Translator Tuesdays: Translation, Drugs, & Espionage

While we’ve all heard of sex, drugs, & rock’n’roll, there aren’t that many people who know about translation, drugs, & espionage – but related they are.


One of the biggest difficulties faced by someone in the market for a translation is knowing what to buy, and from whom to buy it. Much like someone in the market for drugs.


After all, it’s not the translation that they want – it’s the effect that the translation will have. The director of a film doesn’t want a translated film, they want to win an award at a foreign festival, or to sell their film to a foreign distributor. Similarly, it’s not the drugs people want – it’s the effect that the drugs will have. And here we have two major problems:


  1. Most people are not experts in drugs.
  2. Most drugs are illegal.


Not having expertise in drugs means that buyers rely on trusting their dealers. And most drugs being illegal means that there is no safe, widely accepted way of quality controlling the drugs on sale. As with translation. In Russia, the profession, unlike many other professions, is not fully regulated; there is very little transparency; and buyers have to make uninformed buying decisions, based solely on how much they like/trust a vendor.


There are, of course, some valiant efforts – the indomitable Konstantin Dranch is making a great contribution to the transparency of the industry in Russia with his project. There’s the annual conference – Translation Forum Russia. And there are some associations. But almost nobody outside of the profession knows about any of this.


First-time buyers, like teenagers getting into drugs, look for the cheapest product available – a translation is a translation, right? But like two kids at my school discovered, when they bought half the contents of a teabag from an unscrupulous acquaintance of mine for £5, thinking it was weed – the cheapest products do not have the desired effect. A bad translation will not take your website to the top of the rankings, or get your film script funded.


Those who’ve already been stung by the cheapest drugs available either don’t go back, or turn to their friends for recommendations. Which is where espionage comes in; you need spies, because you don’t know what the enemy are doing. You need translation, because you don’t know the other language. But just as you won’t know until it’s too late if you’ve hired a double agent, similarly you won’t know until it’s too late if you’ve been given a bad translation. By then the brochures are printed, the website is launched, and the press screening is underway.


What happens next depends exclusively on the quality of the translation. If it’s great, they’ll get it, and if your product is great, they’ll buy it. Isn’t that what we’re all doing this for?


PS – how do you know if you’re talking to a spy? You don’t. Unless they get their articles wrong in English; or their stresses wrong in Russian 😉


PPS – find out more at the Zanooda Bar tonight, as we celebrate the ladies in our lives!

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Will Hackett-Jones

Co-Founder & Partner

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