Interview with GLS President Maia Costa

Although we’ve been around for almost four decades, we’d like to use this month’s blog post to (re)introduce ourselves and our president, Maia Costa.


German Language Services (GLS) was founded by Courtney Searls-Ridge, a passionate and dedicated translator and interpreter, in 1979. Her dedication to improving quality standards, ethics and professional development within the translation industry has been a fundamental element in the company’s success, and these values are still integral to GLS today.

When GLS President Maia Costa bought the company in 2005, her primary goal was to grow the company while maintaining a high focus on quality, accuracy and professionalism, and the values that made GLS what it is today.

We interviewed Maia to hear her story and gain an insight into what makes GLS special.

Why did you decide to become a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?

I’m from a really small town in Minnesota and I was always fascinated by everything foreign. My best friend was a foreign exchange student from Germany who came to our small town, we met when we were 17 and then I started learning German (even though I had been learning French) because I wanted to go over and visit her. We wanted to live in the same country and not just be long-distance friends, so I went over there after college. At the time, she was studying at the Fachhochschule in Cologne, and she suggested, “there’s this program I think you’d be really interested in.” It was Sprachen, and when I looked into it and realized that it was possible to get a degree in translation, I was thrilled. I had actually applied and been admitted to the PhD program for German at the University of Washington. But I decided to stay in Germany and do the translation diploma at the Fachhochschule instead.

How did you get started in the industry?

After signing up for the program in Cologne, I was in Seattle for a visit and I wanted to talk to someone to see if that degree would have any merit when I came back to the States. I called someone to ask if they could tell me if a degree in translation from a German university would be recognized in the US, and they said “Oh, you know who you should talk to? Courtney Searls-Ridge.” This was before I had even completed the program. So, I called her and she said, “Absolutely! That degree would be incredibly valuable! If you get it and return to Seattle, look me up.” And that’s what I did. After living, working and studying in Germany for 6 years, I returned to Seattle and started working at GLS right away. It was a perfect fit.

Do you remember your first translation job?

I did some freelancing and translated some book publications while I was studying in Germany. Actually, one of the very first longer translations I did was a part of this huge anthology about sex. It was called “Sexualia mundi” and the parts that I got to translate were about the Marquis de Sade and Sadomasochism. It’s a funny example of how you just have to be open to translating all kinds of subjects and becoming an expert in whatever subject comes your way!

What makes GLS unique?

We are a single language pair vendor, we’ve been around for so long, we have such a great network of people and we are able to maintain such high standards of quality. We’ve always insisted on that; we refuse to do low-quality work, so we don’t attract the type of client that doesn’t care about quality.

In the industry, there has been a downward push on quality and a downward push on prices, but because we are really good at the type of translation that machines can’t do, we partner really well with the kind of client that values quality in translation because it’s important for their audience, or it’s for publication, or they have a reputation that they want to maintain.

Do you have any advice for new translators?

Honestly, my advice would be to solicit and learn from feedback. Don’t work in a vacuum. If you’re a freelancer, find another freelancer to team with, and edit each other’s work. If you’re in-house, learn from your colleagues, and pay close attention to the edits that are made to your work. Developing a specialization is also important. If you decide to try to specialize in 30 subjects, you might attract a larger number of one-off jobs, but if you become an expert in one or two subjects, you will eventually attract repeat clients who need specialized translations over the long-term.

What are your main goals for the future of GLS?

I think there’s a big market out there for what GLS specializes in: the types of texts that can’t be spit out by a machine. So I think we will continue to do what we do best, and do more of what we do best.