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Guest Post: On Ignorance And Not Knowing In Translation Industry

On Ignorance And Not Knowing In Translation Industry (featured) by Olga Reinholdt

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Hey guys! This week I’m trying something new.

And I’m really excited about it!

Olga Reinholdt, a colleague of mine, offered to write a guest post on my blog and when I’ve read it, I couldn’t say “No”.

Because it is absolutely fantastic and it is something that needs to be shared with as many people as possible.

Over to you, Olga 🙂

On Ignorance And Not Knowing In Translation Industry

The first years of work are time to learn lessons, many important lessons that will later define your whole professional experience.

When I had just started working as a technical translator with a project big enough to humble the hell out of me, I had a few hard learned  lessons, which have become my main professional asset.

One of them was delivered through a piece of advice, dispensed by a more experienced fellow translator. He said: “When you interpret, never show that you don’t understand something. Create something, fill in with general phrases, but never show you’re lost. It will create a very bad impression of you as a professional”.

Those words made the rebel in me question the colleague’s authority and… go out and ask question after question.

If I didn’t hear something clients were saying, I would ask them to repeat it.

If I forgot a part of a phrase that I was interpreting, I would ask the client to remind me, what had been said.

If I wasn’t sure, what a term stood for, I would ask them to describe it in other words.

I made every possible effort to deliver the complicated technical  information from one language into another as accurately as possible, and didn’t give much thought to how professional I looked, asking another question and clarifying something with a client.

Once, when I came across another unknown notion and went to an engineering guy in our department for a little educational talk, I was struck by his response: “I have no idea what it is”. “What? – I exclaimed. “But you are a specialist in this particular field, aren’t you?” “Well, yeah… But this field is quite wide, and I never heard of this particular thing before…”

It didn’t make me think of this guy as a less professional. This little dialogue made me realize, that it is only healthy to not know everything. Even engineers don’t know everything in their particular field.

So a translator with a linguistic background (after all) will naturally come across unknown things during his or her work.

It is normal. It is healthy. It doesn’t make the translator a less of a professional.

What does make us lesser professionals, however, is the denial of not knowing, and lost opportunities to learn a new concept.

I can’t speak for other cultures, but in post CIS countries there is a particular fear of letting anyone know you don’t know something. Our schooling system was all about “knowing it” rather than “finding it out” and “analyzing it”. You’d get bad marks, you’d lose your classmates respect, you’d be told off by your parents if you’d revealed that there was something you didn’t know. This is sad.

We leave school with definitive imprint: not knowing something is BAD, and you’ll be punished for showing your “ignorance”. No mercy, no excuses.

As translators, we are doomed to work with terminology which we don’t understand and phenomena, that we don’t know, day after day. It makes our job hard, it makes our job challenging, it makes our job adventurous, it makes our job fun!

[bctt tweet=”It is OK to admit, that we don’t know certain things, search for knowledge, go out and ask specialists.” via=”no”]

This is not weakness, this is a normal part of our job.

Thankfully, even those translators, who work from home, and don’t have immediate access to subject matter experts clicking mice right next to their desk, still have loads of opportunities to successfully reach out for help. God bless the Internet.

Besides, it is always great to have an excuse to make a new connection and to find out how your former colleague, who’s now thousands of miles away, is doing.

My favorite “SOS” platform is of course Kudoz by Proz.com. Kudoz is specially created for this purpose: connecting people who need advice and people who are willing – and have enough knowledge – to offer it. I can’t overestimate the value of being able to throw virtually any terminology inquiry into the Kudoz space and receive ideas and suggestions from the many professional members of Kudoz club. I love this part of my work.

LinkedIn is my favorite “find the expert” platform. This is where you can find an engineer, a designer, a doctor, – any professional who can explain complicated concepts that you might come across in your translation practice. Guess what:  most professionals LOVE giving advice on their area of expertise and most likely you will end up learning much more than just the translation of a particular term.

I could go on and on talking about great places on the Internet where you can go for advice and answers, but I won’t: I’m pretty sure you guys know these places very well, and this is not the purpose of this post anyway.

The message is:

[bctt tweet=”We don’t know everything.  We can’t know everything. We don’t have to know everything.” via=”no”]

We are eternal beginners: even translators with decades of professional experience behind them stumble onto new subjects on regular basis and start learning all over again. This is the challenge and the beauty of the profession.

Acknowledge the “not knowing”, accept it, embrace it, and don’t be afraid to reach out with open arms to those who can help you and are willing to help.

You just need to let people help you, and you’ll learn how rewarding it can be.

Ignorance is not “not knowing”: ignorance is refusing to find out.

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