10 things you are sick of hearing as a freelance translator and interpreter
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Freelance translator and/or interpreter. Four such simple words that bring up so many complications.
Over the past few years, I've been noticing that similar comments or questions about my profession keep on coming up. At first, I wondered if it’s just me. After I plucked up the courage, I decided to start talking about it with some friends who happen to be colleagues. That was it: I was not the only one – These (often tactless) comments are part of a broader challenge that all language professionals face during their career, irrespective of their language combination or the country in which they live or work.
For some people being a translator or an interpreter is like being a magician. People know it exists, people know that it is a profession, but they somehow don’t get it. The lack of professional recognition and the fact that language-related professions are relatively new compared to other professions are two possible reasons behind misconceptions about language professionals.
Here is a list with the most relatable situations language professionals find themselves in during their career.
1) An all-time classic: You are at a party, a conference, a dinner (insert preferred context) and start making small talk. The first thing that pops up in your mind is to ask other people about their profession. Then, it's your turn to say something about what you do for a living, so you just go for it. The person asking seems confused, so they take some time and then ask ‘Translator and interpreter are the same, aren't they?’. You summon up all the strength you have left to explain what the difference is. Most of us have already done this a million times, so after a point it's almost like a reflex. This conversation can be even more confusing for other people, if you happen to be both a translator and interpreter. Good luck at explaining how you can do both at the same time!
2) Moving on to (hopefully) less common discussions. You are at a family dinner. You explain to your family how things are at work and you say that it has been going well/not so well lately. Suddenly, your cousin says ‘Sounds good, but when are you going to get a proper job?’. Error 404 – for so many reasons.
3) Disaster scenario no. three: ‘Working from home is awesome! It’s like you have every day off’. Actually...it doesn't really work like that. Working from home is not like staying at home while enjoying your day off. As the term suggests, it is w-o-r-k. Yes, the fact that someone works from home gives them the freedom to work in their PJs, but working from home means that you do what other people do on a normal day at work only without commuting (and socialising).
4) You just met a friend of a friend. S/he seems to be quite interested in learning more about your job and goes on by saying: ‘Actually, I am so lucky I met you because I am in desperate need of some extra money. Let me know if you have any Spanish translation projects I can help you with! I speak some Spanish’. Well, my alarm used to go off every time I heard that one. Yes, finding a job is quite hard but diving into unknown waters and doing a job you are not qualified for means you are responsible for propping up and promoting an unfair job market – because there is probably someone else doing your dream job to earn some extra cash.
5) A friend of a friend approaches you and asks you to translate a document from Italian. You kindly reply by explaining that you are a translator but Italian is not a language you work from/into. You encourage them to contact a colleague who works from Italian (teamwork FTW) and wish them all the best. Five minutes later you receive a new email saying ‘It's really urgent. Are you sure you can't do it? I thought you were a translator’. It's always surprising to see how many people think that being a translator means that you can work into/from languages in which you don't specialise.
6) A client approaches you and asks for a quote. You kindly reply by giving them the quote including the services you offer. The client, who clearly doesn’t want to pay, gets back to you by expressing discontent and using your young age as an argument for a lower price. Don’t give in! For a very interesting insight on age and its role in our profession as translators and interpreters, read an article (The youngest person in the room) written by my dear friend and colleague, Annika Schlesiger.
7) You are having a conversation with a group of people you just met and you are asked what a word means in one of your working languages. You are caught off guard and, honestly, you don’t really know. ‘But you are a translator!’, they say. You are tempted to respond to this cliché question with an equally cliché answer (‘Yes, I am a translator, I am not a dictionary’), but you don’t. You just breathe in and have another drink.
8) Did you have to study to be a translator? I thought it was mostly like a hobby since we already have Google Translate. >Sigh<.
9) Your quotes are way too high. I'll just use Google Translate. People making this comment rarely use Google Translate. They are probably trying to make you lower your prices by undermining your value and qualifications.
10) I have a translation that needs to be done ASAP, it's really small – it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Going back to all the times I've heard this phrase, for some unexplained reason, (a) the project is never small and (b) it's always full of highly specialised terms. Apart from these two things, which should not be a problem for professionals anyway, nobody really wants a client who tells a translator in advance how long the translation of a project takes. Because it's never 10' minutes really.
But apart from these 10 things, there are people who really admire our work and acknowledge its importance. One of the best things I've been told about my job as an interpreter is that interpreting is like a superpower since it involves speaking and listening at the same time!
This is why, one should not be discouraged even if they're told all 10 things mentioned above. It is true that some professions are better established than others, but raising awareness about our job and its features should be perceived as part of our job. In fact, it's almost like our responsibility towards it. This is how each of us can pave the way for a better recognition of our profession and at the same time help the future generation of translators and interpreters avoid being exposed to all the awkwardness (and sometimes frustration) associated with all the aforementioned situations.
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