Translating: Dream or nightmare?

Dealing with a complex translation Our tips for avoiding translation errors and producing quality work.

How to deal with a difficult translation? Federico, a translator and an interpreter, gives us some tips to avoid translation mistakes and produce a high quality translation.

The difference between suffering and enjoying our profession as translators

When tackling a translation, I sometimes recall colleagues (friends, collegemates, acquaintances …) who begin work on a new translation in such a negative way that they end up canceling themselves out. For them, perhaps because they lack vocation or desire or simply have no interest in the subject, having to translate a new text is not just a misfortune, but a task which verges on the unbearable.

But this is where I like to make a difference, because I really enjoy translating (okay, not always, but usually), and I get a lot of pleasure out of giving my best. So, I firmly believe that the difference between my colleagues and I is about the initial approach. I like to think that translating is like a lucid dream, those rare moments when one is asleep and dreaming yet able to control what is going on in this uniquely personal dream world. The result is sufficiently satisfactory as to ensure one can actually come to enjoy the moment. We feel we can fly and indeed, we often do.

By contrast, the nightmare is nothing short of a veritable monster, something out of our control which we must face whether we like it or not, and which has such a hold on us that terror is the only option. And paralysis. The result of a nightmare, unlike a dream, is often something grotesque: we know the terror it caused us, but when we try to tell others what happened in the nightmare we realize that it is, indeed, something quite ineffable which cannot be explained in words. This is the big difference as regards lucid dreaming, which is very well reflected in the results.

To deal thus with a translation order not only leads to mistranslation, which is itself a nightmare and one we must endure as part of our experience, but, also, despite having translated the whole thing from start to finish, and even remembering its most memorable moments, we are nonetheless in the end unable to make sense of what we just read and may even find it to be nonsense.

This is why I think it is important to tackle any new translation positively and responsibly, as it is up to us as translation services providers to not subject our future readers to the painful ordeal of reading a bad translation. Our initial attitude and our goal should always be to achieve the state of a lucid dream, to be in control and enjoy a task that may end up being very satisfactory, as it gives us a distinct measure of freedom, as long as we know how and where to apply it.

Besides, who doesn’t like to soar from time to time?

Thanks to Nicolás P. for his cooperation!

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