Q&A: Bjarke Søballe Andersen, Account Linguist
Which languages can you speak, Bjarke?
Danish is my mother tongue, I speak fluent English and I understand Norwegian and Swedish. My wife’s family is from Vietnam, so I also have a small Vietnamese vocabulary. My go-to phrase basically means “Thanks, but I’m full.” My mother-in-law likes to keep us well fed.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
My passion as a child was birdwatching, and I used to dream of somehow turning it into a job. As it happens, there aren’t many roles in the field of ornithology.
Your job title is Account Linguist (AL). What does that mean?
An AL is a project-managing translator. As an AL, you devote your time to one or two larger clients – usually those needing continuous localisation – and you become an expert in their specific workflows and linguistic preferences.
As a client, having an AL team handle your work means you get a dedicated group of people who know what you need and are able to deal with very short turnaround times. And as an AL it means your workload is nice and varied, since you handle all aspects of each translation job from start to finish.
What’s the most important quality for a good AL?
Adaptability. Our workloads fluctuate from day to day, so you must be able to make plans and decisions quickly. But you also have to be good at changing those plans and swapping things around at short notice. It makes for a dynamic atmosphere, and it helps if you enjoy an element of unpredictability in your work.
If you could have another job for just one day, what would it be?
I read about a man who goes to train stations around London and gets his trained owl to scare away pigeons. I’d like to try that. I’m not a fan of keeping animals captive, as is the case with this owl, but it’s much kinder than using poison or guns.
What would your linguistic superpower be?
An ability to understand acronyms without having to look them up. Or better still, to have mind control and make people stop using them altogether. You could call it an Acronym Avoidance Mechanism, or AAM for short.
How do you unwind after a busy day?
I get out the Duplo and build things with my son. I find it fun and very relaxing.
Music while working – motivating or distracting?
It depends on the task. When it’s late afternoon and deadlines are approaching, I put on something energetic like Chemical Brothers or Graveyard, the Swedish hard rockers. I can’t listen to anything with Danish lyrics while translating into Danish, though. I’d end up with lyrics scattered everywhere, and nobody wants that.
It’s fika time. Tea or coffee?
Nothing against tea, but it’s always coffee for me. I need that caffeine hit these days.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I play guitar in a band called Dans & Lær (Dance & Learn). We make music that teaches you to recognise the sounds of birds while you dance. We’ve released three albums based on this concept and are working on a fourth.
Does having such a creative outlet help you in your daily work?
Playing in a bird-inspired band is quite a departure from my day job. But I do think it makes me retain focus when working. Playing music gives the brain a nice rinse, I find.
What’s your favourite word?
Ba. It’s the Vietnamese word for dad, and it’s what my son mainly calls me. Soppy, I know, but I’ll happily live with that.
Name one thing you couldn’t live without
My life would be much more difficult if I didn’t have Google Maps on my phone. I have a terrible sense of direction.
Where is your favourite place to be?
My parents’ holiday home near the west coast of Jutland in Denmark. I don’t get to go there often, but it’s pure bliss.
Who do you most admire, and why?
I admire my in-laws immensely. They had to flee Vietnam when the communists took power in the late 70s. It was a dangerous journey through the jungle to a refugee camp in Thailand, and from there my father-in-law managed to get his entire family – parents, six siblings, their partners and children – on a plane to England.
My in-laws are living proof of what you can achieve as a family of refugees. They worked hard and have brought up four daughters who have all excelled in their fields of study and work. One is a consultant in a specialist cancer hospital, one is a dentist, one is a broadcaster and one is a paralegal.
They’re all lovely people, too. And the cherry on top is that they’re all food fanatics and excellent cooks. The only real downside of marrying into this family is that I end up eating way too much far too often.
Any advice for new translators?
Let go of the idea of the perfect translation. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and what sounds just right to you will never be seen as perfect by everyone who reads your work. If you don’t make people stop and think “This sounds really awkward” or “Has this been translated from another language?” then you’ve done a good job.
Describe STP in three words
Skilful, sensible and sympathetic.