Our employee Q&A this quarter is with Johanna Lindroth, a senior Swedish translator and language lead at STP, and is taken with permission from the April edition of TAUS Review.
Johanna works remotely from Gothenburg, Sweden, where she translates and revises everything from commercial brochures and product manuals to computer software and patient information leaflets.
In the interview, Johanna talks about her first forays into translation in the early 90s, comments on the rise of translation technology, and gives a frank and pragmatic view of how machine translation is changing the industry landscape.
TR: Johanna, how did you first get into the translation industry?
JL: I’ve always been interested in languages and linguistics, and I have a Master of Arts in Computational Linguistics from the University of Gothenburg. But I did not set out to be a translator from the start.
During my last year at university, in the early 1990s, a translation company offered me extra work translating the Windows operating system. I said yes, and I continued to work for the same company after I graduated.
At the beginning of my career I did mostly technical, IT and software-related jobs, because those were my main areas of expertise.
Do you use translation technology?
I use various translation tools in my daily work, including memoQ, Trados Studio and Across. This makes my job easier, as it means I can draw on previous translations and have instant access to glossaries and term lists. Many clients also have their own tools that they ask us to learn and use.
How has your role changed over the years?
The widespread use of translation tools is the main change I’ve seen over the course of my career. There were few, if any, commercially available tools when I was first starting out. The company I worked for back then did have some proprietary tools, but I think that was unusual at the time. It was a great advantage for us, though.
Another big change, of course, has been the rise of the internet, which has transformed the way translators research, communicate and handle files, among many other things. Our technical environment has also evolved over the years, with a shift from local to global.
I used to have everything installed locally on my own computer. Now I use online tools and server applications that someone else in the company installs and updates. This has enabled me to focus more on the act of translating, and has reduced the time I need to spend on the technical side.
There is always a risk in becoming too dependent on technology, however. If I lose my internet connection, for instance, I cannot work. I also use the internet a lot for researching terms and concepts in a way that was simply not possible before. These days it is hard to fathom how we ever managed without it.
In recent years, STP has received a growing number of requests involving machine translation, and we’ve seen raw MT output from various sources and of varying quality. This type of work is a rising trend, so we have invested a great deal of time and money in training our staff to handle it.
MT is here to stay, whether we like it or not, and I try to keep an open mind. I once heard a translator say that MT was as threatening to him as the scissors are to a hairdresser. We all know how to use scissors, yet we continue to go to hair salons. I try to see MT as just another tool of the trade, creating a base to start from.
What do you value most in your role – for you and for your clients?
I take pride in my work and always strive to deliver quality translations. Caring about every little detail makes my job more interesting and challenging, and it’s an approach that certainly benefits our clients.
Who or what do you think are the game-changers in the industry?
The use of self-service automatic translation tools will probably grow in the future and they are indeed changing the industry landscape. However, professional translators will always be able to offer quality as a competitive edge.
A good translation can be very valuable to a company or a brand. Hopefully clients will continue to recognise this and set aside the time and money to do things properly.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Working as a translator has its pros and cons. The pay is not always great, and there is no obvious career path. It can also be a lonely trade, but nowadays you can work from anywhere in the world, as many translators do.
If I were starting out today, I think I would try to specialise in a particular area, like medical or scientific texts, because I’d be able to charge more for my expertise. I’d also recommend developing skills such as creative translation and copywriting, because these services are in growing demand.
Above all, enjoy your work – because in the end, translation should be fun.