I 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.
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)