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Frequently asked questions
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Quality" translation? How can I be sure?

As a linguist who read English with a particular emphasis on Philology at the University of Oxford and then took two further postgraduate Diplomas at the Universities of London and Hull so that I had dual qualifications in teaching and in social work, followed in later years by a specialist certificate in TEFL and in 1998 by the Diploma in Translation of the Institute of Linguists, I can offer you an unrivalled service.

How much is it likely to cost?

The exact cost depends on both the length and the degree of specialist terminology included in the text - to tell you exactly how much your translation will cost, we need to see it first. However, we offer particularly fair prices in several respects.

Firstly, our formula for calculating the length of the document is more favourable than that of most of our competitors. Because words in German are longer than those in English, we do not charge by word but by character. We work on the principle that each line contains 60 characters, then charge by line. The industry standard is only 55 characters by line, or even 50, which results in a correspondingly higher price for you.

Many translation agencies have a high minimum price, meaning that you pay an exorbitant price per line if your document is short. Our minimum price is very low - we are happy to take on small jobs as well as large ones! We work on the principle that a fair price and high quality work guarantees return business - so you can be sure of real value for money.

How do I know my meaning won't be lost in the translation?

Translation is very often co-operative work - where necessary I will contact you by email or telephone whilst we are working on your piece to ensure that I convey your exact meaning. Equally, the help of French and German native speakers experienced in their field means that translations into French and German are also possible. For translation into other languages, I am happy to recommend freelance translators who can translate to the same high standard. For businesses and individuals within Thüringen, I will provide this service free of charge - otherwise, for a small commission.

Why shouldn't I do my own translations?

There is absolutely no substitute for using a professional translator. Tools such as dictionaries are used by translators to help them find the perfect word, but everyone working in this field knows that word-for-word translation will produce an incomprehensible (and sometimes amusing!) result. Internet translation services simply use a database and take the first dictionary definition of each word you type; professional translators take whole sentences at a time and translate within the context of a whole document.

Finding exactly the right word takes a lot of detailed knowledge and experience - there are always many possibilities and only a professional translator can hope to find the right one. You have spent a long time putting your document together and making sure that it says exactly what you want it to say in English - using a professional translator ensures that these shades of meaning are not lost when you present it to French or German-speaking readers.

What do you mean, home-made translations can be amusing?

In a Zurich hotel: Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
In a Paris hotel elevator: Please leave your values at the front desk.
Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick," a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had a use for the "Manure Stick."
An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I Saw the Potato" (la papa).
In a hotel in Athens: Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.
A sign posted in Germany's Black Forest: It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.
When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." The company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant "to embarrass", so the ad read: It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!
In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.
On the door of a Moscow hotel room: If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.
The sign at the concierge's desk in an Athen's hotel: If You Consider Our Help Impolite, You Should See The Manager.

Why is English called a "global language"

Even more important than the fact that English has over 400 million native speakers is that you can reach over a billion people who have English as a second or third language. Only Chinese has more speakers, and these are not scattered throughout the world as English speakers are. This is why English is described as a global language - when two people without a common mother tongue meet, the chances that they will try to communicate in English are very high. The same principle is valid for producing documents in English - in an international marketplace, English is the obvious language of choice for marketing material, academic papers, contracts and technical descriptions. Learning English and producing documents in English therefore lifts you professionally and personally onto an international level - opening up not just the vital industrial centres of English-speaking countries, but the global marketplace.

What is the "Willi Brandt principle"?

A blanket rule in the world of business - even if the people with whom you are doing business do speak your language, if you are the one trying to convince them to form a business relationship, an approach in theirs speaks volumes. The former German Chancellor Willi Brandt captured that principle perfectly when he said:
"If I want to sell you something, I am willing to talk to you in your language. But if you are trying to sell me something, dann müssen Sie Deutsch reden."

Do speakers of other languages always need English to be able to do business in the US and Britain?

Of course, the English-speaking nations are key players in this global marketplace, and the realisation that their mother tongue is an international one brings with it a reluctance to learn other languages. Although many Americans speak Spanish, and French is widely taught in British schools, it is rare to find anyone but a professional linguist who can negotiate in depth in a language they did not grow up with.

How can English help my career?

For those with international career ambitions, English is essential. There are very few international firms where English is not the lingua franca, and in industries such as IT and tourism even firms based entirely within one country demand English skills. In other industries too, a lack of English means you rule yourself out of the higher, more international reaches of the firm's structure.

If you are an English-speaking reader of this FAQ sheet, do not let these observations discourage you from taking lessons in German or French. Both are available from Susan Kubitz Sprachdienst, particularly in association with a short break to introduce you to Thüringen's hidden treasures. It is of course a commonplace that international relations are always helped along if one side has made any effort to learn the other's language.

Is English only useful for business communication?

Language is not simply a means to the end of communication but also the medium of culture and literature. A knowledge of English allows you to enjoy the vast wealth of fiction written in English, from Beowulf to Harry Potter with numerous stops in between. Even at an early stage of your language development, you can enrich your cultural experience hugely by reading familiar books in their original English language, or watching your favourite American film in its original version, or finally understanding the lyrics to the English songs on the radio! You don't have to understand every word - in countries all over the world, English is everywhere, and once you have begun, the learning curve will be steep.

How much does English dominate the Internet?

It is estimated that around 72% of the world's Internet sites are in the English language - if you, as a speaker of German, like to surf the web, you won't want to restrict yourself to sites in your own language! For comparison, only 5% of the world's web sites are written in German. Particularly interesting for those in the academic community - large universities on the international scene almost invariably give details of their study and research opportunities in English as well as in their native language, but the output of important academic institutions in the English-speaking world is available only in English.

What are the particular problems when translating between German and English?

Special care is needed when translating between English and German - English is a very rich language with over a million words, German has fewer nouns but three times the number of verbs. Whereas in English the basic verbs "take", "do", "make" and so on can be combined with any number of nouns, a direct translation of this into German would result in a very unprofessional-sounding piece of writing.

What is a "false friend"?

What is more, there are some genuine and some seriously misleading similarities. Beware of false friends! Since English and German have common linguistic roots, there are many of the same words in both - but these have diverged in meaning and so are called false friends! For example, a "gift" in English is far more pleasant than "Gift" in German...

Why use a native speaker to translate?

The translator's aim is to produce a piece of writing that reads as if it was originally written in the target language - simply conveying all the given information is not enough. Understanding the German original is therefore the easy part of the task! It is extremely difficult for someone who is not a native speaker to have this language instinct, to know when, even if everything is grammatically perfect, it just 'sounds wrong'. Your business correspondents or target market might know that you are a German company, but they shouldn't be able to tell this from the documents you send them!

What else does the professional translator offer?

Apart from this language instinct, cultural sensitivity is also important. As the translation examples above demonstrate, one needs to be aware of local idioms that could be read as double entendres, to know when social, political or historical factors make particular words or phrases inappropriate - all of the emotive factors connected with particular vocabulary. A native speaker who has lived in a country for many years will have this knowledge.

Preserving the same register of language is also vital - if your piece is lively and informal in German, it should not be translated with formal English vocabulary, and vice versa. Knowing which words belong to which register belongs to the language instinct of a native speaker.

Acronyms in particular constitute a potential stumbling-block: experienced native speakers can explain these for the target audience and find appropriate equivalents to ensure your readers know exactly what you mean.

What is meant by a "specialist translator?

"A few translators have developed expertise in a narrow field and are only happy to work within it. I have experience in a very wide variety of fields, from politics to positioning systems, bio-medical engineering to infant adoption.

Which principles do you follow to ensure you deliver a quality translation?

One of the most important rules is that the translator cannot translate what he or she does not understand. For example, when text is a manual, the project is doomed to failure if the translator does not understand how the machine works! Much of the translation I and my fellow-translators tackle is of a technical nature, and if there is something we do not understand at first reading, we will draw on engineers' knowledge and on native-speaker descriptions of similar functions, besides the normal specialist dictionaries, in order to fill any gaps. Translation applies to every concept contained in the original. You can trust us not to skip or merely guess.

The principle of co-operative work also applies - by contacting you during the translation we can ensure that your exact meaning is conveyed in a way that native speakers will understand! For this reason we also ask that you supply us with any pictures that are to accompany your work. In the same way, if you ask for proofread, I will always crosscheck with the original version - only in this way can we guarantee that the original meaning is fully preserved and made clear. If you have conceived the text in English yourself, this "original" is you! In such cases, where the interpretation is not clear, the best result is achieved by face-to-face co-operative work - you provide the meaning you wanted to convey, we provide the expertise needed to put this in crystal clear, flowing English. This work is charged on an hourly basis at 26 € per hour.

Although digital storage is an aid to efficiency in translation, the translator's task is not mechanical - it is a process of constant cross-referencing and double-checking to ensure we produce a text that not only includes the information in a clear way, but also reads well and sounds interesting for English readers. "Quality translation" is the achievement of both these goals.