Lesson 135: 5 mistakes more experienced translators make

Lesson 135: 5 mistakes more experienced translators make

I’ve recently been invited to moderate a panel on social media networking at Translating Europe Forum in Brussels. This was one of my last presentations for a while. Plus, Translating Europe’s goal this year was empowering young translators, so the room was filled with students and recent graduates. Put these two together and you’ll inevitably end up reflecting… At least I did.

It’s easier to give advice and point out the mistakes of younger colleagues (wannabes, newbies, however you decide to call them). Been there, done that, went through similar issues so I can share my experience. And I certainly was very grateful to receive pointers when I was starting out.

But what about the more experienced translators? Maybe we’re not making mistakes anymore after we’ve been around for 3, 4, 5 or 6 years. Maybe we have our own, trusted sources. Or maybe we don’t ask for this sort of advice anymore?

In my pondering, I did a bit of an introspective journey to try and uncover what I thought some of the mistakes I’ve been making (or observing) were. And no, this article isn’t a list of things more experienced colleagues are failing at but an honest conversation with myself – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find some aspects resounding with you.

Relying too much on your memory or experience

Of course getting more experience in an area speeds us up, makes us better translators, results in higher per hour income, but what if we become too reliant on memory or experience? I’ve seen this word before, I remember how I translated it, I’ve worked on a similar text – all of these can be positive and tricky at the same time. Overreliance on how I did something in the past makes me less vigilant, less curious, less attentive. I gloss over a text perhaps without giving it the right attention.

And what about proper text analysis? We learn about it as translation students, but with time we tend to skip it. What happens with this powerful tool? Does it get internalised as we’d hope it to, or does it get… blunt?

Not following developments

I remember when I was a new translator, I followed everything: read all magazines, subscribed to all newsletters, went to all events I could. Of course, you shouldn’t be doing that forever. But what I noticed now is that I’m less and less likely to read an industry magazine, I’m less likely to catch up with a colleague’s blog, I’m less likely to focus on what’s going on.

Well, all these sources are still somewhere there, in the periphery, but I don’t pay as much attention to them as I used to. I’m telling myself that I’m too busy working, that I’ll catch up with newsletters over the weekend, that next year I will go to this or that event – and I never do. What I can do these days is, at most, scroll through subject lines and titles to get the gist of what’s happening. Of course, I’m still up-to-date with the major developments, but I don’t have the drive to go into details as much as before.

Been there, done that attitude

After being in the industry for a few years, it’s quite easy to get the ‘been there, done that attitude’: you’ve read similar articles, heard similar discussions, been to similar events or even worked on similar projects, so it’s nothing new for you, you no longer see why anyone would be excited about a conference, an opportunity or a project, it’s all becoming very casual, almost pedestrian. Nothing surprises you anymore, very few things really get you interested and inspired.

To a certain extent, feeling like this is normal. But sometimes we can go a step too far and discourage a younger colleague or undermine their enthusiasm by insisting that everything’s the same. It’s hard to get the same novice-like attitude, but letting this ‘been there, done that’ approach influence your thinking is likely to make work less fun for you. Or sometimes we may end up even neglecting the useful ideas with could add to our repertoire because they’re hidden in the midst of things we already know.

The curse of knowledge

Something I’ve noticed I was doing myself was throwing acronyms, names, ideas, people, companies assuming that everyone knows what I was talking about. This insider knowledge is often a source of pride, a sign of belonging and possessing privileged information. It’s easy to forget that getting to the point of understanding all this and seeing connections in the industry takes ages – it certainly took me a few good years. All of a sudden we expect everyone around us – from another colleague to a newcomer to the industry – to be getting the same acronyms, names and concepts. And when they don’t, we often remark that they must have been living under a rock…

What I’ve realised over the years is that I’ll be in a much better position if I assume that my interlocutors don’t have this privileged knowledge — that is, if I want to communicate, not impress them. And of course, it’s up to me to share information with them.

Rosy retrospection

Don’t we all get the feeling that things were better in the past every now and then? I’m certainly guilty of that. Rates used to be higher, we were treated better, translation agencies used to be nicer to work with, and everything that we have now is worse or somewhat lacking. The same principle applies to some bigger mechanisms in the industry: we’re now threatened more than ever, it’s now easier for unqualified people to claim they’re translators, and so on. It’s a fallacy – in general things are getting better but our sentiment tells us we’re in a worse and worse situation.

This thinking affects us in a negative way, but sometimes it can also lead us to discouraging younger colleagues: things aren’t as good as they were before, so maybe you want to think about it twice.

At the end of the day, we should know that aging is inevitable, maturing is optional. Hopefully, by being aware that we sometimes make these mistakes, we become not only more experienced translators, but wiser ones as well.

Any other “mistakes” you can think of?