Translation and professional pretense

[…] One of the greatest offerings that such programs provide students is a sense of what it means to be a professional. Unfortunately, this is not always taught in class, and has to be picked up by osmosis—by paying attention to how the teachers talk about the profession, how they present themselves as professionals. Some programs offer internships that smooth the transition into the profession. Even then, however, the individual translator-novice has to make the transition in his or her own head, own speech, own life. Even with guidance from teachers and/or working professionals in the field, at some point the student/intern must begin to present himself or herself as a professional—and that always involves a certain amount of pretense:

“Can you modem it to our BBS by Friday?”
“Yes, sure, no problem. Maybe even by Thursday.”

You’ve never used a modem before, you don’t know what BBS stands for or how one works, but you’ve got until Friday to find out. Today, Tuesday, you don’t say “I don’t have a modem” or “What’s a BBS?” You promise to modem the translation to their BBS, and immediately rush out to find someone to teach you how to do it.

“What’s your rate?”
“It depends on the difficulty of the text. Could you fax it to me first, so I can look it over? I’ll call you right back.”

It’s your first real job and you suddenly realize you have no idea how much people charge for this work. You’ve got a half hour or so before the agency or client begins growing impatient, waiting for your phone call; you wait for the fax to arrive and then get on the phone and call a translator you know to ask about rates. When you call back, you sound professional.

[…] So you pretend to be an experienced translator. To put it somewhat simplistically, you become a translator by pretending to be one. As we saw Paul Kussmaul (1995:33) noting in Chapter 7, “Expert behaviour is acquired role playing.”It should be obvious that the more knowledge you have about how the profession works, the easier it will be to pretend successfully […] note, however, that the need to “pretend” never really goes away.

(Douglas Robinson, Becoming a translator: an accelerated course.)

I’d argue further that this kind of presentational role-playing (which is necessary for any profession and even for other social roles) cannot be explicitly taught in class; osmosis is its natural path of acquisition. For an in-depth, exceedingly interesting and criminally overlooked discussion, see Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life .

For delightful tales of bravado and sheer cold-bloodness in the context of interpreting, see Kató Lomb, Polyglot: How I learn languages:

I was hired to interpret into Japanese for the first time in my life. The Hungarian hosts and I were waiting at the Ferihegy airport. Our leader was a widely popular, old politician known for his flowery style, but my knowledge of Japanese didn’t permit me to say much more than “Japanese is good, Hungarian is good, long live!” However, the first sentence I was supposed to translate into Japanese (and with which I was supposed to launch my career) went like this: “The black army of weed-scatterers will in vain try to obscure the unclouded sky of the friendship between Japanese and Hungarian peoples!”

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