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The inspiration behind the translator

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

When I first thought about what inspired me to work as a translator, I figured that I would be able to remember an exact, specific moment — a sort of epiphany — that marked the beginning of my passion for languages and translation. However, after walking down memory lane for a while, I couldn’t find any one specific memory as such. Instead, what I found was a collection of moments and experiences which, together with films, books, songs, and TV series, sparked, and indeed continue to spark my curiosity for languages and other cultures.




Lucky to have an out-of-this-world teacher


Spanish Language and Literature was (quelle surprise!) my favourite subject at school. One day, our Literature teacher was trying to explain to us how knowing etymology would enable us to use our words wisely. To illustrate his point, he asked a few of us to simply say a word out loud, any word. He picked “escuela” and started to write on the large blackboard on the wall verbs, adjectives, nouns… all deriving from this Spanish word for “school”. It was mind-blowing to see him in action, covering the entire blackboard with words that shared the same stem in just a couple of minutes.


But how is this anecdote relevant to my profession as a translator today? Cultivating my own understanding and use of language by reading books and newspapers or listening to the radio in Spanish has been essential for me in terms of staying up to date and further developing my writing skills and expanding my vocabulary. At the end of the day, translators are writers, and it’s therefore essential to know how to choose the most appropriate words.




Mastering comedy translation with Friends


Friends TV Show Stage Plaque

I don’t think I could tell you how many times I’ve watched the ten seasons of America’s most iconic sitcom, but it’s certainly been a few times, in both Spanish and English. Watching episodes of Friends in English, after having watched them dubbed in Spanish when I was younger, was the perfect tool for training my listening skills, improving my pronunciation, and learning new expressions. I mean, where else would I have learnt the term “going commando”?


And it was also a fantastic resource for gaining an understanding of how to translate series, comedy, and cultural references. This has proved especially useful for translating subtitles: keeping the same nuances of the dialogue in the target language, conveying the same emotions to the audience, whether to make them laugh or cry, or choosing the right tone of voice to render the characters believable to the audience in the target language. I think it also helped me master the fast pace of audiovisual translation so I would be able to recreate the same experience in a different language.




Obsessed with Hamilton and American history


Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton costume

As a translator, contact with other cultures is inevitable. Getting to know the other culture, history, and language, so that you can become an intermediary capable of conveying the same meaning and references in the target language, is part and parcel of the job. Like many of us, I’ve always been surrounded and influenced by American culture, especially through films and music. It’s a culture that I feel is part of me, even though I’ve never even set foot in the US, and this feeling has been especially intense over the last few months. And the reason for this is no other than Hamilton: An American Musical.


During the lockdown last spring, I listened non-stop to the soundtrack to this musical and it helped me to cope mentally with being at home 24/7 for weeks on end. The lyrics, the music, the whole story captivated me. I read up on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on Wikipedia, studied how the verses rhymed, and looked up words that were new to me. I was completely immersed in this masterpiece and in its powerful use of the English language.




The fact that this collection of moments covers a time span of over 20 years proves, at least to me, that it was inevitable that I would go down this professional path. I’m even more curious now than when I was a student at university and still love learning new words through a song, researching an expression I’ve heard in a film or even discussing with my friends why we’ve never realised before that “breakfast” comes from “breaking your fast”. And I’m pretty sure that this curiosity will not run dry any time soon.


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