Translators Everywhere!

Does the fact that we are now in contact with different languages on a daily basis, not only in the media but also in our professional and social lives and even in the street, make the job of the translator more useful? Or does it make our job somehow redundant?

I live in Barcelona. For those who don’t know, most people here are completely bilingual. Everybody speaks Spanish and Catalan. So before we even see the light of day, we are already listening to two languages in our heads.  We translate, borrow things between one language and the other, and many times we make a mess out of it.

  • Translators are everywhere you look! I get on the bus and there are two kids talking about a video game. Since they speak Catalan in school and video games are generally translated into Spanish, they tell the story in the former but switch to the latter in the blink of an eye to paraphrase the characters. And then they repeat the whole adventure in Spanish for the sake of their grandparents, who came from somewhere else in Spain in the 1960s to work in Catalonia.
  • There is more to it than bilingualism. Professionals in many fields often find themselves in a position where they have to deal with someone whose native language is different. And they have solutions within reach that were unthinkable not very long ago, from machine translation to a human translator hired over the internet. However, the need creates the motivation and more people are trying to learn at least a third language.
  • Someone said that the language of the European Union is…translation. How could the ensemble of so many different countries be something even close to functional without translation? Some would say that it isn’t. But the simple fact that an ever-growing number of words pass from one European language into another, day after day, is powerful proof to the contrary.
  • How many different languages in one city? Some years ago a friend of mine, a graduate student in Linguistics, was helping the curator of an exhibition on the languages spoken in Barcelona. We roamed the city eavesdropping shamelessly and heard more than 150 different languages, including an African language with click consonants like in the ǃKung language. This click sounded like a cork pulled from a bottle.
  • Not only businesses and governments experience this reality. Ordinary citizens are in contact with foreign languages more than ever. Each time they meet a new German friend via social media or watch a French movie in the original language, they either understand the language or need to find another solution, be it a file with subtitles or a dictionary and a lot of patience.

Do all these things make professional translation more necessary or more superfluous? Is everybody looking desperately for translators or just in need of becoming their own translator?

  • The translator used to be a bridge. Take the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, known as El Inca, who was one of the first bilingual speakers in Spanish America. He was the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, and he was a bridge between two worlds. Without him, no one could cross to the other side.  Now many people manage to move freely from one side to the other by their own means.
  • Today, professional translators are broadband access. Their real job is to allow more and better quality traffic when and where it is necessary. Compared to basic skills that are available to a greater part of the population, professional translators add value, which is a good reason to work on the qualities that distinguish the professional: a high skill level, general knowledge, research skills and, above all, patience.

In sum, we should be grateful that there are translators everywhere.