t should actually not come as a surprise when you grow up on a beautiful lake in southern Germany and feel attracted to nice scenery, including water. But let's start at the beginning...
My early start towards my current life as a translator was not very promising. During my first year in secondary school in my hometown of Konstanz, Germany, on beautiful Lake Constance and in close proximity to Switzerland and Austria, it was clear that I didn't exactly get a jump start at French, which was my first foreign language. At first I was actually looking forward to learning a "real" foreign language in addition to Swiss German, which was very familiar to me, but when things didn't progress as fast as I thought they would, I lost interest and my grades took a nosedive. My parents were determined to change that and sent me to boarding schools in the French-speaking part of Switzerland over the next two summers. These places were a little bit like the United Nations with girls from all over the world speaking many different languages. Somehow this must have left a lasting impression, and foreign languages, including French, Latin and English, became my main interest throughout my secondary school years, only rivaled by training horses for my parents. But one thing I knew already then: Eventually I wanted to do something that included languages.
It is our role as experienced colleagues to provide information on what to expect in real life as translators or interpreters.
After graduation I tried to combine my love for equestrian sports with studying French at the Translators and Interpreters Institute in Munich. This worked quite well for the first two years, but after passing the intermediate exam in French, it became apparent that I had to make a choiceeither sports or studies. Well, the horses won, at least for the next few years, during which I participated in horse shows all over southern Germany and assisted my parents with their small horse-breeding operation.
Despite this detour, I never lost sight of my initial goal to study languages at the university level, even if it meant giving up sports, and after a few years it was time to enroll in English, Spanish, and Economics at the Institute for Applied Linguistics of the University of Heidelberg. Languages still exerted the same fascination, particularly Spanish, which became my favorite language after I spent some time during semester breaks studying and working in Spain.
Four years later, upon graduating with an MA in linguistics, I was one of the finalists for a job with an international organization in South America and was already looking forward to moving across the big pond. But things took an unexpected turn when I met a certain Jim Lind, an American who had lived and worked in Heidelberg for many years. South America suddenly seemed to be too far away and I accepted another job with a German machinery manufacturer in my hometown so we could stay in touch. This new job turned out to be very interesting and provided an opportunity to acquire more in depth knowledge and experience with machinery in addition to using several languages in a corporate environment. The company was also transitioning to PC work stations and word processing - a fascinating development and a far cry from the electric typewriter I had used so far.
In the fall of 1980, my then future husband's employer offered him a job at the company's headquarters in Moline, Illinois, and the move across the big pond became reality, although it was North America this time, and it took me from Lake Constance in Germany to the mighty Mississippi. Not too long after settling in and getting married, my husband's employer offered me a job in overseas public relations. It was a good learning experience but except for occasional translation and interpreting assignments, it didn't involve languages to the extent I would have liked. So it was time to move on and explore opportunities for freelance translation work. With no Internet or online resources in the early eighties, this meant to find translation agencies in the yellow pages, writing letters and mailing resumes. Within a few months work was coming in at a steady pace and I dared to quit my day job. At that time, the first PCs and Apple computers came on the market and my first major investment was the purchase of an Apple III and an NEC Spinwriter with a German typing element. Looking back, it is fascinating how fast technology has evolved since then and made life easier for translators.
The only thing missing, however, was more contact with other translators. When a colleague mentioned ATA, I decided to join the association and signed up for what was then called the accreditation exam, organized by a regional chapter in Kansas City. The benefits were twofold: accredited members were listed in the ATA directory which led to more inquiries and projects. In addition, I met a lot of nice colleagues with whom I stayed in contact for years to come.
Once the Internet came within reach of "normal" people and FLEFO was created, the legendary virtual community for language professionals, the way we work and interact as translators began to change at a rapid pace. We had our virtual venue, we could do terminology research and we were able to send email messages; our geographic location didn't play a role any longer. You could pack up your computer, move to a different location, plug in the PC and you were in business again. This is exactly what happened when we moved to Kansas City in 1999, from the mighty Mississippi to the Missouri.
The friends and colleagues I had stayed in touch with were all members of the regional ATA chapter MICATA in the Kansas City area. Since most chapters are always happy to get an infusion of new blood, it didn't take long to get roped in, and I willingly obliged. By attending all ATA conferences since 1997 and through my increasing involvement on the chapter, division and association level, I realized how important it is to stay connected through networking or by joining local, regional or national associations. Not only is it a learning experience on a personal and professional level; it also offers opportunities to give back to the profession and encourage younger colleagues.
While there are schools for learning languages, it is our role as experienced colleagues to provide information on what to expect in real life as translators or interpreters, how to run your business as freelancers, on available translations tools, and on many other facets of the profession. Learning never ends and this is what's so fascinating about our profession.
Approaching three decades of working as a freelance translator, I still love what I am doing and get excited about learning of new developments, acquiring knowledge in many fields and the challenge to come up with the best possible translation. Meeting new friends and colleagues makes my day, frequent trips to Germany and staying connected with family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic keeps me grounded and tuned into both cultures. Those are the things I wouldn't want to miss and are enriching my life.