Barbara Boehm Miller
Fiction writer and creator of the character, Lola Rolls

International Translation Day

Posted By on Friday, October 4th, 2019

Welcome to the first entry of my new blog about language, writing, and, well, just life in general. International Translation Day seems like an auspicious starting point. As a professional translator of a shocking number of years, if I really stop to count them, it’s an important occasion for me, even if I do only mark it by sending positive replies to work emails and posting the same Wikipedia entry, which is sadly just a stub, on Facebook.
International Translation Day is observed on September 30, to coincide with the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators (as well as librarians and encyclopedists),

recognized as such for translating the Bible into Latin. With translation being a relatively unknown profession, in the United States at least, having patron saint bestows a certain degree of recognition, and, I would say, even though saints are not part of my religious tradition, protection.
If you find yourself wondering about the best way to celebrate this somewhat obscure occasion, these tips might help.

DON’T use air quotes:
When I first moved to the District of Columbia from living abroad, I faced a hard transition establishing myself as a translator. While I aspired to a staff position, those were few and far between, and most translators worked as freelancers, which required a solid client base. Mine was flimsy and intermittent, while my financial obligations were robust and steady. What was a youngish, educated person trying to break into a new city to do? Temp work, of course. During one memorable interview, the person asked me about my field of interest. To which, I replied translation. Before I could detail my education and work experience, the interviewer explained that she didn’t think she had anything specifically in translation, using air quotes around the word. She used them every time she said it. It’s a real profession, I wanted to scream, not some secretarial add-on skill. On the way out, I noticed a shallow carboard box filled with emery boards, with the agency’s name emblazoned on the backs. This condescending free gift made it clear to me that the agency focused on employing women in unimportant positions, monotonous undertakings that could be made better through good nail care. I took two of the emery boards any way. Mostly because they were free, and if I’d had money to spare for any and all toiletry items, I wouldn’t have been temping in the first place.
This advice about not using air quotes could actually apply to everything. Let all of us, in the interest of peace and goodwill, stop doing it.

KEEP Google Translate in its place:
One day, my sister, a science teacher at a public high school, asked me how I managed to be a translator when people could simply use Google Translate. She might have issued a dire prediction about my continued employability. In response, I inquired how she could hang on as a teacher when kids could just look things up online. “That’s the not the same thing,” she protested. “It’s exactly the same thing,” I replied.
Google Translate and others of its ilk can be very good, even necessary, tools, but they are most appropriate and best used as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, the human mind.

APPRECIATE translators:
Some of the contributions translators make, like opening up a world of books and movies we otherwise might not be able to understand and enjoy, are obvious. Others are much less so. For example, consider all the treaties, agreements, and conventions that the United States enters into with other countries where English is not used. Those instruments are generally signed in both English and the foreign language, and there is a translator, who undertakes the laborious effort of comparing the two documents line-by-line and word-by-word to make sure that they both have the same meaning. What about surgical instruments manufactured in the United States and exported for use in another country? A translator took great care in rendering the instruction manual for those instruments in that country’s language. An English-speaking person browsing a selection of French wines, reading the labels, wondering whether to select the one with the caramel toasty nose or, perhaps, the one with hints berry and citrus, can thank a translator for letting them know all about those smells and tastes.
The list could go on and on, so I encourage us all, myself included, to celebrate International Translation Day by reflecting on the importance of translation and on how it improves lives and by spreading awareness, through social media or otherwise, about the profession.
Happy International Translation Day!

Barbara Boehm Miller
Fiction Writer and Creator of the Character, Lola Rolls

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