Q&A with a Language Professional is a new series of interviews dedicated to showcasing the wonderfully diverse career paths we linguists and language professionals might take and what language means to us all. Same set of questions – yet very different answers indeed!
This time, the questions are answered by Kevin Bridge, Russian to English translator, editor and proof-reader. He soon developed an interest in Russia, its culture and language and in the history of the former Soviet Union, subjects which he further explored in his studies. After living and working in Western Russia and Siberia for some time, since 2007 he has been working in translation at a high level.
Let’s see what his take is on language, work, success, passion and the everyday challenges working as a fellow language professional.
What does ‘language’ mean to you?
Kevin: One of the things I have always believed is that language is everything we do and we can’t do anything without language. From reading a newspaper over our morning coffee, to writing emails, to solving some of the world’s biggest issues. Even if we are only using our native language, it’s still language. In fact the last year 2020 and now into 2021 has highlighted how vital language is to us, and how much of a need we have to find new and different ways of communicating. Language aids understanding and in many ways makes it possible. It’s what we do.
Try to imagine for a moment what the world might look like if we had to live without language – nothing to say, nothing to read, nothing to write, nothing to hear, nothing to think, no forward movement, no striving for self-expression, no empowerment, and no culture. The author Khaled Hosseini wrote: ‘if culture was a house, then language is the key to the front door, [and] to all the rooms inside.’ Imagine for a moment what a quiet world it would be without it. (Quote by Khaled Hosseini ‘And the Mountains Echoed,’ Riverside Books, 2012).
What is your journey about?
Kevin: For the time that I have been doing translation my journey has been about bringing unpublished research to the English-speaking audience for the first time. It’s been about working with publishers and authors to translate books, manuscripts, articles and other materials into English on a wide range of subjects. My journey has been about using the discipline of language across a broad spectrum and also about preserving memory, and learning.
Where did you start from, and where are you now?
Kevin: After becoming interested in Russia and the former Soviet Union in my early life I did my BA (Hons) degree in Russian and Soviet Studies at the University of Portsmouth and graduated in 1998. I then travelled back to Russia and worked as an English teacher for a while before returning to the UK where I worked in the civil service for almost seven years.
After that, and alongside other work, in October 2007 I started translating for an organisation I first became aware of at the Farnborough Air Show in 1996 – The Russian Aviation Research Trust. The trust is a charity that has the largest archive of aviation material outside the former Soviet Union. Aviation and aviation enthusiasm was something I grew up with and so was actually quite a convenient choice for me as a subject in translation. I completed three book translations for the trust before moving on to other commissions, via my agent, for aviation publishers. From there I have worked in different fields, on books as well as other projects, such as electrical power engineering, metallurgy, the nuclear industry, history, and fiction. I have also worked for the media in a wide range of fields as well as for business and translation agencies.
Tell us about your successes and career highlights.
Kevin: I think the first real highlight came in 2011 when my first book that I translated was published. At that stage the books didn’t list my name as translator but it was still good to see ‘La-5/7 v Fw-190’ by Dmitri Khazanov and Aleksandr Medved on the shelf in my local Waterstones. The book compares two stalwarts of fighter aviation in the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet WW2), the Lavochkin La-5/7 and the Focke-Wulf Fw-190, as they fought it out in Operation Barbarossa.
I applied to the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) in 2012 as an Associate, because I didn’t feel I had enough experience to apply as a Member. After considering my application the CIOL contacted me and asked if I wanted to upgrade my application to a Member (MCIL). I was then elected MCIL in March 2012, becoming a certified translator.
Seeing my books on the shelves of flagship bookstores in Oxford and London has been inspiring, as has the positive feedback I have received from professionals in their field.
In September 2018 my book ‘Air Battles Over the Baltic: the Air War on 22 June 1941 – the Battle for Stalin’s Baltic Region’ by Mikhail Timin (Helion, 2017), was accepted into the National Aerospace Library, administered by the Royal Aeronautical Society. This was important for me as the library itself is a leading research library for aviation and Farnborough was where things started.
I applied in July 2017 to become a Chartered Linguist with the CIOL and was accepted. Later in 2017 on the invitation of the Royal Aeronautical Society I applied as a Member (MRAeS), a grade awarded to professionals in the aviation industry. I was elected MRAeS in early October 2017. This made me a professional in the field I had been serving as a translator.
What does an average day look like in your life?
Kevin: They can be varied and really depend on what I am working on at the time. If I am working on a book then I will devote much of the day to getting a section of the book completed in draft. This often includes researching terms and talking to authors or specialists to define some terminology. I also talk to my other clients about projects they are proposing and update my authors and publishers with progress on their topics. When not translating I spend some time reading the trade press and also articles in Russian around my fields of work.
Can you identify anything that might be challenging in the future for your particular profession?
Kevin: I think the rise of technology may present challenges in the future and we have already seen a rise in post machine translation editing, which is indicative of this. The attitude to machine translation editing among agencies is variable and this is problematic for linguists. In addition, I think that automation of this nature, as with other industries, changes the perception and understanding of the role of a linguist and/or translator. This is both in terms of the industry perception and that of society as whole. This really leads into my response to the next question.
What’s the most common misconception about your field of work?
Kevin: I think there are often misconceptions around translation, from the difference between a translator and an interpreter to specific language knowledge, as opposed to: ‘they can speak loads of languages, they’re a translator!’
I also think there are misconceptions around technology and where that applies. What I mean by that is the translation agency world (and the wider translation world) is often unaware that CAT tools are not widely used in translating books. I myself rarely use them. They are more suited to agency type work where the language itself is quite strictly laid out, and the responses more regimented, than the broad scope of a book or manuscript.
In general, there is still a misconception around translators and linguists and the work we do. The profession itself is hidden to a certain extent and demands that the fact of translation be, ideally, invisible to the reader. This I think means the scope that linguists cover and the contribution they make to industries across the globe, is often overlooked. This can mean that linguists themselves are not taken seriously enough.
Any books / movies / exhibitions / events / art that you would recommend us language professionals to read / watch / visit?
Kevin: That’s quite a tricky one I suppose, I can say more about Russian or Eastern European authors than I can about specific works on translation. For something different and for a woman’s view of the Soviet era (and the GULAG), and how poetry aids survival, I can highly recommend the poetry anthologies by the sadly late Irina Ratushinskaya, published by Bloodaxe Books:
‘No I’m Not Afraid,’ ‘Dance With a Shadow,’ and ‘Pencil Letter.’
Irina also wrote two prose books I found influential, which are memoirs of both her childhood and her time in the camps: ‘In the Beginning,’ and ‘Grey is the Colour of Hope.’
In addition, I would recommend of course Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,’ and, if you have the stamina, his ‘GULAG Archipelago,’ as I found even an abridged version a thought-provoking teacher.
I try when I can to read books about other parts of the world. At present I have been reading about China and Adeline Yen Mah’s memoir ‘Falling Leaves’ I found fascinating.
Do you have a favourite quote, or a life mantra you live by?
Kevin: My credo:
creative thinking – intelligent language
Here are a few others that I like too:
‘Without translation we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.’
– George Steiner
‘Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.’
– Gunther Grass
How can we find you in the online space? Website, LinkedIn, or email perhaps?
My website: http://www.bridge-translation.com
My LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/kevin-bridge-uk
If you feel like reading any of my writing that I do for myself I have a group on Facebook called ‘The Whispered Chrysalis’ that you are welcome to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2713138082287895
Thank you so much for your time, Kevin. Congratulations on all your achievements. Wishing you all the best for your future.