Thirteen: four on my left leg, one on my little toe; three on my right leg, four on my left shoulder, one on my left palm.
Thirteen is the unlucky number of mosquito bites I got while attending Translate Better 2018 in Groß Behnitz, a village dominated by a once innovative and then dilapidated farm a few kilometers from Nauen, a few kilometers from Spandau, a few kilometers from Berlin. It is dilapidated no longer: an industrious family has turned the erstwhile farm into an impressive conference center called Landgut Stober – far from urban distractions, yet easy enough to get to, even for international guests .
It’s not like I didn’t see and feel the mosquitoes biting, but, you see, it was the price to be paid for this idyllic setting—and let’s face it, if you’re going to attend a conference in the middle of a sweltering German heat wave, choosing one on the banks of a large lake in the middle of nowhere is probably the way to go.
Most of the mosquito bites came on the last evening, when I sat out on the terrace among friends new and old until nearly midnight, gamely batting the pesky critters away from my face.
In my previous life as a hard-core summer camp counselor, we gathered on the last night around a campfire singing “Mmm, mmm, I want to linger here, a little longer here…” While a two-day translation workshop is hardly the same bonding experience as writhing your way through a muddy cave or canoeing a mountain river in a sudden thunderstorm, there was a palpable sense that those around me on that terrace were “my people.”
I mean, who else can commiserate about the trials and tribulations of rendering “im Sinne von” or “Spannungsfeld” into elegant English? Or the difficulties of navigating the ever perilous “du/Sie” divide, not only in our professional and personal lives and correspondence, but even when translating a work of fiction in which the distinction plays a crucial part in the story? And let’s face it, even when we might quibble with a presenter’s example of a refined text, who doesn’t delight in the accompanying discussion or at least take comfort in the fact that, as translators, we have the opportunity to improve upon the original?
For those glorious two days at Translate Better 2018, the utmost question on the minds of these freelance translators was not whether or not Google Fonts on a business website is a terrible invasion of consumers’ right to privacy GDPR-style and prone to bring down the draconian data police on our heads. Instead we examined the fine distinctions between bolts and screws—observing, at least in my case, that I would be proverbially screwed should I ever venture too far into the field of technical translation.
After a session including a group assignment on specifications for the hinge attaching an automobile hatchback to the frame, or an attempt to render into English instructions on how to sit and stand after hip-replacement therapy, I am more than happy to retreat to my ivory tower of arcane academic jargon. Give me convoluted German noun constructions to unravel any day, but please get someone else to tell you how to go up steps one at a time with crutches!
Those who planned the Translate Better workshop—a joint project of the ATA and BDÜ held during the last days of May 2018—set out to provide a somewhat exclusive atmosphere with top-notch language training, a Teutonic counterpart to the widely acclaimed French<>English “Translate in…” series. Registration was limited to fifty individuals, evenly divided between native English and German speakers, and the information published about the event stipulated that the workshop was for experienced professionals. We translators are a diverse bunch and in a room of fifty translators, there are bound to be at least a hundred fascinating Werdegänge (educational and career experiences) and Lebensläufe (curricula vitae). A few of these entertaining personalities got to go front and center in a series of three long sessions held on each of the two days.
The sessions—covering everything from art history texts and literary translation to “style in the age of digitalization” and the aforementioned “nuts and bolts” of translation—were 90 or 120 minutes long, but most of them could have been double that, given the amount of material the speakers had prepared and the audience’s willingness to engage with it.
While none of the sessions provided quite the attention to the fundamental characteristics of good writing that I expected going into the workshop, all of them provided food for thought.
Even if Translate Better 2018 felt less revolutionary than I had—perhaps unrealistically—hoped, it was a high-caliber—klein aber fein (small but excellent)—conference that left me looking forward to the next one, and, two weeks later, I’m still dreaming about lingering around a table with a congenial group of translators, talking shop and life and all things linguistic.
©2018 Ellen Yutzy Glebe
Dr. Ellen Yutzy Glebe decided to spend her semester abroad in Munich, to take advantage of her year of introductory German before she’d forgotten it all; England could wait. The rest is history, as they say.
History, incidentally, is Ellen’s passion. While she only discovered German as an undergraduate, she spent hours even as a young girl curled up reading museum catalogs and biographies of important historical figures. She majored in History and German, spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Marburg, and went on to earn her PhD in Early Modern European history at the University of California-Berkeley.
Somewhere along the way, she fell in love with Germany, and then with a German (or was it the other way around?). These days, she lives, loves, and works in Kassel, Germany. She worries at times about forgetting her English. She has yet to make it to England.