A careers’ advisor suggested Tour guide, Interpreter and Translator as possible careers to me in my late teens. At the time I could not think of anything more boring than repeating someone else’s work as a translation to another person – possibly the same each day as a tour guide! It sounded as uninteresting a career as accountancy.
What accountancy and translation have in common
As it happened, I found myself in a career in accountancy a few years later. It was well paid, offered a challenge in the form of difficult exams as well as a wide range of opportunities after completing the training. That made up for the boredom I expected at the outset. Once I got started, I realised that it was not nearly as boring as it seemed. Yes, double entry bookkeeping is not super exciting, however understanding whether the numbers told the story of the business meant understanding the business.
As an accountant in large practice my clients had many different businesses. I learned about specialist publishing (like Lloyd’s List, not sure what you were thinking!), a sausage factory, bookshops, internet service providers, alcoholic drinks wholesalers and air separation plants just to name a few. And that is what made accountancy fun – the wide variety of clients.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise when I started translating professionally, that I found the same. The fun lies in the variety of texts I translate. Translation is not just swapping the German word for the English one from a dictionary . It is recounting the whole meaning of something in the other language. To do this properly, I need to understand the whole meaning.
A recent piece of work on medieval nuns uses the word ‘enclosure’. It means the life of solitude and abstinence, separated from every day life. Looking up the word ‘enclosure’ in a dictionary (e.g. Linguee) yields at the top German words for covers over wiring, documents enclosed in a letter and fencing around an animal cage. Way down in the list, the word ‘Klausur’. To know or recognise that this is the correct German word to use in this situation I needed to have a good understanding of medieval nunneries in German.
Research makes it worth it
This research for a translation assignment is a vital step to ensuring the final text recounts the whole meaning of the original in the other language. And it’s as much if not more fun than the language conversion and makes translation worth it.