VSI’s Head of English, Jaimina Bodalia, speaks to her colleagues to find out how having an in-house translation department makes a difference to the company.
To a casual observer, they are an unlikely bunch. Huddled together in a London café sit a group of individuals of various ages, nationalities and backgrounds.
A female in the circle relates an anecdote from a British TV show she has just finished subtitling. The show she is referencing has already aired in the UK, but her native country is about to be introduced to the delicacies of northern humour and culture. How to translate the expression "Wey aye, man!" into a foreign language is anybody's guess, but if ever a linguist discovered a way, it would be one of VSI's qualified translators.
Diversity in the workplace is something to champion, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more diverse group than the in-house Translation department at VSI London.
Translation services are the backbone of a localisation company but, surprisingly, most businesses don't employ full-time translators. The majority only outsource work to freelancers. With freelance linguists located worldwide, farming out work isn't a foreign concept in the localisation industry. VSI itself has over 2,500 professional translators to its name, who contribute enormously to the company's continued growth as a global, multi-language service provider. Nonetheless, even with this extensive resource of accredited freelancers, almost all of VSI's international offices maintain an in-house language team.
Pilar has been an in-house Spanish translator and voice-over artist at VSI London for many years. "This company was founded by a translator who understood the craft of translation. This is why VSI recognises the importance of having linguists in-house."
With VSI London delivering its localisation services all under one roof, having translators available at its headquarters has many advantages. "The immediate benefit is that you have people readily available to handle urgent requests from clients and ensure that multiple deadlines are met," admits German translator Hannah. "In addition to our mother tongue and English, most of us are fluent in another language, which is really useful."
The team is also skilled in quick turnarounds. "The deadlines are usually tight, so I've learnt to work fast," says French translator Anne-Sophie. "Each day presents a new challenge and a new topic to explore. The job can involve translating scripts, providing language direction in the studios, subtitling TV shows, and much more. The work is very diverse."
German translator Stefanie agrees. "There's such contrast in the material you work on – financial results for banks to TV shows about zombies, all in one day. It's so varied that sometimes I worry I'm on MI5's most-wanted list because of all the bizarre things I've had to research!" she laughs.
The exciting, fast pace of the job ensures that there is never a dull moment. "I once had to rush to the studio to record the Spanish voice-over for an awards show airing live on TV, whilst my colleague was at her desk translating the programme at the same time," recalls Pilar.
The mark of VSI's accredited translators is the ability to be a chameleon and adopt a tone of voice that is most appropriate for each project. "You often have to jump from one style of translation to another," explains German translator Mathias. "For example, with subtitling, you have to capture the essence of the meaning, be concise and translate in a way that flows, all whilst respecting the timing constraints and maximum reading speed." The objective is to enhance the audience's experience and not distract from the content, thus providing a seamless service that generally goes unnoticed by the viewer.
With the team often translating the same material, they will confer with one another and brainstorm ideas on how to translate tricky terms. This helps when they are tackling the transcreation of promotional material, such as advertising copy or promos. For the latter, the ability to conjure up creative puns honouring the source material becomes second nature to VSI's linguists.
Key to establishing the company's in-house translation service has been the recruitment of talented individuals. Chinese translator Jinrong studied Engineering at a university in China, prior to completing a translation course at Imperial College London. "You learn a lot from your colleagues and the material you translate at VSI. Both have enabled me to expand my knowledge and skill in technical translation."
Feedback is a crucial aspect of VSI's exhaustive training programme. "As a freelancer, you usually only get feedback when you make a mistake. But here, you receive regular feedback from your colleagues," explains Stefanie. "As a translator, you improve with practice. Translation is an art you hone over the years."
"The staff are experts in their fields and have provided me with the support and skills to deliver corporate translations of the highest quality," adds Japanese translator Sari.
"I was a professional dancer for 15 years before turning my attention to translation," reveals Hannah. "I freelanced for three years and completed an intensive course in subtitling at City University London." Proofreading her colleagues' work offers not only an opportunity to provide feedback, but can also set the benchmark for quality. "I'm constantly impressed by other people's translations. They keep me on my toes because I know I have to uphold a certain standard."
VSI provides a fun working environment for its employees, and the Translation department's camaraderie speaks of a familiarity with one another. "There's a great atmosphere," shares Anne-Sophie. "We have a laugh – that's important. Culturally speaking, it's nice having people of different nationalities in-house."
"VSI provides translators with a sense of belonging. It's refreshing to work for a company that values you as a translator," says Jinrong.
When asked about the threat of machine translation on a translator's livelihood, Stefanie chuckles. "You can't rely on them completely. I once had to check a website translation which informed the user that cookies were being used, only the online translation tool had literally translated 'cookies' as 'biscuits'!"
Whilst they may hail from different backgrounds, it is undeniable that VSI London's in-house Translation department are united in their passion for languages.