We Translate Concepts, Not Mere Words

María Marta Semberoiz is an Argentine translator/editor/mother-of-three/amateur philosopher/rock-music fan.

She shares with us here a small part of her story as a language expert with this light tone that makes you want to keep smiling.

What inspired you to become a translator?

My grandmother was a translator, and I grew up with her stories of happily working from home, enjoying languages, and pursuing communication—and her passion rubbed off on me. Many years have gone by, tools have changed, and timeframes have narrowed. Yet the essence remains—our shared love for the translated word as a means to break down barriers and to level the playing field for everyone. This is my driving force.

What’s your favorite citation about translation or language in general?

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian-British philosopher, 1889–1951

So true… so this is where we, translators, come into the picture to help to broaden people’s worlds!

Who do you look up to as a role model?

I have many role models, but here I want to pay tribute to Mafalda, our world-famous Argentine comic strip character, who once wanted to become an interpreter for the UN to bring peace to the world by altering the delegates’ messages, like this:

“When I grow up, I will work as an interpreter for the U.N.”
“and when a delegate says to another ‘Your country is disgusting!’, I’ll translate it as: ‘Your country is charming!’… and then, who will want to fight?!”

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about being a translator?

One big misconception is that the translation never matches the quality of the source text; however, many times, the opposite is the case. Another serious misconception is that translators are mere bilingual dictionaries; our task is completely different: we do not translate words; we translate concepts, ideas, and sometimes even whole cultures. This is why human translators can be aided by machines but never totally replaced by them.

What lessons have you learned through the crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Laughter and kindness are signs of bravery and our most powerful weapons.

What do you love most about being a translator?

My freelance profession allowed me to be a 24-hour translator and mother-of-three simultaneously—never missed a ball game! 🙂

A final word?

End. 😀 (Sorry, couldn’t help it)


María Marta Semberoiz is a freelance translator on Seekncheck. She is specialized in international cooperation, finance, economics, and education. Contact her through her Checker profile.