A rather different theme than usual for this post, which has been inspired by my customary post-Christmas viewing of extended editions of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films (based on two of my favourite childhood books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). While watching, I got to thinking about the centrality of the theme of translation in Tolkien’s work, and this post includes some of those musings.
It’s still a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but in this post I want to look ahead at four areas I plan to work on in 2016 and beyond. I’ve been freelancing full-time now for over two years (and working as a translator for over seven years in total). Throughout that time, I’ve improved a lot with experience, but I’ve also recognised that there are some areas that I need to consciously focus and reflect on so that I can move beyond honing my existing practices, and develop new skills and knowledge.
This post is essentially a glorified “to-do list” for myself: a list of three things I want to find automated solutions for to cut out on some of the more tedious aspects of my work and make things run a little more smoothly. By sharing the post here, I aim to try and formulate more clearly what exactly I want. On the one hand, thinking about some of these ideas or problems might be of general interest; on the other, perhaps someone reading might be able to save me the work of looking by telling me of a solution that already exists!
In a previous post, I wrote about the words that are genuinely difficult to translate. This post is intended as a sort of follow-up: instead of looking at the German words that pose particular difficulties when translating into English, I wanted to catalogue some of the English words I find especially helpful when translating from German (though I expect many of them probably come in handy for other languages for too). They make up a kind of toolkit that I often reach for when translating particularly tricky passages.
Another week, another trip to London for a translation event ... this time, I attended Language Show Live. The Language Show is an annual exhibition at the Olympia conference centre in London dedicated to the languages industry, with representatives from fields such as translating and foreign language teaching.
There were two big events in the calendar last week: firstly, International Translation Day on 30 September; secondly, German Unity Day on 3 October (celebrating 25 years of united Germany). So it was doubly appropriate timing to attend the annual "work and play shop" run by the ITI German Network.
One of the upsides to being a freelancer is that you are not tied down to a particular location: in theory, I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection and a time zone that's compatible with Germany. And so this summer, after nearly six years in Southampton, where I have been living for the whole of my freelancing career so far, I decided it was time for a change of scene. I opted for the glitz and glamour of a capital city – namely Cardiff.
There are lots of lists of "untranslatable words" on the Internet - this one on the Guardian was widely shared last year, for instance. Typically, these are words that express some nuance or concept that English doesn't have a word for. Famously untranslatable German words include terms like Zeitgeist or Weltanschauung which have been incorporated into the vocabulary of English.
However, as fascinating as these strange, often bizarre terms are, they aren't typically the words that really cause difficulties when translating. Even when you can't simply use the German term in English, it's generally straightforward to gloss them at greater length or substitute them for a slightly more prosaic English term that does the job.
What I want to give here is an (obviously incomplete!) list of German words that, while not "untranslatable", certainly cause headaches for me as a translator. I'm not talking about obscure jargon where the problem is that I don't know what the words mean until I've done more research; instead, I'm talking about words where, even though I know what they mean in German, I have to agonise over on a case-by-case basis to judge how to express them in English.
Since I originally trained as both a translator and proofreader in a company that was committed to high quality standards in the texts it delivered to clients, quality control has always been an important theme for me in my translation work. Every translated text was checked by another translator and we applied the same exacting rules we used for proofreading to our own texts.
One of the more anxiety-inducing aspects of being a freelancer is that you are largely responsible for your own quality control. There is a good chance that the texts you translate won't be proofread or even checked by a native speaker, meaning that it's important to deliver texts your clients can trust. Furthermore, direct input from other translators tends to be quite rare and so it can be more challenging to maintain a clear sense of the quality of your own work relative to industry norms.
In this post, I want to describe some of my own quality control processes and address some potential factors that can impair translation quality.
So 2014 is at an end - my first full year of freelance translating. It's been a busy year during which I've worked on a lot of projects with both new and existing customers.
The most exciting event has been the translation and publication of Paradise Denied, Zekarias Kebraeb's true account of his journey as a refugee as he fled from Eritrea to Europe. The translation process itself was extremely thought-provoking and following the book's publication, an extract appeared in The Independent and I was fortunate enough to meet the book's co-authors in Berlin. Reading the book now, there are lots of little changes I wish I could make, but I hope that is a good read overall and that it sheds some light on the dire situation of refugees in Europe and elsewhere.
This year, I was also awarded Qualified Member status (MITI) at the Institute of Translation & Interpreting. This status is awarded to experienced translators who pass a practical translation examination in real-life conditions. I was rated "Excellent" or "Good" in all categories. I have also been actively involved in the ITI's Wessex regional network and German language network (where I now act as the moderator for the lively e-group).
Another first this year: I finally invested in translation memory software, as used by many other professional translators. After sampling various different products, I opted for MemoQ, which I have found extremely intuitive and user-friendly. The software has significantly aided the speed, consistency and quality of my translation work and I now simply couldn't be without it.
Finally, I have participated in a variety of CPD events and courses, including translation conferences at Portsmouth and Oxford universities, the ITI German Network's annual workshop, and a personal professional mentoring scheme run by
Looking ahead to 2015, there are a series of other interesting translation events coming up, so I hope to continue developing my expertise and learning about new perspectives. I also look forward to some more interesting projects and to meeting more of my fellow translators!
Dr Andrew Godfrey, MITI