The Joy of Learning — Derrieres, loafers, and flaneurs

I often have cause to think of the paradox that this Danish study explored in depth:

Though translators complain long and loud about many aspects of our profession, particularly about our effort being underappreciated, we generally rate very high on job satisfaction. I don’t know if the satisfaction expressed in the Danish study applies cross-culturally (the Danes are the second happiest people in the world, for Pete’s sake), but I agree with its conclusion that constant learning is a major source of this satisfaction. In the words of one translator surveyed in the study:

I gain knowledge within areas that I would never otherwise come into touch with, which gives me a very broad reference framework in everyday debates in society. I think it is a wonderful job where every day you have the possibility to learn something new and get wiser.

Or, in the more succinct words of my friend and colleague Catherine, “I get paid to read.”

When we translate, we aim to write in the style and use the terminology fitting the subject area. When starting a new job, we typically do some online research of texts in our language on the subject and then more focused research as questions come up. Those of us who translate into English are particularly fortunate as most topics have a wealth of online writings in English (though the quality and accuracy of the English is unreliable; the double-edged sword of having English as the international lingua franca).

We translators surely confuse Google as it tries to peg our true interests. For instance, I’ve recently researched the following:

  1. Rumors about Kim Kardashian’s butt being fake — for a satirical magazine.
  2. What exactly you call the metal thingy on men’s luxury loafers — for a fashion resale site (hint: it’s not “metal thingy”).
  3. The details of the murder Caravaggio committed — for a hotel blog.
  4. The invention of a new device for assisting difficult childbirth — for a news feature for an NGO.
  5. The difference between “the price of rice in China” and “the price of beans” — for a blog on food-related expressions.
  6. Futuristic floating architecture projects to help us cope with climate change.
  7. The discipline of visual anthropology — for a project proposal.
  8. The history of French Surrealist flaneurs — for an anthropological article.

Google surely thinks that I’m wealthy, celebrity-obsessed, highly eccentric, and have a lot of free time to research seemingly unrelated facts.

In my actual free time — or multi-tasking when doing mindless tasks — I like to listen to the lectures of online classes, MOOCs. Right now, I’m listening to Moralities of Everyday Life, staying on theme with the last class I listened to, Moral Foundations of Politics. So now the breadth of my conversation can span all the way from Kim Kardashian’s derriere — the goal of my research was to choose the best synonym for butt — to Enlightenment political theories and chimpanzee warfare vs. the sex lives of bonobos.

I don’t know if I’d say this all made me wiser or more popular at cocktail parties, but it’s certainly entertaining!

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