Enjoy what I'm doing? Love it. Does it frighten me? Comes with the job, I think. If each new assignment doesn't start with a terrifying sensation of writer's block, then I'm probably not taking it seriously enough. Correspondingly, if one doesn't—in one's fourth or fifth read-through—experience a modest buzz of pleasure at the quality of the writing, then the translation still needs work.
Compounding the writer's block problem is the additional effort needed when deliberately tackling a subject with which one is less familiar. Or, similarly, accepting a job in one's weakest language. (Yes, I know which my weakest language is, but I'm not going to say—there could be clients reading this!) Deliberately making things harder for oneself might appear somewhat flagellatory, but we are going to be doing this for a long time, and who wants to spend their entire career doing something they already know perfectly how to do?
What do I find hardest? The "little words," and the literal ones. The little ones: is it "of" or "on" in the Universal Declaration .... Human Rights? And the Office of the High Commissioner ... Human Rights? Is that "on," or "of," or "for?" I knew it once, I wrote it down on an envelope. And what about the Commission .... Human Rights? Then I tucked the envelope somewhere I'd be sure to remember. But what about the International Convention ... Economic, Social and Cultural Rights? Where did I put that envelope?
Is "the" up or down when "Lao People's Democratic Republic" comes in the middle of a sentence? Or should that be Democratic People's Republic? Korea's one way round, isn't it, and Laos is the other. And the "the" rule—Laos is one way, isn't it, and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" is the other. Or not? Or am I getting confused? I wrote it down on an envelope somewhere.
OECD; ILO; OSCE; OECS; OTIF; OPCW; FAO; EPO: “Organisation; Organization; Organization; Organization; Organisation; usually Organization, occasionally Organisation; Organization; Organisation.” At least, I think so: must find that envelope!
Any one of the options would get the meaning across, of course, but only one of them is right, and I find that I spend hours tracking down those little right rascals. Of course—more of that flagellation—the harder they are to find the greater the satisfaction when you finally do so.
The literal ones: when do you stop hunting through your resources, when do you decide that the literal translation is, in fact, the right one? Piège aérien, a type of fish-trap—can that really be "aerial trap," when the thing is used in the water? Well, yes, it can, actually, I found it in my Dictionary of Fish Traps for Puzzled Translators, but suppose I hadn't? How long am I supposed to go on hunting for something that—perhaps—isn't in the references precisely because its correct name is indeed the literal, obvious, word-for-word one?
Personally, I always feel a little disappointed when my researches reveal that the literal answer is the right one. In that same job about the fish trap, how lame to find that a chaîne Loran is a "Loran chain," or that pied d'immersion is indeed "immersion foot." The translation would have been so much more picturesque if the correct terms had been "Loran cross-linked double-helix matrix," or "nasty grungy disease that you get from having your feet in the water too long."
Conventional wisdom, again: all this sort of research is so much easier in the Internet era. Well, yes and no. There is much more information at our fing—cliché alert! cliché alert!—available to us instantaneously, but the problem of deciding what is genuine is paradoxically greater than ever. Yes, there are lots of bilingual sites out there, but I would never accept a literal translation from a site that showed signs of having been written by a non-native (if, for example, all the verbs at the ends of the subordinate clauses were). I might, cautiously, accept a non-literal translation: if a French doctor has written "buffalo hump" for bosse de bison, that might just indicate, however bad the rest of the English, that he knows that the correct term is not the literal "bison hump."
I use a modified form of this rule when researching the names of things in the international domain, only trusting international sites. Too often I have found that when researching French terminology relating to an international organization, for example, national French, or Canadian, or North African sites will have it slightly wrong. (Usually in those "little" words). The only way to be sure is to stay with the sites of the international organizations themselves. But even that may be no more than 95% foolproof: I recently saw a webpage of an international organization (no, I'm not going to say which one—I might want to work for them one day!) which had two different versions of the name of a treaty on the same page! Gasp, shock, horror.
Translating techniques: Putting a translation aside for some time before doing the final read-through is probably common practice for most of us, but I have my own refinement on it. If at all possible, I will leave any translation alone for 24 hours before finally reading it through, and the really important ones I don't look at until the end of the day, with the evening's first glass of wine. For other colleagues it might be a really good cup of coffee, or one of those special cigars—whatever your poison. The point is to be sure that, relaxed and settled down and out of my working mode, I can still find pleasure in reading what I have created. If not, the translation still needs work.
If the buzz is there, we're done!
Continue to Other Creative Work.