Archive for February, 2012

From student to professional: some thoughts on teamwork in the booth

24/02/2012 1 comment

As students, interpreting  was a lonely fight we fought. We were in the booth alone most of the times and were left to our fate during the period we switched on the mic. At times, some of us even wanted to be alone, so that our own anxiety and fear over screwing up wouldn’t be noticed by more people than ourselves, or our teacher if we were less lucky. A colleague in the booth, at times, was maybe seen by some as a disturbance instead of a help. Of course, who wants to make a fool of himself with someone sitting next to him or her? The booth was often the place were we felt most vulnerable and who wants to idly expose that? A colleague in the booth was maybe also seen by some as someone they could release their own frustration on, along the lines of: “I screwed up, because my colleague let me down/didn’t help/couldn’t answer the question I had, etc…”. It all comes down to one’s own fear. Agression or rejection in this sense are just an indication of how afraid someone really is. And let’s be honest: As students, we were all afraid at some point!

I am saying that at university we got to understand what sharing the booth with someone meant. We understood that it can be a vital asset to have someone next to you, someone who helps you and we also learned to cherish and value that. I wished for a stronger focal point on teamwork during the studies actually, because it’s so vital to our work. But what I am also convinced of at the same time is that probably a majority of students preferred to be left alone, preferred to not have to engage in a team for the main reasons above mentioned.

Now why is this important once university is over? When we leave university, we have to make some sort of u-turn on this attitude. We have to be prepared to be in the booth with someone and be tied to this someone for the entire assignment. For good or bad. Interpreting is teamwork. And in the end there is no point in blaming the colleague for own mistakes/failures, etc. A team of interpreters fails or succeeds as a whole, as one team. It’s like having a look at a professional sports team. It’s not the individual that counts, it’s the whole team achieving something (or not).

This is by the way not only the interpreter’s perspective we have to look at here: Your client will not be interested in who did a great job in the booth and who didn’t. The client perceives one booth as one unit. He wouldn’t say: “Interpreter A in the English booth was good and Interpreter B was … well …”. No. He would say : “The whole English Booth was bad.” So whatever happens in the booth, it happens for the interpreters as a team. That’s why teamwork is so important and that’s precisely why graduated students need to be aware of its importance, irrespectively of how much they worked already in a team at uni … or how much they liked it.

‘Kleinunternehmerregelung’ in Germany: To apply or not to apply, that is the question!

21/02/2012 3 comments

In this post I’d like to discuss the Kleinunternehmerregelung in Germany and what implications this rule might have for a freelance translator and interpreter who is about to set up his own business in Germany, although things discussed here are valid for any freelancer-to-be. It is of importance latest when you get our first assignment and you wonder what to do with VAT when you write your first bill. Don’t be scared off by the dusty touch of the topic! Bureaucracy as well as economic aspects are an integral part of the freelancing world – and therefore they might haunt us even when we feel safe reading blogs about interpreting.

The Kleinunternehmerregelung (a typical long, bureaucratic German word, isn’t it?) is an amendment to German tax law. It basically states that freelance entrepreneurs have the option of not taxing their customers. Therefore, they can declare everything on the respective bills as net sums without adding any tax. In other words, the freelance income reamains free from VAT tax. Entrepreneurs can apply this option if they fulfill both the following two requirements:

– maximum turnover generated last year: €17.500
– maximum turnover expected for the current year: €50.000

Newbie freelancers are very unlikely to generate more than that in their first year(s) of work. In other words, they are very likely to fulfill both conditions. Therefore, they can opt for not taxing their services (=applying the Kleinunternehmerregelung) once they have had an assignment and write a bill. Hence, they don’t have to declare the tax on the bill and pass on any VAT to the financial authorities, given that both conditions are not breached, of course.

Reason for opting not to tax: This Kleinunternehmerregelung is feasible in my view, if you run a business that sells material goods to an end user. This excludes the freelance translator or interpreter who generates his turnover exclusively through language services. Applying the rule might also make your everyday freelance life a little easier and less complex concerning bureaucracy etc., as the processes of taxing your customer and declaring VAT to the government are eliminated.

Reason for opting to tax : At first sight, opting for taxing your customers from the very start means more bureaucratic work for you: You need to submit your taxes every month for two years as a starting freelancer in Germany (although that might change). It involves some bureaucratic adventures, such as registering as a freelancer with the authorities, applying for a special tax number (Umsatzsteuer-ID), the actual monthly, web-based declaration of VAT etc. However, if your ultimate goal is to become a freelancer you better get used these bureaucratic necessities as early as possible. It always sounds nice not to charge, pay, declare taxes, etc. but why go the easy way?

The most important reason to actually tax your services has a major benefit for you: If you refuse from applying Kleinunternehmerregelung, you are entitled to recieve a VAT tax refund on items you acquire for your own business. An example: you are a translator and you need to buy software or dictionaries. Previously you declared to tax your services. Hence, you will be refunded the VAT paid on your purchases. Sounds quite simple doesen’t it? This sort of VAT tax that you pay in advance for items necessary for your business is called Vorsteuer. When you submit your tax declaration every month, the amount of VAT you are liable for is substituted by the amount of VAT that you will be refunded (Vorsteuerabzug). 

It’s very important to bear in mind that you are only entitled to a VAT refund on bought items if you don’t apply the Kleinunternehmerregelung. Applying it excludes you from any sort of VAT refund. Also have in mind that the VAT your recieve on top of your services is a tax which you hand over to the government, but which is actually “paid” by the customer with you acting as a mediator. Hence, it’s not you who pays this tax. Therefore, a possible VAT refund sounds quite delightful somehow, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s not possible to switch between opting for or against this rule with every bill that you write. Once you decided to refuse, you are bound to your decision for five years. If you apply the rule and your turnover exceeds the previously mentioned maximum turnover, then you automatically have to pay VAT and fill some Federal German cauldrons, which might hurt (literally) if you, for example, generated much more turnover than you expected due to the fact that you had a major breakthrough on the market.

Now what to do? Obviously it’s your own choice! Read up on the subject and make up your own mind once you decided to set up your freelance business! If you have a lot of investment then it might be feasible not to apply the rule, just for the sake of saving VAT. However, applying the rule may make your entrepreneur’s life a little easier concerning bureaucracy – for a little while at least.

For additional information:

Information from the German Ministry for Economics [in German]

Categories: freelancing Tags: , ,

How is it to join the Dark Side and teach interpreting?

18/02/2012 1 comment

I remember studying hard for my interpreting exams. Entire afternoons sitting in front of my desk, studying, studying, studying. Waking up on the exam day, going through all the horror of the actual exam (plus the post-exam horror!), waiting a lifetime for the marks, then finally passing the exam and … a first job couple of days later!!! And what a job: teaching liasion interpreting at the very same uni! Now, reflecting on the job after one term, how is it actually to join the „Dark Side“?

One of the first hurdles I had to overcome was that I was mentally not very well prepared for this new job. In my mind, I was still a student and suddenly I had a whole bunch of those staring at me and expecting me to conjure up some magic, know everything and give the correct answers straight away. A couple of weeks earlier, it had been me who did the same with my teachers, my own interpreting authorities. I didn’t see myself as an authority at all.

Frankly, I think during the first couple of lectures I lost a bit of credibility in a way, which might have had a cultural cause as well: Not all German students are easy with their teacher being very informal, down-to-earth, internally feeling like belonging to them etc. I thought after a while that something needed to change, that I needed to maintain some sort of distance between me and my students. After a couple of sessions, however, I must admit that I stepped more and more into this role, with all it entails, although at a very slow pace I have to admit.

Another thing that cost me some headache in this sense was conducting and grading exams. When it’s yourself who takes the exam, the grading is the thing you are most afraid of. Literally. But now suddenly it’s you grading students, causing existential anxiety and fear among them. I felt a bit like a Roman emperor deciding on the life of some ill-fated gladiator in that situation, without liking it a bit, because of exactly knowing how the students were feeling. By conducting and grading exams, the end of term, I was confirmed that I still hadn’t fully grown into the teacher’s role. I was almost as afraid to do something wrong as the students.

So what’s the morale? It takes a long while to adapt to such a situation and give intepreting classes to people when you still feel like a student yourself, have some, but very limited professional experience and are only on the verge of conquering the interpreting world. To all people who might be in a simliar situation I have a hands-on advice: Be yourself in front of class, but maintain some sort of „natural distance“ straight from the start between you and your students. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds, but I think that would be the way to go. Improv skills is another thing that you should definitely have ready in class, but that’s a bit like sitting in the booth struggeling to come up with a solution during simultaneous for example.Be prepared to improvise sometimes, because you will encounter a situation where you are as clueless as your students!

The most positive thing, however, is that it is not only the students who learn. There is something in it for you as well, something which is a valuable resource for any interpreter: Experience! In a lot of ways …

Why another blog on interpreting?

16/02/2012 9 comments

I have long thought to write a blog about what I decided to do as a professional. Now with the last chapters of my thesis and my uni career drawing to a close, I thought it was a fitting time to get started.

In this blog, I will write about interpreting and all aspects it entails, which are many: langauge, language acquisition, the actual process of interpreting, the different types of interpreting, the life of a conference interpreter, freelancing, the resources an interpreter can use for their professional work and so on and so forth. Mainly, I will write entries based on my own experiences, experiences I will draw from my job as teaching fellow for liasion interpreting, but also from my first hands-on experiences related to what I always wanted to become: a professional interpreter.

As my native language is German, it might have been convenient to write this blog in German, which was the initial plan to be entirely honest with you. However, this blog will mainly be written in English, my active foreign language, as I want the number of readers not to be limited to only those who master German. In fact, I have many friends experienced in translation and interpreting which might have some interest in this blog and I would feel utterly ashamed to exclude any of them just because of a language barrier – which is in fact what we translators and interpreters aim to overcome.

The blog’s name is the “mute button”, which is a tiny little button that enables us interpreters during simultaneous interpretation to say what shouldn’t be said openly, to draw energy and refresh the brain or to interact with our colleague. My own experiences in the booth led me to believe that the mute button can actually be an interpreter’s best friend. Well, sometimes, our dearest friends deserve some kind of recognition in my opinion, and as the button is of such a central importance for interpreters, I thought it might be a convenient name for a blog dedicated to interpreting and written from the mind of an interpreter.

I hope you find reading this blog worthwhile and I am looking forward to hearing all your comments and replies to my entries!If you are interested, you can follow the Mute Button blog via RSS feed, Email, Twitter and/or Facebook.

Categories: General