Volume 5, No. 3 
July 2001

  Tim Howe





Thank You!
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
The Making of a Translator
by Louis Korda
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
  Legal Translation
La traduzione giuridica
by Deirdre Exell Pirro
  Arts and Entertainment
In the Footsteps of Giants
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
One Translator's Thoughts on Localization
by Dag Forssell
  Translation Theory
Translation and Language Varieties
by Magdy M. Zaky
  Translators Around the World
The First Three Years
by Timothy Howe
  Translating Social Change
Translation as Rewriting
by Berrin Aksoy, Ph.D.
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXIV
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
An Effective and Inexpensive Translation Memory Tool
by Andrei Gerasimov
Translators’ Emporium
Letters to the Editor
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Around the World


The First Three Years

by Timothy Howe
elephones, trucks and heat-shrinkable tubing appliances is how I might sum up my first three years in the profession. But how could I, more literate than technical, have ever imagined drawing an income from such unlikely fields as these?

Read—not only around your subject, but also in general; and that goes for just about everything.
At the end of a translating and interpreting course overtly geared to channeling graduates into a career with some European Union agency, it seemed only natural to spearhead the job search by applying to these institutions. Disappointing feedback from Luxembourg and Brussels however prompted me to concentrate instead on in-house posts in Germany and, applying on spec to Deutsche Telekom, I found they needed a translator on short notice to cover a maternity leave. My five-month stint was to translate news items for the company's web site and collate articles for a multi-lingual international press review.

I got my next job by simply walking into the Arbeitsamt (Labor Office) in Bonn and discovering that a local company that manufactured heat-shrinkable tubing needed a linguist to translate what they called "general" correspondence and interpret on management visits from HQ in Canada. Suddenly I was no longer a team player but a one-man show inundated with trans-Atlantic mail and dealing with high-powered executives on a subject about which I knew virtually nothing! It was like being in the wrong film! Required to interpret from day one with little time to acquire a knowledge of either the company or its products obviously had its consequences. I recall one such meeting becoming increasingly heated to the point when one of the parties walked out in the belief they had reached deadlock simply because I had either missed the point or conveyed the wrong idea.

While learning a great deal about artificial thermal membranes in the process, I would not recommend novices to go straight into such an environment with no experienced linguist on hand to act as a mentor and proofreader, certainly at least not for the first half year. I dare say had the company had a better understanding of the intricacies of interpreting, my initial experience might have been slightly less dramatic! Another word of warning: Don't go translating legal documentation such as employees' contracts and leases into German if this is not your native tongue!

I am now with the language service of a commercial vehicles company in Munich, where, part of a well-mentored team, I am thankfully only translating into English. Acquiring the necessary tech-speak—something the degree course at Bath had never prepared me for—has only come through trial and a lot of error. Colleagues tell me that the actual process of acquiring a "corporate" language takes a good three years, so newcomers to the profession don't be put off if you've not got it word perfect by the end of the probationary period!

Proofread work still occasionally comes back covered in red ink, but that's all part of the learning process or, as they say here, "Übung macht den Meister!"

While trucks perhaps don't make the most exciting of material to be translating day in, day out, I count myself very fortunate in terms of variety. On an average day, I can be translating anything from instructions on how to operate a gearbox, where to spot the company's hot-air balloon, the latest European Union blurb on axle specifications, to who's being tipped as Europe's next Truck Racing champion. Less interpreting has meant more time to familiarize with technical terms and generally feel my way around. Interestingly, one of the few times I have been called to interpret here in Munich was for a group of young technicians from England. Over at the time of the Oktoberfest, the men were going on to the beer festival immediately after touring the plant. Hardly surprising that they were in such hurry to dispense with the business side of proceedings!

My very first interpreting assignment—only a day or so after my final exam—is one I certainly won't forget: I was invited to accompany a group of Texan missionaries evangelizing in East Germany. None of the team spoke German and I was soon called to mediate as they set about trying to convert the owner of a hardware shop. Everything seemed to be going fine until all of a sudden the lights went out and there we were, huddled in the dark, being told to leave. The ironmonger had obviously decided we were from a sect and there was no way he was going to get involved! On this occasion I was working both ways, i.e. also into German, something I have since learnt to avoid. The problem isn't the German (nor irate shopkeepers for that matter!) but understanding Texan dialect!

Let me close with a few tips for those just embarking on a career in translating and interpreting. If you're fortunate to work in-house and be proofread, don't be afraid to make mistakes within the safety of this environment! I have a simple system—I enter all new terminology, invariably technical, into a Microsoft Word database. Initially attempting this in Excel, I found it a lot of sweat and not half as easy to consult as an alphabetical list in a Word document

Secondly: Don't be afraid to ask questions! While I used to spend ages consulting dictionaries and glossaries on the internet before arriving at the right word, I've found the best method—if you're lucky enough to have an experienced colleague close by—is simply to ask. My office neighbor can generally give me the word or phrase I'm looking for straight off the top of her head (I hope that's me in a couple of years' time!).

And finally: READ! Not only around your subject but also in general; and that goes for just about everything. Comparing translated material, e.g. brochures, with the original is good for gleaning useful phrases and learning from other peoples' techniques for a start. For those like me in Germany, who resent paying prohibitive prices for imported English-language journals, the Internet is a real life-line and invaluable for up-to-the-minute features (my personal on-line favorites are The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph!). Having a feel for well-written prose makes it a lot easier when it comes to producing it yourself—particularly with PR translations which often require a more punchy approach—and give you that real buzz when you see your work posted on the Internet!