Difficulties in The Job of a Translator

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We all might have heard of great literary stalwarts whose works have been acclaimed by the world cutting across language barriers. If we are avid readers, we might have read a few of them translated into our own mother tongue and really enjoyed and admired the writer’s prowess. We would definitely remember the name of the writer and shower accolades on him. But pause for a moment. Do you ever remember the name of the person who translated the great work and brought it to your hands? Most unlikely!

That’s perhaps the greatest disadvantage of being a translator. A translator is mostly a “faceless person” at the worst or a person who perhaps gets some recognition somewhere, but hardly gains any limelight, at the best. Have you ever heard of a translator who earns millions through his literary service? Hardly ever. Yes. That’s the next disadvantage. A translator’s job is never really a well paid job.

The third disadvantage a translator may get is the likely criticism he/ she has to face on his service. By being a translator, one has to ideally have a reasonable mastery or at least an above-average grasp of the two languages one is dealing with. The translator must have a good grasp of vocabulary, idioms and phrases, writing styles, slangs, proverbs, dialects etc of the source language. Further, the translator should possess the literary skill to grasp all the nuances of the original and bring it out in the most faithful and undistorted way into the translated language.

If the translator slips or faults in any of these aspects of the job, knowledgeable persons in both the languages will pounce on the translator and find fault with him. A translator should know where one-to-translation is desirable, where breaking of long sentences in the original to smaller ones is essential and where “near-equivalent” phrases, expressions, sayings or proverbs can be used without causing damage to the original. If some of such skills are missing or misused, the critics will have a field day and tear the translator apart.

Finally, if the translator happens to function as an Interpreter and is working under a powerful minister or a diplomat visiting a foreign country, he/she will be virtually under tender hook.  The translator has to be doubly careful in his grasp of the source and precise delivery at the target. If any slip is made, press reporters will make a mountain from a molehill. Lots of diplomatic machinations will be needed to undo any damage done.

But still worse is the scenario where the slip is duly attributable to the speaker and when hues and cries are made about it, the speaker will squarely blame the translator saying “it has been wrongly interpreted” and get away with it. It is the real occupational hazard for the translator.


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