February 2020
Text by Elke Schulz

Image: © Smartling

Elke Schulz is a freelance author and photographer with 15+ years of experience in the language industry. Her current photography project focuses on people and places in a remote rural area in Chile.




Order your copy of Move the World with Words at smartling.com/book or www.amazon.com

Format: A4

Price: $49.95

ISBN: 978-1-7334416-0-5 (Softcover) 

ISBN: 978-1-7334416-1-2 (ePDF) 

ISBN: 978-1-7334416-2-9 (ePub) 

ISBN: 978-1-7334416-3-6 (Audio Book)

Move the world with words

A book review on Smartling's Move the World with Words, published in September 2019

Every day millions of people click, swish and swipe on websites and apps without ever wasting a thought on the language they are using. But who are the people behind the scenes that breathe life into content and power the digital experiences that we consume every day? To shine a light on the translators who make all this possible, Smartling, a localization software and services company, published the book Move the World with Words in September 2019. The book is a joint effort between freelance author and photographer Elizabeth Brentano and editor Adrian Cohn, director of Brand Strategy and Communication, at Smartling.

Move the World with Words is a lovely book that takes you on a journey to explore the lives of a dozen Smartling translators who live in rural areas in Spain and France just as in bustling cities such as New York, Istanbul and Sao Paulo. Each of the twelve chapters is devoted to one translator, featuring photos and stories of this respective language artist. The translators share their views on translation and communication, technology, the Smartling platform and their freelance work. The photos bring to life the stories of the people, their homes and hometowns. The well-composed close-ups, portraits, and full-page landscapes and cityscapes provide a glimpse of the lives of the translators and reveal the humans behind the keyboards. The quiet, almost lyrical images capture hikes in the mountains, strolls through parks and cities, moments of family life and favorite pastimes such as cooking, dancing and making music.

With skill, talent and dedication, these language workers create words with meaning, give content its heart and move the world forward. Their interviews reveal that translation is not just exchanging one word for another. Apart from a thorough knowledge of the languages, you also need to be deeply ingrained in the respective cultures to capture nuances and choose words wisely. Many see it as an art form, but one where the artist remains invisible. Flavio, from Brazil, sums it up nicely when he states: “When done right, translations should be undetectable.” As an art form, translation is often compared to music. According to Taner from Turkey, “Language has many musical qualities; it has… harmony with words.” And he continues: ”Having a bit of a musical background helps produce translations that are not only accurate, but also sound good.” In fact, four of the featured translators have a strong musical background. Silvan from France even worked as an opera singer before focusing on translation, and Flavio, the “rock star translator” from Sao Paulo, uses the income from his translation jobs to support his career as a musician.

As different as their homes, lives and experiences might be, they are united by their passion for language and the way it connects people. Oana from France states it so well: “One of the best things about languages and translation is seeing, perceiving, and understanding the world through the eyes of those of other nationalities.” Translating “brings people together while praising diversity.”

All of the featured translators work as freelancers out of their homes. Due to the availability of the internet and the Smartling platform, they can maintain a flexible lifestyle. They are able to work remotely and can adjust their work hours to communicate with customers in different time zones or to accommodate family needs (in Silvan’s case even newborn twins). If they are traveling, they can schedule their work accordingly and work from any place that offers a viable internet connection.

As dedicated and talented language experts, they have nothing but praise for the visual context feature of the Smartling platform. This feature shows them the text that needs to be translated within its original context, which is extremely helpful for choosing the right words. They also appreciate the availability of glossaries as well as the real-time communication with customers. Both of these features allow them to work quickly and efficiently.

Most of the featured translators are not afraid that automated translations will replace humans any time soon. Flavio declares: “I believe there will always be a need for a human touch and a linguistic and cultural understanding of both sides of the translation.” And he adds: “While technology enables us to push the boundaries with sound and art, it will never replace songwriting and storytelling.”

Overall, this book is delightfully different. First of all, it exists as a physical book, published by a company that focuses on digital media rather than on real, tangible books. In addition, it highlights the human element at a time when AI and automated translation are the catchwords of the day. Although the demise of the freelance translator, who can’t compete with bigger LSPs, is a recurring nightmare within the language industry, this book celebrates the diverse community of freelance translators. Finally, at a time when we are flooded with sensationalist images on a daily basis, this book convinces with quiet, poetic pictures.

By showing the people behind the scenes and their dedication, skill and passion for their work, this book creates a personal connection to the translators and inspires trust in their capabilities. Artfully combining stories with pictures, the book provides the “whole picture”.

I enjoyed this book very much and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves getting to know the people behind the words and wants to gain a better understanding of the language translation process.