A Translator is a Living Bank of Knowledge


Those acquainted with the work of a freelance translator, not those actually working as translators, but clients and people that have used the services of one, are well aware that translators do not translate every text under the sun, they actually have fields of expertise. These include industries of interest, hobbies that have taken the form of mastered knowledge, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in another field rather than translation.

Even the most educated of clients are not fully aware how much stored knowledge is found in the head of translators. As each discipline evolves, so is the knowledge of translators in certain industries. The brain of a translator stores information and knowledge in folders like a computer. Each folder contains smaller sub-folders divided into languages project names, project fields and industries. Of course, it is not possible to remember everything at the drop of a hat, and this is the reason why CAT tools offer a helping hand in the translation process.

Constant (self-) education is required in order to keep up with, let’s say, evolving IT technologies or vital medical terminology. Translators are well-oiled research individuals, absorbing, like a sponge, knowledge from all sorts of forms (books, scientific papers, online portals, webinars, pod-casts, conferences and many more). In my case, I am constantly bombarded by IT terminology at my part-time post at the Foundation for Research and Technology, by scientists researching online technologies in depth. They have, in fact, been my open encyclopedia to complicated processes of finding correct terminology, as one cannot translate something that is totally foreign or not comprehended to its core. The more research takes place, the easier source tests become and quality is assured.

This knowledge is carried beyond the boundaries of a translator’s working hours, and even when socializing, such knowledge has popped-up in conversations with relatives and friends. What follow are expressions of astonishment, such as “How on earth do you know this?”, “What do you do for a living again?”, or face expressions like wide eyes and open mouths frequently occur. An eager and hungry-for-knowledge translator is all about researching, reading, exploring, breaking down paragraphs, sentences ever words, understanding and comprehending in depth complicated texts of various disciplines. Translators are living banks of stored knowledge slowly but steadily accumulated during years of professional translation experience and constant research dedicated to their fields of expertise.

Clients are indeed surprised when while searching for the right freelance translator they discover a professional has more than language skills but actually extensive knowledge on a field. The latter, of course, applies more to direct clients than translation agencies, as direct clients seem to want their personal touch preserved in translations, or interview a translator beforehand (in a form of a meeting).

Have you had incidents of astonishing your clients with your knowledge? Please, do share your stories!

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Hi Konstantina,
    Very very nice read! This should be read by ordinary people (non-translators) 🙂 People really do not know how much research a translator does.

    1. Plamera,

      Thank you for your comment! The more we educate people the more will realize what it takes. It is up to us to spread the word!
      Thank you for your kind words!


  2. Thanks for the nice article. I can relate to that.

    I need to add a “but” though. Only conscientious translators are like. We know that there are self-proclaimed translators out who happen to speak two languages and hence call themselves translators but are not capable of rendering good translations. How often do we see that people flock to the translation industry for a job because they can’t find anything. 🙁 And this depreciates the work of highly skilled translators working for low rates and wages. 🙁

    1. Michaela,

      You said it all in a nut shell.
      Of course, this article describes professional translators who have worked hard and are true to their profession. Those that show respect to source and target texts and want to be proud of their end product. It does not describe self-proclaimed ones that want to make an easy buck!

      Thank you for your comment!

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