Sarah arrived on the scene in rainy November last year to see what it’s like being an interpreter and translator in Berlin. She’s been running back and forth to public and legal offices producing translations at lightning speed, proofreading, taking notes, shadowing and observing the very best and worst behaviour of Berlin’s bureaucratic jungle. Because if you’re going to hang out in the capital during the dark winter months, then you may as well go all out with fluorescent mood lighting. Here’s what Sarah has to say about her internship so far…
What attracted you to the German language?
I always loved how logical German seems, especially in a grammatical sense. Learning about different cases and adjective endings helped me understand this logic more and made me feel like German was an exciting puzzle to be solved rather than just a big jumble that was impossible to wrap my head around.
You’re completing a mandatory year of overseas work experience as part of your degree. Why Berlin?
I’m originally from London, which is big and busy and diverse, so I knew my best chance of getting the biggest variety of German experiences was to head for a big city like Berlin. Although there’s something to be said for the charm of the smaller, more rural areas of Germany, I just wanted somewhere where it was impossible to get bored, and Berlin, with all its diversity, seemed to me like the perfect place for that. I’ve been proven right so far!
What do you want to get out of your time in Berlin?
I’d like to have enough confidence in my ability to speak German that I don’t sweat the small stuff so often. When you’re in an academic environment, you obviously want to do the best you can, but I think there can be a tendency to fixate on the smaller mistakes and overlook your achievements, which isn’t helpful or fun to experience. So, I’d like to get as much experience speaking German as I can so that I’m not so hard on myself when I make mistakes and instead feel encouraged to keep trying. I also still haven’t tried döner, so I’m definitely in the right place!
Describe a typical day at Red Tape Translation
I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day at Red Tape, and that’s half of what makes it so much fun working here. My day can include shadowing interpreters at their appointments, who each have different interpreting styles (and tips for me to steal). I also help with translations, usually of purchase contracts. Last week, I assisted Kathleen in translating 4000 words of dense legal German into English for a read-through at the notary’s office. It’s tough at times, but it’s rewarding to know that you’ve helped someone take a big step in their life like buying a house or getting married in Germany. It helps you to feel part of something bigger than just you and your German to English dictionaries. I’ve also gotten to research and write blog posts, sit in on Red Tape interviews and team meetings, and observe Skype coachings.
What are you finding fun about the internship?
I would say the variety of the internship has been my favourite part so far. Not just in terms of the jobs I get to do, but the people I get to meet, both clients and interpreters, who all have completely different stories, which I get to have a little glimpse of every time I shadow an appointment. Before coming to Berlin and joining Red Tape Translation, I had no experience in the world of interpreting, or even professional translation, so every day I learn something new that I know I’ll carry with me in the future. There’s also something very validating about seeing people in action in the field in which I want to work one day and getting to see them connect with others and do their jobs well.
What is the biggest frustration you’ve experienced in the world of translation so far?
This is a strange answer given that it’s Red Tape’s speciality, but I’d probably say German bureaucracy. I always appreciate how detailed it is and how it tries to account for basically any situation, but it can definitely be frustrating to have done all of your research and to feel as prepared as you can be for an appointment, only to be turned away because of a technicality! Keeping your head in those situations, and also making sure the client doesn’t panic, can be very tricky.
What is the most significant learning curve you’ve faced?
Learning to tackle legal translation, for sure. Although I’m studying German at university, we tend to focus on translating literature and articles. Purchase contracts didn’t quite make it onto our syllabus, so I felt a little out of my depth the first time I was presented with one. Translating legal documents has taught me that translating is a lot more than just looking up a word and selecting something that fits the context; it can involve researching and teaching yourself legal concepts, so that you can fully understand the English version of the contract as well as the German one. It also doesn’t help that some sentences in these contracts can go on for entire paragraphs, so I’ve had to learn not to run at the first sign of a Bandwurmsatz!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? (The typical interview question)
The scariest question so far! I used to go back and forth a lot due to my lack of confidence, but I think if I’ve learned anything from my time at Red Tape so far, it’s that I definitely want to be involved in the world of translating AND interpreting in some way in the future. Ideally, wherever I end up, I want to be using all of my languages, and I want to keep doing things that push me out of my comfort zone a little bit (like making phone calls!). My year abroad has just amplified my love of solo travel, so I’d love to integrate that into my life somehow, too. I’ll have my degree and a job that I genuinely enjoy, and will maybe even be adding new languages to my arsenal!