May 24, 2017, was an historic day for the translation industry. It was on that day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 71/288, declaring September 30th as National Translation Day. Intended to formally recognize the importance of translation services with regard to “fostering peace, understanding and development,” September 30th also gives the rest of us the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the translation industry and the dedicated language professionals who work in it each and every day.
There’s no doubt about the contribution that translators and interpreters make to whatever field they chose to be involved with. U.N. interpreters are some of the most visible of these professionals. Their job is also one of the most challenging, requiring instantaneous translating of the spoken word by ambassadors and world leaders speaking on one of the most visible stages anywhere – the United Nations. The repercussions of making an error in this environment can be serious indeed, and can affect relationships between nations on a global level. The United Nations’ website states it best: “International Translation Day is meant as an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of language professionals, which plays an important role in bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security.”
Fortunately, not all translation and interpreting jobs carry such a huge responsibility as U.N. interpreters. Still, translators working in a wide variety of other industries most definitely hold important and responsible positions as well. Consider translation professionals who work in the medical field, for example. Medical translators are often responsible for ensuring that patients and healthcare professionals are communicating with each other, whether that involves doctors’ instructions for patients, interpreting patient questions for their healthcare providers, communicating information regarding insurance issues and scheduling, etc.
The legal profession is another industry in which translators and interpreters carry a great deal of responsibility. Court interpreters, for example, ensure that judges, lawyers, and other court personnel have a clear understanding of what is being said by defendants, litigants, witnesses, and other court visitors — and vice-versa. Translators within the legal profession are often responsible for accurate translation of a variety of legal documentation: from immigration paperwork to binding contracts and everything in between. Obviously, language professionals in this industry hold a great deal of responsibility as well.
In fact, virtually every industry requires the services of translators and interpreters: travel and tourism, manufacturing, education, finance, marketing/advertising, IT, transport, real estate, and arts and entertainment, to name just a few. And while the exact duties of each position vary depending on the industry involved, every job carries with it the knowledge that making errors can result in serious – even devastating – consequences.
While both translators and interpreters are active participants in the same industry, it is important to take a moment to recognize the distinct difference between the two. Although both facilitate communication between people by converting one language to another, an interpreter does so for spoken communication, while a translator works with written language. These professionals perform a wide variety of different tasks, each of which requires not only fluency in at least two languages, but also the ability to retain the original intent and tone of the source language and/or speaker, as well as a solid knowledge of any special terminology that might be used.
Given the amount of expertise required and the responsibility that so many translators and interpreters carry in their professional lives, it seems quite fitting that the United Nations has chosen to recognize the importance of their efforts by naming September 30th National Translation Day. The coming year brings even more reason to celebrate the importance of language since 2019 has been named as the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. What a perfect time to pause and reflect on the contributions made by linguists!