Covid, Travel, and Translating

Covid, Travel, and Translating

One of the strangest consequences of the current pandemic is the combination of personal isolation and travel restrictions with the constant barrage of international news. However, the pairing of solitude with cosmopolitan content is something with which translators are very familiar. Keep reading to find out what a crisis-ridden world could learn from translators!


A new relationship with the world

To begin with a sentence which could not be less original: These are strange times. Surely, everyone is aware of that; we deal very differently with things which used to be quotidian: school, work, shopping. And travel.

Due to the pandemic, our ability to travel is currently restricted. In some places, these restrictions are official and codified, whilst other places have simply issued recommendations. Considering the current climate of infection, that is understandable and necessary, but that doesn’t make it less uncomfortable.

Particularly in the EU, we’re used to being able to travel virtually unlimitedly within the Union. So it is very noticeable when that is suddenly no longer possible.

But, oddly, the current times also have a very global feel. The pandemic – as the term suggests – is in international circulation and our news feeds are full of COVID-coverage from around the world. Footage of ICUs in the US and France, reporting from rural China: We’re not allowed to go out into the world; instead, the world comes to us in our homes.


Translators: never truly alone

The current situation is one with which translators are more or less familiar. After all, translating is a lonely but simultaneously cosmopolitan profession. The work is often done by freelancers, without coworkers nearby and predominantly digitally. The things many people have had to get used to over the past year have been “normal” for translators for a long time.

However, as isolated as they might seem, translators – per their very job description – are in constant interaction with the (outside) world. Be it Korean patents, Brexit reporting or travel news from Argentina, translating allows the translator to travel the globe without leaving their desk. This strategy of using texts to actively feel as a part of the international and socio-cultural discourse is one which could likely help many people who currently feel very disconnected from the world.


What we can learn from translators

Maybe everyone else can learn something from translators in this unusual time. Not because translators are not affected by the pandemic, but because their profession has allowed them to cultivate a set of skills which can be useful during times of crisis.

When it comes to working from home and without coworkers, practice is key. It’s a transition that can be pretty rough. Often, people must change aspects of their work rhythm to have success working remotely. Many freelance translators therefore have regular office hours and space in their homes dedicated solely to work to ensure that their job does not creep into their personal lives.

Translators are also experienced when it comes to building and maintaining digital networks. While they, too, are suffering from the lack of human contact we all face, they are able to make use of an extensive pool of often internationally spread-out colleagues and acquaintances with whom communication has been virtual from the get-go.


Intellectual travel

When it comes to processing the constant stream of information, it is not always pleasant to follow along with the news. Here, too, translators have a useful coping strategy: It is possible to fully process and grasp the meaning and attitude of a text without allowing the heavy topics therein to fully reach and affect you. This is not meant as an endorsement of emotional withdrawal, but at times when the news seems to be nothing but negative, setting boundaries can be a helpful tool.

And for those who miss travelling, there is always the possibility of transporting oneself to faraway lands with the help of international texts. Thanks to translators, there is a lot of content available in a multitude of languages, thus allowing everyone to take a page out of translators’ books and replace “real” travel with intellectual travel.


(O.M., 2021)


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