Top 4 Takeaways from Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche’s Found in Translation

By Harlyn Lane 

I’m not a translator or interpreter, but as someone testing the waters of the language industry, I’m thankful there are resources to help educate me on their work. One resource, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, took me in depth, bringing me to the ground level of the translators and interpreters working in war zones or assisting political leaders. Situations that I hadn’t even considered took my expectations and threw them out the window! So, for my fellow non-translators and non-interpreters who want to start, those who have started and want more insight, and undergrads wanting to work with languages, I recommend this book for four reasons:  

There’s something for you, no matter how niche.   

Opportunities for translators and interpreters are vast due to companies stepping into the global market, where their duties can extend to other roles, such as quality assurance checkers, project managers, and program managers. Two of my favorite examples from the book are:  

Makeup: A translator needs to know the product and makeup-related materials to the core. Knowing the ingredients of the makeup, in addition to terms used in the product’s marketing plan, is essential for a seamless translation. However, it’s not solely the translator’s responsibility to localize the product. The entire localization team’s goal is to ensure translators have the tools and support they need, and that their opinion is heard. For example, some pop cultural references are more appropriate with some cultures than others, and translators will know which terms to avoid, as they are the experts in cultural appropriateness. 

Harlequin Romances: Harlequin is a publishing company based in Canada that focuses on romance stories. Customers purchase these books in about 107 countries in roughly 29 languages. Now, while it’s true that the hairless males on the cover of books may not be universally culturally accepted, the romance in the pages is. So, in addition to translating the text and story, translators must capture the romantic ambiance of the story.  

No one can translate/interpret without understanding another culture.  

Despite what their titles may suggest, there’s more to being a translator/interpreter than just translating and interpreting. There’s localizing, which Nataly Kelly defines as “adapting experience for the user.”  

An anecdote that struck me was about a Japanese interpreter at a hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA making her Japanese guests feel more at home. She not only interpreted dialogue, but she also localized the whole experience of living in a hotel for her clients. This ranged from teaching chefs what to cook to where the rice and soup bowls go when placed on a tray. Due to the extra work she put into her job, her days started at 5:30 am every morning until the chefs could produce a traditional Japanese breakfast without her supervision.  

It’s not only about understanding cultures but subject fields as well.  

The extra knowledge required before translating and interpreting is like learning the skill itself. For example, to translate wine well, one needs to research and understand the terminology of the description of wine when tasted, the types of grapes required to make it, the age and history behind the brewing style, etc. Translators and interpreters have additional skills paired with their second (or third) language and the understanding of another industry vertical.   

Strong and trusting relationships are quickly built, then disappear.  

We hear some scary things happening worldwide, but we also know that it is important to know the news. Thanks to translators and interpreters, we have information from other countries to educate ourselves. They’re keeping everyone informed on what’s happening globally. Some are in war zones translating messages, and others are on the phone assisting the police.  

For example, the opening of the book was a story from Nataly. Her anecdote had me on edge the whole time as she described interpreting an emergency call. In the end, Nataly revealed that as an interpreter, while building relationships with clients is essential, disconnecting from them is equally important when the job is done. Unless the task asks explicitly for it, an interpreter isn’t required to follow up on a client’s well-being after working with them. Their job is to ensure the client receives the correct information, and in Nataly’s case, she met that requirement.   

However, the bond between an interpreter and a client can be incredible. For example, an ASL interpreter had worked for Marlee Matlin, a famous actress, and activist, for years and built a beautiful friendship with her. In her autobiography, Matlin writes about their collaboration and how they work as a client and an interpreter and as partners on other creative works.  

Final Thoughts 

Found in Translation is genuinely a marvelous book showcasing the strength of the language industry. The writing is smooth and engaging.  For someone who hasn’t had the life of a translator or interpreter, I feel like I got a closer insight into their work and how much of our daily life depends on translation and interpretation. This book pulled back the curtains and showed me the works of translators and interpreters alike.  

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