Babelfish / Life

What I Do

Recently, I have answered the question “What do you do for a living?” quite regularly. My first response is always:

“I am a translator.”

People say: “Oh, so you work with people lots, like on conferences?” No, no, I don’t work much with people at all. In fact, the only thing I really work lots with is my computer.

Because translating is converting a written text from the source language (generally the original language) into the target language. What you’re referring to is actually called interpretation, which is converting spoken language from one language into another.

doing a little bit of writing

doing a little bit of writing

It’s OK to confuse the two; everybody does (with the exception of those of us in the field – I should hope!) What I don’t understand is that once I have explained the difference, people seem to lose all interest. Have I offended them by explaining the difference, by educating them, broadening their horizons? That seems unlikely to me, but if I have, please know I haven’t meant for you to feel uncomfortable or silly for not knowing.

The silence in turn makes me uncomfortable. What have I said wrong? I would love to talk more about my profession, because I’m passionate about languages, I love what I do, I would like to talk more about it with you. I’m currently translating an autobiography as well as working on my own book.

Instead I say:

“But right now I’m in between careers, working as a cleaner.”

Immediately the interest is back. A cleaner, a real life thing everybody knows something about, because they all have cleaned something or know someone who has! Something tangible, something real life. For the record, we also have a lot to do with translations, especially if English isn’t your first language. But who knows that really? For fun, just look at the very first page of the next book you pick up. There might be something like this there:

made possible by the financial support of the Foundation for the Promotion and Translation of the Dutch language

made possible by the Foundation for the Promotion and Translation of the Dutch language

Back to the point. Sure I have a funny story or two about disgusting toilets, which I can use to lighten the conversation with and potentially make you feel better about your ignorance. But it’s not what I love to do; it’s not what truly interests me; it’s not what I spent four years at uni doing.

Here’s the thing. It feels like I need to make you feel better, but you can’t summon any interest it what makes me feel good, you can’t celebrate my finally translating my first book?

For shame…

– – –

The English (source language) version of VERTREK is now available! Vertrek is a social autobiography written by Keith (Kees) Paulusse. As a young boy he migrated from the Netherlands to Australia with his father, mother and two baby sisters. They built a new life for themselves down under. Now, fifty years later Keith is telling his story. Vertrek is available as a hardcover, softcover, and ebook.

Towards the end of the year, Vertrek will also be available in Dutch. I am currently in the process of translating it.
Tegen het einde van het jaar zal Vertrek ook in het Nederlands verkrijgbaar zijn. Op dit moment ben ik het aan het vertalen. 

book launch VERTREK

book launch VERTREK


8 thoughts on “What I Do

  1. wow Jana what a way to present your work!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Was there a kind of presentation on local radio/tv as well?
    Is your name mantioned in the publication?

  2. Pingback: 1t5s: on translating | oui depuis

  3. I have just finished reading the book vertrek and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would also like to read it in Dutch as I was always very critical of book translations. This was until a friend asked me to translate a story he had written in Dutch on FB . It was for his friends who did not know Dutch, but understood English. He found it to hard himself to do that. I did the translation but found it not easy to do. After that incident I do not criticize any more.

    • Hi Hetty! It is definitely a bit of an art, isn’t it?! I musy say I’m still very critical, but I’m also aware of how hard it is. Do you have a link to the story? Thanks for your response!

  4. Wow, this post is so interesting. First, I am an educated person, but I didn’t know the difference between translating and interpreting. Now I do, and I appreciate it. Second, I enjoyed the irony of “… I’m between careers, working as a cleaner.” And finally, I’ve always been interested in how one translates a piece of great literature or a book on how to clean toilets and remains true to the original author’s intent when words and phrases can have so many different connotations? How do you ever know what an author intended in every passage? It would boggle my mind. So count me as one who finds your job quite interesting and your achievement worth celebrating. Wow!

    • Thank you for your reply, Janet! Translating is abalancing act; you need to find the balance between what the words say and how you interpret them. It isn’t a science and it’s very prone to error – which is why not everyone can do it; there is more to it than just being able to speak two (or more) languages. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s a conscious decision. I’m lucky with the book I’m working on at the moment, because the author wants me to use informal/spoken language (as opposed to more formal written language). He’s not too worries about converting the exact message. In this case, it’s possible because it is an autobiography, so it is more about the story. The translated text is considered to be the intellectual property of the translator and could be considered as a new story. I love it! Every sentence is a puzzle!

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