Icebreaker 20, February 2016

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Welcome to the twentieth issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter.

In this edition: STP enters a new era after earning ISO 17100 certification; Jørn Bjørnerem, Senior Norwegian Translator, tells us about his unusual route into the industry; we examine the issue of workplace stress and look at how translation companies can limit its effects. And we ask: Nordic, Scandinavian – is there really any difference?

Company News

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STP achieves ISO 17100 certification

STP is now certified to ISO 17100, the new international quality standard for professional translation services, following a successful independent audit in February 2016.

The auditors, Geolang Certification Ltd, recommended us for certification after confirming that we have all of the necessary production processes and resources in place to deliver high-quality, standard-compliant translation services.

ISO 17100 replaces EN 15038, to which STP had been certified without interruption since 2008. The new standard covers project management processes and workflows, the translation and revision process, client-supplier communications and agreements, and the handling of materials and information.

The ISO 17100 standard also sets out requirements for the professional competencies, qualifications and continuing professional development of translators, revisers and project managers.

“Being certified to ISO 17100 is a fantastic badge of quality,” said Raisa McNab, Quality and Training Manager at STP. “It tells our clients and suppliers that STP is a serious, professional translation company that takes pride in its work and can demonstrate solid, documented quality processes.”

“For our clients, it means that they can rely not only on the quality of the translations we produce, but also on our background workflows and processes. It also means that they can count on our project managers’ skills and training to consistently provide the highest levels of service.”

Staff Spotlight

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From salmon to syntax: Jørn Bjørnerem’s unlikely route into translation

With over eight years of loyal service, Jørn Bjørnerem is the sixth longest-serving member of STP’s in-house translation team.

Jørn’s path to his current role of Senior Norwegian Translator has been unconventional, and includes one of the more unusual career changes you’re likely to see. But his translation journey might never have even started at all – had it not been for a life-changing trip to Africa 16 years ago.

So, Jørn, how did you first get into languages?

I had my first English lesson when I was nine. We learned two things: “What is your name?” and “My name is X.” I remember using those phrases on as many people as I could at break time after class. It was so exciting to communicate in another language.

How did you go from there to a career in translation?

In the early 2000s I toyed with the idea of taking out a student loan to fund a translation course. However, it was a big commitment for me at the time, for various personal reasons, and I lacked the confidence to go through with it.

That changed in 2003 after a trip to Africa, where I saw how hard life is for so many people. It made me realise how lucky I was to have the chance to study at all. It also helped me to find my faith, which has since become a massive part of my life and ultimately pushed me to pursue my dream of translating for a living.

It was a huge change of direction, as until then I’d mainly worked in salmon farming, close to where I’d grown up. I was also never too keen on the idea of theory or academia when I was at school. But now I was ready to hit the books and go wherever my translation career would take me.

Luckily for us, it brought you to STP. How did you first hear about the company?

In January 2006 I enrolled on the Translation Studies course at the University of Surrey in Guildford. There I met a lecturer who worked for STP as a freelancer, and she mentioned the possibility of working for the company at its UK headquarters.

So, while writing my dissertation, I started applying for various translation roles – including an in-house position at STP. A different agency invited me for an interview in the meantime and offered me a job. But the range of translation topics there was just too narrow, and I declined the offer.

Later, after sending a couple of test pieces to STP, Jesper Sandberg [the company’s founder] asked me down for an interview. He spoke passionately about the translation industry and explained the varied nature of STP’s work. And I thought, “Yes, this sounds more like me.”

Jesper later offered me the job, and I joined the company in November 2007 – just over four years after the trip to Africa that started it all.

You’ve been with STP for more than eight years now. What’ve you enjoyed most about working here?

For the first six months I woke each day and thought: “I’m translating for money!” I was – and still am – so grateful to be able to live out my dream.

STP demands the highest quality, so I’ve always had a lot of help and support to develop my skills. It was great to learn from my more experienced colleagues in the early days, and the varied work gave me all sorts of challenges and opportunities to improve.

For me, as a translator, that variety is what I love most about STP. Over the years I’ve learned to be a good technical translator, but I also enjoy the freedom of marketing texts. Mostly, though, I’m happy to be a generalist: not specialised in anything, but experienced in most things.

What would be your dream project?

Any job where my translation helps make a positive difference.

Any advice for new translators starting out in the industry?

Listen, absorb and be willing to take suggestions from others. Be open to using different tools. And above all, never stop learning and improving. There is always more to know.

Industry Issues

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Under pressure: Stress management in translation companies

While translation will never appear on any buzz-lists of the world’s most stressful professions, it does still carry its own peculiar – and very real – blend of pressures and strains.

Constant deadlines. Lack of control. Fear of failure. Unreasonable demands. Too much criticism. Not enough praise. All of the above plus financial instability and job insecurity, if you’re a freelancer.

A certain level of stress is no bad thing in itself, of course. In a deadline-driven profession like translation, where perfectionism is an asset but also an obstacle, it can even be a positive spur.

But when it becomes constant and unmanageable for a sustained length of time, that’s when it can start to affect physical and mental health – not to mention job satisfaction, productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line.

As employers, translation companies can never remove all causes of stress. Tight deadlines, subjective feedback and unrealistic demands from clients are part of the landscape and will never go away.

What we can and must do, however, is empower our employees and suppliers to keep stress within healthy limits – and give them as much support as possible if it ever does get out of hand.

Forewarned is forearmed

This all starts with good training. Because when you’re properly trained, you’re instantly better equipped to deal with the common stress factors that might overwhelm someone with less knowledge.

Deadlines are stressful if you don’t know how to manage your time. Negative feedback is upsetting if you’ve never learned to detach yourself from your work. A lack of control will trouble you until you know that there are parts of the process that you just cannot influence.

At STP, we know that not all new employees – least of all recent graduates – arrive fully skilled or prepared for the demanding working environment of a translation company.

That’s why every new member of staff, whatever their role, gets a full week of induction training. They also get ongoing mentoring from more senior colleagues and on-tap access to training resources throughout their time with us.

Culture matters

But while training is important, it’s not enough on its own. You also need a company culture that recognises stress as an industry issue and weeds it out in as many different ways as possible.

Overtime, for instance, is a common cause of workplace anxiety – especially when it goes unrewarded. So at STP, we give staff the choice of taking overtime as pay or as time off in lieu, to help offset the strain of working extra hours.

When you feel happy and in control of your personal life, you tend to be better at handling the stresses and demands of work. This is why we also offer flexible working hours, as well as one day of home-working per week, instead of imposing a rigid, office-based nine-to-five routine on everyone.

Most of our UK-based staff come from overseas, and for some this can add the stress of homesickness to the mix. Our IT set-up allows employees to work remotely from any location, with permission and a good internet connection, should they need some restorative time back home.

Support at work is also key. At STP we’ve always encouraged a family-like atmosphere, where teammates look out for one another, share their problems and socialise outside the office.

We also know that humour is one of the greatest weapons against stress, so our staff are never shy of a joke in the face of adversity.

All of this extends to how we treat our freelancers. While we cannot stop the financial worries or job insecurities that all self-employed people feel, we can pay invoices on time and build lasting relationships wherever possible.

We can praise our suppliers, show gratitude and give them helpful feedback. We can make them feel part of our team. And we can show them respect, not make outrageous demands, and treat them like the skilled, human professionals they are.

These are not new ideas. But when dealing with something like workplace stress, it’s easy to overlook the basics. Help your people feel confident, relaxed and in control – and after that, business will take care of itself.

Nordic Focus

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Nordic, Scandinavian – same thing, right?

By Minna Helminen, Junior Finnish Translator at STP

Watching a new acquaintance process the knowledge that I come from Finland is often an interesting moment – and reveals something about the way they see (northern) Europe.

First we establish that the ‘land’ in Finland is pronounced the same way as the ‘land’ in England, not like the one in ‘Neverland’. Next we clarify that no, I’m not from that other cold place that shares its name with a British supermarket specialising in frozen goods. And then, almost like clockwork, comes the question:

“Finland – that’s in Scandinavia, right?”

At this point I have to decide: do I say no and explain, as concisely as possible, why this is most definitely not right? Or do I say “Yeah, more or less,” and simply move on?

The short, accurate answer to the original question is that Finland is not part of Scandinavia. Neither is Iceland, despite its association with images of tall, blond, bearded men in knitted jumpers, inexplicably standing outside in the cold without a jacket. Surely this is the very definition of Scandinavia?

In the broadest, cultural sense, Scandinavia – that region synonymous with plywood furniture, socialism and cinnamon buns – actually includes just Sweden, Denmark and Norway. In fact, the term originally only referred to the southernmost tip of Sweden (formerly Denmark), Scania, but is now used for three kingdoms united by historical and linguistic ties.

So, what is Finland – and Iceland, for that matter – if not Scandinavian?

My answer would be Nordic: a word that seems to be gaining popularity outside of the region, with even Brits now referring to Scandinavian crime fiction as “Nordic noir”.

Nordic countries, or Norden, include Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Åland (an autonomous region of Finland), Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the latter pair both autonomous countries that are part of (the Kingdom of) Denmark.

To lump a handful of northern European countries together as “Nordic” may seem arbitrary. And there are, of course, a number of cultural quirks, attitudes and values that set each of them apart.

But what is perhaps most significant is that these countries choose to co-operate with one another. In short, the Nordic countries are a self-identified group of secularised protestant societies that value ideas of equality and sustainability – and never say no to a good bit of herring.

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