The Invisible Glamour Superstar

 In Fun with Language

I am always amused when people express star-struck admiration for what I do.  Translating cosmetic copy must sound a lot more appealing, especially to women, than it really is.  To non-translators, the concept has to play into their fantasies of the glamorous world of high fashions, fast cars, luxury goods, top models on glossy magazine covers and overpriced holidays.  Exclamations the likes of “How fun!  Do you get a lot samples?”and “You must be so excited to see your translations in print” are not uncommon.

In reality, however, most of the marketing documents I receive for translation are “works in progress” that undergo numerous revisions, even after they have been translated.  According to the Canadian Institute of Marketing ( “Marketers are creative people, who push the edge of societal, industry and government acceptance of norms.”  More often than not, their methods are unconventional with tight deadlines part of the overall working environment.  This spills into the demands placed on the translator: deadlines are even tighter and flexibility a must.

So the translations I churn out invariably undergo changes, possibly passing through the hands of first the translation agency acting as the middleman and then the end client’s editors.  The editing may be done either by the copy writers themselves, their editors in charge of proofreading, or other employees.  The ultimate target recipients working in the company’s subsidiary are also often consulted for input.  There may or may not be an established communication pipeline between all those involved and the translator.

The act of translation is a creative process; changes based on personal style and preference are not uncommon.  Ultimately the client is king and we, the translators, have no control over OUR creative output.  To be fair, changes made by skillful writers working within a company and, most importantly, familiar with its in-house jargon may produce better results than the translation proper.  Or, the outcome can be quite the contrary.  Sometimes, editors simply feel like they have to make changes to justify being paid, replacing the translator’s carefully chosen terms with nothing more than synonyms.

In the worst case scenario, the translation will be proofread by a non-native speaker believing in good faith in his or her superior knowledge of the foreign language.  In a case like this, errors are bound to abound.

The documents may also be adapted in form or format (Word document to a PowerPoint presentation), laid out for printing using DTP software (with all the restrictions of space this entails) or rewritten for a different target audience (changes made from British to US English, adaptation to the Asian markets).

sexy old star inspiration

So why am I so disappointed when I hear people gushing over how much fun I must be having at work, basically going into raptures about what they consider a glamour job?  Well, knowing what happens and understanding it is only one part of the equation.  Loving to see something I translated intact, unchanged, unspoiled and just the way I penned it after hours of hard work is another!

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