Translators officially recognized as artists

Reading Corinne McKay’s blog today about “Providing your own benefits” as a freelancer reminded me of an opportunity available to freelancers in Germany. It is called the “Künstler Sozialkasse.” It is a benefits office which will assume the portion of a freelancer’s benefits that would normally be covered by an employee’s company, including health insurance, retirement insurance contributions and more. The Künstler Sozialkasse is determined to help artists (Künstler) achieve a high-quality of life and to prevent them from losing up to 50% of their income for the payment of benefits.

The good news is that the Künstler Sozialkasse has recently officially recognized translators as artists, which means that freelance translators living and working in Germany are welcome to apply. The application process can be intense but it is well worth the trouble. Membership is free, but it is necessary to prove that you actually are an artist (translator). To prevent part-timers, moonlighters or wannabes from taking full advantage, the Künstler Sozialkasse requires applicants to prove that they make their living from their art (translating) by submitting copies of invoices, recommendations from clients and more.

All of the information along with the application material is available (in German) from their website.


German govt. now hiring

If you are not sure about working as an in-house translator, a temporary position could be a great way to test the waters. The German Federal Ministry of Justice in Berlin is now hiring an in-house German-English translator to fill in for someone on paternal leave. The job is available as of December 2010 and would last for a maximum of 2 years.

Applications are being accepted until September 15, 2010. For the full job description (in German), visit their website.

Invoicing German-style

Writing invoices as a freelancer may seem straight forward enough. The German tax authorities, however, have quite a long list of things that freelancers are required to include on invoices – some of which is more logical than others. We’ll start with the basics:

  • Translator’s name and complete address
  • Client’s name and complete address
  • Invoice number (must be consecutive!)
  • Invoice date
  • Brief description of service (translation) provided
  • Date that service (translation) was rendered (separate from invoice date even if the dates are identical)

Freelancers in Germany who earn more than 17,500 € per year are no longer regarded as “small businesses” (Kleinunternehmer). As a result, the list of details to include on invoices is much longer starting with 19% VAT tax (Umsatzsteuer) as well as:

  • Translator’s VAT tax ID number
  • Client’s VAT tax ID number
  • Invoice amount before VAT tax (net)
  • Total invoice amount with VAT tax (gross)

For more information about who is responsible for paying VAT in Germany, see my post from last year: Tax nation.

Tax season may very well be behind us, but by including all of the necessary information on your invoices throughout the year will definitely help things run smoothly come next spring and the next tax season.

Berliner Mundart

This sign was seen at a new fleamarket known as the Nowkoelln Flowmarkt (which is as Denglish as they come!) in the Neukölln district of Berlin a few weeks ago. A couple of people were selling crepes at the market and this was one of their homemade signs.


When I asked the woman making the crepes what the sign meant, she shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know. I can only assume that it is a literal translation of the German phrase “uns läuft das Wasser im Mund zusammen.” A more sensible English translation might be “it makes our mouths water” or just “mouth-watering.”

The crepes were good, by the way, though I don’t know that the water in my mouth ran together any more than my mouth watered.

*The Neukölln fleamarket takes place every third Sunday of the month. The next one is this upcoming Sunday, July 18, on the Maybachufer.

Pardon me, did you say witterungsbedingte Gleisverwerfungen?

Two words with a combined total of 25 letters, and what does it spell?

It means that the tram tracks in Berlin buckled due to the extreme heat. As a result the normal tram operation was replaced with bus service. It happened this weekend and it will certainly happen again.

I had never come across this phrase before and it certainly gave me pause. It will also give you an idea of what Berlin is dealing with in terms of weather at the moment!

Help Wanted: Translators!

In-house translation is not dead. Unemployment rates may be high but translators are still in high demand. Here are just a few in-house German-English translator positions currently available in Europe:

Transline is looking for a full-time German-English translator to work on-site in Wolfsburg, Germany for one of their clients. The translator should be a native English speaker with translation experience. The job also involves a fair amount of proofreading. You will find the full job description and contact details (in German) here.

The German Bundesbank is in need of German-English translators at their office location in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Translators are responsible for financial and legal texts. You’ll find the full job description (in German) here.

The European Commission has announced a competition for linguists including German-English translators for July 2010. They do not hire translators regularly and some people wait their whole lives for the opportunity to apply, so competition is fierce. The application process is a competition and includes several hurdles the most important of which is the translation test. The translation jobs at the European Commission are open to citizens of the European Union only. Check their website regularly for the most up-to-date information.

Words per minute

Words per minute? Most translators know their word count per day or per week, but per minute?

In a profession that pays by the word, it is definitely worth a translator’s while to increase her word count per minute, and the quickest way to do that is to learn (or relearn) touch typing.

After years of typing above all English texts on a German keyboard, I decided to revisit typing class and get my muscle memory back in shape. Luckily, I found just what I was looking for online.

The lessons are short and simple. A few minutes a day is all it takes. Progress is quick. Whether you use an English or German keyboard the online typewriter can help.

I for one noticed immediate improvement in my typing and, as we all know, every minute counts when you’re paid by the word.

My promotion

My freelance career has been put on hold while I test the waters in-house. I’ve traded my home office for a one-hour commute, my bedroom slippers for a door with my name on it, my one-woman show for a company of 50,000+ employees.

I work in a translation department with a staff of 20. They are 20 people who share a love of language and a dedication to the craft of translation. It is the other 48,880 employees who worry me.

I met a manager from the logistics department. When I told him I was a translator, he said “that’s okay. You have to start somewhere right?” … He assured me that I would be promoted soon enough.

Most of the employees at the company change job titles and departments every few years. It is a phenomenon that stretches across all divisions and departments with the exception of one. The translation department. Most of the employed translators have been at it for decades.

I told my logistics manager that I am a translator by choice. That it is my pride and joy. Though I fear the message did not get through. I fear that he has already made up his mind- probably convinced that as a foreigner living in Germany, I wouldn’t have too many options, and working as a translator was probably the only job I could get.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hope never to be a manager in logistics.

Can you say doorknob?

“Here’s a one-word language test to measure whether someone really knows a foreign country and culture: What’s the word for doorknob? People who have studied a language in a classroom rarely know the answer. But those who have been embedded in a country know. America would be a wiser country if we had more people who knew how to translate “doorknob.” I would bet that those people who know how to say doorknob in Farsi almost invariably oppose a military strike on Iran.”

Reported by Nicholas D. Kristof in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (March 10, 2010). He then went on to mention my alma mater, Goucher College, which was the first American college or university to make study abroad mandatory for all students.

“American universities are belatedly recognizing how provincial they are and are trying to get more students abroad. Goucher College in Baltimore requires foreign study, and Princeton University has begun a program to help incoming students go abroad for a gap year before college.”

You can read the full article here.

In defence of the semicolon

I spent the afternoon defending a semicolon. My opponent asked if it were perhaps a typo. I assured him it was not. He reminded me that it was a colon in the original. “I am aware of that,” I replied. As many are prone to do, he assumed that my English translation would adopt the same punctuation as his original German text. Translating a text, however, is not “a matter of words only…a matter of making intelligible a whole culture” as Anthony Burgess once wrote; it is also a matter of punctuation.

The laws governing punctuation are not universal. Perhaps I was always drawn to German because the language is accepting of the comma splice, which is something I always got wrong on my English papers in high school. The German writer, on the other hand, seems to have a special affinity for the colon. These are just two opportunities where my own partiality for the semicolon is put to good use, which I am quite willing to defend if need be.