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Investing in continued training: a specialised translator never stops learning.

I've had feedback after seminars saying “Thank you so much, now I finally know the meaning of what I've been translating all this time.”

Ongoing further training is vital for translators in order to keep up to date with the latest developments and technology. Many professional organisations and independent professionals offer courses and workshops. One of these is Holker Schuster, who holds seminars to share his experience from over 25 years in the financial sector and over 10 years in the language services industry.

The following interview details the challenges facing translators and how they can stay sharp and focused for specialised translations.

How did you get into the translation business?

When I was in year 8 at school, we spent a holiday at a campsite in Cattolica. We met some people there from England who had a boat and water skis. I was fascinated by them. My father said to me, “You know a little English. Just talk to them. Maybe they’ll invite you to go water skiing sometime.” And that’s when it really clicked for me. I discovered the thrill of getting to know other people through a foreign language.

During my studies, I already felt an urge to combine languages with specialised training. So, I deliberately chose banking because I had the impression that it would be easier to switch from banking to the language industry rather than the other way around. Today, of course, either direction would be possible.

After 20 years in banking, I received a job offer from CLS that I couldn’t resist. However, I started out with them as an associate partner rather than a translator. Initially, I provided technical and linguistic coaching to the German group and assisted in quality assurance for financial translations. And that’s where the idea was born for the seminars that I still offer today.

My financial seminars follow a holistic concept that specifically covers everything that a translator/interpreter who is new to finance needs to know. At the same time, participants who want to refresh or expand their knowledge can also benefit from the material presented.

What do you consider to be the main challenges for specialised translators/interpreters?

Knowing what a text is actually about – which entails understanding the concepts behind it. I’ve had feedback after seminars saying “Thank you so much, now I finally know the meaning of what I’ve been translating all this time.”

They might be referring to quite banal things, such as the difference between reserves and provisions. Reserves are only made when a company is profitable, whereas provisions can be made at any time, and they both serve different purposes. This means that you really have to understand each term and be able to grasp the concepts they represent.

This applies to many disciplines, to be honest. If someone in the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t understand the content of a product or a certain term, then they will naturally have a hard time translating it.

What do you do if you don’t understand the source content? What’s your strategy?

You can google a term and try to find definitions, for example. Nevertheless, I don’t just rely on the first result I get. I complete a whole series of cross-checks and try to verify the result using native-language websites. If the explanation sounds plausible in the end and there’s an obvious degree of congruency, then I can be relatively sure that I’m right.

Or I simply call a friend or acquaintance who’s an expert in the field. I’m not one to be afraid to admit that I don’t know something. It’s perfectly normal for everyone to have certain gaps in their knowledge and need and want to learn more.

In this way, a translator can also prove their professionalism by not simply trying to translate something without knowing exactly what is meant, but rather by asking questions and possibly scoring extra points with the client as well.

Once you have the foundational skills, how can you stay on top of your game?

When you have grasped the basics, you can decide that this sub-topic doesn’t interest you or this one does. Then you can specialise even more in additional seminars. This is precisely the method that I employ.

You can always attend refresher seminars because so many things are constantly changing and developing. However, reading as much as possible, both in your native language and in the foreign language(s) you work in, is also crucial.

Newsletters often prove to be very helpful, too. For example, if someone works in the field of investment funds, all they have to do is subscribe to the fund association’s newsletter. They will receive regular updates with the latest developments on the fund markets. This is a simple way to keep your knowledge up to date – and it’s free.

Is translating for fintechs different than translating for traditional banks?

In general, the terminology is largely the same, of course, and it’s also used in a similar way. However, fintechs are constantly developing new concepts.

One of my former clients, for example, developed a solution for digitising existing document-based processes used for creating and managing bank guarantees, making them completely paperless.

Another example is the use of blockchain technology in trade finance.

These are new technologies that also present a challenge for translators/interpreters as they have to familiarise themselves with a new concept and the corresponding new technology.

Holker Schuster is a federally certified translator for French and Spanish. Following his translation studies, he trained as a banker at Commerzbank. After moving to the language services industry, he was able to successfully make use of and pass on his banking expertise gained from more than 25 years in various positions. While working for different language services providers, he developed training concepts and seminars for financial translators and interpreters. These concepts form the basis of the seminars that he has continued to offer independently since his retirement. His seminar series currently consists of a core part and three in-depth modules on the topics of foreign trade, financing and investment, and investment funds. Holker Schuster also conducts further training on behalf of professional associations such as the BDÜ, ASTTI, and SFT as well as at the ZHAW. More information on: www.holker-s.com