Interview with the Translator

When you tell someone you are a translator, they have plenty of questions, many of which show that the profession is commonly misunderstood. So here are a few answers.

Q: What language do you speak?
A: While translators need to understand the language(s) they work from extremely well, they do not need to speak the language(s) as such since they only write in their own language. Listening and understanding require a different set of skills from speaking a language. This also means that translators do not necessarily translate both ways between the various languages they work with. Typically, a translator will work from one, two, maybe three languages into their native one(s, if they are bilingual). For a translation the other way, you will often need another professional. In my case, I translate between French and English both ways, and from Spanish into either English or French.

Q: Do you translate in courts?
A: You mean interpreting. Translation is in writing only, interpreting is “live”, and they require a different type of training. I’m a translator, not an interpreter.

Q: What sort of things do you translate?
A: Whatever comes my way! That is, as long as it is within my ability. All translators have their areas of expertise and areas they won’t touch. Legal and medical, for instance, are best left to experts for obvious reasons. But there are many requests for fairly general topics too, which bring variety and new challenges. As for the nature of the documents, it varies as much as the topics. I often work on websites, marketing material, magazine articles, newsletters, press releases, questionnaires, psychological reports, psychometric tests, reviews (of products, art exhibitions…), certificates and other personal documents… The list goes on. (For specific examples and my areas of expertise, please visit my website on the left).

Q: Do you translate books?
A: Literary translation is a very specific field that few people can do well. There are in fact competitions and awards for literary translation. As for non-fiction books, this is not an everyday type of project either, and not something I have done on a substantial scale. Each country is a different market, authors can rarely afford it and publishers need to be confident that the book will sell before investing in a translation.

Q: How much does it cost?
A: How long is a piece of string? It depends on the length of the document, the language combination, any awkward formatting to recreate, the field and level of expertise required, and the amount of research and time necessary. Also bear in mind that this is a skilled job. Just as you wouldn’t let just anybody do the plumbing in your house without some guarantee of their qualifications, you doubtfully want to entrust your business communication to an amateur who “speaks French” (see first question). So beware of bargains. As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Q: How long does it take to translate a page?
A: Again, how long is a page? It depends on the font, the layout, etc. The length of the text is usually determined by the word count (not for all languages, however). Depending on the difficulty of the text and the amount of research needed, a translator may complete 2,000 to 2,500 words a day on average, but this is only the first draft. We then need to go through it again, checking it thoroughly and proofreading it at least once, which can take half the time the initial draft took. Some texts are straight forward while others take much longer.

Q: How do people find you?
A: I am a Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL) and a member of the Association of Art Historians (Freelancers & Independents) and am listed on their directories. I’m also registered with the Consulate General of France and the French Embassy in London. Additionally, I’m on LinkedIn; you’ve found my blog; Linguistic Alchemy is on Facebook; and if the sun shines, my website may even appear on Google! And last but not least: word of mouth is a great and powerful ally, so I network as much as time allows.

Any other questions?

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