Motivation and de-motivation in a government translation service: a diary-based approach

Brian Mossop

School of Translation, York University, Toronto, Canada

14 Monteith Street, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 1K7, Canada

Brian Mossop is a Certified Translator, recently retired from the Canadian Government’s Translation Bureau. He is the author of some 50 articles in Translation Studies journals as well as the widely used textbook Revising and Editing for Translators (3rd edition, Routledge, 2014). He leads revision workshops for professional translators in Canada and abroad and teaches revision and editing at the York University School of Translation in Toronto.

Motivation and de-motivation in a government translation service: a diary-based approach

The article discusses events that motivated or de-motivated one translator working in a government setting over a period of two weeks, based on a diary. The disadvantages of diary-keeping are discussed, as are its possible advantages over questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. The diary entries are compared to lists of motivators and de-motivators prepared by two translators four months before the diary was started.

Keywords: motivation, translators, workplace, government, institutional translation, diary



What motivates, and just as importantly what de-motivates translators in a government translation service? I worked as a salaried translator in the Canadian federal government’s Translation Bureau from 1974 to 2014, and in this article I shall be looking at what motivated and de-motivated me during two weeks in March and April 2013, based on a ‘motivation diary’ which I kept over a period of six months.


The historical, social, political, economic and legal frameworks within which the Translation Bureau operates are discussed in detail in Mossop (2006). I occasionally refer to these frameworks here, but the task of systematically relating the subjective states reported in the diary to these larger forces is beyond the scope of a journal article. As a result, my discussion of the diary entries does not qualify as ‘autoethnography’.


In speaking of motivators, I am not referring to my reasons for becoming a translator in the first place, or continuing to work for the same employer; nor am I referring to things that might prompt me to increase productivity for the benefit of my employer or clients, or to do a good job rather than the minimum I can get away with. By ‘motivators’, I mean events or background conditions that make me feel that I am doing something socially useful, that I am engaged in a joint project or that I am realizing my potential, as well as events that give me a sense of enjoyment or intellectual accomplishment. ‘De-motivators’ are events that have the opposite effect: make me feel I am doing something pointless, not using my abilities, and so on. When it came time to analyse my diary entries, I noticed that not everything which fails to be motivating is necessarily de-motivating, and vice versa; as a result, I have occasion to refer to ‘non-motivators’ (things which my employer intends to be motivating, and may well motivate others, but do not motivate me) and ‘non-de-motivators’ (things which are not de-motivating for me, though I know they are for others or might be for me in the future).


I did not review the extensive literature on work motivation from the field of industrial psychology, or borrow models or methods from it. Within Translation Studies, the only work I found that was centrally concerned with translators’ motivation dealt with non-institutional translation: the volunteer sector (Mesipuu 2012; McDonough Dolmaya 2012; Olohan 2014) and the literary translation sector (de Jong 1999). Almost all this research concerns motives for volunteering, and it relies on questionnaires (Olohan draws on blog entries). For example McDonough Dolmaya (2012, p. 180-87) asked volunteer Wikipedia translators to pick from a list of possible motivators (in the sense of reasons for participating in the Wikipedia project) or add their own, and to identify the most important motivator. A feature of this research, perhaps because it deals mainly with the volunteer sector, is that it has much to say about motivation (especially the distinction between intrinsic motivators like enjoyment and extrinsic motivators such as peer recognition) but not so much to say about de-motivation (though Olohan (2014, p. 29) points out the need to look into reasons why initial enthusiasm may fade).


Translators who work in an institutional setting and specifically a large government bureaucracy no doubt have different motivators and de-motivators from volunteers, freelances and employees of translation agencies or small corporate translation departments. As far as I have been able to determine, there is no research devoted specifically to motivation in government translation services, though several studies by Koskinen (2000, 2008, 2009) do devote a fair amount of attention to the subject. Koskinen worked in the European Commission’s translation service in 1996-97, and was able, through questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, to elicit information related to motivation.



Diary-keeping differs from questionnaires and focus groups in that, with diaries, thoughts can be collected over many months, rather than just the 30 minutes during which a questionnaire is filled out or the 2 hours during which a focus group meets. In addition, one might expect that the thoughts expressed in diary entries will differ from those expressed in questionnaires or focus groups because the entries arise from a particular event on a particular day in the workplace, rather than from an abstract question (what motivates me?). The very concrete starting point of each entry might trigger detailed reflections, either about background conditions or about other events that are brought to mind by the event occasioning the entry.


In preparation for a panel discussion at a conference on institutional translation[1] four months before I decided to keep a diary, I drew up, off the top of my head, a list of personal motivators and de-motivators. Just before leaving for the conference, I asked a colleague[2] who works in another unit of the Translation Bureau to jot down and email me a list of her motivators and de-motivators. One aim in using a diary was to see how these two lists would correspond to the diary entries.


I kept a diary for one week in each of the six months from March to August 2013; the entries were handwritten in a telegraphic style, expanded here for clarity. At first I created a page with an entry for each hour of the day, but I immediately discovered that not enough events occurred in a day that prompted an entry. I decided on one entry for the morning and one for the afternoon, under three headings: good (motivating), bad (de-motivating) and ongoing (negative or positive background factors, discussed below). Initially I arranged for a reminder box to pop up on my screen at 11 am and 3 pm, but I decided that this was artificial and that I should only make an entry if an event was striking enough in itself to prompt an entry.


The upshot was entry boxes for 6 weeks, 5 days a week, twice a day, under the three headings described above, for a total of 180 possible entries. However a majority of the boxes are blank because nothing prompted an entry. In the first week, for example, out of a possible 20 entries in the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ columns, there are only 8. Clearly there is no point in a quantitative analysis of the diary entries, but that would be so even if I had kept a diary every day for a year: the fact that six motivating things and three de-motivating things happened in a certain week does not mean that I was more motivated than de-motivated that week, for what counts is the unquantifiable impact of each event, not the number of events. In describing the events, I shall sometimes use an adjective to indicate their impact: a mild de-motivator, a major motivator.


The diary method has two obvious defects. Because it is based on events, it probably does a bad job recording both background conditions and non-occurrences. Something which does not happen can be motivating or de-motivating. However such non-happenings only got recorded when something which did happen made me aware of them. For example, one day I received an email congratulating all members of the work group I belong to for a project, but I had played no role in that project. This was not in itself de-motivating (it fell into the above-mentioned ‘not motivating’ category) and would normally not have been recorded, but its arrival reminded me of a non-occurrence: no recognition[3] had come for another recent project on which I had worked very hard. The congratulatory email was therefore entered in the diary that day, but in the list of de-motivators!  


As for background conditions, these are things which are present (or absent) every day over a long period of time. They will only be recorded if they change or if an event makes me think of them (and I would then enter them in the ‘ongoing’ column). I derive ongoing enjoyment from the act of composing text, but this is not an event unless I have a eureka moment and find the perfect way of putting something (a motivator because it gives a sense of intellectual accomplishment), or unless most of a text is available in Memory so that there is no opportunity for composing my own sentences (a de-motivator unless the text is really boring and not very important, since Memory then lets me complete it quickly and move on to something else).


Background motivators and de-motivators

On the subject of background conditions, here are some which I find motivating (or not de-motivating): good pay and benefits; access to suitable work tools; a window seat with a nice view in a workspace bigger than a shoebox that is suitably heated in winter and cooled in summer; good access to rapid transit, a good cafeteria, and no unpleasant co-workers. Translation does take place in a human brain, but that brain is not suspended in a vat; it’s in a human being, so that physical comfort and non-work-related social interaction are important. Translators who work within big institutions have no control over these factors: you work in the location you’re told to work in and with whatever other people have been hired. As it happens, I am well paid, the benefits are generous, and I work in quite pleasant physical and social surroundings. If on one day there is a lot of distracting noise because some construction work is under way in the building, that is not de-motivating (in the sense of removing enjoyment) because I know that my workplace is almost always quiet.


Another important background motivator is that, despite the installation of Translation Memory at the Translation Bureau in 2008, I still have control over how I carry out the translation task. For productivity accounting purposes, a 20-word source-text sentence counts as 20 words if no 75% or better match is found in Memory, as 10 words if a 75-99% match is found, and as 5 words if a 100% match is found. This is not de-motivating for me because I am fast enough that I can ignore the Memory and compose my own sentences yet still meet my production target, as long as most of the source text elicits no hits in the Memory (which is usually the case). In the future, things could change if the number of hits rises, since that would mean I have to use the Memory-retrieved sentences, with the result that I would be editing those sentences rather than composing my own; my control over how I perform the translation task would thus be reduced. The word count credit for Memory hits could also decline, and the employer might take other steps to force use of the Memory rather than simply make it available, which would be a major de-motivator since control over my work is extremely important to me.


Finally, besides liking the activity of translating (ferreting out the meaning of source texts and composing wordings in the target language), I am also good at it, and this provides a good deal of motivating enjoyment.


Turning to background de-motivators: A good proportion of the material I am given to translate is extremely uninteresting, to the point where, upon arriving at work on Monday morning, I cannot remember the topic of the text I was working on the previous Friday. Also, depending on the government’s current policies, some of the texts take positions contrary to my own views, which I am spreading to new readers through translation (I am not a supporter of either of the political parties that have formed the government during my career)(see Koskinen 2009, p. 96-7 on translators’ identification[4] with the institutional employer). Furthermore, I must translate the texts I am given (which for the past 20 years have for the most part  been in fields which I would not have chosen myself) though in some cases I can reject a text (e.g. about the inner workings of jet engines) on the grounds that my subject-matter knowledge is so deficient that research would not allow me to do a good job. I must also revise work by contractors selected on the basis of the lowest bid, a requirement that holds across the government and is not within the control of the translation service. To make matters worse, a contract-winning translation agency may not have a sufficient number of native speakers of English and assign a translation into English to a native speaker of French, resulting in a need for tedious corrections of elementary grammar and vocabulary errors. Finally, although I must translate a certain number of words per year (an average of 2000 words in a 7-hour day), this is a ‘non-de-motivator’ because, with four decades of experience, I am very fast.


To conclude on background conditions, it’s possible that these are the key to motivation, and they may not be properly reflected in diary entries. On the other hand, it’s also possible that single events which make one aware of motivation or de-motivation are very important in one’s overall attitude to a job. Let’s now turn to these.


Entries for the week of March 11-15

The very first entry, for Monday morning March 11, notes that I am finally being asked to lead a workshop on revision, after 15 years during which my employer had stopped asking me to lead such workshops (apparently in order to save on the cost of travel from Toronto, where I work, to the capital city, Ottawa). This was a significant motivator, under the heading ‘realizing my potential’. Unfortunately this event made me think of another ability of mine which had not been used during the same period, namely translating natural science texts, which I used to enjoy immensely in part because I like natural science and in part because it used to give me a sense of doing something useful (contributing in a small way to the advancement of scientific knowledge). This de-motivator appears in the appropriate column for the same day, as does the fact that I was working on a very long administrative text, so dreary and repetitive that, according to the diary, I had to keep stopping and doing something else to relieve the boredom. (By an administrative text, I mean a text related to the internal workings of the civil service, such as the minutes of a health & safety committee meeting or an update on the achievement of a ministry’s objectives for a given year.)


As I worked on that dreary administrative document on that Monday, the thought crossed my mind (and I noted it in the diary) that I did not even know whether my translation was going to be read. Had the source text been sent for translation simply because someone thought an English version should be available ‘in case’ someone wanted to read it?[5] Unless someone eventually does read it, the effort has been wasted; I have not done anything useful.  Example: a press release for the official opening of a federally funded highway in a part of Quebec where practically everyone speaks French. Will any English-language media be present to read my translation? Or will they check the government’s press releases for that day posted on the web? Perhaps, or perhaps not, and that is the problem: I don’t know, and this uncertainty is to me a major de-motivator (a point also made by Koskinen 2000, p. 51, 2008, p. 94 and 2009, p. 105-7). With a good proportion of my translations, there isn’t really any practical way to find out whether they are being read, even if they are posted on a government website. However with other texts, I can be very certain of having readers, for example when a forestry research group requests a translation of an article from a Quebec forestry journal, or a member of the case management team at a penitentiary requests translation of a prisoner’s  file.


The entries for Tuesday, March 12 show four small motivators. First, a proofreader colleague helped me with a software problem, which gave me a sense of being part of a group project. Second, the staff had some laughs in the manager’s office while the new laptop for teleworking was being presented (on the relationship of laughter and motivation, see Koskinen 2008, p.118). Third, I had an email discussion with the director of the translation school where I am a part-time instructor, about an opportunity to teach a course in revision, an opportunity which I had been awaiting for several years and had finally arrived. Fourth, I relieved the ongoing boredom of the above-mentioned dreary administrative text by reading an article in the  Translation Studies journal Target. As it happens, reading the article reminded me that, unlike the first 20 years of my career, I was no longer being allowed time to write about translation; I have had to do that entirely outside working hours. Note that this entry and the preceding one are motivators related to my activity as a professional translator though not to my particular job in the government translation service, but they both played a motivating role on that day. One way I compensate for de-motivators is by taking initiatives outside work: accepting invitations to lead revision workshops both in Canada and abroad; writing articles about translation. I think of myself as ‘a translator’ rather than ‘a government translator’, and therefore I do not mentally separate my work in the government translation service from my teaching and writing activities.


The entries for Wednesday show two motivators. First, the boredom of the long administrative text from earlier in the week, the only text I had on hand, was finally relieved by a new, interesting text which offered some intellectual challenge. I quickly set the dreary text aside and began work on the interesting one. Second, there was a very quick response, from the person who had sent the interesting text, to my request for documentation, without which I would not have been able to proceed. This is not a motivator arising from within the translation service but from outside it; the behaviour and attitudes of the people who request translations can be motivating or de-motivating. For example, someone requests a translation, and when I email them a question the next day, I receive an automated reply telling me that they have left on holiday for two weeks and they have not provided an alternate source of information. The attitude toward translation that underlies this (rather frequent) behaviour is extremely de-motivating: many clients act as if translation is not an added value but a nuisance, or a commodity they purchase, like paper clips[6]. Also, much of the small amount of unprompted feedback I receive comes from clients who want to substitute their own dreadful literal translations for my well thought out wordings (on the motivating effect of feedback, see Koskinen 2009, p.104).


There are no entries in the diary for Thursday. On Friday, there are two small motivators—an enjoyable chat with a colleague and a reading of some materials related to the revision workshop (mentioned on Monday), which provided relief from the dreary administrative text to which I had had to return. There is also a significant de-motivator: my unit manager told me that she had received a complaint from the manager of the unit that had sent us the dreary administrative text; according to him, I was making too many requests for documentation. To me, this was unwarranted interference, from within the translation service, in my relationship with the requester of the translation.


Entries for the week of April 8-12

On Monday April 8, there are two entries in the ‘ongoing’ column. This was the second week of a new telework scheme and about half of the dozen translators in my unit had started working from home the week before. I was still noticing how quiet the office was, almost as if I were the only person there; the quiet had not yet become a part of the general background. Over the succeeding months, I came to find the absence of colleagues a negative background factor; I frequently walked around the office and encountered no one, and as a result I did not have a feeling of taking part in a group project. For me, electronic interactions are not a substitute for face-to-face encounters, and that is true even though I am not at all a gregarious person.


The second item in the ‘ongoing’ column, also not yet part of the background, was a reversion, effective at the beginning of April, to a much older system of objective-setting based on words produced per day over the course of a year. I won’t describe the new or old system here, except to say that over the course of my 40 years in the government translation service, there have been half a dozen different systems for calculating productivity. Such systems seem to be unavoidable in  large bureaucracies, obsessed as they are with quantification and endless reporting of results. Many translators in the government translation service have found insufficiently generous the approach to recording hours spent on ‘non-translation’ tasks (these hours do not count when one’s productivity is measured). This latter problem, mentioned by Koskinen as a major de-motivator at the European Commission (2008, p. 88), has not bothered me because I translate so quickly. However, I do find it annoying that, under the new system, I am supposed to ask the manager’s permission if I want credit for spending more time than a computer system has allotted me (based on word count) to revise another translator’s work (so annoying that I don’t bother asking!).

            There are no entries for Tuesday or Friday of the week under consideration. On Wednesday, the diary records as de-motivating a very complicated procedure for obtaining a password enabling me to encrypt secret texts for sending by email. And on Thursday, there was another complicated procedure to enable me to revise a text translated in another unit. Both these entries in my diary pertain to work in a huge bureaucracy, and the many small annoyances that creates.


The events recorded in the diary for the two weeks under consideration are shown on Table 1. Two de-motivating non-occurrences are marked with an asterisk.


It is noteworthy that a majority of the de-motivators are somehow related to the specific context of working inside a very large institution[7]. None of the de-motivators arise from within my work unit; they arise from the ministry (6,7) or from the translation service as a whole (all the others). Of the motivators, two arise from outside the institution (4, 5), three from interpersonal relationships (2,3,8) and one from a client (7), leaving only two attributable to the translation service (1, 6).


How are the entries in the diary related to the definition of motivators I gave at the outset (things that make me feel that I am doing something useful or realizing my potential or things that give me a sense of enjoyment or intellectual accomplishment, or of participation in a joint project)? In the motivators column, items 1 and 4 gave me a feeling of realizing my potential; items 3, 6 and 8 created enjoyment; item 5 gave a sense of intellectual accomplishment, item 7 gave a feeling of doing something useful, and item 2 gave a feeling of taking part in a joint project. In the de-motivators column, items 1 and 9 gave the feeling of not realizing my potential; item 2 gave the feeling of not enjoying myself; item 3 gave the feeling of not doing something useful; item 5 gave the feeling of not participating in a joint project; items 4, 6, 7 and 8 are all irritating bureaucratic processes that decreased a sense of enjoyment.


Now, are the entries in the diary related to the motivators and de-motivators which I mentioned during the panel discussion referred to earlier? The script I prepared for the panel discussion refers to my employer’s official mission[8] as mildly motivating in the sense that it’s pleasant to think that my translations from French to English make it possible for Quebeckers and other Francophones to work in their own language within the civil service. The script also refers to variety in text fields as mostly motivating (relief of repetitiveness, challenge of understanding new topics) but partly de-motivating (because the variety may take the form of a single text in a field unknown to me, and it’s sometimes hard to do a good job on such texts). It mentions service to clients as not motivating because there is no direct contact with them[9]; cash bonuses for high production as not motivating (my regular salary is perfectly adequate); and the advent of Translation Memory as de-motivating because I find the act of composing text enjoyable and thus highly motivating but Memory reduces the amount of composing work and tends to turn translation into a revision/editing exercise. Also listed as de-motivating in the script: the lack of choice about text fields; my employer’s treatment of translation into English as an afterthought (90% of the government’s translation work is into French); the fact that much of what I do is for the information of just a few people inside the civil service (as opposed to a large public audience); and the tendency of my employer since the mid 1990s to treat translation as a productivity-oriented business rather than a socio-cultural activity (for more on this, see Mossop, 2006). Finally a non-motivator (something which motivates others but not me): the translators who work into French may be motivated by the feeling that they are protecting French, since a great deal of what Quebeckers and other French-Canadians read is translation from English. The opposite does not apply: apart from the few French-to-English translators who work in Quebec, where English is influenced by French, English translators do not have a protection function.


The above panel-discussion motivators and de-motivators can be seen on Table 2; they are not listed in order of importance. Only two of the items on Table 2 are related to the diary items listed on Table 1: item 3 (no choice of fields) corresponds to diary de-motivator 1 (not given scientific texts); and item 7 (employer treats translation as business focused on productivity) corresponds to diary de-motivator 6 (yet another productivity recording system). In addition, item 4 (no direct contact with clients) is somewhat related to de-motivator 3 in the diary entries (no knowledge of whether translation will be read).


The low degree of correspondence may reflect the different methods involved: the diary entries of Table 1 were based on particular events over a period of ten days, whereas my panel talk was based on the question ‘what motivates me and what de-motivates me?’ and therefore perhaps inevitably dealt with ongoing background conditions. Also, the diary entries are fairly evenly balanced between motivators and de-motivators whereas my panel talk was heavily weighted to de-motivators. This was not deliberate, though perhaps subconsciously I focused on de-motivators because I knew the head of the government translation service was going to be in the audience!  


How similar was my list of motivators and de-motivators prepared for the panel discussion to the list I asked my colleague to prepare? Her list (again, not in order of importance) appears on Table 3; it is phrased in the first person plural, referring to the experience of her team of translators rather than just herself. Comparing Tables 2 and 3, one can see considerable overlap. The point about variety as both a motivator and de-motivator is identical. Management’s treatment of English translation as an afterthought is on both lists (not surprising, since this has been a commonplace among English translators since the early 1990s, when the old English Translation Division was disbanded and its members were scattered among combined English/French units). My list refers only once to the difference between English and French translation, whereas my colleague makes three separate points in this respect, all de-motivators. Both lists mention the fact that most readers are in-house rather than general public, and that there is no close contact with clients (though my colleague also sees this as an advantage).


Finally, some of the matters I have mentioned in passing in this article do not appear either in the diary entries or on the lists which I and my colleague prepared. For the sake of completeness, these are shown on Table 4; they are mostly background motivators and de-motivators.



Obviously one could not draw any general conclusions about motivation from one person’s diary entries, even if they covered a much longer period of time. Similar diary-keeping by many other government translators (especially ones younger than me!) would be needed. The diary-keeping procedure I used was simply my own invention for the purposes of this article; others would have to try it, or a variant of it, in order to pinpoint its advantages and disadvantages more carefully, though there is no need to have a fully validated methodology before one can say anything worthwhile about motivation. The exercise did suggest the potential of diaries as a supplement to questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. Diary-keeping can elicit detailed thoughts, including comparisons with the past, that are triggered by an actual event in the workplace, whereas questionnaires and interviews rely on abstract questioning to trigger thoughts. It would be interesting to compare the results of diary-keeping with the answers to questionnaires by a group of translators in a single workplace, with respect to the proportions of motivators and de-motivators, the proportions of background conditions and event-related matters, and the specific motivators and de-motivators mentioned.



de Jong, E. (1999). The impact of motivation on the career commitment of Dutch literary translators. Poetics, 26, 423-37.


Koskinen, K. (2000). Institutional Illusions: translating in the EU Commission. The Translator, 6, 49-65.


Koskinen, K. (2008). Translating Institutions: An ethnographic study of EU translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.


Koskinen, K. (2009). Going Localised – Getting Recognised. The Interplay of the Institutional and the Experienced Status of Translators in the European Commission. Hermes, 42, 93-100.


Liu, C. (2013). A quantitative enquiry into the translator’s job-related happiness: does visibility correlate with happiness? Across Languages and Cultures, 14, 123-147.


McDonough Dolmaya, J. (2012). Analyzing the crowdsourcing model and its impact on public perceptions of translation. The Translator, 18, 167-91.


Mesipuu, M. (2012). Translation crowdsourcing and user-translator motivation at Facebook and Skype. Translation Spaces, 1, 33-53.


Olohan, M. (2014). Why do you translate? Motivation to volunteer and TED translation. Translation Studies, 7, 17-33.


Mossop, B. (2006). From Culture to Business: federal government translation in

Canada. The Translator, 12, 1-27.


Table 1: Diary entries for the weeks of March 11-15 and April 8-12, 2013


(1) asked to lead revision workshop

(2) colleague helped with software problem

(3) laughs in unit manager’s office

(4) asked to teach revision course at translation school

(5) article in Target read to relieve boredom

(6) interesting text arrives

(7) quick response from client

(8) interesting chat with colleague

De-motivators, incl. *non-occurrences

(1) *no longer given scientific texts

(2) long boring administrative text

(3) no knowledge of whether my translation will be read

(4) complaint from manager of other unit

(5) telework scheme makes workplace less inviting because almost empty

(6) yet another productivity tracking system; requirement to ask manager for time beyond what computer allots

(7) complicated procedure to get password for secret text encryption

(8) complicated procedure for revision of text translated in another unit

(9) *no longer given time to write about translation



Table 2: Panel discussion points



(1) my work allows Francophones to work in French

(2) variety in text fields creates interest


De-motivators and *non-motivators

(1) translations are often for just a few in-house people

(2) variety in text fields may make it hard to do a good job (with unknown fields)

(3) no choice of fields

(4) no face-to-face contact with clients

(5) Translation Memory reduces amount of composing work

(6) employer treats translation into English as an afterthought

(7) employer treats translation increasingly as a business focused on productivity

(8) *cash bonuses

(9) *no language protection function



Table 3: Colleague’s list of motivators and de-motivators


(1) texts are from many different fields  and most of them are interesting; ‘we can learn a lot, challenge ourselves’

(2) each of the many different clients has  only a small amount of work, so that ‘we are not pressured by large clients we are dependent on’

 (3) close relationships with individual freelance contractors rather than big agencies; ‘we rely on them and learn a lot from them’; ‘contributes to feeling of community’



(1) the variety of texts is so great that it creates an expectation that ‘we can do everything’

(2) we don’t know the clients, which ‘creates a feeling of alienation’

(3) employer treats translation into English as an afterthought, in part because the translations into French have a higher public profile (English translations are often for internal use by people who can’t read French); coordination of the work of the English translators is lacking

(4) computer tools are often designed on the basis of the way the French translators work, ignoring the differences in the way the English translators work

(5) unlike the case with the French translators, there are not enough subject-matter specialists (people with a bachelor’s degree in science who also know how to translate)  



Table 4: Other motivators and de-motivators

Motivators and *non-de-motivators

(1) *I control how I do a translation: the method of accounting for translations found in Memory does not (yet) interfere with control

(2) *construction noise in the workplace

(3) *I must translate 2000 words a day 

De-motivators and *non-motivators

(1) forced to revise outsourced work from contractors who made lowest bid

(2) texts take positions contrary to my views

(3) *letters of praise for texts on which I did no work; no letters for texts on which I did work

(4) complaints from clients who think my wordings should be replaced with their dreadful literal wordings





[1] Some of the papers from the conference (“Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism”) will appear in issue 59(3) of the journal Meta.

[2] My thanks to Ellen Garmaise for preparing a list.

[3] Recognition may come from managers, from clients or from peers. I find that only the latter is truly motivating, coming as it does from people in a position to appreciate what I have achieved. Recognition from clients I find motivating if it is very specific: ‘thank you for getting this item translated so quickly, well ahead of our deadline’. Recognition from managers is typically written in hackneyed phrases that leave me cold: ‘Brian is always ready to serve the client’.

[4] I myself identify firstly with the profession of translator and secondly with the particular segment of the civil service where I work (the Translation Bureau); I do not identify at all with the government services ministry (under which the Bureau falls) or the civil service/government in general.

[5] Some texts are translated because the constitution or a statute requires it, or a court has so ordered, but many translations are requested for other reasons. Koskinen points out (2000, p. 51) that sometimes the mere existence of a translation (into Finnish in her case) has symbolic value, affirming the equality of the small European languages, regardless of an absence of readers.  That does not apply to my own translations into English, though it may apply to the translations done by other translators for the English-speaking minority in Quebec, and this may be motivating for them.

[6] I have noticed no improvement in this attitude over the past 40 years. More amusing than de-motivating is the not infrequent provision by the client of a machine translation ‘which may assist you’. At least this shows an awareness that translation is not mechanical word replacement!

[7] In 2012-13, the last financial year for which final figures are available at the time of writing, my unit had 14 translators and 6 other employees; the Translation Bureau had some 1500 full-time employees (translators and others); the government services ministry had 12,000 employees and the civil service as a whole 280,000.

[8] “to make it possible for the Government of Canada to operate internally in both official languages and to communicate with Canadians in the official language of their choice”. The phrase ‘operate internally’ refers to the fact that about two-thirds of federal civil service positions have no bilingualism requirement, so that translation is required to enable unilingual French and unilingual English speakers to work together on government programs.

[9] During one year at the beginning of my career, I worked in the same building as the users of my translations (employees of Canada’s weather service) and regularly interacted with them in person, which was highly motivating. Since then, I have had practically no face-to-face contact with clients. They are just names on an electronic request form or an email; most live in other cities, and they keep changing. On the relationship between contact with clients (and end users) and translator ‘happiness’, see Liu (2013).