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International Translation Day: Three Personal Stories that Highlight the Brilliance of Translators

As the world marks International Translation Day, I’m filled with a sense of profound respect and immense gratitude for the unsung heroes of the world — translators.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve witnessed the remarkable skills and extraordinary lengths translators go to each and every day. Beyond their evident linguistic skills, they are keen cultural observers, empathetic communicators, and often, crisis managers.

Today, I’m going to share three impactful stories from my own experience that underscore why these professionals deserve not just our applause but our awe.

Turning a Lost Translation into a Chance to Connect

This story is from quite a number of years ago, but its effect on me left a huge impression.

Picture this: a client desperately needed a Greek-to-English certified translation for an urgent administrative matter.

Our Greek translator diligently processed the translation; the digital copy was delivered, but the hard copy was lost in the mail.

I received a call from an upset client who desperately wanted the hard copy.

Wanting to assist and realising the gravity of the situation, I personally contacted our Greek translator in Melbourne who suggested that I could come over to his house to pick up a freshly printed translation for the client and then hand-deliver it to the client, who was also in Melbourne.

I was prepared to quickly grab the document and go, yet what unfolded was an experience I hadn’t anticipated. Upon arriving, the translator welcomed me into his home.

Instead of handing me the translation and ushering me out, he invited me to sit down for a coffee and meet his wife. We engaged in conversations about life and I felt a deeper connection that transcended the professional boundaries of our relationship.

Reflection: This experience was an eye-opener. It humanised the often faceless, digital nature of our industry.

I saw a translator who went beyond his linguistic responsibilities, embracing the essence of hospitality and humanity. It’s moments like these that make me proud to be part of this incredible field.

Translators as Cultural Mediators

Years ago, I personally managed a complex project that required translating a large volume of occupational health and safety manuals from English to Spanish for use in Argentina.

The urgency was palpable, with both the volume and the deadline imposing considerable stress.

One day, our Spanish translator contacted me to discuss a content issue.

The document contained a cultural reference to cricket—a sport that would have baffled our Argentine audience.

She suggested that we substitute the reference to cricket with football, a sport that resonates deeply in Argentine culture.

This suggestion was accepted by the client who was grateful for going above and beyond.

Reflection: This incident highlighted an often-overlooked aspect of translation—cultural contextualisation.

Translators are not merely word-for-word converters; they’re localisers who ensure that the message aligns with the needs of the target audience.

This level of professionalism deeply impresses me and demonstrates the immense value translators bring to the table.

Rising to a Pandemic Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with an unparalleled task.

The Victorian Government enlisted Ethnolink’s services for translating crucial health information as part of the pandemic response.

This was no ordinary project — it was a high-stakes project that required coordinating over 150 translators to produce translations in 56 languages — almost daily for a significant period of time.

The dedication, adaptability, and professionalism displayed were awe-inspiring. Everyone knew what was at stake, and they poured their heart and soul into their work.

It was not just a job — it was a service to the Victorian community.

Reflection: What stays with me from this intense period is the collective sense of purpose that drove us.

The translators became frontline warriors in their own right, with each translation acting as a lifeline for non-English-speaking residents.

This exceptional commitment to community welfare is something I will carry with me forever.

Celebrating International Translation Day

These three stories encapsulate a critical message — translators are truly remarkable professionals.

They bridge gaps, break barriers, and bring us closer to our community.

So, on this International Translation Day, I’m celebrating not just the technical skill and finesse that translators bring to their work, but their boundless empathy, cultural wisdom, and a deep-rooted sense of community.

It’s these personal stories, my own and countless others, that remind us of the vital, multi-faceted roles translators play in our lives.

They are indeed the unsung heroes of our increasingly interconnected world, and today, we not only acknowledge their contributions but also celebrate the incredible human beings behind those contributions.

Today, I say thank you. Thank you to each and every one of our translators. I am grateful for your contributions to the world.

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