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The price of being proud (...of translation as a profession)

Aktualisiert: 28. Juli 2020

What´s the value of translation? And why is it (or should be) so difficult to put a price tag on it?

It is not easy to approach this topic - any currently active professional translator knows that. Already at university - while I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of each and every course, seminar and lecture - I often heard the warning:


"Do not accept low payment for your work!"

"Beware of dumping prices!"


But at the same time I also heard and get pushed into believing:

"You have to accept any assignment at a lower price in the beginning of your career to get established!"


Well, no. I do not have to. I will say that much with absolute clarity right away.

And that is what I mean when I talk about price and pride - and yet it is not just pride.

Far from it, actually.

It is a deep and well-developed understanding about this highly complex profession and what it involves that urges me to say this - and I do say it with pride...and endless passion.


Translation is indeed a very complex task.

(Let`s be content with this understatement for now...)


To start with, it requires excellent language skills - and when I say language skills, I mean solid grammatical correctness, extensive vocabulary paired with semantic accuracy, sophisticated style, appropriate as well as context-sensitive choice of words... A profound knowledge of and the ability to perceive and contemplate linguistic nuances, different meanings and connotations, an ocean of possible and potential associations...complex or intentionally simple sentence structures...consideration of the cultural context, the right delivery of the intended message...Do not forget skills in rhetorics, the use of slang and technical jargon...


Yes, I do mean to point out here all of the levels and aspects of what we consider to be essential to commanding a language both orally and in writing.

And there is so much more...but by now you should have a fairly good picture.


Translating not only requires excellent command of one`s own mother tongue (or the primary language of upbringing and education), but also of at least one other language.

Let`s briefly consider the lexicon or the set of "all exisitng words" in a given language. Of course, it is not possible to "count the words" of a language. Languages...language is in a constant state of flux. There are no boundaries, no solid state or fixed form... it is more like a fluid - constantly changing, evolving, expanding, morphing...and language lives through its use, thanks to and inside of the users of language, us humans - ever changing and evolving too.


So let`s just illustrate this point by stating that the English language alone - our current global lingua franca - has an estimated "total vocabulary" of one million words. New words are being coined all over the planet all the time.


Just hold that piece of information in your mind for a little while and imagine - really do take a minute to contemplate - the endless amount of possibilities, combinations, utterances, sentences, texts - nowadays you can also just think of the number of different tweets, posts, comments, messages that can result from that. It is breathtaking and quite overwhelming to pause there and allow your mind to grasp that reality.


And so, a translator has to know and be ready to deal with all kinds of

- subjects

- text types

- source and target audiences

- intended messages

- contexts of communication

- cultural aspects

- and many more ...


And to continue further down that path: there is even more - a professional translator needs to have a good knowledge of current affairs and has to be up-to-date with the news, political events and the latest discoveries. There can always be allusions or references to that in any text, content or piece of current writing.


Today`s translator is expected to have skills - wide-ranging skills - in computer and technology including knowledge about various different translation and other software, file formats, content types and yes, also twitter and social media. Even the most popular and widely used software such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint is endlessly complex in itself and can yield scenarios, where much time and competence is necessary to create a version of that file in another language.


Have I mentioned formatting and graphics yet? Well, it may not be an obvious requirement, but that is very much part of the workflow too, wherever visual elements are involved. And yes, this is likely to be the case in today`s image-laden world.


I think this article has given a good outline of the main aspects to consider and this should be helpful for anyone who has not yet comprehended why this profession is highly complex and vastly undervalued at the same time.


We should not lose sight of the value of high-quality communication - no matter if it is just a quick message or a post and especially in the case of longer, more complex or technical texts. In order to be able to put a price tag on any translation, I have to read the source text and understand the details of the assignment first.



Let`s take the time to discuss the details of the translation together to reach the intended, high-quality result and the best possible piece of communication!

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