For simultaneous interpreters, there is one common thing: all words have precisely one equivalent in other languages. They have to be learnt, and given that most do not belong to the common word stock, learnt by rote.
So, when we say translation "is not about words", that one basically has to understand what is said in one language and transpose it into another, it's not quite true. Translation, and particularly interpretation, are "about words" in the sense that you have to know a lot of them in more than one language.
Looking at my list, a professional interpreter will probably be able to quickly provide an equivalent in some of their working languages but not others, because our "active vocabulary" cannot be equally active for all working languages at all times.
Yet, "having the equivalents" may be the simplest thing compared to other aspects of the vocabulary we have to master. Take a simple word like drug, for example. Medication or narcotic? Even when the context is available, one may sometimes be confused. There are scores - if not hundreds - of other words.
Languages evolve, and therefore translators have to constantly update their knowledge. Recently, upgrading one's translation skills has begun to include being aware of changes in translation software and Internet resources.
To a lot of people, the rewards of this tremendous effort are not obvious. A translator can certainly make it into the middle class and be comfortable, but, in purely financial terms, that's about all he or she can achieve in most countries.
So what are the rewards? For me, there is one main thing: the knowledge and understanding acquired by studying languages and practicing our profession. From my young years, living in a society separated from the rest of the world by tightly controlled borders, to the present, the process itself has been giving me ever new "windows on the world" and, hopefully, better understanding of human beings and cultures.
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