Knowing what you want to do with your life at a very early age is clearly a sign that you know how to set your goals straight. Especially when you are dreaming of becoming not a singer, not an actress, not even an Internet sensation, but a translator. I mean, what kid wakes up one day, pours the milk down the sink and then takes a hard look in the mirror and says “One day, I will translate over 5 million words and make a living out of it”? Not even a dark French movie could sell this craziness.
But this was me. Fourteen years old, learning English and French at an advanced level, reading foreign books, comparing them with their translated Greek versions and trying to come up with my own, obviously much cooler suggestions. Ah, to be young and stupid.
So, I worked efficiently -but definitely not hard #humblebrag- to get into the university where I wanted to study the craft of translation. Somewhere, along the way, I realized that the thing I really wanted to do was be an international woman of interpreting. Always on the go, always on a new assignment, travelling the world while making some serious money (Young and Stupid, the sequel). Assisting meetings about bee farming, then a possible merger and, of course, being there for a Champions League pre-match press conference, showing my chops in a male-dominated world. A few years later, I would discover that I don’t have the stomach for it. Literally. My childhood habit of getting rid of the milk every morning was a sign of lactose intolerance, which was successfully paired through my teenage years with panic attacks and IBS – not the best assets for an ass-kicking interpreter. That dream was shot into smithereens, but translating books was still a valid option. I could still go for it.
So, after graduating with no honors, just a plain old middle-of-the-class, nothing-special-about-me university degree, served with some awesome alcohol-fueled memories (I partied too hard, no shame), I decided to move to Athens and pursue my dream of becoming a fancy book translator that still has a fun and active social life. Sex and the City had recently concluded its run and its reality-distorting effects were still lingering on my young and stupid mind. However, my goal-setting mode was still on point: find a job and find it quickly.
Looking back at how limited online resources were back when I first started looking for a job as a translator makes me want to hug every electronic device in sight. Poorly constructed websites, shady-looking contact e-mails, almost no place or platform where you could ask and find more info about the job and somehow feel included. Maybe it was the dawn of a new era in the industry that scared old translators and made us look like the annoying comet that wiped the dinosaurs off of the face of the earth. That sense wore off as the years went by. Maybe I made myself included or the dinosaurs just took a chill pill. Either way, both newbies and old reliables, we learned to get along.
No publishing house ever replied to my enthusiastic emails. Well, I received some half-hearted “Thank you for your interest” messages, but these do not count as legitimate replies. And then there was that one time that I finally got an answer from a publisher whom I had contacted via fax – no email in sight, those Internet resources were scarce, people. I received a call and my heart was pounding fast. The phone number looked familiar and I instantly made the connection. They said they wanted to meet me. When I visited the premises, I found out much to my chagrin that the company that now owned that very same fax number was a company specializing in televised home shopping and they had put out an ad during the same period I faxed my details. The job was to prepare presentations for monthly budget meetings – not even to come up with cool taglines! Thinking about it now, I really don’t know why they would think a translator had actually sent a resume for this particular job. Leaving the premises, I laughed, but my initial positive attitude was starting to stale like last week’s bread. Things were supposed to happen a certain way, I mean, I had a plan.
The university course program, although well-rounded in translation training, lacked in the field of information technology; translation tools were an exotic concept that we, the students, had in some cases heard of but did not have any hands-on or other experience with. Later in the future, the dinosaurs would finally embrace the changes that this new computer-assisted era brought along. I came across an ad that was asking for qualified translators with CAT tool experience. After I fact checked this was an actual acronym and not a typo, I couldn’t help but wonder: could I make it or maybe fake it?
In the beginning, I resented technical translation to an extreme degree. How could I waste my potential translating manuals and localizing websites? I was destined for greatness. I was supposed to become an accomplished literary translator, only this kind of translation matters and is deservedly celebrated. This perception was my reality for a few more months. The time went by and I got some steady clients while working as an in-house translator in a small agency. I grew comfortable with a bunch of different CAT tools. All my emails to publishing houses remained unanswered, but I worked too much to care anymore. Later on, I started tentatively dipping my feet in different types of texts –clinical trials, medical reports, license agreements, ad campaigns- and the more I was expanding my portfolio and my horizons, the more that perception of mine became obsolete. Like a dinosaur.
So, dear colleagues, let’s celebrate our accomplishments and our failures. How we are quick on our feet and never give up, never surrender. How we are lifelong learners and embrace change. How we turn negative feedback into motivation. How our dreams were not abandoned but morphed into something new and exciting. How all translators and interpreters matter, regardless of language pair and field of expertise. How all good translations should be appreciated and appraised. We are the cultural mediators, the skillful messengers, the linguistic interactors. Wherever you are today, in a booth, in a cubicle, at your home office, on a beautiful veranda, on a train, on a plane or on a fancy vacation you paid with your hard-earned money, cheers to you and all you do. Go out and slay.
PS: If you are an aspiring translator and you came here for the quick tips:
- It’s a fun job, but don’t do it just for fun.
- Some people want to help, some others are just self-aggrandizing narcissists.
- Networking is overrated, drinks with fellow translators are not.
About the author:
Eleni Tsikogiannopoulou studied Translation at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University. She graduated in 2006 and has been working ever since as a professional translator and transcreator for translation and ad agencies from all over the world. When asked how she can call herself a translator if her only working languages are English and French, she says “I’m obligated by law.” She believes that it’s perfectly OK to be mediocre at times, what’s not OK is not recognizing mediocrity for what it is.