A Translator’s Surprising and Unexpected Hobbies

What do translators do in their spare time, you ask?

Beside stretching to work the crick out their necks to relieve the pressure points of the angel’s wings between their shoulder blades and to dull the ache in their lower backs, translators have many other ways to spend the very elusive (almost utopian) spare time he gets between tight deadlines.

When translators are not working, you will find them:


Yes, that’s right. Most translators are avid readers. Translators are on a quest to find their own version of paradise. Occasionally they find one sentence in a whole book that leaves them gasping in delight and makes their hearts skip a beat. Such findings fill them both with the hope that skilful writers are not a dead species and with the reassurance that some writers can still handle a pen (or a keyboard) the way Middle Ages elite warriors handled a sword: with dexterity, precision, strength, and efficiency.

Mentally Editing What They Just Read

Often, translators will read a sentence and have three or four synonyms lined up to replace the verb or the subject. Once done, they immediately translate it in their mind (sometimes also provide alternate wording), and then remember that they are not on the clock.

A professional bias? Of course not!


As if they had not done enough writing, translators must have a creative outlet and since they have good writing skills, they will give creative writing a shot as it certainly engages a different part of their brains. The bashful ones will write in their mother tongues; the daredevils will write in their second or third language.

When creative writing alone does not bring them a feeling of peace, they fall back on therapeutic writing. There is no better way to release stress, to get the dark vibes out of their system, and sometimes to step back far enough to find a solution or to make a decision.

Avoiding Parties Like the Plague

Translators are not renowned for being social butterflies. Although sociable, they have low tolerance for inaccuracy. Between the layman who cannot tell translation and interpretation apart to save his life and the drunken guests who forget to make the basic subject-verb agreements and sometimes even plurals, translators cringe and feel a bone-deep pain few can fathom. Parties are not fun;  sheer torture is what they are.


No, it is not what you think. It is out of necessity! They need to feed themselves and their family if they are lucky enough to still have one, and preparing nutritious meals in advance will save precious time the next time – which is most likely very soon – they are working on a tight deadline.

Catching Up on Chores

Do not laugh! This is like cooking: you do it when you can because you never know when you will have time to do again. It could as easily be next week as it could be in three weeks. Moreover, it gives translators some much-needed physical activities.

Translators whose multitasking skills are well developed will execute and complete some chores throughout the week by sparing a few minutes here and there when taking a very short health break. It is not rare that folding laundry and putting it away become a five-minute workout.


How could I forget this one? Sleep is as scarce a commodity as an exceptionally well-rounded sentence is. Most of the time, sleep eludes translators either because of a brain that will not shut off or because the 8,000-word document they  received only 48 hours ago needs to be translated, revised, and proofed by 8 a.m. the next morning.

Few people know this, but translation is mentally exhausting. Most translators work on autopilot and spend only short periods of time thinking about what they are doing or solving a problem. Translators focus, process, analyse, assess, transpose, revise or proof for as long as they work. They constantly process two languages, follow two distinct linguistic codes and rules, and summon enough memory, knowledge, and creativity to write a target text.

Disconnecting Any Way They Can

Self-explanatory, don’t you think? Disconnecting, just so you know, is not easy for translators. Most of them carry the masochist gene and will feel guilty if they do something other than translate, even if they don’t have a translation contract to work on. Doing these tasks often becomes like second skin; it becomes what they normally do. However, if they can get over it, they might choose a hobby that does not require a lot of sustained cerebral activity.

Why are translators so disorganized they cannot keep a normal and predictable work schedule, you wonder?

Translators are not disorganized creatures; in fact, they are extremely organized! Why then?

  • Most people think, “How difficult can this job be? All they have to do is read and write.” Translators who are  worth their salt will invest the time to do a great job and this means researching, double-checking, addressing all doubts about grammar, terminology, and the writer’s intents.
  • The translation process is not given its due respect as this step is not always time-budgeted properly. Often, translators get a final document (let’s say a 30-page report of 12,000 words) and are given (for the sake of this example) an unreasonable amount of time (48 hours) to hand back the translated version because the ultimate deadline is set at the end of the said time.
  • The author still edits the original document while the translator works on a translated version. Such practice lengthens the translation process as it requires the translator to compare both documents and revise his or her translation, and end up either having more work to do or having worked for nothing.

So, whenever you meet a translator, remember that a smile and kind gesture will go a long way in making their day brighter. Make them smile or make them laugh and you will have a friend for life!



There are myriads of professions that require a constant and prolonged level of cerebral activity. Many persistent misconceptions still surround this trade and, hopefully, this blog shed some light on the reality many freelance or in-house translators live in.

Some translators are better than others at living a balanced life.

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