Found in translation

Eriksen Translations Inc. celebrates 30 years of language

Photo courtesy of Eriksen Translations
The company that Vigdis Eriksen founded 30 years ago has since expanded into 100 languages.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Human communication is something we spend almost all of our waking hours doing, or at least trying to do. Even between those who speak the same language, our communication skills often fail. How many times have you had an argument with someone, when you later realize you were on the same page? Or perhaps you didn’t understand a subtle variation in meaning between two words that led you to feel unjustifiably miffed.

Now, what happens when you choose to take communicating to an entirely different level—when you decide to make your living translating from one language to another? And what happens when you decide to provide that service in 100 languages? Talk about the Tower of Babel!

Who would dare to try mastering verbal intelligibility in a variety of fields, such as technical, creative, and financial? Vigdis Eriksen of Eriksen Translations Inc. dares! Thirty years ago she took on the brave task of making words into links, rather than barriers.

Victoria Hofmo: First of all, Vigdis, congratulations on your baby—Eriksen Translations is celebrating its 30th anniversary this December. Our readers would like to know more about the dynamo behind this company. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Vigdis Eriksen: I grew up on a small farm in Onsøy, outside Fredrikstad. There was not much excitement, the summers seemed endless, and I yearned to travel and broaden my horizons at an early age.

VH: When did your love of language begin?

VE: We had a good education and excellent teachers. I started studying English in grade school and later German and French in high school.

VH: How many languages do you speak?

VE: Four, including Norwegian. Later I would live for three years in the Netherlands, so I learned Dutch. A year in Paris did wonders for my French, while German has taken a back seat.

VH: Why would a nice girl from Norway leave that idyllic country for the streets of Brooklyn?

VE: That nice girl was adventurous! I’ve always been attracted to diversity, and after the homogeneity and monotony of life in Fredrikstad, Brooklyn sounded like heaven.

VH: Why did you open Eriksen Translations?

VE: It was a coincidence, really. I had come to New York to study drama, but after a few years I gave that up and was searching for a new career. A big lawsuit involving Norway came before the court here, and the Norwegian Consulate was asked to help find translators. This was long before the internet and there were few, if any, Norwegian professional translators locally. It didn’t take long before I realized how much I enjoyed this work, and I spent the next few years learning the trade. I was eventually asked to translate the other Scandinavian languages, and that’s when I started to hire people and build teams.

[When we opened, we] specialized in the Scandinavian languages and had several translators working in the office. At that time, American IT companies started to market PCs and printers in Scandinavia, and we coined terminology for this new field. We also translated the manuals for Caterpillar’s earth-moving machinery.

VH: How have your services expanded over the years?

VE: We slowly started to get requests for more languages, and in 1994 we acquired a small competitor whose clients requested Romance languages and German. These days we work in more than 100 languages, with the most popular being Spanish, Chinese, French, Japanese, and Portuguese. We now translate for print, web, and multimedia, and offer desktop publishing and voiceover and subtitling services. We also provide face-to-face interpreting services for hospitals, schools, and businesses in the New York metro area.

VH: Could you tell me about your clientele?

VE: Absolutely. Our top industry verticals are financial services, law, health care, and education, and museums and creative services. We also localize websites and apps for technology start-ups, innovative digital marketing companies, and online content management platforms. I am also proud that we have the opportunity to work with nonprofits and organizations who advocate for women’s rights and human rights around the world.

VH: You were recently quoted as saying, “we are passionate about the art and science of translation.” Can you expand on that?

VE: Language is a science in the sense that there are rules: grammar systems, sentence structure, semantics, syntax, etc. However, translation is more than just translating words, it’s about conveying meaning and ideas across languages and cultures. Sometimes words and even concepts in one language do not have an equivalent in another. Communicating the appropriate tone and the intended message requires that each translator uses his or her expertise, perspective, and judgment. Two different translators might produce two different translations, and both could be valid.

VH: How do you and your company plan to celebrate this momentous occasion?

VE: We threw a big company party in our offices on December 9. The highlight of that celebration was a visit by the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, who presented us with a proclamation. As proud Brooklynites, that recognition meant a lot to us.

It was also very meaningful to celebrate this milestone with current and past staff, linguists, and clients. I am so honored to have spent the past 30 years working with such dedicated, talented colleagues, and their talent and vision will help steer us as we embrace the next 30 years.

Congratulations to Eriksen Translation for taking on this task, so essential to all human activity. As writer Cassandra Clare wrote in Clockwork Prince, “We live and breathe words.” For how much they are part of us, and also for their power, as stated so succinctly by Rene Char, “I believe in the magic and authority of words.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 13, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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