We have some wonderful translators – and it is lovely to hear their thoughts on life as a linguist. In the second of the series, we are delighted to feature German to English translator Jacqui Birnie, whom we have known and worked with for many years. Jacqui is a highly experienced technical translator and, very importantly, is also real pleasure to work with. Please see below Jacqui’s answers to our questions, giving an insight into the broad range of professional skills that professional translators draw on:
What attracted you to working with languages?
At the age of 11, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I blithely said “a linguist”. I didn’t know how prophetic that would turn out to be, given that I’m not sure I even knew what it meant back then.
I studied French and German at university and spent a year working in Hamburg in the translation department of a large oil company. That was my introduction to technical translation and I knew immediately that it was what I really wanted to make my career in.
What are your favourite subject areas and how did you become interested in them?
I’m into anything technical – commonly referred to as “geeky”, in a nice way I hope. I think my interest started in childhood when I had a great collection of Dinky cars and played a lot with Lego. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work and understanding the technology behind them. Even the apparently simple things are not so simple when you start taking them apart. In another life I think I would have been an engineer.
What do you enjoy most about being a translator?
The variety. I’m constantly learning something new, often at the leading edge of technology. That’s pretty exciting and it’s also really satisfying to read about something in the press and think “I translated a patent about that!” At the same time, being a translator enables me to use my language skills creatively. I’d like to think I help to make technology more accessible.
Where in the world would you love to travel to?
I’ve travelled a bit and liked it. I don’t have a specific place I’d dearly love to visit. I’ll just see what opportunities present themselves and take it from there.
We’ve all seen amusing mistranslations. What’s the most memorable one you’ve seen?
I can never remember them even though they make me laugh at the time. I do remember causing great hilarity among friends during my year abroad in Germany when I indignantly said that British butcher’s shops no longer had “Segelspäne” (sail dust) rather than “Sägespäne” (sawdust) on the floor. And I knew there was something musical about daffodils (Osterglocken = Easter bells) when I said, “Guck’ mal die Ostertrompeten an!” (Easter trumpets). Of course, you live and learn… The old adage “Deutsche Sprache – schwere Sprache” often proves true for beginners!
Thank you very much indeed to Jacqui for her thoughtful replies – and we love the Easter trumpets! Jacqui is pictured below.