A test of my patience

A typical day for a translator is…non-existent. Working as an internal translator at M21Global, I translate the jobs assigned to me, within my qualifications and working languages. I can spend the day translating a manual for a new machine for one of our clients, I translate contracts, newsletters, school documents for a client who is going to study abroad, documents to legalize a wedding in Portugal…there’s plenty to choose from.

Among the various types of documents I deal with, the translation of legal documents is something I really enjoy. Not to mention contracts; I love them! I love their organized, methodical, clear language that covers all scenarios, how detailed they can be in their descriptions — to the point of using several synonyms for the same action, synonyms that have to be carefully translated from one language to another. For me, they are like word games for professionals.

Within the field of legal translation, there are also several types of text, each with its own particularities, difficulties and writing rules. Among the worst — and best! — are, in my view, wills and testaments. They have a specific structure, more archaic, more difficult to read. It is easy to get lost in the interpretation of sentences with close to 100 words and no commas. The excerpt below is a perfect example of this:

When I came across this sentence, right at the beginning of the document I was translating, panic started taking over. Thoughts like “What the hell?!? This…is all one sentence?” “It doesn’t make any sense!” “Did I unlearn English?” were frequent in the 15 minutes it took me to understand the contents of the sentence, where the different phrases were, and what its general meaning was. This happens because, before translating the sentence into the target language, I have to understand it in its original language. And that was something that was not happening. 

I huffed and puffed with exasperation, moved around in my chair, got closer to the screen, set my elbows on the desk, put my face in my hands, and then started rewriting the sentence, putting commas where I thought they should go to separate the phrases, trying to focus on the parts that made sense to me, and there was still no way of understanding it. I thought of how appropriate a few insults from Tintin’s Captain Haddock would be. I began to fear not being able to meet the deadline, if the whole document had this kind of vocabulary. I mentally cursed those who had written like this, with this elaborate style and without commas. Without a single comma!

All this momentary irritation didn’t do much. With writings and rewritings, research and patience, the sentence was eventually understood and the work was finished.

Looking back on it now, I can easily see where the various phrases were hidden, what techniques were most useful to me when it came time to uncover the meaning of the sentence itself, and which ones I can and should implement in future works when I come across something like this. Future wills and testaments will go better, I’m sure. Without this difficulty, I’m ready for the next assignment!

Sara Pereira
Sara Pereira is a graduate in Translation from Lisbon University, and a Post-Graduate in British and American Studies from the same university. She has been a translator and Project Manager for M21Global since 2009. Sara likes reading, traveling, and getting lost in museums. Her perfect day would end at the gardens of the Gulbenkian Museum, on a warm spring afternoon, reading a book while sipping a nice cup of tea.


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