Faces of Gengo: Ulrike

Ulrike, one of our Senior Translators in German to English, grew up speaking both languages. Her interest in translation was piqued while at high school, and she went on to study translation at university. Now, she splits her time between translation and volunteer work.

What languages do you speak and why/how did you learn them?

English and German. I grew up in the U.S. but, as a bilingual, I spent most summers in Germany as well as the first half of high school. Later, I studied German Literature and then German to English translation at university.

How did you become a translator and how often do you translate?

It all started with an independent study class I took while at high school where we translated chapters of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophies Welt. In my undergraduate years at university, I translated short stories and historical documents.

I then studied translation at the University of Mainz—Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies in Germany. Afterward, I enrolled in Kent State’s Institute for Applied Linguistics in Ohio to get my master’s degree in translation. After graduation, I dabbled in project management before switching completely to freelance translation in 2009.

I now spend about 30 hours per week translating and use the rest of my time to volunteer at local dog and horse rescues.

What has been your most enjoyable and challenging translation experiences?

Creative texts take longer but are always more fun. Favorites include: translating a turn of the century (19th to 20th) novel as part of the Fulbright Scholar Program, working on online learning modules for children, and translating historical documents from WWII.

What’s your favorite thing about being a translator?

Variety, flexibility and mobility.

What does your work involve as a senior translator?

I consider my primary role to be quality control, including vetting new translators, creating training materials for existing translators, and reviewing translated texts.


Describe your office setup or workspace.

I’ve recently set up a home office with a treadmill desk. I use a large external screen and an ergonomic keyboard to save my eyes and hands. My vertical mouse is also indispensible—no more carpal tunnel for this translator!

What’s your favorite snack for while you work?

I drink a lot of tea—chai in particular. KIND bars give a great energy boost.

Based on your specific cultural expertise, what books or movies would you recommend?

For translation, I recommend How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. For leisure, I like to find regional authors, like Howard Frank Mosher for the Northeast, and Mari Sandoz or Willa Cather for the Great Plains.

What are your preferred translation tools?

I mostly rely on SDL Trados and Transit NXT.

What’s your favorite productivity tool or service?

My brain—no software required.


What are the best ways to relax and stay sane as a translator?

Take many breaks. Skip the five-minute Facebook or YouTube breathers and, instead, get up from the computer and move around. I try get up and out once per hour.

I also really relish tech-free days. At least once a month I try take a full 24 hours off from any kind of technology (it’s harder than it seems).

Finally, translation can be a very solitary and isolated profession. Make sure to get out and meet up with friends.

What are your top tips for translators who are just starting out?

Practice, practice and practice some more—review your own work and get someone else to look at it. Specialize—pick areas you are already knowledgeable about or have a deep interest in, then get additional training in those disciplines. Get certified—through a university or translators’ association.


Megan Waters

The author

Megan Waters

Megan manages all things translator-related as Gengo’s Community and Digital Content Manager. Born in South Africa but now based in Tokyo, she’s passionate about languages and people. Megan spends her free time exploring secondhand shops, camping in the mountains and hosting the occasional dinner party.

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