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Interview with Translator Aaron Maddox: Paths to Success in Translation Part II

This week’s Paths to Success in Translation post is an interview with translator Aaron Maddox.

Aaron translates from German and Spanish into English, and is also often engaged to proofread translations in any combination of those three languages. He also has a passion for the delightful, yet less practical Bavarian and Catalan. Over the past eight years, he has studied and worked in Barcelona, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Passau, Sevilla, and Valencia.

Aaron had the fortune of being surrounded by Latin American cultural influences while growing up in the United States. Although translating has been a permanent part of his professional life since moving to Europe in 2000, he first became an accomplished trumpet player, dabbled in politics, and entered private enterprise before deciding to dedicate himself to translating full-time.

Why did you become a translator? What language combination(s) do you translate?

I began studying translation as a means to improve my language skills. I decided to pursue it as a profession as I found my fascination with the intellectual challenges of communicating across cultures grew with each new class and internship.

I translate into English, with German and Spanish being the main source languages. I’ll occasionally work with Catalan, and had a great summer internship that involved interpreting Bavarian, as well.

What kind of training did you pursue to become a translator?

I did extensive coursework in Translation Studies at the University of Passau, the Free University of Berlin, and the University of Valencia. I enjoyed excellent instruction at all three institutions. Also while a student, I did internships in various bilingual offices, such as an automotive supplier, an arts festival, and an international broadcaster. All of those internships provided me with valuable guidance and practical experience.

How did you land your first translation job?

I was recommended by an instructor at the University of Passau.

What path did you take to get to this point in your career?

After completing my university studies, I continued to seek out multilingual work environments in diverse sectors in order to continue expanding my skill set and diversify my professional experience, thereby allowing me to take on translation work from a variety of fields.

What has been your biggest professional challenge?

Learning to say “no.”

On that note, what has been your biggest professional reward?

The material I translate is often quite interesting and makes it easy to be a lifelong learner.

Is there a part of your job that you find routinely challenging?

It’s challenging when I need to turn a poorly written text into interesting English without straying from the author’s intention.

What advice would you give to an up and coming translator?

Diversify your work experience to learn the vocabulary and basic principles of several sectors. However, do keep in mind that it’s impossible to master everything. Never translate material you do not comprehend. Practice typing until it is as natural as breathing. This keeps your mind focused on translating and not on your fingers. It’s also important to work with a proofreader whenever possible.

Are there any pitfalls to avoid in the translation business?

Do not allow yourself to be pressured into a project you do not feel comfortable translating. You should translate into your native language only.

What’s unique or interesting about your particular language combination? Do you have any specific advice for up and coming translators pursuing the same combination?

German and Spanish-speaking cultures have produced and continue to produce great literature, theatrical works, cinema, music, and art. My language combinations also provide excellent travel opportunities.

As with any language combination, it is important to achieve a level of understanding comparable to that of an educated native speaker.

What’s your funniest translation story?

I was once asked to interpret for Johannes Rau, President of Germany from 1999-2004, at a reception to be attended by American diplomats and military representatives. The German president, of course, does have his own staff of translators, but a string of fortunate coincidences led to me being requested to accompany President Rau for the evening. I knew this was going to be one of the most exciting nights of my life, despite the fact that I was only 21-years-old and would have plenty of time for experiences that would outshine the reception. Surely, this would turn into one of those stories that my grandchildren would be sick of hearing. Unfortunately, however, President Rau was not feeling well that day and ended up turning in early. He did not speak with even one single American official. All my excitement was for nothing.

Anything else budding translators need to know?

Never stop learning!


To read Part I of our Paths to Success in Translation Series, visit here.

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