No. 2, Volume 1 
October 1997

Paul Danaher can be reached at

Jul 97 Issue
From the Editor/Webmaster
You Asked for It
by Gabe Bokor
Translator Profiles
Take care of the sense...
by Paul Danaher
In Memoriam: Dr. Deanna L. Hammond
by Jane M. Zorrilla
Legal Translation Workshop
Teaching German-English Legal Translation
by Margaret Marks
Dictator v. Dictator
First Impressions of ViaVoice from IBM
by Roger Fletcher
  NaturallySpeaking from Dragon Systems
by William J. Grimes
Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature IX
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
Banking and Finance
The Language of Inflation
by Danilo Nogueira
Translation in the News
The Onionskin
by Chris Durban
Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
 Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Events
Letters to the Editor
Call for Papers
Translation Journal

Take care of the sense
and the pounds will take care of themselves

by Paul Danaher

Paul Danaher, born 1946 in the UK. Freelance translator (and interpreter and narrator for recordings) for almost 20 years, currently living in Germany and working in cyberspace.
Since Gabe Bokor’s temporarily exhausted the list of distinguished and prominent translators who otherwise appear in this slot, he’s asked me to write a self-portrait, offering whatever insights I might have for present and potential colleagues. Hugely flattered, I’ve agreed to stand in while he refurbishes his database. (Editor’s Note: Come on, Paul, don’t be so modest!)
   I don’t think there’s anything in my education which is of interest or relevant to my fellows in translation and interpreting, apart perhaps from the comment of a schoolmaster that I had no talent whatsoever for foreign languages. There are two morals to this: the first is that hardly anybody (especially schoolmasters and potential mothers-in-law) has any idea what a translator is or does (“How many languages do you speak?”), and the second is that the most useful thing for a translator is an easy facility in the tongue of primary use (what we used to call “the mother tongue” in less enlightened and circumlocutory days). In fact, as far as translation goes the most important thing I learned during my schooling was to type, which I did outside the school system.
   My pre-translator professional development can best be described as disjointed, with four key experiences. The first was working in a circulation analysis department of a publishing empire made up of recently-merged and warring trade magazines. As nobody would give us any information, the staff spent its time solving and composing crosswords in the daily London newspapers, including The Times. (English crossword clues are exercises in riddling—one of my favourites was “golden parent” in three letters, answer “mum.”) This early practice in puzzling out meaning from deliberately cryptic phrases has been invaluable over the years when intuiting the meaning of badly-written source texts.
   Later, I wrote reports on the economies of the less important industrialised nations (which taught me jargon) and offers for market research studies based on econometric techniques exploiting the new electronic calculators (which taught me to write briefly and to the point).
   Finally, I worked as a singer in a radio choir, which gave me practice with simultaneous inputs (reading new music at sight while watching the conductor and listening to the orchestral accompaniment on earphones). The singing, of course, was very useful training for interpreting, and also accustomed me to anti-social working hours.
   I got my first job in translation on the strength of a test piece on French monetary policy. The agency manager who took me on was mainly impressed by the fact that my translation had virtually nothing in common with his own: he had followed the conventional strategy of dictating the English translation based on the French sentences, while I had merely read the French and typed what an English economist would have written on the same subject. Perhaps significantly, he hired me to review the German translations, commenting that if I was destined to be a translator the work would find its way to me. (It did.)
   The next career move was typically passive and improbable: I was asked to go to Frankfurt and do a television version of a modern children’s opera. After three weeks of rehearsal and recording, I found myself in Germany with no particular ties or goals. I decided to stay and look around, which I’ve been doing now for over fifteen years. Like most vagrant foreigners, I started by teaching commercial English and translation at a privately-owned language school. After a couple of years, I had too much translation work to have time for teaching, and I had also decided that I did not have the personality type needed to be an inspiring teacher.
   Around this time I bought my first dedicated word processor, a punched tape machine which produced very stylish printouts (for its day) and made revision a lot easier. Two years later came another dedicated word processor with a full-page screen and electronic data medium storage (8" floppy disks). This introduced me to the ability to revise and correct on the fly, and also opened up the magic world of copying and supercopying (copying from one document to another). The increase in productivity from the new technology boosted my translation income to six figures (translated into dollars), where it has stayed since.
   I also started to feel that I had to be doing something right as a translator, and began making myself unpopular with colleagues by arguing that a translator with good keyboarding skills working in a familiar area should be able to produce three, four or more pages an hour, essentially by combining the output of an interpreter with the ability to revise and correct on screen. On the whole, I get the impression that people think I’m lying. In return, I think they’re lazy—a facile opinion, given that I find translation far too enjoyable an activity to rate as work.
   In return for spending 8-12 hours a day in front of my 20" monitor (I finally got glasses, but I’m used to a big screen now), I get to stay at home with my family, work as a freelance without having to answer to anybody (except my family) and do something I enjoy more than any of the other careers I’ve toyed with (or vice versa).
   All this sounds too good to be true, and of course it is. One of the problems with enjoying work so much is that I feel I’m featherbedding my way through life without facing the real challenges. Another problem is that I can bury myself in work and ignore other aspects of being self-employed that need attention—like book-keeping, tracking expenses and taking care of tax returns. Given how easy it is to earn money, I qualify financially as an “airline pilot”—as my local bank manager tersely characterises the modern Micawber. Finally, I’ve lost a number of clients (and a couple of friends) over the years by losing touch with reality over deadlines.
   At present, my concerns (outside my family) are to improve the quality I provide. This involves a number of efforts:
  • an ongoing search for the Holy Grail that will keep me aware of the amount of work outstanding and warn me of impending conflicts (software, Filofax-type organisers, cards in slots, real and virtual sticky notelets, customers banging on the front door etc)
  • periodic peer review of my work by good revisers
  • staying abreast of developments in the language of my primary field (financial and economic journalism)
  • trying to keep in touch with advances in Internet and WWW resources and search technologies
  • thinking about the problems of describing quality in translation
  • dragging myself away from the Web to exercise, on the assumption that better physical condition will help combat fatigue
  • being forthright about what I do, where I think I succeed and where I fail, in the hope that other translators can learn from me and I’ll be able to learn from them.
   For people considering translation as a living, my first question would be, do you enjoy writing (preferably editing, rather than direct authorship)? The second, do you like working with words and ideas rather than people? If the answers are yes, then carry on. Ultimately, the market will tell you if you’re in the right place.

  © Copyright 1997 Gabe Bokor
Send your comments to the Webmaster

Updated 09/22/97