Posted by: patenttranslator | November 12, 2010

Patent Translators Do Not Live by Patent Translation Alone

It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Luke, 4: 4). It shall now be written on my blog that this patent translator does not live by patent translation alone either.

Although about 80% of the documents that I translate are patents or documents related to patents such as office actions, rejection notices, or articles from technical journals, I do enjoy the occasional personal document, newspaper article, research or investigation reports from the field, or court decision. I even translated several books from Japanese but I stopped doing that. The problem with translating books is what to do when the book is finished and all your clients have gone to somebody who had more time for them. A long book project is a kiss of death.

There were also projects that I turned down. A math textbook from Japanese. Only a mathematician can translate that. A Czech script for a historical film. I can fake a lot of things, but I don’t know how to fake English that is understandable but sort of sounds historical. It would probably sound sort of hysterical. I referred the prospective client to a university department. Maybe they have somebody who can do that.

I remember handwritten Japanese investigation reports by a life insurance company investigator. These reports sometime read like a mystery novel. I still remember one investigation about a guy who took out a life insurance policy worth two million dollars although he must have known that he was terminally ill. There were interviews with his neighbors, photos of his apartment.  Who gets paid for reading mystery novels in foreign languages? The only other person I can think of was the guy played by Robert Redford in the movie Three Days of the Condor. But that was a fictional character, of course. Or maybe not. It was a strangely prophetic film.

Because patents can be about just about anything, a good patent translator should be able to translate just about anything. But not everything. Sometime I sneakily turn down translations that I could do if I see that the terminology is really arcane or the text seems just too bizarre – by quoting a really high rate. And sometime the rate is accepted and then I have to do the damn thing.

I sometime wonder who is the end client who is paying for my non-patent translations. Yesterday I translated a long article which compared strategies for dealing with homelessness and homeless people in Prague, Vienna, Paris and United States. Maybe I will find it later online. I will try to Google it in a few weeks.

A good patent translator should be able to translate just about anything. But translators who do not translate patents usually cannot do a good job on a patent translation. It takes a while to get used to this field. A few years, at least.

I also remember  letters and e-mails of foreign-born spouses and lovers, presumably stolen, that I translated from several languages to English. Those were fun too. I wish I could go into details but that would be unethical. A good, conscientious translator is like a priest or therapist, we can only speak in general terms about things that should remain confidential, such as undisclosed technical specifications of a new invention or affairs of the heart.


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