Emotional self-awareness — knowing how you feel about something, and above all how
you are currently feeling. Many professional decisions are made on the basis of
our reactions to people; this makes recognizing how we are reacting essential
to successful decision-making. As Goleman (1995: 43) writes, "An inability to
monitor our true feelings leaves us at their mercy." For example, if you hate your
work, the sooner you recognize that and move on to something you enjoy more,
the better off you will be. If you love certain parts of it and hate others, being
aware of those mixed feelings will help you gravitate more toward the parts
you enjoy and avoid or minimize or learn to reframe the parts you dislike. And
the more astute your emotional self-awareness, the better you will also get at:
Emotional self-control — transforming and channeling your emotions in positive
and productive ways. Many translators work alone, or in large impersonal
corporations, and battle loneliness, boredom, and depression. The better able
you are to change your mood, to spice up a dull day with phone calls or e-mail
chats or a coffee break, or to "think" (visualize, breathe, soothe) yourself out
of the doldrums, the more positive and successful you will be as a translator.
Clients and agencies will do things that irritate you; the better able you are to
conceal or transform your irritation when speaking to them on the phone or
in a meeting, or even get over the irritation before speaking to them, the more
professional you will appear to them, and the more willing they will be to give
you work. And the more effectively you are able to channel and transform your
emotions, the better you will also get at:
Emotional self motivation — finding the drive within yourself to accomplish
professional goals. In almost every case, translators have to be self-starters.
They have to take the initiative to find work and to get the work done once it
has been given to them to do. They have to push themselves to take that extra
hour or two to track down the really difficult terminology, rather than taking
the easy way out and putting down the first entry they find in their dictionaries.
The better able they are to channel their emotional life toward the achievement
of goals, the more they will enjoy their work, the more efficiently they will do
it, and the more professional recognition they will receive. At the very highest
levels of self-motivation, translators experience the "flow" state described by
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), where the rest of the world seems to fade
away and work becomes sheer delight. And knowing and channeling your own
emotions also helps you develop powers of:
Empathy — recognizing, understanding, and responding to other people's
emotions. This is a crucial skill for professionals who rely on social contacts for
their livelihood. While many translators work alone, they also have clients
whose needs they have to second-guess and attempt to satisfy, agencies that may
only hint at the institutional complexity of a job they are trying to get done,
friends and acquaintances who know some field professionally and may be able
to help with terminology problems. Sensing how they feel about your requests,
or your responses to their requests, will help you interact with them in a
personally and professionally satisfying manner, leading both to more work and
to enhanced enjoyment in your work. And of course the better able you are to
empathize with others, the better you will be at:
5 Handling relationships — maintaining good professional and personal relationships
with the people on whom your livelihood depends. Translation is a business;
and while business is about money, and in this case words, phrases, and texts,
it is also, as this chapter shows, about people — interpersonal relations.
Successful business people are almost invariably successful socially as well as
financially, because the two go hand in hand. This is perhaps clearest when
money is not involved: how do you "pay" a friend for invaluable terminological
help? The pay is almost always emotional, social, relational: the coin of friend-
ship and connection. But even when a client or agency is paying you to do a
job, the better able you are to handle your relationship — even, in many cases,
professional friendship — with them, the happier they are going to be to pay
you to do this job and future ones.
If deduction is the application of general principles to the solution of a problem,
then the primary deductive approach to the problem of how people act is
psychology. By this reasoning, the next step beyond paying close attention to people
for the student translator would be to take classes in psychology.
But this may be unsatisfactory for a number of reasons.
The first and most obvious is that the psychology of translation is still undeveloped
as a scholarly discipline, so that you are unlikely to find courses in it at your
university, and the psychology courses you do find offered may be utterly irrelevant
for a translator's needs.
Then again, what are a translator's needs? We just saw in discussing inductive
approaches to people that it is impossible to predict exactly what kind of people-
oriented knowledge will be useful in any given translation job; the same goes for
deductive approaches as well. It is quite possible that extensive (or even cursory)
study of psychology might provide insights into people that will help the translator
For example, the second reason why classes in psychology might be unsatisfactory
to the student of translation is that psychology as a discipline is typically concerned
with pathology, i.e., problems, sicknesses, neuroses and psychoses, personality
disorders — and the people translators deal with in a professional capacity tend to
be fairly ordinary, normal folks. But this can then be turned around into a positive
suggestion: if there are courses offered at your university in the psychology of
normal people, they might very well prove useful, especially if they deal with work-
Psychology courses of potential benefit to translators
The psychology of advertising
The psychology of learning
The psychology of problem-solving
Human memory and cognition
The psychology of language
Decision-making and perceived control
The social psychology of organizations
Social identity, social conflict, and information processing
Networking and social coordination
Psychology applied to business
Psychology and law
Interpersonal influence and communication
Social-psychological approaches to international conflict
In addition, it should be remembered that psychology, psychoanalysis,
psychotherapy, and psychiatry are professional fields that generate texts for
translation. Translators are asked to translate psychiatric evaluations and medical
records, social workers' reports, and various scholarly writings in the field (confer-
ence papers, journal articles, scholarly books); court interpreters are asked to
interpret testimony from expert witnesses in psychiatry and psychology; conference
interpreters at scholarly meetings in the field must obviously be well versed in how
psychologists and psychiatrists think, how they see their world.
In studying psychology, in other words, one should not forget that the relevant
"people" in the field are not merely the subjects of psychologists' theories and
experiments. They are also the psychologists themselves. If a translator is ever asked
to translate a psychological text, a class in psychology at university will provide an
excellent background — not only because the translator will have some familiarity
with the terms and concepts, but because s/he will have grown familiar with one
real-life psychologist, the professor in the course.
Finally, there is no reason why translators should not gradually become amateur
psychologists in their own right. In fact, a few weeks of reading postings on an
e-mail discussion group like Lantra-L, for example, will convince the would-be
translator that most of the translators writing in are amateur psychologists — people
who have developed theories of human behavior which they will elaborate for you
at great length. These theories grew out of inductive experience, which is the very
best source for theories; but they have since become formulated in broad, general
terms, as deductive principles, ready to explain any personal quirk or trait that
comes along. The only real danger in these theories is the same danger that inheres
in all deductive or theoretical thinking: that the general principles become so rigid
that they no longer change in response to experience; that they become straitjackets
for experience. Hence the importance of continued abductive and inductive
openness to novelty, to experiences that the "theories" can't explain. Without such
wrenches in the deductive works, the translator stops growing.
If, as Ludwig Wittgenstein says, "the meaning of a word is its use in the language,"
and that use varies from person to person and from situation to situation, how is it
ever possible to know what someone else means?
Give dictionary definitions of "dog" and "cat" in your mother tongue.
Think of the equivalent words in your main foreign tongue; get the
equivalence fixed firmly in your imagination.
Now get comfortable in your chair; close your eyes if that helps you
"daydream" better. Think of the house pets of your childhood; visualize
them, tactilize them, imagine yourself holding them in your lap or rolling
around on the floor with them (whatever you did in close contact with
them); remember whether you loved them (or one particular one), hated
them, were afraid of them, were indifferent to them; if you had negative
feelings for them, recall in detail specific times when you felt those
feelings most strongly, as when a dog snarled at you, bit you, when a cat
hissed at you, scratched you.
Next reflect on the many positive and negative connotations and usages
of "dog" and "cat" in English and many other languages. (In English some
people call a homely woman a "dog" and a nasty woman a "cat"; "a dog's
life" is an unpleasant one; but "a dog is a man's best friend" and a sweet
person is a "pussy-cat.") Which of these usages feel right to you, which
Discuss with the group: what connection is there between personal
physical experience and our figurative use of common words like "dog"
and "cat"? What similarities and differences are there between our experi-
ences of people and our experiences of animals (especially domestic
pets), and how do those similarities and differences affect the way we use
Think to yourself the strongest taboo word you can think of in your native
language. Pay attention to your body as you say that word to yourself —
how you feel, whether you feel good or bad, relaxed or tense, warm or
cold, excited or anxious. Now say it very quietly out loud, and glance at
your neighbors to see how they're reacting to it, all the while monitoring
your body reactions. Now imagine saying it to your mother. Say the word
100 times — does it lose some or all of its force, its power to shock?
Finally, imagine a situation, or a person, or a group of people, with whom
you would feel comfortable using the word. Recall the situations where
you were taught not to use such language, who the person (or group)
was in each case, how you felt when you were shamed or spanked for
using it. Recall the situations where you used it with friends or siblings
and felt rebellious. (If you never did, imagine such situations - imagine
yourself bold enough and brave enough to break through your inhibitions
and the social norms that control them and Jo it.)
Discuss with the group: how do other people's attitudes, expectations,
and reactions govern the "meaning" of swear words? When we compare
swear words in various languages, how can we tell which is "stronger"
and which is "weaker"?
Think of a word or a phrase in your mother tongue that your school
teachers taught you to consider "low," "substandard," "bad grammar," etc.,
and say it out loud to the person next to you, monitoring your body
response. Does it feel good, bad, warm, uneasy, what? Next try to put
yourself in a frame of mind where you can be proud of that word or
phrase, where using it includes you in a warm, welcoming community.
Finally, feel the conflict built into your body between the community that
wants you to use words and phrases like that and the community that
Discuss with the group: how are the boundaries between standard and
nonstandard (regional, ethnic, class, gender, age) dialects policed by
individuals and groups of people? How do individuals and groups resist
that policing? How effective is their resistance?
Have a short conversation with your neighbor in some broken form of
your native tongue — baby talk, foreigner talk, etc. — and try to put your-
self in the speaker's body, try to feel the difficulty of expressing yourself
without the calm, easy fluency that you now have in the language; also
feel the conflict between your desire to speak your language "right" and
this exercise's encouragement to speak it "wrong."
Discuss with the group: what other skills besides linguistic ones must
you have mastered in order to speak your language fluently? Are there
times when you lose those skills, at least partially — when you're wakened
in the middle of the night by the phone ringing, when you have a high
fever, when you've had too much to drink?
Playact with your neighbor a hierarchical shaming situation, without ever
making it clear what the other person did wrong. Get really indignant,
angry, shocked; say whatever your parents or teachers or whoever said
to you when you were small: "No, that's bad, very bad, you're a bad boy /
girl, don't ever do that again; what's wrong with you? whatever could you
have been thinking of? how dare you? just wait till your father gets home!"
Now switch roles, and monitor your body's reaction to being both the
shamer and the shamed.
Discuss with the group: what lasting effects does this sort of shaming
speech heard in childhood have on later language use? In what ways are
foreign languages "liberating" precisely because they don't have this early-
childhood power over you?
Suggestions for further reading
Bochner (1981), Fitzgerald (1993), Kim (1988), Krings (1986), Miller (1973), Oittinen
(2000), Robinson (1991), Robinson (2001)
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested