Karl Kaussen President and Founder, Biotext LLC

By Anna Schlegel

Founded by Karl Klaussen in 1972, NCTA Corporate Member Biotext LLC (www.biotext.net) has been operating under its present name since 1999 and provides a wide range of translation services in the fields of health care, pharmaceutical trials, medical equipment, and biotechnology research. A native of Germany, Karl has lived in the U.S. since 1964. He joined NCTA in 1996, has served on the Board of Directors, and in 2000, along with Tony Roder and Jeanette Ringold, helped establish the Translator Certification program at UC Berkeley Extension.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

KARL KLAUSSEN: I was born in Aachen, Germany. I left the country in 1960, lived in Sweden on and off for a few years, and then traveled around the world until I emigrated to the U.S. in 1964. I lived in Santa Monica for four years and moved to San Francisco in 1968. I received my BA from UC Berkeley in 1974, my MA in 1976, and my Ph.D. in 1986, with a dissertation on interlingual transfer in technical and scientific texts.

While I was a student at Berkeley I got into the restaurant business, opening my first restaurant, Café Mozart, in San Francisco, in 1981 with a partner who left shortly thereafter. I later opened two other S.F. restaurants, Haymarket in 1986, and Aubergine, in 1990, before quitting the business and going into translation full time. I’ve been married to my wife, Patricia, since 1970; we have one son, an active naval officer, and one daughter, a teacher.

What were your beginnings in translation?

My first translation job was in 1973, while I was a student at Berkeley. It was the translation of a paper from German to English entitled “The Development of the Olfactory Sense in Hymenopterous Insects.” Small jobs followed. I tried my hands at technical and business texts but became more and more interested in medical translation. Jobs included the translations (into English) of “Freud, Biologist of the Mind,” by R. Sullivan, in 1979; and “Spoerri’s Descriptions of Psychotic Speech,” in Speech Pathology and Schizophrenic Disorders, edited by J. Darby, M.D., in 1981.

After I left the restaurant business in 1996, I started a translation company, Syntaxis, with offices in Vienna, Virginia and San Francisco, in 1997. In 1999, my East Coast partner and I decided to simplify things and came to the amiable agreement that he would continue to operate on the East Coast as “Syntaxis,” while I established a new company, Biotext LLC, in California, devoted to medical, pharmaceutical, and biotech translations.

What languages do you deal with the most?

Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and German. However, we recently worked on a large project in over thirty languages, among them Pashto, Maori, Niuean, Tonga, and Cook Islands dialect.

Where are your translators based?

We do lots of business outside of California, and we contract with translators in Florida, Canada, Germany, Iceland, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, Turkey, Belarus, and the Czech Republic—and of course California! On occasion I consult the ATA list to find translators in the U.S.

Describe your ideal translator.

Everybody makes mistakes once in a while and I can forgive a translator’s errors (that’s why we have editors). However, I can’t forgive late deliveries and sloppy work. My ideal translator would always meet deadlines and deliver well-executed translations without omissions or sloppy formatting. As for interpreters, although I retain them for established clients (usually law firms) on an infrequent basis, punctuality and a very professional demeanor are again, musts.

What mistakes do translators most often make in your field?

Translators most frequently make terminological mistakes, especially when it comes to abbreviations and acronyms. I expect the translator to ask questions so that I can contact the client if there are abbreviations that are unfamiliar to the translator.

What are your current challenges?

Convincing clients that the cheapest way is not always the best way; balancing the need to be competitive with other companies who employ cheap labor overseas, and still employ local translators whose rates are comparatively high. An ideal situation would be where translations are done overseas and edited locally. That way I could offer competitive rates to my clients while still employing local translators.

Words of wisdom for a translator starting out in the business?

Stay informed about the latest developments in your field and read, read, read.

Where do you see the translation business in 10 years?

I see a potential for the business to increase dramatically.

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