What is it that you do?

Loca... what? This story never gets old...

Some of the gurus in our industry and some of my coworkers might object but localization remains a fairly unknown industry. The reason I say this is because most people, let me rephrase, 98% of the people out there just have no clue about what we do.

When I introduce our business to people and talk about localization or my job whether at networking events, meetings or parties, I usually get a blank stare full of questions marks. And it happened again, as recently as last week! Usually people try to be polite: "So what is that you do?" This is when I try to tell them about translation. And then usually I get something like: "Oh, how interesting, you work for a train station!" Now I know I still have kept a bit of my French accent but still that‘s a stretch!

My favorite answer after I have mentioned that I work in the translation industry is followed by the following questions. Not in a specific order but I swear I get at least 2 of them every time.

First question: How many languages do you speak?
My typical answer... “Lemme see, if you count ancient Greek and Latin that would be 15 languages total! And yes, I am absolutely fluent in all of them. In Europe, it is compulsory to study all the languages of the EU so we get a bit of a heads start. How about you?” Smile. No seriously, sorry to disappoint but I only speak 3 languages. Though I work with many languages every day, I am nowhere close to mastering them... Because I work in the translation industry, does not mean I need to speak 15 languages. Myth #1.

Second question: Oh, so you translate into French?
Now, did I say at any time that I was a translator? Nope, I did not! I said I owned a language service company and that I was French. That does not automatically make me a French translator. I could be a million of things ranging from Sales to Graphic Design to Engineering or Project Management. Or even Chief Operating Officer... But no! It is a weird syllogism:
A. Marie is French.
B. Marie works in the translation industry therefore…
C. Marie is a French Translator!
Hmmm! Well it so happens that I studied translation while at university so I guess the syllogism kind of works. But the answer is NO, I am NOT a translator. Sorry to disappoint again! Myth #2.

I have been in the US more than 16 years and my French is not as good as it used to be. My keyboard does not even want to type accents, my autocorrect defaults to English and as much as I don't mind helping with a few sentences once in a while, I would simply be a bad French translator. Just as terrible as some client distributors who have been in the US for 20 years and claim they can still write perfect French and just know it best! Or even worse, people who have taken two years of French in high school or college and claim they are bilingual. The latest trend is when a client quotes Google Translate: "But Google Translate says it that way, therefore it must be right!". Ah, now please tell me, how does one respond politely to this? Here… You know how long it took me to become bilingual French/English? My parents worked in languages, and I started when I was 6, spent every summer with host families abroad, studied linguistics and translation in college, read books in French and English all the time and work on my languages every single day! But the short answer is I am not a translator because I am still not good enough. I work with translators who are trained linguists, bilingual, work and live in their native country, stay current with linguistics and idioms and write every day for a living. They are writers, creators and masters of words. And just as you do a good job at what you do, they do a good job at what they do. And if they only charge you 4 cents a word, you might want to think again! So my job, among a million other things, is to manage translators and make sure our teams and our clients are happy :-)

Oh, and while we are at it, I am not a dictionary either! That is usually the best part when I attend a French party. After I mention that I work in the translation industry, I have people run to me every 5 minutes saying "So how would you translate this in French?" or "How do you say this in English?". And it is not things like "What's the weather like today?" They try to get you on the tricky stuff. Like how do you say "glittering" or "mischievous" or "trailblazer"... It is as if they are testing you to see if you deserve to be a translator! My answer is: Refer to question #2 above!

Third most common asked question: So what do you interpret?
Ah, that is an interesting question. How did we jump to interpreting all of a sudden? I guess I missed the train from my train station. Woo, tough to get out of that one... That is usually when I try to explain that translation is about written languages while interpreting is about spoken languages. And that they are usually quite different and require a different type of training. Second blank stare: "Oh, so you can write the language but not speak it?" Noooooo, I did not say that either... Myth #3.

This question also reminds me of a translation company I used to work for, and my boss would look me in the eye and say very seriously: "Show your translation to the accountant, she is bilingual. She took Spanish in high-school and she will be able to help” or "Did you work on the translation quote for the client. How much did you charge per minute?" It just proves my point. And let me just add that those were not just misuse of words. My boss had ended up in our industry by chance and had simply no idea what difference there was between interpreting and translating. Or really what the art of languages was all about! And localizing was probably an alien language to her. And how long had she been in the translation business exactly? I won’t even go there. It is usually about the time when I politely excuse myself and throw the sponge...

So I make a sensation and I stand out when I go out and talk about my job. As I am sure most of my friends and colleagues in localization do - though none of us want to admit it! We are all so proud to be part of the localization industry. We have our own LinkedIn groups, discussion topics and even publications. Heck, BeatBabel's motto is "The Art of Localization". But I will believe that we have all succeeded when I stop getting the 3 questions above when in introduce myself at networking events and parties. So how about we all work together and make it happen? What do you think? Are you up for it?

Marie Flacassier, not a translator...