April 28, 2018
Monia Filipe


The notion that anyone with a basic knowledge of foreign language can translate still persists today. Besides this (unfounded) assumption, some people think that with a practically omnipresent Internet connection, translation is classed as one of the activities that any digital nomad can do to make ends meet.

The March/April edition of DECO’s Dinheiro & Direitos included an article titled “Earn money online,” which included translation as one of the various options for earning extra cash. Mónia Filipe, a colleague and a translator with more than ten years’ experience, wrote to DECO to express her annoyance, and to point out precisely why the irreverence shown towards the translation profession is entirely inappropriate.

"Translation is not an odd-job!
Dear Sirs,

The March/April 2018 edition of DECO’s Dinheiro & Direitos contained an article titled “Earn money online.” The article contained a variety of ways of earning extra money, such as selling used items on OLX or completing online surveys to accumulate points, which can later be used in exchange for money or products, among others. The option of translation was also suggested alongside these, as a way of earning a little extra cash.

As a translator, I am outraged by the way this article portrays our profession. Me and other professional colleagues who share my opinion! On behalf of my colleagues and as a member of APTRAD - the Portuguese Association of Translators and Interpreters - I hereby submit my official criticism of this article published by DECO.

I have been a member of DECO (Membership No. 1672600-29) for almost as much time as I have been a translator. I plan to continue to be a member, as I regard DECO to be an excellent consumer protection association that has helped me to clear up some legal issues, as well as get my money back from an ill-intentioned fitness centre. That said, I'd like to make it absolutely clear that I am not criticising DECO, but the article in question by Dinheiro & Direitos, and namely the part relating to translation.

So why has this article annoyed the translation profession to this extent?

As we all know, we do not (yet) have a regulatory translators’ association. We do not hold professional licenses, and neither does Portugal have sworn translators as do other countries. In addition, a translator who carries out a translation based on knowledge and experience gained from years of study and practice, is unable to certify their own translations. Only notaries or solicitors are allowed do that. Anyone can go to a notary’s office to certify translations, without having to present any proof of professional training. Presentation of their ID and a verbal statement will suffice. Changing this situation is one of APTRAD’s main objectives, and I am confident that we will soon have a regulatory body. In the meantime, it is up to us translators to restore some dignity to our profession and redress misconceptions such as those displayed in this article.

There are two main points I would like to address.

Firstly, the notion that anyone with a good knowledge of linguistics can take on translation odd-jobs in their spare time, in order to make ends meet. I'm not implying that specific qualifications are necessary to be a good translator. Many have joined the profession through vocation. There are also doctors who weren't cut out for the profession but, even so, they are still doctors. Yet no-one would entertain the thought that anyone with the penchant for medicine can go do a few hours in hospital and care for emergency patients. Or that anyone with good argumentative skills can volunteer to defend the accused in court. Just because they need to earn some extra cash. So why is it then, that the general consensus seems to be that anyone with a good knowledge of another language can do translation in their spare time?

Producing quality translations requires, besides vocation, excellent linguistic knowledge consolidated by several years of university study, specialisation in a certain area, and very often, residence in a foreign country and continual professional development. In addition, considering that the majority of translators are self-employed, continual investment is required throughout their entire career: software purchases to enhance work processes, to build glossaries and translation memories; subscriptions to online dictionaries, or memberships to online translator portals or professional associations. This profession requires years of study and knowledge, and continual professional development, like any other. Just like a doctor or a lawyer. It's a profession in which high quality can only be provided by a trained and qualified professional, like any other. Full stop.

Secondly, the suggestions given in the article for those wanting take on such odd-jobs include online translation services. These usually use auction systems and encourage the lowest bids, taking advantage of students, beginner translators and odd-jobbers to pay very little for translation services. It's not uncommon to see rates that are well below average, and at the same time, deadlines that only those who give up their nights, weekends and free time can possibly meet. I therefore do not understand how a consumer protection association can recommend that such companies underhandedly devalue translation and demean the role of the translator.

There's still a lot more to say on the subject, but I don't want to go on. I would be very grateful if DECO’s editors would be so kind as to respond, and considering the opinions presented here, reverse this misconception with regards to translation.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

(Sent to DECO on 22/03/2018)


About the author: Mónia Filipe

Mónia Filipe graduated in Modern Languages and Literature from the NOVA University of Lisbon with postgraduate qualifications in translation and subtitling from UNL, the Humboldt University of Berlin and ISLA. She worked as an in-house translator from 2007 to 2014, at which point she decided to take the challenge of setting up her own business in the translation industry.

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