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Letting language lead the way

Postgraduate, multilingual translator and communications specialist - languages alumnus Dom Johnson has been busy since leaving Warwick in 2019. After almost three years working in Geneva as a translator for Swiss Federal Railways and Swiss Post, Dom (BA Modern Languages, 2018; MA Translation and Cultures, 2019) swapped proofreading for politics, moving back to the UK after securing a role as a Communications Officer for the Green Party of England and Wales.

Why did you choose to do a Master's?
In my final year as an undergraduate, I knew translation was the aspect of language study that I found the most interesting and stimulating. I was really enjoying studying and a masters’ felt like the next natural step. I think I got an email from the department about the course, looked into it and was particularly interested by the theoretical side of it, having not previously studied translation theory. I had positive experiences of Warwick during my BA, so it was an easy decision to stay.

What is the standout memory from your time at Warwick?
It’s not one memory, but I would say having really interesting discussions in my seminars. Having classes with the other translation MA and PhD postgrads meant there was a wide range of perspectives and examples from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I always came away having learnt something new or having seen something from a different angle, which is something that sticks with me. The tutors were also great at prompting and helping those discussions along and setting readings that would open and challenge our understanding of translation.

What happened after graduation?
After finishing in September 2019, I got a job doing project management at a translation company in Leamington Spa. I’d only been there for a couple of months when a friend from Warwick forwarded me an opportunity to intern as a German to English translator in Geneva. Most would advise not to leave a job after two months, but I was keen to get some practical experience as a professional translator, (and to move abroad) so I applied and was offered the post. I moved to Geneva in January 2020, and after some pandemic related back-and-forth, secured a permanent contact that summer.

What does a translator do?
Translators translate written texts - not to be confused with interpreters, who perform spoken translation. Before starting a translation, you read the source text closely, research anything you're not sure about, and contact the client with any questions that you couldn't answer yourself. You then go through the source text sentence by sentence and create a version of it in the target language. To produce a good translation, you consider questions such as who the text is intended for, what its purpose is (e.g. public information, marketing, etc.), and what the client's expectations are (use of client terminology, consistency within and across different texts, etc.). Often there are countless ways of translating any given sentence or passage, so asking yourself those questions before and while translating helps you to decide which of the many possibilities to go with. Like many translators, I also proofread translations. Proofreading is a very different task that requires constant focus and attention to detail as you go through the source text and translation section by section ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the translation.

How did you know when to move on?
I knew I wanted to gain some experience outside the translation industry, and preferably in an area that aligned with my interests. Since comms has a lot of crossover with translation, I started looking for comms roles at organisations I found interesting. I applied for a few in Switzerland before finding the listing for the Green Party comms officer. It was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. The Green Party has a great hiring process which is geared towards inclusivity and finding the best candidate for the job. I didn’t have to submit a CV or cover letter; instead, I had to give some basic details and then answer questions related to the practicalities of the job.

I’m really enjoying the work. It’s a really varied role but essentially it involves helping to put across Green Party policies and positions clearly and persuasively. I contribute ideas to editorial discussions about content and messaging for social media and other channels, research and write briefings and press releases, liaise with Green Party politicians and member groups on comms matters, and help my colleagues in the comms team however I can.

How did Warwick prepare you for these roles?
The language skills and cultural knowledge from my BA made it a lot easier to live abroad; the practical and theoretical understanding of translation from the MA helped me in my translation work; and critical thinking and writing skills from both degrees probably helped me get my current role. During the MA, I also learnt how to work well independently – particularly the importance of taking regular breaks to get outdoors, and setting precise, manageable tasks.

Black and white photo of Dom

"I always came away having learnt something new or having seen something from a different angle, which is something that sticks with me.”