Translator, kindly step into my dungeon, I have a project for you… 99

A news item that has been commented on and shared widely recently had to do with eleven translators who spent nearly two months in an underground bunker in Italy, translating Dan Brown’s latest novel for simultaneous release in different languages.

You will of course be expected to perform the translation on our proprietary platform. It can take a while to learn to use it correctly.

“You will of course be expected to perform the translation on our proprietary platform. It can take a while to learn to use it correctly.”

As the story goes, eleven translators from Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Spain worked long days, seven days a week, for almost two months in a high-security basement. They gave up their mobile phones, and their only Internet access was through a supervised communal computer.

Maybe it was to help ensure no spoilers were leaked before the novel’s release, maybe it was a gimmick, perhaps a combination of the two.

There are bunkers, and then there are bunkers...

There are bunkers, and then there are bunkers…

Let’s say you can choose the author or the book, and let’s say you will be handsomely rewarded for the work. Would you be willing to spend two months working in a secret bunker, with no contact with friends and family? Give your opinion in the poll on the right side of the screen, or in the comments section below!

99 comments

    • It all depends on the “handsome reward” lol. I would personally give it a go because it IS a unique experience, much like the Big Brother one. I am not sure if my husband would agree though lol.

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    • I was thinking the same thing…but if I could take my kids along (my 10 yr old daughter because she acts as if can’t live without me, and my 13 year old son, because he’d probably be too thrilled with the notion of me gone for 2 months) and they were kept busy and interested enough, I would love the opportunity.

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  1. I wouldn’t.
    It’s unhealthy and it potentially compromises the quality of the translation.
    Once a legal and binding agreement has been signed with the translators regarding the non disclosure of details and internet access is restricted, there is no reason why translators should not work in a proper and healthy work environment.
    Translators are professionals and not sweatshop workers (although in some cases better payed).
    7 days a week….is that even legal?

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    • I agree!
      The two questions are:
      1. Can money buy anything?
      2. You can’t trust my professionalism and integrity on non-disclosure?

      I think it is primarily marketing hype…

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  2. I think both for health reasons and to ensure high quality translation it’s much better to have regular breaks! Translators are not machines and after working long hours for days on end we can’t sustain the same quality of work as on the first day. I am sure they were very well-paid (or at least I hope so) but personally I don’t think I’d go for it…

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    • Yes, yes, yes Sara – although Illuminati wasn’t quite so enthralling. I’d JUMP at the chance to do nothing but translate for two months. No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no kids – I would miss my garden though and prefer to do it in Winter. What a fascinating borderline experience!

      ANY TIME!

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  3. I agree this would make the quality of the work questionable. If you can’t take a break from the job, you can’t see it with fresh eyes after being on a break.

    I would also be insulted that my professional integrity was being questioned by these conditions. Mind you, I suppose that the only people who would agree to this obviously value money over their quality of life, so they might well have squealed to the press for a million or so.

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  4. .If there were at least two translators per language, then I would hope they could work different schedules and stagger their breaks and days off. If that allowed translation to go on 7 days a week, I would understand. However, even prisoners in solitary in high-security prisons get an hour a day for fresh air and sunshine and some exercise. I hope they were provided adequate rest, sleep, and exercise breaks, as well as scheduled downtime. And that they had no family commitments and were making really big bucks. But I have a feeling the age group of translators who would leap at the chance to have that kind of experience would not be the same age group that seasoned, expert translators come from.

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  5. uuuuUUUUUUUUUuuuu Danny… you rules… uaaAAAAaaaauuu….
    And the next novel… that’s gonna be about the translation experience…. is it, isn’t?

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  6. It smells a lot like jury duty, and it reeks of forced labor. To my mind, the mere a priori working conditions are already placing stress and pressure on the translator. Plus, each individual has different working rythms, thought cycles. Not being able to see the sun or the rain, or communicate with your loved ones, whether they live with you or abroad, is definitely not my cup of tea. Plus, the necessary breaks to clear cobwebs from your mind and gain perspective are essential to any translation, the more so to a literary work. I would definitely run the other way.

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  7. If I were well-paid OF COURSE I’LL DO IT!!
    I’ve worked at international call-centers (Teleperformance, Teletech) for 6-8 months in the same conditions of no windows, no sun, no connection with the outside and BAD PAID… so how could I reject a chance to do translations??
    I’LL definitively DO IT.

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  8. Of course I would! That is exciting. I have done almost the same but the bunker is my home and the translations have been fat big boring contracts or international bids. If you have never worked in “similar” conditions, you might not have worked on large projects for international audiences that need to be delivered ASAP. Now then, how many of us have worked, for example, for the oil industry, where we have to go to the jungle (or similar places) to interpret in high-risk security operations? Many of us have… or in war zones… are you meaning to tell me that the only way translators and interpreters work is in comfortable 8-5 shifts? That is a very high-end Westernized version of translation and interpreting. I am always excited at a challenge and I know extremely professional translators and interpreters who would take this opportunity in a heartbeat. I think many in our profession are becoming complacent and spoiled.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly with you Claudia. I see no great difference between the “Italian job” and , for example, slaving 16 hours a day at an international conference in some hot and grisly part of the world, occasionally even with the threat of death hanging over you from your employer(s). I recall colleagues of mine doing some pretty dangerous assignments, for example, translating and interpreting all day and night in Bagdad at the time of Saddam and Chemical Ali. A character-toughening assigment and nobody came off the worse for the experience.!!!

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  9. No way in hell would I accept an assignment like this. It is highly unhealthy not to mention unproductive, and given the poor quality of the Spanish translation of his previous 2 books I doubt this will improve it any.
    I think this kind of regime is stifling, we all know how our quality drops when required to pull a 24hr stint or longer to meet unreasonable deadlines and that’s working in a translator friendly environment, this is not.
    That said, I understand why some translators might accept an assignment of this nature and I make no judgement of their choice, after all we are freelancers for a reason.

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  10. Well, I guess it would be nice to have co-workers for once instead of working alone at home…😛
    Jokes aside, the end product is probably poor, but Brown’s originals aren’t exactly Nobel Prize material, so…

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  11. If I could bring along the feline assistants, maybe. Not sure about having to share the bunker with other humans, though. Might be a deal breaker… 🙂

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  12. Never. There are far better things in life and more important than earning some money under the prison-like conditions.

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  13. I’d be thrilled at the opportunity, for several reasons:

    In all my 25+ years as a freelance translator I’ve only rarely (and not without problems) achieved that bliss when you can get completely immersed into a project, being **certain** that there will be no phone rings, no knocks on the door, no one yelling under your windows that you forgot to close the car roof and rain was coming, no unexpected developments or emergencies that you need to take care of, and no temptations to stop working “only to see the start” of that F1 race on TV (where you actually end up watching the whole race plus the news and some stupid movie, and then go to bed because you’re drowsy after having drunk meanwhile a couple of beers…). Heck, I wouldn’t even have to run to the store when I’m out of beer!🙂

    Indeed, two months seems a bit too long but I’d take the chance nonetheless. Aside from the “happy translating” side, might be interesting as one of those experiments where they seal several people down in a cave with no link to the outer world to see what happens. I’ve always wanted to take part in something like this but never had an opportunity. The good thing is that in the bunker there would be no language barrier: everyone would be speaking fluently the source language of the book.

    Furthermore, if it’s really about Dan Brown or a similar author, I’d expect extremely interesting discussions on the tricky parts of the text. It’s always amazing to see the minds of several people engaged simultaneously in decoding meaning and implications down to the finest detail; even more so if they all come from different cultures and backgrounds.

    Working 7 days a week is not a problem, I happen to do that anyway. Wouldn’t mind also a mandatory 60-70 working hours per week requirement – however, on the explicit condition that working time is completely floating; I’d comply with the clock only for meals and the probably regular daily discussion gathering, nothing else.

    Given all those interesting challenges, as well as the fact that I wouldn’t need to engage my mind with mundane everyday things, I probably wouldn’t be too exigent on the payment part: fair compensation, but wouldn’t expect to buy a Ferrari on that.

    As for being out of touch with family and friends, I believe the temporary discomfort would be compensated by the stories I’d be telling afterwards (real or invented… ;)) Well, maybe it’s easier for someone like me who doesn’t care much about Facebook and Twitter – but even if I was a devout online creature, I’d be foretasting the avalanche of “likes” that would come my way when I reappear and start sharing after such a lengthy and mysterious confinement…😀

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  14. Speaking for myself, if I am badly in need of money I will accept it. But doing it just for fun, I dont think I would be able to drag this more than a week.

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  15. I think we’re missing the real point here: these poor people have spent two months working on a DAN BROWN NOVEL! If that doesn’t qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment”, I don’t know what does.

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      • Yes, bad writing is hopeless.
        As a teenager, I studied at the French Lycée, and we had translation from Spanish into French as regular assignments. We were given some paragraphs from a widely acclaimed weriter here and I complained to my teacher that it was hopeless. He agreed.
        However, those hopeless novels in a very pedestrian style (if you can call it style) were translated into French by an excellent translator, and then went on to be translated into other languages, from the French. So it would perhaps ber best to read this Dan Brown person in French or Spanuish? You never know.
        Regards

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  16. OK so I shared this myself when it first came out a couple of weeks ago, but come on, hasn’t Dan Brown and his hype machine had enough atttention by now?

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  17. Well, this sort of job requires careful assessment.
    I fully concurr with INVGUY. All he says is the gospel truth! If the pay is excellent and the hours flexible, RIGHT ON! we work that way anyway and sometimes the pay is not so good, is it?

    No way if the novel is tripe, intellectual punishment is beyond payment, be it in gold and rubies..
    As for bunkers, don’t we all have our own nice little bunkers & feline assistants watching our every move from the top of the printer? Difficult to give my cat DotCom up! She might snub be on return!

    BUT, WATCH OUT!
    Sometime ago a firm of auditors here ( which I will not name to protect the guilty and myself) called for a group of translators to work for a month at their company offices. It was not exactly a bunker, but close. Once the translators were on, they were asked to do interpretation work for the same wages and no time off in between. Nice guys. Having a lawyer handy is always a good idea.

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  18. I’m astonished to see how many translators (according to the poll) are willing to work under prison-like circumstances. If I were the author I would forbid the translation of my work in that type of environment.

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  19. I can’t believe this is true! However, so many times the actual translation work we are assigned is so dull, so tedious, so low paying, and with insane deadlines, it is as if we are in a bunker as it is! I would love the experience of living with other translators working on an interesting project, and I am certain that IF it were secluded, it allowed for humane breaks. so, YES!

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  20. A pretty bunker with fresh air and plants, good food, exercise opportunities and a six-day week working on an interesting project for more than enough pay – remember, you would have to ditch / put on hold ALL your other loyal clients, so the compensation must be more than fair or else its business suicide – that I could agree to.

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  21. the translation of the bible to greek by a group of jews in a bunker like building in alexandria, how was it called? the septuaginta?

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  22. Yes, I would participate. I like well planned projects with clear goals, the more so that they pose a real and unique challenge.

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  23. Certainly, this kind of work conditions have their own rewards such as immersion as one commenter has put and, in case of handsome payment, financial reward too. But kinda insulting too as if I would give away spoilers if I was not in a bunker. Besides if someone really wants to give spoilers, they might as well do from that “supervised communal computer” There are many ways to do it, and we’re talking about people prominent on multiple languages. Having a coded message looking like gibberish is a piece of cake for many of us (although it might take work to create one).

    Would I work in this bunker….well, I don’t have children, or a wife-or even a girlfriend if that’s the case, it might be easier than many commenters here. But I doubt if I could.

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  24. I certainly would accept this assignment, under three (03) conditions: (a) What does the “handsome reward” represent, (b) Fifty (50)% cash down before undertaking the job plus a guarantee for payment of the balance, (c) travel and living expenses for the account of the contracting party.

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  25. Nice discussions on an interesting topic. I may join, if some conditions are fulfilled… like some of my friends mentioned🙂 .
    Though I must reconsider the following, as Kira says:

    “It’s unhealthy and it potentially compromises the quality of the translation.
    Once a legal and binding agreement has been signed with the translators regarding the non disclosure of details and internet access is restricted, there is no reason why translators should not work in a proper and healthy work environment.
    Translators are professionals and not sweatshop workers (although in some cases better payed).
    7 days a week….is that even legal?”

    or Nelida K. comments:

    “It smells a lot like jury duty, and it reeks of forced labor. To my mind, the mere a priori working conditions are already placing stress and pressure on the translator. Plus, each individual has different working rhythms, thought cycles. Not being able to see the sun or the rain, or communicate with your loved ones, whether they live with you or abroad, is definitely not my cup of tea. Plus, the necessary breaks to clear cobwebs from your mind and gain perspective are essential to any translation, the more so to a literary work. I would definitely run the other way.”

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  26. So you put me in a bunker because you’re afraid of spoilers. That is: you’re telling me right in the face that I am unprofessional and go around the world talking about my work. Wow!
    I’m sure its great to meet and work side by side with other collegues but no, this sounds pretty ridiculous (and oops it happened in my country, I’m curious to know how “handsome” the reward might have been!)

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  27. Interesting topic, Jared! Thank you for bringing this to our attention. In my personal opinion it´s a possibility for a translator to participate in a great project. Therefore I *really* would like to participate in such a project and experience the energy, momentum and motivation such a project has!

    With some security measures taken before leaving to the assignment (e.g. a down payment of one Euro to have a paper trace to the owner of the project and some credentials/positive BlueBoard entries) I would take part. Further measure would be to deposit the ID card/passport (if travelling abroad) to an independent notary in the next larger city. So he has to throughly investigate if the translator disappears for more than the agreed project period.

    I am convinced the results of the project and the possibility to build up a long term relationship to the project owner clearly outweighes the disadvantages of the “bunker environment”. And I fully understand that there are some types of text which require an enclosed environment.

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  28. yes! amazing experience! unfortunately I don’t speak english, my languages are spanish, brazilian portuguese and french…

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  29. There are several points in this article which need clarification and I’m pretty sure, having worked with classified documents in the past, that a few people in this thread have grabbed the wrong end of the stick…

    The original article does not state that the translators were _living_ in a bunker, rather they were _working_ in the bunker and being put up in a hotel nearby during the contract…

    They weren’t banned from having mobile phones at all times, they simply weren’t allowed to take them into their place of work… And as to being cut-off from their families, one of the translators is quoted as having said, “”I went to Milan three times and it was fantastic to see people, shops and restaurants, but I was too tired to really enjoy these things.””… So overworked yes, but not exactly locked away from the world.

    Looking at it from the publisher’s point of view: You’ve a document that’s worth a hell of a lot of money… Given the number of stories we here of politicians and army generals leaving their laptops on trains, are you going to hand out a dozen copies of your priceless document to a bunch of foreign language specialists? Are you going to let those documents hang around on unknown computers when you can’t even make sure they’re running an antivirus programme or aren’t completely open to a hack attack?

    Then answer, of course, would be a resounding “Hell No!!!”.

    So how do you deal with it?
    You bring the translators to you. You provide the computers and cut those computers off from the internet so that there’s no risk of them being hacked from the outside (you can guarantee that any network owned by Dan Brown’s publishers is going to be a prime target!).

    Then you make sure that none of the translators are tempted to take their documents home with them in the evening because they’re running behind schedule – so you ban _anything_ that could be used to transfer data: mobile phones, USB memory sticks, MP3 players, digital cameras, etc. And of course you stop them taking their notes home with them.

    All this is pretty standard, and if you’re particularly paranoid about members of the press getting to your translators and slipping them ten thousand dollars/euros/pounds for an exclusive, you then put them up in a hotel somewhere and make sure nobody can get close to them… (And I’m sure nobody would disagree that certain areas of the press would be quite capable of doing this).

    Finally, when Dan Brown delivers his final draft of the book, you want to get it onto the shelves as quickly as you possibly can – time costs money… So you pay your translators to work long hours, seven days a week – even if you have to double what you’d normally pay them, you’ll get your money back as the book will be on sale so much earlier.

    All pretty standard stuff when you’re dealing with a document that’s worth a hell of a lot of money, and the translators would have been well aware of what they were getting themselves into before they signed the contract… And I bet they were being paid a heck of a lot more than they would normally earn!

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  30. Although I have never been shut up in a dungeon, when I worked at ESTI in Cuba we sometimes went through mini confinements like this. When Fidel spoke on special occasions, 26 July, 1 January etc, etc, the native speakers in all the languages had to go to our centro de trabajo the night before and work all night long so the the translations were ready before the speech was given.

    In 2002, after the failed coup d’état in Venezuela, a decision was made to translate all the speeches President Chávez gave during the oil strike and after. We translators were called in (we usually worked at home) and were in ESTI’s headquarters for — I don’t remember exactly– but at least three days working away. In the English department, the native speakers and the Spanish speakers all worked together. We worked night and day; food and drink were brought in to us. The translations –into English, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian and some other languages– were to be a ‘gift’ for President Chávez. We translators were awarded the medal of ‘Hazaña laboral’ for this feat. Special permission had to be obtained to give this medal to foreigners. I still have mine.

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  31. Being handsomely rewarded does it for me so yes, I’d do it. Choosing who and what I translate – where do I sign?:)

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  32. I would like to participate, if rewards are handsome enough.
    I and my family will face this situation of partition with each other, it will provide me a new experience.

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  33. No way. Besides, it’s already quite hard to get your employers pay you for your work and doing it in a bunker…? I would enjoy translating Auster, Chomsky, poetry…Dan Brown…:-)))
    I still have a taste for real literature.

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  34. Are you kidding me? It is just an average writer and not God to deserve 2 months of my life just for him. And it would be shameful even for translators if they do such a thing. Translations are about communication and not isolation. Besides time is gold, who are they to offer money for time. Not to mention that such a move is totally uncreative.

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  35. I would, no doubt! specially if I was well paid and for the experience! not that I like Dan Brown’s novels, too commercial for my taste, but I would still do it…I just hope that I came out of it sane after two months of mad translating and isolation.

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  36. yes I would give it a try, it would be a fascinating experience, I wish I were in a team like that , noone to bother, no telephones, it would be a treat. I love the author too, so it would n{t hurt that much to be far away doing what you like doing.

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  37. Mhhh I doubt that fact. Anyhow… the Schumman resonance is something that we humans need to keep our health balanced… and it is lost if you live in an underground dungeon, unless it has been considered and it is applied to the environment, which I doubt it happened… it is an extreme environment… I would do it only if pay is FABULOUS … the environment an outstanding new happening…. but if not…. I don´t think so, I live in a place where living is an adventure…… so who knows….

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  38. Isn’t it enough to sign a top secrecy contract with high penalties? I would never trust such a strange and thrilling terms, whoever were the writer )))

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    • Interesting point of view, Maria!

      I am convinced the “half enclosed” environment where translators work within a company or office and are not allowed to texts home is the more secure option. The main reason for that is he risk of being accused for leaking and the problems of demonstrate the contrary.

      So I think the “bunker example” is a very extreme example of an enclosed work environment🙂

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      • Maria and dkf—I wouldn’t trust it either…it sounds scarry…if something happens to you…no matter what…would the translator, a person, be able to look for help outside the bunker?
        Thinking about Dan Brown terms on the translation process makes me think he is going nuts, paranoid and, greedy, of course. I also believe he is viewed as a master in literature, and besides his best-sellers, he is not. Too much money makes you a plain idiot (I am guessing, it never happened to me ;-))

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    • Well, you have a point but, I would feel like a character of 1984. It is a question about your limits…and since I had a big share of adventures…I wouldn’t buy it. Of course, I understand and respect other points of view (life would be extremly boring if we all shared the same point of view) and I think that I rather make my own mistakes than following the mainstream opinion about how I have to conduct or not, my own judgement. Errors are included in the never-ending learning process, no matter what discipline or process might be. I guess you must be much younger than I …;-))) Trial and error…resumes for me past, present and future.

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      • You are right Cristina.

        However, re-reading most of the comments I have realized that the true work conditions of the project are not apparent anywhere.

        Sunlight? Maybe gym equipment?. I would ask for a couple of cats to keep me sane and ward off cabin fever.
        Not knowing the real conditions offered, all comments are speculations pure and simple and I am afraid that many of us have reacted to the word bunker. A perfect example of the power of words.

        Best.

        Andrée

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        • I hope that I didn’t bother anyone using the word bunker; I could have said dungeon, jail-cell, rat-hole (or nerd-hole, guetto, gulag for international nerds) or much more…Please, do not feel offended if I call translator nerds, since we are. Any good translator knows there is not such a thing as the perfect translation. We all know that translating does not give you any credit…in that sense it is a very feminine job (sorry guys, no problem with you, I am talking about the job). I, myself, have been into too many discussions about “the right way to solve a translation problem”, and many I have enjoyed but, let’s get real…no matter how low the market can fall, I think Brown cannot make use of a way to make any contract the way the FBI,CIA or the MOB can do it.
          By the way, I will refuse to read the book, no matter if is in English or a translation.
          Thanks for your reply, buddy😉

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  39. If it is a trust relationship between me and a client plus a non-disclosure agreement signed by both parties, then the translation venue is irrelevant. Hence, I’d do it in the comfort of my own home – IF the remuneration is acceptable and IF it doesn’t interfere with my normal life.

    Like

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