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German Language Translator
Kaiya Diannen

Kaiya Diannen has been working as a German language translator with her business Language2Language for over a decade now, and has a long list of satisfied clients. Currently based in Australia, Kaiya has also lived and worked in Germany and the USA, and travels to both these countries each year. She specializes in legal, financial, insurance, corporate, and marketing translations.

Hello Kaiya, many thanks for taking the time to speak to German Translation Tips & Resources. You studied German as a major at university i the US. Did you know then that your career would be working with languages as a German translator?

To be completely honest, I studied German and French both as part of a performance degree in opera – you have to know your foreign languages when you sing opera!

I had studied French for several years prior to that and was really in love with the language. The program required at least two foreign languages, and since everyone else seemed to be taking Italian, I decided to be different and study German.

At the time I had considered that a “backup career” in interpreting or translating might be in the cards, but – ironically enough – only involving French!

I would like to mention, though, that despite my original plans, I now thoroughly enjoy translating, and at the moment I can’t think of a more interesting occupation that can be done from behind a desk.

Whilst living in Germany you also taught business English. How come the move into German translation?

I think I was already on the road to translation when I first arrived in Germany, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Lots of people came to me for English tips, then I was advising and proofreading – anything from personal letters to marketing brochures.

The real change came when I moved from Munich to Saarbrucken. I was still teaching corporate business English – which required a lot of travel to clients’ offices – but a German acquaintance who worked for a translation agency in Saarbrucken told me straight out she thought I should become a German translator.

I was hesitant at first, because I had come to realize how important degrees and other qualifications are for Europeans, and a degree in translation was the one thing I didn’t have. This acquaintance finally ended up offering me a translation project that I simply couldn’t refuse, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I did actually work simultaneously as both a language instructor and a German translator for quite some time, but eventually made the switch to full-time translation mostly due to the ease of working at home and, later, the ease of taking the work with me.

Why did you specialize in your chosen fields of legal, financial & insurance translation?

Before coming to Germany, I had a chance to at least partially fulfill my first dream – to sing professionally in the opera. Unfortunately that was part-time work, so I also supported myself in a variety of “day jobs”, including work for insurance companies and agents, attorneys, and financial advisers.

I was learning constantly, and so I didn’t realize that most people around me didn’t know what a “lien” was or understand a “coinsurance clause” or the difference between “actual cash value” and “replacement cost”.

They weren’t familiar with the formalities and documentation requirements in a legal case, what a “process server” was, or what was involved in proving liability. They didn’t know you could opt for universal life insurance, perhaps an annuity, or even just “buy term and invest the rest”.

They weren’t aware of what passive income from real estate was, and how, when, or why the laws regarding the associated tax loopholes had changed.

Once I was living in Germany, companies were eager to hire me to teach business English and even do some interpreting based on the knowledge I had gained through my work experience.

My corporate clients there included companies in fields I was familiar with, such as Deutsche Bank and Munich Re, and what I didn’t already know about the German-speaking business world I started learning from my clients.

I think it was just a natural course of events that led me to specializing in fields in which I had already had real-world experience and later gained dual-language experience.

Ultimately, I think when a German translator has had this kind of experience, it shows in his or her translations.  

You're an ATA member and certified to translate from German into English. What does certification involve and has it brought benefits? Do you feel professional recognition is vital for anyone serious about translation?

The ATA certification process chiefly involves taking an “exam” that consists of translating under monitored conditions. Of course you have to have some basic qualifications, such as a higher education and a certain number of years of experience (levels of each can vary).

I first looked into certification quite some time ago when I wasn’t quite so experienced – back then the ATA still called it “accreditation” – but they were in the process of changing the rules with regard to the “continuing education credits”, and I was discouraged by that.

I still feel that the requirement for continuing education credits is a bit of a charade.

Of course you have to pay for membership in the first place, and then most of the approved methods for obtaining the required level of continuing education credits also cost money (and, coincidentally, are offered by the ATA and/or its members or involve attending paid meetings or conferences).

It’s definitely an aspect to consider for anyone thinking of joining a professional association.

I didn’t pursue certification back then because I didn’t have any problem getting projects and I also knew plenty of very good translators working with the German language who were not certified or members of any particular professional association.

In the end, I decided to become certified because I was considering a cooperative collaboration with other professionals in our field, all of whom were European, and I was the only one at the time without one of those translation degrees or certifications by my name.

So, no, I don’t feel it is “vital” for translators to join an association or become “certified”.

As I see it, the main benefit to certification is that you get to put something next to your name that says: This person has taken an exam and passed.

As with many things in life, the value of that is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

There are other things that can be very valuable or even more valuable to a German translator (and his or her clients), particularly education and/or experience in the chosen fields of expertise, and experience with writing.

To be fair, though, I suppose if I were buying a product or service from someone and I didn’t know much about the process in general, a membership and/or certification by that person’s or that company’s name would be a good selling point.

I guess many would feel that moving to Europe from the US was a significant lifestyle change. What made you move again, this time to Australia? Will you be there permanently?

Hah, yes, I would say most international moves will involve some kind of lifestyle change!

When I moved to Germany, I had originally planned to return to the US within a year or two, but circumstances changed and there seemed to be little benefit (career-wise) to returning. On the other hand, since the relocation was never intended to be permanent, I was open to other opportunities that might come along.

After a visit to Australia – which was much sunnier and much warmer than Germany – I decided to start spending more time there.

Since freelance translating is something you can take with you wherever you go, I knew work wouldn’t be an issue – and I absolutely love being awake at night for my clients in Europe, it’s actually my natural rhythm.

The actual permanent move – I am now a dual US/Australian citizen – was not my original intention, but seemed to evolve organically as time when on. Although I’ve now been in Australia almost as long as I lived in Germany, nothing in my life now gives me a true sense of permanence.

I suppose that happens when you’ve lived on three different continents. Where will I be permanently? I don’t know, but you can check back with me in five or ten years!

How do you stay up to date with developments in the profession?

That is a good question – I’m not thoroughly convinced I am up to date with developments in the profession *grin* – but I do try.

In addition to the publications I receive as a member of the ATA, I currently have a profile on two translator platforms (proz.com and translatorscafe.com), two professional networking sites (Xing and LinkedIn; technically I also have a profile on Video, but I don’t really use it), as well as a professional page with Facebook (Language2Language).

I also belong to the ATA’s German Language Division discussion group on Yahoo as well as the MemoQ discussion group, and was previously a member of the Trados discussion group and the WordFast discussion group.

I should also mention that I’m a member of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (AIPTI/IAPTI) and felt very fortunate to be able to meet one of the very active founding members, Aurora Humarán, in person last year.

Of course, the organization has its own website, but like so many groups these days, it also has a Facebook site, which makes it easy and fun to connect with the people in the group. I have also started participating in the “Watercooler: for translators and interpreters” page on Facebook.

Several of these sites host forums for translators and linguists, some in German as well as other languages, and ALL of them provide interface opportunities – whole worlds that allow for direct interaction with colleagues and, potentially, clients.

If you “cruise” the forums and posts and articles and blogs – even if you never participate (and I do) – you can gain an incredible wealth of information, and it will definitely help keep you up to date with what is going on.

Not only do they provide a great opportunity to ask and answer questions about anything from terminology to software functions to pricing to business negotiations to activities for translators, participation is also good for raising your profile as a German translator among your colleagues, especially those in the same language pair.

It’s really a win-win situation. I would probably join even more, but I simply haven’t had the time!

Specialist translators need specialist dictionaries, and these are often expensive. What are your legal & financial dictionary "must haves" for the German language translator working in your fields?

Oh gosh, this one is a bit tricky.

Every time I have ever opened a “specialist dictionary” (or any dual language dictionary, really), I’ve encountered questionable entries.

If I had one piece of advice to give to new translators, it would be “Don’t trust the dictionaries!”.

I didn’t start translating until the Internet was, for all intents and purposes, in full swing, I think I am part of a new generation of translators that relies much more heavily on online research than on particular resources.

So rather than have one or more “must have” resources per se, I would say that I “must” be able to check and research and cross-reference and verify any terminology online that I don’t already know with 100% certainty.

This process isn’t just about random searches, online dictionaries, or Wikipedia articles – it can be quite complex, and I never rely on one source alone.

Most importantly, I check monolingual sites, documents, and glossaries, not just other translations and sites obviously translated from the German language.

Anyone who deals with translations into English knows that using a site translated from any language – but especially from the German language – into English as a reference can lead to disaster if you’re not very, very careful. This whole process can take anywhere from a minute to well over an hour for a single expression.

The above notwithstanding, I will say that I am grateful to a colleague who recommended a book called “Wie sagt man in Österreich?”.

I don’t use it a lot, but if your experience is (as mine was) limited to Germany, it will help explain some Austrian German (and sometimes even Swiss German) terms you may come across from time to time. So I guess a big tip in this regard is, pay close attention to the dialect!

What are your favorite software tools and how do they help your work?

I don’t use project or invoice management software – the big erasable calendar on my wall has everything I need in that regard.

One thing I do use is spreadsheets (Excel) for my invoices, although I always convert my invoices into .pdf format once they are finalized so that they can’t be easily tampered with.

I also purchased Abbyy OCR software, which I can definitely recommend to anyone who receives .pdf and image files to work with. You don’t have to get Abbyy, of course, but I believe having a program like this is extremely helpful.

(Part two of my interview with German language translator Kaiya Diannen continues here...)

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