Oxford, the winter of my final year at university. Grey skies, and equally bleak employment prospects. I’d known since winning an EU translation contest in sixth form that I wanted to be a translator, but considering Britain’s notoriously hostile attitude to foreign languages, my main options appeared to be either starving freelancer, or – just as precariously, considering the upcoming Brexit referendum – a position at the European Commission. I was ill, and feeling low enough that reading through the dozens of job ads my faculty sent out daily actually seemed like a fun way to pass my time.
And then I saw it – the fateful advert for an internship with Supertext. It offered everything I dreamed of: an exciting location, an international team of employees, and experience in editing and proofreading as well as translation. It seemed too good to be true. After a cautious email to ascertain that I wasn’t hallucinating, I feverishly polished up my CV (literally feverishly – I had the flu), hit send, and crossed my fingers.
Six months and a completed BA in German Literature later, I’m here in Zurich, two weeks into my internship. I must admit to having had a brief language-related panic before my arrival: I spent my year abroad in Berlin, where mocking Swiss German is more or less the state pastime. What if I couldn’t understand a word anyone said to me? Worse – what if I ended up with a ‘Schwyzerdütsch’ accent myself?
Now I’ve been here a few weeks, Swiss German doesn’t seem nearly as threatening; I’ve already learned the basics, from the ever-relevant ‘Grüezi’ to words for delicious Swiss specialities like Cervelat. Almost everyone I meet switches to Hochdeutsch when they hear my British accent, and if they don’t, my lovely colleagues are more than happy to translate. Perhaps the greatest shock has been how polite everyone here is – as someone used to the infamous ‘Berliner Schnauze’, having strangers wish me a good morning on the street still makes me feel like I’ve fallen into a parallel universe.
Switching languages mid-Satz
The Supertext office is a microcosm of Zurich itself – incredibly friendly and impressively international. It’s a joy to be in an environment where starting a sentence in one language and finishing it in another is not only acceptable, but encouraged. My new colleagues have proven very tolerant of everything from my stumbling attempts at French (a language I haven’t spoken since school), to my ineptitude with the coffee machine, and I’m determined to improve my table football skills to a point where I’m no longer a liability in our lunchtime tournaments.
As for the translation work itself, it’s everything I could hope for – varied, educational (if in rather unusual ways – I now know a surprising amount about both quantum computing and root vegetables) and a huge amount of fun. I still can’t quite believe that I’m lucky enough to get to tinker around with language for a living, but I’m certainly going to enjoy every minute of my time here!
Title picture: Supertext