Three things a translator can learn from clouds A Friday read

  • Greater than 2 minutes

    I was lying on the shore, looking at the clouds and trying to find familiar images in the chaotic fluffs of evaporated water. The last three or four all looked like… birds. Apparently, birdness and skyness were so closely interwoven in my brain’s fabric that my mind followed the easy path of seeing a bird in anything that appeared in the sky.

    Suddenly I knew the first thing a translator can learn from the clouds: As valuable as your experience and the context are, they’ll often be tricking you into reading the source text the way you expect it to be read. It takes deliberate effort to unexpect, and to see something new, something that widens the repertoire of possibilities for all your future work.

    As I was thinking this, I kept looking at the bird, and realized that it wasn’t a bird anymore: It was moving, expanding, dissociating — playing a part in some weird but fascinating motion picture. This made me understand the second thing a translator can learn from clouds: You’ll never get the whole meaning of a text by looking at static sentences. Only by proofreading your translation in its entirety will you be able to see if it plays well in its motion and continuous transformation.

    With all these thoughts I missed how the clouds had completely covered the sun, and out of nowhere had come the wind. The drop in temperature caused by the loss of sunlight reduced the air pressure (P*V~T, remember?), welcoming hungry air masses to join the feast.

    And that was the third thing I learned from clouds: Sometimes, jobs stop coming, or a client leaves a bad review of your service, or something else makes you feel like the sun no longer shines. Then, it’s just a matter of physics that the pressure will drop. This depression is normal, and natural, and nothing to be ashamed of.

    But it is also a physical fact — one that could be the fourth thing to learn from clouds, but which I prefer to put together with the previous one — it is a physical fact that, sooner or later, clouds will dissolve, and the sun will come out, and the future will no longer seem doom.

    More often than not, it will seem bright, and sunny, and full of beautiful metaphors, where clouds are just an interesting detail to draw on your mind’s painting, and not a piece of grey canvas to paint it on.

    And what have you learned today?

    Originally posted on Ab HoC.

    Vladimir Zakharov

    About Vladimir Zakharov

    A translator with 15 years of experience, now Head of Community at — a platform that will change the translation industry and give the power back to translators.

    10 thoughts on “Three things a translator can learn from clouds

    1. Wow! Impressive post, really nice and powerful metaphors.
      Today I have had the chance to learn from direct experience that the clouds DO dissolve and the sun comes out again, even after days. The biggest challenge, I think, is to always remember what we’ve learned and live by it.

    2. Hi Vova, lucky man lying on the shore! Sure, the feelings you described belong to us all. These moments arrive, touch us and then go away. I understand that being solopreneurs we are often alone, without next-desk-colleagues to share feelings with. It’s natural to rethink what has happened and to learn from the past. No event is negative per-se, it always brings something good. It’s up to us to decipher the message, as the shape of clouds running in the sky.

    3. Vova, I agree that sometimes we are prone to follow a familiar path: I am often tempted to read into a text something that is not there, or translating it the way I think it should sound — basically, trying to improve the source text. I have to remind myself to be true to the original message.

      1. Oh yes, Julia. Especially in literary translation, you have to always balance on the razor between creativity and “самодеятельность” (is there a word for it in English?).

    4. Hi Vova, great post! 😉

      I just to leave my comment on one sentence:

      “Sometimes, jobs stop coming, or a client leaves (…)”
      Yes, that’s true, but it does not mean we’re bad translators or we’ve done something wrong. Sometimes it seems the sun stopped to shine, everything is cloudy and all, but after the storm we always have a rainbow, right?

      Maybe the client stopped contacting because there are no jobs in our language pairs, or even because the PM that used to send us the work is not working there anymore and the next PM already had some other preferred translators to work with. There could be many reasons.

      When in doubt, I wait for some time and then gently remind the company that I’m still “alive and translating”, and sometimes (if the relationship I have with that client allows it) I ask what happened. Sometimes that works wonders and the sun shines again 😉

      1. Excellent advice on asking the clients directly what could have happened!

        And yes, in many cases it has nothing to do with our professionalism. But when you are in the center of it all, you might need additional encouragement (from yourself or from your peers) to realize this. With the clouds comes the wind, and it takes effort to keep standing up straight.

    Leave a Reply

    The Open Mic

    Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

    Find Translators OR Register as a translator