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Non-Literary No-Brainer?

November 30th, 2010

A year ago, while living in Germany, I applied to become a member of the Kuenstlersozialkasse (KSK) – an association of freelance artists, journalists and writers, which supports them financially by subsidising their state health care contributions (a significant expense in Germany) proportionally to their income. From what I heard, translators would normally be included in the ‘Artiste’ category as people who work creatively with language.

Does technical translation belong to the domain of the left brain hemisphere?

Does technical translation belong to the domain of the left brain hemisphere?

As a part-time freelancer, it seemed like a perfect solution for me and so I produced tons of documentation to prove my translator qualifications, professional memberships, samples of work, project history, etc., etc. – as stipulated by the KSK application guidelines. After some 2 months I received a request for some further details, which I duly sent back, and then received another request for even more details one of them being the following question:

What is the % breakdown of the types of translations that you normally carry out:
a) literary texts
b) journalistic/editorial texts
c) specialised texts, manuals, company reports
d) contracts, legal texts, private correspondence as well as interpreting.

Being primarily a technical translator, I marked c) 90% and d) 10% assuming that translation of specialised websites and software would most likely fit in the ‘specialised’ (fachbezogene) category. I do not translate literature nor do I translate for the press.

The reply to this last letter came very quickly. ‘We are very sorry, but we must turn down your application due to the lack of artistic/journalistic quality of your work (fehlender Kunstler-/ Publizisteneigenschaft).

What???

First of all, why didn’t you spare me the several hours it took to put documents together by asking this question sooner rather than later in the application process? Secondly, by asking a tricky question which I could have easily interpreted differently (websites=published (publizistisch) material after all) you disqualified me outright. Not only that, just because I do not translate Joyce or Yeats, you made me feel like my work was mechanical, brainless and had no creative qualities whatsoever.

It still makes me angry when I think about this, and I regret now not contesting this decision. I was so fed up by then that I had no appetite for further correspondence with KSK. It took about 7 months to get to this stage and by then we knew we were leaving Germany back for the UK in autumn, so I just put the letter to the bottom of the drawer and counted it as a lost battle with German bureaucracy.




Certified Translation: the UK Way

November 24th, 2010

One of my most bizarre experiences as a translator took place some time ago not so long after my move to the UK. An agency asked me to translate a marriage certificate, which then needed to be certified by an affidavit. I had to check in my dictionary what an ‘affidavit’ is and found out that it is a formal statement sworn in front of a notary public. It seemed so far departed from Poland, where to become a sworn translator you not only need the right qualifications (a relevant degree), but also have to take a rigorous competence exam organised by the Ministry of Justice. After that you receive an official stamp and can certify your own translations, which is required in case of most official documentation (marriage, birth certificates, etc).

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

I arranged a meeting with a notary public who was also the ‘taker of oaths’ and brought my translation with me not sure what to expect of the whole process. The notary’s office was based in a house which could have been taken out of a Dickens’ novel. I was ushered into a room where I waited for the notary, who soon turned up wearing his black robe and looking rather distracted. He looked at my translation and the original text, marked them as page A and page B and then offered me the Bible (sic!) to put my hand on. Amazing! I felt like in an American court movie, while at the same time thinking that I might as well be swearing on Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

He pronounced:
‘Do you swear that the text A is an accurate translation of text B?’
‘I do’ (pharyngeal swallowing sound). He scribbled some sort of signature underneath my translation.
‘OK, please pay £16 at the reception.’
‘But wait a minute! How about some sort of official stamp?’
‘Oh, she wants a stamp. There you go’, he sounded amused, like he was pampering his little niece by letting her play with his stationary.
‘And receipt??’ I really panicked here. I was wondering what evidence there was of me obtaining the ‘certification’ that I could present to the agency who hired me.
‘Oh, the receptionist will give you a receipt. Good bye!’ and he disappeared into the back rooms of the house.

I paid and collected my receipt (which I still have as a keepsake) and left with total confusion and disbelief. The agency was very happy with the translation and they did not question the affidavit. I guess it must have still had the aura of credibility bestowed on it by the notary public’s magical powers to turn a translation into an accurate translation. Cross my heart and hope to die!