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The lifelong apprenticeship of a translator

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In a speech made in 1988, legal translator Lanna Castellano lays out the reality of a translator’s career: “Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator; not until fifty do you start to be in your prime.”

In my youth (said the 25 year-old), before I finished my translation degree, I would have been shocked to hear such a statement. “This is outrageous!”, my classmates and I would have cried, no doubt throwing our textbooks to the floor in indignation (Jeremy Munday’s Introduction to Translation Studies and Anthony Pym’s Exploring Translation Theories). “After five years of tertiary education, I have to wait until I’m 30 to be able to say I’m any good?”

Hush, hush. Let us gather our textbooks from the ground and apologise to Professors Munday and Pym (let’s not forget that for two years they were the backbone of almost every essay we ever wrote). The lesson young translators should take away from Lanna Castellano’s wisdom is perhaps not the notion that you’re not any good yet, but rather that you must constantly strive to learn more and be uncompromising in your endeavour to perfect your craft. Translators must also learn to be humble when faced with client criticism and requests for corrections and stylistic changes. The point is, our training doesn’t end the moment we have that Master’s degree in our hands. Indeed, it has only just begun.

I’m very happy to say that I’ve learnt a lot during my ten engaging months at Over the Word. Namely, that Ms Castellano is most certainly correct. And I don’t mean that in a self-effacing, defeatist kind of way – it is simply the truth that in this profession, especially in legal and financial translation, your training is never complete. However, with the right team around you, by drawing on the wealth of knowledge they have amassed during their own lifelong apprenticeships, you will very quickly acquire an extensive knowledge base of your own.

That’s kind of an exciting prospect. Many translators have a voracious thirst to discover new things, and to have landed a job where we get to write, research and soak up new information like sponges every day is something to look forward to indeed.

Rachel King

English translation team

 

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