Interview with a German Translator: Allison Bryant

Allison Bryant, a German and Japanese translator from Oxford, Michigan shares her experiences in the language industry with CETRA.

Bryant, A.

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

    I work from German and Japanese into US English. Occasionally, I’ve done small, quick translations into German, and more rarely into Japanese. However, as I’m not a native speaker of German or Japanese, I generally refer larger projects into German or Japanese to colleagues who are native speakers.

    Naturally, every language will have its own challenges but for being such geographically different languages, German and Japanese can surprisingly have some of the same tricky issues. Both languages have the ability to create very long sentences that often simply wouldn’t work in English. English, while capable of making perfectly grammatical, long sentences, just doesn’t like paragraph long sentences. One time in Japanese, I had a sentence that not only began with “I believe” but also had three “but, rather” conjunctions as well as a laundry list of reasons. If it were translated into one sentence, the idea would be there, sure, but it wouldn’t be a very good translation, because it wouldn’t sound natural since English doesn’t construct its thoughts like that. In cases like that, I find the most natural break in the original sentence and rework it into two or more sentences as need be.

    The space a particular word, phrase or sentence takes up can be another challenge to work through when translating these two languages. While German can shrink or expand coming into English, Japanese will almost always expand. This can be challenging sometimes when I’m translating complicated forms or charts. Since I’ve done a lot of desktop publishing and document recreation (where the editable source document has been misplaced and all that remains is a PDF, so I recreate an editable document to match the PDF), I know many tricks to overcome this though, by either using common English abbreviations or reducing the font size a little. Working with space restrictions or layouts with multiple columns and / or graphics is one of the challenges I really enjoy about translating. No matter the language, it’s not just about the words and their meaning but how they look on the page and the feel they’ll give their readers in a new audience.

  2. What are some of your most interesting projects? Why?

    Lately, I’ve been mostly translating medical texts, which I find fascinating on their own merits. I also really enjoy translating anything on “green” energy or construction, especially the technical stuff or information for the public at large. I once had the opportunity to consult as part of the pre-translation team for a series of informational videos and product manuals for a German solar company as well as do some of the translation and post-translation desktop publishing and subtitling. It was one of my most memorable projects. I think “green anything” is a broad field that can only continue to expand in importance in the future, due to the world’s need for alternative energy sources. Many of us try to live as “green” as we can, but, behind closed doors at least, we all know we could do better if better technology was at hand. It also doesn’t hurt that Germany is the world’s leader in the use of solar energy, so there are lots of companies looking to expand into the US.

    Another interesting project, which I don’t get enough of in my opinion, was translating for an US breeder of Hanoverian horses who was importing some new breeding stock from Germany.  I may or may not have a secret obsession with anything about animals, especially horses. But, I’ll deny it if you ask… until you look in the trunk of my car where my riding gear lives. Shh!

  3. What is the best part about being a translator? What do you love about it?

    As you can see from the previous questions, a translator should like and be able to handle variety. Indeed, the variety of subjects and types of projects is one of the things I love best.  Another thing is working with my “team” (a fluid construction consisting of everyone involved in any particular project) to create an end product that not only meets the client’s needs but meets the needs they didn’t even know they had. There really is nothing better than walking into a local municipal building, seeing the multilingual information pamphlets, which you worked on as the desktop publisher and suggested making key parts bilingual, help facilitate communication between the information desk and the Nepalese-speaking community member. Even if we lived in the age of Picard’s Star Trek, I’d still be a translator, just for the smiles I saw on everyone’s faces that day.

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

    I doubt anyone who has decided to become a freelance translator ever truly feels “ready” to be a translator, especially during the first, oh say 10 years.  My journey began when I started college and I knew I wanted to be a translator, but I didn’t really know what that meant until I graduated and tried to jump into it part time. Suffice to say that was a very rocky beginning, but it did reveal areas where I could grow. So, I did more research. I talked with people I knew who were translators. I discovered and later joined the ATA (American Translator’s Association). I went to a post-graduate program at the University of Chicago offering a series of courses for translation of various subjects as well as translation technology and how to actually run a translation business. After that, I got my Master’s degree in German Translation Studies from Kent State University, which further refined my translation and research skills as well as my understanding of the industry. By that point, I began to feel “maybe ready,” but that first leap into doing translation full time was still nerve-racking.  Thankfully, I already had a couple agencies that were just waiting for me to finish my degree and gave me work right off the bat. That and the steady amount of positive feedback I’ve received from new and returning clients has helped me realize I made the right decision.

  5. What is the most difficult part about your job?

    I work from home and my family is very close knit, so sometimes it is hard to balance “personal” time with “work” time, especially when they like to drop in to visit or I’m in the middle of a particularly busy period.  Unfortunately, I can’t always give them a set schedule because I sometimes shift my working hours when I’m working with agencies not in the Eastern time zone to give my project managers and I more time to communicate without a long delay.

  6. Can you translate your favorite quote for us? 

    “Die Neugier ist die mächtigste Antriebskraft im Universum, weil sie die beiden größten Bremskräfte im Universum überwinden kann: die Vernunft und die Angst.” – Walter Moers Die Stadt der Träumenden Bücher [The City of Dreaming Books]

    Translation: “Curiosity is the most powerful driving force in the universe because it can overcome the two greatest braking forces in the universe: Reason and Fear.”

    “Neugier ist der Katze Tod, aber Zufriedenheit brachte sie zurück.”

    Translation: “Curiosity killed the cat. But satisfaction brought it back.”– Proverb, Author Unknown