Never lost in translation

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously states: “own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag”. This wisdom holds no less true than for polyglot and world traveler, Simona Negroni. She shares what drives her passion for languages and nomadic literacies.


1. Tell me a bit about your background?

I’m originally from Milan, Italy. After high school I took a sabbatical in London, then in 2004, I started a BA in Applied Translation that enabled me to become a project manager in the translation sector. I briefly lived in Barcelona for a year working as a tourist guide. Following that, I returned to my translation career because I wanted to do graduate study, so I did a Masters degree in Scientific, Medical and Technical Translation at Imperial College London. You may wonder why that area of translation, well, that’s because my other interest is science and technology so I thought it would be a good combination of interests. I then went back into a project management role, this time for a media company doing movie subtitles, voice-overs and dubbing before I took the leap into freelancing.

2. What motivated your study and work in translation?

Since I was a kid I’ve always been in love with languages and then I developed a special affection for the UK and British English, particularly through movies, series, and music. I was in love with Britpop so I started learning the lyrics of the songs, listening to Liam Gallagher’s interviews and trying to decipher what he was saying so I thought it would be a nice job to be a translator. As a result, I thought I would go to London to study translation mainly to be able to travel the world afterward because I was thinking of being a freelance translator.

3. Salaried or freelance? Where do you find opportunities?

Translators have special websites such as where all translation projects are listed and you bid for the jobs. Secondary resources are direct clients, but as you can imagine it’s much more difficult to find them. That means you have to go out and look for them through networking events, conferences, and tradeshows specializing in your subject. Direct clients are best because they pay more. Lastly, you can register with a translation agency that can ensure you have a constant flow of projects.

4. In Nicole Kidman’s 2005 movie The Interpreter, it shows an exciting side of being a language expert. Is it nearly that intriguing?

I think it is, but I’m biased. We need to differentiate between the work of an interpreter and that of a translator. Interpreters translate oral language working at conferences or with clients who need someone to interpret for them. Whereas a translator works with written language, that is, documents, websites, movies, video games, etc. There can, of course, be blurring of these lines but the translator character is more solitary sitting in front of the computer whereas the interpreter role is seen as more glamorous because they travel a lot. However, I am both a translator and an interpreter. I always wanted to be an interpreter because I’m sociable and like socializing. That’s why after my masters, I completed a postgraduate course to be a public service interpreter in the UK. I love interpreting because you feel “useful” and necessary: without you, the two people cannot communicate, in the hospital for instance when the patient and doctor speak two different languages and without you, they cannot communicate, or during a trial. For sure, translators are more behind the scenes – you usually don’t see their names on books or for providing the subtitles of movies. Usually, the translator is invisible. As translators, we are fighting against this kind of anonymity because we deserve the credit.

5. What do you love about travel?

Travel allows me to engage new languages and cultures that way adding more languages to my portfolio since, as a translator, you only need passive knowledge of the language so that you can translate out of that language into your native tongue. This is very important to develop your business. Travel also gives me the chance to become another character – in every country, I can become someone else in terms of learning and assimilating nuances making me richer in life experience but also being able to share myself with the world.

6. Window, door or bridge? What are languages/travel good for?

For me, it’s a door because I can open a new vista on the world in terms of their culture, food, art, traditions, and folklore. It also implies entering as if through a door rather than merely observing as one would as a tourist.

7. What about you would surprise people?

I’ve never watched Star Wars but I plan to watch it at some point. I guess I’m into science but not science fiction.


You can reach Simona via LinkedIn for any projects of mutual interest.

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