For this second and last interview of January 2013, we interviewed a very respected colleague: Erik Hansson. Enjoy!
Hi Erik! Tell us about you (your personal/professional background)
Thanks a lot for giving me the opportunity to take part in your interview series! I’m a Swedish native (born in the city of Lund in the southern part of Sweden) and have been living in Germany since 1991. The reason for moving to another country? Well, that’s an easy one: my German girlfriend. I guess I’m just one of the many who at a certain point in their life decide to take the leap and leave their home country.
As I have always been very interested in foreign countries, languages and cultures, I knew as far back as my early teens that I would probably live abroad later on in life. I had English and German at school, and finished my education with a three-year course at a technical college with a focus on electrotechnology. After having worked as an assembler and quality checker within the medical-technical industry (with a focus on audiometry and dialysis) for some years, it was time to take another path, so I signed up for a university program in political science. Definitely a fascinating subject.
What were the turning points in your career that got you where you are now?
One of my turning points was when I moved to Germany and more or less by chance got started as an English teacher for adults. Back in the beginning of the 1990s, there was a huge demand for English language trainers in different courses aimed at unemployed adults in the eastern part of Germany. Around 1994, I started to do my first translations from German into Swedish parallel with the English training courses. In 1999 I decided to leave the training sector and focus entirely on translations. Over the years, my clients who once had sent me Swedish translation work came back and asked if I could also provide translations into other languages. This was the start of my agency business. In the new millennium, I got more active on different professional portals which meant that I got in contact with many new colleagues. With today’s social media it has become even easier to build up networks with peers.
You studied political science. How does one go from this subject matter to software and technical translations?
Well, honestly, that’s a good question! In addition to my fascination for languages, I have always been interested in questions regarding politics, democracy, policy-making and governance. Certain sub-disciplines of political science intersect with ethnic minority rights. This also includes everybody’s right to communicate in their own mother tongue. For practical reasons, my soft spot for ethnic minority issues is quite peripheral during my daily work with technical documents to be translated from German into Swedish. Nevertheless, I’m still very fascinated by subjects such as minority languages and bilingualism.
Tell us about The WinTitus Software Project.
Around eight years ago I realized that I spent far too much time just on daily administration tasks at the office, such as updating the address data for clients, creating quotes, issuing invoices and keeping track of payments. Instead of handling all these data manually, i.e. having one directory for addresses, another one for quotes and a third one for invoices etc, I thought about a software solution for this. Together with a programmer we developed a tailor-made project management software.
Since we started using WinTitus in 2005 we have saved probably thousands of working hours – one of the basic features is a database where we store all of the relevant data for all of the partners we are interacting with (translators, agencies and end-clients). When creating a quote in a certain language pair, the database can suggest exactly those translators who offer this language pair and work in this particular field. Generating a quote takes less than a minute this way.
If the client accepts the quote, we can quickly convert the quote into a job and don’t need to enter all the data again. Once the job has been done and the translation has been delivered, we convert the job into an invoice – and you’re right, it only takes a second.
Apart from the quick processing, we can also easily keep track of payments. It’s always a nice feeling to know if a client has paid the last invoice due five weeks ago when they suddenly give you a call and ask for another quote. Getting a clear picture of the client’s payment behavior is only a mouse click away.
Together with the programmer we are constantly improving WinTitus and implementing new features, such as individually defined units for charging (per source word, line, page, hour etc). There is only a German interface of the program, but we do have plans for other languages.
You are a DVÜD founder member and member of the Advisory Board. What are your tasks and what does the DVÜD do?
When we founded the DVÜD in November 2011, our motivation was that we wanted to place a focus, different from that of existing professional organizations, on our work. We might have the same aims as similar organisations, but we want to take a different road and utilize the modern networking advantages that Web 2.0 technologies offer, and this is a vast field!
We are at the very beginning of our work, but are already the talk of the town within the translation sector in Germany. In our very first year we achieved a lot, such as launching the website http://www.dvud.de and the DVÜD forum, offering free or discounted services from our partners (insurance companies, lawyers, tax consultants) and networking among colleagues. We also organize webinars on different subjects such as calculating translation services, generating quotes, negotiating with clients, integrating the standard DIN EN 15038 in daily translation work and many more topics. These webinars target young colleagues who have just finished their studies, career changers who originally worked in other business sectors, as well as experienced translators.
Our main objectives are to strengthen the professional status of translators and interpreters within the German economy and to explain our contribution to the export business. Another important objective is to lobby for decent rates for translation and interpreting services.
In our opinion, it’s very important to explain to freelance translators what they need to do to be successful in the market, and how they can act as convincing business people towards their clients, either agencies or end clients. Translators who don’t perceive themselves as business people can’t expect to be regarded as equals by their clients when it comes to negotiations about the rates. This is a key issue when negotiating with clients.
What is your take on MT and post-editing?
Even if we still laugh at the outcome of some machine translations, we have to keep in mind that this technology is constantly developing, and getting more sophisticated. MT is here to stay, whether we agree with it or not. However, it is also important to know that this technology will never be as reliable as human translations as it cannot be used for any text or subject, and cannot detect the language style which is suitable for a special target group.
In order to get an acceptable outcome, i.e. to only translate the gist of a text, the source text must be written in a so-called controlled language, i.e. standard phrases and vocabulary. It is not realistic to assume that a high number of documents in the future will be written in controlled language and thus be suitable for MT.
The main question however, once clients have realized that the outcome from MT is not good enough, is whether we as translators will have the courage to turn down post-editing jobs, or accept to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for clients who use MT. In many cases, just as much (if not more) effort is required to edit a bad translation as that required to translate the text all over again, and the outcome is very often mediocre compared to a new translation from scratch. Those who decide to get into the post-editing business have to know how to charge for their services.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Act as a professional translator and get specialized within clearly defined fields; don’t jump on every possible job. Join a professional organization which has a mentorship program for young translators. Keep your eyes wide open for different webinars which will bring you further in your profession. Attend translators’ gatherings and establish a network with other colleagues. Take part in discussions on social media.
In your opinion, what does the future of our profession look like?
Well, I am quite optimistic about the future. We alone are responsible for the path our profession will take. There will always be a demand for translators, but we need to raise the standards, i.e. do what is necessary when it comes to networking, marketing, attending webinars and learning how to sell our services at decent rates. In order to reach these rates, it is crucial that our clients understand what translation work really means, and what the consequences of using MT or less qualified translators could be. There is a lot of work to be done
Erik, thanks a lot for your time!
Previous interviews in the series:
- People who rock the industry – Corinne McKay
- People who rock the industry – Simon Andriesen
- People who rock the industry – Aurora Humarán
- People who rock the industry – Kevin Lossner
- People who rock the industry – Geoffrey Buckingham
- People who rock the industry – Marta Stelmaszak
Do you know a colleague who deserves to be interviewed in this series, who made a contribution in any way – no matter how small or big – to our profession? Contact us!