Translator’s life


by Rafał Soliński

As we were trying to come up with some subjects to cover in our blog, our friend said she would like to read about the things that annoy, irritate, and drive translators mad. We’ve decided to start with something positive, though. So, today’s post is about what translators like and enjoy most. But if you want to learn more about translators’ dislikes, we’ve got a post about that, too.


Let’s begin with a disclaimer: by saying ‘translators’, we obviously mean our own humble selves, although our theories might apply to a couple of other translators we know or know about. We don’t claim to be spokespersons for the whole translating community, because it’s a lil’ bit like stating All writers stay up late or All teachers drink strong coffee. Nope. We don’t want to reinforce stereotypes but to challenge them. And yet, there are several common traits which make a translator a good one: these may then translate into translators’ hobbies and interests or simply derive from their personality.

Well, to the point, ladies and gentlemen! What do translators like in their work and life? Is it scribbling with a quill on withered parchment? Or is it pinpointing typos to other translators and non-translators? Find out for yourselves!

1. We like reading

I know it sounds quite cliché but this is really one of the truest, firmest, and most adequate statements about us. We do like a good read! Books play an important part in our life (what books in particular? – we’ll let you know in further posts) and even though I genuinely dislike pathos, it’s just necessary now: literature has significantly shaped who we are and what we are. And I don’t only mean very serious over-the-top belles lettres. We also read comic books, online articles, random phrases on other people’s tees, cosmetic labels, and all possible instruction manuals. Right, that may look like a dangerous mania, but it doesn’t really affect our everyday life negatively; in fact, it makes it more beautiful. We are simply unable to ignore the written word.

How does this apply to being a translator? Well, having read so many sentences, we can easily, naturally, and confidently put them together in the languages we translate to. Reading, writing, and translating are closely interrelated – to be able to connect words in a sensible manner, you need to be continuously surrounded by them: experiencing, using, and perceiving language. To know where to put your commas and diacritics, you must spend some time looking at them in the right places.

translator books

2. We like languages

Hello, Captain Obvious! Well, yeah, it’d be sad if we didn’t like languages. And of course, I feel a bit silly to repeat that all over again. But our love for languages is not just about learning and using them. We’re dealing with a case of mania again. While talking to one another, we enjoy inventing puns (of damage), geeky wordplays, and linguistic inside jokes, mixing all the languages we can speak (as well as those we can’t). We love discovering the origins of words and the unexpected cognitive correlations between their meanings. We get turned on by the variety of accents and dialects. We swoon over the wonderful internal versatility of individual languages and the universality of language in general, as a miraculous means of communication and understanding.

Thanks to translating, we can be as close to language as possible: to translate a text really well – even when it comes to technical text – you must understand it completely and thoroughly, and then be able to find appropriate ways of expression in the target language to transfer the meaning of the source text in a correct and faithful way.

translation dictionaries

3. We like knowing things

As simple as that. We could actually work for some intelligence services. When you’re a translator, there’s nothing like useless facts for you. When you learn a new word, you don’t brood over whether you’re going to ever use it again or not. You are going to, trust me. We used to be those strange kids in class who didn’t ask defiantly if we were going to make any use of the knowledge imparted by teachers. What we make use of is the odd tendency of human brain to remember the (seemingly) unnecessary pieces of information. And then, suddenly, we find out that the word we encountered while reading a boring 19th-century novel at the university is exactly the one we need in the text we’re translating. Or that the fun fact we read about while endlessly navigating through Wikipedia is something that we would need to otherwise look up for the current project. They say curiosity killed the cat, but our cats are quite alright and I don’t really imagine a translator who is not deeply curious about the world that surrounds him or her. Such a translator would be miserable indeed.

In our work, we constantly learn new things in new fields. Diverse and often surprising. Sometimes we wonder when some cyber police forces will enter our office, as within one working day, we happen to enter and look up ‘tank gun construction’, ‘explosive chemical substances’, ‘criminal code provisions’, and ‘antidepressant drugs’. I really haven’t made these examples up. This is all so exciting to us! When do feel that we love our work? When we translate a text and, apart from looking for good ways of expressing a meaning, we exclaim ‘This is so interesting! Did you know that…?’.

book translation

4. We like travelling

Okay, here goes another banal statement which you can find in everyone’s resume. But we do like travelling and being able to use the languages we know in the countries we visit: sometimes to communicate with the locals, sometimes to help others (that is, being translators after hours). Travelling combines all the previous points: getting excited by shop signs in foreign languages, being curious about how other people speak, think, and perceive reality. What’s more, the unrestricted nature of our work allows us a lot of freedom in planning our trips, which basically means that with a proper deal of good planning and organisation we can go on holiday whenever we want, for any time we like. And this leads us to the next point.

Spanish translation

5. We like independence

This one may be a wee bit controversial, because everybody depends on somebody. What I mean is that we appreciate the independence of being a freelancer and a sole trader. Some translators do have 9 to 5 jobs in large translation agencies but the labour market in Poland doesn’t offer that opportunity very often.

We are going to write more about the pros and cons of being self-employed but what I’d like to highlight right now is the flexible work schedule, the high degree of self-sufficiency, the freedom of action, and the full possibility deciding about oneself, one’s working style, the type and distribution of the tasks performed. The simple chance to do what you really like and to be an equal business partner.

6. We like working from home

Well, it’s not that we love that unconditionally and unquestionably, but if you choose this mode of work, you must accept it with all its good and bad sides. You need to be strictly self-motivated, self-disciplined, and self-organised (but not overly self-absorbed). Working from home is obviously related to the previous point. It also means the opportunity to work anywhere, anytime. But let’s stay at home for now – home office is a great solution for people who value peace and quiet, who are not keen on adhering to strict dress code, who work more efficiently at non-standard hours, who display some introvert traits, who like spending time with their pets. Which of these features describe Translatorion? We’ll leave it for your own consideration.

As you may have already guessed, this is not the end. We like cats. We like tea. We like (pop)culture. We like walking. We like Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, Scandinavia and Cieszyn. We like seeing details. We like writing. And we do hope you will like us!



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