Four People to Celebrate on International Translation Day

“Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.”– Günter Grass

At Smartling, we’re fortunate to interact with professional translators every day. We train them on our translation interface, we source many translation agencies for our clients who route work to them, and we stand in awe of their talent every time we deploy another translated website, mobile app, or document for one of our customers. In our line of business, we get to celebrate the work of translators every single day.

But there’s one day of the year in particular when the world stops to recognize translators – today, September 30th, also known as International Translation Day. This day has been celebrated every year since 1953.

In honor of this day, we thought we’d introduce you to some amazing people from the translation and interpreting profession whose names you definitely need to know:

  1. Peter Less, interpreter extraordinaire at the Nuremberg Trials. Interpreters are also celebrated on International Translation Day – in fact, the majority of interpreters for spoken language also do written translation work at some point in their careers. One of the interpreters that everyone needs to know about is Peter Less. Peter was an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, and served as the voice of many of the Nazi war criminals. This was an especially difficult task given that Peter’s entire family was murdered in the concentration camps at Auschwitz. His humility, professionalism, and dedication are truly inspirational. Hear more about his story in this piece from NPR.
  2. Jessie Little Doe Baird, using translation to revive her ancestral tongue. If you ever doubted the power of translation, consider the fact that it can bring a language back from the dead. Wampanoag, the language spoken by Native Americans when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, saw its last speakers pass away in the mid-nineteenth century. More than 150 years later, Jessie began a mission to revitalize the language. To do so, she studied linguistics at MIT and reconstructed the language, primarily by making use of translations from the 1660s. Her daughter became the first native speaker of Wampanoag in six generations. During an age when a language dies every two weeks, the fact that translation can help bring a language back to life offers hope. Read more about Jessie at the Huffington Post.
  3. Irena Yashkova, interpreter whose voice is heard in outer space. Many of us Smartlings are fans of NASA and space exploration (not to mention science fiction). Well, Irina gets to live in that world (or should we say, outside our world?) as part of her everyday work as an interpreter for the International Space Station. In her fourteen years of working as an “extraterrestrial interpreter,” she has interpreted for thirty expeditions into space and more than fifty space walks. Not only that, but she also works with a team of translators who specialize in terminology and glossary development for all the specialized and highly technical terminology the interpreters must master. We’ll take that as clear proof that translation is truly out of this world!
  4. Julia Demcheson, creating relevant translations so Inuktitut can thrive. In the Canadian northern territory of Nunavut, 83% of the population claims Inuktitut as their mother tongue. As a result, you’ll find Julia and other translators working to not just translate official documents from the Canadian government, but to actually develop new terminology for modern concepts that are culturally meaningful for her community. In many languages, words like “internet” are simply borrowed from English – but not in Inuktitut. The word for “internet” in Inuktitut is a traditional term that means “traveling through layers,” much like a shaman would do when traveling across time and space to find out about living and deceased relatives. Translators like Julia not only ensure that their native heritage is reflected in the development of modern terms for Inuktitut – they enrich our collective worldview in the process.

These amazing individuals are profiled in greater depth in one of our favorite books, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World. To celebrate International Translation Day and these translators in particular, we’re giving away four signed copies of the book to some lucky Smartling blog readers. To enter for a chance to win, email us at We’ll announce the winners on Friday.