Translators and Adventurers

When it comes to a great many professions and occupations present in the modern world, I doubt that it is possible to name any profession that you can learn at school and practice that same occupation throughout your whole life without ever needing to learn additional knowledge and skills for it.

We call it further education, self-education, career development or skill upgrading. And we all know it is necessary, however very time-consuming and not always directly payable and simply painful at times, especially for those who already have family commitments or overwhelming job hours.

I will have to resort to translator as an example of an occupation since this is what I do for living and this also happens to be what I love to do. Further education for translators is indispensable. Any project requires prior research. And I consider myself lucky to have a chance to go online and search for necessary information, learn new things - even if in most cases I actually spend more time working than I get paid for. I have to take pride in the final result of my job and only with proper preparation can I render good results. Some people find it unfair - spending more time on work than one gets money for. But this is how it works for me and I rarely if ever complain about it.

I have been thinking about two rather different types of translators - say, at the point of graduation from the University we all possess more or less similar and equal sets of knowledge, skills and experience. And then fellow language gurus split in two groups. The first lucky ones quickly find a large (or not so large, doesn't matter) company that hires them on a full-time basis and they start working fixed schedules translating some contents that is strictly limited by the sphere of business the company deals in. It is surely strenuous at first but over the time becomes not so tough and slowly turns into the work routine.

This routine can be mixed up from time to time with some challenging assignments, but in general after a couple of years you can call yourself a specialist in this particular sphere and sigh with relief as you don't have to burn the midnight oil anymore trying to cram all the unknown stuff into your brain and make it part of your active vocabulary. Instead you take it slow enough to learn new achievements in the specific realm, you read industry-related articles, absorb new information and rarely if ever get stressed about not knowing something or not being able to do your job in a perfect way. Yeah, those lucky happy language professionals...

And there is this second group of less fortunate but probably more resourceful colleagues. They are freelancers for the most part. Or generalists, multi-functional workers, or sometimes even Jacks of all trades. Sounds a little hurtful, especially since they work no less, but often far more than the fancy specialists in one trade. They receive translation assignments varying from marketing copies to operating manuals for oil and gas industrial equipment. Thus freelance translators either have to stick to really simple translations dealing with general topics or they have to take a challenge and read-read-read tons of specialized literature and take on those assignments that require certain background knowledge and sometimes months and years of prior learning and instruction.
Since generic translations pay a lot less and specialized translations require a lot of preparation time, the outcome in terms of money may appear to be the same in the end. However this should not stop freelancers from applying for bigger projects - any amount of time spent on learning something new is worth every penny earned for the project.

And as far as buyers are concerned - just think about the person that you are hiring: if you are willing to spend extra money on a specialist, say, in medical field, you may well end up hiring someone who has worked his or her entire life translating about medical equipment and has never encountered medical reports, diseases and diagnosis in his/her practice. Odds are that this specialist will do a poorer job than a so-called non-specialist, who may be a more flexible translator and a faster learner due to his/her nature of workflow. So hire smart: ask your provider about previous projects, professional references and feedback. A more expensive specialist does not guarantee a higher quality of translation.

And a few words to fellow language specialists: no matter how much you think you know about the subject you specialize in, take a plunge and accept a less familiar topic for translation. Yes, you will spend more time and end up with less money, but you'll also recall this sensation of the neurons in your brain quickly transferring new information and adding it to the inexhaustible resources of your powerful mind. And of course this feeling of accomplishing something truly challenging - it is not a nerve-racking experience, it is a brain-storming adventure.