Saturday, 11 July 2009

Translation Trial

Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators
Monica and I were talking for some time about relocating to another city or two where we were more likely to find work. We took a long time to come up with any plan of action though, because I'm pretty ignorant about Italy in the first place, and these are strange times, so it was hard to know where to try. Nor did anyone feel especially competent to advise us. But we finally came up with a few ideas, and instead of relocating (because nowhere's a safe bet), we decided just to send out speculative applications to companies we could find in the yellow pages that we thought might like an English native speaker. I also started a 54 day rosary (that's a pair of triple novenas, if you're wondering – one for please, one for thank you) for the intention of a job for me.

We started out with the places closest to us, because it's not like we actually want to leave Offagna, so the closer the better. We got going with this on a Friday. On Saturday morning I had a phone call from Alessandro Potalivo – Intrawelt is his company. That caught me rather on the back foot. In any case we talked about my CV and we arranged an interview on Monday. It was a strange sort of interview – he invited Monica too and his wife came in for the latter half as well – but it's how I got the trial period I'm on. Essentially he said he could do with a mother tongue proof reader, but not everyone who speaks English can proof read, which is perfectly fair.

What is a strain is the hours and the commute. Office hours are 8:30-18:30 and even with a generous break of 1-1½hrs (I've not taken 1½ so far), it's still more hours than I've ever worked. If I get the job we'll try and get a place in Porto Sant'Elpidio as soon as we can, to ease that particular strain. I get up at 6:40 and get back home at 20:10, more or less.

As to how it's going – quite well I think. It's a mixed bag – What job isn't? - but I think I'm doing quite well. I don't know if Alessandro will take me on, but we shall see. What did surprise me was that I'm doing translations about as much, or at least not significantly less, than I'm doing proof reading. That wasn't was I was expecting at all, but I seem to get by, after an initial shock. I've made some mistakes, including quite a big one yesterday where I parsed a verb into the wrong person, but, the way I see it, they're hardly even my fault - I never said anything to indicate that I felt my Italian was up to translation work. One good thing about the job is the variety. Translation agencies translate whatever they can, so you end up with all sorts. Even if the bulk of the job is boring financial paperwork, I've worked on a recipe for sweet and sour ribs (thank you unrequested Google image search for teaching me that “6 pieces of green onion” means “6 spring onions”) a little article about Iceland's lᴓveli lakes and, slightly less excitingly, but still better than finance, different tyre categories. It's also a very quiet office for the most part, though it is a good, friendly atmosphere. We use a little messaging system, so you don't tend to hear those brief, everyday sorts of queries because it's all being typed out silently. I feel sorry for the girl who works all alone on the reception desk (though she's not just the receptionist) especially.

With regards to actual proof reading, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it's harder than I thought, and for reasons I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I am naïve. One thing that was made very clear by Paul, another Englishman (or perhaps he's Irish actually) was that one of the major problems in the translation industry is the quality threshold. Essentially, anyone who speaks two languages can say “I'm a translator”, with hilarious consequences. But a good translation, in short, is made by someone translating into their mother tongue, with a good knowledge of their own language (which, as is only too apparent to me at least, is by no means a given) and a good knowledge of the subject matter. So finding a good translator isn't exactly a piece of cake.

About 50% of the time, when I proof read, it's more like a re-write, or that it's me doing the translation. I'm not sure precisely how many of Intrawelt's translators are technically freelance, but they certainly almost all work remotely. The team I work with is made up, for the most part, of project managers, which is to say the people who co-ordinate the translation by dishing it out to various translators. Anyway, we receive these translations through the ether and sometimes I find it very hard to believe that these people are really English mother tongues. No exaggeration, I assure you. I have to assume either that they're translating in the wrong direction, for whatever reason, or that they've somehow bluffed their way onto the records as English mother tongues, or more charitably that though they're technically mother tongues, they've been living and working in another language for so long that they've lost their grasp on English, which may not have been amazing to begin with.

If anything's going to stop me getting this job, I expect it'll be this, that I can proof read an intelligible English text, but I can't fix a god-awful translation that I don't understand in either the original or the “English”. We shall see.


JamesP said...

Didn't you work for the council?

Surely you know by now that in the real world the majority of people are stunningly incompetent?

The fact that you are aware of your limitations and that you are effectively doing a re-write and that it's not perfect already means you are actually doing the job and understand what is required - that's a rare skill these days.

Mark said...

Thanks James.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say that, at least in the part of the council that I worked, they did a really good job on the whole. Though there were some jobsworths.