About Me

The Basics

My name is Owen F. Witesman, and I am a freelance translator of Finnish and Estonian into English. I offer a wide range of translation-related services, including original translation, editing and proofing, back-translation and back-editing, and translation verification. My experience is somewhat unique in that I am active in both the literary and technical translation worlds, including the middle ground of non-fiction literature. I have translated everything from kids’ comics, sci-fi, and serious adult fiction to a cookbook, power generation boiler manuals, and coronary stent implantation instructions.

I hold a BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University (minors in Latin and logic), an MA in Central Eurasian Studies (Finnish and Estonian) from Indiana University, and am a PhD candidate in public management at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I have previously lectured in statistics, comparative public management, and international public policy. I’m not doing that anymore though, because translation is more fun. I have attended two literary translation seminars hosted by FILI — Finnish Literature Exchange, and completed a translation internship with the same organization. In 2011 I taught a translation seminar in Finland focusing on science fiction and comics for the Turku Burning Bridge Agency project. I’m a member of the Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters, in both the literary and technical translation sections. Like all literary translators, I’m ultimately self-taught. This just isn’t something that is or really can be taught in a classroom. Years of experience translating and editing are where it happens. If you do this long enough, you even end up in someone’s dissertation!

Resume (Aug 2013) (This website is a better source for information about my current work, but this resume can add some more professional background.)

What I’m Doing Now

I’m now into my third year of focusing exclusively on literary translation. Last year I finished up a translation of Finlandia Prize winning author Kari Hotakainen’s The Human Lot (Ihmisen osa) for MacLehose Press, a translation of Juhani Aho’s The Railroad (Rautatie) for Norvik Press, a translation of Leena Lehtolainen’s Where Have All the Young Girls Gone (Minne tytöt kadonneet) for the Elina Ahlbäck Agency, and a couple of dozen sample translations (translations of excerpts for marketing books to publishers) for sundry clients. This year I’m working on a nautical travelogue named The Call of the Sagas, a book called You Can’t Tell About It (Siitä ei voi kertoa) by Tiina Pihlajamäki about the after-effects of a war on a young girl, a sequel to The Animals’ World, Seppo Jokinen’s detective novel Hukan enkelit (English title pending) for Ice Cold Crime, The Sands of Sarasvati by Risto Isomäki, a nonfiction book on medieval mapmaking, a travel guide to Turku, and more samples as always. More details to follow!

Check out the Publications link for work you can buy or otherwise access and the Samples link for the next big thing!

What I Offer

I believe I offer a relatively unique product–real English. The very, very worst thing in my mind about translated literature is how often it sounds translated. Open most translations to any random page and nine times out of ten you can find something that isn’t quite English. Sometimes it’s quaint, but usually it’s just irritating. I will of course do whatever my clients wish, but what most clients want, and what I deliver, is an English-language version of their text as it would have been if an English language professional had written it directly in English. I take my Finnish language skills very seriously, but at the end of the day I’m being hired for my English–real English.

What I Read

In general, I read (or listen to) sci-fi, fantasy,  and espionage novels to myself in my free time, which is scant, and children’s books to my daughters at bedtime. Since translation is possibly the most intense sort of reading there is, it’s fair to say that I read just about every type of literature to some degree. I don’t have much patience for the literati game of pretending you know and/or read whatever is being hyped at the moment though.

How Did I Learn Finnish and Estonian Originally?

The short answer is that from 1996-1998 I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Mormons”). This meant 2 months of 9 hours per day of language study followed by 22 months of spending about 11 or 12 hours a day talking with Finns or walking or biking around Finnish towns. There’s a lot more to it than that, but the material point for my language learning was that for about two years my entire purpose in life depended on the ability to understand Finnish and communicate with Finns. I’d lay good money on a bet that I’ve been in more different Finnish homes than the average Finn. I’ve also probably lived in more parts of the country, illustrated by the map below. The yellow house icons are places where I’ve lived in Finland. The other icons indicate places where I have stayed for a shorter period or just visited. This doesn’t count just passing through a town.

Following this two-year stint, I studied linguistics, including Finnish, in the US for three years. Then I did an MA–another two years–in Finnish and Estonian area studies. This included all sorts of advanced Finnish instruction, plus 3 years equivalent of graduate Estonian courses. One summer during my MA I did some backpacking in Estonia and Finland. My MA thesis received the Pro Gradu award for best thesis from the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies. After my MA, I spent 6 months working in Finland again, this time as a translator-intern at the Finnish Literature Exchange FILI. Since then I’ve been back about every other year and every day is spent working with Finnish.

All in all, I’ve lived a little more than two and a half years of my life in Finland. During nearly all of this time, my day job required speaking Finnish constantly. finnish literature, finnish literature, finnish literature, finnish literature, finnish literature

Places I’ve Lived in Finland