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Translation and Bullfighting

André Senécal, trad. a., réd. a.
(Language Update, Volume 5, Number 2, 2008, page 11)

Let papers speak and beards stay still..
Miguel Cervantès
Don Quixote

Regardless of the workplace in which she toils, the professional translator’s job is very individualistic: she is alone with her text like a matador facing a bull. Her work is a contest in which she measures herself against her own self rather than against the text. In the daily corrida, the novice translator must learn her craft, then refine her technique to gain confidence and improve her skills, until finally the day comes when she is sufficiently tried and tested to be entrusted with a client, a major project, or a sensitive or highly specialized text. But unlike a matador in his suit of lights, she should not expect glory even if her peers do recognize her achievements.

The university system is the broad highway that leads to a career in translation. However, once through the system, the novice translator must still integrate the theoretical knowledge she has learned and adapt it to the realities of the workplace, which can be a rude awakening. Internships (if she has had a chance to participate) will have given her a taste of what awaits. In a structured environment, her cuadrilla, the novice translator is usually taken under the wing of one or more seasoned professionals. She is initiated into the work, guided in her research, made to work on her weaknesses through the texts she is beginning to translate, and taught translation techniques according to a schedule that takes into account both her capacity to progress and the necessity for her to leave behind the status of novillero, or apprentice translator, at the end of an apprenticeship she often perceives as too short.

The apprenticeship period can sometimes be a struggle, especially if the novice translator is truly aware of her shortcomings; there are challenges at every corner, and she runs the risk of becoming discouraged. At times like this, the mentorship of an experienced torero will help the novice to maintain her confidence. But psychological support is not enough: the novillero must work very hard. Her translations, sometimes approximate and far from perfect, are like passes of the cape too far away from the bull. Her reviser will ceaselessly urge her to "close ranks with the bull"—follow the text—without getting too close or producing a literal translation. This rigorous work can leave nothing to chance, and the sooner the novice translator rolls up her sleeves and gets to it, the sooner she will progress to the working level.

The novice translator will often realize that her university training is only a starting point in a process of lifelong learning. She learns not to rush headlong into a text without having assessed it first, like a novillero who engages in tremendismo, a foolhardy style that consists in taunting the bull without bothering to gauge his behaviour. The guidance of an experienced translator is crucial for the novice. So is humility, given the amount of red ink that will cover her first translations: she is, after all, still an apprentice and can only learn from being corrected. She will also have to learn not to take the revision process personally; it is not she who is being corrected, but her texts. This is a distinction that many novices have difficulty making.

After a great deal of effort and work, the novice translator reaches the alternativa, or passage from the status of novillero to torero, transitioning from apprentice to professional translator. At this stage, she has acquired confidence that gives her a sort of querencia, or comfort zone. She is now in danger of thinking that she has "arrived." This is a mistaken notion: there is no such thing as having "arrived" in this profession. The translator is "condemned" to a lifetime of learning. Whether it be officially, through a development program offered by her professional association, her employer or an outside party, or unofficially, through the research she carries out and the texts she translates, the professional translator constantly strives to improve her linguistic and specialized knowledge. This is the price she pays to remain in the ring and maintain her abilities. This professional vigilance enables the torero to come out victorious from every fight she undertakes. One moment of distraction, poor preparation or overconfidence will place her at the mercy of the bull during her faena, or work. At best, the torero will be grazed, at worst, gored by the bull’s horns.

The satisfaction of translation is rarely intense, but it shines a constant warm light on the translator’s daily work. Completing a particularly difficult or sensitive translation is not the same as giving the death blow to a bull. Rather, it is a moment of legitimate pride in the nobility of a challenging craft and a rigorous profession.