February 2016

How can we give young freelancers a voice in the translation industry?

As we’re all aware, working as a translator can be very solitary indeed. We miss out on water-cooler chat (who cares!) and colleague banter (actually, that’d be nice).

Depending on your perspective, these can be seen as pros or cons. After all, we can be so much happier and productive without office politics – a significant source of stress for many people in the corporate world.

This solitude is true for the battle-hardened veterans among us. But it is also particularly the case for the rookies who are new to the industry and lack a professional peer network.

Young translators often feel that they don’t have a voice – either to express their concerns or share ideas with others.

But what do I know about this? What makes me qualified to address this topic? – These are important questions of course, as they help us filter the wheat from the chaff in the vast fields of online content.

Well, I am a 24 year old freelance translator. Younger than most, but definitely not the youngest out there.

While I’m not entirely new to the business (approaching six years of experience), I only became a full-time freelancer back in 2014. This step gave me new insight into the industry and the difficulties newbies face.

Why do young translators want a voice? I can rattle off a few reasons: to seek out advice, to question prevailing norms in the industry, to reach out to peers and clients, and to interact with our close-knit community.

There are a whole host of reasons! So, let’s not labour this point too much.

In the age of the Internet, you’d be forgiven for asking why are young translators finding it difficult to speak up. Communicating has never been easier!

I agree, but the truth is young translators often don’t dare to speak out.

Codswallop, you say!

No, it’s true!

It takes courage to ask for advice, particularly in public arenas.

We all feel the need to present ourselves in a professional, competent light. That means we all have to know everything there is to know, right?

Of course not. Even the most experienced translators among us gladly accept qualified insights. Ultimately, to achieve success it’s important to be open to new information.

But this isn’t how the juniors see it. Stepping out into the limelight and asking essential questions reveals a certain vulnerability. It’s only natural to feel a sense of anxiety.

And news flash! A lot of translators are introverts, which only compounds this problem.

Luckily, I think this is changing. Facebook groups and platforms like the Open Mic are making it increasingly easier for newbies to get the advice they need – in a non-judgemental setting.

Let’s keep this up!

But I’m not just talking about advice.

Young translators may also want to write articles or discuss a certain topic, but feel reluctant to do so. Self-doubt creeps in. Where’s my credibility? Why would readers want to hear what I’ve got to say? Do I actually have anything of value to talk about?

Dmitry Kornyukhov puts it quite succinctly:

We should bear in mind, all our experiences are valid. Perhaps sharing these experiences may help others. We all have value to offer. So, newbies, get writing! Putting yourself out there, particularly when everything seems new, can be quite scary.

What are the solutions?

Platforms like the Open Mic and networks (such as the League of Extraordinary Translators on Facebook) are fantastic.

But also your own social media channels and websites are a great place to start.

For the rest of us, let’s (continue to) foster a welcoming, non-judgemental environment. Of course, non-judgemental doesn’t mean an avoidance of constructive feedback. That’s essential.

What’s in it for us? Why should I help young freelancers?

I’m not going to appeal to a sense of altruism as that’s hardly sustainable nor fair.

Instead, let’s look at how more established translators can benefit from this friendly exchange of ideas.

By helping others, we remind ourselves of certain pieces of information. In doing so, we can fine-tune our own services and businesses.

Developing a peer network can also lead to more leads. That newbie working in the reverse of your language pair might one day thank you by referring any relevant contacts to you. For example, I only translate from German (into English). So when an existing client asks if I can work in the other direction too, I recommend they try my skilled peers.

And last but not least:

A helpful and friendly community is an awesome one!

I’d also like to thank everyone who’s shared their value and expertise already. I certainly found the advice incredibly useful when I was starting out. And it’s great to carry on learning more and more about this industry!

A Dummy’s Guide to Swiss German

Grüezi mitenand! [Hello everyone!]

Anyone flying into Switzerland and expecting to be greeted in German by a customs officer may at first think they’ve ended up in the wrong country upon hearing the local language.

We’re told that Switzerland has four official languages: German (64%), French (21%), Italian (7%) and Romansh (<1%), but this isn’t quite the case. What people actually speak here is Swiss German (a range of Alemannic dialects), rather than German German (or ‘High German’) and they differ quite a lot.

Swiss German differs from city to city – and from valley to valley – too. One of the noticeable differences between High German and Swiss German is in pronunciation.

For example the High German ‘ung’ is pronounced as ‘ig’, ‘ei’ as ‘ie’, ‘n’s are often omitted and if you seem to hear people with throat infections, you’re probably just mistaking it for the coarse ‘ch’ which the Swiss say instead of ‘k’! As can be seen in these common examples:

High German:                     Swiss German:                 English:

Kuchenkasten                     Chüchichäschtli                   Kitchen cupboard

Verzweigung                        Verzwiegig                          Intersection

Lebensgefährlich                 Läbesgföhrlech                    Deadly

Not only does Swiss German have its own pronunciation, but it also has its own vocabulary and grammar – for instance, there is no simple past tense or genitive case in Swiss German, although it does have its own set of articles etc.

Swiss German sounds very pleasing to the ear and somehow more ‘natural’ than High German, perhaps due to the sing-song nature of the dialect’s intonation. But this is very much my personal opinion!

Thankfully – for those of us more familiar with High German – Swiss German tends to be just a spoken language. All print media and written correspondence are in High German (excluding informal text messages or emails etc.). Or more accurately: Swiss Standard German – which is pretty much the same as High German, except for a few peculiarities.

Although Swiss Standard German is supposed to be like High German, there are quite a few interesting differences. The Swiss tend to like to make themselves different to their German neighbours in any way possible, and this is especially true with their written language.

Where perfectly adequate words exist in High German, the Swiss tend towards their French influences, saying quirky hybrids such as ‘Merci vielmal‘, (thanks very much).

You won’t find any Fahrräder (bicycles) in Switzerland for example; the Swiss prefer to cycle on Velos – which originates from French (except with its own unique Swiss German pronunciation).

Even where French words are used in High German, the Swiss opt to be awkward and choose another French synonym to use! A Friseur is what you’d ask for when you’d like a haircut in Germany, but in Switzerland you’d ask for a Coiffure.

I, myself, am very much still beginning my journey to speak Swiss German with confidence. How about you? Which Swiss dialect to you like the best?


For those of you who would like to learn more about Swiss German, I can recommend some online resources that may help:


Learning resources:

http://www.eldrid.ch/swgerman.htm (Highly recommended)


Swiss German media:

www.wilmaa.com (TV and Radio within Switzerland)

www.drs3.ch (Radio)

www.videoportal.sf.tv (Swiss TV)

How to Instantly Improve Your Conversion Rate with a Translator

You’ve established your business, created a brand identity and satisfied all your customer needs.

It’s time to expand beyond national borders and serve the international market.

You’re going to conquer the world!

But wait…

Something’s wrong.

The sales figures have just come in and it’s not looking as good as you’d hoped.

Your brand isn’t generating the same positive reception as it does back home.


Let me explain.

Time and again I’ve seen companies do the same thing.

After success in one market, they take success in the next for granted.

They happen to have a bilingual employee or two and believe they can translate their own website, branding and business material in-house.

You could say that makes sense.

After all, translating is just a matter of knowing two languages right? Well, not quite.


Translation is a skill that requires meticulous honing, refinement and practice. Having a working knowledge of two languages just isn’t good enough.

By taking shortcuts here, the results invariably are a website that fails to address your target group, branding that becomes meaningless and business documents such as proposals that lack the professional touch your customers expect.

You provide a quality product or service, right? Make sure you’re demonstrating this quality in how you communicate.

Spelling mistakes, incoherent expressions and simple inconsistencies are what are preventing your website visitors and contacted leads from sending an enquiry or confirming a sale.

To increase your conversion rate in international markets, you have to communicate effectively in the local language.


Hire a professional.

Hiring a translator to localise your message, your website and your business material is an investment in your brand identity. Without a professionally localised brand, you’re just another company in a crowded marketplace. Worse, in fact, if translation errors are impairing your image.

Translators understand how you can best communicate with your target market.

And they can speak to your conversion rates and sales figures.