What do fiction writers, essayists, journalists, poets, and translators have in common? They all must overcome periods of frustration when they can't adequately express themselves.
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True, these writers probably share a fascination with words and their meanings. And, yes, they must possess, to a greater degree than do most people, the ability to employ correct grammar, punctuation, and usage.
But beyond a love of words that inspires one to write professionally and the thorough grounding in language -- two or more in the case of a translator -- that enables one to write formally, these different kinds of writers all have that knack for arriving at the elusive term that best completes a thought. They may not quickly come up with the words that work, but they have enough insight to avoid the ones that don't.
So... like the lyricist, who after several hours of failed attempts to create, produces the figure of speech that powers a verse, a translator reviews possbilities in his mind until, during a moment of clarity, he realizes the phrasing that most accurately conveys a particular meaning.
Customarilly, when dealing with a challenging term, a translator cross references dictionaries and glossaries, moving back and forth between the source language and the target language, discarding choices which experience and the context tell him won't suffice. Then, whether he is still trying to understand a word in the source language, find the right match in the target language, or maintain the register of the speaker, he has had to rely on himself to work through the impasse.
At this point he may have chosen to invest in a more specialized glossary, explain his dilemma to an authority working in the field in which he is translating, or opt to do nothing. At times, he has learned, the inactivity, and not the extra effort, brings about the enlightened thought.
To trust one's ability enough to overcome frustration by literally standing up and walking away from an unfinished translation is becoming an unpopular choice. Just as a student can now rely on his computer to point out errors in spelling and punctuation, a translator can, by means of the same computer, seek help from other translators, people against whom, ironically, he may have competed to secure the job that is now troubling him.
I don't consider difficult-to-translate terms a simple issue. Sometimes a translator must deal with obscure or archaic vocabulary, accept a deadline that barely allows time for a proofread, or take on a document that challenges his expertise.
As a ProZ member who has suggested translations or concurred with another's suggestion, I recognize that people request and offer help in a spirit of mutual support and cooperation. I also see that developments in the translation profession are frequently tied to advances in computer technology. In other words, if a translator can now better fulfill his obligation to a client by consulting fellow translators, then maybe he would be behaving negligently if he didn't do so.
But translators can do more to depend on themselves, even if simply to turn away from their computers and later return to what puzzles them when their unimpeded minds allow for a different perspective. In the business of translating self-help needs not become a lost art.