I have been thinking about translators who lived in the past. Those who translated books by hand, under the candlelight, or even later, those in more recent years, who used the typewriter. Before computers, Twitter, Facebook. They produced brilliant, life changing translations that shaped our world.
Translators in ancient times would find ways to communicate with kindred spirits, patrons, people who loved books, languages, knowledge, wisdom. Through word of mouth miracles are possible even today. Imagine when it was the only way.
Although I am no historian or a translation industry expert, I would like to share some thoughts on things translators who worked before the introduction of the internet and technology never worried about:
Education was a privilege of the few. Let alone knowing more than one language. So if you have few competitors why bother distributing leaflets to let them know of your services? Your clients knew where to find you. They knew you were educated. They knew you knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin. You also may have had long letters of recommendation with seals of Bishops. Who could beat that?
The concept of time (is money) hasn’t always been around, not until the Industrial Revolution. So, if I was given a book to translate and I knew that I had about a year to finish it, I wouldn’t worry that my client could find someone else to translate the same thing in 6 months. Why? Nobody had CAT tools and everybody accepted that 1 year is perfect timing. Or maybe it was 2 years or 5 years? Who can tell? Things took ages to occur. The world was slow. Before cars were invented it was even slower. Then we had airplanes. Then came the internet. And books were sold online. That was when we started to think deadline. You do it by the date required or you are dead (meat).
3. Translation software (+ competition + deadlines)
Translation technology is actually connected with the other two phenomena and cannot be understood separately. A translator who uses software is differentiated from someone who doesn’t. Clients will prefer someone who has CAT tools because they feel secure that no words are going to be missed, no spelling errors made, no repetitions and so forth. This really beats me. If you are a translator you must be able to do these without software. And I believe that a good translator today is perfectly able to do so. But deadlines (see above) and competition (see above) are give rise to new practices where technology is a key ingredient.
The branding trend in translation
There are many translators today who decide to establish themselves by creating a brand for their business. I understand them. The competition makes you want to be visible, reachable, different. And most importantly, memorable. The world is online. You cannot really afford to stay in the shadows. And there are so many translators who have already created a brand for themselves which is clearly inducing more and more translators to do the same.
Who would clients choose? Go through an agency? Which agency? Look up translators who are members of professional associations? Someone who’s recommended to them? Would they google it? Would they pick someone from the mere fact that he or she has created a brand without looking and cross-checking the information provided on their site?
I don’t know how branding affects the decision to choose a translator, but it appears that it helps a growing portion of translators who besides translation, transcreation, localization and interpreting, offer diversified services, such as services to translators, training, copywriting, consulting. It seems that branding helps you widen your horizons. But not everyone diversifies their services. Brands can help translators stand out from the crowd and create a memorable professional image.
That said, I personally would not choose branding as I am happy and comfortable with the idea of just being myself. The future, of course, is unknown and, nothing is set in stone. I just think I am an old school translator at heart, like a hang glider trying to fly against strong winds, the fog, the branding jets. Scary, I know.
I would like to think that the good clients still know how to find and appreciate these “hand gliding” translators.
I’d love to be that kind of translator (and writer…) who listens to the sound of the water, rain, wind, music, not notifications. I want to be someone who lives outside the peculiar and constraining 140 character boundaries of tweets. What about you?
image from wlpapers.com