international translation day

International Translation Day - FAQs

In celebration of International Translation Day, I’ve collated a range of Frequently Asked Questions I’ve been asked over the course of the last year and a half. It’s a slightly tongue and cheek list which is light hearted but also hopefully explains what I do to some extent.

Q: Ah, a translator. Do you work for Google?

A: No. Google provides machine translation and last time I checked, I am a real human. Machine translation can be really useful for getting the gist of something or for very formulaic texts such as technical texts. However, ultimately, texts should always be checked and adapted by a human who understands both languages. If the translation is anyway creative, you definitely want a human and not a literal translation of the words. As is so often stated in the industry, we translate ideas not words.

Q: So, you can translate every language?

A: No. Sadly I don’t understand every language in the world and so can’t translate them. I work from French and Spanish to English. I would love to be able to offer more services and would love nothing more to understand every language in the world, but sadly, that seems an unrealistic goal!

Q: Why do you work into English? Surely there’s no demand?

A: Well, firstly I translate into English because it’s my native language and I understand all the nuances and connotations which only a native can understand. I don’t have this level of understanding in my source languages, so I don’t work into them.

Is there any demand? Yes. Firstly, for the reasons I spoke about for translating into English, some people may choose to write something in their native tongue and have it translated. Secondly, we live in a shrinking world where everything is closer so there are more and more opportunities for translation as people move about and also as countries and businesses work together more.

Q: You work from home. Is that a real job?

A: Amazingly yes, it is. The joy of my job is that all I need is a laptop and internet and I can work anywhere: at home, in a café, abroad. It can be hard, you need to be disciplined but I also have a freedom which you don’t get in a 9 to 5 job.

Q: With Brexit, will you still have a job?

A: Yes! Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty and no one knows how it’s going to look. However, I believe that there will always be a need for translation into English as it’s a global language and we’ll also (hopefully!) continue to be close allies with EU member countries. Perhaps I’m just an optimist, but there’s also a possibility of more work as the EU may have to outsource more work to freelancers. This is because to work for the EU currently, you have to be a citizen of an EU country which, if they keep this rule, will take out a lot of native English translators.

Q: Isn’t using a CAT tool cheating?

A: In a word, no. It helps make you work more efficiently and quickly. Basically, all it does is remember how you translated segments and words and offer those suggestions if those segments or words reappear. The work still needs to be done initially and adapted and checked but it just means repetitive or formulaic documents are quicker to translate.

Q: Aren’t you going to get a real job?

A: This is my real job! I’ve also tutored part time to help support myself, but this job is about as real as it gets. Not only do you do the translation, proofreading and editing but you also run all the business aspects. You are the marketing, sales, recruitment, customer service and accounting department. You’re the CEO but you’re also the workforce. In many ways, working in house would be a lot less challenging as there would be less to think about but personally, I enjoy the challenge and problem-solving aspects of running a business.

Q: Why do I need a human translator? Can’t I just use google or a dictionary?

A: As I said earlier, a translator translates more than just words. They convey ideas and messages. They translate in units of sense. Machines can make mistakes, you need humans to check them. Machines don’t understand cultural elements, or jokes, or word play. Machines don’t think about the context of where a word is being used and whether it makes sense. Machines try to make communication into a science: you must in a set of words and letters and that equals a set of words and letters you get back. However, language isn’t that simple so if you want an accurate and faithful translation which conveys your ideas to a target language, use a human. You may get a different result if you google translate it, but that’s maybe no bad thing!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this read, had a laugh and understood a little more as to what translators do. Happy International Translation Day!