My German Career

‘Everyone thinks they can be a translator’

'Everyone thinks they can be a translator'
Photo: Clare Howes is in the middle
Continuing our series My German Career, Siegburg-based translator Clare Howes gave The Local the lowdown on making a living from your language skills.

With a French upbringing, English parents, and a German degree under her belt, 24-year-old Clare Howes had a good head start in the language department. In 2010 she formalized her skills with a two-year masters in translation studies in Paris, and is now working in a translation agency in Siegburg near the Rhineland city of Cologne.

What exactly does your job involve?

I translate a very wide variety of texts, from legal documents to press releases and marketing material. There’s also an element of project management, because we outsource translations for other languages. Mostly, however, I’m translating. That’s one of the advantages of being an English-speaking translator in Germany – there’s a real demand for your services, so I get to do a lot more actual translating than my German colleagues.

Are you the only non-German in the office, then?

Yes. There are just four of us, including the boss and myself.

A select group. How did you get the position?

I did a three-month placement as part of my masters, and interned in the firm I’m with now. That was in the summer of 2011. I graduated in June 2012 and started working for them in July. The boss actually offered me a job to begin straight away, but I wanted to finish my degree first. It was really nice knowing that I had it all lined up for when I finished, though.

It sounds like you had a fairly smooth ride. Do you think translation is easy to get into in Germany?

In Germany qualified English translators are quite sought after. But you definitely need to do a masters – every English-speaker coming to live in Germany thinks they can become a translator just like that. Lots of people believe they can translate, but firms are always going to pick those with proper qualifications.

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How have you found the work itself?

I’ve enjoyed it. I am getting to do a lot of actual translating. Friends who are independent translators have to spend a lot of time finding clients, which is quite hard when you start off, but for me the clients are all just there. The work itself is often quite fun. Advertising in particular can get your creative side going: you can be imaginative with the translations.

Compared to my peer group working in France, where I graduated, I am also much better paid, which is a definite advantage to working in Germany.

And the atmosphere? Did you find any truth in the stereotype of the rigidly disciplined German office?

Yes and no. I have a very structured day, which is actually the big advantage of my job. I work every day from 9am till 5.30pm, with a half hour break for lunch. After that I am completely free. I am back in Bonn, where I live, by six, and can then enjoy the whole evening. But it’s a small office and things can also be more flexible. If I want to arrive an hour later because I was in Paris for the weekend, for example, it’s not impossible.

Is it noses to the grindstone during the day, or are there also lighter moments?

My boss is quite strict, but I get on very well with two of my other colleagues, who are around my age. This photograph was taken this Christmas. I am the one in the middle. I think it well represents the fun side of our office community, and how integrating Germans can be to foreigners.

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Interview conducted by Pippa Wentzel

Jobs in Germany

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