When I tell people that I am a translator, I sometimes get a quizzical look, followed by questions that indicate just how "hidden" the profession is despite its omnipresent impact on the Internet and media, among other. So, as a public service so to say, I will answer a few common questions that people think about and even sometimes ask me.
"You mean like translating books and literature?"
There are some translators that do translate literature. I admire them very much but it takes a lot of time and skill, generally for not too much money. I translate contracts, business articles, official documents and wills, to name a few. My wife translates medical material. Most translators have a technical specialty. That is where the demand and money is.
"You can make a living off that?"
Yes, you can make a nice living off that or it is an ideal second income, whatever is more practical. In fact, many of us have the actual problem of finding time to enjoy other things as it tends to be a bit of a time-consuming job. As the world becomes smaller, demand will continue to grow.
"But isn't it boring?"
Not at all. Every document has a story. The details of a will or divorce agreement raise my curiosity to know the reason for their existence. Even simple certificates have strange coincidences, such a person being born and dying on the same day of the year or their last name. Given a choice, translators veer towards material they find interesting and away from that they find boring. The Hebrew expression says "you can't argue about taste and smell." Add interest to that list. Besides,
"Why don't people just use Google Translate?"
In some languages, machine translation is quite effective for getting the gist of an email or Internet article. I occasionally work with an Austrian project manager who, for some reason, doesn't write in English. I run her emails through Google Translate and get what I need. However, try that with technical material or the more exotic languages. The results range from non-sensical to comic. An example is "viande de terre" for ground beef (from a real Canadian site). In any case, for a marketing, legal, scientific or medical document to name just a few, Google translate is unacceptable.
"I studied Spanish in high school and college. Could I do translate?"
It is possible. Clearly, a translator has to be familiar with the source language. However, that is just one element. Other requirements include mastery of the written aspect of the native language, thorough knowledge of a field, such as engineering or business, and the love of a beautiful sentence. Words have to be important in their own right. So, as many translators discovered, they never had any idea how much they enjoyed and were good at the profession.
To paraphrase my favorite magazine, Le Canard Enchainé, this has been a fictional but probable interview of a translator.