Guest post: Common misconceptions about translators

Welcome back to our guest series! If you are from Brazil, you must be enjoying our Carnival holiday somehow. How about relaxing and reading the contribution of today’s guest? If you’re not enjoying it in Rio or in Salvador, that is, in which case you must have more interesting things to do. I don’t blame you. Just bookmark it for later. 😉

Our guest today is Emeline Jamoul, a translator from Belgium.

Welcome, Emeline!

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Reclaiming the truth about our profession

It’s a universal truth that freelance translators are misunderstood creatures. Yes, translators have been around for thousands of years and we are probably doing one of the oldest jobs on earth, but that doesn’t mean that people are aware of our existence and purpose. If you’ve ever told someone what your job was, I’m sure you have faced a couple of answers worth their weight in gold. People always assume certain things about your career choices: either you are working as a freelancer because you are scared of the real world (hey, we have responsibilities too!) or because you happen to be bilingual.

I have been a freelance translator for 1 year and a half now, and in 18 months, the number of ridiculous comments I have heard regarding my job has done nothing but increase. Here are some of them, which I’m sure most of you must have heard too!

  1. We only translate novels
    To the eyes of common people, translators can only translate one type of material: novels. When I went to my doctor’s office last year, she asked me what I was doing now that I had graduated. When I told her I had become a freelance translator, she looked at me in awe and asked which novels I had translated. I had to disappoint her though – most translators don’t have the luxury to translate literature on a day-to-day basis even if that’s the dream of many!
  2. Translators and interpreters are the same thing
    We all cringe when we hear that someone is looking for a professional to “translate” one of their meetings. Blasphemy!
  3. “Okay but… what is your real job?”
    Because of course, working from home (in our PJs) is too good to be true. 🙂
  4. “You’ll only translate user guides.”
    One of my high school teachers told me that one. I still remember that day in class when we were all asked what we wanted to become when we were grown-ups – I was hesitating between journalist, translator or teacher. You can all imagine how naïve I must have been at the age of 13 – gullible enough to believe her when she told me that I would either translate user guides for the rest of my life or…
  5. “Work at the European Union”
    But this of course, was the job of a very select few. Okay, I’ll admit that she wasn’t too far from the truth on this one. But what about translating marketing documents? What about interpreting in hospitals? And translating international contracts? There is more to translating than user manuals and interpreting European affairs!
  6. “Working from home is really not the same as working in an office.” (to be read that with a condescending tone)
    No, in fact, it is much better. 🙂

And the list goes on and on. But what can we do about these common misconceptions about our job? If you look at the comments I have listed here, all of them stem from the same problem: ignorance about our profession. It is also our responsibilities to raise awareness about what it is really like to work as a freelance translator.

We should remind ourselves that many people are actually curious about what we do, and that it’s not so bad. Whenever I see question marks on my interlocutor’s faces, I make a point of elaborating, instead of saying “I just translate English texts into French.” I’m usually asked what and who I translate for, which clearly shows that most people don’t have any idea how and why translation is used. What better opportunity than to give a good (and accurate) first impression of our wonderful profession?

What about you, dear readers, which type of comments regarding your job have you faced so far?

Thank you for your kindly contribution to our blog, Emeline! 🙂 It’s a pleasure to host you here.

People indeed don’t quite understand what we do. They don’t understand the translation part neither the freelance part. It’s quite difficult to try to make them believe we don’t actually work on our PJs (I tried last Saturday to family – who should already be used to it – but it didn’t work). :/

About the author
portraitsmallerEmeline Jamoul is a passionate English and Spanish into French translator. She mainly specializes in marketing, business and health. A self-confessed multitasker, Emeline is addicted to social media and has a soft post for African-American literature. You can contact her through her website or on Twitter.