Posted by: tierratemplada | April 9, 2013

Translation: The Art of Staying Invisible

Translation is essentially the art of staying invisible. Don’t expect praise or international fame. If you are in it for the glamour, don’t bother. Because a translator is only good when (s)he does not exist to the reader.

I like to use the metaphor of the window. When the window is clean, no one takes notice of it. But the smallest speck of dust or dirt stands out like a sore thumb. The case is similar with translation: when it’s perfect, no one even realizes it is a translation, let alone praise the translator. It’s the writer who gets the credit. But make one single mistake, a typo, a slip in style, and the readers/editors/translation agencies pounce on you like a pack of angry wolves.

I work with numerous translation agencies, and they hardly ever say so much as a good word about my services. In fact, the only time I was “praised” by a company was when I messed something up and was told that they would continue to use my services only because “they trust and respect me as a professional translator”. Kinda makes me feel I should mess up more often.

So here’s my piece of advice: if you expect praise and glamour, try a different profession. Because a translator gains fame only by committing a serious error (say, one that costs a company millions), and the error will most likely be your last one. In order to survive in this line of work, you have to be satisfied with the feeling of a job well-done and, occasionally, a paycheck.



  1. […] Translation: The Art of Staying Invisible ( […]

  2. It’s probably better to have self-satisfaction than relying on praise from others to feel good about the work you’re doing. I have sometimes been a sucker for praise, and it gives the other person way too much power over my happiness.

    • That’s a great point! I suppose true maturity comes from knowing you are _good_ at something without other people telling it to you. Still, though, a little praise can go a long way when you are starting out and need a little nudge.

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  4. I think the fulfilment is inherent in the job – watching one language disappear as you work it into another is quite a rewarding experience. You are absolutely correct, though – there is no direct external praise or reward.

    • I couldn’t agree more. In translation a good job done must be a reward in itself, otherwise one can go crazy, obviously.

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