A Dinner in the Life of a Translator

Zu den deutschsprachigen Blogs A Dinner in the Life of a Translator
Zu den deutschsprachigen Blogs A Dinner in the Life of a Translator

Do you ever wonder about how people react to other’s career choices? I certainly do. For example, exactly how does a proctologist answer questions about their chosen career? I’d like to give you some insights into what it’s like for me when I am posed that question.

An article contributed by Daniela: translator, copywriter, proofreader, and English teacher with a keen interest in human nature and a dark sense of humour.

Two months ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to a dinner party by a good friend. Susanne always makes an effort to get me out of my apartment and away from my computer so that I can meet new people. She calls it “creating your network”. She invited a few people and because she is an amazing cook, everyone accepted.

A few I had met before, but some were, in Susanne’s words, “networking potential”. Among the guests were an IT consultant for the local rail company, an executive secretary for the head of R&D of an electric company and an architect who ran his own firm. Their partners had come along as well.

Aperitifs were served and soon it was time for the appetizer. We took our places at the elegantly decorated dinner table and enjoyed the lovely sunset through the panoramic window. Some small talk commenced and, as usual, people complimented Susanne’s elegance and taste and began exchanging information about their various professions.

Just as I had begun to nibble on my delicately flavoured slice of baguette, Mr. IT turned to me and asked, “So, what do you do?” I swallowed the bite I had just taken and replied, “I’m a translator. I translate German into English.” “Ah.” was his curt response and turned to speak to his wife. I thought this conversation had come to an end when Ms. Secretary spoke and said what most of the guests were probably thinking: “In the days of Google translate, Bing, and all those others, is this still necessary. What I am trying to say is – well, aren’t you being replaced by translation programs?”

Deeply offended, I jumped onto the table nimble ninja-like and began kicking the dinner plates and wine glasses off the table, spilling wine and carpaccio onto the laps of the startled dinner guests. Actually, no I didn’t. It’s fun to imagine I did, though, isn’t it?
Instead, I took a long breath and simply said, “public viewing”.

The dinner guests exchanged quizzical glances and Mr. IT picked at his vegan carpaccio. Ms. Secretary then asked, “Excuse me”? “Public viewing, in English, is looking at your Uncle Herbert in his casket and saying your goodbyes”, I answered, probably much too enthusiastically. “Oh, I see”, she sputtered and turned to speak to someone else but I gleefully continued: “handy isn’t a phone, smoking is something you do – not an article of clothing, and your car isn’t an old timer. An old timer is a rather old-fashioned English term usually heard in cowboy movies and means an elderly man. So think about that the next time you want to take your old timer out for a Sunday drive!”

“Translators deal with these ‘false friends’ all of the time, as well as the grammar issues and the doubts.” “The doubts?” asked Mr. IT. “Yes, often people don’t believe you”, I sighed. “Could you give me an example”? enquired Mr. IT, apparently I had piqued his interest.

“Of course,” I replied and began detailing a situation that had taken place just two days before. “A client called me and asked about a text I had translated. ‘You are sure zeez is ze right verd in English’? Yes, I am sure this is the right word. ‘Ok, but how about ze grammatik, it not look right to me. You are sure zees is all right?’ Yes, yes I am. ‘Oh ok, you are ze mother speaker’. Yes, yes I am,” I agreed with a sigh.

I turned to my fellow dinner guests and said “Translators are able to understand the subtleties and nuances of the languages they translate. We understand the emotions behind the words. We feel language! Software won’t be able to replace real-life human translators, at least not anytime soon”. Realizing that I had gotten a bit emotional, I leaned back in my chair and took a sip of the wine.

Mr. Architect, who had been mostly silent throughout the conversation, looked at me and asked, “Do you have a business card”?

“Yes, yes I do”.

We LOVE language.