A better life for professional translators [research project]


By Marie Lebert, 15 December 2019.

Many professional translators have become invisible in our global world. Are there solutions to give them the place they deserve in society? We use translated work (books, articles, web pages, news, videos, mobile apps, games) all the time. We need to give a voice to translators, whose names are often forgotten on their work and whose working conditions have worsened. Translators are more useful than ever alongside authors, researchers, scientists and others.

* Short biography
* Previous research project
* New research project

Short biography

I am a bilingual French-English linguist, librarian and researcher who has lived and worked on five continents — in Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

I have worked as a linguist (translator, editor, proofreader) for international organisations for more than twenty years, lately for International Correspondents in Education, and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO). I also worked as a librarian for the ILO and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Since I was granted a doctorate in linguistics by the Sorbonne University in 2000 — the subject was “From the print media to the internet”, with online versions in French and English — I have conducted research on the way digital technology has changed our lives across borders and languages.

Previous research project

My first research project (2000-2019) focused on the hard work of many people to make the web truly multilingual. This project was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. I went on interviewing the same people and other people over the years. I also interviewed them on ebooks for a related project.

My research project was one of the first ones (a) to be freely available on the internet (as a series of interviews, articles and ebooks); (b) to be available in three languages (French, English, Spanish); (c) to be available in various digital formats (html, epub, pdf, kindle, daisy, text) for any electronic device.

My work was published online by NEF (Net of French Studies), University of Toronto, before being published as ebooks in three languages, first in Project Gutenberg and then in the Community Texts of the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license.

New research project

My research now focuses on professional translators — past and present. One of my research interests is the sea change brought by digital technology in their lives, with its good and bad sides.

The internet has fostered a worldwide market for translation services offered by language service providers (LSPs) that act as an intermediary between clients and freelance translators. Instead of hiring in-house translators, major organisations now hire translation project managers who manage a team of freelance translators.

Many translators are now part of the gig economy. Their working conditions have become a major issue, with few people being aware of it in society at large. They work remotely, with precarious employment, low rates and the rise of unpaid volunteer translation (including crowdsourced translation) promoted by major organisations that have the necessary funds to hire many professionals, but no professional translators.

Bilingual people need more skills than two languages to become good translators. To be a translator is a profession, and requires a thorough knowledge of the subject matter.

After being regarded as scholars alongside authors, researchers and scientists for two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on the articles, books and other content they spent days, weeks or months to translate.

They still believe in translation as a labour of love, and as a bridge between languages and cultures. They don’t want to be reduced to the human extension of computer-assisted translation or machine translation. They want to be considered as skilled professionals and even as artists, not only for their precarious life, but also for the craft, dedication and passion they put into their work. Some of them go as far as risking their lives in conflict zones and other high-risk settings.

This new research project would be based on many interviews conducted worldwide. This is a project meant for everyone — everyone uses translated work all the time. We need a better perception and recognition of the translators’ hard work and dedication.

My first research project was self-funded, which was very hard at times. For this new research project, I would like to find the support of a major organisation and significant funding.

Copyright © 2017-19 Marie Lebert

Written by marielebert

2017-03-03 at 00:40

Posted in Uncategorized