translator job tasks

The tribulations of a translator

Waiting in order to run and running in order to wait: the life of a translator is not easy…

The life of a translator is not easy. Behold the epic lives of these post-Babel human heroes, who must face evil deadlines, the hazards of a nervous breakdown and the demons of information technology: behold the translator, their herculean task, their unfailing courage, their tragic destiny…

Waiting in order to run…

In the beginning, there was the waiting. Because the life of a freelance translator is like Genesis in reverse: 6 days’ “rest” for one day of work. Except that the translator doesn’t enjoy the rest before work. This is technical unemployment without being unemployed, yet full of uncertainty and minutes spent waiting for an email from a client or a translation agency…and suddenly, usually very late at the end of the sixth day, comes the email in question. Hallelujah, it’s finally time to work.

From one stress to another

The stress of the deadline takes over from the stress of waiting. While the translator feverishly opens all the programs, websites and other references that they will use to carry out their glorious intercultural task, they calculate and recalculate how much time they have to complete their work (mentally, which is not easy because a translator is more than anything else a person of letters): ‘21,345 words, I can do X words per hour so that makes Y hours of work and I have Y-4 hours to deliver it … that means a few hours less of sleep here, a little increase in productivity there, and suddenly it almost becomes possible…’

Enemies of the translator

Almost possible, if all goes well. Which implies:  A. that the god of technology does not confuse our job with Job (and the holy trinity Computer – Software – Internet hears our prayers); B. that the document to be translated is not one that first needs to be corrected in order to be made intelligible before one can actually start translating it; C. that the writer of the text hasn’t facetiously decided, in a Oulipian effort as remarkable as it is reprehensible, to include at least one untranslatable phrase per line.

…and running in order to wait

Let’s imagine that everything goes like clockwork. The deadline comes around, the translator clicks “Send”: the financial, medical or legal translation is delivered in due form. The translator suddenly remembers that they have a spine, that is difficult to separate from the back of their chair. Then, completely exhausted, they will try to walk to their bed or some more or less padded surface where they will collapse like a castaway on a warm sandy beach. And that’s when the recovery phase begins: our good translator will then attempt to recover their strength and the money that they should henceforth be paid.

Because in the end as well, there was some waiting. But that’s another story… a very, very long story…

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This article has been written by Mathieu

Mathieu was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After studying Literature and Linguistic Research, he moved to Argentina where he is currently a translator and a web editor.