A passion for language (Aurora Humarán)

I don’t have any statistics on this or anything, but my intuition tells me that few people go through life as obsessed with their profession as translators and interpreters. Any of our relatives or friends would surely confirm this. Without a doubt, we spend a large part of our time immersed in our main tool: language. It’s rather like if a dentist spent his or her entire life surrounded by teeth. We compare what actors are actually saying with movie subtitles. We read, with the passion of an auditor, the bilingual versions of onboard magazines in the planes we take. We suffer our way through notes sent out by our building superintendents. A “with who” is enough to damage our health (I know this drive you nuts too). We critique menus. Depending on our individual personalities, some of us go through life correcting others, but even if we don’t, the main thing is that we are always observing and listening attentively. Always. We are continuously reflecting on language.

Still, we’re subtle, as language professionals should be. If he “ideal” adjective isn’t the one I’m looking for, I won’t be able to stop thinking about it until I find the one I want, the one I need, the one that’s right! The trance of every translator or interpreter: to search through that rich and lovely reservoir of data so carefully compiled through years of study, reflection and reading. The corridors of our minds are a treasure trove of words, and finding the right one is a sort of intellectual Candy Crash–inexplicable for anyone who doesn’t translate or interpret.

Our obsession, at first glance harmless, can turn dangerous. How so? If, for example, we begin bugging our clients about accenting rules in Spanish, or about the pitfalls of dangling participles. Let’s face it: the average mortal couldn’t care less about the use (or not) of the Oxford comma. But, hey, we’re language professionals! Of course we’re going to try to get the client to grasp and value our knowledge! We might well know that the customer is always right, but it is we who are the language experts. The challenge, then, is to find a balance between expressing our knowledge and turning into bothersome droning bores. The clients who share our passion will be few–since they have passions of their own. What’s important is that they keep having the confidence to turn their words over to us.
Aurora Humarán

Translated by Dan Newland
Illustrated by Juan Tavella