The Importance of Being a Technical Translator or How I Fixed my Turntable

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

There are two kinds of people: those who learn things by doing and those who read manuals and instructions, guides and leaflets. 

As I said, once a wise man told me the only way to really know how something works is to read the manual. I mean really read the manual. I wanted to take a course to learn and use Office they way I should, so I went to him and asked what he could suggest. Three words: read the manual.

As a technical translator, I dare say manuals are my bread and butter but at that time I wasn’t really convinced that anyone had ever read one of my translated manuals. I mean, who reads manuals? I had never read one before the wise man suggested me to do so. Knowing that I had an actual audience to my translations made me so happy and willing to help the readers understand any single step mentioned in work. I used to consider my technical assignments as some paper pusher’s activity, something you are never really knowledgeable about, something you can’t excel at because excellence belongs to Arts.

Have you ever found the difference between nuts, bolts and washers described in any translation book? Or ever taken an exam about assembly and production lines at University?

So, here is the First Principle of Contradiction of Technical Translation: you translate stuff you rarely know about and basically gain knowledge by doing.

Here is the story of how much I needed a well-translated manual and how much being a technical translator helped me fixing my turntable. 

The old guy, class ’67, same as the Apollo disaster and the execution of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, has never worked. Like, never. I bought it almost two years ago and still haven’t had the chance to use it to listen to one of my vinyls. 

First things first: find the manual. The manual provided for my Technics is a one-page manual, the Operating Istrunctions, in English, listing all the specifications and bragging about how good it works. According to it, plugging in the device should be enough to make it work fine and never have to face any problem with it for the following 50 years. 

Parts of a turntable

This is an X-ray of my turntable, yet the problem was far from being solved.  I like reading manuals, because I like disassembling things. 

Right after I got confident with turntables parts and terms in both English and Italian, my philology studies led me to think that a turntable should turn. And mine didn’t. 

According to Aristotle, Mimesis was essential to make a good tragedy. I know, but I haven’t had the heart to disassemble my turntable once again. The picture was stolen from

Thanks to previous experiences with things that never work (my motorbike is one of the finest examples of how things excalate quickly when you try to fix something) I knew that movement can be imparted directly, through idler-wheels or through a belt. Here we go. There was no belt inside my turntable. The belt was safely installed (yay! to my  opponens pollicis) and yet no sound was coming out. 

Once I had most of the electric part checked (buy a Multimeter and you’ll felle the urge to check every plug and wire in the house. Twice.) the tonearm became the main suspect. My lizard brain never fails me. 

No matter how good you are at reading manuals and at following instructions, no manual will ever tell you “Check twice before buying random stuff on eBay” . 

Note: the glossary only contains the terms mentioned in the pictures above. To download the complete glossary, wait for the next posts!