Interview with… André Lindemann

A.LindemannI had the pleasure of interviewing BDÜ’s President, André Lindemann. With 7000 members, the BDÜ (German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators – Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Űbersetzer e.V.) is Germany’s largest professional association in the industry. It represents 75% of all professional translators and interpreters in Germany and has been representing their interests since 1955. We covered many topics in this interview, and it has been a true pleasure – thank you again, André!

The German version of this interview is available here.


Hi André. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your background and your career? Who are you and how did you come to this profession?

I grew up near the German-Polish border in the state of Brandenburg, which is once more my place of residence and where meanwhile, I’m in the second half of life, happily married and have an adult son.

I originally wanted to study for a degree in criminology after secondary school then, in the early Eighties, I was persuaded by my future employer – the Ministry of the Interior of the erstwhile GDR – to study for a degree in translation and interpreting, which I was awarded in 1986 at Leipzig University for the languages Polish and Russian. I subsequently interpreted and translated for all areas of the Ministry of the Interior (police, justice, fire, etc.) until the end of 1990. After German reunification and a three-year period of constant change in employment and vocational orientation, I finally landed back with the police in 1994 as a staff interpreter and translator.

You are an interpreter and translator for the Brandenburg State Police, but also self-employed. What does a typical day look like for you?

If there are no interpreting assignments pending outside normal office working hours – or at the office – I cross the border to Poland and go to my office at the Joint Centre of German-Polish Police and Customs Cooperation in Świecko, where I provide translation support to my colleagues in international police legal assistance, or in the coordination of German-Polish police cooperation. Several times a week there are conversations, work consultations, conferences and training sessions which require interpretation for representatives of the Polish and German security authorities (police, border guards, customs, prosecutors, etc.). What I particularly love about my professional work is the constant change between translating and interpreting.

My part-time self-employment is currently limited to appointments at the courts for interpreting and translation for a few regular and new customers.

The majority of my spare time is dedicated to my work for the BDÜ (Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators). Just like the profession, the association is also in a phase of change and here, I can actively contribute with my involvement. Together with the positive results of the task, cooperation in association committees has an almost family atmosphere, which provides me with an extremely high level of satisfaction.

Your working languages are Russian and Polish; why not English as well? How does one manage in this profession in 2013 without English?

These days, I’m actually working as an interpreter with just one working language: Polish. Although I continue to translate from the Russian language, I’m no longer working as an interpreter, because for decades, I have no longer had enough activity to provide the practical experience required.

In professional practice, I get along quite well without English, dealing as I do almost exclusively with German and Polish police officers. The situation is different in my volunteer work for the BDÜ, where my English is not always good enough for international meetings and conferences in particular and unfortunately very few participants speak Polish. I am therefore currently trying to refresh my knowledge of the English language a little but in important conversations, I always rely upon the support of a competent interpreter.

You are president of the BDÜ. What can you tell us about the goals, structure and tasks of the BDÜ?

With over 7,000 members, the Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ) is the largest association for our profession in Germany. It represents about 80 percent of all organised translators and interpreters in Germany, is the contact point for government, industry, trade, and it is responsible for all matters related to both the education and training of and for language service providers. Experienced members of the association become involved, for example, as reviewers of translations, as auditors of state examination boards or as consultants in the development of new vocational qualifications.

The BDÜ has been representing the interests of professional interpreters and translators for over 50 years and the BDÜ umbrella organisation, based in Berlin, represents 13 affiliated member associations. The member associations work at provincial state level or are grouped by profession, such as the “Verband der Konferenzdolmetscher e.V. (VKD) im BDÜ” (Association of Conference interpreters) ”. Internationally, the BDÜ is networked with European organisations like EULITA or FIT Europe, as well as the global umbrella association, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) and the CIUTI.

How did you come to this position as President of the BDÜ?

I had been taking part in the association’s work for a long time, so the simple answer to this question is that the General Assembly of the Association elected me to the function. As a BDÜ member since 1993, I “took office” two years thereafter with their Berlin-Brandenburg state association, where I performed various functions up to January 2009, most recently as Chairman there. A few months later, I was elected to the National Executive Board of the association, where I took on particular responsibility for the areas of interpreting and translation in the legal field, as well as the activities of staff interpreters and translators. I was then elected President of the BDÜ at Speyer during April 2011.

BDÜ_ Logo (Internet)Can you tell us something about the petition to increase the fees and remuneration of interpreters and translators working for the judiciary and your commitment to it?

The BDÜ and the other German professional associations have been fighting for decades to generate reasonable compensation for interpreters and translators – both those who work for the judiciary – as well as those who work in other areas. In terms of preparation of the amendment to the JVEG (German Judicial Remuneration and Allowances Act) – a law which inter alia covers the remuneration of interpreters and translators who are appointed by the judiciary and law enforcement authorities –we have, in recent years, been very active. We have been conceiving and agreeing our substantive position, carried out countless discussions with ministries and members of parliament and have repeatedly presented our reasoning to reinforce support of our individual agenda items.

It is only in the judiciary sector in Germany that remuneration for our freelance colleagues is regulated at law, so the representation of the interests of our members here is particularly important and this can trigger a signal for the entire profession.

After our demands were not adequately accounted for in the draft legislation published, we searched for further ways to influence policy-makers and in doing also submitted an e-petition to the German Parliament for the first time. With a lack of detailed experience here and the difficulty in Germany of mobilising  a relatively small sector, I am not quite dissatisfied with the result: we were, after all, supported by 4,915 signatures.
In addition, and as far as I know for the first time in history, many individual interpreters and in particular translators who were affected referred the matter by means of personal letters to members of parliament and ministries, thus further increasing the pressure on the government.

During recent years, we can certainly note heightened perception of representatives of the profession in political circles. Meanwhile, politicians proactively ask about the expertise of our association wherever it is a case of our professional activity. It was for the first time that a representative of the profession was invited to a public hearing in the Federal Parliament in the person of the BDÜ President.

Further discussions by the Federal Parliament on May 16 about the legislative package will show the extent to which the interests of our members have been successfully represented. Having been made party to the latest information, I’m confident that the results of this work in connection with the law targeted for the early summer will at least bring a noticeable improvement in compensation for many colleagues, even if it understandably lags somewhat behind some goals that are quite ambitious and does not satisfy all.

How do you respond as an association to increasing globalisation and the resulting pressure on prices?

By definition, economic globalisation also offers our industry many advantages, since all those who want to export or import something must communicate with their international partners. In addition to that, there are contracts, operating manuals, and much more that needs to be transferred from one language to another. For this, qualified resources are required and all forecasts predict that in the area of language services provision, a continued annual growth of 10% is expected. That is one side of the coin. But of course globalisation also means increased competition, so that rates are in fact under pressure. This has, however, only had limited influence upon the German market, according to our own research. The BDÜ rates surveys in recent years rather indicate stable rates or indeed slightly higher rates.

As we see it, informing the public – especially potential clients – about the significance of quality in language services, the possibilities for finding a qualified linguist, the benefits of in-house language services and the dangers of machine translation are among the most important tasks for us as a professional association. We also attach great importance to the continuous professional development of our association members, especially in the entrepreneurial area. Overall, the BDÜ annually runs more than 250 different training events. As an association, we have established that colleagues who are most successful are those who can name a clear specialisation for themselves, can position this in the market and who have an entrepreneurial mindset. We are therefore working to constantly improve the business skills of our members and to assist them on their way towards specialisation.

As a German association, or in cooperation with other associations, what do you do to assist translators in positioning themselves better within the international marketplace?

The BDÜ provides its members with diverse possibilities for general or sector-specific marketing via the on-line search on the association website or using various lists of specialised professional interpreters and translators that are available. On the other hand, the association is expanding its continuous professional development offerings, particularly in the field of basic entrepreneurial skills base of its members. As an example last year, they were offered two series of free webinars covering various topics such as estimating, bidding, price negotiations and similar.

How do you see the German translation market?

Even although Germany is no longer the export champion of the world, exports still play a key role in the German economy. This inevitably leads to a high requirement for translation, whereby the time factor is increasingly becoming a decisive element, because translations of manuals, operating instructions or websites in several languages must be done timely and concurrently.

Despite these requirements, and by contrast to the translation markets of many other countries, the German translation market is still highly-fragmented, with many single-person or small enterprises and not quite so many large operators. This also becomes evident from statistics, according to which a micro-census showed that of approximately 38,000 interpreters and translators in Germany, more than half of all translators are self-employed and working alone. Reverting specifically to being able to react appropriately to the requirements that the marketplace sets, it will become ever more necessary to build networks and it is particularly here that the networking facilities offered by our association constitute a competitive advantage.

What is your opinion of the future for translators and interpreters?

Of course, I have no crystal ball for the future, but the question of where the journey is heading has already been touched upon. We assume that the market for language services will continue to grow dynamically with the progress of continuing globalisation, which means that the aforementioned tendency for pressure in the areas of deadlines and remuneration will together provide increasing competition.

For present and future translators and interpreters, it will be dependent upon their ability to perform correctly with well-founded language and translation skills as qualified translators and / or interpreters. In addition to that, we can add specialisation, which also encompasses the principle of “lifelong learning”. Thirdly, ‘willingness’ should be mentioned. The willingness to work together either on a project-related basis or permanently in multilingual or cross-functional networks, while adapting our entrepreneurial profiles to the market in such a way that they offer higher added value to the client and can ensure an adequate personal return. There is one thing that I am 100% sure about: Despite the fact that virtually everyone is somehow able to communicate in English, and despite ever-improving machine translation tools, people will ALWAYS need those who can reliable and competently communicate between two languages and consequently between two cultures.

Thank you very much for your time André!

(Translated from German by Textklick)

People who rock the industry – Erik Hansson

It’s time for the  January 2013 interview! with Erik Hansson. Happy reading!


 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?

lapla_0503

Sending off a tweet from Swedish Lapland – always on duty.

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!

People who rock the industry – Kevin Lossner

For this November 2012 piece, we interviewed Kevin Lossner, a very respected colleague with extensive experience and insights on translation technologies, workflow optimization, resource reviews and marketing strategies – and “Controversies and other topics” as he himself points out ;). Kevin Lossner was a chemist, a medical device materials developer and consultant, a software developer and a technology sales and systems consultant. He now applies this past experience for the translation of scientific and technical communications, technical marketing documents, patents and contracts and related disciplines.  His biography is pretty impressive – read more here.


Hi Kevin! So, who are you? What professional hats are you wearing?

Hard one to answer. I’ve been involved in so many things over the years that I’m lucky if I remember what I  did last week. It’s less important where one has been, I think, than where one is going. I’m an American expat living in Germany, with a lot of things regarding family, residence and culture subject to constant consideration and conflict. So I doubt I can even answer the part about where I’m going except to say I’ll get there.

What were the turning points in your career that got you where you are now?

The turning points? There are so many. I suppose one of the most important was the day in 1981 when I tried to find books on the Swabian dialect of German in Das Internationale Buch in Berlin. The attention that drew still affects my life and work. Or perhaps it was the realization one day at my corporate research job that I really did not want to work in a lab with an agenda set by someone else. I do as I like or try to.

You’re an influential translation blogger within the profession with your famous blog “Translation Tribulations“. Tell us a bit about the blog.

I started the blog in 2008 for two reasons. I grew tired of the deterioration of forum communication on ProZ and the emerging agenda of naked commercial interest and mediocrity over professionalism. Things reached a point where it was impossible to express an honest opinion without someone who barely understood English complaining about the use of metaphor and some puppet moderator with Stalinist sympathies making up RuleZ to justify strangling discussions. So I set up my own soapbox. It’s also a way to share information with clients and colleagues and avoid explaining the same solutions to recurring problems day after day to the point where sleep and work become rare luxuries.

I’m pretty low tech about the blog, though. The hosting with Google’s Blogger probably wasn’t the best choice, and the intricacies of RSS, mail subscriptions and many other things that other translation bloggers do are still mysteries to me. The time I spend is mostly writing, responding to comments and editing. A few hours a week maybe. Oh yes, and about 40 hours per week deleting Russian and Chinese spam comments.

Interoperability in translation – what are your views on it and how do you think it will develop over the next years?

I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the last decade for information exchange between tools. But we’re still not where the “real” world of IT was in many respects in the 1980s. The stubborn provincialism of many tool vendors does a lot of damage still and even limits those who hope to gain by it. Across is the worst offender I know of in this respect – their strategy of marketing incompatibility as a corporate asset disgusts me. Like the Hotel California of translation… arrival isn’t a problem, but checking out can be an issue. But I am encouraged by other developments I see among the serious providers on the market. I have high hopes for the Linport initiative (see linport.org), and I understand that SDL will adopt the Translation Interoperability Protocol Package (TIPP) – a package type for exchanging translation project data between tools – as soon as the specifications are finalized. I hope others follow suit. Some, such as Ontram, already appear to be there.

MT and crowdsourcing are two “hot” trends right now in our profession. What’s your take and opinion on each one of them?

I haven’t got much of an opinion on crowdsourcing, as it does not affect markets that interest me. It’s more of a tool for engaging customers in a market than a bludgeon to be used against translation professionals, and from the perspective of managing resources and quality, it’s probably more expensive than traditional commercial translation. But the payoff is involvement of the “user base”. I like to follow the Unprofessional Translation blog – it sometimes has interesting posts about crowdsourcing topics.

MT is the search for the linguistic Philosopher’s Stone and in many markets just as doomed. It’s the biggest scam since Y2K, based on shaky premises of a “content tsunami” from the hash pipe dreams of those hoping to make a buck off the suckers who engage with this profession every minute. It’s interesting to watch the incestuous circle of round robin quotation between the CSA, spawn of the CSA, TAUS and a select few pundits. The only tsunami here is one of disinformation and self-feeding propaganda. The few honest voices involved in MT discussions, who speak of the real value in limited domains, presenting honestly the risks and trade-offs – these are drowned out by the cries of carnival barkers yelling “Get on the MT boat or drown!” Don Wiggins may fancy himself a latter day Noah, but all he’s got in common with that venerable patriarch is a boat load of manure.

What’s your take on Social Media  from a professional/business standpoint?

Twitter is the new e-mail for me. More effective, takes less time and I deal with less spam. I’m deeply suspicious of Facebook and very close to pulling the plug on my profile and business page there because of ever-shifting policies, scams and data harvesting for phishing that is getting out of control. I avoid some the popular “business” platforms most of the time partly for lack of time, but in the case of XING also because I am tired of all the MLM spammers and networking for networking’s sake. If I spend the time to meet and chat with someone, it’s because I want to learn more about that person or his or her business, not because I want to collect damned business cards, real or virtual. Networks are for spiders. I prefer people.

You recently published a book about MemoQ 6 – and you are already working on its next version. Why MemoQ in particular and not another CAT-tool? 

Why memoQ? Well, this book project started out in 2006, perhaps before then, as one on interoperability between Trados and Déjà Vu, which were my main working tools at the time. But since 2000 I had become increasingly involved in challenges of collaboration between many different platforms, and the difficulties many users experience with complex tools for assisting their translation work increasingly became a burden on me. When I first encountered memoQ, I dismissed it rudely and continued to do so for nearly two years. I even dumped a high volume customer of mine because the guy kept begging me to use memoQ. But Kilgray has had one of the most rapid, effective arcs of tool development I’ve seen in four decades of experience with IT. memoQ is one of the most effective tools for collaboration between platforms that I’ve seen, and the learning curve is usually reasonable compared to the alternatives. Often other tools will do some useful thing that memoQ cannot – or do it better – but today memoQ is probably the most balanced tool I know. But often other software is needed for effective work, and a lot of my book is about that: working together with other tools like SDL Trados Studio, WordFast, OmegaT, etc.

What made you write this book?

The book is written as a series of short tutorials, most of them only 150 words or less plus screenshots. Many of the modules were written to answer questions from colleagues I support or direct clients and agencies for whom I consult. Some of it was published in one version or another on the blog, but a lot of material has never made it to publication before (and quite a bit remains that didn’t fit in the book). It’s all been “field tested” answering real, sometimes desperate questions and solving real problems. I used part of it again this morning about XLIFF exchange between memoQ  versions to sort out problems for a colleague working with an agency that bought memoQ but still doesn’t grasp how to use it best for outsourcing. Most of the time you just need a few words to sort things out and get people thinking, not long-winded chapters detailing features that are seldom relevant.

Now, what piece of advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?

Come back in 20 years when you’ve learned something and knock ‘em dead ;). Make sure you understand a subject or two you hope to translate, really understand them. Master them. Don’t think a “knowledge of languages” will get you very far these days, because mostly it won’t. You need business savvy and a lot of real subject expertise. You don’t get that in a translation studies program. Go be an engineer for a decade or two. Sell insurance. Practice a health care profession. Travel. Learn the real language of the people whose stuff you might have to translate some day. Guess what? That automotive engineer who writes the parts manual probably got a barely passing grade in German and mixes in a lot of dialect. Good luck with that if your background is Kent State translation studies and perhaps a junior year abroad. Then about the time you get tired of your chosen career or it just doesn’t go where you want to, experience some of the better parts of it again as a translator. Quereinsteiger as we call them in Germany. Most of the best are.

In your opinion, how does the future of our profession look like?

 What does the future of the profession look like? It depends on the lens you choose to view it through. That was the main topic of this year’s Translation Management conference in Warsaw. There were many futures presented there and rightly so. This profession will take you where you lead it if you’ve got a good professional foundation. If you look forward to a future of MT post-editing in Satanic mills lit by a monitor’s glow, it’s your right to immolate your brain in that way or any other that tickles your fancy. I think the real future will be decided by the training and opportunities for the next generation, and we really must stop gazing at our own navels and take that more seriously, not leave the field to Pied Pipers like the CSA and TAUS who will lead future linguists off into brown fields and drag them down into dullness.

Last but not least, what do you do in your free time to get away from the computer?

Free time? What’s that? I’m not sure where the line is between work and play. I enjoy my work, and my play is work usually. I’m out with the dogs, training them or doing a bit of hunting, tending my birds in the hen yard or dovecote or the tending the garden, cooking fruit preserves or… sleeping.

 Thanks a lot for your time, Kevin – and good luck with all your projects!

People who rock the industry – Marta Stelmaszak

We’re delighted to announce a new series: “People who rock the translation industry!”, in which we will be interviewing people who have made a positive contribution, no matter how small or large, to the translation industry – at the international, national or local level.

The obvious choice for the first installment in this series would be an interview of colleague Marta Stelmaszak, who is a true rock star when it comes to helping freelance translators embrace their business skills and abilities. An added bonus is that Marta is also taking part in this series as an interviewer – we will both be interviewing amazing people and colleagues, and the interviews will be shared between this blog and hers (Wantwords) at the rate of two per month – one monthly on each blog. Here on the Stinging Nettle, all interviews will be under the newly created “Rocking the industry!” category, under “Articles in English”.

If you know someone who rocks the industry, contact us!

Enough chit chat. I will now leave you to enjoy Marta’s interview, the first in the series, and find out all about the amazing job she’s doing!


Hi Marta! Tell us about you. Who are you?

Most of the time I’m a translator and I translate between Polish and English law, IT, marketing and business. Quite often I’m an interpreter and then I interpret legal and business matters. Sometimes I’m also a communication consultant, and then I work on intercultural aspects of doing business. From time to time I present and give talks (most often on using the Internet in the languages industry), or even write articles and publications (on social media or effective CVs – links). In addition, on some occasions I’m a business consultant in the industry – I’m a qualified business mentor and a member of the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs.
When I’m not doing these things, I’m active as member of the Management Committee of the Interpreting Division at the Chartered Institute of Linguists and a co-head of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters. I’ve been voted a Top 17 Twitterer (@mstelmaszak) and Top 20 Facebook Fan Page (WantWords) in Language Lovers 2012. I run the Business School for Translators and I’m sharing the spirit of freelancing and having a successful business.

At the same time, I’m trying to polish my Norwegian and I’m saving for a wooden house by a fjord.

Tell us a bit about your background and career so far.

I grew up in a monolingual family, but I started learning English when I was about 7. I always wanted to do something with languages, and communication was my passion. I started a degree in Warsaw , but it wasn’t the right time for idealists, so I decided to leave it and move abroad. I went to Norway and only there did I realise that I could fulfil all of my dreams, even those that I thought would never come true. I started transforming these dreams into plans, and I finally moved to London to do my degree in translation. And that’s how it all started. I’ve been a translator and interpreter since I can remember, and I had only short periods of working for others. Everything I do makes me believe that having my own business, whether as a freelancer or a small company, is the best choice for me.

You founded your famous “Business School for Translators”. What is it exactly?

Careers in translation or interpreting most often involve regular academic training. We have to spend a few years studying translation theory, honing our skills, or practicing in a booth. It is of course essential to master the theory and the practical skills. But when we graduate and get our diploma, we don’t always know how to start using our skills in the real, professional life. We hardly ever possess any business knowledge of the industry, and scarcely anyone knows how to earn money doing what we love and have been taught.

Over the years, I learnt a lot about the industry by myself, and I also developed my background in business and entrepreneurship. At one point of my career I decided that I wanted to share this knowledge and experience with other translators and interpreters. The Business School represents the idea that we’re all small businesses and entrepreneurs and it’s the way of spreading this notion amongst colleagues in translation and interpreting.  In other words, everything I do under the heading of the Business School for Translators is to encourage my colleagues to think business and to help them develop as mini entrepreneurs. I write a blog, I share publications, I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, and I organise Google+ Hangouts.

Where did the idea of the business school come from?

There are some bits of business training that our universities never give us and they turn out to be essential in becoming a successful, money-making translator. A few lessons on the practical knowledge of the industry would help, just to know how it is doing, where it is going and what are the areas worth looking at. Basic tax and legal knowledge, whilst certainly outside of the translator training scope, could be at least mentioned and some resources could be identified. Basics of marketing definitely should be a part of the curriculum. And where’s the module on financial management? We are also not taught that there is a wholly different pool of skills we will need out there: communication, pro-activeness, responsiveness, stress management, self-discipline, and negotiation… these areas are essential to working in translation or interpreting!

I used to rock from the early years!

You’re also part of the Websites for Translators team. What do you guys do?

I helped with setting up the company and with initial development. Then Meg took over, and she’s now delivering great websites, logos and business cards to translators and interpreters all over the world. The team believes that every freelancer is in fact a small business, and that’s why investing in marketing and promotion is essential. Websites for Translators aims to empower translators and interpreters to uphold the professional standards, find more clients and never have to lower the rates.

If you do have free time (do you?!), what do you enjoy doing?

At the moment, I’m studying and researching forensic linguistics. I’m particularly interested in guilt lost in translation, but I’m also quite into researching the language of social media. Do we write or talk on Facebook? Is Twitter more similar to written or spoken language? How does the character limit influence our syntax? These are some of the questions I’m trying to deal with while not working. I’m also thinking of taking up martial arts and organising a TEDx on languages and translation.

What do you think the future of the translation industry looks like?

Exactly the way we will make it. I don’t believe in these menaces of post-editing or machine translation replacing human translators. I don’t believe in Google Translate becoming equally accurate as humans. I don’t believe that huge companies will create translation memories able to automatically translate all documents. I believe in us, real translators. We have enough strength, dignity and courage to take a stand and fight for the profession. We’re also crazy enough to rock the industry.