I was recently honoured to be invited by my Danish friend Malene Mastrup to visit her in Germany, and be the keynote speaker during a focus day at the High School where she works. Duborg-Skolen is a Danish secondary school, which is located in the city of Flensburg in northern Germany, and is one of a small number of schools operated by members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig. It teaches German and Danish on a native-speaker level with all other subjects instructed in Danish. Malene is the school's English teacher, and is interested in widening the students' knowledge of possible careers using languages, which of course, aside from the obvious careers in teaching, interpreting and translation, can also include other fields such as international business. Clearly, fluency in foreign languages is a great advantage in the workplace (in any career).
The focus day ‘Professionalism meets reality’ started with me giving a presentation on the story of how I turned my passion for languages into a living, followed by a series of practical workshops with translation exercises focused on understanding the importance of cultural knowledge in translation.
As an introduction, I spent a few minutes on an icebreaker exercise of various translation blunders (silly mistakes) found on public signs from around the world, and the students were invited to offer their suggestions for improvement. Some of my favourites included 'do not disturb, tiny grass is dreaming' (do not walk on the grass)', 'nice electric shock' (risk of electric shock) and 'shoplifters will be prostituted' (shoplifters will be prosecuted).
I then shared my journey to becoming a translator, which began when I was 14 at High School on the Isle of Wight when I chose Spanish for one of my GCSE subjects. I then explained to them that it hasn't been a direct journey for me, and that I've made many wrong choices (including opting to study physical geography as an initial degree at university!), but the most important thing to note is that it's okay to make mistakes, as long as you get back on track. However, it is not always easy when you are being bombarded with advice from friends, mentors and family about the virtue of sticking by your choices. I then showed slides from my year abroad in Spain and Italy, and talked about the benefits of learning languages, the fun you can have and how you can broaden your horizons by studying abroad.
After a short break, I began the second half of my presentation about how I turned my passion into a living, and the path I took to becoming a freelance translator. We then looked at how I set up my freelance translation business, including how to build a website, and its relevance to international marketing, how to create a translation specific CV, design business cards and a company logo, together with the pros and cons of various other forms of marketing.
I believe that practical skills necessary for starting and running a business should be introduced to High School students and continued at undergraduate and postgraduate level as I feel they are essential skills applicable universally. I was fortunate enough that my Master's degree in Translation at the University of Bath was heavily practical, and comprised of modules in editing and proofreading among translation agency management, CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools in the translation industry as well as enterprise skills which was a business module focused on setting up as a freelance language professional.
Finally, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Malene Mastrup and the staff at Duborg-Skolen for the opportunity to visit, share my story and help run the focus day.