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One would think that burnout rates would be high among translators. The job

is not only underpaid and undervalued by society; it involves long hours spent

alone with uninspiring texts working under the stress of short deadlines. One would

think, in fact, that most translators would burn out on the job after about three


And maybe some do. That most don't, that one meets freelance translators who

are still content in their jobs after thirty years, says something about the operation

of the greatest motivator of all: they enjoy their work. They must — for what else

would sustain them? Not the fame and fortune; not the immortal brilliance of the

texts they translate. It must be that somehow they find a sustaining pleasure in

the work itself.

In what, precisely? And why? Is it a matter of personal style: some people just

happen to love translating, others don't? Or are there ways to teach oneself to find

enhanced enjoyment in translation?

Not all translators enjoy every aspect of the work; fortunately, the field is diverse

enough to allow individuals to minimize their displeasure. Some translators dislike

dealing with clients, and so tend to gravitate toward work with agencies, which are

staffed by other translators who understand the difficulties translators face. Some

translators go stir-crazy all alone at home, and long for adult company; they tend

to get in-house jobs, in translation divisions of large corporations or translation

agencies or elsewhere, so that they are surrounded by other people, who help relieve

the tedium with social interaction. Some translators get tired of translating all day;

they take breaks to write poetry, or attend a class at the local college, or go for a

swim, or find other sources of income to pursue every third hour of the day, or

every other day of the week. Some translators get tired of the repetitiveness of their

jobs, translating the same kind of text day in, day out; they develop other areas of

specialization, actively seek out different kinds of texts, perhaps try their hand at

translating poetry or drama. (We will be dealing with these preferences in greater

detail in Chapter 3.)

Still, no matter how one diversifies one's professional life, translating (like most

jobs) involves a good deal of repetitive drudgery that will simply never go away. And

the bottom line to that is: if you can't learn to enjoy even the drudgery, you won't

last long in the profession. There is both drudgery and pleasure to be found in

reliability, in painstaking research into the right word, in brain-wracking attempts

to recall a word that you know you've heard, in working on a translation until

it feels just right. There is both drudgery and pleasure to be found in speed, in

translating as fast as you can go, so that the keyboard hums. There is both drudgery

and pleasure to be found in taking it slowly, staring dreamily at (and through) the

source text, letting your mind roam, rolling target-language words and phrases

around on your tongue. There are ways of making a mind-numbingly boring text

come alive in your imagination, of turning technical documentation into epic poems,

weather reports into songs.

In fact in some sense it is not too much to say that the translator's most important

skill is the ability to learn to enjoy everything about the job. This is not the translator's

most important skill from the user's point of view, certainly; the user wants

a reliable text rapidly and cheaply, and if a translator provides it while hating every

minute of the work, so be it. If as a result of hating the work the translator burns out,

so be that too. There are plenty of translators in the world; if one burns out and quits

the profession, ten others will be clamoring for the privilege to take his or her place.

But it is the most important skill for the translators themselves. Yes, the ability

to produce reliable texts is essential; yes, speed is important. But a fast and reliable

translator who hates the work, or who is bored with it, feels it is a waste of time,

will not last long in the profession - and what good are speed and reliability to the

ex-translator? "Boy, I used to be fast." Pleasure in the work will motivate a mediocre

translator to enhance her or his reliability and speed; boredom or distaste in the

work will make even a highly competent translator sloppy and unreliable.

And in some sense this textbook is an attempt to teach translators to enjoy their

work more — to drill not specific translation or vocabulary skills but what we might

call "pretranslation" skills, attitudinal skills that (should) precede and undergird

every "verbal" or "linguistic" approach to a text: intrinsic motivation, openness,

receptivity, a desire to constantly be growing and changing and learning new things,

a commitment to the profession, and a delight in words, images, intellectual

challenges, and people.

In fact the fundamental assumptions underlying the book's approach to translation

might be summed up in the following list of axioms:

1 Translation is more about people than about words.

2 Translation is more about the jobs people do and the way they see their world

than it is about registers or sign systems.

3 Translation is more about the creative imagination than it is about rule-governed

text analysis.

4 The translator is more like an actor or a musician (a performer) than like a tape


5 The translator, even of highly technical texts, is more like a poet or a novelist

than like a machine translation system.

Which is not to say that translation is not about words, or phrases, or registers,

or sign systems. Clearly those things are important in translation. It is to say rather

that it is more productive for the translator to think of such abstractions in larger

human contexts, as a part of what people do and say.

Nor is it to say that human translation is utterly unlike the operation of a tape

recorder or machine translation system. Those analogies can be usefully drawn. It is

merely to say that machine analogies may be counterproductive for the translator

in her or his work, which to be enjoyable must be not mechanical but richly human.

Machine analogies fuel formal, systematic thought; they do not succor the translator,

alone in a room with a computer and a text, as do more vibrant and imaginative

analogies from the world of artistic performance or other humanistic endeavors.

Is this, then, a book of panaceas, a book of pretty lies for translators to use in the

rather pathetic pretense that their work is really more interesting than it seems?

No. It is a book about how translators actually view their work; how translating

actually feels to successful professionals in the field.

Besides, it is not that thinking about translation in more human terms, more

artistic and imaginative terms, simply makes the work seem more interesting. Such

is the power of the human imagination that it actually makes it become more

interesting. Imagine yourself bored and you quickly become bored. Imagine yourself

a machine with no feelings, a computer processing inert words, and you quickly

begin to feel dead, inert, lifeless. Imagine yourself in a movie or a play (or an actual

use situation) with other users of the machine whose technical documentation you're

The structure of How. The autotelic [self-rewarding] experience is described in

very similar terms regardless of its context . . . Artists, athletes, composers,

dancers, scientists, and people from all walks of life, when they describe how it

feels when they are doing something that is worth doing for its own sake, use terms

that are interchangeable in the minutest details. This unanimity suggests that order

in consciousness produces a very specific experiential state, so desirable that one

wishes to replicate it as often as possible. To this state we have given the name

of "flow," using a term that many respondents used in their interviews to explain

what the optimal experience felt like.

Challenges and skills. The universal precondition for flow is that a person should

perceive that there is something for him or her to do, and that he or she is capable

of doing it. In other words, optimal experience requires a balance between the

challenges perceived in a given situation and the skills a person brings to it. The

"challenge" includes any opportunity for action that humans are able to respond

to: the vastness of the sea, the possibility of rhyming words, concluding a business

deal, or winning the friendship of another person are all classic challenges that

set many flow experiences in motion. But any possibility for action to which a skill

corresponds can produce an autotelic experience.

It is this feature that makes flow such a dynamic force in evolution. For every

activity might engender it, but at the same time no activity can sustain it for long

unless both the challenges and the skills become more complex. .. For example,

a tennis player who enjoys the game will want to reproduce the state of enjoyment

by playing as much as possible. But the more such individuals play, the more their

skills improve. Now if they continue to play against opponents of the same level

as before, they will be bored. This always happens when skills surpass challenges.

To return in flow and replicate the enjoyment they desire, they will have to find

stronger opposition.

To remain in flow, one must increase the complexity of the activity by

developing new skills and taking on new challenges. This holds just as true for

enjoying business, for playing the piano, or for enjoying one's marriage, as for

the game of tennis. Heraclitus's dictum about not being able to step in the same

stream twice holds especially true for flow. This inner dynamic of the optimal

experience is what drives the self to higher and higher levels of complexity. It is

because of this spiraling compexity that people describe flow as a process of

"discovering something new," whether they are shepherds telling how they enjoy

caring for their flocks, mothers telling how they enjoy playing with their children,

or artists, describing the enjoyment of painting. Flow forces people to stretch

themselves, to always take on another challenge, to improve on their abilities.

{Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "The Flow Experience and

its Significance for Human Psychology" (1995: 29-30)

(with permission))

The translator's view 37

Hi Lantrans,

How would you like a story like this?

A translator sent me his resume and a sample translation

(I didn't order him anything — just asked him to send me

one of the translations he had already done — that's an

important point).

I answered him pointing out some mistakes in his sample

and the fact that he didn't comply with my request to

name his CV file with his last name. I wrote him: do you

know how many files named resume.doc I receive every day?

His answer was: Do you know how many sample translations

I have to do searching for a job? I simply don't have

time to polish them. Surely, I will be more accurate

working on a real job as I won't then waste my time

searching for an assignment.

Isn't he charming?

Natalie Shahova

* * * * *

I'm sure he can get a job at McDonald's . . .

Kirk McElhearn

* * * * *

Another thing many people sending you unsolicited material

don't think about is that you might not have a secretary

sitting there who has nothing better to do than to sift

through the crap that arrives.

Reminds me of the days not too long ago when I was

receiving unsolicited ***handwritten*** applications

almost every day in the mail because we happen to be in

the Yellow Pages. Don't people know that an application

gives them the chance to show their word processing

capabilities? Who did they think is going to teach them

that? Did they think there is someone here to type their


One young woman really took the cake when she called up,

complaining that I hadn't responded to her unsolicited

application. When I told her I just didn't have the time,

she demanded that I mail her stuff back to her. (It was the usual application containing all sorts of certificates

and transcripts.) I told her I wasn't going to shell out

the equivalent of $1.50 for something I didn't ask for and

that if she wanted it she was free to come and pick it

up. She never took me up on my offer.

Amy Bryant

* * * * *

Reason is probably that not too long ago, maybe 10—15

years back, handwritten was the form to be used for job

applications. Probably employers imagined learning something

from the graphology. Mind you, that was at the time

when I might have sent out job applications, but my hand

was so lousy even back then, so preferred to buy my first

"computer" in 1983 or so. (I only sent out a job application

once, a decade later, in mint-condition layout of

course. Didn't get the job as a multilingual press person

for some biotech center here in Vienna, and am *soooo*

happy about that now.)

look Ma, no hands!

Werner Richter

* * * * *

As head of Human Resources for Laconner Medical Center

(and head of everything else there except providing

medical care), I required job applicants to submit typed

applications — which had to be flawless; I wouldn't interview

a nurse whose cover letter was ridden with typos/

spelling errors. But I also had a form for them to fill

out by hand when they arrived for the interview, which

included a section that required a few sentences to be

strung together. That way I got to see their handwriting

— and whether or not they could spell, write, etc.

That said, when my son was home at Christmas it amazed

me when he said he was about the only person with a laptop

computer in the entire translation program; that exams

were to be handwritten (he doesn't have a prayer there —

the son and grandson of physicians, his handwriting has

never been particularly legible), and that people actually

said they "refused" to have anything to do with computers.

The program does offer a course in technology (TRADOS,

of course), and some Internet stuff (Erik has a bit of

an advantage there), though one teacher told him to use

dictionaries because you can't trust anything you find on

the net . . . he's on some committee, stirring up trouble,

recommending that everyone use computers for everything

Makes you wonder,

Susan Larsson

* * * * *


> Reason is probably that not too long ago, maybe 10—15a

back, handwritten

> was the form to be used for job applications. Probably

employers imagined

> learning something from the graphology.

I realize that but this was happening as recently as 1—2

years ago. By then the institute for applied linguistics

at the local university (Saarland University in

Saarbruucken, Germany) was offering word processing (and

the rest of the Office family members) and translation

memory training.

Granted, these courses were optional but I would have

thought students would have gotten the message that these

things are an absolute must if they want to make it in

the real world.

A year ago I attended an informal TRADOS seminar

organized by a colleague. It was conducted in the

institute's computer room. I about dropped my teeth when

I saw all the TM software installed on those machines (at

least 5—6 programs in all).

Amy Bryant

* * * * *

Well over 10 years ago, a teacher at McGill University

was telling translation students he would not accept

handwritten assignments and that since they intended to

eventually earn money as translators, they should start

acting as professionals right then. He also recommended

that they do their first draft on the computer, NOT do

everything by hand and then transcribe their final text.

Michelle Asselin

(Lantra-L, February 1-3, 2002)

translating, all of you using the machine, walking around it, picking it up, pushing

buttons and flipping levers, and you begin to feel more alive.