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Faces of Wessex

An interview with Dutch translator Veerle Willaert

In the second of our “Faces of Wessex” series, we spoke to Dutch translator Veerle Willaert to learn her story. Veerle has been supporting Wessex Translations for over a decade with both translation and revision tasks into Dutch, covering a wide variety of subject areas including business documents and more technical texts.

How long have you been working in the translation industry, Veerle?

12 years now!

What inspired your love of language?

I guess my love of languages started very early. I remember how much I used to love reading as a child, and I remember being quite good at it (whereas I wasn’t good at maths at all – I needed tutoring in primary school).

It was as if a big, beautiful world had opened up to me and very soon I started going to the library where I fell in love with reading and books. I went there every other week and borrowed as many books as I was allowed to. I devoured them. The library was a magical place for me.

I loved learning French in primary school, but in secondary school English became my favourite subject.

Learning languages came very naturally to me. So I decided to study languages at the ‘Vrije Universiteit Brussel’. Because of my love for books and reading, I chose the option ‘Literature’ for my Masters.

And how did you turn your passion for languages and words into your career?

I kind of fell into it... my ex-husband had started his own company as a freelance translator a year earlier and I was unhappy in my job as a librarian. I was looking for another job, and he suggested I try translating to see if I like it. I gave it a go and really, really enjoyed it. Being able to work with words as a profession is a dream come true.

I also enjoy the freedom it brings me: I absolutely love being able to work at my own pace and being my own boss!

Which projects and subject areas do you enjoy working on most?

Some years ago, I worked on all sorts of human resources texts (training documents, assessment procedures, etc.) for a large retailer. I really enjoyed translating those texts.

I like variety in the translation assignments that I am given.

And which aspects of translation do you find most challenging?

It’s sometimes challenging when I’m asked to translate as freely as possible, for example when I am translating a marketing text.

I mostly translate technical texts, annual reports for companies and HR texts, so it’s quite challenging for me to translate texts that need to be translated more freely.

What about machine translation, do you ever work with it?

I work with machine translation sometimes, mostly when I have to translate a French text and there is a very elaborate sentence with lots of subordinate clauses; just to get a grasp of the structure of the sentence and to check if I understand it correctly.

At first, I was afraid that machine translation might be the end of ‘human’ translation and my profession. But now I think that machine translation will never be able to fully replace human translation. There are just too many nuances in languages, and machine translation will always have to be edited by a linguist. I edited machine translation a few years ago, when it wasn’t as advanced as it is now, and I had to almost retranslate the text.

I think the result of machine translation also depends on the type of text you are translating. The more freely a text needs to be translated, the worse the result with machine translation.

Yes, machine translation is certainly better suited to some text types than others.

Do you have any hobbies when you aren’t busy translating?

Let’s see... well, you already know I love reading. But I also write. I have written and published two picture books for children: ‘Het Vlindermeisje’ (‘The Butterfly Girl’) and ‘Opa, het roodborstje en ik’ (‘Granddad, the Robin and Me’). I am currently working on my third children’s book, which is called ‘De schaduwprinses’ (‘The Shadowprincess’).

I am passionate about picture books and the whole world of illustration.

I also love drawing and painting and it is a dream of mine to illustrate my own book, but I feel insecure about it...

Here’s a couple of paintings I have completed recently.

Judging by these two paintings, it’s something you should definitely have more confidence in! I look forward to seeing your first self-illustrated story, and perhaps by then I'll have brushed up on my Dutch enough to read it!

Seeing as you love reading, would you have any book recommendations to share with us?

Yes, lots!

The first that come to mind are the books of John Green. For example ‘Looking for Alaska’ (translated into Dutch as ‘Het grote Misschien’) is translated brilliantly by Aleid van Eekelen-Benders in my opinion.

But I have to say I prefer to read books in their original language as much as I can, which means I have a lot of books on my Kindle!

I have only read John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” so perhaps I will give your recommendation a go!

From your wider reading, do you have a favourite phrase that you’ve stumbled across in English?

One of my favourites is the idiom ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’, because it really appeals to the imagination!

Many thanks Veerle for sharing your creativity and story with us.

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