How Hard Can It Be?

Originally posted on Tembua’s website.

When my husband and I built our new home years ago, the buy-the-shell-and-do-the-easy-finish-work-yourself approach seemed ideal for our limited budget.

We were young and thought we could do anything, but unfortunately, one of the first jobs was the rough-in of the underground plumbing in the basement.

The baby was more or less happy in the playpen on the dirt floor, watching her parents struggle with how-to books and unfamiliar tools. Day by day, our mood migrated from anticipation of the results, to wonder at our daring, to uneasiness at the complexities of plumbing, to grim determination, to stubborn perseverance, to despair, anger, and yelling. I have a vivid memory of straddling a pipe, desperately trying to saw it off to the proper length, while our little one whimpered at the tension and my husband swore at one of the tools. My suggestion that he watch his language in front of the children was not met with enthusiasm; we ended up shouting, accompanied by a screaming baby.

Unfortunately, a delegate from the local church women’s group chose that moment to poke her head into the hole leading down into the basement and ask if everything was OK.

Good professional advice about what homeowners should and should not do, combined with the trained tradespeople we finally hired, eventually resulted in a completed home with no safety hazards. But my husband and I still haven’t completely lost that “How hard can it be?” attitude. Please don’t look closely at the trim around the complicated angles of the new cupboards. As for the new wallpaper in the breakfast room -– well, if I hang the valance just right, it doesn’t look crooked.

I see that attitude in customers occasionally. My European colleagues report that in Europe, translation is a valued and respected profession — unless the translation is into English. Nearly everyone in Western Europe studies some English in school and therefore sees no reason why they can’t do the translation themselves. We’ve all seen those English translations, either on signs in Europe and Asia or in nearly incomprehensible package directions.

Translation is still a mystery to many Americans. A caller recently asked me to just “look at the German and read the text in English so you won’t have to really translate it.” How hard can it be to look up a word in the dictionary and substitute the proper foreign word? Unfortunately, declensions, conjugations, synonyms, perfect-tense constructions, word order, cultural differences and regionalisms all make it very hard indeed at times.

At Precision Language Services, we counsel clients about what they need translated. When a rough idea of the meaning is all they need, we point them to inexpensive web solutions or off-the-shelf software packages so they can do the easy work themselves. But we also tell them point-blank when they need a master plumber. And then we provide the tight, elegantly written work you expect from trained, experienced professionals who know just how hard it can be.


About tembua

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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