Celebrating Four Years of Translators Aloud

As YouTube channel Translators Aloud celebrates four years of providing a space for translators to read their work, founders Charlie Coombe and Tina Kover spoke to New Books in German about the channel’s success, translator working conditions and the future of both the channel and the profession.  

Hello Charlie and Tina! Thanks to both of you for making the time to talk to New Books in German. Whereabouts are you answering from and what are you up to?

Charlie: I am in the rainy south of England, house-sitting and looking after two dogs this week. I just got back from a 3-week trip to Thailand, and I’m readjusting my body clock, catching up on emails and doing some work on my current project (a co-translation from Catalan with Laura Mcloughlin, of Killing the Nerve by Anna Pazos).

Tina: I’m some three hundred miles north of Charlie in the northeast of England, enjoying a rare sunny weekend and about to start on an exciting new translation project, though I can’t share any details just yet!

You have 530 videos on the channel, 2310 subscribers and over 131,000 views. How do you feel, looking at what you have created?

C: So proud! Both of how the channel has grown, and of all the incredible translators in the literary translation community that have shared their work with us and the world. It’s been such a nice, connecting experience to bring all these readings into one place for people to watch, enjoy and discover.

T: I am constantly amazed by the channel’s growth and the warmth of the reception we continue to receive. I’ve gained so much appreciation for the depth of talent out there, and am just humbled by the generosity of the translation community, in both contributing to and supporting the channel.

Did you expect that the channel would take off in the way that it has? What surprises have you had along the way?

C: We started this as a little lockdown project, and never expected the number or frequency of submissions that we have received. It feels like something that keeps the community connected, in a way.

T: I’d echo Charlie’s remarks. We had no idea we’d be received so warmly. One thing I’ve been so happily surprised by is the effort our contributing translators put into their readings, sometimes adding music and imagery, turning their videos into beautiful pieces of art. It’s an honour to be compiling such an incredible repository of work. And of course, perhaps the best surprise has been the close friendship Charlie and I have developed over the years.

Do you know how many different languages you have on the channel? Which languages are most common? And are there any with just one reading?

C: We now have readings from or into 50 different languages. The most common languages on the channel are German, French, and Spanish. The language playlists with currently only one reading on them are: Afrikaans,  Amharic, Asturian, Basque, Bulgarian,  Finnish, Frisian, Hebrew, Gujarati, Ladino,  Korean, Sanskrit, Thai, and Welsh. We’d love more readings from those languages, and any we haven’t featured yet, of course!

Do you know much about who is watching? What sort of feedback do you get? 

C: The YouTube analytics give all sorts of information about our audience and reach. The female/male split is about 60/40, and geographically speaking, 40% of our viewers are in the UK, 12% in the US, and other top countries for views include Italy, South Africa, Germany and India. The age range with the most views is 35-44 years.

We often get lovely comments under the videos, from people who have enjoyed discovering a new author or book, or particularly liked the reading or translation. It’s always gratifying to receive nice comments from viewers!

You are both literary translators.  Tina, your translation of Anne Berest’s The Postcard has been called “lucid and precise” by the New York Times.  Congratulations are due to you too Charlie, as your co-translation (with Isabel Adey) of December Breeze by Colombian author Marvel Moreno was shortlisted for the QSSI Translation Prize 2023. What path did you each take to arrive where you are?

C: After studying modern languages at Bath University, including a year abroad doing translation for an NGO in Paris and working at a translation agency in Zaragoza, I definitely knew that translation was the direction I wanted to go in. Straight after uni, I worked for a translation agency in the UK, doing revision in-house for a year, then went self-employed and set myself up freelance in 2008. I completed the CIOL diploma in translation (Spanish-English) over 4 years, by which time I actually had already established a client base and was earning a living from translation (various fields including gastronomy, tourism, marketing).

I knew I wanted to try and be a literary translator, so I started chasing books and networking, going to the London Book Fair from about 2012 onwards. I landed my first contract to translate a couple of French children’s books about pirates, then got my first full length fiction book translation, which was an e-book for Pontas Agency called Traces of Sandalwood (later published in paperback by World Editions), and I kind of went from there.

It was a constant struggle to chase projects and be chosen as the translator. In the early days I didn’t actually do much pitching or submitting to journals as I was too busy trying to make ends meet. A more direct approach of offering to do samples for specific books seemed to work for me. And networking online, building my online profile, that all helped me immensely. I eventually got onboard with some indie presses and started translating various Latin American authors.

Over the last decade, I have probably translated on average one fiction or nonfiction book per year, and in recent years I have had quite a few things published in literary journals and anthologies. And here we are! It’s been a long and gradual process, establishing myself as a literary translator. And even now, the next literary contract is never guaranteed, it’s still something you have to plug away at.

T: My path was a rather long and convoluted one–isn’t it interesting how every translator’s “origin story” is different? I studied French as an undergraduate, and then I moved to Switzerland for a couple of years, where I lived in Lausanne in the French-speaking region, which was absolutely amazing and life-changing, and that was where I gained my real fluency.

When I came back to the US, to Denver, which is where I’m from, I felt like I really needed to do something with this ability. I knew that it was a skill that a lot of Americans don’t have, and I didn’t want to waste it. I started doing commercial translation (and working in a lot of coffee shops and offices to make sure the bills got paid), and eventually I self-published my first literary translation, George Sand’s The Black City, in 2004. On the strength of that book I landed an agent, who sold the book to a mainstream publisher (Carroll & Graf), and that brought me to the attention of the wonderful editor Judy Sternlight, who was then with Random House. I translated Alexandre Dumas’s Georges for her, and that was kind of the launch pad for my career. Things got another boost when my translation of Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental, for which I was shortlisted for the U.S. National Book Award in 2018, and it’s been fairly nonstop ever since.

If you could go back in time to when you were starting out in literary translation and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Don’t sacrifice your weekends for work, or overwork yourself to the point of compromising your mental or physical health. It’s so easy to do, and so hard to un-do.


C: Don’t sacrifice your weekends for work, or overwork yourself to the point of compromising your mental or physical health. It’s so easy to do, and so hard to un-do. Nothing is that important, it’s only publishing 😉 You are a freelancer and everything you do should be your choice; that’s one of the perks of being self-employed, after all! I have learned boundaries now. I think the most important thing to remember when it comes to workloads, deadlines, low rates, or unreasonable demands from publishers is this: everything you accept as a freelance translator sets a precedent, it affects how other translators will be treated.

T: I couldn’t have put it better myself!

What sort of books do you like to read? Have you discovered any through readings on the channel? Do the books you like to read differ from the sorts of books you like to translate?

C: I do tend to read a lot of translated fiction. Being in that world, I hear about so many great books on social media, and read lots of translations by other translators I know! The channel has definitely brought some of these to light for me. The kind of books I read in English are usually autofiction, I lean towards literary fiction and women writers, short stories, novellas and poetry are my jam. I do enjoy the odd Greek mythology retelling or nonfiction book in the realm of therapy, self development etc. Oh, and travel fiction or nonfiction.

T: I read a lot of crime fiction, and Scandi Noir is my favourite if I’m not reading Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler, so I’m a huge fan of the Scandi authors and their translators, including Quentin Bates and Victoria Cribb. I’ve definitely found a few new favourites through the channel, too! Otherwise, it’s history and sociology all the way.

NBG really values the two feature weeks we do with you each year. We have had almost 9,000 views of the NBG playlist. There are 59 readings up there at the moment. Can you tell us about some of the other organisations and projects you have worked with?

T: We’ve been delighted to feature the Portuguese, Danish, and Swedish literary translators’ associations, as well as the Yiddish Book Center in New York and the Literary Translators’s Association of Canada–and more. It’s been a real delight to collaborate with these kinds of groups all over the globe, and to sense the passion with which they approach literature in translation. We’re always open to new collaborations, so I hope anyone who reads this will spread the word!

I imagine there’s no ‘one size fits all’ here, but what makes for a really good reading on the channel?

Just imagine you are reading to a friend, and you want them to love the story as much as you do.


C: Clear video and audio, good lighting,an engaging tone… these are the keys to a successful reading. You don’t have to be an amazing actor or do anything fancy. Just imagine you are reading to a friend, and you want them to love the story as much as you do.

What are your hopes for Translators Aloud in the future? 

C: We’d love to see more minority languages represented and hope to do more feature weeks of various languages that haven’t been in the spotlight as much. We will continue to post content for as long as we receive it, and we will continue to advocate for translator visibility and other issues related to the industry.

Your channel aims to provide a way for translators to gain additional visibility. I know that fair pay for translators, along with decent terms and conditions, are issues close to both your hearts. Do you feel things are moving in the right direction here?

…it still feels like we have to fight for visibility and adequate compensation, as well as the acknowledgment that what we do is an act of artistic creation in its own right.


C: Big sigh. Not as much as I’d like, to be honest. Although some gains have been made for literary translators, with more publishers now at least paying the recommended TA rate – although this rate should be higher – there is still a long way to go, in terms of publishers recognising the skill, time and effort involved in translation, and remunerating it appropriately. There is always too much of an expectation for translators to go above and beyond, doing lots of associated work for free, and there isn’t enough push-back from translators in this respect, because we are all trying to progress in our careers. It’s the vicious cycle that is probably quite common in most industries, but it needs to change. Translators are a vital part of the publishing industry and are often not valued as such or receive pay that reflects this.

T: We’ve obviously still got a long way to go. Things like the “Name the Translator” movement and the crossing-over of translators like Jennifer Croft into authoring fiction have given us a boost, but it still feels like we have to fight for visibility and adequate compensation, as well as the acknowledgment that what we do is an act of artistic creation in its own right. It can feel like a lot of added pressure when we’re already dealing with tight deadlines and heavy workloads (not to mention the state of the world), but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the success of Translators Aloud it’s how passionate translators are about what they do, and that gives me hope that we’ll keep pushing for the pay and the recognition we deserve.

What other challenges and opportunities do you see for literary translators over the next few years?

C: Two letters: AI. Publishers already have a tendency to want to pay less for translation, and demand delivery within timeframes that are too short. It seem like a constant race to the bottom, with the client often asking translators to work for less and less, or asking us to post-edit machine translations for a minimal fee when this work can often mean a complete rework, and would be just easier to translate from scratch, in lots of cases. AI is a big threat to our industry. It seems like a magic solution for speeding everything up and costing very little. I think humans will still be needed in the process, but we could see a situation where our job becomes undoing or unpicking or improving a big old AI-created mess, before it is published. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen, and we need to raise awareness about the importance of the quality of language (this includes encouraging readers to be more discerning too, and to not just happily buy/read/consume AI-created literature).

Tina, I know you are a fan of a carefully-crafted cocktail. With the summer season approaching, any favourite recipes to share with readers?

T: Ooo, how to choose! Yes–here’s a perennial favourite of mine that you’ll love if you like floral flavours. It’s called the Aviation, and the recipe dates from the 1920s. In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 45 ml gin, 15 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 20 ml maraschino liqueur, and 15 ml creme de violette. Dash of sugar syrup if you like your cocktails really sweet! Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Sublime.

Charlie, you’ve been on the move around Europe recently. Do you feel that these changes of scenery inspire or shape your translation work?  

I am actually constantly on the move – I’m a full-time house & pet-sitter, which gives me a second stream of income and minimal outgoings. So I am always moving around, living in different houses, and I travel quite a bit in-between too. I have just returned from 3 weeks in Thailand and have trips planned to Croatia, Barcelona, Carcassonne, and Denver this year. I have always had itchy feet and find it easy to move around and quickly settle into places, I find it helps my brain stay creative and inspired. I don’t like being in one place too long!

Many thanks both of you! Here’s the the next four years and beyond!

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Charlotte Coombe is an award-winning British translator working from Spanish, French, and more recently, Catalan into English. After a decade translating creative texts in gastronomy, the arts, travel and tourism, lifestyle, fashion and advertising, her love of literature drew her to literary translation, with a particular interest in women’s writing. She translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She has received various awards and short-listings for her translations.

Tina Kover is the translator of more than a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction, including Alexandre Dumas’s Georges, Benoît Peeters’s Hergé: Son of Tintin, and Anna Gavalda’s Life, Only Better. Her translations have twice been nominated for the IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award and she was the recipient in 2009 of a Literary Translation Fellowship from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in the northeast of England.

Cocktail photo by Mgg Vitchakorn on Unsplash

Translator photos © Tina Kover and Charlie Coombe