After trudging through Berlin’s grey winter for four gruelling months, Sarah Beaman comes to the end of her internship, and prepares her sunblock and swimming gear for a stint in Italy. We grilled her just before takeoff on the best and the worst of doing time at Red Tape Translation.
What was the highlight of the internship?
There were honestly so many highlights, but the most surprising one for me was getting to interpret for clients on my own. When I first came to Red Tape, my interpreting intrigue was definitely secondary to my love of translation. But there was just something special about getting to take charge and play an important role, instead of just being an extra body taking up precious space in a disgruntled caseworker’s office. I got to handle some tricky situations and, importantly, I learned that I’m capable of handling these kinds of tricky situations in another language. It’s been so much fun learning how to deal with spontaneous setbacks and reminding myself that language is fundamentally more about communication than flawless grammar. I think that’s something I’ll really carry with me.
What situation really challenged you?
I think helping with appointments at the Ausländerbehörde can always present some challenges, especially as some clients feel very tense after reading horror stories about German bureaucracy online. Once, we had to wait for three hours to be seen for an appointment booked weeks beforehand, due to a technical issue. The stress of the situation led to tension and unease during the interview. That situation taught me just how many bonus skills go into being an interpreter. Customer service is just as much a part of interpreting as your actual linguistic abilities.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Tackling purchase contracts – that felt like the most complex aspect of the whole internship. They can seem incredibly intimidating, and there’s no secret trick to getting better at it, other than exposure. I recently finished translating a 10,000-word contract. As I came to the end of it, it really hit me how much I now understand all the concepts and terminology that was completely foreign to me (in both English and German!) just a few months ago.
What advice would you give to an intern getting started in the translation and interpreting world?
- You might have been learning/speaking German for X amount of years, but you’re also human, so try not to take your mistakes personally. Without sounding too philosophical, I’ve found that interpreting is often more about being understood than it is about being grammatically perfect! Making a mistake and having to correct yourself doesn’t undermine your language skills and your hard work.
- Caseworkers are people too! (Or so I’ve heard). No, but really, I think if you’re just starting to interpret, it can be easy to see caseworkers as intimidating, but really they’re just someone doing their job and trying to tick boxes, so a little kindness and a friendly demeanour will get you a long way when working with them.
- You can only get better! Translation is definitely one of those skills that gets easier the more experience you have under your belt, but only if you take the time to review. I made sure to actually take in the feedback I got from Kathleen, so I could apply it to my next translation. Doing so definitely helped me as I got further along in my internship – it means that you’re not just starting from scratch every time you’re given a new text!
What’s next for you?
I’ll be heading back to London to forget about purchase contracts and bureaucracy for a while and probably to catch up on four months’ worth of Sunday roasts while I’m at it. Then I’ll hopefully be off to Bologna with a bucket of SPF 50 to work as an au pair for a lovely Italian family. I’ll definitely be back in Berlin at some point, probably to find out if this ‘summer’ thing I’ve been hearing about incessantly for the past four months is all it’s cracked up to be!
Despite the occasionally gloomy weather, I couldn’t have asked for a better Berlin experience or a better introduction to the translation and interpreting world, all thanks to the Red Tape team who all welcomed me with open arms and forced me to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things. A special thanks to Kathleen for managing to be an incredible mentor to me throughout my time here whilst simultaneously balancing a million other tasks, and also for curing my fear of phone calls with her exposure therapy technique (patent pending).
It’s a cliché, but I’ve really fallen in love with this city (and its bakeries on every U-Bahn platform!) and I can’t wait to be back someday.
Oh man, it’s not a good time to go to Italy!