This is the number 18 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 Olatz Rodríguez.

Tell us a bit about yourself


I am a young translator and interpreter to be, although the part “to be” is perhaps not entirely accurate. The truth is I’ve been translating for almost four years now and even if I haven’t finished studying the degree at University yet, I consider myself a translator and interpreter. I was born in the Basque Country and I’ve just come back from Montreal, Canada.

During my studies I also spent a year in Freiburg, Germany. Apart from University, I like to train myself to broaden my knowledge and become a better, more professional translator, so that’s why I always sign up for courses and seminars: literary translation, police interpreting, orthotypography proofreading, computer skills for translators, Spanish as a foreign language and language courses, among others.

We have to be aware that there’s a lot of competition and that there are a lot of qualified people out there, so we need to give our best and demonstrate that we are better than the rest. A year and a half ago, right after I moved back from Germany, I started to write a blog called Transolatzion. I mainly talk about translation, but interpreting and language related topics are also concerned. I do it because I love my job and what I do, and besides, I have met wonderful people that have been my role models. Give it a try and write a comment! :) Here is my other contact information: TwitterGoogle+, Mail: [email protected] .

How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?

Even if it seems an early age, I decided to be a translator when I was 10. Yes, you did read correctly. In my family it has always been important to eat lunch and dinner together and usually my mum or dad would tell stories about work. My mum owns a hair salon and she always tells us interesting stuff that her clients relate. So one day she told us about the daughter of one of her clients, how she was studying translation and interpreting, how she had travelled so much, how passionate she was about languages, how smart she was on the whole… I listened carefully to all she said and even if I was eating one of the meals I less like, cauliflower, it tasted okay. It made me feel butterflies in my stomach and I felt as if I was intended to be a translator and an interpreter. 

I have always been really passionate about languages. I remember that when I was about eleven I saved money to buy a whiteboard (in the meantime I used to write with chalk on the door of my big wardrobe) so that I could play to be a language and history teacher. I discovered how English was not limited to what they told us in school, so I told my parents to buy me books and I started to study the language by myself. I still smile when I remember those days, any simple detail made me so happy! I also used to teach English to my dad and my brother, I think I forced them to do so, but I’m sure we had a lot of fun.

Then I started learning French and when I went to Paris (I was twelve by then) I fell in love with all the beautiful bookstores they have and I bought tons of books. I definitely didn’t want my parents to buy me clothes or souvenirs, all I wanted was books. I could tell lots of funny stories, but in order not to make you feel bored, I will just say that when I was sixteen I started to learn German and a year after Chinese. I even had to take the train and go to the nearest city to take the classes, but it was so great that I’d go all over miles to enjoy the lessons.

What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?

In my case, I can’t talk about professional translation as I’m still a student, but I think that last year was a key year when it comes to the improvement of my translations skills. In my English to Spanish translation subject I had a very strict teacher who taught us not only how to deal with all kinds of translations (sworn translation, patents, reverse translation, poetry, subtitling, dubbing, using CAT tools and so on). We had to face real-life work situations and work both individually and in teams. Sometimes it was really stressful, the work caused arguments, and there were sleepless nights, but it was really worth it because I can’t think of another time I learned so much. I think that it was mainly this subject which made me become a better translator and in the same way, aware of how the real translation world and market is.

How do you prepare for a translation project?

It depends on the project. For example, my English to Spanish translations are very different to the German to Spanish ones. Not only the first ones are more complicated, but also longer, which means that I need to organise myself in a structured and accurate way. However, for my German to Spanish translations I need more resources, most of the German words have multiple meanings in Spanish, so even if I think that I know the meaning of a word, I usually have to make sure that the meaning I know is the appropriate one.

That means that I am constantly looking up words in dictionaries and that’s why I have all the possible resources in TabCloud, a Google extension. Before I start translating I usually read the text twice. The first one just consists of having a look on it and during the second read I normally underline or highlight the words I don’t understand. I try to figure out their meanings and I write them next to the words. If it is a complicated and long text, I compile a glossary. Next, I start translating. I always choose to tap the resources available on the Internet.

After I finish my translation, I leave the text for a couple of days before I start proofreading it. We can’t of course always afford this time, but when it’s possible, I always do that. The first proofreading is very meticulous, I try to compare it with the original and make sure that I have covered all the words and sentences and that there aren’t any spelling mistakes. The second proofreading is more about the style. I forget about the original text and I just concentrate on the one I’ve created. I like my translations to be fluent and sound natural, not contrived. Anyway, the process can vary, of course, depending on the conditions, the deadline, whether it is a group or individual project and the language combination.

What aspects of your job are the most challenging?

As for myself, I think that being a translator is thrilling. Each translation is a world and you have to face it and win the battle to the text. That means you need a great general knowledge, to know how to find terminology, the ability to write a fluent and a natural text in your language without altering the message that the author wants to convey… Without leaving the home you can learn so much.

One day you can find yourself translating a document about Civil Service Basic Statutes, next about a bottle patent and next poetry. Isn’t it wonderful? There’s no day you don’t learn something new. From time to time you might feel as if you were immersed in a stormy sea aimlessly. Yes, indeed, sometimes it is very challenging, but extremely rewarding once you have determined the course, struggled enough to deal with the waves and reach the shore safe and sound. And translation doesn’t simply make you a better professional; it also makes you a better person.

What excites you the most about the languages you work with?

I personally think that all the languages are interesting and that you can’t just not like one. I believe that each language is a world and that once you immerse yourself you can’t get rid of its mysteries and challenges so easily. And that’s exactly what excited me about languages: the grammatical particularities, the idioms, the funny, ridiculous, risible vocabulary, or simply all the odds. I also have to bring out the cultures, because every time you learn a language, you learn inevitably about their culture, their habits, customs and new people, which is great!

What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?

One of the funniest translations I can remember is when we had to subtitle an episode of a Japanese series no one had heard about before. It was the first time we had to subtitle and we had to work in pairs. I chose one of my best friends in my class, Elena, and we did nothing until we saw that the deadline was close because we were immersed in other projects. Thursdays are party days here in Vitoria and we decided to work on this on a Thursday.

We downloaded the episode and we realised that it was going to be quite an arduous task to translate something we didn’t understand a word of. We ordered a couple of pizzas and bought lots of beer and we had a lot of fun watching the episode so many times (we even learned the headlining song in Japanese! And the choreographies, of course). Luckily, in the end we managed to download the subtitles that a fansub had created in English. We couldn’t stop dancing, but we kept on subtitling.

After a while, we realised that the problem wasn’t actually to create the subtitles, but to embed them in the video. We needed help, but it was too late, so we had to watch tons of tutorials in Youtube and figure it out by ourselves. In the end, we didn’t only manage to deliver the project on time, but we also got good grades!

What are you wishes for 2014? What excites you, what are you sceptical about?

I am about to finish my degree at University and I would love to start working as a translator. I have been told that to immerse yourself in the translation market is not an easy thing, but I think that if you try hard it’s not impossible. I don’t care if it takes a lot of effort; I am going to try hard to find my spot. My father always tells me that I should do this no matter how much striving it takes, since he thinks that if I alter the course of my dreams and get discouraged by involving myself in any other kind of job, I’m going to regret it in the future.

My wish for 2014 is to become a freelancer and to travel to China to seriously start learning Chinese (I have been learning it for two years but never took it earnestly). I have also applied for an internship as a Spanish teacher in the United States. Depending on whether they choose me or not I will have to plan my future in a different way. Who knows where I will end up!

What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?

As I said before, I can’t give much advice to new translators as I’m a new one too, but I’d like to give a very useful piece of advice to all translations students. It’s quite simple, even if you think in principle that University provides you with all the necessary knowledge about the field you’re studying, I recommend you to move beyond University and try to decide which kind of training is the best for you, what you need to do to become a better translator and to give it a go even if it seems difficult, challenging or even impossible. Nothing’s impossible and nobody is born learned. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes (we all do) and try to make the best of everything, good or bad, right or wrong.

Thanks to Olatz for the answers!

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