When you say you’re a translator, the next question you almost always get is “Ohhh, which language?”. It’s what springs to mind when most people think of translation (apart from booths and microphones and thinking on your feet, but that’s for another post). And of course, languages are an obvious core aptitude for a translator.

However, a less evident though equally crucial skill is the ability to research effectively. A significant slice of your time (unless you’re an absolute expert in the field in question) is spent browsing specialist websites, glossaries, dictionaries and terminology databases (in addition to a healthy dose of general Googling) to locate either the meaning of a term, a date, a name or the contextual or historical information necessary to produce an accurate translation. It’s one of the lovely aspects of the job and it can be really quite illuminating – sometimes inadvertently. With experience, a translator becomes adept at quickly pinpointing the needle of necessary information in the haystack of available data and, as a bonus, such research often leads to the acquisition of much weird and wonderful knowledge that can add a real element of fun and fascination to the translator’s job (or at least make them go “ooh, well I never!”).

To find out more, I conducted a quick “Top 10” survey to find out what gems or surprising nuggets of information some of our in-house translators had unearthed in the last week, and they provided some great examples. For instance, did you know…?

  • An 18th century Italian glass blower created a new material called aventurine when he accidentally dropped a sliver of copper into some melted glass
  • There’s something called Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) which is caused by excessive use of power tools and can make your fingers turn white
  • Astronomers believe that all meteorites originate from a single celestial body that exploded hundreds of millions of years ago
  • There’s a musical light show in the park grounds of the Museum of Watchmaking in Switzerland that bursts into colour and sound every quarter of an hour
  • There’s an on-board vehicle system that automatically contacts the emergency services in the event of an accident
  • Over the course of the English football season, 380 Premiership matches are watched in 185 countries, in more than 730 million homes
  • In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the US Army in protest at the Vietnam war
  • There’s a cooking appliance that alerts you when it’s the perfect moment to flip your steak
  • There’s a charity event called the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride in which men in around 90 countries dress up in dapper clothing and ride classic motorcycles to raise awareness of prostate cancer and men’s health

plus a very long (some might say “heated”) office discussion recently about what to call the things that come out of a volcano…

Naturally, not all jobs are packed with fascinating facts, which makes it all the more lovely when you happen upon them during your work. And there’s a certain satisfaction, when you switch off your computer at the end of a long day’s translation, in knowing that you’ve expanded your general knowledge in the process.

Just try and resist the urge to run home and shout “Guess what I found out today…!”.

It’s a translator thing.