Translating chance into career


Translating chance into career
It never fails to amaze me how apparently insignificant events can have such a far-reaching
impact on people’s lives. In my case, three chance occurrences led me to move from England
to three other countries and become a professional translator.
It all started at a rock festival. Towards the end of the final night, with the rain drizzling down
as usual, a group of us were approached by three somewhat bedraggled fellow festival-goers,
one of whom asked us in faltering English how to get to the station. It emerged that they were
from Germany and had been travelling around Europe. My German was fairly basic, and the
station was a long way away, so I offered to show them at the end of the show. To cut a long
story short, we stayed in touch and I opted to study German at university.
By the time I graduated I had become so fascinated by all things German that I wanted to go
and live there. Teaching was the obvious job for me and, only one month after obtaining my
degree, I found myself living in Essen, teaching English and translation to students of all ages
and backgrounds. It so happened that my boss was Italian, and he had long cherished an
ambition to open a language school in his own country. When, two years later, he offered me
the chance to go to Pisa as his Head of Languages, it seemed that another adventure was
So, off I went, armed with a smattering of Italian and a belief that what I’d done once I could
do again. I went on to spend three years teaching English and German in Italy, taking on more
and more translation work as my Italian improved.
And this is where the third combination of events came into play. One of the friends who had
been at the festival with me was now working in Denmark. He came across an advertisement
in the paper – the Internet was a thing of science fiction in those days – for a competition
organised by the European Commission for translators with at least two EU languages. I had
never thought about becoming a full-time translator before, but now, with my German and
Italian, I decided to give it a go.
With few expectations I applied and duly sat the competition in Rome. Much to my surprise, I
was subsequently invited to Brussels for the oral test. I passed that as well, and two years
later became a fully-fledged translator for the Commission in Brussels.
That was twenty years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Oh, apart from to thank my lucky
stars that three Germans asked me for directions!

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