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Working as collaborative translators in arts and culture

cowritten with Julia van Duijvenvoorde (Heritage in Translation)


At the beginning of 2021, I started working together with Julia van Duijvenvoorde. We offer a translation and copyediting package service for cultural organizations, publishers, exhibition designers, and beyond.


How we met

Collaborating with a translator with knowledge of and experience in the cultural sector was a dream that I had had for several months when I was introduced to Julia by a museum colleague.


I wanted to translate for cultural organizations, but I quickly discovered that I prefer copyediting and translation revision to translation itself. So this seemed like the perfect match and luckily, it turned out to be exactly that!


Shared background

Julia and I have a shared passion for culture and heritage: I have a specific background in arts and museum education and art history, and Julia in heritage and memory studies.


Because of the variety of our experience and knowledge in the cultural sector, we cater to

  • museums,

  • archives,

  • national parks,

  • publishers, and

  • exhibition designers, among others.


Languages and possibilities

Our backgrounds in culture and heritage lend us the knowledge that we need to understand the vocabulary of these fields. We focus on the product and message—meaning that we want to create a good text that flows and doesn’t read like a translation. The final text communicates the message in clear, accessible, and fluent English.


Although I had been looking for a Dutch-to-English translator, I was happy to discover that Julia speaks French, English, German, and Dutch! So we offer translation services from French, German, and Dutch into English, paired with my native-English translation revision and copyediting.


Complementary skills

Because Julia is comfortable speaking and working in so many languages, she is generally in charge of the client communication. She reaches out to cultural organizations to inform them of our services, and communicates with them about project deadlines, expectations, and costs.


I have more experience in the cultural sector and language industry, and I have more experience freelancing, so I help to set rates, discuss potential clients, and refine our texts.


Shared responsibilities

In broad strokes, our workflow looks like this:

  • Julia communicates with the client

  • Julia translates the text from German, French, or Dutch into English

  • I revise the translation

  • Julia and I discuss any discrepancies or questions about the translation

  • I copyedit the translation

Language is fluid, and there often isn’t a clear-cut way to translate an expression or phrase. Julia and I meet to discuss these hairy issues and discuss the best way to translate the text. This is particularly the case in Dutch, because I have more experience with the Dutch language than with French or German.


Julia is a talented translator, and feels comfortable living and working between languages. I have some Dutch-to-English translation experience, but I focus more on the final product by finetuning the English text and ensuring that the message is clearly communicated in English.


Leveling up the language

Julia and I aim to deliver high-quality translations that communicate the original message in clear, accessible, and engaging English.


To do this, we

  • collaborate to discuss how certain expressions or terms should be translated,

  • research organizations or history relevant to the text, and

  • adapt the original text to the rhythm and flow of English.


With every language comes a different worldview, with every worldview comes a set of words and expressions that continue to evolve and accrue meaning. As a result, words that exist in Dutch, German, or French may not have anything close to an equivalent in English. For example, the German heimat can be translated as “home, natural habitat,” but it can have different meanings in different contexts. Different translations will be appropriate depending on the context.


Because culture is so ingrained, we think it’s important to relay relevant information to the reader. For example, we recently translated a text that referred to the debate surrounding Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands. For non-Dutch readers, this reference could go over their heads, so we made sure to include contextual information in a translator’s note—respecting the original message of the text while also providing essential context for readers.


Of course, we’re not always familiar with every cultural reference in a text. However, our backgrounds in cultural and heritage studies give us the tools to research these references and translate them appropriately and respectfully. As I’ve discussed before, research is a fundamental part of copyediting—not only to research the grammatical rules (and all their many exceptions) but also to find corresponding expressions or cultural correlates in the target language.


Finally, we ensure that the final text sounds natural in English. Dutch, for instance, tends to consist of shorter sentences, so we often translate them into longer English sentences that read more fluently and naturally. Taking into account the rhythm and musicality of a language also helps to establish a deeper connection between the readers and the text, thus promoting a more long-term and impactful learning experience.


Conclusion

Working as a language duo is beneficial, especially when working in a niche. If translated texts are delivered to me without much context, I may unintentionally refine the English away from the original message of the text. Working together with a translator helps to ensure that the message is retained and that the final product is fluent and effective.


Because Julia and I both have a background in the cultural and heritage sectors, we both feel more comfortable speaking that vocabulary, we understand what the reader needs to understand, and we know how to research appropriate translations.


It’s a joy to be able to bridge our two passions together: after leaving the museum education field, I sometimes felt left out in the language industry or in the cultural sector. It’s nice to find someone who’s enthusiastic about both disciplines as much as I am! Julia and I can celebrate and get excited about cool clients in the cultural sector that my translator buddies might not understand, and we can also geek out about how best to translate certain words or phrases.


Julia and I are also both driven by curiosity. We love learning about the different topics that our clients present us, and we’re looking forward to discovering what’s next!


Curious about our collaboration? Or have more questions? I’d love to hear from you! If you want to stay tuned for my next blog post, subscribe to my newsletter.