“Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” Anthony Burguess
I won’t say I wish translation was just about putting a text into another language. If so, I wouldn’t want to be a translator. The beautiful part of this profession is certainly the human factor.
The context goes usually as follows: there is a sender of a message in a specific source language. This sender wants to transmits a message to a receiver but there is not a lingua franca between both of them and, therefore, the message should be translated into another language – the target language – in order for the receiver to understand the message. This is where the translator comes in, acting as mediator in the communicating process by translating the language from the source into the target languages. The job is now done. We move on to the next one.
That’s the theory, a bit dehumanized. However, we – the Translinked team – see it differently.
After having lived in four countries, always in a very international environment, I’ve gathered a great number of anecdotes regarding translation. But I remember one from my exchange year in the Czech Republic.
I was coming back to Brno from Prague, using a night train that I had taken at 11:30pm. Days were warm but nights were cold at that time of the year, so, when I got into the train, I left my bag to my friends’ surveillance and went to the toilet to put on warmer clothe. When I finished, someone knocked on the door persistently. I opened finding a uniformed belly in front of my eyes. I looked up to the face – an angry-looking one – of one of the security agents of the railway company. He started speaking Czech. Back then, my Czech knowledge was, what I used to call, “survival Czech” but, obviously, it was not even enough to “survive” this time, since I couldn’t understand a word of what he said. He didn’t speak English. He tried, but he barely could make a sentence. “Follow me”, he said. I didn’t want to tread on the toes of someone wearing that uniform, so I followed that man carrying only my summer clothes with me.
We were walking from one wagon to the next one (my friends and my belongings were at the very last one) and new agents were joining us in each of them. I had a total of five agents walking before me and other five after me.
The train stopped. “Security problems”, I understood. People started getting nervous. None of the security agents could speak English. In other words, we didn’t’ have a language in which we could communicate. I understood that they asked for my documentation and I tried to explain -using my poor Czech knowledge- that my wallet was in the first wagon (we were already in the tenth one). They couldn’t understand. At the beginning it was a funny anecdote I would tell when coming back to Spain, but at that moment it had already become a torture. The train was still at a standstill and I was tired, nervous and just wanted to get out of there. If only at least one of those 10 people who were holding me could speak Spanish or English!
I took all my Czech knowledge out -lost in every corner of my memory- in order to explain that I was an Erasmus student who was just visiting Prague and was coming back to Brno because I had lessons on the following day. “So why can’t you speak Czech, then?”, one of the agents asked. I’ve just came some weeks ago to this country, give me some more time for that.
My idea of the power of communication and the important role that translation plays was getting stronger than ever while standing there waiting.
“My bag. First wagon. My friends… there. My bag. First wagon, there. My friends”.
No… I hadn’t gone crazy. That was just everything I could say in Czech in order to explain what was going on.
After 30 minutes of adventure (during 20 of them the train didn’t move) I was allowed to go back to the first wagon accompanied only by the first agent. I took my things and I sat down and waited (in a different wagon this time).
If you read this story until the end waiting to know what happened, I am sorry to disappoint you but you’ll never know it. Because I, myself, never knew why I was held. Why they came to the toilet to take me. Why they stopped an international train in the middle of nowhere during 20 minutes due to “security problems” that had to do with me. And why they wouldn’t allow me to find someone who could be my interpreter.
The explanation may be as logic as simple. But I don’t know it.
That simply helped me not getting out of my way: I want to be a translator and interpreter. I want to be that anonym heroin in this kind of situations and in many others. I want to be the one who makes it possible for you to read that wonderful novel. I want to be the person who makes you understand what you are signing. I want to enable you selling your product on the international market. I want to be a support in communication, not between sender and receiver, but between human and human.