day, all

week, all month, year-round. In this sense it is fortunate, in fact, that research,

networking, and editing slow the translator down; for most translators a "broken"

or varied rhythm is preferable to the high stress of marathon top-speed translating.

You translate at top speed for an hour or two, and the phone rings; it is an agency

offering you a job. You go back to your translation while they fax it to you, then

stop again to look the new job over and call back to say yes or no. Another hour or

two of high-speed translating and a first draft of the morning job is done; but there

are eight or ten words that you didn't find in your dictionaries, so you get on the

phone or the fax or e-mail, trying to find someone who knows. Phone calls get

immediate answers; faxes and e-mail messages take time. While you're waiting, you

pick up the new translation job, start glancing through it, and before you know it

(some sort of automatism clicks in) you're translating it, top speed. An hour later

the fax machine rings; it's a fax from a friend overseas who has found some of your

words. You stop translating to look through the fax. You're unsure about one of the

words, so you get back on e-mail and send out a message over a listserver, asking

other subscribers whether this seems right to them; back in your home computer,

you jump over to the morning translation and make the other changes. You notice

you're hungry, so you walk to the kitchen and make a quick lunch, which you eat

while looking over the fax one more time. Then back to the afternoon translation,

top speed. If the fax machine hasn't rung in an hour or two, you find a good stopping

place and check your e-mail; nothing for you, but there's a debate going on about

a group of words you know something about, so you type out a message and send

it. Then you edit the morning translation for a while, a boring job that has to be

done some time; and back to the afternoon translation.

And all this keeps you from burning out on your own translating speed.

Interruptions may cut into your earnings; but they may also prolong your professional

life (and your sanity).