As Translators we are like Journalists

Published on 03/07/2015

It is likely that at some time you have seen a piece of news on the television or in the written press about a subject that you know well. If it has ever happened to you, then it is highly likely that you were surprised by the inaccuracies committed by renowned names such as the BBC or The Telegraph, for example. The reason is clear: journalism involves compiling information on subjects unknown to the journalists in a frantic race against the clock. Therefore, it is easy to misinterpret information, when the concepts are not familiar.

In this regard, translators and journalists are similar as they share the same challenge, that is, to communicate about subjects with specific terminology without being experts in the matter. Likewise, it is also likely that you have come across texts that you realised were translations because they did not use appropriate terminology or simply did not flow. In the case of translation, it is frustrating because a good translation should not be recognised as such. In other words, our recognition as translators occurs precisely because nobody knows that we did the translation. If people notice that it is a translation, then we should start to ask ourselves what went wrong. At some point we did not do our job correctly. In this case, I think we lose out to journalists, at least they achieve public recognition for their work, for better or worse. When we obtain recognition it is usually negative. I am not talking about literary translation where the fact that it is a translation is well known and the translator's work is recognised. I am talking about the other 98 % of translations, whose authors remain anonymous, if they have done a good job of course: technical manuals, web sites, contracts, brochures, e-mails, computer software...


What can we do?

The difficulty of these two professions is undeniable, where on many occasions we come across the knowledge of a criminal lawyer, a cardiologist or a specialised technician (in a subject that is completely unknown to the rest of us mere mortals).  Because of this, specialisation, research and documentation are the necessary strategies that we adopt as professionals in order to overcome this challenge. In fact, the ideal profile would be a professional with specialised studies (doctors, economists, lawyers...) trained in journalism or translation. This is not a common profile for professionals whose work is often not well paid, taking into account the level of training required.

"Your specialist area depends on the market"

Your specialist area depends on the market

I fondly remember A my classes at the University of Granada with Ricardo Muñoz, Translation Department Director at the time. He used to say: "Your specialist area depends on the market" I didn't want to believe it at the time. I entered the Faculty of Translation after finishing my studies in Biochemistry, and I thought that my training would lead me to specialise in translations relating to this field. These days I know more about dentistry and dental materials than Biochemistry. I think this happens in all professions really. Wherever you start gaining work experience will influence the rest of your career whether you are a lawyer, engineer or IT technician. Yes, this teacher knew what he was talking about. Indeed, I've just found an interview of his with some interesting thoughts for those that have just discovered their vocation as translators in the journal La Linterna (in Spanish).


In light of the above, it is clear that, in an ideal world, with unlimited time and money, all news reports and translations should be done by bilingual professionals with a wide professional experience and journalistic or linguistic training or, failing this, they should be approved by a subject expert before publication.

But we don't live in an ideal world so we should become specialised as far as possible and have a good knowledge of the tools and work techniques necessary for correct research.

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Josh Gambin's picture
Josh Gambin

Josh Gambin holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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