Review of Gouadec, D. (2007) Translation As a Profession. Amsterdam: John Benjamins‎

If I had enough money to buy just a single volume of translation related material, I would gladly spend it on ‎Gouadec’s book and never look back, despite the exorbitant price (US$149, plus postage). I would also ‎probably rarely lift my eye off it, as the book is not only the most comprehensive but also extremely readable ‎to both the newcomer and the veteran to our profession. ‎

I remember sighing in exasperation when I first came across the book. Over the past seven years I have ‎seen all kinds of “books” purporting to be fonts of advice on how to start, and which usually leave me ‎severely disappointment. Most are written by well-meaning freelancers and cover such ultra-essential issues ‎as the need to have a fax, and the fact that there are many types of translation software but – wink, wink – ‎we human translators can do it better so will live happily ever after. What tempted me to pick up Gouadec’s ‎book was the fact that it was a Benjamins’ Translation Library publication, and they mostly publish excellent ‎stuff. Besides, the book was bulky (over 300 pages) so one could assume the writer had something ‎substantial to say. One can’t waffle about ergonomics and carpal tunnel syndrome over 300 pages, can one?‎

Besides, Gouadec is not just any run-of-the-mill freelancer. He created and currently directs the translator-‎training institute at the University of Rennes. His thesis was on training translators. In between teaching and ‎research, he managed to produce ten books and dozens of articles and presentations, as well as developing ‎websites on terminography, translation quality, and the professional aspects of being a translator. His current ‎research deals with models of quality of translation service provision. I was suitably awed. ‎

I was also impressed by the range of information the book covers. The book covers past, present and future ‎‎– it starts with an extensive grounding in what translation is and what are the main categories, followed by a ‎very well written exposition of the whole translation process. Not much theoretical pie-in-the-sky here, but the ‎hands on, down to earth practical advice of how to find work, deciding on requirements, preparation, ‎planning process, and organizing the job, translating it, quality controls implementation (corrections, revisions ‎and editing), all the way to follow-up. In short, as beneficial to the soul and nourishing to the mind as one of ‎Anthony Pym’s lectures. ‎

The writer next moves to defining the profession – mostly female, specializing in subject and language pairs, ‎and rapidly adapting to the technological changes, working in such a variety of positions that Gouadec ‎speaks of “many professions” not just the “translating profession”. He even has a category of “outlaws”: ‎those doing it for “black money” without qualifications, without professionalism, and definitely unethically. ‎Agencies modus operandi is described with the proviso that the market demands are changing the contours ‎of the lines dividing the various categories. These market demands are addressed in a separate section.‎

After having blessed us with a taxonomy, Gouadec next poses the rhetorical question: “Does the reader, ‎having gone so far, still want to be this species, or have they developed cold feet?” If they have persevered ‎‎(or worse, belong to the species already), they can jump to the next chapter, the one written for the ‎wannabes, the strugglers, the wanderers and – as the For Dummies series so often remind us – “the rest of ‎us”. Except that this is not a book for dummies, and the writer takes the whole process very seriously and ‎practically: should you specialize? In what? Where do you find clients, and how do you hold on to them? ‎What about rates, invoicing and growing your business? I have to admit that this is the first writer in the field ‎who advises, very early on in his book, all translators to go and do accounting, marketing and management ‎courses if they want to succeed. He even has a section on managing during the “famine” periods, not to ‎mention a whole chapter on buying products, dealing with partners – other translators, agencies, direct ‎clients, your lawyer, accountant and IT specialist.. in short, everyone except, maybe, the tea lady. ‎

I hold it against the book that professional ethics comes as Chapter 10, not 2 or 3 – but I have always ‎preached that if one has to wait for a professional association to teach one ethical behaviour, then it is too ‎late already anyway. It is still good to see that, as quite a few of the other “How to become a God-knows-‎what” publications that gather dust on my shelves address neither ethics nor cooperation, and both are in my ‎opinion quintessential to success. Next to ethics, Gouadec tackles standards (the ISO variety), qualification, ‎recognition and – oh, my – regulating access to the profession, not because it would solve the problem of ‎shoddy work, but because the “regulated” translators would be obliged to pay taxes. He does say that the ‎title “professional” given to those who have a university degree or enough experience to merit it still depends ‎on translators feeling that such title is important enough to merit them not doing shoddy work. A bit circular, ‎that, and highly subjective. ‎

Chapters 13 to 16 deal extensively with all these new, wonderful – and scary – aspects of the information ‎revolution and globalization that affect us as translators: the internet, the incessant software upgrades, ‎globalization of the market, international competition, inflation and recession, and all the rest. It makes one ‎seriously nostalgic for the quill and parchment era, devoid of copyrights and limited to Latin. And this of ‎course leads, invariably, to the coming generation of translators and how, precisely, they should be trained. ‎

And for those into futurology, there is an Epilogue about what the future (might) hold for us. And it is not ‎good news, not for the freelancers. But I am not into spoiling the movie, so there – you go and read. Not all is ‎lost (yet!). ‎

The book should be compulsory reading for any translation course worth its value (not much in it for ‎interpreters, unfortunately) . And the rest of us, of course. Gouadec has converted me and I will be using ‎what I have learned from him not just to improve my own performance, but in my workshops as well. ‎

Copyright, 1999-2006. All rights reserved. -
The Book to Bind Them All
Author: Sam Berner
English to Arabic translator 
By Sam Berner
Published on 03/31/2008
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