An interpreter translates

Interpreters talk, translators write - right? But variety is in our blood.

What on earth possessed me to take on this translation? Interpreting is my day job!

Maybe it sounded interesting at the time, could be that I'm doing a friend a favor, there's a chance it's for a potentially big interpreting customer - but almost inevitably I will ask myself this question sometime between the middle and the end of any translation.

After checking Webster's and the OED for “stye” vs. “sty” and the Chicago, Oxford and AMA Style Manuals for “uses of quotation marks” and “citation style to use when the source is a deleted Facebook comment posted in a secret group”, I'm ready to throw in the towel. Interpreting only requires somewhat consistent terminology, translation demands far more. And I have to keep rewriting, too. That last sentence I wrote just doesn't work in writing, though if I read it out loud in context everyone gets it. 

Why do I keep accepting translation work despite the backache and RSI symptoms I inevitably develop and the stress of looming deadlines? Is it about having something to show for my efforts—unlike gone-with-the-wind interpreting? is it about having the time to dig deep and the exhilaration of nailing the phrase to convey a precisely researched meaning? 

Interpreting flow feels like a perfect drive over a mountain road when you're trying to get to the next town before sunset. Translation is more likely to resemble rearranging furniture or redecorating—exhausting but fun, as long as I can keep a clear picture of the outcome in my mind. And I can enjoy the result every time I come home. 

How does translation feel to you, compared to interpreting?

Recommended citation format:
Mary FONS I FLEMING. "An interpreter translates". July 4, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2020. <>.

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I too accept the occasional translation and often say it is really hard work, compared to interpretation which has more of the excitement of a performance! When you turn off that microphone it is over - no going back. Whereas with translation, until you have sent off the final version new ideas rise up to haunt you sometimes in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning...Can't go for a walk without thinking of that phrase that you couldn't quite express as well as you wanted. Not to mention that you can always improve a written text. But on the other hand, things learned in preparatory research for translation stick with me virtually least so far! In that respect it is like a well-prepared meeting in consecutive. MIght I add that I tend to keep for a time, the printed version of the first draft that I still reread on paper often covered in red ink - and there is something satisfying about seeing the drawer of printed translations fill up.

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