This is the first in a 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 first episode is an interview with Montserrat Varela of puntoyaparte.de
Can you tell us a bit about yourself (your background, how long you’ve been translating, where you're from and where people can find you)?
My name is Montserrat Varela, I am from Spain and a German philologist by education. After finishing my studies in Barcelona I moved to Germany, where I spent the first few years teaching Spanish. In 2003, my husband and I moved to Munich, and I started translating from German to Spanish (Castilian) and Catalan. At the same time I started working for specialist publishers and released learning materials. Ever since then, I have been working as translator, reviewer and author of learning materials for Spanish as a foreign language. Because I hardly teach anymore, I work from home and so I am able to combine my work with raising our two sons very well. To promote my services, I have started my own website and blog (www.puntoyaparte.de) and I am on Xing, LinkedIN. I am still thinking about a Facebook page.
How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?
After moving to Munich, I was unable to find enough work as a lecturer in Spanish. To prepare for freelancing, I took some seminars (incl. some by the BDÜ). I then started getting more and more translation jobs. What fascinates me about my work as a translator is the comparison between languages, and writing itself. Translation is actually a process of re-writing. You write a text all over again, according to the rules of the target culture. As a translator you need to constantly consider how to convert the German text into the target languages, not just grammatically and lexically correct, but also heeding correct interpunctuation in the target language. There are basically two approaches to translation: one facing the author, as literal as possible, the other facing the reader, as comprehensive as possible in the target language and culture (which does not mean moving radically away from the original text). I prefer the second approach, especially in marketing, without losing sight of the original text.
What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?
During my first years in Munich, I attended some seminars by the BDÜ translator’s association, through which I got to know the CAT tool across, which I use regularly. I also started networking, both online as well as offline in Munich. Three years ago I started reading translator blogs. Now that we have young children and I don’t go to seminars that often, I also read lots of literature on it. The last few books I read were the "Manual de traducción" by Peter Newmark (the Spanish version) and "Traducción y Traductología" by Amparo Hurtado Albir, a really good overview of the translation sciences.
How do you prepare for a translation project?
I start off by reading the entire text, if possible along with picture materials like a catalog, website, online shop etc. When translating manuals I always ask for pictures, unless the customer provided them beforehand. I then import the text into my CAT tool. Sometimes words or phrases are pre-translated. In these cases I compare if those match the current text, but that’s already well in the translation process.
What aspects of your job are the most challenging?
For me that is without a doubt customer acquisition. While I claim to have command of my working languages and analytics skills, I cannot say the same of my self-marketing. I don’t have quite the knack for it, even though over time I have improved how I present myself and my services.
What excites you the most about the languages you work with?
Differences in interpunctuation and so-called false friends. These are real traps. For example a comma. It is used completely differently in German and in Spanish. I sometimes find myself using German commas in Spanish texts. That is why it is so essential to have proofreading of your texts, to avoid such “stupid” missteps.
What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?
One of the more memorable experiences was the translation of an audio guide of the exhibition about the pharaoh Tutankhamun from German to Catalan. The exhibition was meant for Barcelona, so they had contacted me for the translation in Spanish and Catalan. Due to the amount of text and the short timeframe, I was unable to do both. A colleague took over the Spanish part and I did the Catalan translation. We worked simultaneously, and it was interesting to see how we came to different results at various points in the translation of special expressions. We learned a lot from each other and from the customer when we streamlined it. At the same time I was on maternity leave back then, so I could only start translating when my son had fallen asleep, or I had conversations with my colleague about the translation while holding a children’s book in the other hand.
What are good or bad things about freelancing?
The best thing about being a freelancer is that you can do very different projects, with a variety of customers from all kinds of industries. Even though you stay on the outside as a service provider, you can get a decent insight into the industries and you learn a lot. Some customers also stay loyal. You can establish good relationships with regular customers, even though never knowing them personally. The translator Miriam Neidhardt has fittingly described customer relationships in this article. One disadvantage is the lack of security if you run out of projects with no follow-ups in sight. It is hard to plan without a steady income, and customer acquisition is not everyone’s strength. However, there’s always a high after a low.
What are you wishes for 2014? What excites you, what are you sceptical about?
My personal wishes for 2014 are basically that I manage to write more about translations from German to Spanish for my blog, and to find additional customers. At the beginning of January I wrote an article about my plans for the year (also for myself so as not to lose sight of these goals). If I can meet those goals, I will see.
What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?
Building your own business is a long term effort. You need to set goals for yourself, be ready to accept rejection and keep going. You learn from mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. I have made my share of mistakes, and I see them as what they are: a learning experience. At the same time, be happy about your own success, which should come eventually considering we are all professionals offering first class services.
Thanks to Montserrat for the answers!