Recently somebody asked me what kind of translations I had done over my time as a freelancer and … the story I’ve trotted out many times as an answer to this question finally seemed … just tired and weary. I don’t even know if the person I was talking to noticed anything, but me! I knew that version of things was over. So I decided to have a look back at what I’ve done over the years and remember the jobs I’ve liked best.
You’ll see that there’s a bit of everything here. If you think this might reflect a lack of a strategic approach to specific client groups, you wouldn’t be wrong. I mostly took what came, and it came thanks to word of mouth. But these, and many other jobs, have been my woodshed, to borrow a term. I have loved the work of translation in many different guises. And I think working in different genres made me fitter for each genre.

So, here is a selection of the jobs I’ve done over more than 20 years:

  • I support the inventor of a lightweight, high-performance, space-spanning wooden construction element with translations and texts covering the whole spectrum of texts that he needs, from technical handbooks (instructions for structural engineers, information on building physics, construction details) to marketing texts presenting the element’s architectural and aesthetic potential. It is a long-term client relationship in which we have got to know each other quite well. It’s my ability to learn about and understand all aspects of the product that creates the value. (since about 2009)
  • For a company that designs and makes equipment and whole processing plants for liquid biotech and pharmaceutical processes, I translate a large set of SOPs covering everything from the design engineering process to welding. I also edit research papers and translate texts for product brochures and the company’s new website (2014–2016)
  • A busy doctor, head of a clinical department and lecturer, who actually writes very well in English, regularly has me edit (and occasionally translate) his research articles, case studies, etc. He appreciates the fact that I read the texts as an expert and make intelligent comments that help tighten up the story and arguments. (Since around 2014)
  • A former colleague from the language school who works in the field of basic education for adults organizes a conference on literacy. Digitalization of almost everything has made everyday life increasingly difficult for anyone who finds reading and writing hard, and the education system has failed too many people in this regard (and this is a longstanding phenomenon, not by any means one that is due to recent waves of immigration). As a keynote speaker, my colleague has invited a professor of community education from the UK. I whisper-interpret the day’s proceedings for her. I enjoy the day thoroughly, partly because several of my best friends in my time in Scotland were ‘com ed’ workers. (2013)
  • Several different departments of TU Graz order translations of information materials for students and other people who have to do with the university. The texts are partly formal in nature (regulations and procedural instructions), partly subject-based (curricula) and some of them have a marketing function (advertising for courses in continuing education). They tend to come with a risk of seeming rather stuffy and hard to understand in translation. I make English versions that communicate the content accurately, but are also easy to read and coherent. (Since around 2010)
  • A lecturer in a technical subject asks for a correction of her Habilitation thesis written in English. I convert the job into a coaching process in which we discuss the structure of the expansive text so that she regains control over her story; I also show her some techniques for creating coherence in paragraphs. She improves her English-language writing skills, the work remains all her own and is successful. (2019)
  • An illustrator with an outstanding talent in linocut technique orders translations for her website. Her comment on the result: “Thanks, that has turned out brilliantly. You can feel the humour between the lines and have to smile a bit, and that’s exactly what I wanted!” (2009)
  • For the in-house magazine of a large international pharmaceutical company, I carry out a telephone interview with the head of one of the research divisions in the USA; an eminent professor in his field who switched to industry in mid-career. It is a fascinating conversation. The only downside is how little of it I can fit into the article … (2012)
  • I do a ‘Native Speaker Check’ of a pair of workbooks that are part of a series of English schoolbooks being used in the upper level of secondary schools across Austria. I discover a number of inconsistencies and suggest ways of solving them. The author responsible for handling my inputs (who I have been living with for 20 years) says, as though it’s a surprise, “You’re really quite good at this, aren’t you?” (2022, 2023)
  • Roche Diagnostik orders a script for a large e-learning project. The e-learning is designed to prepare trainee field technicians for their in-person training in Graz. They have different kinds of previous training: some more familiar with medicine and some who have a non-medical technical background. The e-learning is an introduction to both the fundamentals of blood gas physiology and the technology of the instruments. The script includes voiceover texts and directions for what should appear on the screen. The client’s feedback: “The trainees arrive with a very different set of questions than before”. The voice artist (Stuart Freeman of FM4 radio) said “It was an easy read”. (2008–2009)
  • A professor of Gender Studies in STEM appears in a series of short videos in which she explains her work, and asks if I can write English subtitles. The way she talks in the videos is quite lively with a hint of Swiss speech and possibly wasn’t done with consideration for easy subtitling … With the help of a spotting software that allows me to set the timing of the subtitles very precisely, and some judicious simplification, I arrive at a good solution. (2020, client relationship > 10 years)
  • The manufacturer of an over-the-counter medicine needs information for patients and healthcare professionals. I prepare the material in both versions, with great care for accurate content but in an easy-to-understand form and in the patient information, in a friendly style. (2011, client relationship lasted about 10 years)
  • A mid-sized company makes a variety of industrial processing systems and equipment. One of its focus areas is intralogistics, including conveyor systems, automated goods and quality controls via image processing, material sorting technologies, food freezing plants and switchgear manufacturing. I am a trusted translator and have supported the company for many years with texts for advertising brochures as well as for important business communications. (Since 2014)
  • A pharmaceutical company orders translations of many of its SOPs and production documentation. As these translations are for audits of the company’s processes by foreign regulatory authorities, the translations must follow the source texts very strictly and above all avoid “improvements”. For me this is a valuable training in punctiliously exact translating which also introduces me to the quality assurance systems of this, rightly, heavily regulated industry. (around 2002–2005)
  • I interpret at the contract negotiations for three professors at a Graz university. The rector will remain in my memory as an impressive figure. (2004–2006)