A Working Life Built on German

On 4 February, students and staff of German had the enormous privilege to meet Andrew Sims, a German alumnus, who has pursued a successful career as an interpreter and translator with the German Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Andrew studied German and Russian at Reading in the 1980s. Since his MA in translation and interpreting, he has worked first for the West German government in Bonn and, after 1990, for the government of unified Germany in Berlin. His talk introduced students to the different types of interpreting, from simultaneous and consecutive to whisper interpreting, and gave an insight into how the types of interpreting determine the role of the interpreter within this quite daunting process. To reassure students who are thinking of choosing this career path, Andrew showed us the interpreter’s survival kit. It included strong nerves, good knowledge of shorthand, the ability to be invisible in the middle of a room, an insatiable appetite for new words and phrases (to be learnt for each new policy, political development, and project), the art of inserting place-holder words as long as the message of the sentence remains unclear, absolute confidentiality, and a good grasp of the audience you are interpreting for.

Andrew also talked about his work as a translator, a rapidly changing profession. The future of translation will depend on ever-improving translation software while a highly qualified translator is needed for the post-translation editing. While the rough work will be managed by machines, human linguistic and cultural know-how – including superb knowledge of the target as well as the source language – will remain central for producing a text fit for sensitive political communication.

Students were inspired by the talk and encouraged by Andrew’s assessment that English natives who master both their own language and German are desperately needed, and will always be welcome in Germany.

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