From Tennis to English-French translation
A taste for language study, grammar, literature and translation, and more than 25 years as an English into French translator defines a large part of who I am, the way I think, with whom I relate and to whom I dedicate most of my time now. In the past, things were very different. As a teenager, one of the activities that most occupied my time was tennis.
Funny thing that I should think about tennis – now – when I spent so much time translating documents these days, wouldn’t you think?
Translated English documents to French for 25 years
While I spend most of my professional life doing French
translations these days, the truth of the matter is, recently I met a very old
friend of mine for an important event in my life. Someone who played a major
role, whom I hadn’t seen for 10 years.
Our meeting after all these years made me think about how and when we met 35 years ago. We were both teenagers and I used to play tennis. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t very good at it but this is not important. What’s important is that meeting him after such a long time got me to compare my present life as a language translator and my former life as a teenager playing tennis. My mind began to “travel back” and weave parallels between those two activities. I was amazed to see how much they have in common. So here’s a little exercise in reflection: any of the items below are what I see and feel as much about the field of translation as about tennis, or for any individual sport for that matter.
Thoughts about what it is to be a translator and/or a tennis player
– It is notoriously lonely, which does not mean that everything depends on you alone.
– Those who see practice it without knowing it, think that it is something purely mechanical.
have to train your whole life; there is no time when there is no need to practise
and improve. In the beginning it’s just to do the basics, but the higher the
level you reach, the more important it is to train regularly to seek to extend
your own limits.
can always improve.
– It is
99% creating and 1% inspiration.
for those who look from the outside, what the person does seem easy and
natural, you can be sure that it takes a lot more effort than you can imagine.
need to train a lot, for years and years, so that when we come across some of
those crucial moments of our career, when we have those immense challenges that
mark us for the rest of our lives, we know how to seize the opportunity.
is luck. But strategy cannot be ignored.
is much room for discussion about rules and questions. But inside is inside,
and outside is outside.
have to be able to get a taste for – or at least accept and take satisfaction – from
practice in all aspects (even those we do not like) – tiredness, repetition,
frustration, pain. The moments of memorable victories and recognition are rare
and are directly related to this continuous effort.
– Mistakes are a part of it and often happen. There simply isn’t any way you cannot – eventually – make mistakes. One must accept that this will happen and be able to deal with errors so as not to compromise the final result, and jeopardise their self-confidence and the pleasure of continuing to dedicate themselves.
is also a part of it. You need to know how to use it as a source of motivation
to improve. But if you repeatedly fail to win, there is something very wrong
with what you are doing, and you need to acknowledge this fact and seek help.
only way to improve is always to measure ourselves with who is better than you.
– It is
important to have a model (or some) of what we would like to be. And it is
important to know why we choose this model.
or pointing out mistakes of those who are technically inferior does not make us
better at something.
And the comparison with translation does not stop here
serious mistakes, gossiping or giving justifications only makes the situation
worse. The only solution is to learn from them immediately and find a way to
get it right the next time.
feeling of pride in winning is very strong, because we fight alone and the
merit is strongly individual. But whoever wins a major victory always has a
huge number of people to thank for, for getting there.
takes a very unique combination of ambition and humility, always.
not stand still in one place. To stop is to go back.
cannot rest on your laurels while your career has not come to an end. This is a
things reveal our true ethics as a painful defeat. Or even the possibility of
the most correct of people might try to distort a rule in their favour or take
advantage from time to time. But nothing is more difficult than doing what we
know to be right when we are robbed or harmed in bad faith. And this happens
factors, whether natural or human, interfere all the time. No one is immune to
them. But whoever is really serious never uses these factors as justification
for their failures.
– It is
perfectly possible to be self-taught, but the immense majority of self-taught
people will have visible technical defects or deficiencies if they ever stop learning.
for rare exceptions, it is possible to identify self-taught, amateur or
occasional practitioners in a matter of seconds.
– “Having passion” and being a professional – which makes of that practice, the career of a lifetime – are completely different things. Being professional and not losing your passion for something that requires so much effort and dedication is the big challenge.
is plenty of room for great professionals who will never be on top or go down
in history. There is no shame and it is possible to have a very dignified and
productive career at intermediate levels. The degree of effort and dedication
required remains exactly the same.
are those who have innate talent for the thing, and this is noticeable, even if
we do not know exactly what it is.
someone improve makes us even better.
opponent is our colleague. Without it, we are nothing, we have no merit. Our
enemy today is your partner tomorrow, or vice versa.
– It is
fundamental to respect the adversary and know how to recognise his merits.
More analogies with translation
– It is
crucial to know how to separate a profession from personal relationships, even
though these two dimensions are constantly mixing.
– We do not devote ourselves because we expect recognition. We dedicate ourselves because it is part of who we are and we want to carry it out with quality.
a journey of self-knowledge. We need to face our faults and weaknesses, as well
as discover and know how to take advantage of our talents.
have to know how to study alone, to work alone, to protect ourselves, to
overcome solitary challenges.
who observe us from the outside will judge us, sometimes based on details we
barely notice. It’s part of the activity.
that you are good at it means nothing. You have to show it.
beautiful victory or one of pride fills everyone.
who says they do not feel pressure when other people are watching is lying
blatantly. The great merit lies in not letting the performance fall too much
who thinks that constantly investing in quality instrumental makes no difference
in performance does not understand anything. Whoever thinks that only the
instrumental solves everything, either.
better you are, the more difference it makes in a fraction of a second, a
centimetre, a degree.
not something we do. It is something that one is. It’s a way of life, a way of
thinking. Not just the person, but the whole family.
– It is an practice that transforms our way of looking at life and that influences everything we do, even if it is totally unrelated to the activity itself.
done well, it even touches. But only for those who know how to really enjoy it.
– It is science. It’s art. Juggling. It’s dance.
And I’m sure the list could go on and on. One day, maybe in 35 years’ time – Will I still be doing English-French translation? – I might still add items to this list…
PS: talking about tennis, I didn’t mean to generalise. That wasn’t even the goal. Much of this would also apply to a number of other individual sports or any challenging thing one might practise.