Have I told you that I have a side-line in translation work? Well, I do. I translate books and documents from Italian to English. Don't ask me to do it the other way around, I can't write decent Italian at all. I consider it an accomplishment if I write the shopping list in correct Italian! But since way before I was qualified to do it, I have been translating to make an extra buck on the side.
In the beginning it was quite a challenge and I must claim full responsibility for the damage I have done in poorly rendering completely respectable Italian texts. It's probably all my fault that that documentary film on Canosa di Puglia didn't win anything at the competition it was entered in. And God only knows what chaos I wreaked with that 500 page computer manual...its users probably have errors popping up all over the place, if not a complete system breakdown!
But, after hundreds of documents on topics that vary from agriculture to medicine, from architecture to cosmetics, from business to political science, from tourism to art criticism, I'd say I've gotten pretty good at it. My most recent project was the most challenging, but also most interesting and satisfying job of all: a book on film tourism in Apulia. As soon as it's published I'll stick a link on my sidebar here so you can run out and buy it! Not that I'm getting royalties or anything, mind you. Which brings me to the downside of translating...
The money. Or lack thereof. People don't seem to understand that it's hard work translating. They think that if you know two languages all you have to do is read the words in one language and spit them out in the other. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. If it did all those computer translation systems would solve the world's translation problems lickety-split. Instead of just being the source of great laughs for the crazy and totally inappropriate language they create. Try this for yourself on the Google Language Tools page.
Translation requires not only in-depth knowledge of the two languages, but also of the idioms, slang, and a thousand cultural references in both languages. You have to be well-read, have access to a wide range of general information, be up on current events, familiar with classical references and willing to research and study words and phrases, even ones you already know because every word can have multiple nuances depending on the context it is used in. You have to know how to express yourself in a variety of registers, or levels of language, from colloquial to formal and everything in between. And you have to know how to write well.
Clients don't usually take any of this into consideration. You know English, you know Italian, so it should be easy to translate between the two. So, they send you large quantities of work to be done...yesterday, usually! Or, in any case, in a very short period of time. Which you try to respect, sacrificing everything and everyone else in your life in the meantime. Often for mediocre to poor pay. I've learned to be selective in accepting jobs, both regarding deadline and compensation. And content...no more business translations for me, I just don't have the vocabulary, nor the interest in developing it.
I wouldn't do it at all, though, if I didn't find the process fascinating. Getting a phrase just right in the target language is one of those "ah-ha!" lught-bulb going on over your head experiences. It's like solving a puzzle and once I get started, I can't stop until I've got all the pieces in the right places. One stroke of genius after another, sentence after sentence.