Take care of the senseby Paul Danaher
and the pounds will take care of themselves
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 Bokors temporarily
exhausted the list of distinguished and prominent translators who otherwise
appear in this slot, hes asked me to write a self-portrait, offering whatever
insights I might have for present and potential colleagues. Hugely flattered,
Ive agreed to stand in while he refurbishes his database. (Editors Note: Come on, Paul, dont be so modest!)
I dont think theres 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 riddlingone 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
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 childrens 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 Ive 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 Im lying. In return, I think theyre lazya 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
Im 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 Ive 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 Im 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 attentionlike
book-keeping, tracking expenses and taking care of tax returns. Given how
easy it is to earn money, I qualify financially as an airline pilotas my local bank manager tersely characterises the modern Micawber.
Finally, Ive 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:
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 youre in the right place.
- 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
- periodic peer review
of my work by good revisers
- staying abreast
of developments in the language of my primary field (financial and economic
- 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 Ill be able to learn from them.
© Copyright 1997 Gabe Bokor
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