The sign on the door confuses me:
PLEASE KNOCK LOUDLY is printed beside a man in a black bowler hat who seems to be in the act of kicking his way in.
Cautious of being promptly kicked out again, I choose the former approach.
I am welcomed into the office first by Will, then by the rest of the team at various speeds. Nadya wins the race and greets me enthusiastically; Will smiles. ‘Nadya runs a lot. That is, she runs around. Not the business.’
It would hardly have been an internship at a translation company without doing some translation. I translated dialogue for children’s cartoons, marketing materials and job contracts, and in my last week I even translated the first chapter of a children’s book. All of this, I should point out, was from Russian into English. Apart from one occasion, when I was asked to translate an extract from Dickens into Russian in order to show why you should only ever translate into your own language. If you’ve ever seen a bad translation, you will understand.
As well as working with written translations, I learned how to edit subtitles and had a go at two different subtitling projects: a Russian comedy TV series called The Island and a ‘rap musical’. Translating rap turned out to be a very new challenge for everyone in the office. A bit like poetry, you have to weigh up whether you translate the words or the rhythm and rhyme but… well, it’s a bit faster than poetry.
I love languages and I love writing: translation should suit me down to the ground, right? To start with, I wasn’t so sure. It seemed to me that the words were not my own. I was translating someone else’s text. When I said this to Tal, however, he shook his head without hesitation. ‘I disagree,’ he said. ‘Every translator has his or her own style. When you translate, you put your voice on the page.’
I soon discovered that he was right. When you translate, you are not only conveying the message from one language into another, but also from one culture into another. This means there is sometimes even room for creativity. For example, in an episode of The Island, Olga accidentally dyes her hair blue and Mila calls her ‘Malvina’. But who’s heard of Malvina in the English-speaking world? I certainly hadn’t, so I did a quick Wikipedia search and discovered that she’s a china doll with blue hair. I would have to think of an equivalent. Blue hair, blue hair… how about Marge from The Simpsons?
Having discovered that I liked writing, Will also asked me to write for him: job advertisements, presentations and articles (the freedom of an empty page!); and then Will, a true ‘wordnerd’, edited my work and gave me some surprising advice. ‘Print it out, turn it upside down, read it backwards,’ he said, and I laughed, but he was serious. ‘It works.’
Two months went very quickly. Returning to England to complete my university degree does not mean severing all contact with Eclectic Translations, however. Time to have a go at freelancing…
The man in the bowler hat is still there when I leave, and it is a sign of how much I have learned during my internship that I now know who is pictured on the door: it is (of course) John Cleese, from the sketch ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks’.
You never know quite what to expect at Eclectic Translations.
Rebecca undertook the internship in summer 2017 as part of her Year Abroad. She found the internship advertised on duo, sent the company an email, and then had to complete a short translation test… two months later she was in St Petersburg.
Written by Rebecca Thorne