On the high value of translation, translators, interpreting and interpreters

I would be a liar if I said that I started working as a translator and interpreter with neither fears or doubts. I still remember how difficult it was for me to choose my faculty and, later, my specialization, but my will has always been stronger than the general discourse about how useful it could be to go into humanities – an issue discussed at such point that some countries are even encouraging students to do something that can meet the actual needs of their society.

I live in a country where the vice-director of a famous national newspaper has recently made a fuss for publishing an article about a study on the economic return of each degree. Nothing new under the sun, but what made thousands of students and me cringe was a series of statements that still give me nightmares:

“Purtroppo migliaia e migliaia di ragazzi in autunno si iscriveranno a Lettere, Scienze politiche, Filosofia, Storia dell’arte. È giusto studiare quello per cui si è portati e che si ama? Soltanto se si è ricchi e non si ha bisogno di lavorare, dicono gli economisti. Se guardiamo all’istruzione come un investimento, le indagini sugli studenti dimostrano che quelli più avversi al rischio, magari perché hanno voti bassi e non si sentono competitivi, scelgono le facoltà che danno meno prospettive di lavoro, cioè quelle umanistiche.

I ragazzi più svegli e intraprendenti si sentono sicuri abbastanza da buttarsi su Ingegneria, Matematica, Fisica, Finanza. Studi difficili e competitivi.”

Literally: “Unfortunately thousands and thousands of students this fall will enroll in Literature, Political Science, Philosophy, History. Is it right to study something you have an attitude for, something you are fond on? According to economists, it is possible only for those who are wealthy and not in need of a job. If considering education as an investment, surveys show that the most risk-averse, maybe because of their poor grades, do not feel competitive enough and thus choose an option that gives less job prospects, namely the humanities. The smartest and most resourceful candidates feel confident enough to jump on Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Financial Studies – difficult and competitive areas.”

I thought so much about entering this debate that I ended up having tons of notes of possible answers on my phone, but collaboration proposals for blog translations and business interpreting happily distracted me from going further in this discussion via Facebook comments. After all, as a sociology student (because yes! Translators study sociology – a lot of it!) I know that reality goes far beyond studies – even when what they aim to demonstrate may be right to me. Reality is too diverse to be classified in a very definite way. So I just sadly admitted to myself that such opinions on studying humanities will always be somehow popular among certain professionals, and went on with my life.

This is the second time I write something on what I think of the whole translation process. You can find the first post on my Instagram profile, and this is something new for me. I hardly ever write long considerations on social networks, but the longer I work to achieve my goals, the more I realise how hard the world actually is for translators and humanities students. The worst thing I found out is that it is mainly because of the low consideration those studies are given. The last person who reminded me of this condition is the founder and owner of a website whose aim is to get Italian artisans to be known all over the world and to be easily contacted by potential customers. Basically, a LinkedIn for handicraftsmen. When I asked if they needed translators for such a delicate project, I got answered that their own translation tool was efficient enough to overcome language barriers.

Guess my face was a picture.

I remember I interrupted him when he was about to say that soon machines will take the place of language experts, so he just said that he was sure I was seeing that coming as well and gave me a piece of advice on what I should specialize on while still in time.

I still think about how angry I felt on that day.

Telling translator, interpreters, mediators and language experts that they will soon be replaced by automatic tools means a great lack of consideration not only for them, but for the native speakers of a language as well. It means disrespect for how a culture shapes not only a language, but the entire core of populations, even in its most international aspects. Just think about the many different ways of making business.

Automatic translation can render meanings in a very general way, but it is up to the human professional to make so that texts reach the reader/listener in the most perfect way. The process requires specific studies and a lot of contact with different cultures. Machines are here and are meant to stay, but they can make the work faster, not replace a translator or interpreter. There are hues in every language, every sentence structure, every external contact, and knowing the words does not automatically involve the ability of grasping the essence of what stays behind. The translator, the interpreter, the language expert makes so that this world is not precluded tho those who cannot see beyond their own rules and lifestyle.

Today I am sure about the reason why I (well, almost) feel fearless when considering my academic and professional choices: because I love my passion for real, and what I do allows me to live it at the fullest.

“Without translation I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world”

  • Italo Calvino, Italian journalist and writer