Meet the Translator – Lena
In this instalment of ‘Meet the Translator’, we chat to Lena, a translation and transcreation expert.
Tell us more about yourself!
I’m originally from Germany but lived in Stockholm for five years and studied literature at Stockholm University. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in Stockholm I moved to London to work for a transcreation agency, where I spent four years and learned everything about the ins and outs of the transcreation industry, managed transcreation projects for international clients across a multitude of languages and also proofread and edited copy myself. In 2017 I gave up my position as a project manager and started freelancing as a translator, proofreader and editor. Since then I’ve worked for a variety of clients across all industries in the language combinations EN>DE and SVE>DE.
When I’m not working, I spend as much of my time as possible at the local stables where I learn to ride gaited Icelandic horses, swimming at the lido or roaming the forests searching for mushrooms, accompanied by my wirehaired dachshund.
How did you get started with languages and translation?
I’ve always had an interest in languages and at school, learning English came easy to me. When I moved to Stockholm after completing my Abitur (equivalent to A-levels) I also learned Swedish and reached near mother tongue level after a relatively short amount of time. I then decided to study for my bachelor’s degree in literature at Stockholm University, writing my paper in Swedish. While I studied I also took on my first translation assignment for a start-up which was founded at SU by another student, a quiz app which later became (and still is) very popular in Germany.
What content do you specialise in?
I translate a variety of marketing and advertising related content, from beauty to tech to fashion brands. I’ve worked on website transcreations, app and email copy, social media and blog posts as well as web and OOH banner copy. I’ve also handled content and community management projects for eCommerce businesses and streaming services, which is a type of work I thoroughly enjoy and brings variety to my day to day.
What kind of challenges have you come across when translating and how have you overcome them?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge in translation is to find the right tone of voice in the target language while also honouring the intent of the source copy. Every copy writer works to a brief and uses language to bring across a message for the client. But not every style/tone of voice works with every target audience and, as a translator, I need to understand exactly what message I want to bring across and whom it is intended to reach.
What particular challenges does transcreation or creative translation in general throw up?
The aim and challenge of transcreation is to understand the intended meaning of the source copy and to translate into the target language in a way that the reader wouldn’t think it’s a translation at all. This can mean restructuring paragraphs and sentences to make the copy flow more naturally in the target language or finding equivalent expressions if the source uses a set turn of phrase. One example for a phrase that you can’t translate literally would be the Swedish expression “att glida in på en räkmacka” which in a word for word translation would be “to slide in on a shrimp sandwich” – which doesn’t make any sense at all. So instead of translating this word for word, we would need to translate the meaning: someone didn’t have to work hard to get to where they are.
How can clients/translation agencies help get transcreation right?
A thorough brief is always helpful, starting with information about the desired tone of voice, target audience, whether the copy should use an active or passive style and for German it’s also always important to understand whether the target audience should be addressed using informal pronoun “du” or formal pronoun “Sie”. The more information a client can share about how and where the copy will be used and who it is for, the better I will be able to find a fitting transcreation.
What’s the best way to learn a language in your opinion?
Everyone can put down the groundworks using one of the many apps on their smartphone, however, the more immersed you get in the language, the more familiar you get with it and the deeper you get to understand the language and the culture which comes with it. I believe the best and easiest way is always to spend an extensive amount of time in a country in which the language is spoken, but of course that’s not always possible and so instead it might help to listen to podcasts, watch films and read books/news in order to learn new words and phrases and understand the language and its use in daily life. We’re very lucky that today, with streaming services and smartphones, we have a variety of options at our fingertips that can help us to learn languages in a less conventional way.
What advice would you give someone looking to become a translator?
Start learning languages as early/young as possible and also try and spend year or a semester abroad while you’re at university so you can experience the language in day to day life and get comfortable using it.
Finally, why do you Love Language?
Languages open doors into life in foreign places. With every language learned, I feel like I not only gain a new way of communicating, but also new perspectives on the world around me, which makes me as a person more empathetic towards people and their points of view.