On the technically-bent who love translation.
by Vicente ABELLA. Translation: Mary C. BLACK.
I really like the idea of making room for posts that tell the stories of translators from or specialised in the scientific-technical fields because given my own detour from my previous career as a radio-physics researcher, perhaps I’m one of those people who believes that life cannot be tackled via rigid laws but instead must be approached with minimal individual experiences. In his essay De la traducción (On Translation), Alfonso Reyes refuted the more inflexible theories on translation and instead focused on a “corpus” of translators’ experiences which would serve as a beacon for future translators. It occurs to me that a similar experience in this blog might also help us to understand what being a translator is a little better and more generally, and especially to learn how to value our profession as it deserves, since it is so often mistreated (just a few days ago I read a tweet from someone whose name I’d rather forget advertising a translation job in this way, and I quote verbatim: “Do you understand English and speak Spanish? Well, you’ve got a job”. The original was even misspelled.)
So let’s get to my story. At the age of 18, for reasons that are not germane here, I entered the Higher Technical School of Industrial Engineering convinced that my early leanings towards literature had no professional prospects and that, despite its theoretical appeal, physics would not be a very good way to make a living either. So through wiliness I managed to earn a degree in Chemical Engineering and get a scholarship to study in the Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering in order to finally do something a bit less technical: a PhD in particle physics applied to radiotherapy. This was how I began to write a few articles in the field that I was researching, and since scholarly journals publish almost exclusively in English, my research group was assigned the job of writing or proofreading the articles (my English was good because I had lived in the United States when I was little). This happened so often, and by saying this I am quite consciously raining on my own parade, that I started to suspect that some colleagues had included me in their articles as a co-author just so I could write them in the lingua franca of science, since the language corrections and comments that the journals sent back on the drafts we had submitted might lead more than one person to professional suicide (I’m guessing that Spaniards’ widespread fame for having horrible English contributed to their being particularly eloquent with us). On the other hand, because of the paid scholarship and the flexible schedule, the doctorate enabled me to do other activities on the side, so after a few fateful attempts at tango and salsa classes, I ventured to embark upon a Bachelor’s in Translation and Interpreting to satiate my linguistic and literary longings and hone my English writing skills. Well, my plan backfired because I became so taken with the degree programme, and there I found – a felicitous late discovery – what I have ended up thinking of as my calling in life. So, I gradually left my doctoral thesis by the wayside and instead focused more efforts on training myself as a translator and interpreter: I went first to Heidelberg as an Erasmus student and then to Barcelona to earn my Master’s in Literary Translation. I abandoned the ill-fated doctorate during those two years I spent working exclusively on translation, and later resumed it and finally turned my thesis in to the evaluating jury not too long ago.
Today I define myself off the bat as a translator, and I work exclusively in editorial translation and interpreting. I do not deny my scientific past; rather, quite the contrary, I vastly enjoy my knowledge and skills in the field, although in a less “technical” way, if not purely recreationally. Even though it’s not what I do the most, I have translated numerous scientific articles for academia. In doing this, my publications in scholarly journals, and a few battles with their editors, have served me well, primarily as a yardstick of quality. My current goal in this sense is to shift to the world of popularisation by working as a translator or writer in non-specialised magazines or publishers, a job I know I would thoroughly enjoy. I love popularisation in any field, and to me it actually seems like the most complicated job of all: synthesising concepts and using a “narrative” language to appeal to a non-specialist audience is not an easy job and requires dedication and especially enjoyment.
When you learn more about a technical or scientific field, just like when you study for a degree, you understand that no activity related to it should be trivialised, no matter how tangential it may seem. All fields of specialisation have a vocabulary and grammar for which there is not necessarily an equivalent in another language. For this reason, any one of us translators or interpreters who comes from another field, scientific, technical, legal or any other, must feel privileged to be able to offer such a specialised service and work toward its future recognition.
Vicente Abella holds a Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Valencia; while earning that gree he went to the Karls-Ruprecht Universität in Heidelberg on an Erasmus scholarship. He also holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and Literary Translation from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and will soon earn his PhD in Nuclear Medicine Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Today he works in the field of publishing and has contributed to a variety of popular magazines. He has also served as an interpreter at a variety of conferences and specialises in scientific events. He further works as a proofreader and editor and is a member of ASETRAD. His language combinations are English, German and Catalan into Spanish.