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Interview Series: 11. John O’Shea — Jurtrans

John and I met at the first Conference for Translation and Interpreting Professionals in Athens, Greece, earlier this year. He was at the time, and up until a couple of weeks ago, running for Member of the Board of International Federation of Translators regional committee for Europe (FIT Europe). On November 11, he was successfully elected. John O’Shea, Greek into English legal translator, blogger and legal translation trainer, has 24 books on the go at the same time and finds himself lost in legal dictionaries he doesn't trust —just like any good translator wouldn't. A few months after the Athens conference, and back to base, we sat down and spoke about translation, FIT and the future.


1. So John, tell me, what is it like running Jurtrans?

It’s interesting and challenging in equal measure. My company specialises in legal translation, we do a lot of stuff that requires considerable expertise and have a lot of repeat clients. A lot of the time the texts are very densely worded. It’s like trying to solve a brainteaser, as you pull apart the meaning in the sentences and reformulate in English. So difficult, challenging but deeply rewarding work.

2. So what’s a typical day like, if there is such thing, at Jurtrans?

Typically I’ll get up early and take some time to relax, check social media, then straight into work. A typical day features a lot of translation, a lot of reading up on different areas of law that the documents refer to, just to make sure I properly understand things, a lot of searching in dictionaries and ruling things out. The law dictionaries for the Greek-English combination are pretty much a disaster zone, so everything they say needs to be treated with a pinch of salt; they’re just a springboard for more research.

3. And why translation?

In some ways, I’ve always loved language. I studied law, which is a language-based profession. I moved from academia into translation quite by chance. It’s a perfect way, though, to utilise my legal expertise and play around with words all day long.

4. What else do you do in addition to translation?

I teach translation and speak at conferences about translation. I live and breathe translation you might say. But I also love to travel. I love art and regularly attend exhibitions. When I travel, I always try to fit in a couple of exhibitions wherever I am.

5. And when you are not working, what do you do?

As I said before, you’ll often find me at various exhibitions, or out enjoying a meal with friends, or maybe doing some yoga, or walking in the local parks where I live.

6. What are you reading at the moment?

I like to have a lot of books on the go at the same time on various topics of interest to me. I read non-fiction almost exclusively, be it history, popular science, or the like. I especially like books about maps – obviously can’t keep my travel obsession under control. Someone posted the other day on Facebook that it’s actually a good idea to read several books at a time, so I went round the different rooms and counted up how many there were; 24! Even I was impressed!

7. Wow! Any plans for the future you can share?

I’ve just been elected to the Board of FIT Europe, the International Federation of Translator’s regional committee for Europe, so future plans involve actively promoting greater visibility for translators and what we do, and encouraging more professionalization in the sector. I am also trying to find the time to write a book about legal translation… emphasis on the trying. I’d also like to learn more Italian and Turkish. I’m still at pretty basic level in both languages.

8. And one last question: what would you say to your younger self?

Learn more languages. They are the key that opens many doors. I didn’t learn Greek until I was 25 years old. It has taken me far, but I can just imagine what I could have achieved, with more languages under my belt.

Thank you, John, for your time and best of luck with everything!


John O’Shea is a Greek into English legal translator, blogger and teacher of legal translation skills. He runs Jurtrans Translations Limited from SE London. He blogs about legal translation, and the interface between language and law. He has recently been elected to the Board of FIT Europe for 2017-2020. Before becoming a translator, he taught law.

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