Translator Profile: Abigail Dahlberg, the "Trash Girl"

In our second translator profile (read the first one, about BJ Epstein and her process of getting a PhD in translation studies here), we are delighted to interview our wonderful colleague Abigail Dahlberg, a German->English translator specialized in waste management. Abigail hails from the UK and lives and works in Kansas City.

Translation Times: Is it OK if we call you the Trash Girl? We think that’s a fabulous, edgy term.
Abigail Dahlberg: Of course, you can! A client once suggested that I develop a superhero cartoon character called Trash Girl, but I have not quite found the time for that yet.
TT: How did you find your specialization?
AD: I think there was a certain element of happenstance involved. After I finished my degree in translation and interpreting, I realised that my next career step should be to move to Germany and find an in-house position. I ended up living in the Black Forest area and applied for every translation position I could find within a 50-mile radius. I was ultimately offered a job as an in-house translator and journalist for a trade journal specialising in recycling and waste management issues. As part of my job I attended countless trade fairs and conferences throughout Europe on subjects as varied as battery, electronics and packaging waste recycling, and also went on tours of different kinds of waste treatment facilities in several countries.

TT: What’s the most interesting thing about your specialization?

AD: For me, I think it is the wide range of texts and topics that I handle even within such a narrow speciality: One day I might be translating a report about the state of Germany's ferrous scrap market and the next be working on a press release or a contract for a waste management firm. It is also interesting to watch new terminology develop as concepts and technologies that exist in Germany are exported to other countries.

TT: What’s the most challenging assignment you have worked on lately?

AD: The most difficult text that I have translated in a while came across my desk a couple of weeks ago with a section containing lots of stocks and bonds terminology. Luckily my husband is fluent in German and works for a bond fund so he was able to lend me a hand. It is always good to have a group of people who you can contact with specialist terminological questions, even better if they live in your home!

TT: What would your advice to newcomers be who are trying to break into your field?

AD: My number one tip for newcomers trying to hone out a spot in any niche market, not just environmental translation, is to find a topic that you are interested in and then read everything you can get your hands on to build up your level of knowledge. Subscribe to trade journals in your source and target language and find courses online or in your area to develop your skills. Attend conferences and trade fairs to meet companies that might need your services and market yourself aggressively online (e.g. start a blog, join LinkedIn or Twitter) and locally through active involvement in your local translators association.

TT: Did your passion for this field develop organically or was this always something you were interested in?

AD: While I would not describe myself as passionate about waste, I have always been interested in environmental issues. As I have become more involved in this field, my dedication to reducing our impact has grown although I am far from being an activist. In our household we try and do all that we can to minimise the amount of waste that we set out in black bin bags at the kerb each week. Yet I am aware that our family's carbon footprint is massive simply by virtue of the number of transatlantic flights that we take each year.

TT: What direction do you think is the future for your general field?

AD: I think that the future for environmental translators is definitely bright as people become more aware of environmental issues and companies and governments take action to minimise their environmental impact. When it comes to growth areas, I think a great deal depends on your language pair. For translators working into US English, green technologies should be a fairly safe bet. Renewable energies are certainly an area to watch closely regardless of your language pair. Translators working with languages spoken in Africa and the Middle East might also want to consider specialising in water provision, sanitation and wastewater treatment.

TT: Who are your clients?
AD: I would estimate that 90 to 95 per cent of my business comes from direct clients located in Germany. My single largest customer is the publishing company where my career started. I also work for German waste management companies and government agencies. Moreover I still provide translation services to a select few companies outside my area of speciality, notably publishing firms, that I have worked with since shortly after starting my freelance business in 2005. Translation agencies only account for a very small share of my income at present.
Thanks for speaking with Translation Times, Abigail!


Nic loves languages on December 27, 2009 at 5:12 PM said...

Thanks Judy and Dagmar for providing this! I read something else about Abigail recently (I can't remember where) and was interested to know more.

I'm just finishing my postgrad translation degree and want to start doing environmental translation from mid next year so this sort of interview is very useful to me! I think I want to specialise in green energy production technologies.

Good article!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 27, 2009 at 6:23 PM said...

You are very welcome, Nic. Abigail does indeed have a very interesting specialization, plus, she's a great person. Judy really enjoys spending time with her when she gets the chance to see her at conferences.

We think that green technologies of any kind are certainly a great bet in the future and an excellent choice for specialization! Good luck with everything.

Thomas Gruber on December 28, 2009 at 5:56 AM said...

Who will be the next "Translator Profile"? Its very interesting to read those profiles and background stories.

Transslate on December 26, 2010 at 9:10 PM said...

Nice post. Interesting profile.

Unknown on February 5, 2013 at 7:50 PM said...

I know I'm a bit late to the party here, but this has been a very encouraging read for me. I just recently finished my degree as well, and I'm just starting out as a translator, really. I think I would like to specialize in gastronomy and food prep, nutrition, that area, but I have been wondering if perhaps that is too narrow. It's great to see someone pick a very specific field and do so well, and to get a little advice on how to succeed with a particular specialization.

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