Meet Our CTA Translators: Heike Holthaus

By Mery Molenaar,
CTA President

November 4, 2019

Did you know that almost 10% of our members live outside of Colorado? Today, we are interviewing one of our out-of-state translators, Heike Holthaus.

Mery Molenaar: Heike, can you tell us a little bit about yourself: where do you live and how did you enter the field of translation?

Heike Holthaus: I live in the beautiful countryside of NE Michigan, 5 minutes from the shores of Lake Huron. It doesn’t seem that long, but over a decade ago, I was invited to join a group of volunteers to translate subtitles for a series of videos from English into German. While working on these subtitles I realized how much I enjoyed this and felt I had a talent for it, but also that I had a lot to learn about translation. So I enrolled in an online course, completed it and that is how my career as a freelance translator started.

MM: As a translator from Michigan, what made you decide to become a member of the Colorado Interpreters & Translators Association? 

HH: Quite frankly, when I first joined CTA, the reason was more an economic one. I was going to register for my first CTA conference and instead of paying the non-member registration fee, I signed up for membership and the conference. The conference was great and I felt really welcome, so, naturally, I decided to renew my membership the next year, and the next…

MM: That is great to hear. Obviously, you are not able to attend all of our local event, so what are some the benefits for an out-of-state member?

HH: One of the greatest benefits is being connected with a great group of people, even if I only get to visit once a year for the conference. At this year’s conference Karen asked me, “What brings you here?”. The question surprised me and I didn’t really have an answer right-away. It wasn’t any particular session that made me want to be there, although they were all fantastic – it’s the people.

Other benefits as an out-of-state member are the CTA blog, having a profile on CTS’s website and being part of CTA’s mentorship program.

MM: I was excited to read in your LinkedIn profile that you have worked with Academia Webinars, since CTA has partnered with them in the past. What kind of webinar(s) did you present?

HH: I presented a webinar on patent translation aimed at translators who are thinking about specializing in the patent field. I’d love to do a more in-depth webinar on patent translation and also one on entering the translation profession the non-traditional way.

MM: Well, maybe we can arrange for you to do a webinar for CTA sometime!

You mentioned that you translate from English into German? How big is the demand for German translators in the US, and have you noticed any changes over the years?

HH: The demand for my language pair is high, at least in my specialty fields. In the patent field, the larger agencies are moving toward using AT and MT coupled with a rate reduction that is supposed to reflect the time saved when working on the project. Not quite so, I am afraid. For example, terminological consistency is a key requirement in patent translation. Since machines translate on a sentence basis, not a text basis, there is no consistency. It is not uncommon that as post editor I spend more time trying to fix a text segment than I would have translating it from scratch.

MM: Are your clients mostly in the US or abroad?

HH: Most of my clients are abroad. For me, the process of establishing a working relationship with clients abroad is the same as for working with clients in the US. I check various payment lists and if I have any doubts, I ask for payment upfront.

MM: That is excellent advice. Is there anything else translators should be aware of when they’re working with clients in other countries?

HH: One other aspect to consider is the payment process. Invoices from clients abroad are usually paid via wire transfer or PayPal. Both payment methods incur fees that can add up quickly. There are other options now but larger agencies are slower to adopt these. For example, I just started using TransferWise which is free for me and less expensive for my clients.

And then there is the exchange rate. To avoid losing money through currency fluctuations and unfavorable exchange rates, I usually request payment in US $.

These would be my top two things to consider when working with clients abroad.

MM: You mentioned that you do patent translations. Seasoned translators often say how important it is to specialize. How did you decide to specialize in your field(s)?

HH: I agree with those that find it important to specialize. While some translators specialize in the field in which they hold a degree or worked in prior to their translation career, others will have to do a little more soul searching before making a decision. Quite contrary to what I first thought I wanted to specialize in (marketing and medical), it ended up being patents, patent litigation and technical documents.

‘How did that happen?’, you might wonder. Well, in the beginning I applied to jobs on that I felt comfortable with and looked for CPD opportunities to sharpen my skills in a variety of fields incl. medical, clinical trials and technical. I soon found that I really liked working on technical material.

And then I was contracted by a large agency that specializes in patent translation. After passing their test, I was told that the project manager would send me a SHORT first project the following week. That first short project turned out to be a 6500-word patent. Talk about swim or sink! What did I get myself into? Why in the world did I choose to translate patents?!? But something about the language of patents had struck a chord in me. I knew I wanted this to be one of my specialisms and so I concentrated my CPD efforts on patent, legal and technical translation.

MM: Our members may recognize your name from the CTA Blog, since you have written several blog posts in the past. Do you enjoy writing?

HH: Yes, I do enjoy writing. There is not much room for creativity in patent and technical translation. Writing blog posts is my creative outlet. Plus, I have learned so much about all aspects of translation, building my business etc. because others generously passed on their knowledge and expertise in blog posts or by publishing their presentation slides. Writing blog posts gives me an opportunity to give back.

MM: My last question for you is not really work related: What was the best trip or vacation you have ever been on?

HH: That would hands down be my very first trip to the US. Would you like to know what made is so special? It’s okay if you don’t. You can just stop reading here. Thank you for sticking with me all the way through the interview. Perhaps we meet at the conference in Colorado or in Boston next year.

Okay…if you really want to know (MM: Yes, we do!): My husband proposed to me in a very nice restaurant in Sacramento, CA. The following weekend we got married in a cozy chapel in Reno, NV and then we went for a week to Kauai, HI on our honeymoon. Can’t beat that!

MM: Thank you, Heike. We are happy to have you among our members. Great to hear that CTA can be a valuable resource even for translators outside of Colorado.