Once upon a time I led a fairly “normal” life. I went to work Monday to Friday, getting up early, walking my dogs and cat, cleaning up and making myself presentable for the world before, for the eight years before I moved to Germany at least, driving a couple of miles to the local station to catch a Manchester-bound train full of harassed commuters (except for the times when they closed the lines for work, twice in less than two years, totalling nearly a year in all, when I mostly joined the harassed drivers on the motorway rather than travel to another station). I would then work a full, sometimes over-long, day before doing the journey in reverse, walking the dogs and cat and having a short evening of relaxation before bed. (In previous years I had also mucked out a horse before work and, in the summer, ridden after work. Then there was a long, horse-free pause before I acquired my German equine companion.)
You might wonder why I walked the cat. I had two terriers, pretty much cat-sized, who were initially brought up with my two older cats. They sadly passed away at the respectable ages of sixteen and seventeen, leaving a cat-sized gap in the house. So I went to a rescue home with one of the dogs, to ensure that I found a suitable candidate that wasn’t scared of dogs, and brought home a year-old cat who had recently had the kittens that she had had far too young weaned off her. After the initial settling in period, during which she was spayed, she looked around her, spotted that I regularly went out with the dogs for some mysterious reason, and decided she didn’t want to be left out. For ever after she accompanied us on our walks early in the morning and late at night. It was only when I chose to walk later, at the weekends, that she hid from the other dogs and their owners taking exercise and stayed at home. Meanwhile, while I was at work, the dogs shared the cat-flap for access into the (secure) garden when I was not around. But all this is by the by.
My life now is just a little bit different. To earn a crust I have to resort to all means possible. Which, apart from my writing, means that I teach and I translate. The latter only recently as the majority of my German has been slowly and painstakingly learned in situ. This means that I have had to learn to juggle, metaphorically, to ensure that I do all that needs to be done as well as getting a little time for fresh air and exercise for me and the dog and horse – the poor cat having sadly succumbed to cancer a few months ago. And, of course, my writing has to be squeezed in as well. But that is going rather more slowly than I would like at the moment due to the volume of translation. Yesterday I was told one of the teachers at the after-school place I spend an afternoon a week in wants to cut back on her hours. My boss was very pleased to tell me about this; inwardly I cringed. At the moment fitting it in would be a problem, but if the translation work eases off I’ll need the teaching work. What to do?
Anyway, last night I finished my latest translation and today was the day when the OH checked the final chunk that he had not to date seen. He’s German, he speaks fluent but hopelessly grammatical and incorrect English although his vocabulary is excellent, streets ahead of my German vocabulary, and has a fair bit of technical knowledge. Which, seeing as I’m translating technical stuff and I’m no engineer, is a good thing. Except, perhaps it’s not. Today we spent five hours going through the work I had done; he checked everything and I retyped everything he had corrected with the red pen I had thoughtfully supplied him with. The row started when I realised he had added a chunk to what I had written.
This translation has been made rather more difficult than it should be because the original text was in French. The English is at times reasonable, sometimes dodgy, at other times complete nonsense and, just to complicate things further, sometimes isn’t. Isn’t English, that is. There are sentences that start off in English and suddenly carry on in French. Whole sentences not translated at all. And headings that purport to be English but bear no relation to an accurate translation of the original. I know a bit of French, but have had to resort to looking online for translations of the technical words and phrases, of which there are many. So, by the time I passed over the first draft to him, I was feeling somewhat fraught at the whole experience.
Anyway, I found the extra words. I remarked that these hadn’t been in either the English (which in that sentence was a mercifully acceptable and accurate rendition of the original) or in the French. But he said what he had written was more accurate technically (it was about the degree of tightening or untightening of a screw – I forget which, but the original didn’t mention how tight or loose the screw should be). I pointed out that my job was to translate, not to rewrite nit-picking bits about just how tight the screw should be. After all, the engineers doing the job can probably work that out for themselves. He told me that it was better the way he had written it. I told him I needed a translation in accurate German of the text I had been provided with, not a rewrite of the details. We discussed another sentence where he had cut something out that he told me was unnecessary. I put it back in again because it was in the original and I felt that it is not my place to remove things. He threw a sulk.
Now, my German isn’t too bad, but it’s not brilliant either. As the OH and I had agreed when I took on the job and he committed to helping me with my grammar etc., I could turn out a job which would probably contain all the required detail, but would look like one of those many manuals you get that you just know have been translated from the foreign by someone with an extremely poor grasp of English. Well, maybe it would be a little better than that but it would still look like it wasn’t written by a native. My aim is to turn out an accurate version of the original in good German. Without either adding or taking away bits of the text I am working from.
So the next page I was handed had far fewer red marks. In fact hardly any. The odd “der” was changed to “die” or whatever (for those unfamiliar with German, they don’t have just one word corresponding to our “the”. Oh, no. They have a whole range depending on whether the subject or object is masculine, feminine, neuter or plural and what case the word should be in Something I really haven’t perfected. Yet). I looked at the page. I looked at the OH. And I asked him what he was playing at. He grimly informed me that he wasn’t going to change anything any more because I didn’t want him to. I told him that wasn’t what I had meant. Etc. This continued for some time. He went into his martyred mode. I tried to explain exactly what I wanted and he blocked me out. It’s no wonder it took five hours to get the job done…
At last we managed to reach a compromise. Which involved him doing what I wanted (my sort of compromise, that), mainly after I pointed out to him that any errors in translation would be on my back not his, and I wasn’t going to take the flak for his amendments. And then he started commenting on whole sentences and paragraphs which I had translated well. The first he told me was perfect and he duly wrote “perfect sentence!” beside it. Then I was handed a sheet of paper which had the words “nicly done!” (sic) written on it. Of course I couldn’t let this go. “What do you mean, nicly done?” I had to ask. I have to admit to being quite pleased with myself that I had done some stuff both perfectly and nicly, given the fiendish nature of German grammar (I spend ages sometimes working out the order of complicated sentences, only to have the words shuffled around when my work is checked), but until I have honed my language skills I shall have to continue to ask for help if I don’t want my words to look like one of those examples that are the butt of linguistic jokes everywhere.
Finally, grumbling about five hours having been spent on all this, the OH went into the garden to rake up quantities of leaves, of which there are many quantities at this time of year. I spent a further hour and a half inside preparing for the lesson I had scheduled for late in the afternoon before driving off to take said lesson. Oh, boy, am I glad that the next translation to be done was actually written in English.
PS I’ve just realised the date. So, to anyone in the US who might be reading this, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.