Professional translators in Finland struggle with poor machine translations and price pressure just like translators all over the world, but there is a positive trend toward more collaboration between translators, as well as more recognition for translation professionals.
Finnish is a little language (around five million speakers1) that is spoken only in Finland. It belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages and one of its closest relatives is Estonian, which is spoken in Estonia, a neighbouring country. Apart from Finnish, Swedish is also an official language in Finland. However, the languages are not related. In the northern parts of Finland, the Sami languages have the status of recognized regional languages.
Due to the relatively small number of Finnish speakers and the bilingualism of the country, there is lot for translators to do. Besides Finnish and Swedish, English is widely used in business communications. Translations from and into English and Swedish are very common, but Finnish translators work with a wide variety of different languages.
Finnish is a synthetic language, meaning that it uses suffixes to express grammatical relationships. The Finnish language modifies and inflects words depending on the roles they play within sentences. Finnish grammar is very complex; it has, for example, approximately 15 cases for nouns. Due to the peculiarities of Finnish, machine translation still needs to be developed a lot more. And translation memory applications, such as those used by CAT tools, have difficulties with Finnish grammar.
When negotiating with language service providers, Finnish translators always need to explain the effort involved with translating 100% matches, seeing that they must always be thoroughly checked and corrected in order to be adapted to the context. So, granting big discounts for TM matches is not something that is viewed as being applicable for Finnish language combinations. Even Finnish translators are fighting against price pressures like translators are all over the world; however, since Finnish is a bit more ‘exotic’, that keeps prices at a relatively fair level.
The Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters (SKTL) currently has approximately 1,800 members. Translator associations, such as SKTL or KAJ (Translation Industry Professionals) also offer advanced-education courses for translators and promote professionalism and quality in the translation industry.
In addition to pragmatic texts and literature translations, Finnish translators are also often working on audiovisual translations and subtitling. Membership in the European Union provides plenty of different kinds of texts to be translated in Finland. In contrast to the more common language combinations, Finnish translators often have a wide variety of specializations – when working with such a little language, the translators need to be able to handle all types of topics.
Most translators in Finland are freelancers and independent entrepreneurs who work for many different customers, including translation agencies, companies, and private individuals. Usually, translators have studied languages and translation studies at university. However, “translator” is not a protected title subject to a trade qualification examination (apart from certified translators), so anyone can call themselves a translator.
Translators in Finland usually work alone as entrepreneurs. However, there is the clear need and desire for more collaboration between translators. Networking, flexible working teams, and new forms of collaboration are getting increasingly important in the translation industry. Translators are moving from being single-language providers working for big translations agencies with unsatisfactory pay scales to becoming happier translator teams that know their rights and, above all, want to maintain their level of expertise.
Kaisu Keisala-Kaseja has been working in the translation industry for over 7 years. She is a business owner and a translator for language pairs German-Finnish, English-Finnish and Finnish-German, in addition to being a so-called “digital nomad.” She holds a Master’s Degree in German Philology and Translation from the University of Helsinki.