So I got my translation qualification. And then I sat on it. What on earth was I going to specialise in? I didn’t have much of an idea, so kept putting off launching myself as a freelancer.
Then I asked myself the very important question: What would I really enjoy translating? What sort of texts enthuse me?
Creative texts. I’d like to translate literature. Plus: board games.
Hmm… board games? Is there really much work in that? Turns out that the answer is yes. Board games are a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide. Approaching £100m in the UK.
I rooted around for some information about the industry. Like other creative industries, board game translation is often done by hobbyists — for free. But I knew there were big industry names who must be using professional translators. As I play a wide range of game genres, I already knew a lot of the in-game jargon and was used to getting to grips with complex sets of rules.
Then I came across a board game publisher and translation studio based in Germany. And I sent a gushy email along the lines of: ‘I love board games! I play lots of different games, like this one, and this one. Even one published by one of your clients. Can I please freelance for you? Pretty please?’
And then nothing happened for months. Perhaps I came across as a naive wannabe.
But my email had been tucked away for safekeeping, and I got an email out of the blue: ‘Would you still like to work with us?’
That was a couple of years ago now, and my board game translation work has been pretty constant ever since. I’ve translated games in a range of genres: Eurogames (i.e. strategic games), roleplaying games, party games, puzzle games, dexterity games (e.g. flicking, etc.), games with miniatures, and heavy card games (deckbuilders). Fourteen game translations and fourteen game edits, and counting! The short deadlines, sometimes incomplete source texts and exacting client requirements are features common to much translation work, but I’m having a lot of fun and there’s a great sense of satisfaction when you see a game you’ve translated being promoted and played across the world. One of the games I’ve translated has even won awards, so it’s great to have played a part in that success. I love working on these kinds of texts, even when I’m quibbling over the insertion of commas with the proofreader, plus it’s quite fun to have ‘insider knowledge’ about upcoming games.
TL;DR: Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm and knowledge when contacting your dream client. Follow what you love to do.
Harriet Cooper is a French/German to English translator specialising in board games, literature and international development.