The Professor who “Killed” a Translation Student

Pablo Muñoz Sánchez

SnapeNot too long ago I received an email from someone who told me a story which, unfortunately, I’ve heard from others before. The young man was a little discouraged, not because he couldn’t find work (this was also true), but because the professors in his master’s program had taught their courses while at the same time telling their students that it was terribly hard to find work as a translator, that it all operated through cronyism, and that even so, the rates were miserable.

This exasperated me. Yes, there are miserable rates out there, but there are also very decent ones and even great ones (see this; I’ve still got some way to go before that, but I’m not complaining). Yes, not every one finds work without experience and there are some who work in a field that doesn’t even have to do with languages at all. Yes, there are some who find work they don’t deserve through cronyism, but these are few and far between (take note: these don’t include contacts that you make and follow up on).

But generalizations should never, ever be made about something so sensitive.

Apart from knowledge, a professor should convey hope.

Although my teaching is always concentrated into quite intensive sessions, my objective when teaching is not only to offer my experience, but to offer guidance to prepare students for the reality of the professional world, and are always able to defend their positions. After all, I’m only a translator with a certain amount of experience, and others may know more than I do or may be better at it than I am. My wisdom comes more from being “older” than from being “better”.

However, what interests me most is not only that the student is learning. What really motivates me as I stand before students is awakening their curiosity, their eagerness to do things, their eagerness to prove their worth (i.e. research, experiment, translate, learn). This is probably more noticeable in the talks I give, because I only have half an hour to an hour to inspire the participants, and the format doesn’t permit much interaction.

Sometimes I succeed, other times I don’t. No one is perfect. But it makes me happy to see that there are still people who are attentive to what I tell them, and who will outshine me some day.

Everyone has problems. Don’t cause more of them

Family, friends, partners…. We all have our own personal story. Sometimes a student will be on a high, other times on a low. This also happens to the professor, even though you may not be able to tell.

We also have family problems. Our partner leaves us, we have fights with friends… but we’re professional, and we are dedicated to our students.

This is why I cannot understand what the hell could make a professor tell students in a translation or interpretation program (or any other program) that they have a very bleak future ahead of them, that they’ll be making peanuts or won’t get anywhere.

There are many who actually don’t end up as translators or interpreters, but that’s because in reality our training prepares us for a lot of things. Furthermore, not everyone is up to working at the pace of a translation agency or company, or as a freelancer and tackle all the problems entailed in such work (which does have its pitfalls, after all).

I may have a bad day or feel a little down for whatever reason, but I would never dream of telling my students that they’re deluding themselves. What will they have to do? Work in another field until they achieve their goal? Possibly.

But crush their dreams? Never.

Keep looking ahead, never behind

If you’re still a student, learn from your professors, but don’t believe any who make it all sound hopeless (thankfully, there really aren’t many of those). If you are starting off and still can’t find your path, remember the hero’s quest. Sooner or later you’ll find your path, even if it’s not in the world of translation or interpretation.

And if you’re a professor or aspiring professor, share your knowledge, but also your hope. Bring out your students’ talents and don’t be afraid that they might outshine you.

Translated by Giuseppina Cuntrera

Pablo Muñoz Sánchez is an English>Spanish translator based in Spain, with more than 8 years of experience, specializing in video game and software localization. He is also the co-founder of Traduversia, a platform of online courses for translators, and has a popular blog on translation (in Spanish only), Algo más que traducir.

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