Interview: Working As a Translator

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a translator? Then you’re in luck, because this week we had an interview with a translator, Kerstin, who decided to start her own translation business almost 18 years ago. In this interview, Kerstin shares her own journey and views on translation, along with important advice for anyone who is looking into pursuing this career. Interested? Keep reading!

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Hi Kerstin! Can you tell us a little bit about your company?

I have a translation business, KLF Textservice, which only employs myself and occasionally also my daughter, who is a freelancer. I only translate from Finnish to Swedish. I have a home office, so my commute is rather short, haha 🙂

How did you decide to become a translator?

I started working after being a stay-at-home mother for 15 years. My education as a Master of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, along with my interest in languages and writing, lead me to taking a one-year translation course at the University of Helsinki 1998-99. After that, I set up my firm, specializing in texts related to agriculture, and then I started marketing myself to potential clients. I also graduated as an authorized translator with the right to translate official documents and legislation from Finnish to Swedish.

Was it hard to start your own business?

Not at all, just some paper work, but nothing that should discourage anyone from becoming a business owner.

What does a normal workday look like?

I usually get up at 7:30 a.m., have breakfast and read the morning papers. Then I work until lunch, when I also walk the dogs. After lunch I work until around 5 p.m., sometimes longer depending on the workload and stress level.

What is the best part about being a translator?

It’s fun when you feel like you are good at what you are doing, and when you get a spontaneous ‘thank you’ for a job well done. It also feels nice when you get new clients who have been recommended by someone else to hire you.

Are there any disadvantages of owning your own translation firm?

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is that you are never really off work. Having your office at home means that it is sometimes all too easy to work too much, both evenings and weekends, and to not take time off even though you should.

Do you have any dream jobs as a translator?

Not at the moment, as the routine work takes up all my time. But when I “retire” and the daily masses of texts have disappeared, it would be fun to translate e.g. more articles or other more freely written texts where you can use your creativity.

How do you think the ever-advancing technology will affect the future of translation? Do you think translators could be replaced by computers?

So far, the quality of machine translations has not been good enough, but I’m sure they will become better and be useful for less complicated texts. However, in order to get the right interpretation of a text, you need a human with good knowledge of language, who can spot and understand the nuanced differences in the source language. There are so many words with completely different translations depending on the context.

Do you think that everything is translatable? Do you have any favourite phrases in Finnish that are missing a Swedish equivalent?

In my daily work I have to stick to exact translations so I can’t be all that creative. Everything in the Finnish source text must also be included in the Swedish version. I have many favourite phrases in Finnish which can’t be directly translated to Swedish, but they are quite rare in the kinds of texts that I translate. For example “vetää herneet nenään” (lit. to pull peas up one’s nose, meaning to get angry) or “päästä kuin koira veräjästä” (lit. to go off like a dog from the gate, meaning to get away with something). Finnish is a very nuanced language – difficult but fascinating.

What do you think is the best way to learn a language?

Read, read and read again if you want to learn how to write a language. Listen and speak if you want to learn how to speak it.

Do you have a language dream?

Yes I do – I have always wanted to learn French! In school I could not study French because I was focusing on mathematics. So when I turn 60, I will learn French!

Finally: What are your best tips for someone who wants to become a translator?

Make sure that you have a strong knowledge in your native language and that you are completely fluent in your source language. Read a lot and get a rich and wide vocabulary. Take a course! Even if you don’t want to get an MA in translation, at least take a course long enough to learn the most important things. And as always, the old saying that practice makes perfect is still very much true.




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