When you see the term "professional translator" what does that mean exactly? On the surface, you may assume it refers to someone who makes their living from translating, but the issue goes a lot deeper than that.
Despite what some dubious websites will have you believe in this age of crowd sourcing that all you need is a smattering of bilingualism to translate, this is simply not true. Anyone who is a professional translator finds such statements outrageous primarily because they undermine the credibility of what is widely acknowledged as exacting work.
At the risk of stating the obvious, to translate properly requires not only linguistic competence in more than one language but also in-depth knowledge related to the text being translated in order to achieve accuracy and coherence on a number of levels. If any bilingual person can translate "easily" by "simply" signing up to one of these crowd sourcing gimmicks, why do so many hundreds of thousands of translators all over the world spend years of study both before and after they obtain their academic qualifications just so that they can call themselves a professional translator? Because being a professional does matter, and how you translate also matters. It matters to the individual translator, and it certainly matters to that translator's clients.
the credibility of what is widely acknowledged as exacting work
So how do we as translators become professionals? It is not through competence and experience alone, although, naturally, these two aspects do feature in the rich tapestry woven over time which lend substance to the word professional.
Translators validate their professionalism by becoming members of professional translators' associations. There are many such associations in the world, most often nationally based. Some, although not all, are affiliated to the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT)/ International Federation of Translators (IFT). Each translators' association or institute has categories of membership commensurate with one's standing, which generally range from student membership and ordinary membership to accredited membership.
As with any professional body, one has to qualify for membership and subscribe to a professional code of conduct, or code of ethics. Prerequisites vary from one association to another, but unless you meet the conditions laid down, you cannot be a member. And simply "knowing two languages", as crowd sourcing translation outfits would have you believe, is not going to cut the mustard. By a long shot. Any professional translator who subscribes to a code of conduct of any serious translators' association would almost certainly be in violation of that code of conduct were they to accept the notions put forward by crowd sourcing translation enterprises, if not the actual letter of that code, then certainly its spirit. In this regard, the Translator's Charter on the FIT/IFT website is indicative of the rigours to which professional translators subject themselves. Subscribing to codes of conduct and codes of ethics point to the integrity of, and lend credibility to, the individual doing so.
Credibility as a professional translator is further enhanced by gaining accredited membership of a national association.
Accredited membership means that you have to earn your accreditation. In order to do so, the translator has to pass examinations in a specific language pair. Such examinations are designed to test the candidate's ability to translate. The pass mark for such examinations is necessarily high. These examinations are required even if you already have a string of other academic qualifications. You also need to be able to afford the fees, which some may say discourage translators from trying in the first place, but that is another matter altogether. Suffice to say that value is placed on acquiring accreditation because of the distinction it confers upon the translator.
Are you beginning to see why professional translators dislike claims that "anyone can translate" and that "translation is easy if you know two languages"?
The chief point about memberships, not only of national translators' associations, but other international groupings, is that they afford the translator an opportunity to consider a whole range of issues specific to the profession of translation. Memberships give the professional the chance to enhance their own development in their chosen profession and to help others to do the same.
Doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, teachers, and engineers are among those who nowadays have to engage in continued professional development (CPD) and indeed, in some parts of the world such CPD is legislated. Translators are no different is this respect. Translators too, have to ensure they follow a programme of continued professional development. This should motivate clients to pay for a professional service, so that they can rest assured that their documents are going to be treated in a professional manner by translators who take their work - their profession - seriously.
It is for all of the above reasons, and more, that I am delighted with the recent founding of the
Associação Portuguesa de Tradutores e Intérpretes – APTRAD, the Portuguese Association of Translators and Interpreters, and I am happy to be counted among its members. The dynamic nature of its founders and the translation community in Portugal should serve to ensure that this association succeeds in all of its aims to promote the standing of translators and interpreters within Portugal. There is every indication that this particular association will develop in precisely the direction its members require and will move from strength to strength with the active involvement of its members.
I will continue to retain my long-held accredited membership of the South African Translators' Institute (SATI/SAVI) because I heartily approve of the high standards this organisation sets for our profession, and because it now seems that I am able to offer a service beyond mere participation in general affairs to its newer members.
Some memberships appear not to require too much of an effort to obtain, but do rely on the individual's general bona fides, reputation and work experience. I believe this to be the case with another association I joined recently, the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET). In this latter organisation there are many members who I would consider my peers, while there are also many I would consider more accomplished than I within the fields I work. The idea of learning through the exchange of ideas has always appealed to me, and the formal organisations mentioned above certainly help me to maintain my status as a professional.
I would be interested to know how other translators feel about their membership of professional organisations, and whether such membership has been of direct benefit beyond a sense of general well-being in their careers. For me, membership of professional translation bodies, or accreditation for that matter, in no way replaces the attention we need to pay to the constant development of our competence as translators; it is a useful corollary and serves to reinforce our professional credibility.
This blog will focus solely on aspects related to translation.