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What the up-and-coming generation needs to know

By Joachim Lépine, Certified Translator

1-Portrait Joachim LepineFor a translation lecturer and instructor, it is impossible not to feel a sense of pride and even admiration in translation students and novice translators. They have chosen a wonderful profession that will require tremendous dedication—and adaptation.

Learning the art and science of translation is no easy feat. Students in this field are to be admired not just for having chosen to learn the ropes of an extremely challenging (and often socially undervalued) profession, but for all that they will have to go through to become good translators. Like so many students before them, they will have to learn by trial and error, sweating over a myriad of translation assignments they will submit to teachers with a sharp eye for weaknesses and deficiencies.

Translation truly is a craft: it must be learned by apprenticeship and the kind yet stringent correction of an experienced practitioner. The path to excellence is narrow and often rocky. What is more, university studies are insufficient to achieve mastery. Junior translators must have their work revised for several years to develop solid ability. This requires quite a bit of humility and stick-to-it-ness.

So, what do the up-and-comers need to know?

The landscape is changing

Without a doubt, the next generation of translators must be alerted to the realities they will be confronted with in the coming years.

There is much good news. Information and documentation are exploding. The need for translation services has never been greater and the profession is growing significantly faster than most others. Moreover, the average age in the profession is extremely high, which means many translators will be retiring soon and making room for the “young lions” of the future. As well, certain translation assistance tools, such as AI-driven dictation (and to some extent neural/adaptive translation), are allowing translators to achieve ever-higher levels of productivity and making the work more enjoyable and more ergonomically friendly than ever.

At the same time, the cost of living has jumped by close to 20% in the last ten years alone, while the rates in the industry are declining. The many reasons for this decline include the democratization of translation assistance tools and downward pressure from multinationals. The situation is compounded by certain CAT tools that lower translator rates by supplying (not always) helpful “fuzzy” or “perfect” matches from various databases. Finally, translators must also collectively bear some of the blame for this decline. At the end of the day, it is up to each translator and translation firm to demand professional rates. Failure to do so jeopardizes the very future of the profession.

Heads held high

What the up-and-comers need to know—in fact, what all translators must remember—is that using high-tech tools and having strong competition are absolutely not valid reasons to lower rates. In other professions, both are considered good reasons to raise rates as a way of showing added value and “staying competitive”!

Translators and others must be reminded that translation plays a vital role in society by upholding the quality of languages and spreading ideas beyond borders. Without translators, society would not be what it is today. Translators are invisible warriors, working in the shadows to empower their clients to speak the language of their audience. They are the great catalysts, the behind-the-scenes enablers.

A word to the wise

When someone asks an aspiring translator what they are up to, they should hold their heads high as they proudly announce they are (or are becoming) a professional—or, better yet, certified—translator. When someone tells of an awful translation they saw on Facebook, translators should thank them for the free advertising. These “pearls” only go to show how important human translation is and will continue to be.

It is critical for up-and-comers to uphold this professional pride in all their future communications with colleagues and clients, and to adopt best practices in their advertising, phone and email contacts, websites and billing. Other professions have long understood that these are not mere details. There is an urgent need for translators to act not just like “word people,” but like businesspeople. With experience, many translators learn that they can command much better working conditions than they once believed, if only they take pride in themselves and in their work, and act accordingly.

There is a way out of the current decline. First, translators must take control of translation assistance tools, and especially dictation, which can dramatically boost productivity while also making the work more enjoyable. Such tools must not be controlled by companies that are determined to lower the rates of those who do the actual work—this would be unthinkable in virtually any other liberal profession. And second, translators must band together and maintain a united front as businesspeople, including by charging what they are worth. Clients are willing to pay for quality, but they need to be sold on it. No one can do this in the translator’s place.

In sum, translation is a wonderful, rewarding profession here in Québec. However, it is up to all translators in the province, and especially the up-and-coming generation, to be proactive in showcasing their worth and acting like businesspeople in order to be taken seriously and to continue to thrive. This is not an academic musing, but a vital collective step that must be taken to secure the future of the profession.

Joachim Lépine, M. Ed., is the owner of the training and translation business Traductions LION. In addition to working for an array of clients, he has been teaching at Université de Sherbrooke since 2010. He holds degrees from Concordia University, Université de Sherbrooke and Plymouth State University.

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