Interview with a Dutch Translator: Dennis Seine

Dennis Seine, a Dutch translator from Portland, Maine, shares his experiences in the language industry with CETRA.  Dennis also discusses the importance of working with an American Translators Association Certified Translator. 

 Dutch Translator


What languages do you work with?  What are some of the intricacies or challenges of the particular language you work with?


I work from English into Dutch. I have done quite a few projects from Dutch into English as well, but I shy away from these, since I am not a native speaker of English.

Dutch is a fascinating language, and I often run into the same issues when translating from English into Dutch. Dutch can endlessly combine nouns to create words whose length might intimidate clients. An example I ran into a few days ago was ‘Customer Engagement Survey,’ which could theoretically be translated as ‘klantenbetrokkenheidsonderzoek’ (not a very elegant translation, and I opted for a different solution). Now hypothetically, if you are a customer participating in this survey, you’d be a ‘klantenbetrokkenheidsonderzoeksdeelnemer’. Guess what a response of a customer participating in this survey could look like in Dutch? Here you go: “klantenbetrokkenheidsonderzoeksdeelnemerantwoord.” Clearly, ten times out of ten I’d receive an e-mail from a panicking client asking me about the absurd length of this noun, so I usually decide to steer clear of this endless ‘nounification.’

Translation length also presents a different challenge. About half of the work I do is IT localization (apps, user interfaces, IT manuals, etc.). Dutch target text tends to be about 15% – 30% longer that the English source, since English is quite a compact language compared to Dutch. Space is often very limited when translating button text in IT products, a challenge I actually really enjoy. One time I had nine characters (including spaces) to translate the button text ‘Long Push.’ I forget what I came up with, but it took me quite some time. A four character translation of the English button text ‘Done’ is fun too.


What are some of your most interesting projects? Why?

What I enjoy most, is the variety of my work. There have been days that I have worked on a grill manual, a press release about a new model of a high profile car manufacturer, subtitling for commercials aired on Dutch TV, a quick minimum rate update for a widely used app and a large manual for tiling your kitchen and bathroom. You never know what your week is going to look like.

I have translated funny T-shirts for a local beer brewer, I wrote questions for a famous Dutch trivia game, I translated 18th century letters from a sailor, and I even worked on press releases for a manufacturer of caskets (it was an odd experience praising these ‘state-of-the-art’ coffins in typical Dutch marketing jargon).


What is the best part about being a translator?

One of the best aspects, as far as I am concerned, is seeing the final product. This applies to all types of projects I work on. Even seeing the final version of a manual I translated makes me feel proud, let alone a localization project that took several months to complete, after which you receive a copy of the software to check. And seeing a slogan you worked on appear on TV? Priceless.


How did you know you were “ready” to be a translator?

I have a Master’s degree in Dutch language and literature. Shockingly, after moving to Maine, I found out that general interest in modern Dutch literature was not what I hoped it would be. I had done some editing while in college, and picked up where I left off. That was almost eight years ago.

Now knowing when or if you’re ready to be a translator to me depended a lot on external factors. Positive feedback from clients (and clients returning to you year after year with new projects) has helped me tremendously in realizing that I was on the right track. Still, every day I learn. When I started out, I took every job I could get my hands on. Now, after working as a translator for close to eight years, I have learned to specialize: it is OK to turn down a translation of manual for medical equipment and to recommend a different colleague. In fact, I strongly believe that this in the long run actually benefits your bottom line.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I never quite feel ‘ready’ as a translator. The job, CAT tools, Windows operating systems, language, client demands and practices, everything is constantly evolving – I am simply trying to keep up!


What is the most difficult part about your job?

I became a dad for the first time seven months ago. And I work from home. Enough said.


What made you join the American Translators Association?

I was looking for some sort of accreditation by an external agency, and it turned out the ATA offered an exam. I became a member and took the exam as soon as I could.

Also, I LOVE the conferences. (The picture above was taken at this years 53rd Annual ATA Conference in San Diego)


Why would you suggest using an ATA Certified translator?

Although I understand that rates play an important factor when competing with other translators bidding for projects, quality should still be the number one deciding factor. In fact, I believe that scrambling to offer rock-bottom rates is hurting our profession: Where does it end? Instead, focus on customer service, work on building a durable relationship with your clients, educate yourself, apply apply apply, specialize, and make sure that every product you send back is top-notch and on time.

But how do you measure a translator’s proficiency? The ATA is the largest and most trusted American organization of translators and interpreters. Their testing procedures are extremely strict (the percentage of translators successfully completing the exam is discouragingly low), as are their guidelines for continuing education. This is a truly invaluable external review of what a translator’s capacities are.


Can you translate a sentence for us?  (Your favorite quote or word)

My favorite quote is the first sentence of Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog:


English: “If I am out of my mind, it’s alright with me, thought Moses Herzog.”

Dutch: “Als ik gek ben, vind ik het best hoor, dacht Moses Herzog.”