Volume 4, No. 4 
October 2000

  Eva Eie





The World Is Our Oyster
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2000
  Translator Profiles
Experience Counts!
by Eva Eie
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
  Translation Theory
Equivalence in Translation: Between Myth and Reality
by Vanessa Leonardi
The Sociosemiotic Approach and Translation of Fiction
by Yongfang Hu
Translation and Meaning
by Magdy M. Zaky
Into English—Seven survival tools for translating Brazilian Portuguese into English
by Danilo Nogueira
  Translator Education
Poor Results in Foreign>Native Translation: Reasons and Ways of Avoidance
by Serghei Nikolayev
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXI
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Search Engines Revisited
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
Translator Profile

Experience Counts!

by Eva Eie
n being approached with the request that I write something about myself for the Translation Journal, I had two queries flash through my mind:
  1. Why me?
  2. What can I contribute that might be of benefit to others in the translating profession?
On the first score I followed my usual maxim: if somebody asks me to write or speak it must be because he or she believes that I have something to say which may make sense, and I usually try not to let that somebody down.

The constant effort to keep up with events, in the world of technology as much as in languages, is my main concern.
Actually, the thought also crossed my mind that perhaps I'm now so old and have been around for so long that people naturally assume that there might be some nuggets of useful information to be gleaned from a piece by or about me. I was told that my name had been suggested by a common friend, to which I replied that I thought of none of my friends as common; in fact, quite a few of them are definitely uncommon, and I consider myself privileged to be able to refer to them as friends.

That is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures and most important aspects of my involvement in the translation and interpreting profession—that one meets so many nice and competent people from whom a lot can be learnt and who can tell you about things and show you places that you would otherwise never know of.

Having then apparently made a seamless transition into the second of my queries, let me go on to tell you how I came to be part of this exciting and demanding profession, and how I plan to keep up with events for a while yet in order to manage to stay in business.

As one friend stated in her talk at the I.T.I. Annual Conference in London way back in the late eighties, it is preferable to choose a husband of a nationality different from your own. I had made that decision very early on—long before there was an I.T.I., and long before I'd even contemplated becoming a translator.

All I knew at that time in my native Denmark was that I found languages fascinating—probably mostly thanks to my teachers—possibly due to an inborn ability to grasp the meaning of words—unrecognised until much later—and that I wanted to go to places where they were spoken.

English and German were the first two, and I paid my first visit to Great Britain in 1954 on a school trip to Wales. My first visit to Germany was in 1958 when the managing director of the Danish grain and feedstuffs company where I worked arranged for me to spend time with a shipping company in Duisburg in the Ruhr region.

After having worked mostly with German (and Danish) in the grain and feedstuffs trade for four years, I felt that my English was being neglected. You must remember that this happened in the days when there was no InterRail and barely a television service to help young people familiarise themselves with the outside world.

My plans were to spend a few months improving my English (at Skerry's College in Edinburgh), and then return to Denmark, find a job in the capital, and attend evening classes in Spanish at the Copenhagen Business School—so that I might eventually make my way to South America which in those days was the land of future promise.

(Incidentally, I'd always told my mother that I would never marry a Dane, and that I would want to move far away—to Africa or South America). That was the reason for trying to learn Spanish—not a great success, though, as my work during the day was for a German company, and very busy at that, leaving little time and inspiration to spare for the Spanish lectures. [Apologies here to my extremely competent teacher and to my co-students, many of whom were really dedicated].

Fate caught up with me, however, when a very patient young Norwegian whom I'd met in Edinburgh, insisted on paying several visits to Denmark, and finally proposed. We were engaged on 1st April (All Fools' Day) much to the amusement of all our friends. Of course, after my earlier assertion that I'd probably marry someone from a far-away country, the fact that I could hardly have come closer to Danish when accepting a Norwegian, was sure to mark me out as a fool!

To keep track of what this—and all the other—Norwegian students at Heriot Watt College might be up to, I managed to secure a place as a trainee secretary with (again) a grain and feedstuffs company, this time in Leith. I spent 2 1/2 years with W.N. Lindsay Ltd. and have many happy memories from that time.

On our arrival in Norway, now as a married couple, we spent one year in Oslo while my husband did his National Service with the Royal Norwegian Navy, and I worked in a shipping company for shipbrokers who purchased and sold ships. I can still recall how carefully I checked all those zeroes when typing price quotes, and how we had to confirm all telex messages by letter, quoting them verbatim in capital letters. Good typing practice that was!

It was now time for my husband to test his working skills in an industry far removed from his family's pulp and paper business which he was eventually expected to join—so we lived for 3 years in the remote parts of Western Norway where the mountains stand so high that there is no sun from mid-October to mid-February—a really novel experience for a Dane. The industry was a smelting works for aluminium where bauxite, the raw material, came by ship from Jamaica and South America, and the hydroelectric power from the lakes and rivers in those tall mountains was used in the electrolysis process.

Our two children were born there, and I learnt to listen to many Norwegian dialects, not always grasping the full meaning of what was being said!

Next stop on my husband's career-building track was Bury in Lancashire, England, where I was kept busy minding house and children, becoming totally immersed in the English language (as opposed to the Scottish version) for two years. Looking back I realise that this was the first time I worked as an interpreter! Our daughter was just learning to speak—Norwegian—and when the little English girls from the neighbouring houses came to play with her, they'd all come up to me and ask "What's she saying?"—So—I'd have to tell them!

Back in Norway, having found kindergarten places for the children, I continued my distance learning courses by correspondence for the Norwegian equivalent of A-levels. I gradually mastered the trick of keeping Danish and Norwegian separate, but only through a very conscious effort! In fact, it is only in the last 4-5 years that I have felt confident enough to take up Danish again—as a language to speak and to work from—but not into, seeing that I have not lived in Denmark for almost 40 years now.

In 1975 I entered for the exam to become a Government-authorised translator here in Norway, urged on by some of the English-speaking mums at the kindergarten—and surprised myself by passing—never really having done any translating before!—This was the moment, then, when I had to decide what to do with the rest of my life!

Since then, events have just snowballed; I've been extremely fortunate in that I've met good colleagues who started me out by referring clients to me. I've never actually had to advertise, and I've never been afraid to ask clients for help when a tricky phrase or unknown term turned up in a text. My authorisation gives me the right to translate both into Norwegian and into English (the system is different now, though) and I was curious to find out out how things looked from the other end, as it were. This brought me in touch with the Institute of Linguists in London, and later on, with the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (of which I'm proud to say that I am a founder member!). I gained recognition from the I.o.L. to translate into Norwegian, and from the I.T.I. to translate both ways, after two separate, very demanding and strenuous tests.

You may have figured out by now that I celebrate my 25th anniversary as a translator this year, which may be a fitting point at which to look back—but also to look ahead. Fortunately, I'm blessed with a strong constitution—one of the very essentials for success in this profession—and perhaps even more so in an interpreting career. I'm also fortunate in being by nature curious about most things—apart from gossip which I positively loathe—so that any text being thrown at me for translation will send me scouring through dictionaries and reference material in order to find out more about the subject and about "How Things Work"!

Because my husband (of all these years!) is a mechanical engineer I initially felt most at home with technical texts. This has gradually changed over the years (and my husband is now rarely being badgered with awkward questions as to the meaning of this or that technical term). Most of the work I do now relates to the business community, the world of finance and of insurance, to legal documents, often to be used in court, and to in-house routines and regulations for various companies working on an international scale. I am occasionally asked to work with colleagues in an interpreter's booth which I find a pleasant—although highly taxing—break from the written work at my desk.

Another relief from office desk work is the English Law & Terminology courses which I organise in Norway where English barristers give lectures to a mixed audience of translators and lawyers. It has been a very good experience to run these courses, both from the point of view of organising them, and of spending a couple of days in the company of highly professional people. There are not many opportunities in Norway for continuing education for translators, probably mainly because the market is so small, but this annual update on English law has been of great professional benefit to me over the years.

Though I may be considered a dinosaur, I do actually work on a computer (well, a Mac!) and also know how to receive and send e-mail. I still need to see a text on paper, though, in order to come to grips with it and produce it in the other language.

The constant effort to keep up with events, in the world of technology as much as in languages, is my main concern. I have found over the years, however, that if you keep an open mind, and have the courage to ask to have things explained to you which you'd like to understand, there is something to be learnt from most situations in life. Since retirement age in Norway is 67 (the same for men and women) I still have some years to go, but I do try to look around for younger colleagues to involve in what I'm doing, hoping that my loyal clients will be just as well served when I'm no longer part of the working population!

I am particularly happy that I've been able to hand over the reins as organiser of the Translators' Open Day held by our Norwegian Guild of Government-authorised translators. It is a fixture in people's calendar every year in November, attracting well over 100 people from our Guild as well as from outside. We invite speakers who have interesting and useful things to say to us on a diverse range of subjects, and you can read more about it on our Guild's website; statsaut.translator.no.

Events such as this are all-important to every one of us who works as a translator and/or interpreter. Because our work is so intimately linked to our selves—our brains—our hands—our mouths—we run the risk of using ourselves up—or losing sight of the issue! It is so useful to spend time with others of the same ilk—to whom we do not need to explain what we do—or how we do it—but who are eager to exchange experiences and who have information to give—or take.

During the 25 years that I have been active in this profession, it has been very gratifying to see how things have evolved towards far greater openness and much more frequent contact among members of the translating and interpreting communities in the various countries. My wish for the future is that this may continue. It's all very well to be able to sit at one's desk mailing messages hither and thither around the world—even to join a chatroom or place a query on a bulletin board (or perhaps they're old-fashioned now?). There is nothing, however, that can replace the personal contact, and much as I appreciate your attention in having read this piece (or parts of it), I'd also like you to get up and go out and register for a conference, or a course or seminar, or even join a social gathering of colleagues, so that you, too, may experience the pleasure of belonging in a profession of competent, friendly, caring—and talkative—people.