A number of bilingual people have told me they would be translators, but they find my profession too boring. Of course, it may be that they never stood a chance of standing (and fighting) alongside me in the Halls of Translationgarde. It is of course plausible that they really would make decent translators, they just find certain other professions more entertaining. However, I suspect they have been missing out on some of the daily fun and games I discover in my line of work.

Translation is far from dull. Quite the contrary, I play a number of ‘games’ in my role as a freelance translator. Sure, they are not all games in the strictest sense, but they are certainly entertaining, nonetheless.

Almost every potentially frustrating situation can be turned into something amusing, or potentially even insightful. Perhaps you already play your own games? Either way, perhaps my little list will inspire you and make the next awkward task a little less painful.

When translating a badly written source text, I have been known to play:

1) Guess the native language

I gather this happens a lot more often to my from-English colleagues than it does to me. Still, it has happened a couple of times to me and I have had great fun guessing the native language by the mistakes. I can usually narrow it down to language family, but it can get harder when differentiating between related languages.

2) Guess the correct word from the typo/dodgy OCR

Have you had one of those situations where a typo or OCR is so bad, you are playing guess the correct word? For entertainment, I also like to ponder what highly inappropriate words may fit the context.

3) Guess the verb

Sometimes, in my source language (German), it is not just the non-natives who get to the end of a sentence and forget what verb they wanted to use. It happens through sloppy drafting, too. Sometimes the verb is wrong, other times the verb is just not there. This is probably the least fun game to play with a dodgy source text, but occasionally the wrong word can be amusing, and it’s of course always satisfying when the client confirms you guessed correctly. I feel I should get a point or something.

When proofreading a poor translation, I have been known to play:

1) Guess the native language

As above, except now it gets really interesting – you also have to find the weakest link. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a poor translator and a translator who is native in the source, not the target. Usually this can be identified through uncharacteristic correct translations of terminology that someone who is generally poor may have got wrong coupled with persistent basic grammatical errors that a native would rarely get wrong (i.e. the person may be native in the source). This is one of my favourite games!

2) Work out how they got from X to… x94+150*4?

This is always a source of wonderment. For example, when someone translates “for your child’s trust fund” as “fund your trusted child”, you might guess they have only half-understood the source text. Backtracking these thought processes can be great fun! But there are other examples which lead me to the next game…

3) Google Translate! True or false?

This game follows on from the games above. Sometimes, when trying to work out how a translator came upon their chosen term or phrase, I put a small, anonymised section into Google Translate. If it comes back identical to the translation, it’s a hit! Sometimes, I will find something that’s very close but not identical to Google Translate. I figure some translators are simply smartening up Google Translate, and not very well.

4) Spot the biggest lawsuit

Arguably, handing in pure Google Translate is a lawsuit in itself. But in a really, really bad legal or financial translation you may find a number of examples that, if left unchanged, could warrant a lawsuit. I had some great examples just last week! In an employee vehicle lease agreement, I noticed the translator hadn’t quite grasped the concept of “Selbstbeteiligung” (excess, literally, “the part you have to pay”). I thought I’d found a winner when I spotted something on the lines of, “If the employment contract is terminated early for any reason, then all costs of the lease must be paid until the end of the contract term.” Where it should have said excess, as in, the part to be paid by the employee if they wanted to lease a nice vehicle that was beyond the company budget, it now said all costs. Implying the cost of the entire lease. Ouch! BUT that was not all – later, when talking about insurance cover, the translator assured the employee that they would be covered for every minor incident, but not a massive catastrophe, i.e. “The maximum cover amount is 1,000 EUR”. In actual fact, the source had said, “Cover is unlimited, subject to an excess amount of 1,000 EUR”, i.e. you are covered for the big stuff, but the small stuff – that’s your problem! I think that one will remain top on my list for a while.

So, over to you:
What translator’s games do you play? Any of the above? Any more you’d like to share with us?