Translation: Frequently Asked Questions for translators (video in French with subtitles)

To wrap up the French theme of this week, after sharing a cool learning resource and a new book about the Quebec dialect, it’s time for a video in French! Today’s one is subtitled in four languages; original French, English, Arabic and Portuguese!

This video was actually recorded two months ago, just before I left Brussels. I had the chance to finally meet up with Christine Schmit in person – she is the one who translated the Language Hacking Guide to French (here is the sales page in French for “Domptez les langues étrangères“). She is from Luxembourg, but made the trip to spend a few hours with me. You can see more about her on her site Languages and Translation.

As you may already know, I worked as a freelance translator for several years myself too – specifically just for technical documents related to my specialisation of electronic engineering. You can read in detail about my background before getting into it, and how I managed to start my location independent work as a translator.

While working as a translator however, I got a lot of questions from people that showed that understanding of this field among non-translators is foggy at best. I like how a typical question many translators get asked is conveyed in this great online comic about translators (and book):

Make sure to have a watch of the video and see us discuss the following topics:

  • [01:09] Is being bilingual all you need to be a good translator?
  • [02:30] Can a professional translator translate any text/topic/subject of their language combination?
  • [04:00] Christine’s background before starting work as a professional translator.
  • [05:38] CAT tools for helping translators.
  • [07:45] Will translators be replaced with Google Translate any time soon?
  • [09:00] What about bad translations? How do we know it’s good?
  • [11:30] If you already speak a language well, what’s the best way to get into translation?
  • [14:14] How to find Christine.

Sorry if my French is a little rusty – I was only passing through Brussels for a couple of weeks and was actually speaking lots of Dutch and several other languages for the vast majority of my time while there. Hopefully the interview was interesting and non-translators learned a few things about how translators work.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!



I'll send you the first lesson right away.
Click here to see the comments!
  • Rafael

    Really nice video! I recently have been taking “juristen Deutsch” classes, and it’s really not enough to be able to speak the language, as you guys say. There are so many specific things, and sometimes the system is different, such as the law system in my case. So you need to know the right terminology so that the translations can make sense. Sometimes we spend a lot of time in class, just to understand what would be the appropriate equivalent law institute, when it does exist. It was cool to learn new things from the translation world!

  • Sofie Clara Esther

    Just out of curiosity, what made you decide that 3 months was the perfect amount to achieve basic fluency? Why not 2 months? Or 4 or 5? Did you do an experiment in order to figure it out, or did you just set a goal for yourself and follow through with it? :)

    • Benny Lewis

      PLEASE keep comments on topic. This post is about translation.

      3 months is the tourist visa limit on most countries, so that is simply the time by which I must learn as much as possible of the language, as I have to leave afterwards. This is based on “Real world problems” rather than a theory of a magic number. You simply must reach your goal before your time runs out. It’s an excellent motivator shown by many across fields.

      You’ll never ever read me saying that 3 months is “the perfect amount to achieve basic fluency”, both because this is nonsensical as it depends on how hard you are working during whatever period of time you randomly pick (see this post: ), and also because I don’t consider B2/C1 to be ANYTHING basic.

      To me “basic fluency” is an oxymoron, like “ugly beauty”. I consider A1 and A2 to be “basic”, B1 to be conversational, B2/C1 to be fluent and C2 to be mastery, using the European Common Framework reference, and anything above C2 with efficient accent reduction and work on nuances to be bilingual.

      No more follow up questions on this page please. Read the following pages if you are unsure of my background and language learning philosophy:

  • Benny Lewis

    That’s precisely why I got all of my work via outsourcers. They took a big percentage out of what the client was actually paying, but to me it was worth it because I didn’t have to deal with any BS. I would just constantly get emails with new work tasks, in my field of specialisation, at my agreed per-word rate.

    You can earn more when you work directly with clients, but in my case it was way more convenient to have 100% of my work time to be time that I was earning money. The only exception would be a few minutes a month that I’d draw up my invoice. Ultimately I earned more a day than if I had to hound clients myself.

  • Kevin Post

    I have nothing to add at this time. I just found this video to be very informative Benny. Thanks.

  • Changes in Longitude

    My problem with languages is that words from the prior country I visited always come to me, which is why I end up asking for leche in Germany.

  • Tuco Daquer

    Merci pour ces vidéo, Benny! C’était très interessant. Devenir traducteur ce n’est pas facile du tout! Il faut qu’on connaisse parfaitement la langue d’arrivée; au moins presque comme un natif. Je sais que tu même ne prends pas un travaille dont la langue d’arrivée n’est pas l’anglais, mais ce n’est pas si rare ailleurs, ça semble ;-)

    Et merci beaucoup par les sous-titres aussi en français. Ils aident beaucoup a quelqu’un qui étude le français!

  • Guest

    Translation has always been a super interesting learning languages for me. The connotations a word and phrase has when embedded in the wider language and culture. It seems to me being a translator for technical/academic purposes would be easier than translating fiction. At the same time, however, you’d have more freedom of interpretation I suppose with your choice of how to translate, whether trying to keep closer to the rhetorical structure of the original language, or rather trying to get at the underlying meaning. This is way I have so much respect for good translators, it’s not just mindless robotics, it really is hugely creative process. Anyways, here is a great interview with the translator of the Japanese author Murakami Haruki, raises some interesting issues with supposedly radically different languages. Hope you are enjoying Brazil by the way, I used to live in a city called Balneario Camboriu in the state of Santa Catarina, probably my favorite place on earth so far.

  • Gus Mueller

    Just found this and I’m reading the other articles you linked to. I’ve done some translation (French, Chinese and Tibetan) but I’m far from professional grade. Thanks!