Finding the bridge between two cultures
I’m sitting at my desk, the window in front of me like a black mirror. In the school yard below the empty monkey bars look like dancing skeletons in the dark. On my desk, the books form high-rises on either side of me. On the wall to my right the clock is ticking at me. Its hour hand is approaching eleven, a wagging finger saying: time for bed! The second hand playfully invites me for a joyride, but I resist and refocus on the screen in front of me, on the word unfamiliar. The rest of the text is fine, but I’m not yet satisfied with unfamiliar.
An email notification pops up in the top right-hand corner of the screen like an insect attracted to light. I know who the email is from, but I ignore it. ‘I’m almost done,’ I shout at the intruder.
Translating has enabled me to stay in close contact with my own culture whilst living overseas.
Evi Ruhle, certified Translator
I search for the word unfamiliar in different contexts, but the internet is slow. Next door I can hear the muffled doof-doof from the party building up momentum. I need to finish before they get going properly. Plus, the client is waiting. They had given me a 12pm deadline and extended by two hours. Very generous. But while they are digesting their lunch, I am over here on a Friday night with heavy eyelids. I’ll send it off soon. Just that one word. I go through the options again, get up, pace through the flat and then boom, a decision falls like a trap door.
One last read and spell-check before I close the file, attach it to the email and press send. I’ll write the invoice tomorrow. I push the laptop off to one side and let my head drop onto the table like an iceberg lettuce. When I lift it up again, my neck feels tense. I shuffle to the bathroom, go to the toilet and brush my teeth. Before bed, I open the door to Oscar’s room. His little forehead is sweaty from the determined sleep of little children. He’ll be up around 7am. When I sink into bed, I ask myself like so many times before: Is it worth it?
When I started out as a translator, I was a money-poor single mum in a foreign country without family support, relying on friends for help. How was becoming a translator going to change that? The fact is, I didn’t care. In the evenings you’d find me reading, writing and learning new words, figuring out phrases in my head, looking up meanings voraciously. To this day, notebooks with bilingual tables spilling out of them are scattered through my house. My English teacher used to say: ‘It’s easy to learn English enough to get by but it’s hard to master it.’ I was going to do the latter. I took on admin jobs in the cultural sector and I began studying online with a German university because it was free and gave me flexibility alongside my duties as a mother. I took on any translation job that came my way, irrelevant of its condition and pay. I sent applications to agencies all over. Finally, I saved up enough money to sit and prepare for the NAATI test.
I still agonise over the choice of single words or phrases until they speak to me in the same way as they do in the source language.
I had started a journey of no return and continued to translate – for money, as a favour or just for myself, for fun and practice. The lines between translating as a job and as a calling became blurred. Translating became an intricate part of myself and it made a good conversation starter when meeting new people. And just when I asked myself, would I ever be able to make a living from translating, the few clients I had, began praising my work and recommended me to others. My confidence grew and I became more competent in putting myself out there. I made important contacts and began building a network.
So, was it worth it? All the writhing and bending over backwards? To any new translator, particularly those working with a language pair for which there is little or irregular demand, I say, if you love languages and writing, this is a rewarding profession. Translating has enabled me to stay in close contact with my own culture whilst living overseas. At the same time, I had the chance to get to know a new culture intimately. As a translator I help communicate between cultures and even though I am very experienced now, I still agonise over the choice of single words or phrases until they speak to me in the same way as they do in the source language. I feel privileged when people entrust me with such an important task.
I have wanted to go beyond the more mechanical act of translating a driver’s licence. I wanted to become great at what I do and that is why I enjoy it. Yet, in order to become a competent and successful translator, working hard during swot vac isn’t enough. Translating requires a sustained dedication to at least two languages and cultures. You learn by doing. And as the world continues to change and develop, you grow along with it. Could there be a better teacher? My profession as a translator has given me a lot of joy and satisfaction and it has even opened up new exciting opportunities for the future, but they belong into another story.
Evi Ruhle is NAATI certified Translator of English into German
Evi grew up in Frankfurt and has lived in London, Berlin and Sydney. Since 1999 Melbourne has been her home. She has been speaking English for more than half her life and she continues to marvel at the language. She studied translation, English and French in London and worked for international architectural firms in London and Berlin.
Evi obtained her NAATI credential as a German translator after relocating permanently to Australia, and began translating seriously for clients including the Goethe-Institute.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from the FernUniversität Hagen in Germany with a major in history. For her thesis she travelled widely to the centre of Australia and learned to read texts in Suetterlin and Kurrent fluently. She has completed several courses in editing and proof-reading.
After many years as a freelance translator, Evi now works full-time as a technical translator.
Alongside her work she’s working towards a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing.