The August/September 2010 issue of The Linguist, the magazine published by the Institute of Linguists, features a very interesting article discussing, among other issues, the level of recognition enjoyed (or not) by translators, depending on where they are based. To quote The Linguist: “The role of the translator is more highly regarded in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, for example, than in the UK, where there is less appreciation of the skill involved and a tendency to see it as a purely mechanical exercise.”

Although annoyed to read, yet again, a comment of such nature, I cannot say I was at all surprised that this is the attitude prevailing in the UK, where English is still regarded as the number one language; so why bother with another one? We have been asked so many times at BLS if we could translate, say, 15,000 words in two days! Wouldn’t the author of these 15,000 words have spent a lot longer writing them in the first place, working on the choice of words, the ideas conveyed, the logic thread guiding the ideas in the text and the overall style?

Why, therefore, wouldn’t a translator be ‘allowed’ the same consideration and be granted a decent timescale to do the translation justice? Shouldn’t a translation be regarded as a complementary document enhancing an export strategy, for example, rather than something rushed at the last minute; a necessary evil?

To consider the translator’s work as a ‘purely mechanical exercise’ is not only an erroneous concept, it is also a dangerous one. It is certainly not an exercise which by definition means a drill, a practice or training activity; a translation has a purposeful and real-life, professional, business aim. As for ‘mechanical’, as far as I know, machines do not query ambiguities, look into the nuances of a technical concept or interact with a customer in the spirit of cooperation and assistance. We have already discussed the dangers of machine translations. A good professional translator has an inquisitive mind, the ability to carry out research, to ask for explanations, to liaise with other teams, to provide a quality product, free of ambiguities, accurate, localised and reader-friendly.

I have a dream that one day we will get a phone call at BLS, with the following enquiry: “We are launching a new product in five countries; at what stage do you need to get involved in the project? Can we meet to discuss our requirements and define a suitable timescale?”

Here at BLS we will always endeavour to work as fast as we can for you, but quality requires time, so that we can go through the necessary stages – source text analysis, translation, proofreading, review and editing. Only then can we send you the quality finished product you require as a customer.

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