Zingterview with a translator: Matteo Bilardi

Two circumstances in my life saved me from the partial cultural oblivion that a world where I could not understand English would have been.


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This week, we’re interviewing Matteo Bilardi, Italian translator and student. He’s a freelance translator that works from home, and he likes translation technology. Most of all, he wants to go hiking with Zingword… you’re on the list, Matteo!

“Two circumstances in my life saved me from the partial cultural oblivion that a world where I could not understand English would have been.”

Zing: Let’s begin at the beginning. How did you become multilingual?

Matteo: I was born and still live in a medium-sized city in the south of Italy. Here, the average person tends to have a much worse relationship with foreign languages compared to other places. Nonetheless, two circumstances in my life saved me from the partial cultural oblivion that a world where I could not understand English would have been. Firstly, a key role was played by my parents, who insisted that I studied it with native English teachers independently from school. The second factor, and probably the most life changing one, has been an intense love for the web as a place where a concrete influence can be made. This is what really motivated and, in a sense, compelled me to learn English.

The process of doing so (which, by the way, never stops) before becoming a translator, happened mainly in two ways. In part, it was brute studying which had to be done while moving the first steps. After gaining some momentum, though, everything became immensely easier: helped by the web, a lot of English movies and books, and an intense eagerness to comprehend, I became proficient enough to translate real texts. And here I discovered a third and beautiful way to really get to understand language: translating it. That is because the research needed for every text at hand continually brings to a deeper level of understanding.

“Content that deserved to be read, interacted with, and used by anyone, just wasn’t because of the barriers posed by language.”

Zing: How and/or why did you become a translator? (and do you suck the life out of words for immortality purposes or to pay the rent?)

Matteo: I’m not completely sure how the idea I could be a translator came to my mind. In the last 2–3 years I have gotten a lot better at understanding my current source language so I guess that must have made an impact. It’s possible, though, that it came about when I was watching a quite valuable TED talk.

I remember wanting to share it with a monolingual friend of mine who really needed it at the time, and couldn’t do so as they would have not understood a word. Things like this started happening to me with fair regularity: content that deserved to be read, interacted with, and used by anyone, just wasn’t because of the barriers posed by language. The fact that I could break those barriers is what got me considering the translation industry.

Zing: How much of a coincidence is it that you ended up on this path? How much of a choice?

Matteo: I acquired the necessary skills to start translating in an incidental way as the objective was to speak in English rather than translating from it. Really trying to be a translator, though, was a totally conscious choice — neither people nor circumstances forced me to.

Zing: Is life everything you thought it would be, and more? What did you think it would be?

Matteo: Well, I always thought life was — and would have continued to be — extremely hard. And in this, I was not disappointed. Still, life is in much more diverse than I thought it would be. The variety of people, experiences, and ways to achieve goals is infinitely greater than what I had previously imagined.

Zing: What is it you love about your lifestyle as a translator?

Matteo: The freedom, as pointed out by many freelance translators, can be a great factor, and it’s indeed one I love deeply. However, the fact that you are not forced in the short term to work N number of hours a day in a generally low distraction environment as an office is, can be a double-edged sword requiring you a lot more discipline.

That said, it is also incredibly liberating and generally a lot more fulfilling. Another perk of the lifestyle as a freelance translator that I love, is interacting directly with who’s paying. It makes satisfying your clients needs much easier and straightforward compared to working in a typical office where it’s generally less likely for you to interact directly with clients.

Zing: What was your darkest moment as a translator?

Matteo: Actually, I haven’t faced a seriously dark moment yet. It might be because I have just recently started to work as a translator. Or maybe because I find translating quite rewarding on an emotional level. I do know, though, that dark moments do come sooner or later in almost everything we try to achieve, I just hope I’ll be ready to face them.

Zing: If you listen to music while working, what’s on your speakers lately? Spotify links or youtube links are much appreciated 😉

Matteo: I generally don’t listen to music when working as even purely instrumental one distracts me quite a bit. On the opposite, I’m always in search of complete silence when deep concentration is required. However, this may not apply to everyone so I recommend you to give music a try to boost your productivity.

Zing: If you had a magic wand and a pointy hat that actually worked, what would you change about the translation industry or your working lifestyle?

Matteo: I’d love to make the days longer in order to allocate more of my time to work. Being a translator *and* a full-time student is sometimes hard with 24 hours to work with.

Zing: What are you doing at home or in the office to be more productive?

Matteo: In my experience, the best way to increase productivity is to completely remove distractions, not just to ignore them with the force of your discipline (which might seem good enough when really is only requiring you more unneeded effort), but to remove them completely. An example would be — especially if you’re working at home — to stop people from entering your room to take that thing, or to ask you that small favor which inescapably interrupts your concentration. Another tip that both me and Elena Tereshchenkova, also a “Zingterviewed” translator, have found useful, is the Pomodoro technique. Elena explains what it’s all about in her own Zingterview (http://zingword.com/blog/zingterview-with-a-translator-elena-tereshchenkova).

Zing: Tell us about the weirdest thing you ever translated.

Matteo: An ad about a gadget giving electric shocks to provoke — supposedly – erotic pleasure… Learning that something like this existed was a surprise on its own!

Zing: What’s the best question that we didn’t think to ask?

Matteo: Since you’re in the process of developing a CAT tool (and a free one at that), I think a really useful question to ask the translators you interview would be: “How can we help you work more efficiently? What would you like to see from our CAT tool?” In my case, I’d love to see a tool that can work effectively on both desktop and mobile devices as being able to translate anywhere (e.g. while you are commuting or travelling and don’t necessarily have a laptop with you) would be great.