What makes a translator? What made you one?

  • Greater than 2 minutes

    When I was six or seven years old, I started translating Hamlet. I could barely understand what I was reading (or writing), but it was fun mingling with words anyway.

    Of course, I was no more a translator back then than a kid playing with lego bricks is an architect.

    In school I, like many peers, spent endless hours translating The Offspring and Metallica into Russian.

    This certainly did not make me a translator, either.

    As a freshman, I started freelancing to get some pocket money. I was to major in physics and math, so it seemed logical to focus on technical translation. It was mostly boring, but something in it made me tick. I remember thinking, “Not a single soul in Russia would have known about this air pump if not for my work!”

    But it was just a sideline, so I never really called myself a “translator.”

    A few years later, I got a “real job” in B2B sales, learned a couple of buzzwords and thus started doing the occasional marketing translation (it’s all about buzzwords, right?). Little by little, I started declining “air pump jobs,” and translating had become much more fun.

    Still— you got it.

    It was around that time that I got seriously into philosophy and history. Chalmers and Gumilev became my best buddies, and I spent a great deal of time translating them just for the love of it. I never thought I would be able to find clients in that niche.

    As it was just a hobby, I didn’t realize I had already become a translator.

    When my “real job” popped like a dotcom bubble, and I was finally left one on one with my thoughts, it slowly dawned on me

    I often wonder if there was a specific moment, or event, that made me a translator. Was it when I translated the introduction to “The Conscious Mind”? Or my first air pump manual? Or when poor old Shakespeare turned in his grave from my childhood experiments?

    Or maybe, just maybe, we are all born translators — it’s just that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only bring this realization to a chosen few?

    If it is so, I’m glad I was whipped and hit hard enough to see.

    Are you?


    Did this make you think? If yes, there’s more on Ab Hoc.

    Vladimir Zakharov

    About Vladimir Zakharov

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

    7 thoughts on “What makes a translator?

    1. I thought I would be an architect, then a doctor and then a journalist before I thought I could be a translator, but now that I’ve gotten there, I feel like it’s who I’ve always been, and not because I used to translate songs like you and many others, but because the profession embraces everything I am: I love languages, reading, writing, perfecting, I work best on my own. What else could I have possibly done? 😀
      I think those who are really meant to be translators, eventually find their way there – or their way finds them.

    2. A reputed Russian translator (Palazhchenko, maybe? I can’t remember) said that a person can’t say they are a translator before they’ve been working as one for at least 5 years. I heard that from a colleague. Maybe he’s right, idk)))

    3. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I come from a “multi-cultural” background, my Tunisian father spoke to me in Arabic and I always answered in English (I don”t know why), I spoke to my British mother in English, but my parents communicated/fought in French mostly 🙂
      I also started learning French along with Arabic from my first year at school. I have always loved French and read books in both French and English. It’s the same with films and series, I don’t mind which language I watch in. Anyway, I think I became a translator/freelance translator because of my background….and probably because I like my own company :))

    4. Me and my friend (we both run this profile) have always wanted to make our people enjoy lyrics and beautiful metaphors written in English. We did not join our university’s translation program, we chose the English language and literature program instead and because of this we are now more passionate about translating all the great texts written in the English language. We want people to enjoy them as we do!

      Thank you very much for your article 🙂

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