Monday, 7 October 2013

Why I'm no longer offering translations into German

As I write, I am gazing not at my beautiful garden in Rutland, but at my sister-in-law's beautiful garden in Upper Bavaria. The view goes out across a meadow and a little stream overhung with willows, and behind that the ground rises in fields covered with corn. I had forgotten how much corn they grow here (as animal fodder, not for human consumption)! I am currently spending a few days in Bavaria with family before heading off to Vienna for the annual "Internationales Texttreff" (meeting of the German-language women's network Texttreff). It's nice to be back!

Why I'm no longer offering translations into German

One of the beauties of self-employment is that often we can work from anywhere (such as Bavaria instead of Rutland). Another is that our businesses can grow, develop and change as we ourselves do. If we realise that something is no longer working for us, we don't have to go through a lengthy application and justification process - we can change it. I've recently decided to make such a change in regard to the language combinations I offer.

I grew up in the UK, Canada and Germany as a bilingual native speaker of both English and German. When I started translating as a student, I worked both from German into English and from English into German (I also studied translating both ways at university). Amongst translators, it is regarded as good professional practice to translate only into one's native language, but as a native speaker of two languages I have always defended my ability to translate into both English and German. However, recently I have found myself becoming increasingly uneasy about offering translations into German. Here's why:
  • I feel increasingly out of touch with everyday language and culture. I lived in Germany for 15 years, went to school and university there, am married to a German and do in fact speak and read German every day. However, it's been ten years now since I actually lived in Germany, and I feel I no longer have my finger on the "pulse" of the language (to use a German expression). For most of my work - which is academic - this might not seem too much of an issue, as academic German is a very formal, resolutely old-fashioned language that changes very slowly. Nevertheless, I have felt increasingly that my German has lost its spark, a certain "aliveness" without which texts feel boring. And I don't want to produce boring texts, even if they are accurate translations.
  • All of my creative work is in English. I don't think this loss of my German "spark" is a coincidence. For the last ten years, I have neither been required nor felt inspired to write creatively in German (by which I mean actively producing content in German). By contrast, I have written essays, a book, poetry and blogs in English. English quite simply is the language I feel creative in - including in my translations. In English, I get a real sense of "flow" when translating; my translations into German feel a lot more laborious, even though the outcome may be perfectly acceptable.
  • It doesn't make financial sense. Because I feel less attuned to and less creative in German, it takes much longer - in fact, significantly longer - for me to produce a translation into German. However, I can't charge significantly more per word for that translation to compensate for the additional time. It stands to reason that the obvious thing to do in financial terms is to concentrate on producing high-quality English translations as I can complete more of these in shorter time, earning more income.

So, from now on, I am going to be concentrating on German-to-English work. I will still work with my current English-to-German clients (who constitute a relatively small part of my client base anyway) for the time being, but any new enquiries for translations into German will be referred on to trusted colleagues. I do want to experiment privately with "playing" and writing more creatively in German - who knows, my "spark" may come back - but for now, English is going to be my only target language.

What are your thoughts on language combinations and offering translation both out of and into a language? Have any of you had similar thoughts or experiences regarding your languages? I'd be very interested to hear them - why not leave a comment below?