So many people are eager these days to dispense invaluable advice to translators, web designers, programmers and many other “freelance occupations” that whole industries have sprung up to offer professional development advice on how to promote one’s career by following the sage advice of professional and lifestyle gurus.
Some of these gurus who offer professional development guidance to translators, among other professions, don’t know anything about translation or translators, and probably not much about any other profession either.
They are monolingual and they never translated anything in their life. So instead of analyzing different kinds of markets for different kinds of translators and the rewards, benefits and pitfalls of the translating profession, they will be probably talking about … the proper lifestyle, correct body posture, breathing and mind expanding techniques, I suppose. I am not really sure what they talk about because you have to pay them, generally about 300 Euros or dollars, to make them willing to share the magic of their wisdom with you in a webinar.
The fact that these kinds of professional coaches don’t really know anything about anything in particular is not a disadvantage for these professional coaches in the professional webinar industry. Quite on the contrary: once they reach a certain status, their guru status alone makes them eminently qualified to talk about everything and anything at all in webinars that can be sold through the Internet to anybody willing to pay for them.
More and people are already and more still will be working through the Internet, and they all naturally need to learn proper breathing and mind expanding techniques, and things like how to focus the mind on professional goals and identify priorities through cognitive multitasking to achieve professional excellence.
I just threw randomly selected words into the sentence above, but if you Google them, you will have no trouble finding webinars of knowledgeable mentors who offer to teach you exactly that.
I don’t believe in professional gurus. I think that most of them, make that all of them, are a waste of time and money. My advice to people who want to become translators, but perhaps are not quite there yet, would be to forget about professional coaches and look for inspiration in the animal kingdom instead.
My advice is to look in particular at the fascinating animals called giraffes.
Giraffes are very interesting animals. They are so different from any other animal. I remember that my parents gave me a toy giraffe when I was 5 years old and had to spend several weeks in a hospital. I was completely fascinated by that toy giraffe all those years ago, and I am still fascinated by these animals now.
Initially, giraffes had as many vertebrae as other vertebrate animals and humans have to this day: namely a total of seven vertebrae. So how many do they have now that their neck is about 7 feet long?
If you guessed 14, or 21 or more, you would be wrong. If you thought that it looked like a trick question, you were right. Giraffes still have only seven vertebrae, but each of them is over 10 inches (25 centimeters) long.
Scientists have a number of competing theories for why and how their necks got so long. According to some, male giraffes need a long neck to fight other males over food and females by using their heavy necks and heads as weapons. The Pentagon is no doubt financing a few studies examining giraffe fighting techniques and their applicability to low-tech close combat fighting.
But I think it is clear that the main reason why sneaky giraffes developed their long neck, (which is proportionally much longer than a swan’s neck), is that unlike zebras, buffaloes, gazelles, rabbits, or hamsters, giraffes realized early on, millennia ago, that the tastiest food is generally located on branches high above a level that is visible to other plant eating animals. They basically have only one competitor when it comes to the juiciest stuff to chew on: elephants. But their long necks can reach even higher than a pretty long trunk of a really big elephant.
All the other plant-eating animals are competing for the same brown and yellow grasses and low-hanging fruit in the African savannah. Everybody from zebras to hamsters is doing the same thing, except for giraffes.
That must be why I always see a condescending smirk on the funny long face when a giraffe is chewing the greenest and juiciest leaves and branches, although all the other animals must make do with what is left on the ground while keeping an anxious eye out for predators. And if you have seen any documentary about the Serengeti, you know that giraffes are basically chewing something all the time, except when they are running on their long feet.
My advice to translators who are eating the dusty yellow and brown grasses near the watering hole where hyenas and lions congregate to prey on zebras, buffaloes, gazelles, goats and rabbits would be: become a giraffe.
Forget about professional coaches. They don’t really know anything about anything anyway, and in any case, they know nothing about you and don’t care one bit about you. They will just tell you what they think you want to hear to make money. Instead, be like a giraffe: try to figure out yourself where the best work is for somebody like you and then try to stretch your neck as far as you need to in order to reach it.
The best work will not be found on “portals for translators” where dozens of translators are competing for a single job by trying to underbid each. It will not be delivered to you courtesy of translation mega-agencies who make translators sign “Non-Disclosure Agreements” that run to more than 10 pages. The real purpose of these agreements is to make us declare our obedience to the principles of hamsterization of translators in the new version of “the translation industry”.
No matter what these agencies are telling you, post-processing of machine translations is not “a useful new skill that you should add to your arsenal of existing skills”, unless knowing how to skillfully dig one’s own grave is a useful new skill. It is mind-numbing and mind-dumbing drudgery when you have to retranslate the result of algorithms run amok, combined with poverty because you are expected to do it at much lower rates than what you used to make. It can be best described as a horrible way to die.
Just like the gurus who know so little about so much, I don’t know where the best work for you is or will be and how you should go about finding it. You have to figure it out on your own because everything depends on your language combination, your personality, your education, your inclinations and your skills, and the present and future trends in the development of an almost infinite translation market.
But I do know that instead of thinking like hamsters, translators need to be thinking more like giraffes. They need to figure out how to stretch their necks even if they must keep the same seven vertebrae that they were born with. But they need to do it quickly. Unlike giraffes, translators will not have centuries or millennia of evolution to stretch their necks as far as it takes to reach their goals.
They only have a hundred years to live, probably quite a bit less.