Today was the last day of my six-month internship for a National Center for Scientific Research lab in Lyon, France. During my time there I translated about 25 academic articles, mostly on the history of economic thought and sociology.
Although there were moments that I wanted to cry or throw my laptop out the window while trying to translate articles on the epistemology of sociological fieldwork research or neurolaw (yes, neurolaw. I didn't realise it existed before either), on the whole it was an incredibly positive experience.
A few things I learnt about translation/myself over the past six months:
- Translation is super repetitive.
- I use a program called Trados, which breaks texts down into manageable chunks (about a sentence long), so I basically write out one sentence, hit Enter and move on to the next. My process is a lot more well-thought out than that, but it basically boils down to me doing that for 6-8 hours.
- Dance music goes perfectly with translation.
- I never thought I'd admit it, but I now love DJs. Something about the repetitive beat of an hour-long Diplo or The White Panda mix is just perfect for the continual rhythm of translation. It keeps me focused and on task.
- Dance music does not go well with proofreading.
- Proofreading is another issue entirely. My first drafts of work are always awful, written in a French-sounding bastardised form of English riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Rewriting in pedantically proper English while listening to anything that even remotely has a beat is an absolutely terrible idea and never ends well.
- New projects are always exciting.
- As nerdy as it sounds, creating a new project folder and opening it up is always exciting. I never know what I will find (ok, I assume it will be something to do with academics, but it could be economics, political sciences, gender studies...). That being said, with academic texts there's always the very real possibility that I will understand nothing on my first reading of the text anyway, so that excitement can be fleeting.
- Translation can be a huge responsibility.
- Authors of academic articles may have spent months or even years researching what is written down as a 10,000 word article. In some cases it is a summation of their life's work. As such, authors are understandably anxious that their work is translated as well as possible. Essentially, when I translate I am acting as the English mouthpiece for each author. My words will be quoted as theirs so it's incredibly important that I write what they wanted to say whilst respecting the norms of English scientific writing. Throughout my internship I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with the authors of every text I translated and discuss the technical and linguistic aspects of their texts. This really brought home their attachment to their texts and the fact that they were trusting me to act in their stead.
At the end of the day, I have realised that I am just passionate about languages. I love that every day, translating means that I am solving linguistic problems, making decisions and learning about new things. While I'm not sure if I will always be a full-time translator, I cannot imagine a career which doesn't incorporate it. I will always be very grateful to the lab for allowing me so much autonomy as a student translator and for trusting me with such difficult texts. I have no doubt that this has made me into a better translator; a professional translator.