On being a beginner

Here’s a quick burst of inspiration for beginning and aspiring translators. I haven’t been a translation beginner for a long time, but over the past couple of years I’ve had the urge to learn a new musical instrument. I played piano for lots of years as a kid (but never loved it) and then I played a little recorder when we lived in Boston. A few months ago, we went to a lute concert and I was completely hooked: what a cool instrument. Plus it’s portable, unique, and lends itself to playing with other people. So, as my end of year bonus, I got myself a lute and lute lessons.

But first, I stressed out. I’m 42, I’m not a naturally gifted musician, I don’t really improvise or play by ear, I’ve never played a string instrument, and on and on. And then, a translator friend who’s a very accomplished recorder player said this: Look; every musician was once a beginner. No matter how good they are now, they once picked up that instrument for the first time and gave it a shot. So why not you? And that struck me as very simple but very profound: right, why not me?

Flash forward a few months, and now I can actually play the lute a little. Better yet, I love it. It is seriously fun and a really great outlet when you’ve been reading and writing all day. So then, my recorder-playing translator friend suggests that I go play some duets with a friend of hers who plays the viola da gamba. Sounds fun, but again I stress out. I get to the friend’s house with my lute, and immediately start explaining my real and perceived deficiencies (I’ve had five lute lessons, I’m not a naturally gifted musician, I can’t play by ear…stop me if you’ve heard this before). And the friend laughs, and says that she’s been playing viola da gamba for thirtysomething years, and she doesn’t improvise or play by ear,  and she enjoys encouraging beginners, so let’s just get out some easy music and try it, and have some fun. And guess what, I could actually sort of play a super easy duet with her and have it sound like music, and it was really fun.

So here’s the takeaway for translators: every single person in this industry was once a beginner. Even if today, someone like Chris Durban is (as I call her, much to her chagrin) the Michael Jordan of freelance translators, she once sat down to do her first translation, to see if she was any good at it. Even the Officers and Board of ATA once walked into their first ATA conference and thought “Maybe I’ll just head for the exit rather than face this crowd of strangers.” If the “big names” in the industry can make it, why not you?


PS: If you’ve never encountered a lute before, here’s what it looks like! This is me playing “The Holly and the Ivy” at our Christmas Eve house concert.

17 Responses to “On being a beginner”
  1. Carolyn Yohn January 16, 2014
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    • Corinne McKay January 16, 2014
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