MEET SABINE KÖNIG, FOUNDER OF SPRACHBÜRO KÖNIG, TRANSLATING & INTERPRETING SERVICES
Sabine König is a woman of many talents, always a mother first; she has developed an immense and often surprising skillset over the last thirty years. With a more than impressive academic background and resume, the founder of Sprachbüro König translation and interpreting services has perfected her craft of helping people understand each other by translating client services from German or English into French.
A true creative at heart and a soon-to-be empty nester, Sabine has recently begun to explore her life passions with new and exciting endeavours culminating in the writing of her very first Children's book. The kind of woman you warm to instantly, her welcoming nature is almost enough to make you forget at first glance this powerhouse's razor-sharp knowledge and background, but not for long. It's safe to say this lady is whiskey in a teacup, my favourite! You're going to love her. Over to you Sabine...
SO, SABINE, WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
In the late fifties, my German parents, still strongly impacted by WWII, decided to leave their country to find a peaceful new home. Destiny led them to the French part of Switzerland to start a family. That's where I grew up. From day one, I was evolving in two languages and two worlds. The German language ruled the family world. Outside, everything was in French.
I didn't know then that I was, in fact, learning lessons in preparation for my future career. After taking a couple of different paths, and in my late twenties, I finally decided to become a professional translator; my experience consolidated by living in various European countries for longer and shorter periods.
My career as a translator began working for one of the global players among Swiss banks, combining knowledge from my previous economic studies and my translation skills. Later, I switched the business field and worked for a renowned tourism company.
When I had my first child, I decided it was easier to combine work and family life if I established myself as a freelancer and founded my translation company in 2000. The birth of my daughter a year later confirmed that it was the right choice. The childcare options here in Switzerland are so expensive and scarce that women have to ask themselves if they earn enough to afford the price of a career.
Over the last twenty-five years, I have enjoyed working with various companies of all sizes in banking, food, furniture, sports, computer science for children, tourism, and many more. Since I finished my studies the translation business has dramatically changed. The evolution of email and the opening up of the worldwide marketplace, not to mention the invention of one-click online translation apps, meant that companies were no longer reliant on local translators, and the pressure was on in terms of pricing for my services.
I found myself answering the same question repeatedly: if you can translate online for free, why pay? Of course, as an expert, I knew the immense value and importance of professional quality translation services; the risks involved in automatic translation were huge for companies reliant on reliable information with zero room for ambiguity. AI is a beautiful thing, with admittedly many advantages in today's society, but nothing compares with the human brain to determine the meaning of what's actually said. Let me give you an example; The word Bank in German has two meanings: 1) bank (finance institute), 2) bench. How would a machine know which is meant? The online translator will make random choices and is not consistent; this is not conducive to good business no matter how cheap!
Caring for my young children (e.g. always coming back from school for lunch - yes, that's the way it works in Switzerland!) has always been a priority. I often found myself juggling my clients and sometimes working in the evening and on weekends if necessary. Still, once they left our local school for high school further away (with a canteen), I knew that I needed to broaden my horizons. I needed to get out of my home office and went back to school to train as an interpreter.
Since 2014, I'm an official, accredited interpreter for the canton of Zurich. Working as an official means, I can work for the local police and the justice and civil authorities and help in police interrogations, trials, and weddings. I also interpret for big Swiss companies when they have workshops, meetings and press conferences; my work is varied and always interesting, to say the least!
Aside from my work, I love to travel and enjoy going to colourful markets, visiting art exhibitions, reading, cooking and generally being creative. I see all things as a potential source of inspiration, helping me grow and understand that there is not one truth: everything is possible.
Above all else, being present for my children has been my life's priority; as I stand today, they are grown, and I find myself entering into a new phase of my journey. My son has already left home, and my daughter is about to leave. Like all parents, we know these days will come, and for the last year, I have been preparing that new chapter, asking myself how I will fill our empty nest – and not only with work, please! I am finding my way back to sport, creativity, new friendships and more time with my husband. I'm learning (and improving) in cyanotype (blueprint) and painting, and I polish my English in an enjoyable class called: "Learning English at the MET", where we discover artworks, present them and discuss art in general (without being in New York). I also have a new and exciting project I'm working on, a children's book, about to be published titled "Emma Discovers Switzerland". There are so many resources available now, primarily due to the recent pandemic. I would advise all parents to prepare for that new period of life and regard it as a brand new adventure! What could you learn or do? Leaning into the experience rather than resisting has been game-changing for my family and me.
YOU GREW UP SPEAKING BOTH FRENCH & GERMAN BUT STUDIED ECONOMICS AT UNIVERSITY. WHAT MADE YOU TRANSITION BACK TO LANGUAGES AND ULTIMATELY, PURSUE IT AS A CAREER?
I studied Economics in Germany, but it wasn't' really my choice. My father imposed it upon me. Those years leading up to my bachelor's degree were tough, but I met some of my best friends during that time, so it was worth the pain! When I eventually got out of that fight, I turned my back on my studies to work in Switzerland in the tourism industry specialising in travels to the Indian Ocean. In order to understand my later transition into the world of translation, it is helpful to know that Switzerland has a strong need for translators as the country has four national languages. Skilled in French and German, I began translating travel brochures in the company I was working for and found that I enjoyed it. Still, it didn't take long for me to realise that being "only bilingual" would not be enough to have a serious career in this sector. So I went back to university, this time in Strasbourg, France. Once I gained my Master's degree in translation, I began my career, and I'm still in business today!
YOU'VE WRITTEN A CHILDREN'S BOOK! THAT’S SUCH AN INTERESTING PIVOT TO YOUR USUAL WORK OF TRANSLATING AND INTERPRETING. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PURSUE SOMETHING SO DIFFERENT?
In ancient times, in Cartagena (now Tunisia), translators had a parrot tattooed on their chest to be easily recognisable by the merchants who would need their services for their business transactions or negotiations. I have been a translator for almost thirty years and an interpreter for eight; after so many years as a "parrot", I came to a point where I wanted to have my voice and my ideas expressed. The texts I translate are not my own but the voice of the author or the speaker. It has been wonderful to express my creativity by combining my love of travel and reading to children by creating my own story of a marmot, a groundhog, which leaves its home in the Swiss Alps to discover its home country. Such a joy!
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM?
Constructive criticism is a good thing to help you to evolve, even if sometimes it hurts. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So criticism, if asked for, is welcome. But I always remind myself: "You cannot and will not please everyone. That is a fact of life."
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
Bertrand Piccard, Swiss explorer, psychiatrist and environmentalist, Frieda Kahlo, an influential Mexican painter, J.K. Rowling, an incredibly creative and successful author, Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement, Clothilde Dusoulier, who has the most popular French podcast about how to change your life, Ilana Jankowitz, my life-changing money coach and many other known and unknown individuals.
COVID-19 HAS HAD A HUGE EFFECT ON BUSINESSES. HOW DIFFICULT HAVE THE LAST 18 MONTHS BEEN AS A TRANSLATOR & INTERPRETER? WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Working from home has always been my daily business as I'm a freelancer, so no change on that side. A significant difference in my working life was to have new "colleagues" at home – my husband and my daughter – with lunch to be prepared, but also coffee breaks to be enjoyed together.
On a strictly business basis, the lockdown led to the cancellation of all my interpretation contracts as physical meetings were no longer possible. But then, on the other side, I was presented with the opportunity to work with local authorities to translate vital information related to Covid-19 to be published for the French-speaking population of the canton of Zurich on its website. A vast amount of work came in for that period. In autumn 2020, some of my clients realised that meetings and workshops could no longer be postponed and asked me to find solutions for remote interpreting. I learned fast new technologies to satisfy my clients' needs, and it worked very well. It's very challenging but an excellent interim solution for all kinds of meetings.
Since the beginning of 2021, things have more or less been back to business as usual for me. I'm still carrying out remote interpreting where necessary, but also on-site. I know that the whole translation industry has faced very different impacts depending on the field translators were working in. For example, someone working in the tourism industry will have suffered greatly. However, a translator working in the medical field will have been busier than ever. I do wish I'd already known how to interpret remotely. I would have been able to present a solution to my clients much faster and pivot quicker in the face of adversity.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT ON YOUR JOURNEY, AND WHAT WOULD YOU AVOID IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL AGAIN?
I found it difficult to constantly work at home, on my own, and not always know what I would earn at the end of each month. At the beginning of my freelance career, I would take a fixed, part-time job to have a minimal regular income, and I would join a coworking space near my home to be around other people.
WHAT'S THE MOST EXCITING PROJECT YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH, AND WHY DID YOU ENJOY IT?
One of the most exciting projects I have been involved with dates back to 2000 when the biggest travel company in the country asked me to translate its website. It may not sound exhilarating today, but it was their first one at that time, and I found it stimulating to be part of this novelty.
I also really enjoy when one of my clients takes his vendors on training workshops to the Swiss Alps to test hiking shoes, backpacks and camping material. Everything from tents to self-inflating matrasses. I get to be part of the adventure, as I have to interpret the content of the training and can test all the material myself. This type of work is instructive and fun. I much prefer to be an all-terrain interpreter than in a conference, in a meeting room!
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TIPS FOR OUR AWESOME FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS READING THIS ARTICLE?
- Master your finances!
- If something turns bad: Don't panic. Breathe. Think. Get help if necessary.
- If something turns good: CELEBRATE!!!!
DO YOU SET GOALS?
Yes, I do. I brainstorm at the beginning of the month and the start of the year and set goals. Other goals appear more spontaneously during the year.
WHICH SONG WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO ADD TO THE FEMALE CEO'S #GIRLBOSS PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY FOR YOU?
Gonna Fly Now or Move On Up - Curtis Mayfield
WHAT DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
The sun will rise tomorrow but not at the same place as today.
DO YOU HAVE A BOOK OR FAVOURITE PODCAST RECOMMENDATION FOR OUR FEMALE CEO MEMBERS?
The Prophet written by Kahlil Gibran. One of the most powerful lessons of this book, as a mother, is:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."
Podcast for French speaking readers: "Change ma vie". It’s inspired by Brooke Castillo, Tim Ferris, Jess Lively, Gretchen Rubin.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LIFE LESSON?
The only thing you can change is yourself.
WHAT MAKES YOU TRULY HAPPY, AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE TOUGHER TIMES?
I handle tough times by remembering prosperous times, knowing my value. I watch art, go on virtual visits through museums, bake a cake – a safe bet – or watch a movie—"Mama Mia" when the energy level is near zero.
Having fun with my family deeply makes me happy. I also love being at the seashore; watching the waves and a thousand sun reflections on the surface make me happy. Or as a substitute as I don't live by the sea: being in the water.
If you want to know more about Sabine or Sprachbüro König you can visit the website or catch up on LinkedIn or Instagram. You can also find out about Sabine's art here and her Swiss Emma children's book here.