Friday, May 1, 2009

how I became a translator

I've been a freelance translator for about 11 years. I started this work as a fluke when someone in Italy asked me to translate press releases for an event she was organizing. I was teaching English as a second language at the time, a job many expats fall into when they go abroad. My students thought I was a good teacher, but I didn't. I was horribly, painfully bored, and frankly couldn't explain why English works this way and Italian works that way. It just is, was my usual answer, which somehow freed up the minds of my grammar obsessed Italian students. They would first look at me as if I had just broken the holy grail. Grammar is not only the foundation of the study of Italian language in Italy, but is also the main focus of the study of foreign languages in their schools. I had students who could tell me the difference between past participle and adverbs and present continuous, every rule in the book, yet they couldn't begin to understand me when I spoke or make themselves understood in English.

The woman who needed my help translating the press releases was one of my students, and the the event was the Italian Skeet Shooting Championship, of all things. I didn't know a skeet from a scooter. That first foray into translation proved to be the catalyst for creating my business. It was something I never would have thought about, never would have been curious about. Skeet shooting. But I researched and created glossaries and learned every inch of the world of skeet shooting. I did not know that my intense dive into skeets was not cost effective, not worth the money I would make on that job. I only knew the excitement of learning about something so foreign to me. I also felt the thrill of writing something, albeit about skeets, that others would be reading. That first job led to others and others again, and my business was born.

I never wrote about skeets again. Effective, successful translators have to specialize and find a niche in this business, and skeet shooting definitely wasn't the answer for me. A translator has to somehow be exceptional, providing a service that others can't. My own road has led me into two very different areas of specialization, preventing me from ever becoming bored, ever becoming complacent, ever becoming obsolete.

But more about that later.

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