Value of Translation

One of the greatest problems for modern translators is the question of remuneration and prestige. The two are of course intrinsically linked. It is interesting looking at the history of translation and translation studies and noting how the prestige of translators has ebbed and flowed like the tides of the sea. There was a time when translators were seen as great artists, cultural experts and greatly respected, if not revered, for the work they did. At other times translators were seen as the manual labourers of the publishing world, the minions who were forever at the beck and call of their masters.

As mentioned, prestige is linked to remuneration and with fluctuations in respect for our work come similar fluctuations in the state of the translator’s pocket. Happily, translators are a more organised group nowadays and there are certain standards implemented that do not allow employers to pay under the ‘going rate’. However, in Poland, for example, there is still a tendency for employers (who have little or no idea about the complexities and subtleties of translation) to employ younger, less experienced translators for very little pay. The overall effect is, of course, disastrous. Inexperienced translators lower the general qualitative level of translation throughout the country, in turn lowering the prestige of translators, and because of their eagerness to accept any low fee lower the general level of remuneration.

There are two solutions. Firstly, an improvement in the overall quality of translation training and secondly, a campaign to inform society of the need for better language use and therefore a greater respect for language skills and in turn a greater respect for the work of translators.


15 thoughts on “Value of Translation

  1. “At other times translators were seen as the manual labourers of the publishing world, the minions who were forever at the beck and call of their masters.”

    Isn’t it like that now? in PL at least…
    Even though according to certain acts translators have rights equal to other artists (at least as far as tax law is concerned) 3 days ago I heard one journalist on the radio asking whether a translator should be given the copyright to his text… The context was the case of uploading one’s own film translation (in the form of subtitles) on the net considered violation of law, absurd for me, but that’s off topic a bit…

    Back to inexperieced translators, I believe you are aware most internships are “free”. That, of course, is not an excuse to translate poorly, but from my own experience I can tell no one cares for students. Once I got 100 pages to translate and not only I was not payed for the job but also no one bothered to check the text and brief me what was ok and what was crap simply.

    And so I would be 100% for the campaign, esp. to convince employers to invest in their employees – hire professionals AND help young translators to learn and consequently grow professional fast, which would be beneficial for the employer in the first place!

  2. Agnieszka K.K.:
    “Isn’t it like that now? in PL at least…”
    Well, that is certainly the question – IS it really like that now?
    Film/subtitling is a difficult problem. Usually, the greatest translation problems concern money i.e. where there’s money involved, there’s a problem for the translator. Unfortunately.
    Internships are unpaid, granted, however, this does not mean that the company owners/editors/head translators are free to let any old text reach the outside world as is often the case.
    A great deal still has to be done…

  3. yes, I agree with Agnieszka. I work in a company where I weren’t supposed to have anything to do with translations, yet when they found out I am studying English (and translation) they were more than happy to give me papers, letters, presentations, etc to translate. Moreover, it’s a sismiliar case, as noone even bothered to check it at least some parts of it.
    My responsibilities state nothing about translating, so I am not paid for that.
    This is Poland, but in other coutries the sitiation is similiar; young people need experience and employers benefit from that.

  4. Unfortunately, the case is similar in many companies and in many countries. First of all standards need to be raised within English departments and gentle pressure needs to be exerted on employers, so that they are aware of the fact that this is a service people are #usually# paid for. Once people begin to pay employees they then take some responsibility for it and would then wish to check and verify such work. There comes a time when employees need to begin exerting this pressure on their bosses.

  5. Unfortunately, I must agree with both girls, since I have similar experience. And it is true that being a translator is no longer a prestigious profession. It seems that people don’t know how difficult it is to produce a good translation and how much time and knowledge it requires. Most people think that it is enough just to know the language (to be able to understand and use words in foreign language). They don’t consider this occupation to be a kind of art. I also think that it would be good to change the situation, but since we are talking about Poland I am quite pessimistic.

  6. I agree with You guys. Young translators are still not appreciated in Poland, either financially and/or in any other way. And yes something must be done about it, and yes we have to somehow try to influence, put pressure and make it public. The big question though is still there – how to do it right? I have no bloody idea i must say..

    I also agree that the present situation of some young translators and the practices of the employers only make it worse. Quality wise. Students are employed most of the time as some kind of office/PR/administrative assistants but very often as much as half of the duties they often have to perform is related to translation… That ofcourse is not in the contract or even when it is, it does not make the boss pay you more than 7zl/h – 10zl/h brutto. Which is a good thing to laugh of /cry about…

    I must admit that in the past i’ve been more optimistic about becoming a professional translator but today knowing the general situation and being aware of our national business practices my enthusiasm faded to the extent which makes me abandon the time consuming and not at all profitable translation practices in favour of other occupations which are simply better paid like for example language teaching.

    The conclusion is short
    If you live in Poland and if fate made you check your account balance too often you -will- have a hard time pursuing your translation career..

    Some will say, Hey! You can always emigrate to UK/Ireland.
    Sometimes, im afraid, it is the best option. 😐

  7. It is obvious, that employers choose between professional and not expensive translation of a text (thay often choose the second option because of economical reasons). However, it does not mean that this not expensive translation is somehow worse than the one made by already working for a few years translator. ‘Still, ‘new’ translators, who do not have experience, take up any work to earn money (they also have to live) and to gain experience, in order to be in the future known and respected translators, and to be treated in the way they deserve.

  8. Jędrzej:
    “Young translators are still not appreciated in Poland, either financially and/or in any other way.”
    The problem here is not in problem. This is a fact of life. Young/apprentices in ALL professions will never be apprciated due to the fact that – simply – they’re not yet good enough. Most translators hit their peak around the age of 40/50!

  9. I believe the ‘money’ question is something that is very difficult to resolve and – indeed – depends on the way translators are seen in every given country.

  10. Transubstantiation:
    “The problem here is not in problem. This is a fact of life. Young/apprentices in ALL professions will never be apprciated due to the fact that – simply – they’re not yet good enough. Most translators hit their peak around the age of 40/50!”

    In the case of office attendants and translators You may be right. Other professions no matter whether you are a begginer or not are more “appreciated” than others (25/35zl netto/hour instead of 5-10zl – that IS a difference) For me however it IS a problem. If its also a fact of life, that doesn’t really matter..

    More relevant is how much a translator is paid for his job (bear in mind this is not construction work we are talking about here but translation), if the costs of living are more or less the same in Poland and for example in Ireland/UK and the earnings/salaries are 3 or more times lower here – then hey is it really worth it…?

    I know one person, an English philologist, who’s been teaching English and working in Warsaw’s translation agencies for few years now, I always thought he was doing at least fine (he wasn’t a begginer like myself, he was qualified, experienced etc), recently his girlfriend told me they’re going to UK (somewhere in Kent), she will be working on a farm (she’s studying Polish & Japaneese philology at UW), he will probably find some office job (not in his field,who wants an English teacher/translator in England?). She says they probably wont come back soon…if ever. Why? Money ofcourse.

    For me all this is more and more “thought provoking…”

    I apologise If I abandoned the main topic..

  11. Jędrzej:
    It is understandable that few young translators this is a problem. However, the point that is made is of course important – Polish translators and interpreters will not be satisfied until their salaries are comparable to those in western countries.

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