Becoming a real translator

I’d already been working as a translator for more than ten years when I decided it would be a good idea to become an intérprete jurada. I didn’t really need this qualification to translate the typical contracts, annual accounts and insurance claims the agencies were sending me, and I didn’t need it for the articles on archaeology I was translating for universities either. But we were planning to move out of Madrid, and I thought it would help me find more direct clients in a place where I didn’t have any contacts. It would prove to myself and everyone else that I was a ‘real’ translator.

I imagined myself driving around the countryside collecting work and delivering translations to local businesses that would be delighted to avail themselves of my services. Funny how totally wrong you can be when you fantasise about the future.

We already had a run-down house in the village, but we couldn’t afford to renovate it, so our ‘plan’ – if you can call it that – was to sell up in Madrid, then fix the house and live a life of bucolic bliss in the country. The children would go to the local school and play in the street without picking up fag-ends or being flattened by cars. Dave would work in one of the international schools on the coast, and I’d go on translating. I hoped I’d still get some work from Madrid, but in the days before proper email I thought I’d need to find local clients.

So before we left Madrid in 1994, I did a course on legal translation at Sampere, at vast expense, passed their exams and sat the exam set by the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores. I failed it. In my defence, only about 3% of those who took the exam passed. I seem to remember the legal text from English to Spanish was OK, but the general piece they’d set for translation into Spanish was an article out of Time Magazine about Reaganomics. It was full of horrible American colloquialisms that I hadn’t the faintest idea how to translate. Never mind, I’d try again another year.

When we moved to the village, I went to the nearest Chamber of Commerce and got a list of local firms involved in trade with the English-speaking world. It must have been a pretty old list, because most of them had disappeared. The ones I did locate didn’t ask me if I was an intérprete jurada; for the most part their response was “Es que tenemos una chica que sabe inglés…”

But if I didn’t get any work when I was looking for it, I sometimes got it when I wasn’t. On one occasion I was ordering a pane of glass when they got a phone call from a supplier in the UK, and I was swiftly spirited into the back office and handed the phone. After that I translated their orders and queries for a few years until they decided it was cheaper to buy from Germany in euros.

Fortunately it turned out that I didn’t need to rely on local work, although it took a while to get re-established with my previous clients. I’d bought a new computer before we left Madrid and had a modem installed in it, thinking this would solve all my problems, but that turned out to be another delusion. I had a modem, but not many other people seemed to have them. Or at least, they hadn’t reached the archaeology departments, which seemed to work on a different time scale from the rest of the world. And the agent I mainly worked with hadn’t got round to getting one either. In the end I said, “I’m coming to Madrid next week. If I get a modem for you, will you plug it in?” He agreed. Finally!

When I got back to the village we spent several frustrating sessions trying to get connected. It took the techie two hours to discover that my modem hadn’t been configured properly when it had first been installed. And there was me thinking I was a moron. We eventually got it working, and then I started getting more work from Madrid, and later from Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante. But round here the chica que sabe inglés still reigns supreme.

I never did get around to sitting that exam again, although I intended to. As with most things, time and money came into the equation and I decided that I really didn’t have enough of either to pursue that particular dream. I don’t think it’s made a lot of difference to the amount of work that’s come my way, but sometimes I still hanker after that respected qualification. And the rubber stamp with my name on it, of course.

This entry was posted in Life in Spain, Translating and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Becoming a real translator

  1. Ann says:

    It is interesting to read about the twists nd turns of another person’s professional life. I consider you very enterpriising, moving from established clients in Madrid to a complete unknown in the countryside. I do hope the work keep rolling in, and maybe one day you’ll get to pass that exam.

  2. Pingback: So, you want to become a translator? | A Spy in the House of Words

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