Monday, August 09, 2010

A Translator's Life

When people ask me what I do for a living, my answer nowadays is that I am a jewelry artist. Plain and simple. No mention of my previous incarnation(s) as an international development consultant, or grant writer, or director of an HIV prevention program.

However, I do have a side job: I am a translator. While not an occupation I want to pursue forever, it pays the bills and keeps my Portuguese grammar skills and vocabulary up to speed. Translating also pays well and is a relatively flexible job. Since I'm a freelancer, I can choose which jobs I want to accept, and I can arrange my work schedule as I please (as long as I meet the often-tight deadlines, of course). I can also work from any location, as long as I have a computer and internet access.

There are downsides, however. The main one is that translating can be a VERY BORING job. Although the documents I work with are relatively interesting (mostly related to agricultural and value-chain development in Lusophone Africa, with a bit of economic development and policy stuff thrown in), translating is a tedious occupation. Not only do you have to research obscure terms and be sure your syntax is correct, there is the issue of deciphering and "correcting" poorly written source documents. Translators, unlike editors, don't have a free hand to clean up shoddy texts...you just have to wade through the original author's BS and errors and try to make your version sound coherent. Seriously, I am often shocked at what kind of documents are being submitted to/by the world's leading NGOs, consulting groups and development bodies.

The other problem, at least for me it seems, is that translating assignments always seem to come in at the most inconvenient times. I'm grateful for the work, of course, but my last three assignments have been 1) during finals week at school, 2) the weekend a friend came to visit from Austin, thus killing our plans to be touristy, and 3) during our current holiday in Brazil. All three of these assignments have been from new clients, so I didn't really want to turn them down.

As a result, instead of spending the day in Santa Teresa with Rico, I'm here at the computer at my mother-in-law's house, researching the Portuguese terms for things like castor beans, cow peas, integrated pest management, and farmer field schools. When I get a bit frustrated with the situation, however, I must remind myself that while I've had to "give up" four days of holiday, this one little job has in effect paid for my plane ticket down here and is therefore totally worth the sacrifice.

3 comments:

aimee said...

Good for you, Ali!

--jenna said...

Yech. Question, do you use translation software to speed up the process or just bash away at it in Word? I was looking at a translation site the other day that required their freelancers to use special software and wondered if it was worth the investment for the occasional work I do...hope to see you guys tomorrow!

Ali la Loca said...

~Aimee - Thanks, just finished the translation this afternoon. So glad it's done. Now I can enjoy some beach time!

~Jenna - Translation software is out of my budget at the moment. Also, not really sure how it works for translation of tables and figures (the doc's I translate tend to have lots of those). For occasional work, I'd say not worth the investment...for full-time work, yes. See you Thurs! bjs