EN 15038 Industry Standards and the Individual

Welcome to Transap’s blog – a freelance translator relating the joys and mysteries of this wonderful profession.

Let’s look at one of the inherent contradictions of the “freelance” translator. The industry in Europe has an industry standard . It states that a quality translation is one which has been translated by a translator and revised by a reviewer and that those two functions should be done by different people. The reality, in the industry, is often different, as the freelance translator who works directly with a client will often translate and review work, with inevitable consequences for its eventual quality. A freelance translator might question that premise, on the basis that a writer works alone to create a novel; although that may rarely if ever be true. Easy, perhaps, to imagine Honoré de Balzac, who reputedly read out his stories aloud, to the amusement of his domestic staff, until satisfied with every word. Doris Lessing used to say that until each paragraph had to be rewritten more than two or three times before she ever felt remotely satisfied with it. And, all the more so these days, when a publishing houses will comment and criticize and generally encourage the writer to rewrite sections that might not satisfy the literary agent. I will not dwell on the reality for journalists, whose articles may not be easily recognizable after the sub-editor and editor have added their halfpenny’s worth. So, it is clear that writing is a joint effort in the end, that critical comment should be welcome and that the industrial standard makes sense. Yet…, the freelance translator aspires to produce quality work and does not wish to be merely a cog in the machine, passing a piece on to a reviewer who will pass it on to the publisher and so on. The translation process has something to do with creativity and the text in some indirect way also belongs to the translator, hence the contradiction of playing a role in a team, if quality is to be achieved, and aspiring to create legitimate, authentic texts in their own right.

The translator, though, is not exactly a writer, and the mental maps needed to jump from one language to another and express what is on paper, rather than what might be in the mind, or on the tip of the tongue differ from the writer’s mental maps. Thus, the wings of thought are clipped and effort is directed at creating the word in the “image” that has already been given.

All of this would suggest that the translator should bow to the wisdom of well known writers and the , build solid working relations with other professionals, create synergy and above all well reviewed translations.

This leads us to yet another contradiction which concerns the economics of the profession. I was recently approached by a translation agency that wanted a job done at 5.5 per word (and they weren’t referring to the time of day). The approach was cold calling through a well known internet portal that recommends higher minimum rates than those that were proposed in this case. Translation agencies of course can add value, review work and manage client relations, leaving the translator to get on with the job of translating. So their entitlement to a slice of the pie is undeniable, however that has to be balanced and put into perspective with various other factors, not least their understanding of what business as usual might mean for the freelance translator and for the agency. The contradiction takes us back to the paradox of the individual and the organization and the desire to be a creative individual, countered by the business world that seeks every greater efficiency.

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