English Is Key

With over 2,000 international students, researchers, and teachers per year, communication at the University of Mannheim cannot just take place in German. In 2013, the project Campus International was launched with the aim of improving communication with international university members. Almost ten years later, what originally began as a two-year project with one employee has become an integral part of everyday university life. In Translation Services, five employees work day in, day out to ensure that examination regulations, websites, and circular emails are also available in English.

From the Ehrenhof, cross Bismarckstraße to square L2, pass through the brown entrance door, and head up the stairs to the second floor – there you will find the offices of the University of Mannheim’s Translation Services. The office window looks out onto the garden of the International Meeting Center, and there is a large door that connects Translation Services directly to the Welcome Center run by the International Office: Clearly, internationalization is a top priority at the University of Mannheim. In order to implement this on a linguistic level as well, the Campus International project was launched in 2013. The idea behind the project was to create a bilingual campus where people can study, research, teach, and work even without significant knowledge of German. “Of course, the international students and employees learn German during their time in Mannheim. But just because they communicate in German in day-to-day life doesn’t mean they can understand exam regulations or fill out applications and forms. We were able to open this door to our university with the Campus International project,” explains Teresa Schoenkaes, Translation Services team leader. 

Schoenkaes was the first translator to start at the university in 2013. The project was originally planned to last two years – but it quickly became clear that translating all relevant documents and websites into English was not a task that could be completed in such a short time. “The University of Mannheim views bilingualism as something that must be built up and then also maintained. A university is alive – and so are all linguistic products, texts, and content. That’s why we not only translate new texts such as the newsletter or the myUniMA story, but also have to revise existing translations again and again,” says Schoenkaes. Since these tasks cannot be handled by one person alone, the Translation Services team has grown in size over the years. Currently, Schoenkaes is joined by four other translators and several student assistants, all of whom translate from German into English. Schoenkaes has already achieved one goal: “I count it as a great success that the original project has developed into a dedicated service center. Bilingual communication across all university departments is an important factor for reaching out to international students and researchers. This is also underscored by the positive feedback we regularly receive.”  

The list of departments requesting translations from the service center is long. “Essentially, all employees of the university can contact us with questions and translation requests. And I think by now we’ve translated something for every school and every administrative department,” reports Schoenkaes. In 2021, the team broke its own record, translating around 360,000 words. With this volume of work, the translators naturally have to prioritize. Priorities are usually based on the size of the target group – for example, a circular email to all students, the Portal2, and the most-clicked web pages have high priority. To make it easier for employees to translate university-specific terms in their day-to-day work, the Translation Services team has developed a dictionary especially for the University of Mannheim. Schoenkaes and her team also offer training on a regular basis.  

The University of Mannheim plays a pioneering role nationwide in the field of language internationalization. “At the beginning of my time at the university, I sought contact with other university translation offices in order to exchange ideas with them about translation issues. This has resulted in a large network of more than 200 in-house and freelance translators from other German universities, whom we invite to a conference in Mannheim once a year. The exchange is lively, informal, and always very enriching when it comes to coming up with solutions for the daily challenges we face,” says Schoenkaes. Through their work in the network, however, the translators have also learned that there is a great need for advice on bilingualism on campuses across Germany: “We can’t meet this demand from Mannheim alone. Our approach was therefore initially to become active at the state level both in the translation field and in an advisory capacity. To this end, we launched the State Coordination Office for Translations Relating to Higher Education in Baden-Württemberg (LKS) at the University of Mannheim in 2016 with an application to the state Ministry of Science, Research, and the Arts,” says Schoenkaes. 

As a central point of contact for universities that need support with the language aspect of their internationalization strategy, the LKS has a lot to offer. “In the online portal, we provide various translation templates and a dictionary of university terminology. We also offer a consulting service and workshops for universities in Baden-Württemberg. The LKS benefits greatly from the translations and tools that already exist here at the University of Mannheim,” explains translator and state coordinator Ellise Meyer. What she particularly appreciates about her work is the diversity of tasks: “I never wanted a job where all I do is translate texts from morning to night. At the LKS, I have a lot of variety and also the freedom to spread my tasks throughout the week as I like.” 

When asked about their most unusual project, the translators have to take a moment to think. “Translation projects are all very different. On the one hand, we are occasionally allowed to assist with highly confidential administrative matters by providing translations and are grateful for the trust that is placed in us. On the other hand, we translated the Mensa menu a few years ago, for example. It was a lot of fun to work out the right translations and find solutions for the different types of fried potatoes,” laughs Schoenkaes. But as with many projects, it is important to update the Mensa menu every now and then. “That is one of the goals we have set for the near future: We want to strike a balance between translating the new texts that come in each day and regularly maintaining our long-term projects.” In view of what the Translation Services team has already achieved in recent years, that goal seems eminently achievable. 

Text: Jessica Scholich / October 2022