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What is the value of translation? I’m not talking about the price or the cost of translation services, but about the value and the importance given to the act of translation.

It occurred more often in the past, but even now sometimes friends or acquaintances ask me to translate a recipe or a very short document, or to revise and correct a text that has already been translated with Google. All in the name of friendship and therefore for free. Someone even thought that translating a guide on Japanese ceramic was a unique opportunity for me to stay in practice so, in a way, I should have been grateful to them.

While on the one hand the price of this kind of translations would usually be low, on the other hand, I don’t think it is fair to make such requests, nor do I find it weird that translators feel themselves devalued or diminished because of that. 

Any colleague (or language learner) has certainly received such proposals. And the same applies to people whose jobs are unknown or only partly known to most. Part of the problem can surely be attributed to the little consideration given to creative jobs (because translation, despite what people may think, is also a creative process and not only a mechanical one). For a translator to be skilled, then, he or she must be invisible – if the reader can understand that the text has been translated from a foreign language, then it means a bad job has been done. Perhaps this is the fundamental point: invisibility is what makes it hard for people to understand how much work is necessary to make a translation that is not just good, and how much time it takes to gather information and to maintain up-to-date knowledge of the most varied subjects. At the same time, a translator needs to keep up with a language that, by definition, is constantly evolving.

Most people don’t know the costs translators have to bear, from translation software – for those who use them – to a personal website, from taxes to accountant remuneration, not to mention the years of study and the time used to specialize in specific fields.

To return to the initial question, What is the value of translation?, the answer is: it depends, but often less than it should.

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