Craftsmanship: is it boring? Not for translators (the good ones, that is).

This advert for Leica cameras made me think of the translator’s craft. And the skill and work and care and honing and polishing that it takes to produce a really good translation that truly serves your client’s needs.

The Most Boring Ad Ever Made? from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

What do you think, readers: is craftsmanship boring?

With thanks to Katherine Parish (translation student and photographer) for posting this ad on Twitter.

Other posts you might like:

Translators’ pay: how much are you worth?

From GIGO to QIQO: the quest for quality

Omnishambles: object-lessons in how not to contract out language services


By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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    1. Thanks, Steve.
      I attended a “Translation Duel” with Ros Schwartz and Adriana Hunter at last year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. They’d both been given a section from a story by Dany Laferriere, L’air sentait Pilang-ilang, to translate and the event was a discussion of their translation choices (I don’t think they’d translated a single sentence the same way). The first 10-15 minutes of the event focused just on the title and the first couple of sentences – there was so much to say about their translation thought processes. All the thinking and re-thinking, not to mention research, that can go into just a single word.

  1. Hi Marian,

    Interesting point, thanks for sharing!

    I think it is boring to watch – you want us to watch 45 mn of polishing? er… no thanks!,

    But so would be a translator’s thoughts record while she/he polishing a text:

    “should I get rid of that clause…? Mmh, let’s see… How about changing it for a gerund and put it at the start of the sentence…. Ah yes, but then the link with the catch phrase is weak… bladibladibladibladibla…”


    That said, it does make you aware of the time craftsmanship takes, as opposed to standardisation – something that it far from obvious.

    Maybe it would be worth filming a translation job and putting it on youtube: no one would watch the entire vid, but everyone would find out the actual time it takes.

    Well, that was my 10 mn tea break – back to boring translation train of thoughts (not to mention a delayed Scotnet’s call notice to finish…)

    1. Hello Pierre, yes I have to confess I didn’t watch the whole video – I jumped to the end (I spend enough time on Twitter etc without then watching a 45-min video too!). But I think the concept is valid – it would be really boring to watch a translator poring over their final draft, but it’s not (usually) boring for the translator doing it.

  2. What was the research for, Kim? I’ve seen website usability tests where the user is given a task to perform on a site – buy something, book a ticket, find some information – and voice their thought processes as they do so. It’s fascinating to watch/listen to.

  3. Another interesting research area involves eye tracking.

    I attended an academic presentation a few years ago where the speaker explained that they were trying to rebuild the grammar/syntax process that takes place in our mind by comparing the “reading” (the translator’s eye movements) and her/his “writing” (key strikes and mouse clicks).

    Very insightful, especially to compare the way we build our thoughts in different languages, but pretty useless from a practical point of view 😉

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