Housewife with a Good Italian Dictionary? You’re Hired!

There are myths and clichés about many professions. Here are some common ones regarding translation.

Anyone who speaks more than one language can be a translator.

Even a bilingual person is not necessarily a skilled translator, let alone someone with an A-level only. If all you need is to get the gist of what the document says, such a person may be able to give you a rough idea of what it is about, but if you need an accurate and reliable translation, I suggest you hire someone who knows what they’re doing. (See What translators are made of.)

All you need is a good dictionary.

Just like you only need a good calculator to be a mathematician? Or a sharp knife to be a heart surgeon? Dictionaries are only good for literal, Google-like translations. Translation is a skilled job and many professionals have invested time, effort and money into an MA to learn about the pitfalls, challenges and techniques that translators need to be aware of.

Translation is quick and easy: it’s like retyping the document, but in another language.

Translation is not a typing job. You need a brain as much as fingers. Words don’t necessarily have a direct equivalent in the other language; languages have different grammatical and syntactical structures, requiring many sentences to be turned around completely (making the brain turn around a fair bit, too); idiomatic expressions, cultural connotations and puns require no small amount of cerebral energy (and time) to come up with an equivalent that only covers half a line; etc. This is why the average turn-around is 2,000 words a day – and that’s only the first draft.

Translation is a hobby for mums at home.

The great majority of translators are women, as much as most engineers and lorry drivers tend to be men, simply because generally speaking women are better at languages and men more interested in technical matters. Working from home does not mean having your feet up all day. Running a translation business, whether from home or anywhere else, implies being available for requests during office hours while keeping your concentration level up to ensure quality and productivity so as to meet the looming deadlines. This means that translation and babysitting are not compatible.  In fact, some translators rent an office to get some peace and space, although rare are those who can afford such a luxury.

Translators can work evenings and weekends.

We can if we choose to, but we are also human and like to have a life as much as you do. Evening and weekend availability is at our own discretion and often incurs a supplement, just like an employee can expect overtime pay for working anti-social hours.


Not quite your typical translator.


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