Italian Translator Federica Bruniera Talks Shop with RedLine

Federica Bruniera is an Italian translator based in Vancouver, Canada. RedLine recently conducted an email interview with her to learn about her work and her thoughts on the industry. The interview has been lightly edited. 

RedLine: You work as a professional Italian translator. Tell us a bit about your education and training.

Federica Bruniera: I fell in love with the English language at the age of 7, when my parents bought me a Disney English course on VHS. I’ve been studying it ever since. I added French to my languages in middle school and Japanese at university, when I enrolled in the Japanese language program at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

I then got my master’s degree in Japanese with a specialization in translation. My coursework was partly in Italy, partly in France at Paris Diderot University, and partly in Japan at Kobe University.

After trying out teaching, web annotation, in-house translation, and project management, I decided to focus all my efforts on translation. So I started my career as a freelance Italian translator while taking online courses and going to workshops and conferences to perfect my specializations and my translation skills. And here I am.

RedLine: What type of translation do you do most? In what industries? For what types of clients?

FB: I would say that a fairly big chunk of my translation work lately has been related to marketing and travel/tourism, mainly for the retail and hospitality industries. I love working on anything having to do with travel, be it a hotel brochure, a blog post, or an article describing a city’s points of interests. In fact, I hope to focus even more on these kinds of assignments in the future.

Over the past two years, I’ve also been working to add medical translation to my areas of specialization. And I’m pleased to say that the number of medical texts that come my way is steadily increasing.

My client base consists almost entirely of translation agencies, though I have a few direct clients. I didn’t feel confident enough to market myself to direct clients without a proper online presence.

Now that I finally have my new website in place, I’m planning to go in that direction as well, specifically targeting the industries that I work in.

An Italian Translator Gets Her First Assignment

RedLine: Do you remember your first paid project as an Italian translator? Describe it for us.

FB: I’ll never forget my first paid translation! It was the website of a Japanese guest house.

This was back in 2011 and I was in Kyoto taking an intensive Japanese course during the holidays. I didn’t have much money, so I got a deal with this lovely guest house: free accommodation for three months in exchange for translating their whole website and helping to facilitate communication between Japanese and foreign guests in the common room.

Bruniera was able to trade services for lodging in a common room in a guest house in Kyoto, Japan.

Considering the word count, the repetitiveness of the text, and that the price per night would have been around $25, it was a very favorable deal for a beginning Italian translator. It was good on a personal level, too. I met many wonderful people with the most diverse backgrounds and stories.

RedLine: Tell us about a particularly successful project—for example, one on which you got great client feedback or during which you handled a difficult situation skillfully.

FB: Last summer I was lucky enough to work on the UEFA Euro Championship 2016 project. I have loved soccer since I was little—in fact, my dad was a professional soccer player.

I had to translate interviews and press conferences but, despite the pressure of having to deliver my work within an hour, I received great feedback from my reviewers and project managers. It was a real honor and something that I am quite proud of. Plus, it gave me the perfect excuse to watch the games without feeling guilty. It was “work” after all!

Repetition Is a No-No in Italian

RedLine: Does an Italian translator face linguistic challenges that a French, German, or Chinese translator wouldn’t? Is there anything unique to Italian that poses problems for translators?

FB: That’s a hard question! I am not sure whether it is unique to Italian, but one of the problems I personally have a hard time with is the translation of repetitions.

While English and Japanese tolerate repetitions pretty well, Italian doesn’t. They should be avoided like the plague (unless they are a specific linguistic choice for literary, marketing, or other purposes). Sometimes finding a few different ways to say exactly the same thing without adding nuances can be a challenge.

Another aspect very specific to the Italian language is the abundance of dialects. Even within the same region, it’s not uncommon to find four to ten different dialects with their own specificities and nuances. Some of them are completely different languages altogether, impossible to understand for people who come from other regions.

This poses challenges for the native Italian translator, because the risk of using dialectal words, believing them to be standard Italian, is high. This is even truer for translators whose source language is Italian, who may be taken aback by words that aren’t found in the dictionary.

Italy’s Cultural Heritage

RedLine: Americans who hear the word “Italian” may think of stereotypically Italian exports that include cuisine, fashion, and art/architecture. What Italian industries, products, or cultural offerings should Americans know about besides pasta and Chianti, Prada and Versace, and Michaelangelo or the Colloseum?

FB: Italy has an essential item that not enough people are aware of. It’s life-changing, the eighth wonder of the world: the bidet. Americans should Google it and learn how it works before a vacation to Italy so that they can use this amazing gift to humanity!

Jokes aside, I would say that food, fashion, and art are the best things that we have to offer. I do feel, however, that there is so much more to explore than the four or five most famous cities and foods. Every region in Italy has its own charming places and local specialties that tourists often do not know about.

The bidet—a bizarre cross between a toilet and a shower? Or a superlative gift to humanity?

Just to give an example, I come from a small region called Marche on the Adriatic Sea. The average tourist doesn’t know about it, but it has breathtaking scenery and beaches, lovely little medieval towns and festivals, and wonderful local food that you can’t find anywhere else. (Tip: if you ever visit, try ciauscolo, the best salami in the world).

Federica on Italian Food

RedLine: Speaking of food, is there an Italian dish that you love that you can’t find in Vancouver?

FB: Where do I start? If you’re willing to pay a lot more than you would in Italy, you can find almost anything in Vancouver. (These are the perks of living in a multicultural city, I guess.)

However, I haven’t been able to find fresh gnocchi yet. In Italy we have these pasta fresca stores that sell only fresh, handmade pasta—gnocchi, tagliatelle, lasagne, tortellini, and so forth. You get your tray of gnocchi wrapped in paper (no sad plastic package!), ready to be cooked with the sauce of your choice.

In Italy, fresh gnocchi is wrapped in paper. Outside of Italy, it more often comes wrapped in plastic—culinary sacrilege, says Federica Bruniera.

Turning Down Work

RedLine: Have you ever turned down a translation assignment for a reason other than being busy?

FB: Definitely, yes. In the past I made the mistake of accepting whatever project would come my way. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t good for me or the client.

It wasn’t the most profitable choice for me because I needed a lot of extra time to do research for every single term. In addition, it wasn’t in the best interest of the client. In fact, someone with the necessary expertise could have conveyed the meaning of the text better.

Now I turn down an assignment if the subject matter is too far outside the scope of my knowledge and background, such as engineering and financial texts.

I like challenges and I am eager to take on difficult projects if I am somewhat comfortable with the subject matter. But I think it’s important to know my own limits and admit when a project is not the right fit for me.


RedLine: If you could change anything about your job, what would it be?

FB: I would have translation assignments magically reach my inbox without having to do any marketing.

While I love translation itself, I don’t particularly enjoy marketing and strategizing in the attempt to get more clients. In this digital age, I find social media to be quite overwhelming sometimes and I wish I could just disconnect from everything without the fear of missing out on work opportunities.

RedLine: What’s the one skill that an Italian translator—or any professional translator—must have?

FB: Excellent writing skills in their native language. Of course, knowledge of the source language must be top-notch. But at the end of the day, translators are writers—of other people’s words, perhaps, but still writers.


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