Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle - Interview with translator Else Gellinek
This is the number 14 in our series of interviews with translators from all over the globe. Translation is a very diverse industry - we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This episode is an interview with Else Gellinek of www.sprachrausch.com.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Else Gellinek. I’m a bilingual German-American and currently live in not quite small-town Germany. I have a degree in Theoretical Linguistics, English and Psychology and started out four years ago as a German to English translator, specializing in marketing and corporate communication. I’m quite active online and you can me find on Twitter and on Facebook.
How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?
Language has always played a big role in my life. I spent my younger years moving back and forth between Germany and Florida. Switching between German and English all the time meant that I used and approached language more consciously than most monolinguals I have met. Maybe other bilingual people can relate to that. It was almost predetermined that my career choices would involve languages.
Every aptitude test I have ever taken – I kid you not – has told me to become a librarian, bookseller or translator. I actually spent a few years working as a bookseller (a very serious profession in Germany). And then I went to university to study linguistics.
I had originally intended to go into publishing when I graduated. On a whim, I sent off an application to a boutique translation agency– and I never looked back. All those aptitude tests were right, it seems.
What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?
Last year was a busy year. I just started freelancing full-time last summer and am highly motivated to stuff my brain with knowledge. Besides reading everything I can get my hands on, I’ve attended quite a few webinars and online workshops covering general translation and research techniques, software and writing skills.
At the moment, I am prepping for a translation exam, which will qualify me to become a sworn translator for German and English. I am cramming legal terminology and getting tutored by a lovely and wonderfully strict translator who edits my practice translations with a big red pen. The exam covers fields I don’t generally work in, so I am learning a lot.
Getting feedback on my translations is something I highly appreciate and it will make me a better translator beyond the requirements of the exam.
How do you prepare for a translation project?
I specialize in marketing and corporate communication, so my approach may differ from that of translators who work in other fields. I already do a lot of the footwork when preparing a quote. I like to spend time talking to clients about what exactly they need, who the target audience is and where it is located.
Clients aren’t always aware that a good marketing translation can involve straying from the original German text. Discussing this beforehand saves me from writing comments all over my translations and also reduces follow-up questions.
Before I start translating, I like to have an idea of how competitors have phrased similar texts and I want to have solved any terminology issues. I also scan the parts requiring a creative translation. My best ideas come to me if I let these translations simmer in the back of my mind while I take care of more straightforward parts of the translation (and, yes, I use a CAT tool). My fancy smartphone doubles as my notebook for when inspiration strikes, which is almost never while I am sitting at my desk.
What aspects of your job are the most challenging?
My main challenge at the moment is working the job around my children. They’re still toddlers and seem determined to get sick when I’m feeling the squeeze of tight deadlines. I take special care when negotiating deadlines and I am very organized about ongoing projects and other commitments. Still, there is no guarantee that I won’t have to reshuffle work priorities at short notice. On the bright side, this keeps me sharp and flexible.
What excites you the most about the languages you work with?
I work with English and German. I am endlessly fascinated by how close the languages are, but still separated by very real cultural differences. My main clients are German businesses looking to translate their websites and marketing materials into English.
Most of them feel that they have a pretty good command of English and they like to get involved with how I translate. As a rule, all translation clients need to be willing to trust that translators are doing a good job, especially if they cannot read the target language.
Clients who feel that they speak the target language are a special case and need to be treated with care. Establishing your expertise while allowing them to feel that they contributed to the translation process is a challenge I highly enjoy.
What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?
I once translated a German rap jingle into English for a commercial, rhymes and all. I had a really tight deadline and it was a rather corny rap song. The customer wanted a translation to mirror the rap style of the original. So, I sat in front of my computer, one eye cocked at the clock, and rapped potential translations until I had lines that worked. I am definitely a better translator than I am a rapper!
What are good or bad things about freelancing?
It scared me when I started out, yet being the master of my success or failure is very exhilarating. I have also come to have a very different appreciation for the diversity and breadth of the translation industry.
When I was still an in-house translator, I was more focused on just translating. It was a much more passive mindset and I missed out on a lot. But (and it’s a big but), achieving success as a freelancer involves honestly taking stock of what you bring to the table and whether you can find or create a market for it. I’m still working on that myself.
You have to be a go-getter because there isn’t anyone who will take over and do things for you. That’s the flipside of freelancing.
What are your wishes for 2014? What excites you, what are you skeptical about?
2014 is dedicated to extending my customer base. I tend to neglect this and I really shouldn’t. Networking with other translators is a joy, but casually mingling and working the room at business events is something I struggle with. I am really looking forward to attending the FIT World Congress in August. It’s my first big convention and I have already had some fun playing around with the online program planner. I also hope that I will meet some of my wonderful Twitter friends in person there!
What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?
Reach out to other translators. I’ve found them to be a very welcoming bunch who will freely share knowledge and advice with you. Read their blogs, chat with them on Twitter and Facebook. Meet up with them in real life. Join a translators association. You’ll learn a lot and have fun.
Don’t forget to specialize. Work on existing translation and subject matter skills and add new ones. Mariam Abdi had quite a catchy way of saying it in a recent webinar on acquiring clients: “The riches are in the niches.”
Keep in mind that you are running a business. Develop your marketing and networking abilities, crunch the numbers and always act professionally. Own your mistakes and use them as an opportunity to improve.
Follow the industry news. Be an informed translator with a clear stance on who you will work with at which conditions, which technology you want to use and which services you provide.
Last but not least, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. This was floating around on Twitter a while ago and it stuck in my mind. When you start out as a translator, it can seem that everybody has fantastic websites, incredibly successful blogs, superhuman technology insights, giant networks and general unattainable levels of expertise.
Well, we were all new to the game at some point. It takes time to achieve certain objectives and some things stayworks in progress, even for seasoned translators.