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By Natalie Eastaugh
Key to my gaining skills as a technical translator was working in industries which gave me the relevant knowledge and experience. This was so I could not only learn the vocabulary and technical expressions I needed to translate documents, but also gain the understanding about how various technical processes worked. Think about this – would you trust a translator who doesn’t understand how a power plant works to translate a manual just using a dictionary and a hazy idea?
So I was very fortunate in the late 1970s to find a job as technical translator and interpreter for the American company, Kaiser Engineering. Straight away, I was involved in some very interesting technical work which involved translating manuals into French for the construction of hydroelectricity dams for Ivory Coast, the mining of bauxite in Guinea and the construction of an alumina plant in Algeria. However, this work didn’t just involve manuals and technical translation; I was also the key French interpreter in decision-making meetings with suppliers and clients, when engineers explain to them what was involved in the installation and running of the infrastructure built by Kaiser and the equipment supplied by various OEM companies.
I already had a taste for travel from my time in various former French colonies as a child and then the USA as a student, and Kaiser gave me a number of extra opportunities to experience more knowledge of other countries: as well as travelling to Ivory Coast, Guinea and Algeria, I had the opportunity to go to Luxembourg to support my bosses in supervising the construction of equipment intended for these major projects. I also travelled to Washington, USA as part of the negotiations with the World Bank and the Exim bank to help with raising finance for the works.
As time went on, I gained more and more experience in a variety of areas of expertise which continue to serve me well to this day. I was trusted not only for my translation, but also acted as proof-reader -if the figures in a key document didn’t look right to me, I checked them, recalculated and corrected them: bear in mind that this was all before computers were in common use and two decades before the Internet was invented, so it was complex and demanding work – but excellent experience.
Another area where I gained unexpected experience at Kaiser was in teaching!
Although I was employed as French technical translator and interpreter, my boss at the time quickly realised the benefit of some of his engineers being able to speak some French – including the relevant technical vocabulary for whichever project we were working on. So as the in-house French linguist, I was asked to teach them. This was very interesting work and we also had some great fun at times especially with some social situations. One of the ones I remember was a role-play using a menu from a French restaurant. One of my engineer students noticed “tarte maison” (home-made pie). He asked if he could have the house tart – which provided the rest of us with a really good laugh!
After I left Kaiser, I continued to work for them for some years as a freelance translator and I will always be grateful for the knowledge and experience I gained there, which set me on the road to my successful career and business in translation.
Please visit Natalie’s website for more information on technical translator.