Lesson 8: 8 weird opinions on translators and how to educate the public

Lesson 8: 8 weird opinions on translators and how to educate the public

“Lay people” tend to have a whole lot of weird, unsubstantiated and simply harmful opinions on translators. Taken away all wrongful misconceptions (like earning much for not doing anything, etc.) there’s still plenty of myths about translators that you can come across. Those listed below are taken from my own experience: believe it or not, at some point of my career I’ve actually heard (or seen) people making these statements.

1. Translators are female.

Only women can be translators, because they are gifted in languages. Men are to crude and rough to carefully play with words and meanings. And women are much more patient! Even if there is one or two male translators, they did it just to use their natural advantage in the profession and they must be earning much more.
How to fight that: if you’re a male translator, advertise that. Be proud of your profession and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re less predestined to work with languages. Perhaps set up a network for male translators?

2. Translators wear glasses.

Translators read and write a lot, so they must all be wearing glasses! Perhaps those of them who don’t are less experienced and educated? Your sight has to deteriorate after that many books!
How to fight that: If you don’t wear glasses, publish your photo and write a blog post!

3. Translators don’t talk too much.

They spend most of their time with their books and computers, so they don’t have too much time to talk. In fact, they read even in their free time and try to avoid talking with their closest ones as well. Letters, e-mails, sms – yes, but not a real conversation.
How to fight that: If you are a translator and love talking, record some friendly podcasts or presentations and advertise them around.

4. Translators must be at least 40.

Come on, it takes years to get educated, learn languages and get enough experience. Most of translators enter the profession when they are at least 40!
How to fight that: If you’re a young translator, tell everyone about your young age and success in the field. Your energy and enthusiasm will count in your favour!

5. Translators wear old-fashioned clothes.

Since translators don’t go out too often, they have no interest in clothes and fashion. They all wear black or grey suits and white, shapeless shirts. That’s all they need when they go out.
How to fight that: Don’t be afraid to share your style, publish interesting photos or run a fashion blog if you like it. Also, don’t try to hide your style when meeting clients – professional doesn’t have to be boring!

6. Translators speak many languages and know all words.

Well, if you translate, you do it from many languages into many other. You’re not really a translator if you know just 2 languages.
How to fight that: Come up with a witty response, like: you’re not really a doctor if you can do only paediatrics, or you’re not really an artist if you do only sketching.

7. Translators don’t like people.

Translators? They spend most of the time with books and documents because they don’t really like people. For them, words matter much more than human interaction.
How to fight that: be active in your professional organisations, meet and network.

8. Translators wanted to be someone else, but it didn’t work out.

Who would like to be just a translator? Translators must have surely tried in other professions and they couldn’t cope, so they just turned into medicine or law specialised translators.
How to fight that: if you wanted to be a translator since you were born and learned languages and studied to be a translator, hands up! Show that to others to prove that being a translator is not just a plan B.

What other harmful clichรฉs have you encountered?


  1. Nelia , on Oct 14, 2011 at 06:38 Reply

    Hi Marta, totally agree with this! Thnaks for these lessons by the way, they are very useful.
    Another “weird” question I hear is “and do you make a living out of it??”.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 14, 2011 at 07:06 Reply

      Thanks for your comment Nelia!
      Your weird question is interesting as well! Shows that people really know very little about our profession… Another thing that came to my mind just now: when I told my grandma that I’m a translator and I work mostly from home, she asked me: “so it’s really that difficult to find a proper job now?” ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Polyglot , on Oct 15, 2011 at 19:11 Reply

        OMG! ๐Ÿ˜€ no matter geographic locations, problems, questions, cliches are the same ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Marie-รˆve , on Oct 14, 2011 at 12:00 Reply

    Hi Marta!
    Totally agree with you! What is funny in my case, is that I was affraid that becoming a translator I would end up talking to my keyboard… I just love talking and interacting with people, and I thought I HAD to be lonely to be a translator. Turns out I love my job and I have enough interactions in a day to keep me entertained. I guess what I’m saying is sometimes you even have to prove the myth is wrong to your own self!
    PS: I Love your blog!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 14, 2011 at 12:30 Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Marie-รˆve! I just laughed out loud reading your “talking to my keyboard” bit. There are so many absurd ideas… ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Adeleh , on Oct 15, 2011 at 13:57 Reply

    Hi Marta!
    I really enjoyed your article! I’m a freelance translator and I think these suffering weird views exist all around the world!

    I’m an English-Persian Translator and I want to translate your interesting article into Persian, if you let me ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course I keep your right! I will mention your name and share this page with the Persian translation of it.
    So, please let me know if there is no problem.

    Best regards,

  4. Polyglot , on Oct 15, 2011 at 18:59 Reply

    It was nice to read ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ many things are so familiar ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Miguel Roldรกn , on Oct 16, 2011 at 01:03 Reply

    Hi Marta, Iam Miguel from Chile, I am studying translation at University.I think that you argue very well every point and my question is, it does mean to be yourself?. Thank you bye.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Oct 17, 2011 at 08:01 Reply

      Hi Miguel, thanks for your comment! I’m afraid I didn’t get your question. Could you reformulate it, and then I will be happy to give you and answer!

  6. Rose - German to English translator , on Oct 17, 2011 at 13:05 Reply

    Hey Marta

    Great examples! Some of my own:

    – People that assume “I am a freelance translator” means “I am unemployed”. I remember the look on my grandmother’s neighbour’s face as if I was the loser in the family (next to my physio cousin, unemployed cousin, and student cousin). My pro-rata income is similar to my father’s upon retirement, but it seems strange to have to tell them that to wipe their disdain away.

    – “I could do that – that’s just looking at Google translate and referring to a dictionary when it doesn’t make sense, no?”. Apparently a lecturer of mine, when studying a PhD at Leeds, had a colleague who wanted to read an article written in Dutch. He offered to translate it for him (he is Dutch), but the colleague told him it was not necessary, and proceeded to program a dictionary-based translation engine. Needless to say, it was not successful.

    – “There are so many people who can speak languages, it can’t be that special…”

    – “So what, you can read like, anything, and translate it into, anything?”

    – “So did you study translation at university?”. That is a great one, because translation as a BA course in the UK is not highly thought of, studied at not such highly regarded universities… and why do an MA if you already started working as a translator with your BA? Plus many good translators have NO formal qualifications in translation – just oodles of practical experience!

    – “What, so you still use a dictionary? Isn’t that cheating? I thought you’re meant to know everything! (yawn) I could look in a dictionary!” Somehow they think we should know every single possible word in the other language. And our own. Try asking them what a (…insert complicated word…) is in their first language, and point out that you learnt the word in translation.

  7. Maggie , on Nov 9, 2011 at 17:19 Reply

    OMG this is so funny! You’re right “Polyglot” – it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, questions, opinions and clichรฉs will remain the same!
    Getting back to what was said in Lesson 8, I have to agree totally. Most of them come so close to home, it’s incredible!
    I think the one that irritates me most has already been commented here: “And you can actually make a living off translations???” I just feel like replying: “Hey man, have you checked out my new LV bag?? Doesn’t come cheap!”
    Love your blog – keep it up, it’s fantastic and a great, great read!
    P.S. I’ve been a freelance translator for over 20 years now and I’m also a fashionable woman, so comments on us being fuddy-duddy’s fashion-wise are a load of bull!

  8. Sandra , on Nov 18, 2011 at 14:35 Reply

    Hi Marta, while reading your post, another ‘myth’ immediately popped up in my head “and do you teach?” This is SO usual in people’s common knowledge from my region/country. As always, your advice is great, and I’m really grateful for it. Looking forward to your next webinar.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Nov 18, 2011 at 18:20 Reply

      Dear Sandra, thank you for your contribution! That’s true, I just realised that it is common indeed that translators are expected to teach as well. And they very often do! Do we have any teaching translators around?

  9. Anita , on Feb 6, 2012 at 17:22 Reply

    Hi Marta.
    I’ve just come across your blog (I saw a link on FB) and I’m really enjoying it!

    I couldn’l help smiling as I was reading…
    Let’s see: the first four are true:
    1. I am female.
    2. I wore glasses since I was 3. Today I wear contact lenses, and now people who don’t know me very well can’t tell that.
    3. I ususally don’t talk much… except when I am with people that I really feel comfortable with – then I can talk [and listen :)] for hours.
    4.I’m 38.
    As for the next two:
    5. I have kind of a hippie style, and I feel very happy with it!
    6. I only know english and Italian, and a bit of Spanish and French, but with very few exceptions I only translate into my mother tongue, European Portuguese.
    The last ones, just a bit true.
    7. I am not a people-person, that’s a fact. I love many persons, deeply, and I like and need to connect with them, but I find myself very often realizing that I love my cats more than I love a bunch of people…
    8. Half true. I started working as a translator for only nearly a year and a half. For 15 years I have worked in a public department (and I have hated it all my life) , because I was a very young single mother and I had to raise my child. But my degree is in Languages and Literatures, I recently finished a Marter’s Degree in Translation, I love learning languages, I read a lot since… ever!, and I always wanted to be a translator.

    Does this 50/50 rate means i’m only half a translator? LOL.
    Keep writing! I’m loving it!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 6, 2012 at 19:25 Reply

      Hi Anita,
      Great to hear from you! I thought that I should address these opinions as well, to be fair ๐Ÿ™‚
      1. I am female.
      2. I wear glasses, and bought another couple of pairs last week (I don’t do jewellery, so glasses are substitute)
      3. Most of the time, I listen carefully. But I have nothing against speaking, I love public appearances, lectures, and seminars. I talk as long as I have something to say!
      4. I’m less than 40.
      5. When I started in translation, I wore black dresses and gothic makeup. Now I’m somewhere between vintage and minimalist.
      6. I know Polish, Slovak, English, French, and Norwegian to some extend (working on this one).
      7. Being perfectly honest, I prefer my digital peopleness to real-life babble with complete strangers… Small talk doesn’t work for me, and my office doors are pretty often closed for public. It doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I’m only… being selective?
      8. I wanted to become a translator/interpreter as a warm-up for a writing career ๐Ÿ™‚ I may stick with translation for a bit longer!

      See? Even I’m not a true translator ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Anita , on Feb 8, 2012 at 08:38 Reply

        Thanks for replying, Martha. ๐Ÿ™‚
        I’m with you in number 8… Hope one day we can get there..
        Good luck!

        Peace and Light!

  10. Natรกlia Danzmann , on Feb 9, 2012 at 17:49 Reply

    Hi Marta^^
    I’m a freelance translator/ part time student and would like to thank you for sharing such an interesting article! true story indeed, here in Brazil too.

    I’ve just written a reply on my visual blog, hope you like it:


    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 9, 2012 at 17:53 Reply

      Thanks Natรกlia! It was a great laugh, keep creating!

  11. Virginie , on Mar 27, 2012 at 15:19 Reply

    Well I’m 28, female, short-sighted as a bat and rather quiet (unless it’s a football game), that’s about as far as it goes ๐Ÿ˜€
    What I find most annoying is that people assume that translating = interpreting, even though both professions are different and require very different sets of skills. I couldn’t do interpretation, I can’t cope with that kind of ‘live’ pressure, but I do know that some interpreters couldn’t do my job ๐Ÿ˜‰
    People also think that translating amounts to “knowing languages”: I know tons of people who speak better English than me, but couldn’t translate professionally into French. You don’t spend 5 years in translation college for nothing.
    And it’s also very true that people always ask “why don’t you teach”? Well just because it’s not my job!
    Oh and I wanted to become a translator ever since I discovered this job at the age of 17… Went to college, studied hard, got my diploma and set myself as a freelancer, it’s been nearly 5 years and I’m making enough of a living as to satisfy my huge fashion appetite ๐Ÿ˜› But it is true you get lonely sometimes!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 23, 2015 at 19:30 Reply

      Thank you, Virginie – very uplifting story ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Lukasz Gos , on Mar 11, 2013 at 14:44 Reply

    1. That translators love to be corrected, which includes looking forward to receiving amateur feedback on linguistic issues. Say hi to ISO norms and client approval procedures. In reality, I prefer to be left alone and I can mostly predict where there are going to be some issues with an amateur proofreader looking at my translators. And my first association with the word “review(er)” is the word “ignorance”. No offence to anybody who does that job right.
    2. That translators need to be constantly in touch (never mind how they’re supposed to work if all their time is phone time) or else they might be loitering around sipping beer and absorbing the sunshine like a bona fide lazy bum.
    3. That it’s normal and okay to perfect the literary style on a simple marriage certificate or something along those lines, including serious edits performed on the client’s INCOMING correspondence, of which the client is NOT the author (outgoing stuff or otherwise client-authored stuff is a different thing because the client’s got the copyrights).
    4. That discussing proposed changes and supposed improvements and looking for alternatives is okay. Hint: without paying the translator for his time, which might as well be one third translating and two thirds answering “but can wes”. How about I bill the time and then we can talk until dawn?
    5. That translators are basically secretaries who can be tasked with office assistant jobs. My ToS used to say you can’t return my work to me to fix tiny formatting issues, real or not.
    6. That the replication of formating from the source is necessary and of paramount importance. In truth, it may actually be against copyright law and other laws, especially if you effectively write on your client’s correspondent’s letterhead or use national symbols on your translations of court rulings! That’s both senseless and illegal. Also, this does lead to losing more brownie points for minuscule details of CATwork than for actual mistranslations, which is so sad. Say hi to ignorant QA concepts or CAT hype, whichever is to blame here.
    7. That ISO norms are great. They are not. I wonder how much the drafters knew about translation.

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