A better life for professional translators [research project]

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By Marie Lebert, March 2017.

Are there some solutions to improve the professional translators’ working conditions? Are there some solutions for our society to acknowledge the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, education, business and culture? While the key role played by translators in society was obvious for centuries, it seems less obvious in our global world. We use translated work (books, articles, news, movies, videos, websites, social media, mobile apps, games) all the time, but translators are often underpaid, and their names are often forgotten on their work.


* Short biography
* Previous research project
* New research project


Short biography

I am a bilingual French-English linguist, researcher and writer 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 organizations for more than twenty years, lately for International Correspondents in Education, and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Since I was granted a doctorate in linguistics (digital media) by the Sorbonne University in 2000, I have conducted research relating to digital technology and languages.


Previous research project

My first research project (2000-16) focused on the hard work of linguists, librarians and others to make the web truly multilingual. This project was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. I also interviewed them on the development of ebooks, digital publishing and digital libraries for another 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 (English, French, Spanish); and (c) to be available in various digital formats (html, epub, pdf, kindle, daisy, text) for any electronic device.

The interviews, articles and in-depth studies were published online by the 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 the translators’ lives, with its good and bad sides.

The internet has fostered a worldwide market for translation services offered by language service providers (LSP) that act as an intermediary between clients and freelance translators. Many translators work with CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools on cloud-based online translation platforms.

The translators’ working conditions have become a major issue, with few people being aware of it in society at large. Most translators now work remotely and have become “invisible”, with precarious employment, lower rates and the rise of unpaid volunteer translation (including crowdsourced translation) promoted by major organizations 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 during two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on the articles, books and websites they spent days, weeks or months to translate.

As in former times, our society should acknowledge again the translators’ major impact on society, knowledge, science, education, business and culture.

Many translators believe in translation as a labour of love, and a bridge between cultures. 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 not an academic project. 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. My first project (2000-16) was self-funded, which was very hard at times. For this new project, I would like to find significant funding, and the support of a major organization.


Copyright © 2017 Marie Lebert

Written by marielebert

2017-03-03 at 00:40

Posted in Uncategorized