Lesson 56: Why do you translate?

Lesson 56: Why do you translate?

I’m sure that by now you’ve learned I’m fascinated by grand ideas and big questions, also in business. And it turns out I’m not the only one. One of my long-standing fascinations is related to a concept of “The Golden Circle” by Simon Sinek. Before I go any further and try to apply it to the translation business, like I’ve done during Traduemprende and in Porto, have a look at this video. I recommend watching it from the beginning up until about 4:30. It’s less than 5 minutes and I promise it will change a lot in your business.

Right, so by now you know that my big question is why we translate and what it means for us. When I started translating, I was quite good at communicating the what. Then I learned a bit about marketing, and started communicating the how. And we’re all pretty much there. We all know that it’s not enough to talk about our services or products, but we need to add adjectives like professional, high quality, timely, etc. But the concept of why really changed the way I’m doing business.

Repeating what Simon Sinek said in his video, clients buy why we do it, not what we do. Only this is the first reason why you should work on defining the why behind your business today. But it’s not the only reason. Knowing your why also gives you this enormous confidence and lets you believe in what you do. And this may be an abstract concept, but when translated (pun intended!) into the real-life business, replying to clients, negotiating, or even marketing make more sense with this why in your mind.

I gave this example of my why: “I’m fascinated by the language that changes the reality, and legal language has enormous powers to change lives. I want to make sure it always works right. Because so many things are at stake when dealing with legal language, I have to be very precise and research terminology. Always. And I happen to translate between Polish and English.” It’s not perfect, but I believe in it and stand firmly by it.

I also asked others about their whys. I’ve received over 250 replies on Twitter and in-person. I like collecting them and looking at them for inspiration. Here are some of them:

Why do you translate at Traduemprende

Why do you translate in Porto

What I would like you to do now is to draw these circles (or use this worksheet), listen to me talking about The Golden Circle and define your why:

Once you’ve done that, write it down in a comment below!

A couple of weeks after I’ve published this post, I’ve received the following email:

Dear Marta,

I thought you might appreciate some feedback on your post „Why do you translate?“.

As you already know, I was so inspired by your post that I threw everything over board I had prepared for my class and decided to ask my students exactly this question: Why do you translate? Why do you want to be translator? And not a plumber? Or an economist?

As you had done in Spain, I gave them five minutes to brainstorm and begin to answer that question and I was overwhelmed by the result. Please have a look at the attached picture and see what my beautiful, creative and talented students have done. You can’t actually read the texts (and it’s in German), but I think it is clear from the mere picture that they were excited about the task and the answers they gave were incredibly accurate bearing in mind that we are talking about first and second years here.

Why do you translate

I told them I would send you a picture of their work. Do you think you could post it on one of your pages? I would be great if they could see how easy it is to connect with other translators and, above all, that their opinion and contribution (however small) to the community does matter. They know that you did a similar exercise in Spain and seemed to like the idea that they were part of a bigger picture. It would be great if we could encourage them.

Actually, this task inspired them so much that, when we moved on to work on a text, they were more enthusiastic than I had ever seem then (and I had thought they were showing some enthusiasm before; boy, was I wrong!) and we went on to have the best class of this term so far – lots of discussion, great vibe, extremely active. Thank you so much for inspiring me so I could inspire them.


I was very moved when I received this email and the photo. Thank you for being so involved. It’s great to know we’re connected by ideas, even if we live and work far away.


  1. Alina , on Jun 25, 2013 at 13:09 Reply

    I have always loved the translation field, first as a translator, now as managing director of a translation agency. Why? It’s fascinating to bring worlds together through your words.

  2. Desiree Staude , on Jun 25, 2013 at 17:15 Reply

    Hello Marta,

    Thank you very much for this great post and sharing the video.

    Well, I have different whys…
    1. I want to earn my living and enjoy doing it at home
    2. I want to help other doing their international business
    3. I want to learn interesting subjects by translating them
    4. I want to be able to learn more about culture and languages
    5. I want to be able to work from every place in the world if I have/wish to

    At least, these are my 5 Whys.

    Only have to put them into nice sentences as you did – more concentrated on my second why.

    🙂 Désirée

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 01:05 Reply

      Thank you, Desiree! I have to say I identify with more than one why on your list 😉

  3. Mariana Idiart , on Jun 27, 2013 at 19:20 Reply

    Great lesson! I am a big fan of Simon Sinek myself and I receive his daily ‘Notes to inspire’ on my inbox everyday, which I highly recommend!

    I have followed your suggestion and have tried to define my why. What I came up with was that I translate because it fascinates me how a message can be expressed in different and attractive ways. I am particularly interested in marketing and advertising language. And looking at the bio on my team’s website I found that what I expressed there is very similar to the why I have just described: ‘In translation I find a way of expressing myself creatively through my definitive interpretation of a text. This in turn presents continuous linguistic challenges that make my work all the more enjoyable’.

    Keep up the really inspiring work, Marta!

  4. Haydée Menna , on Jan 5, 2015 at 02:02 Reply

    Hi, Marta,

    Here are my whys:

    Helping people communicate is my passion. I find it really exciting to break language barriers.


  5. Cristina Demurtas , on Jan 5, 2015 at 11:06 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    I translate because I love learning something new every day, helping people share their message, or succeed in their projects. Translation makes the world a much smaller place and brings people together. It’s incredible how many fascinating and inspiring people you meet thanks to this job!

  6. Weronika Mincer , on Jan 6, 2015 at 19:40 Reply

    I guess this post and your talk are the most inspiring things I have read and listened to in ages! Thank you for sharing it! 🙂

    I believe my “why” for translating and interpreting is the fascination with words, how accurately they describe the reality and how nicely we can put them together to best express what we want – and when translating I can help people precisely express what they want to communicate.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 16, 2015 at 15:26 Reply

      Thank you, Weronika, both for the kind words and your reasons 🙂

  7. Katharina Wawrzon-Stewart , on Jan 6, 2015 at 22:37 Reply

    I translate because I love communication.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 16, 2015 at 15:24 Reply

      I think this is something most translators would heartily agree 🙂

  8. Adelina Rossano , on Jan 7, 2015 at 16:59 Reply

    Thank you very much for this post and for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with us, Marta! I found this post very inspiring. 🙂
    Here’s my WHY:

    I translate because I’ve always loved languages and imagined to make a living from them. It thrills me to know that what I translate will be understood and used by someone else.

  9. Daniela Gotta , on Jan 11, 2015 at 16:30 Reply

    What a good video!!

  10. Aryane Sartori , on Jan 12, 2015 at 20:29 Reply

    My why is: I translate because I like helping people understanding and using in their benefit every piece of data and information available in the world; I feel complete when I translate, it seems like I’m opening others’ eyes to a brand new world they are not capable of seeing because of the barriers of language.

  11. Brenda L. Galván , on Jan 13, 2015 at 22:17 Reply

    Why do I translate?

    I translate because my love for languages and cultures reinforce my cultural sensitivity to bridge linguistic gaps and be a better cultural moderator. Fields like Legal, Immigration, and Healthcare/Medical have so much demand as these complex areas often put LEPs (Limited English proficient people) in jeopardy due to linguistic and cultural barriers… any faux pas may cause an injustice or a wrong medical procedure. Being an immigrant myself when I was younger made me realize that I wasn’t the only one facing language barriers, cultural shock, bullying, and discrimination. It’s not only a question of linguistic skills but one of getting two or more worlds together by providing an exceptional service to their needs.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 16, 2015 at 15:25 Reply

      I agree, being a translator is definitely more than just knowing two languages 🙂

  12. Martina , on Jan 16, 2015 at 22:25 Reply

    Oops, coming in a bit late! Catching up with all your homework 🙂

    I love translating because

    I’ve always been fascinated by languages — starting with Italian. I can even remember that I always got into “competitions” with my classmates (5 to 10 years old) to see who would be the fastest to analyze the grammar structure of sentences! A bit odd for a 5year old, I know.

    For me, it’s been a natural transition. I never knew what I wanted to do with my languages, but somehow I ended up here.

    I love the perks and the freedom that come with it (working for myself, living anywhere I want),
    that feeling of satisfaction I get when I deliver something and they tell me they are very happy with it,
    the never-ending stream of information and knowledge that comes with it,
    the ability to craft something unique each time and act as the mean for people, businesses and organizations to communicate and reach a goal, fulfill a dream,
    the challenges that it brings — it’s not always easy!, sometimes I feel like I want to throw my laptop down the window 🙂 but then somehow there is always a way to overcome the obstacle, find a solution, solve the problem in a beautiful and creative way,
    the way it helps me expand my mind and personality with new horizons all the time…

    I could go on!

  13. Enrico Antonio Mion , on Mar 3, 2016 at 20:41 Reply

    “If a product or idea makes lives healthier and/or easier, it should be available to anybody. A language barrier should not prevent someone from taking full benefit of it.”

    Enrico (specializing in sports and e-commerce).

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