Are translators traitors or heroes?

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Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

I do not like to romanticize our profession, saying, for example, that we have superpowers or the like. We do not. Our uniqueness and importance are the same as those of any other professional. Each one has their own relevance in their own areas. We have superpowers as much as doctors or teachers have: each one with their own value in their own area. We are not better than anyone.

However, I did come across a revelation these past few weeks – something I have not actually realized before – while translating product headlines of a major online retailer.

Have you ever bought anything from online retailers with English websites? Their product headlines and descriptions are horrendous, dreadful, hideous! They are a bunch of words bundled into a sentence with no connection whatsoever. And lots of mistakes. Argh!

Unfortunately, though, this is becoming increasingly common in English, in any field: contracts, business presentations, reports, etc. We are constantly faced with poorly-written texts to translate. I am sure you can totally relate with what I am saying, right?

My aim here is not to point fingers at anyone but to discuss our roles as translators. Do we transpose this horrible English into our own target languages? Never. Or at least we shouldn’t. I know I don’t. We try our best, sometimes working miracles, to understand the disastrous source and beautifully transform it into something – if not close to perfection – great in the target. After all, this is what we do. We craft fluent translations as if they were originally written in the target language, no matter how bad the source is.

And who gets all the credit for it? Most of the times, especially in technical translation, as is my case, the author, of course. We avoid misunderstandings, noises, and bad reputation. We facilitate communication not only by simply translating from one language to the other but also by improving the quality of the source.

Isn’t that beautiful? We praise ourselves for turning something ugly into something graceful. We love turning mistakes into clear sentences that flow easily. And I even dare say translations are usually way better texts than most of the original writings out there because our job is to perfect ourselves, day after day, translation after translation. Our job is to enable communication between languages and cultures, and to do so naturally.

So is the translator really a traitor? If anything, the translator definitely is the author’s best friend, godparent, carer – a trustworthy friend they can blindly count on whenever they have linguistic needs. If you have the right professional translator by your side, that is. 😉 If you do, make sure you cherish and value them because they are a rare find. If you don’t, it would be my greatest pleasure to help. 🙂 And if you are one: kudos to you and keep up the good work!

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