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 a PhD in public management from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I have previously lectured in environmental policy, statistics, comparative public management, and international public policy. I teach seminars on literary translation for FILI—Finnish Literature Exchange, where I completed an internship early in my career. 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.

2018 CV

What I’m Doing Now

I’m now into my eighth year of focusing exclusively on literary translation. I recently finished translating 11 books in the Maria Kallio mystery series by Leena Lehtolainen, the Finlandia Prize-winning Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt, and the dark family drama Norma by world-renowned author Sofi Oksanen.  I have two children’s books headed for publication, along with a business book, and a Nordic noir serial audiobook. Other past projects are too numerous to list here but can be found by searching major online retailers.

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 (made up statistics are the best statistics, don’t you think?) you can find something that isn’t quite English. Sometimes it’s quaint, but usually it’s just distracting. I will of course do whatever my clients wish, but what most clients want, and what I prefer to 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 in my free time, which is scant, and children’s books to my children 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. 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 who has lived in the country his or her entire life.

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 visited Finland regularly, and I spend nearly every day working with Finnish.ish literature, finnish literature