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Itamar from the Tower of Babel

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to Women, French to Men, and German to my Horse (*)

The company based in Gliwice translates texts from virtually every language, cooperating with over 700 translators from almost all over the world.

In the late 1990s, Maciej Grubel dealt with marketing, advertising, web design and probably did not expect that, in just a few years, he would become one of the biggest players in an industry, in which he had no experience at the time.

– It turned out that our customers were also looking for translations not directly related to websites – recalls Mr Grubel. – So I had to look for translators and, step by step, in 2002, I founded the Itamar company in Gliwice. When Telekomunikacja Polska introduced “Free evenings and weekends” tariffs, I used my computer to send 100,000 faxes with the offer to various companies all over the country – and that proved to be a breakthrough. For a long time after the event, our phones were still very hot…

They say a good name is half the battle. The history of the economy is full of names that have become the drivers of sales and those that have effectively impeded it. Itamar sounds good, but probably less than one per cent of the customers of the company know that it is a character from the Old Testament. A priest, son of Aaron, who oversaw the making of the Tabernacle of Moses, an ornate tent – a portable temple – in which the Ark of the Covenant had been kept before the Jerusalem temple was built.

Our patron has been kind, as year after year there are more customers, more orders; revenues and profits are increasing. For those unfamiliar with the industry, this may seem strange, since an increasing part of our society speaks a foreign language, especially English.

– The Internet and globalisation imposes on us professional use of foreign languages. This applies, for example, to legal regulations, the content of contracts, product descriptions or foreign technologies, which can only be done by a professional and this process will further intensify – asserts Mr Maciej Grubel.

Today, Itamar is one of the best and largest companies in this industry in the country. With the help of nearly 700 translators working with the company, many of whom are from other countries, customers can receive translations in around 50 languages. But, as the company owner assures, should it become necessary to translate into or from some very rare language, he will be able to find a suitable professional without any problems. So far, there has never been a situation, in which the company was unable to fulfil an order.

Although Itamar is primarily oriented towards cooperation with large domestic and foreign companies, from the very beginning, the principle was adopted that there are no worse or better clients and all translations, even the smallest ones, from private persons are accepted.

A profession as old as time

It is impossible to establish when the profession of translator emerged. It certainly began with merchants travelling the wilds of Asia and Africa, long before the first state bodies came into being. The Egyptian pharaohs had professional translators (probably as early as five thousand years ago), and the Persian rulers of the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BC) had a staff of officials, who knew the languages of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India. In ancient Rome, the imperial chancellery had translators at its service, who knew all the languages of the peoples living in the empire and its neighbours.

With time, the manner of translations also changed, instead of “word for word” the principle of “meaning for meaning” was used, which was emphasised by St. Jerome. In the 18th century, Voltaire wrote: “Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.”

With the rise of great empires, some languages became so popular and important, that we would call them global. First Egyptian, then Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, French and finally English, which is now spoken by 1.5 billion people worldwide (Mandarin by half a billion less). While, on the other end of the spectrum, the rarest language is Yahgan. Until a hundred years ago, it was spoken by several thousand indigenous people from Tierra del Fuego. Today, only Cristina Calderón, who is 93 years old, speaks Yahgan.

There are over 6,000 languages spoken in the world, of which over 2,400 are threatened with extinction.

During the Second World War, the US army employed the Navajo people, whose language the Japanese were unable to decipher.

In EU institutions, employing 1,800 translators, there are 24 official languages, including Polish. The official languages of the United Nations are English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian.

Heinrich Schliemann, entrepreneurial archaeologist, discoverer of Mycenae and Troy, was fluent in 18 languages, including Polish. He developed a method that allowed him to learn another language in less than two months. However, this is nothing compared to the Lebanese polyglot Ziad Fazah, who mastered 59 languages, but, unlike Schliemann, did not discover anything or make millions.

The increasing spread of English may seem like the fulfilment of man’s age-old dream of returning to the time before the Tower of Babel, when, according to the Bible, we all spoke one language. However, this also has adverse consequences. In the Netherlands, where 92 percent of the population speaks good English, fewer and fewer people want to study Dutch, their native language..

However, before English replaces other languages, the translation industry will continue to develop for many years to come. The global market is already worth more than USD 50 billion a year, with the United States and China accounting for nearly half of that amount. The Polish translation market is worth almost USD 300 million and is continuously growing

A simple translation of one page from a popular foreign language into another equally well-known language (English, French, German, Russian) costs PLN 38 (plus VAT). The price may increase to PLN 65 in case of less popular languages (Danish, Serbian, Dutch).

Certified translations (made by sworn translators) are slightly more expensive. A page of text translated from English into Polish costs PLN 60, while from Lithuanian into Swedish – PLN 30 more. A certified translation from Polish into English or German of an abbreviated birth certificate costs PLN 50, a certificate of employment costs PLN 145. For much less popular languages, the company does not give fixed prices, but understandably they must be higher.

Cash in an envelope

The company specialises in translations of complex technical or scientific texts. It once translated documentation relating to the construction of flood defence barriers for the lower Oder, financed by the World Bank. The cost of the order far exceeded half a million PLN.

Occasionally, there are unusual requests, such as the translation of a Chinese horoscope app commissioned by an agency in Luxembourg and supervised by a company in the Czech Republic.

Today, half of the revenues already comes from abroad. Mostly from the EU countries, Russia and China.

  • When we started cooperation with Chinese companies, they settled with us in cash, sending money in an envelope, but they always paid on time – the boss laughs. – Fortunately, we are at a completely different stage today.

In addition to conventional translations for regular customers, the company also provides a live translation service. In addition, we also do proofreading, computer graphics, recording of advertising spots, printing.

Annual revenues are slowly approaching PLN 10 million, which, with a few percent profit, allows for development, the use of new technologies and cost optimisation.

CEO, Mr Grubel, is optimistic about the future:

  • It might seem that, since there are various online translators in use, translation companies might have problems in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only when AI-based technology is widely available, will new opportunities open up for our industry.

KRZYSZTOF TOMASZEWSKI

(*) Emperor Charles V

Marcin

Author:

Marcin Hatko

21.04.2022