Would you recommend a career change from teaching to translating from German to English?
Thread poster: Elisabeth Sadler

Elisabeth Sadler  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:47
German to English
+ ...
Jul 17, 2012

Hi! I'm a UK based teacher and would appreciate some advice. I'm considering a career change: because I have three young children I would like to work from home and translating seems like a good option. I'm a German native speaker but have lived, studied and worked in England for half my life.

My questions are as follows:
1. Is there enough work out there for a translator from German to English?
2. Which fields are particularly sought after?
3. Am I likely to succeed with my level of skill? I can write accurately (as I teacher I have thorough knowledge of spelling and grammar) and I'm a prolific reader of novels and newspapers (as well as a graduate in musicology), but I don't think I'm a naturally fluent writer. I'm hoping to learn, of course.


 

Elke Fehling  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Not really fluent in the target language: Don't! Jul 18, 2012

sadlere wrote:

My questions are as follows:
1. Is there enough work out there for a translator from German to English?


There probably is. The question is if you are able to find and keep that work.

2. Which fields are particularly sought after?


What fields are you especially good at? In my opinion it's the technical field, but I don't really know for sure. It's important that you pick a field that you are good at, not a field that is sought after.


3. Am I likely to succeed with my level of skill? I can write accurately (as I teacher I have thorough knowledge of spelling and grammar) and I'm a prolific reader of novels and newspapers (as well as a graduate in musicology), but I don't think I'm a naturally fluent writer. I'm hoping to learn, of course.


In this case: If you already know that you are not a "naturally fluent writer" I wouldn't consider a career change. How long did it take to get the language skills you have now? I have no idea what you could do to further improve your English skills other than living in the country, reading English books/newspapers and practicing the language every day, and you are already doing that.

Is your German better? Than you should consider translating into German instead.


 

Elisabeth Sadler  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:47
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
What is a 'native speaker'? Jul 18, 2012

Thank you for your reply. I didn't mean to say that my English is inadequate, just that I'm not naturally the kind of person that comes up with amazing expressions and fills up the pages quickly. I suppose the best way to find out is to have a go at it. I definitely don't think that my German is better than my English nowadays because I've been in an English environment for more than half my life.

Will I be disadvantaged if I put down 'German native speaker', but still want to translate into English? I saw that some jobs specify that you have to be a 'native speaker', but the fact that I was born in Germany and hold a German passport is surely less important than my fluency and level of skill? If I put down 'English native speaker', does that mean I'm lying? I think that my two languages are both at the level of a native speaker, but 'native' means 'born' and I was born in Germany.

And which exams/qualifications would you recommend? Are they important? I was looking at the 'Institute of Linguist' ones.


 

Elke Fehling  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
"Native speaker" Jul 19, 2012

sadlere wrote:

Thank you for your reply. I didn't mean to say that my English is inadequate, just that I'm not naturally the kind of person that comes up with amazing expressions and fills up the pages quickly. I suppose the best way to find out is to have a go at it. I definitely don't think that my German is better than my English nowadays because I've been in an English environment for more than half my life.

Will I be disadvantaged if I put down 'German native speaker', but still want to translate into English? I saw that some jobs specify that you have to be a 'native speaker', but the fact that I was born in Germany and hold a German passport is surely less important than my fluency and level of skill? If I put down 'English native speaker', does that mean I'm lying? I think that my two languages are both at the level of a native speaker, but 'native' means 'born' and I was born in Germany.

And which exams/qualifications would you recommend? Are they important? I was looking at the 'Institute of Linguist' ones.


Your English has to be absolutely perfect to be a good translator. If I were a client and you would tell me that you don't come up with "amazing expressions" easily I wouldn't employ you. Why do you want to become a translator if you find it hard to "fill up pages"? A translator is a writer. If you don' t really master all aspects of the English language you should consider looking for another job.

In my opinion only a native speaker can be a good translator. People who say that they are native speakers in two languages aren't good enough to be a translator in any language. I am sorry for the harsh words, but that's what I have seen in the past. Over and over again.
Yes, you would be lying if you said you were an English native speaker, but none of my clients has ever checked my passporticon_wink.gif

I do have a translation diploma from a German university, but nobody ever asked for it. I wouldn't recommend any official exams/qualifications, you won't need them in order to get jobs.

Recently there was a disussion about "native speakers" in one of the forums, search for it to learn more about other peoples' opinions.

Elke


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:47
Chinese to English
Just had a big argument over "native"... Jul 20, 2012

sadlere wrote:

'native' means 'born' and I was born in Germany.


But we can be sure that this definition is wrong. Being a native speaker is not about where you were born, it's about the language you acquired as a child. If you acquired English along with your German, or soon after (not in school), then you are a native speaker of English. If you didn't, you aren't.

Reading between the lines, your language situation is a much bigger problem for you than your aptitude for writing (I'm not a natural writer either, but translating means I don't make up my own stuff, just process other people's). In a pair like English-German, there are a lot of talented translators, and clients will want to pick the best. Most of the time, that means they will go for a native speaker of the target language. I understand you to mean that you're a German native, but you've spent so long in the UK that your English is now more current than your German. In that case, you're not ready to translate. You won't get many jobs into English, because you're not a native; but if your German isn't excellent, then you won't get many jobs into German, either.


 

Elisabeth Sadler  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:47
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That's exactly what I was worried about. Jul 20, 2012

I understand you to mean that you're a German native, but you've spent so long in the UK that your English is now more current than your German. In that case, you're not ready to translate. You won't get many jobs into English, because you're not a native; but if your German isn't excellent, then you won't get many jobs into German, either. [/quote]


That's exactly what I was worried about, Phil - thank you for summarising it so well. I can't quite believe that just because I've lived in England for 23 years and in Germany for 15 years (plus in Italy for 4 years), NONE of my languages are fluent enough for translation. So I would like to take some exams to prove my level of skill, and I'd also like to start practising. There's no way somebody would know that I'm German from the way I write or speak English, so I don't see why I should be penalised for being of German descent. I transferred from a German school to an English school aged 15, and completed both my school and my university education in English, so perhaps I wouldn't be lying if I put English as my native language?
I like the way you said my German isn't 'current'. That's exactly the point: I speak to my family all the time on the phone and I travel to Germany three times a year, but it's not the same as living in a country. That's why I want to translate into English.


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:47
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Near-native Jul 20, 2012

You seem to be a near-native speaker/writer of English. If this is the case, and especially if English is your dominant language of daily use, then there is no reason you shouldn't be able to translate into English.

 

Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:47
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
There are other things to take into account Jul 20, 2012

sadlere wrote:

I have three young children I would like to work from home and translating seems like a good option.


Maybe this is off topic but I know that when my two girls were young I would have found it impossible to work from home, and least of all translate.

Housework, meals, children staying at home when they're ill... the list is endless. Depending on what you're asked to translate, you need your full concentration.

Another thing I think you need to take into account is that once you find work, you might find it difficult to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Though I admit that maybe it's different in the UK.


 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:47
English to German
+ ...
Helena makes an important point Jul 20, 2012

Helena Chavarria wrote:

Maybe this is off topic but I know that when my two girls were young I would have found it impossible to work from home, and least of all translate.

Housework, meals, children staying at home when they're ill... the list is endless. Depending on what you're asked to translate, you need your full concentration.

Another thing I think you need to take into account is that once you find work, you might find it difficult to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Though I admit that maybe it's different in the UK.




Translation is a highly fast-paced industry. Translators prefer to work from home not because they love to sleep in, but to be able to accommodate their client's international time zones. Working from home is a necessity, not a luxury.
The word "deadline" will hover in your home like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Nobody will care if your kid is sick. Clients may refuse payment because missing a deadline is considered a breach of contract.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:47
Chinese to English
Give it a try! Jul 21, 2012

sadlere wrote:

There's no way somebody would know that I'm German from the way I write or speak English, so I don't see why I should be penalised for being of German descent. I transferred from a German school to an English school aged 15, and completed both my school and my university education in English, so perhaps I wouldn't be lying if I put English as my native language?


I have a couple of things to say to that:
1) Nobody owes you a living as a translator. There's no question of you being "penalised", it's just that some people are better suited for some professions than others.

2) But if your English is good enough, then give it a try. I wouldn't advise you to claim English as a native language, but you can certainly say that you have native-level competence in English - and that's backed up further down your CV by your education. I really don't know how clients in your pair think about this, so why not choose a few agencies, send in a few CVs, and just ask them? They may just ignore you, of course, but if you're lucky, someone will respond and either say, no, we wouldn't consider you, or yes, that sounds fine. Then you have the joys of rate negotiations, and I tell you, there is no scorn like the scorn of German translators who see you undercutting market prices, so aim high!


 


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