y mother tongue is (European) Portuguese, but my contact with other languages started early. In the 60s and 70s, high-school curricula included five years of French and three years of English. For those who went on to study in the area of humanities, language studies continued, but for "sciences" students foreign languages stopped here.
In my case as a student in a school of Jesuits in Lisbon, Portugal, French and English were taken seriously, and we all reached college with a solid linguistic education. This also opened up a new world for us, which we were anxious to discover: to read books and magazines, listen to music and, especially during the summer vacations, "practice" what we had learned with the many foreigners who came to visit us.
Later, while studying Mechanical Engineering, the books of all our subjects were in English. This allowed me to supplement my conversational English with the language of technology. Upon finishing college, I packed my suitcase and went to work in Israel for an American company on the construction of an air base for the Israeli armed forces. Considered "bilingual," I made 10% more than my "monolingual" colleagues. This was the first time I got paid for my knowledge of languages!
They pay me for what I learned before I started translating.
Back in Portugal, I was hired by an engineering company for a grandiose project to remodel all our cement plants. This time, the documentation and the meetings were in French. To this date, I can translate stuff about cement and mechanics written in French with my hands tied behind my back.
Next, I moved to a Danish/Portuguese company, which had been awarded projects on the Lajes (Azores) and Bermuda air bases. Since the projects and the materials used were American, I packed my suitcase again and took off to the company's branch offices in Princeton, NJ to select, specify and purchase the materials needed for the construction, from fire extinguishing systems and air conditioning equipment to Diesel generators. Working language: English, obviously. And this time, in its natural environment and with people with the same background. Is there any better way of getting a specialized linguistic education?
Just before the fall of the Berlin wall, I returned to Portugal, where I continued to work on different engineering projects of U.S. origin. It was then when a colleague, who was responsible for an industrial equipment company, asked me: We're having trouble with the translation of our technical catalog. Do you want to translate it? The invoice for this work, my first one as a professional translator, has the date of July 12, 1989, and I've never stopped since then.
After joining the American Translators Association (ATA) in 1993, I returned to the States, this time as a professional translator. And I still feel at home there, thanks to the people, the places, and the professional environment. I always ask the students of the translation courses where I'm asked to speak if they have any idea of what my clients pay me for. The answers vary: they pay for the translation, for the service, for the time... None of these things, I say. They pay me for what I learned before I started translating. A little like astronauts, who spend eight hours in specialized training for every hour of space flight, in addition to their intensive basic education. To make sure nothing goes wrong during the flight. In translation, the requirement level should be no different.