Translator Cultural Realities and Self-Care

Hi everyone

I’m wondering how people react to the work they are translating and the cultural realities our work expose.

At the moment I am translating something, that has shocked me to my very core. :scream: I wasn’t expecting it when I took on the task, (and I’m able to complete the task), but in the process of translating I have learnt things about how horrific gender violence can be in Chile. I read things that are beyond belief. :nauseated_face: To be honest, it has upset me, not that I’m able to do anything about it (I’m a sensitive soul). :pensive:

I only returned to translating a couple of months ago, so I would like to ask if any of you more experience translators have had similar situations?
How do you cope with this?
How do you switch your brain off from these horrific things you have learnt are happening on the other side of the world?
How do you look after yourself when you have all this knowledge?

I would love to hear your responses.



Hi @Avellana, thank you so much for your honest message :heart: This is such a great question and I’d definitely be interested in hearing everyone’s ideas too :slight_smile: For my part, (although not as an experienced translator!) I switch off with lighthearted TV, books and podcasts. Sometimes it’s just the little things :wink:


Hi Hazel, thank you for this very interesting topic! We had a very similar discussion with a few more colleagues in 2019, and I am tagging @Manuel who surely remembers this.

The discussion rotated around two main questions:
1. What’s appropriate and what’s not?
At TWB, we define eligibility for partners (who can work with us and who can’t), but we don’t have concrete eligibility criteria for documents, only a few guidelines. In a way, this is positive because it gives us some flexibility to decide on what kind of documents we want to work on, however, this could become more problematic as we grow and deal with more potentially traumatic materials, precisely as the one you are pointing out - and speaking of which, could you pass me the link to the project? It would be great if translators felt free to flag what they consider inappropriate or simply traumatic content, but at the same time we should come up with some guidelines or training on how to identify potentially traumatic content, make sure that translators understand TWB principles, know what might be inappropriate, how to flag it, and how to seek support.

2. How should we support our volunteers?
We’d like translators to have the option to give feedback (either positive or negative) or flag any materials they see in our platforms (and not only if they are working on the text). We could use that to trigger a follow-up mechanism whereby someone gets in touch to offer further support or guidance (email, survey etc). We recognize that our staff doesn’t have the bandwidth nor the skills to offer emotional support, so maybe we could find someone externally who could offer relevant guidance/support to our translators when needed.

While I recognize that at the moment is unlikely that we will manage to get this started, it would be interesting to hear if other translators had the same experience you had. If someone would like to share their experience, they can also do it anonymously and email from their email address or a different one.


Hi @Avellana,

I haven’t translated anything at this ‘tensed’ level, but I feel I wouldn’t be uncomfortable and really sad about it. But I guess these are one of the challengers as translators we end up facing, sooner or later, in our profession, right?
But as @JoannaW said in here, I think it depends on us, if we want things to affect us or not - for examples, the news on TV. I always watch it because I like to be informed, as well as reading them on the Internet, but there are times I just turn off everything, put my mobile in the ‘no disturb’ mode and switch on my Netflix or grab a book and just try to filter and relax.


Hi Hazel,

This is a very important topic indeed. I have been translating for over twenty years and I have translated sensitive topics as well. In other professional contexts, such as field humanitarian action, where I have also worked as an interpreter, there may be teams of professional experts who deal with dissociating work from the emotional impact certain situations may cause. However, on a daily basis, this is not necessarily the case for freelance translators working from home. Therefore, it is very important to bear in mind that your contribution is very valuable and at times vital. Integrating in your work the general humanitarian principles or other more specific ones, and adhering to these will help you remember that part of your task is to focus on the message you are conveying because this can ultimately be precious in complex violent settings. Therefore, focus is fundamental. It is also important to take breaks from time to time, especially when you really feel you cannot continue translating. I hope that sooner than later you will be able to cope with sensitive assignments.