I have always wondered how the world perceives us, translators. How the world perceives our profession of translation. Earlier today I spoke with a client who needed a four-page letter translated from Italian. It was a military discharge document bearing his grandfather’s name and it mentioned a large sum of money. His father and grandfather are Italian and he spoke a few words as well, so he could get the gist of it.
I asked him if he needed an official translation to submit to the government, but he did not need that. So I reduced the quote. He was stunned at the cost and said he might as well have it translated by Google. I mentioned he could certainly do that. Usually machine translation is not entirely accurate, but we also offered a post-editing service, if he needed that all. A post-editing service checks and polishes machine translations. Usually this includes re-translation of large parts, as a machine is still not a human.
I slashed our quote even further, to a rate so low I would not even find a monkey willing to translate for such peanuts. At this stage he became annoyed and said he might as well get one of his friends to translate it for him. I wondered why he had come to a professional translation service for a quote. I then replied that we are a professional translation service, and that our translators are highly qualified and skilled professionals. We need to make a living too, you know, and no, we are not a charity.
So what are we? Why does the perception exist that translation should be instant and, worse even, free? Only a few hundred years ago, the translation profession was one of the most respected professions in society. Now, one would think, with globalisation and all, it’s even more important. I think it will become harder and harder in this age of machine translation to educate the people of the world that translators are actually still important. Nothing beats the semantic understanding of a human… yet.