Greatest Women in Translation: Kim Olson


Welcome back to our interview series!

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Kim Olson, nominated by Doris M. Schraft.


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1. What’s your connection with Brazil and Brazilian Portuguese?

The connection goes back a long way! Where I grew up, public schools began to introduce foreign languages (French or Spanish) to students in the 4th grade. I had a Spanish class a few days a week and was hooked. I had a vivacious teacher who would turn our practice of naming objects and colors into games of catch, and who stealthily prepared us to surprise our regular teacher by teaching us how to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. In high school, I added German and was blessed to have another marvelous teacher who brought culture and language to life. During that time, I was also involved in activities that brought together a number of foreign students participating in exchange programs such as AFS and Rotary Exchange, Brazilians among them. That was my first exposure to Portuguese and Brazilians.

I knew at that time that I wanted to study languages, but wasn’t quite sure what it would lead me to afterwards (I really could have benefited from ATA’s school outreach program!). My desire to be in a more international setting led me to Georgetown University in Washington, DC where I entered as a Spanish major. A meeting with the assistant dean of the School of Languages and Linguistics the summer before college got me thinking about studying Portuguese “as a way to open up more of South America.” Portuguese had not been a language offered in my school system, but I’d gotten a notion of it from meeting Brazilian students. When it came time to register for classes, I selected both Spanish and Portuguese, making the decision to leave German for a time. By my second semester, I’d officially changed my major to Portuguese and was pursuing a minor in Latin American Area Studies. Language majors were encouraged to study abroad and I was able to do so during my junior year as an International Student Exchange Program participant to PUC/RJ. After completing studies at Georgetown, I was determined to get back to Brazil and decided the best way to do that would be to go back to PUC/RJ and obtain a degree in translation.

2. After holding two undergraduate degrees in Languages/Translation, you moved to International Business for an MBA. Why did you decide to change areas?

I saw this less as a change in area and more as an expanded scope of potential activities. When I returned to the U.S. after PUC, I looked for a job in Washington, DC, seeking a job in which I could use my language skills. I eventually took a support position in the Latin America and Caribbean Investment Department at the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank. I was very intrigued by the work performed there, but my non-business background proved to be somewhat of a barrier. That’s when I decided to pursue an MBA at nearby George Washington University. I earned my degree over a four-year period as I continued to work full-time and translate on the side. By the time I finished, the entrepreneurial side of business school had taken firm hold and before long, I set out to run my own business. That of course involved translation.

3. When asked where I could find more information about you, you provided me with your profile, as well as your LinkedIn profile. Do you think having a profile helps getting projects and clients? Have you ever landed any project/client through

As a freelancer, I have to create as many possible channels as I can for obtaining potential clients. The process of setting up my profile, selecting particular ways to describe my work and sorting through sample translations for posting helped me think through how I want to be perceived. Early on, I was diligent about checking the site daily and got a few projects.  One turned out to be quite interesting – selecting snippets of audio in Portuguese to be used for language teaching purposes. That project lasted almost a year and made for a nice change of pace from straight translation.

4. I could not help but notice that you got your ATA certification in the same year I was born. That makes me feel like a baby and a complete amateur compared to your vast and rich experience in translation. What were your greatest learnings in all those years of experience that you feel are worth sharing with translation babies like myself? 🙂

In the process of learning a foreign language, we all know that you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and risk sounding slightly ridiculous as you practice vocabulary, string together what you hope will be grammatically-correct sentences and hone your accent. That willingness over time translates(!) into taking chances in the professional realm, often in the form of assignments. I don’t mean straying from your languages or areas of expertise, but rather, keeping an open mind when potential projects present themselves to you. This willingness to take a chance can lead to some fascinating assignments that in turn help you build more confidence as you diversify your abilities and gain experience.

Along with this willingness, I’ve also learned to embrace what appear to be new directions. I’ve learned to follow what sparks my interest, investing in it intellectually and otherwise. It’s only been in the past 10 years that my focus has moved more towards the sciences, for example.

Another thing I’ve found that is also related to stepping out of the comfort zone is that I should not be shy or reluctant about engaging with colleagues. They are my greatest resources for ideas and solutions. Sometimes those solutions involve joining together to tackle a large project.

5. What have you learned so far with your experience leading a team of translators in producing the online English version of a monthly magazine published by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)?

This initial point is not new, and is reinforced as each month passes. My colleagues are incredible sources of wisdom, solutions and inspiration. I have become a better translator because of what I have learned from them.

I’ve also realized that

I truly enjoy the process involved in producing a high-quality translation product that allows the client to showcase its work.

I thrive on the attention to detail involved in project management and I love editing the pieces and helping to finesse the articles. I’ve learned, too, that I really enjoy the variety of articles that come across my desk. Many of the subjects have sparked a desire to learn even more.

The main thing I’ve learned, though, is that success can be found in many places.

A challenging request from a client might just set you on a path to something fun and rewarding.

6. ATA 57 was the first time you attended an ATA Conference as a speaker. How was the experience? What are the benefits, in your opinion, of presenting at a conference?

I attended my first ATA Conference in 1989 and remember being amazed at the level of knowledge and expertise people had and were willing to share. After many years of attending conferences, I reached a point where I finally thought I had something to offer as well. By then, I’d been leading the incredibly talented translators on the FAPESP project for nearly four years. It was a measure of success that I felt was worthy of talking about.

I found the experience itself to very rewarding (despite my more-than-anticipated nervousness). Again, the process of preparing my presentation helped me focus on key points. My session was quite well-attended and people seemed genuinely interested in my experience. That interest and eagerness to learn more from me and my experience was extremely gratifying.

7. Now it is your turn. Who do you nominate to be our next interviewee?

I would like to nominate Diane Grosklaus Whitty. I met Diane when she became part of the current project team and we have worked together on other projects as well. I’m allowed to marvel at her beautifully rendered translations and reap the benefit of her painstaking and thorough subject-matter research on a regular basis. She inspires me!

I loved reading your answers, Kim! Thank you so much for kindly accepting Doris’ nomination and my invitation! It was a pleasure e-meeting you and getting to know a bit more about you.

Greatest Women in Translation: Doris M. Schraft


Happy New Year!

Welcome back to our interview series! It is a great pleasure to start another year here on the blog and to welcome you all. May we all have great adventures together in 2017.

Now please welcome our first interviewee of the year, Doris M. Schraft, nominated by Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes.

Welcome, Doris!


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1. How were you introduced to the world of translation and how did you start working as a translator?

I would have to say that translation actually began for me at the beginning of my language-learning experience, with Spanish in high school. The traditional grammar/translation method of instruction was used, which meant that the greatest emphasis was placed on learning Spanish grammar and writing correct sentences in that language. It built a textbook-oriented, highly visual connection with the language, with little emphasis on conversation skills. I connected very well with this method, because I had spent several years in primary school being taught English grammar and diagramming sentences. As a result, I was already well-versed in the analysis of language mechanics. When I started my university Spanish studies, I came to regard this visual language-learning method as unfortunate, as it was assumed that mid-level language students already knew how to converse in their second language!

When I added French to my language repertoire as an undergraduate student at university, the teaching method was quite the opposite. Although we had textbooks, class time was spent developing oral skills without reliance on visual aids, and grammar received secondary emphasis. But as a Master’s student, I returned to analytics, concentrating on Spanish linguistics. That focus solidified the foundation for my later work as a translator. As a PhD student, I delved into Portuguese as part of a program in Latin American studies. The instruction method there was more of a blend, and the learning came easier. Of course, it didn’t hurt that my three foreign languages were all descended from Latin roots, and just to tie things all together, I studied Latin as well. The bonus was that it opened my eyes to just how many words came to English through that classic language. Even though English is classified as a Germanic language, more than half of our words had their origin in Latin.

Ultimately, I was unable to deny my apparent calling in language analytics. In fact, I seemed to be fated to begin my professional career as a translator. My first job essentially fell into my lap when I moved to Washington, DC, when a friend alerted me to an opening for a Spanish translator in her employer’s industrial firm that made simulators for power plants, submarines and airplanes. I decided to interview with them, despite misgivings that, given my background, I was unqualified to work with such subject matter. They offered great encouragement, however, explaining that I would be able to consult with previously translated materials, consult with the engineers, and tour the simulators as needed. It was a leap of faith, but I took the position, and my two years there were a fascinating and educational experience.

2. In between your early experience as a translator (let’s face it, what is 2 years compared to 40, right?), you worked as an Administrative Manager at a development resources company. Why did you decide to have this change of ground?

When my company’s contract with the Spanish government ended and they failed to win another expected contract, I looked for another translation position in a tight job market. Although my next position — with a consulting firm that undertook socioeconomic development projects in less-developed countries — was not that of a translator per se, I did do some translation for them along with my larger administrative duties. We sent teams of agricultural engineers, agronomists, economists, and environmental consultants to countries around the world that could benefit from their expertise, funded by various international organizations. It was here that I became familiarized with those organizations’ mission of sharing knowledge and resources across borders, and met many professionals who shared that commitment and wanted to use their skills for the greater good of others. My later freelance work greatly benefited from this experience.

3. In your vast experience, you ventured as a staff translator/editor for three years, just before becoming a freelancer. How do you compare both experiences? And considering you are now a freelancer for 30 years, we can say you prefer being a freelancer. Why?

With a continuing desire to work more closely with languages, I decided to pursue that avenue after three years of working mostly as an administrator. Berlitz offered me a broad range of experience over the three years I worked there as a staff translator, able to draw on my three languages as I worked with other, more experienced translators and received their guidance and editing comments. It gave me a broader view of translation in business and legal contexts. At times I was even able to use all three of my languages in multi-language projects as a production team member, checking the page proofs of others’ reviewed English-to-foreign translations of operating manuals to check for uniformity, omissions or other irregularities.

Becoming a freelancer was a natural step beyond that valuable staff experience. Freelancing enabled me to build on it, and gave me independence in the form of the ability to choose my clients and projects, as well as set my own rates. Having a flexible schedule means you can fashion your personal life – appointments, vacations, etc. – as you need and see fit. If you want to work into the evening or on a weekend and the circumstances are amenable, you can do it, with no travel time or transportation expense involved. Over the years I have had the good fortune to be a part of many translation teams with colleagues whom I’ve come to admire and respect. I continue to learn from them on every project. In fact, I regard translation as a wonderful learning experience. And I hope that my own translations, in some small way, are helping others to reach their goals, whether they involve learning, information acquisition, communication, or commerce.

4. You work with Spanish, Portuguese and French. Is it just a coincidence or do you have a soft spot for Latin languages? How and why did they become your working languages?

I think I’ve mostly answered that question above! I certainly do have a soft spot for the Romance languages. Italian would be fun to study, too. I think I focused on Spanish in high school because I heard my older sister studying it, and my father still remembered a bit of it from his own high school days. Those initial sparks piqued my curiosity. I’ve long been a great lover of cinema, and it was through that avenue that my interest in French was awakened – Un homme et une femme, which, by the way, had a Brazilian connection. Later, my PhD program focused on Latin American studies, so of course Brazil and the Portuguese language came onto the menu as a natural extension of that interest.

5. Your areas of expertise are law, business and international development. I always think it is interesting to know how people specialized in their areas, because stories are always different. So how did you end up translating in those fields?

Those areas of concentration grew out of the potpourri of my previous experiences. Most of my work as a staff translator focused on business or legal documents, so those were areas in which I developed some familiarity and confidence. As a freelancer, I took some university law courses and, over the years, have had the pleasure of being a part of many different teams of translators working on major international legal cases, particularly involving environmental issues and patent litigation. In many instances, the teams included translators who specialized in the case-related technical fields, who could therefore provide expertise on subject-matter questions that arose. My experience with the consulting firm offered me an introduction to the major U.S.-based international development organizations, with which I was later able to connect as a freelance translator.

6. You have been a member of ATA for almost 30 years, and an active one, being the chair of its grader group for Portuguese to English certification exams. I think that speaks for itself regarding your opinion about the importance of associations, but it is never too much to emphasize it. Could you share your thoughts regarding the role associations play for the professional translator?

Translation, particularly as a freelancer, can be a rather solitary profession – a fact that anyone reading this interview no doubt already knows. As an analytical person, I’ve always been good at working on my own. But the only way to improve and really come alive as a translator is, in my opinion, to be part of a community of like-minded individuals. I’ve mentioned that I view translation as a learning experience. To be sure, I always find things to learn in the subject matter of my work, whichever field is represented. But there is much learning to be gained from editing or being edited by colleagues, and I have met most of them through ATA. And yes, even grading is a learning experience, in that it makes you focus on the meanings of words and how they are used. I’ve attended most of the ATA conferences over the past 30 years. They offer a wealth of educational sessions, a chance to investigate new topics, stay up-to-date on technological advances, meet new people, explore various cities, enjoy camaraderie, and build friendships. Those are invaluable experiences that enrich one’s life and form the building blocks of good translation.

7. Now it is your turn. I am quite curious to know whom you have in mind as the next honoree.

My nominee is Kim Olson, a long-time colleague with whom I have had the pleasure to work on many translation projects. I admire Kim for her finely-tuned translations, diligence, creativity, and professionalism. Most recently, she has been a model of good project stewardship, skillfully managing a team (of which I am a part) of several high-level translators who produce the English version of a major Brazilian scientific/technical research funding agency’s monthly publication. She presented a session about her experiences with this ongoing project at the most recent ATA conference. I am honored to count Kim as a valued and trusted colleague, and it is a joy to know and work with her.

Thank you, Doris, not only for accepting Naomi’s nomination and my invitation to be part of the interview series, but also for taking the time, during the busy holidays, to answer my questions. It was a pleasure e-meeting you and getting to know you a bit better.

Greatest Women in Translation: Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes


As promised, I am back on my feet, and up and running with the blog’s editorial calendar.

Please welcome our new interviewee, Naomi, nominated by Elenice Barbosa de Araujo. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.


1. You are an American/Brazilian (dual citizen) currently living in São Paulo, Brazil. Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself?

Well, I took Brazilian and English literature courses during my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at UCLA just for fun. All students take electives, and that is what I chose. I have always loved reading and writing, but at the same time I love math and physics. When living in the United States I spent some time in Recife (the northeast of Brazil) every year when I had enough money, and have lived here in São Paulo permanently since 1999. São Paulo was a bit of a shock. Recife and São Paulo do not feel like the same country!

2. With degrees in mechanical engineering and physics, you started working as a translator by chance. How was this beginning, without any prior formal training?

I had very bad luck when I arrived in São Paulo in 1999. I did not know many people, and the people I did know were not the right people to find a job. I left a wonderful job in Los Angeles, that I loved, and spent six months looking for a job in São Paulo through ads in the newspaper and employment agencies. No one needed a physicist with experience related to radar and rocket trajectories. No one was doing research and development in Brazil.

My first job was a disaster. My second job was not much better. I was hired by a Brazilian company’s R&D department, but instead of letting me do development, they wanted me to “first” translate their product manuals into English. I took some technical courses to learn their business (communications hardware) and started translating into English. It was not difficult, because it was technical and I understood the technical information. I mostly avoid engineering translations now because it is so hard to find terminology. I have spent 30 minutes trying to find the translation for one term, without success. Financially, it does not make sense for me to translate something technical in an area I am not thoroughly familiar with. I do not make enough per hour. Scientific translations, however, are great. The terminology can easily be found online, and there are few “moving parts” with complicated names.

After working for that company for about a year, translating the never-ending supply of new manuals, I decided to become a freelance translator and work from home. I had a lot more freedom, free time to do a PhD and play my cello in amateur orchestras, and made more money working for a wider variety of clients.

3. Afterwards, you did enroll in a professional course in translation and interpreting. How important do you think an educational background of any kind in translation/interpreting is when coming from other areas?

I enrolled in the course at Associação Alumni only 6 months after I started translating, so I did not translate without training for very long. I love to study (17 years as a university student so far!) and I really enjoy learning environments, whether virtual or in person. Whenever I am interested in a topic I automatically start thinking about which courses I could take to further my knowledge. I just finished 4 semesters of Hungarian. I have taken many courses on Coursera. I am incorrigible!

Many people do not realize that knowing a second language well is not enough. You must carefully study false cognates, many of which you probably did not even realize were false cognates. You must carefully study comparative grammar and syntax.

You must know both languages much better than a well-educated person, better than 99% of the population.

And you must know your personal quicksand areas, the things you must be extra careful about. In Portuguese we have a special word: desconfiômetro. This means knowing when to distrust your first reaction when translating, knowing when to distrust your solution and do some research to make sure you are correct. It takes time and practice to develop a good desconfiômetro, with feedback from a more experienced colleague.

For those who cannot take a formal course, I recommend they charge their clients full price, then spend half the rate to pay a more experienced colleague to edit their work before submitting it. This way the client gets a good translation, the less experienced translator learns from her mistakes, and the market does not suffer from inexperienced translators charging low rates to get clients who are unaware of quality issues.

4. Although you have degrees in mechanical engineering and physics, your doctoral (in linguistics) dissertation was on legal translation. Why did you choose a different specialization?

During the first 10 years of my translation career, I received ZERO requests to translate science and math. The engineering jobs were often very hard, because of the terminology, as I mentioned above. I kept on receiving requests for legal translation, and I used the method mentioned above. I accepted, translated the text, and paid a colleague to edit so I could learn from my mistakes. My PhD research showed me how little most legal translators know about law, me included!

I actually started my PhD in Luso-African literature. Really! I switched to linguistics because literary criticism was too subjective for me, coming from the hard sciences. I was translating mostly legal texts at the time, and my thesis advisor (Francis Henrik Aubert) was a sworn translator, so it made sense. Legal translation is difficult precisely because the two underlying legal systems are different. Engineering translation is difficult only because you need to find the names of 50 different types of screws, and there are few standard names that everyone agrees on.

I strongly suggest that all translators learn a bit about translation theory.

A great place to start is Vinay and Darbelnet’s book Stylistique compare du français et de l’anglais (English version: Comparative stylistics of French and English, ISBN 9781556196928). You do not need to know much French to understand the concepts. For those getting started in legal translation, I recommend Legal Translation Explained by Alcaraz and Hughes (ISBN 1900650465).

5. I was really impressed by the fact that you decided to take another bachelor’s degree in law to have a deeper knowledge of the area in order to keep translating contracts and legal documents! Do you think it really helped in the end? Would you recommend other translators do the same in their respective translation areas?

In retrospect, it was overkill to do a second bachelor’s degree. However, I can now translate legal texts at the speed of light without having to look terms up in the dictionary! Doing a financial cost-benefit analysis, though, I spent more time (and time is money!) learning about the law then I needed to in order to improve my translation speed and quality. I loved the course on land law, for example, but am unlikely to ever use that knowledge when translating. I could have taken just a few courses and reaped the same benefits, rather than doing an entire degree. It was not cost-effective.

6. Now you have moved back to your mathematical roots without leaving linguistics. How do you combine both?

Strangely enough, I am not translating much these days – mostly just physics, astrophysics and computer science articles. I am a visiting professor in the Center for Mathematics, Computer Science and Cognition at the Federal University of the ABC Region, in Santo André, Brazil. I teach English, mathematics and research methods to undergraduate students. As I mentioned earlier, I love learning environments, and I find teaching extremely fulfilling. It is a pity it pays less than translating.

My research on language learning involves mathematical linguistics, natural language processing (NLP), language acquisition theory, English-medium instruction (EMI), corpora, and complex dynamic systems. Fun!

7. Now it is your turn. Who is your role model?

It was hard to pick just one colleague as my role model. I have learned different things from different mentors along the way. I think that Doris Schraft is a good example of translation professionalism. She is ATA-certified in three languages! Spanish, Portuguese and French into English. This inspired me to begin translating Italian>English. She also focuses on legal and business texts. Focusing on one field and avoiding texts that are outside your realm of competence is very important. She is also a great example of service to others, as the leader of the Portuguese>English ATA Certification exam graders team. It is a thankless task, and I do not know how she finds the time. I still have a lot to learn from her.

Thank you so much for accepting Elenice’s nomination and my invitation to take part in the interview series, Naomi! It was an enormous pleasure to get to meet you and know a bit more about you. And an even greater pleasure to read your answers. Your passion for studying is amazing and I really liked to learn about your opinions on some topics.

Greatest Women in Translation: Elenice Barbosa de Araujo


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Yes, I know, I let you down this past month. No post on the 20. And, this month, I changed the order of the interview and the guest post series; however, there was no guest post either. Let’s see if we can go back on track now.

Now please welcome this month’s interviewee, Elenice, nominated by Nancy Cristina Martorana.


1. Why not start by telling us how you met Cris Martorana, our last interviewee?

I was blessed to have Cris as my T/I teacher at Alumni. She’s been my English grammar tutor for many years now. I would say she is one of the strongest influences in my career as a linguist. I admire her for her eagerness to find ‘the word’, to learn the precise meaning of any given expression and its equivalent in Portuguese, and how to use it properly. We share the same passion, I guess. She is an extraordinaire teacher and one of the most loving and caring people I know. I was very flattered to be chosen by her.

2. On your CV, you list 42 books you have already translated. On a Google search, I found a reference to your translation of O livro essencial da alimentação infantil. And I can see you translate a lot of nutrition and gastronomy, as well as children books. How did you get to translate for this area?

These are the books I translated that were published. I did a few more that were either intended for private distribution or have never been published. And a couple other translations were sold to other publishing houses and printed under a different title, so I lost track of them. A few days ago I ran into a tittle that seemed familiar only to learn that it’s one of my works. My very first translation job was a fiction book. I’ve got a phone call a week after concluding my T/I course telling me that a fellow student had referred me. Then, by the time I was about to finish it, another fellow colleague who always resorted to me to clarify her culinary doubts referred me to her editor, so I got to translate my first culinary book. After that, I was doing another fiction book when the editor learned that I had a background in Education and had a deep interest for anything related to cooking and nutrition, especially regarding children’s health, and he assigned me a book on nutrition. He’d been looking for someone cut out for it, for quite a long time. That translation brought me at least a dozen more. From there the more I translated the more I learned. Wherever I travelled the first place I would visit on a new city was the supermarket, and the farmers market, and a range of local restaurants. In no time I started choosing my destinations based on the culinary experience they would offer me. The greater the diversity of cuisines I would be exposed to the better.   

3. You are such a diversified professional! Besides translating in several areas of knowledge (biology, parenting, health, children and adult literature, multimedia & TV, advertising, marketing, travel & tourism, education, psychology, sociology, software localization, general business, and the ones I mentioned in the previous question), you also work with editing, copywriting, and proofreading, dubbing, voice over and subtitling. Phew! That’s a lot! How do you manage everything? Do you usually work a bit with each area or do you usually naturally focus on a couple?

It might seem a lot, but it’s been now fifteen and a half years of hard work. And that’s exactly the beauty of the translation, you may get tired but never ever bored. Everyday we are faced with new challenges, and I have taken on quite a lot. In all these years I have never applied for a position nor send my resume without it being asked first; I was always approached by a client who came to me, referred by someone who knew that I was fit for that job. But as much as I’m a hard worker — and believe, I am — I only work on two or three projects at a time. Translating books allows me to keep editing and proofreading for my regular clients at a short notice. I’m used to working long hours a day, so it’s refreshing to take a break from one subject for working on another. Instead of distracting me, I’m able to focus more on the subject at hand. And then I return to the previous activity with fresh eyes, so my ideas flow faster. In fact, I find the exposure to a wide range of themes and to varied tasks extremely helpful for professional growth. For instance, translating a book gives me a broader vocabulary, and improves my fluidity of speech (or of text, if I may). Whereas editing subtitles or doing interpreting training makes my mind sharper, and considerably improves my concision, which in turn is a valuable asset while translating. But needless to say, I follow the golden rule: I would never work on a theme or area I do not feel confortable with, or for which I lack the required skills and/or reliable research tools. Other than that, it is my curiosity, my drive for learning and discovering new things, and my passion for the language itself and its rules, which navigate me through my career. Give me a challenging subject and I’ll gladly immerse myself in it and find my way though the text.

4. And, last year, you also found the time to work, for a semester, at PUC-SP, teaching Translation of Contemporary Texts from Portuguese into English. How was the experience as a teacher? Did you learn anything that you were able to apply to your own profession?

It was a fantastic opportunity. I took the course, and then to my surprise, I was invited by the teacher to fill in for her. I was able to combine my two callings, translation and education. Teaching is always a two-way experience, and the exchange with the students was very enriching. In addition to learning a lot from all the work involved in lesson planning, I also acquired a greater self-awareness as a professional.

5. Last year, you also took the Literary Translation Summer School at the City University of London. Could you tell us a bit more about the course and your experience?

It was one of my ‘student career’ highlights. It consisted of a weeklong hands-on workshop with a selected group of translators — all native speakers, except for me — under the guidance of one of the most important translators of the Portuguese literature, Margareth Jul Costa. As always in my life it was a bold move, but it absolutely paid off. Although short, it was worth a year at a regular course. I can’t wait to go back.

6. Now a personal curiosity. On our e-mail communications, you mentioned you were busy concluding a book. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Indeed, I just finished another translation, and it was invigorating. New editor, new publishing house, a brand new theme. I was very inspired by it. The author opens her heart to speak to the mothers of young children about the worries and challenges of parenting. And she is so candid about her experiences in life, that women of all ages, mothers or not, can relate to it. In translation there is no such thing as the luxury of a generous deadline, that’s for sure (neither we can afford it). But despite the steady rhythm and the amount of effort to craft a beautiful text, it was the kind of job that reminded me how much I love what I do.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate a woman you admire to be our next interviewee.

That has to be my dear friend and colleague Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes, a brilliant and accomplished linguist. I’m sure her interview will be a hit.

I would like to thank Elenice, once again, for accepting Cris Martorana’s nomination and my invitation to be interviewed for our series. Now I cannot wait for Naomi’s.

Greatest Women in Translation: Nancy Cristina Martorana

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month’s interviewee is Nancy Cristina Martorana, nominated by Angela Levy.

Welcome, Nancy!

nancy martorana

1. You are American, but moved to Brazil in 1956. Why?
2. Every translator has a different story on how they became a translator. What is yours?

Since the answer to these two questions is interrelated, I will merge my answer.

I came to Brazil with my parents when I was only 10. At the time my Dad was an executive transferred to Brazil from a parent company in the United States. I did my schooling at Escola Graduada de São Paulo, better known as Graded School, and knew early in life that I wanted to pursue a career that involved languages. I had actually been in Brazil before, between the age of 8 months and 16 months, also because my Dad was transferred to Brazil from Romania (where I was born). However, My Dad’s company (ITT) won a bid to install basic infrastructure in Iran (Persia, at the time) and I was to spend the next 3 years in that country. Although it was my first language, I do not remember anything, not even after hearing it spoken by the natives years later. Because of all the countries we moved to, my mother decided to get a French governess, wherever we went to make my language learning more consistent. To make a long story short, I already knew in high school that I wanted to do my college at the translation/interpretation school of Geneva. However, I was rejected because I was too young (minimum age of 18) and had to speak three languages fluently to be accepted. This irritated me immensely to be discriminated, especially because of age. Today, as a teacher, I understand fully – years of experience are needed to pursue a career with any degree of success in translation/interpretation; as I tell my students, layers of knowledge are compacted year after year.

3. Although you teach both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting at Alumni, you have more experience with simultaneous than with consecutive interpreting. Do you prefer one over the other? If so, why? If not, what do you like and dislike in both?

In addition to consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, there are other oral forms, like intermittent and focus groups. Basically, consecutive requires rephrasing and own-writing-deciphering skills and the others are direct delivery of the language. I find consecutive the most difficult of all forms since it requires notetaking and notereading (your own notes!). I have done a total of 3 consecutive interpretations in my career, and although some people do prefer them (to my great surprise), I think that associative learning (memorization of translated word associations) is easier than rephrasing. However, consecutive training is a good learning method.

4. However, you go even beyond and also translate (both technical texts and books). Do you prefer one over the other (translation x interpretation)? If so, why? If not, what do you like and dislike in both?
5. Do you only translate from Portuguese into English (your mother tongue)? Why don’t you feel comfortable translating into Portuguese, even after living for so long in Brazil?

Again I will merge the two ideas since one leads into the other.

Actually, I do not like technical texts or books. If you consider that any text which is not conversational is technical, including literary texts, then I would have to say that I only like certain technical texts, including literary texts, where the technicality comes in knowing the language perfectly. Then, after a translator has sweated many hours looking up technical terms and can say that he/she has relatively mastered the subject, even though he did not do 5 years of college to learn the terminology, he is comfortable enough to say that he likes technical translation, but, mind you, only in that particular subject that he has mastered. I, for one, love to do cosmetics (actually very technical) because I have been translating its terminology for many years, and, even though I don’t know all the terms, I am comfortable to accept, even welcome, the challenge of finding those I don’t know. On the other hand, I will promptly refer any engineering or equipment maintenance texts to my colleagues who now master and welcome these fields, because of their years of exposure.

Books was the second question and my answer was that I don’t prefer them either. I think it all depends on your customer base. All my customers have short deadlines, and I don’t mean “for yesterday,” but short texts, commonly institutional, that don’t take more than a few days to complete. Because of the fast translation turnover of my customer base, I must give anyone wishing to translate a book a l-o-n-g delivery date, since I must translate the book at the same time as I fulfill the translation needs of my regular customer base. Sometimes it works out, and books authors accept the terms.

Lastly, you broached the issue of translation versus interpretation. This depends on one’s personal vision of one’s career. For example, it is difficult to be a teacher and also available for simultaneous interpreting, because you cannot miss too many classes. I saw many students invited to join the Alumni faculty after they graduated, but, since they were excellent interpreters, and the pay is much different, they chose to pursue a better paying and more personally satisfying career in interpretation, and very rightfully so, since they were very good at a very difficult profession. As for me, I was frustrated at the beginning of my profession by a colleague whom I was practicing my Portuguese (and she, her English) with. After scrutinizing my second translation into Portuguese, she had marked my paper with only a dab of red ink. However, all the joy I felt in seeing the few corrections (mostly commas), were abruptly crushed by the words, “It’s all grammatically correct, but it isn’t Portuguese.” I had failed to realize that Portuguese is very nominal, whereas English is very verbal. Now that I know, I can’t really say that it is too late, because my customer base has always been avid for translations into English, which I was better at than Portuguese, so why sweat it?

It is better to go with what you know!

As for the pay, my students reward me in so many other ways; I embrace teaching with great satisfaction – I love to teach; I found my core in teaching translation/interpretation.

6. You introduced the didactic material of the simultaneous interpretation oral skills segment of Alumni’s Translator and Interpreter Course and are responsible for updating it throughout the years. In your opinion, what topics should every interpretation course cover?

Yes, when Alumni added another day to its course to cover oral skills like simultaneous interpretation, I and the teacher responsible for “the other way around,” namely from English to Portuguese, asked how we should put together this course, what should be given. The answer we received was whatever and however we thought best. After many, many, many hours of toilsome thought, I decided that the best place to start was filling in the gaps of what was needed in the original Alumni course (creating a glossary based on the pertinent terminology of the interpretation job) and this led to organizing and managing the target of oral delivery. As mentioned before, I prefer associative learning (memorizing basic translation associations) to what I would call a “philosophical” didactic approach, but admittedly with tips on how to enhance delivery of the know-how.

Updating? Always, since language lives and breathes, always changing and updating itself. We translators must keep abreast.

Topics? Those that all translations and interpretation require, i.e., all involve some degree of marketing, management, economics and business. No matter what the topic, these are always addressed, because we are taking about companies that want to make money selling their wares. Apart from these, interpreters must know a little (or perhaps a lot!, but a little is good for starters, and experience provides the lots) of everything, because one never knows when a lecturer will make an example from a totally different field, or cite a current event from today’s newspaper. We interpreters always have to stay on our toes. For those more interested in literary translations (I would say that you practically have to choose between one or the other), the prerequisite is definitely knowing one’s own language. Even with all my college English and reading, and the many layers of knowledge that I have accumulated over the years, I could never equal this with the same dose in Portuguese, never! Moreover, I have to constantly update myself in my own language, as it lives and breathes at a heartbeat that I passionately desire to grasp.

7. Now it’s your turn. Who do you nominate as our next great woman in translation?

I would have to say it is Elenice Araujo. Hopefully she will accept.

And she has! 😀 Thank you, Nancy, for accepting Angela Levy’s nomination and my invitation, and for kindly taking the time to answer my questions. It was a pleasure to e-meet you!

Greatest Women in Translation: Angela Levy


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series! It’s with the greatest pleasure that I introduce you to this month’s interviewee, Angela Levy, nominated by Regina Alfarano, our last interviewee.

I must admit I was shocked when I saw Angela’s name on Regina’s interview. I thought: “Wow! Look how far we have come! Having Angela on my blog would be amazing, but there’s no way on Earth that she will accept it. She’s a great name in interpreting and has already been interviewed by Jô Soares! What is my blog compared to Jô’s show?” To my greatest surprise and honor, she promptly accepted it. My contact was through her daughter, Vera Levy, always kind and prompt on her e-mails.

The interview is quite long, but totally worth it, I guarantee. Angela herself asked if there would be any problem in it being long, and I told her to feel free to answer however she preferred. I love great stories!

Now, without further ado, welcome to my blog, Angela!

melissa harkin

1. In your interview to Programa do Jô (a Brazilian talk show), you mentioned you learned English by yourself. How did you manage to do it at a time learning resources were limited?

It’s an interesting story. My father was one of the many lawyers who worked for the Consulate and was a very close friend of American Consul General Cecil M. P. Cross, during World War II. The consul came to my home one Sunday, to give my father a lift because they were going to Santos for a Luncheon at Ilha da Palmas. The consul was early, my father was still getting prepared to leave, still dressing, etc… – and asked my sister, Anna Maria, and myself to “entertain” Cecil till he came downstairs. We were elated at the prospect: we had seldom been with the consul, but we had always loved the English language and anyone and anything that came from the States, so rejoiced at the chance of a conversation with Mr. Cross. He was a very nice, even – tempered, accessible man, and we told him we would like very much to learn to speak English, but our father would not let us have lessons. And he asked why the “Big Bad Wolf” (his nickname for my father) was being so much against our plans, and we explained it was because we were studying at a school (I was 14 and my sister 15) where we spent all day (from 7 am to 5 pm – including Saturdays) and he would let us have English classes when we were through our entire course, because then we would have time to study. And Mr. Cross said: You look as intelligent and resourceful as your father, and I’d like to make an official bet with the two of you: sign a paper stating that in one year’s time you will be speaking English as well as I do! We were game, he asked for a “nice leaf of paper”, and drew a contract, very “official looking”, stating: The undersigned, Cecil M. P. Cross, etc., etc. and the two of us (complete names, of course…) would do exactly that (explaining the bet, of course…). The three of us signed the document – which he put in his folder – and we said : “Thank you, sir”! He answered: There’s more: promise me you will not say one word about this agreement to your dad, your mom, your other sister or anyone else, anywhere else. This is between the three of us only. You promise? We did, my father came down the stairs and they left, leaving the two of us completely speechless, frightened to death of the promise we had just made, wondering how to go about it, where to start… The month was February, we were on summer holidays from school, and the first thing we did on Monday was to go downtown and scout for a book which could help us. The only thing we found (it was war, and imported books were hard to find) was The Pocket Book of Basic English. We bought it and, to our dismay, found nothing in it that we hadn’t learned in school (very basic, indeed…). So we put our minds to work, and decided to try unusual methods: movies, and American songs (we could sing a few, lyrics and all, but without understanding a word…). So we went on Tuesday to Cine Metro, on Avenida São João (now, of course , demolished), to watch “Two Girls and a Sailor”, starring Gloria De Haven, June Allison and Van Johnson… In the 2 pm show we watched the film and read the subtitles and, I can tell you that was the last time in my life when I read subtitles! The next show at 4 pm, we only watched the movie, without reading the subtitles, knowing the story from the first show and paying attention to what was being said (and not understanding about 95% of the words, I confess…). We watched that movie  about 6 times during the week and also started memorizing the words to songs, and trying to write them down (in a very broken, misspelled English…). The next addition to our venture was pronunciation, because we found an old book, Pronunciation of American English Words for Brazilians, in my father’s library, at home.

This program of ours went on and on. We joined a correspondence club, “The Caravan of East and West”, and started to receive so many letters, from English Countries, that my father, without knowing the whys and wherefores of that “ocean” of strange letters in our home mailbox, decided to rent a post-office box for the two of us…

We belong to a very musical-linguistic family, and people say this natural ease that we have to learn sounds and imitate them perfectly (Japanese, German, whatever…) is rooted there.

The next step was showing people that we could speak the language. Here, we had the help of 2 cousins, who did not understand our all-encompassing desire to learn English perfectly, but decided to come along in our bold shopping expeditions. We would enter nice-looking shops, pretended one of us couldn’t speak Portuguese and wanted to buy some items, and one of the other three would translate the choice into English and then back to Portuguese to the saleslady. It worked, and everyone was nice to us…

Well, the happy ending to my story, I’m proud to say, is that, exactly one year after that famous contract was signed, we went to the American Consulate: two very tall Marines were guarding the door and we said to them we wanted to talk to Mr. Cross, and they asked if we had and appointment with him. I said no, we didn’t, but we have just arrived from the States and our father (we had adopted the names Suzy Badminton, from Sun Valley, Idaho, for me; and my sister was Judy Wilkins, from Chicago, Illinois), and both our fathers were very good friends of Mr. Cross, and we had an important personal message for him. The marines were baffled at first, we insisted and told them that Mr. Cross would be mad at them if they didn’t let us in. One of them called Mr. Cross’s secretary, she came down and brought a list with names of all Americans (very few – it was war, remember?, 1943, and we were teenagers) who were expected here and of course didn’t find our names on it. She asked why we wanted to see the consul and we repeated that we had a personal important message for him and would she please ask him to come and see us? She asked who were our fathers and I said: Please, tell him that “The Big Bad Wolf” has sent us, and she got really mad and said: Do you expect me to give this ridiculous message to him? I said: “Yes, miss, and I’m sure he is expecting us. It’s a secret message.” She was dismayed, but took us upstairs, asked us to wait and went to get the consul. He came walking very fast and, when he saw us he asked: “Oh! It’s you, what can I do for you?” (all this in English , of course – and, believe me – he didn’t notice we were speaking English…). We asked if he remembered the contract we had signed a year before, and he said: “Good Lord, you are speaking perfect English!” I answered we had learned from the “Big Bad Wolf” to always keep our promises, no matter how hard it could be… We had a nice little chat with him and he suddenly got up, saying: “I have to tell the Wolf about this miracle!” I begged him not to, because our father would be furious, and we’d be grounded for months… He said he would just ask our father to come and see him, and would not mention us. He did that, my father’s office was quite near, he asked Mr. Cross if it was important, he said yes, our father came (of course he had free entrance to the Consulate), went up to the 2nd floor and, when he saw us, he asked, in Portuguese, of course, looking very mad: “What on earth are you two doing here?” Mr. Cross said to him to forget we were there because he wanted to talk to him. They started a chat, and Mr. Cross, little by little, included us in the conversation; they continued to talk (now the four of us) and as it had just happened with Mr. Cross, it took my father about 2 minutes to “register” that we were speaking English… When he did, he was speechless at first but then exclaimed: “You are speaking English! How come?” We told him about the contract, Mr. Cross went to get it out of his files, showed it to “The Wolf”, who read it through, and came out with the shortest comment ever: “Well, I’ll be damned!…”

2. You are the pioneer of simultaneous interpretation in Brazil. How was your first experience in simultaneous interpretation?

My sister was the “Cultural Affair Specialist” at the American Consulate for 18 years but, before that, the two of us worked and taught at União Cultural Brasil-Estados Unidos, the official binational center in São Paulo at that time, before Alumni was founded. One fine day (May 8, 1950, to be precise), the American Consul came to see us and said: “I have a job for the two of you”. I always answered, every time I was asked that question, “I’m game”, even before being told what the job was. And he said: “It’s for tomorrow morning and you’ll be doing the same thing you do for us here: when they speak English, you translate it into Portuguese, and vice-versa. But he omitted the only word that we really needed: si-mul-ta-neous-ly… He then asked us to be at Automóvel Clube, on the corner of Viaduto do Chá and Libero Badaró – then the seat of that club – the following day, at about 10 am, “to test the equipment.”

On our way there the next morning (May 9, 1950), we were wondering what he had meant by “test the equipment”, since in our work at UCBEU the only equipment we used were two mikes – one for the speaker and one for us, for the translation (I had never heard the word “interpreting” connected with translation). “We’ll soon find out” I said. Getting there we asked for “Jack, the technician”, as the consul had told us to do. He came and I said, trying to sound very efficient: “We are the translators sent by the American consul”. He answered: “Oh! The interpreters! Come, let’s test the equipment.” And I asked him the question which betrayed me: “What equipment?” He looked “panic-striken” and asked: “But you are interpreters, right?” I answered in a flash: “Not yet, but we learn very fast…” The poor man had no choice, for the banquet was set to begin at 1 pm, and it was already 11 am. So he said, resignedly: “All right, then who is first?” I was the bold one and so I said: “I am”. He seated me at a very small table, covered with wires and strange looking apparel, handed me a pair of earphones so heavy that when I tried putting then on, my chin fell on the table and I almost broke my front teeth. And he added: “Take good care of this pair, it’s the same one used by the Japanese admiral when he surrendered to Gal. MacArthur, on Tokyo Bay, in 1945…” I was totally lost, and asked: “What am I supposed to do? How do I go about it?” And he answered: “Simple! They will start: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to’ – and you, POOM!” “I what?” I asked, horror-striken… “You start with the Portuguese, of course… always half a sentence behind the speaker.” Incidentally, that was the first and only lesson I learned about simultaneous interpreting from somebody else. All the others I learned by “banging my head against the wall” – meaning always experimenting, groping for answers to the ever-present problems with words and all that never before I had faced.

Well, the event started, it was a banquet for over 200 people, the introduction of IBM to Brazil. And our small table was placed right in the center of the room, where we could hear everybody’s voices, and the waiters shouting: “João, água na mesa 3”, and things of the sort, all the time… I don’t remember most of what I heard and had to say, but  I do remember thinking: “I like this job, but this work cannot possibly be done this way, with all the noise around the interpreter…” And, zaz! I learned, by myself, my second lesson when I realized I had missed 2 sentences during my thinking spell: Don’t think of anything but the words that come to you through the earphone..

Of course, I must have made millions of mistakes, but I also got many things right, because Jack (the technician) left me a nice message, which I still have with me: “You had me worried at first, but you finished like a veteran.”

My sister said she never wanted to ever hear about or be near that “factory of loonies”, but I loved it, and went on to research how this was done in developed countries – for one thing was certain to me: real interpreters couldn’t ever work in a small table smack in the middle of the guests, the public, whoever was supposed to be listening (at this important event, there were only 9 speakers – 3 Americans, 6 Brazilians).

Now, about how I discovered the existence of booths is another story, which I will keep for some other time.

3. You are co-founder of Alumni and was coordinator of the school’s Translation and Interpretation course, having trained most of the market’s professionals. What are the most important lessons you used to give your interpreting students?

Well, besides the classes, the practice and the constant “pushing ahead”, these are the most important lessons  – or rather advice – I give them; and of course, suggestions on how to accomplish them:

a) Study your A and B languages every day;
b) Learn something new every day in the work areas of your choice (Law, IT, Medicine, Engineering, Technical or any others you’re trying to specialize in);
c) Always keep in mind that you’re not just a trained parrot or, in translation, a simple scribe, but a transformer of the language being spoken – or read into another totally different cultural universe, a different society with different habits, rules of etiquette and choice of words for different areas, social classes, cultures, etc.;
d) Develop your sense of intuition;
e) Develop your reflexes: keep them always present and preferably exalted;
f) Develop your power of concentration;
g) Develop your spirit of analysis and synthesis;
h) Do memory drills every day;
i) Develop a mammoth intellectual curiosity;
j) Live all your life with an absolute intellectual honesty;
k) Develop  an all-encompassing sense of tact and diplomacy;
l) Always maintain a professional attitude, however baffling the situation may be;
m) Never accept to interpret or translate a subject, theme or ideology that goes against your innermost life principles;
n) Tips on dress codes for beginners.

4. You are 87 years old, with more than 60 years of experience in the market. How do you keep your professional skills in shape?

I’m 87 now and in December will turn 88. I still teach all my classes at Alumni, which is a great help in keeping my mind alert. I still do my memory drills and try to do simultaneous when I watch the News on TV. And I have a Translation/Interpreting agency with one of my daughters and my granddaughter, who is already showing great talent in both T and I. I take care of the English part of translations for our clients, but simultaneous I’ve left to my students and younger colleagues and, specially, to my granddaughter, Luiza.

5. In your interview to Diálogo Nacional, you said your dad was really important and marked your infanthood. Why?

Because he was a man ahead of his time in every way, and his influence marked not only my childhood, but also my adolescence and my adult life, until his death in 1952, when I was expecting my first child. He was self-taugh in English, Spanish and French. Contrarily  to my schoolmates’ dads, he had long talks with his daughters (not only with sons, which was customary then), commented the daily news with us every day, taught us to write poems and articles on interesting subjects, to like opera and classical music, to sing opera bits, folksongs and, along with my mom, was always there for me and my sisters, when we needed advice, suggestions and help, or needed a good scolding…

6. You say a translation/interpreting university course is not enough to properly prepare a professional. Why not?

I’m all for young people going to University, but, in my experience, at least in Brazil, translation-interpreting courses teach too many subjects which won’t be of any help in their professional career and too little of those which they will need badly in the future. Of course, in great part, the guilt lies with the official education curriculum, which they are bound to and forced to obey. But the worst feature of all is that Universities are obliged to accept all candidates who pass the entrance exam, and I personally think  it’s quite impossible to prepare T/I professionals in classes with 40 or more students. Still, I always say that a university course accustoms the student to the habit of research and a methodic style of studying; hence it is very important in the professional preparation of T/I students, regardless of the main area of their study.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next interviewee. What woman has inspired you in our profession and/or you consider to be a great woman in translation?

I nominate Nancy Christina Tucker Martorana, an American who was my student in the 1970s and is now my colleague, working in our T/I department, teaching Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting ever since she graduated. I consider her a great woman in Translation because, besides being an excellent teacher of T/I, she is a perfect interpreter and translator, her work areas are many, she excels in all of them, and has a very sweet, likeable, warm personality.

Once again, I’d like to thank both Vera, for kindly and friendly handling my communication with Angela, and Angela, for kindly accepting Regina’s nomination and my invitation to be interviewed for my blog. It was an honor to welcome you here and a pleasure to get to know you better.

Greatest Women in Translation: Regina Alfarano


Dear readers, welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

I doubt anybody else enjoys this series as much as I do. I love it! Meeting new people, learning more about them in order to ask the questions, reading their amazing answers…

And today, once again, it’s with a great pleasure that I introduce you to the lovely Regina Alfarano, nominated by Luciana Meinking.

Welcome, Regina!

melissa harkin

1. Let’s start talking about your “firsts”. You were part of the team that founded the second translation university course in Brazil, back in 1971. A few years after that, you also joined the staff starting the translation course at USP. Additionally, you founded the first publishing company specialized in translation publications in São Paulo, Alamo, and the first translation journal in Brazil, Tradução & Comunicação. I can only conclude you had quite an important role in introducing translation studies in Brazil. Could you tell us a bit more about these experiences you had?

Those were very exciting years! And undoubtedly, times of fighting hard battles as well. Translation was not recognized as a specific area. It was seen as a “branch” of Language Courses. So, a university course was considered “unthinkable”. I heard – from active interpreters then – questions like: “Do you really think you can teach students to be translators?” “Do you honestly think Translation can be a course on its own?” Well, I am glad it did not take too many years to see Translation and Interpreting as they were originally thought to be and as they had already been in other countries! The experience was different at Ibero-americana (from 1971-1985) and USP (1979-2000). Ibero-americana held an undergraduate program, while USP held a graduate program in Translation only. Both contributed immensely for the professional development of both areas. The first translation journal – Tradução & Comunicação – was one of my most gratifying achievements. Although aware of the groundbreaking character of such endeavor, I was flabbergasted when right after Volume 1 was launched I received a letter (those were old times [1981], when communication was carried out through letters!!!!!) from the Fedération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) with an invitation to present the journal at their International Congress in Vienna, Austria. META was the only translation journal in the Americas (Montréal) at the time, so Tradução & Comunicação was greeted sparklingly and immensely welcomed.

2. According to your own words, one of the most interesting projects you were ever involved in was The translations of William Kennedy in Brazil while being a Fulbright Scholar at the New York State University at Albany. Why was it so interesting?

First of all, being a Fulbright Scholar was, in itself, extremely gratifying. A Fulbright Scholar in the US enjoys high respectability and is recipient of many privileges. Secondly, only in my post-doctorate could I dedicate my research to Translation Studies! USP would not accept translation projects for Master’s Degree or PhD back then. Of course my background in American Literature (Master’s Degree) and British Theater (PhD) were of great help, as was my background in Language and Linguistics. I had visited Albany before, very briefly, after reading William Kennedy’s trilogy – his Albany trilogy. This was 1990. The trilogy was added by a number of books later on. But in 1990 I was absolutely taken by the trilogy – Ironweed, Legs and Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game – and while in the United States, I decided to visit Albany. That visit increased my interest. Back to Brazil I found the translation for the 3 books. Although a trilogy, and practically three books as three chapters of one encompassing work, each was translated by a different translator, and each clearly suggesting to be totally separate. Therefore, the Albany area and its social and cultural scenario – the very core of Kennedy’s trilogy – were lost. Not only that had been lost! I decided to call the publishing house of Ironweed (Vernônia, in the Portuguese version) to try to contact the translator and understand why Kennedy’s language style had been changed (just one example: all swearing names were eliminated). I was informed that the translator could not be contacted. She used a pseudonym and had asked not to be identified! (At a time of such hard struggle for translators’ visibility, rights and copyright.  I was very active both with ABRATES [Associação Brasileira de Tradutores] and SINTRA [Sindicato Nacional de Tradutores], had created ABRATES-SP, and acted as a Director of ABRATES and President of SINTRA ). And worse: she was very religious, and did not approve of swearing, so, she eliminated all the swearing words in Ironweed!!!!!!!!!!!! I was lucky to interview Mr. William Kennedy and was embarrassed to inform him of the unbelievable fact! Mr. William Kennedy had bought the house where Billy Phelan had lived, and not only preserved it but kept it untouched. It was the first and only time I actually visited the physical scenario of a book! The building, the furniture, glasses, lamp fixtures! And William Kennedy sitting in Billy Phelan’s chair and talking about his trilogy! It could not have been more interesting and more of a privilege! I was even more embarrassed, however,  when he said he had never been paid for the copyright of the books published in Brazil!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Not one cent! Not one letter! How horribly embarrassing could that be???? I had the opportunity to meet Mr. William Kennedy one more time (although very briefly) in Paraty, at FLIP 2010. As one of FLIP’s guests he had very busy days and of course was highly requested by participants!

3. You describe your first experience with the translation practice as “a scuba diving initiation”. Could you tell us about your experience and how it shaped your translation career?

I was 18 years old and had just returned to my hometown (Limeira, SP, Brazil) from my one-year AFS exchange program in the US. Someone called from a local hospital. They had just received new equipment imported by a wealthy man who, nearly dying, would have his last chance if the equipment could be put to work. So, they had the “brilliant” idea of calling an 18-year-old whom they thought would translate the manual. As much as I tried to tell them – as I already knew back then, in 1965, that speaking a language did not mean I would be able to translate, let alone a manual – the pressure was so high (‘The man will die if this does not work!’) that I went to the hospital. A piece of equipment, a team of medical professionals and technicians and myself, scared to death. As I translated the instructions I thought ‘I will be the next one to need emergency help here…..’. But slowly but steadily the team started activating the commands – the equipment worked and the man was saved! I felt as if a plow had gone over me! Sweating, hardly breathing, exhausted! But relieved! Would that be the reason why I would never, ever come close to translating manuals? The experience may have shaped my translation career in the sense that I do not, by any means, translate technical material, manuals, and the like. But yet, I do translate medical material, so, it may have been the “scuba diving initiation” to show the challenge, the excitement and the gratification translation can offer.

Translation is not only about languages, knowledge, cultures, and all that comes with it, of course, but about those using it for those purposes: people.

4. Besides this first experience you had, you also say you had total immersion experiences that shaped your areas of specialization (poetry and medical translation). Could you tell us a bit more about them?

When teaching translation I used to say to my students that only poets could translate poetry, which explained why I never included poetry in my Literary Translation Courses. At some point in time, Haroldo de Campos asked me to translate the speech he was going to deliver at a ceremony to honor Octávio Paz. The speech included some poetry. I froze when I received the originals, and immediately talked to Haroldo about it. He said he would give me support if I needed – how would anyone in this world refuse a request by and support from Haroldo de Campos? I decided to take the challenge! Of course I said I would send a first version for Haroldo’s reading, suggestions, etc. etc. To my total astonishment, he did not make any changes at all. And to my double/triple astonishment, sometime later I received a call from Régis Bonvicino, who was organizing a poetry anthology for the Brazil Exhibition in Paris. He invited me to translate Contemporary Brazilian Poets, and before I had any reaction, he added: “Haroldo said you would say you do not translate poetry, but that is not true, you do translate poetry, and he has recommended you”! Again, how could anyone refuse such invitation! And Desencontrários (Unencontraries) was my first delightful experience translating poetry. Others – just as delightful – followed, and I am glad to say I truly enjoyed ‘every word/verse/rhyme’. Working with Haroldo de Campos was most enriching, as expected. Sitting with him, reading poems and translations – invaluable and unforgettable!

As for medical translation, I was caught having to check reference material for one of my projects. Those references showed so many translation problems that they could hardly be useful as references. So, I had to search, re-search and re-search for my research! The project I was involved in included doctors’ research, and again and again, high reading volume. Then, it led me to FDA material research. As the project was of high relevance, I was very involved and of course wanted to do a good, reliable job. Extensive reading and research called the attention of the doctors involved and they recommended me for an even larger project that was medical-related. After detailed information I realized I could face the challenge. That was the beginning of a fast-moving dive into medical translation. One day, my husband, a medical doctor himself, came to my desk, saw the material (we used many dictionaries back then, and many typed copies of translation….. and re-typed pages…..) and asked me: “Are you translating medical texts?” I answered I had been, for some time. He was very surprised! So, it all had to do with my own projects – it all led me quite naturally. The long-lasting AIDS projects both in Brazil and in the US were of profound involvement and partnerships. Thanks to my graduate Translation students at USP who helped me, Brazil was the only country to launch AZT on the same day and at the same time as the US. I was honored to have translated presentations by top Brazilian scientists and researchers on the model AIDS prevention project Brazil developed (and unfortunately interrupted in recent years). The bridge between poetry and medical – as odd as it may seem at first…. – reached its apogee when I translated one of Nelson Ascher’s poem – Mein Herz – from Portuguese into English. As soon as he got my version he called and asked me: “Are you a physician?” “Why do you ask?”, was my reaction. “Because you translated this poem so beautifully, and it sounds ‘medical’”! Coming from a translator of such stature, I could not doubt the ‘bridge’ was viable (and enjoyable!).

5. You say stress and adrenaline are integral parts of translation. Why and/or how?

It has been proven that interpreting is the most stressful profession in the world. The study compared interpreters and surgeons! So, stress and adrenaline are part of the very nature of interpreting, of the fantastic decision-making process and rendition. Interpreting is very often referred to as ‘oral translation’. I would say that is too simplistic! But stress and adrenaline are also integral parts of translation. Clients’ turnaround needs, clients’ reviews of originals – so often – clients’ updates for materials already translated, clients’ requests for additions. And, of course, in no time at all! Clients traveling all over the world – all those requests to be delivered on time and wherever they are. The only way to meet those needs is to draw a map and have color pins to show who is where – Brazilians in Asia, Europeans in the Americas, Americans in Europe. Time zones are absolutely crucial, and projects overlap, since changes were requested after projects had been delivered. ‘The project is over’ – wishful thinking! It does come back….. and back again. When it comes to medical projects, that is potentiated. Huge projects come back for updates two, three, four years later. Many a time, clients’ staff has worked on interim versions (‘minor’, as they say…..). Medical records to be translated for patients who must travel for medical care. Documents required to import medications for all sorts of patients (and many times, children). It is an extremely stressful cycle, fighting against time and having to comply with bureaucracy. Interpreting doctors, nurses, patients and family members about very serious conditions can be the most stressful and the most intense of all experiences. Clients, medical staff in Brazil and all over the world watch the very personal, and many times very sad, testimonials, which must be rendered as any other interpreting session. To be honest – not at all like any other interpreting session. Stress and adrenaline can hardly be measured. And although trembling voice must be avoided, an  interpreter is not always successful when others around are already shedding tears.

[The translation profession] rewards the cumulative years of experience, which is to say, age counts positively; it encourages and demands ongoing learning, which is to say, it is intellectually healthy; it also demands recycling and updating, which is to say, it is continuously evolving; it fits in wonderfully with self-employment, which is to say, one can—or tries to!—manage one’s own working days and hours.

6. You give your students two key pieces of advice: 1. Do not charge less than you deserve for your work; never, ever charge more than you believe you deserve for your work.; and 2. Choose what you really like to do as a profession, and above all, have fun doing it. Why do you think these are the most important pieces of advice to give to translation students?

Dignity is crucial in life – personal life and professional life. Every professional deserves to be compensated for the work done, which goes without saying. But competition may interfere, and ‘professionals’ trying to find jobs unfortunately do charge humiliating fees. So, that is the first part of the first piece of advice: do not charge less than you deserve and the professional field finds to be common sense. And how to find out? Very easily: through professional associations, translation unions, international associations, peers. Competition must never interfere with dignity. On the other end, if a professional is aware of how to charge for the work done, that is what should guide his/her attitude – never, ever charge more. Translators are so often, too often in fact, faced by urgency, by extreme clients’ needs (a few examples above), by the literal plea ‘charge whatever you want’. Of course there are urgency fees, but that is a different issue altogether. There are also pro-bono projects, which are extremely important, gratifying, and no doubt made evident by their own nature. As for regular projects, translators must present their fees very clearly, from the start. Clients should ideally receive a document which shows all services to be rendered, all situations under which they can be rendered, and just as translators expect clients to comply, so must they.

As for liking what we do as a profession, and above all, have fun doing it, I pose a question: how do we feel every time we have to do something that we do not find pleasant, or likeable? It is definitely not a good feeling. When involving others, the result will certainly not be satisfactory. When involving professionals, it can be nearly disastrous! Translation in itself is about making decisions. So, the crucial decision is: I want to be a translator, I like to be a translator, I enjoy what I do, and I have fun doing it (despite all the stress). Then, the decision making process at the core of translating will flow more smoothly. It would never flow otherwise, I am sure.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate someone you admire and that is a great woman in translation.

I can think of a  number of great women in translation. The one I choose to nominate is Angela Levy. A pioneer in interpreting in Brazil, a prominent translator and outstanding translation/interpreting teacher, Angela has trained and inspired so many translators and interpreters. Angela is to be admired and respected as a professional, as an amazing human being, and as a long-time peer and friend.

Regina, I sincerely appreciate you accepting Luciana’s nomination and my invitation, and taking the time to answer my questions. It was an honor to welcome you on my blog. Thanks a lot! 🙂

Greatest Women in Translation: Luciana Meinking


Welcome back to our interview series! Let’s start the week and month inspired by another one of our amazing Greatest Women in Translation? Then please welcome another Brazilian translator, Luciana Meinking, nominated by Melissa Harkin.

Luciana meinking

1. Melissa Harkin nominated you to be our next interviewee. You two had a professional partnership that you described as extraordinary and one of those coincidences of destiny. Could you please tell us a bit more about how you two met and how this partnership started?

Melissa used to work for the same company as my sister. By that time she was still living in Brazil. I think one day Melissa might have told her coworkers that she was looking for freelance translators and that’s how my sister came to ask me for my resume. In fact, Melissa and I never met in person, which makes this story even more interesting (we are planning to meet in person this coming November during the ATA Conference in San Francisco!). I sent Melissa my resume and passed the translation test she requested me to submit. With the first job assignments I got from her, our relationship started to develop, and I am glad to say that I am extremely glad to have worked for her. It is hard to find someone who is also very detailed and whose professional standards are very similar to yours. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity – she was certainly a great peer and friend!

2. A lot of people treat their peers as competition and do not consider other translators may also be potential clients or even professional partners in the future. What’s your opinion on the subject?

I guess that’s true and it is something you see on a daily basis, especially if you are working as an in-house translator. It is surely conditioned by the difficult market and people’s fear of losing their jobs or clients. It might sound a bit idealistic but I would like to think about this in terms of finding the best professional partner or partners to actually come up with a good final product.

3. You started translating by chance while taking your PhD in Germany and, after that, gave up your area (Literature and Linguistics). Why did you change your mind and decided to venture into translation?

During the final year of my doctorate in Germany I was still figuring out what to do with my life. First I thought I wanted to pursue an academic career in the university, but the market was also not very good for that and the strong competition didn’t seem to me by then to be a path that I was willing to tread. So starting in the translation industry also happened per chance when an acquaintance asked me if I wanted to translate technical texts. It all seemed very interesting, getting to know a CAT tool for the first time, seeing how fast you can translate and how much fun it is to keep a terminological database. I guess I noticed quickly that I enjoyed translating and proof-reading.

4. You currently work as an IT QA tester. Could you please describe what you do exactly?

My work consists basically of localizing strings and running functional and linguistic quality assurance tests for the client’s products. It is very different from what I have been doing so far in terms of content, but it is an opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people.

5. You say a freelance translator’s life working home office is quite lonely. Do you prefer to work in-house as compared to home office? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of working in-house x home office?

I am not really sure if I prefer one or the other. Right now, I enjoy working in-house because I have met wonderful people who hopefully will become friends. I think one of the cons of working in-house is, for instance, the fact that you have less control on the final product, which consists of patches of texts several other people have worked on and whose standards or linguistic preferences are not necessarily the same as yours. But this is actually also part of the learning process, I mean, learning to negotiate ways of getting to the same goal. I also think that in-house working also produces more unveiled competition. As for the pros, again, meeting people and actually having the opportunity to catch a glimpse on people’s lives is a very positive thing. It’s about having a bit of a change in your daily schedule, really, and having the opportunity to socialize. Home office work is quite lonely indeed and can be really tough. Apart from that, I guess you can produce a much better outcome by working on your own and exchanging information with a professionally trustworthy partner whenever you need help with a specific text or subject.

6. You say you do not have the typical freelance translator profile. What is this profile, in your opinion?

Maybe that is extremely subjective, but what I meant by that is that the typical freelance translator profile is someone who is willing to engage in some self-promoting and marketing strategy in order to find more clients, people who keep blogs and produce interesting socially engaging tools. I admire people who have the energy and especially the time to do this.

7. Now it’s your turn. Who do you nominate as one of our Greatest Women in Translation?

Now, since I cannot nominate Melissa Harkin anymore (oh, no!), I chose to nominate someone I have never worked with before but who was, maybe without even knowing it, a role model for me in my career as a translator. Her name is Regina Alfarano. She was my first instructor at NYU, when I took the online Certificate in translation course offered by that institution. So read this nomination also as homage to good teachers and educators, those you still remember after years have passed by.

Regina was an extremely dedicated and disciplined instructor, but, above all, in these hard linguistic times, you could see that she had that love for the Portuguese language that is, unfortunately, lacking in many people nowadays. You can see that she has a very strong linguistic background and that, without being a purist, she also cares for the language and what people are actually doing to it nowadays.

Greatest Women in Translation: Melissa Harkin


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation series! Since our last “interview” was actually a tribute, it was my turn again to nominate someone and restart the thread. Since my first nomination was a foreign translator (Marta Stelmaszak, from Poland), this time, to be fair, I decided to nominate a Brazilian role model. I must confess I’m curious to see where this thread will take us.

Now please welcome Melissa Harkin.


melissa harkin

1. When I created my professional Twitter account, you were the first person I followed. You were my only Brazilian role model. I admired (and still do, of course) your professionalism and your online presence. Could you tell us a bit about your beginning?

Well, I guess my main driver back then was that I was tired of the ‘same old’ pattern in business relationships, regardless of the industry. I was tired of e-mails, machines, lack of customer care, automated replies, etc. I wanted to get personal. However, we are talking about the social media and technology era, so the best way to get personal was to put myself out there using all of that technology, but in a way that seemed I was talking to my clients directly.

That’s when I started adding my picture to all that had my name on it: e-mails, quotes, stationary, social media, etc. I didn’t want to be a logo. I wanted to be me! I wanted people to see a person, an individual, and relate to me.

That was different back then. People in Brazil were not used to business getting so personal. Maybe, that is why a lot of my clients became good friends along the way.

I made sure I replied to everything, even the ‘help me out real quick’ requests from friends that needed to write an e-mail in English and were feeling insecure. I made sure I was replying to everyone’s messages and requests in a timely manner, and I made sure I could add value to their activities on an ongoing basis.

2. You have the most lovely baby boy, Bruno, 1 year old. Although I myself do not have children, I can only imagine how having a baby changes a woman entrepreneur’s life. What advice would you give to a freelance translator who is thinking of having children or is already expecting a baby?

I’m not sure I’m already qualified to give advice in that area. I’m still finding my own new pace and balance. It’s hard, there are a lot of mixed feelings – it’s quite bipolar, actually. One minute you’re dying for some time for yourself, for work and silence, and the next minute you’re feeling kind of guilty about it.

Last year (2015) was a difficult one. I finally realized I coudn’t do all of the things that I did before. I made the decision to focus on getting my job done and decreasing my online presence a bit in order to have more availability to translate. Now that Bruno attends daycare full time, I can go back to adding more activities to my schedule other than just pure translations.

I guess what really helped me out was financially planning my pregnancy ahead of time, so it wouldn’t be a burden when I finally took a break to focus on my son. Two years before getting pregnant I was already buying gender neutral baby items and had two different savings accounts to prepare for the first few months: one for all of the big ticket items and one for 6 months of maternity leave.

There’s not much you can really plan when it comes to having a baby. But the financial part of it is one that you can and I highly suggest you do so. Everything else will probably not go according to plan and you’re either going to have to change your initial plan or just wing it. Whatever happens, don’t lose focus, don’t lose your mind, and ask friends, family and fellow translators for help. I say fellow translators because, family and friends can and will help you on a more personal level, but having good partnerships with fellow translators will literally save your business life when your baby gets sick and you need help with your translations and deadlines.

3. You have recently moved out from Brazil to the USA. Could you share with us the difficulties you faced in the transition and the advantages and disadvantages of working and living in the USA?

I’ve lived here before and my husband is American, so culturally speaking I didn’t really have a hard time moving back. Initially, we were in Florida, and that was hard because we didn’t have any friends there, only my brother-in-law and his family, who lived about an hour away from our home. Having a baby makes the one-hour drive something difficult to take on. We felt quite lonely there, so we decided to move back to Missouri, where my husband is originally from, and to be close to friends and family. That changed everything. We’re happier now, we have people we can count on minutes away from home, we know the place, etc.

When it comes to the translation industry, I can tell you that there are differences in how to do business, such as prices, taxes, ethics, business practices, etc. I’m still learning about all of that here in the US and I do so by networking with fellow translators, attending courses and conferences, reading industry-related publications, etc. It’s been great and business is getting bigger and better on a weekly basis.

4. You work with a pool of translators who usually help you with projects and have already worked as a Translations Manager at a consulting firm. Based on your experience, what are the most common mistakes freelance translators make and, based on that, what advices would you give to translators in general?

Poor reviews and commitment to deadlines. People, please! These are extremely important aspects of being a translator.

How can you deliver a good translation without taking the time to review it? That’s something that drives me nuts. And how can you expect to get more jobs if you keep missing deadlines?

Read the source file before starting your translation so you can get acclimated to the content, take notes on vocabulary, do research, etc. This way, when you start your translation, you’ll not only be more knowledgeable on the content but you will also do a better job translating the material. Take a break after you’re done. Go get some coffee or take a nap and clear your mind. Come back, spell check, read the translation to make sure it ‘sounds’ good and it flows nicely, spell check again, and then deliver your file.

In case of questions throughout the translation that you cannot find the answers to in your research, talk to your client or translation manager. Don’t just send a file with a bunch of comments of what you couldn’t find on your own. Questions need to be asked and answered during the translation process in order to deliver a good product. Skipping this step means you don’t care about that text, the impact it’s going to have on readers, on your client, and on yourself as a translator.

Comply with deadlines! That means you need to plan your day, prioritize, time manage, and make sure your head is clear and focused on the job you’re about to do. Keep track of how much you can translate per day and at what times you feel most productive and use that to your advantage and to plan your work schedule.

5. You are a volunteer translator for Translators Without Borders and also worked for Greenpeace. In your opinion, why is it important to do pro bono work?

It’s important to make this crazy world a better place. It doesn’t matter if it’s pro bono or not. Translators Without Borders is pro bono, Greenpeace wasn’t  ̶ I was an employee there.

Greenpeace taught me a lot, not only about the environment, but about people, community, the future, responsibility and accountability, and all that changed me. There’s nothing more marvelous than helping others, making a difference, and impacting lives. That is why I keep supporting Greenpeace worldwide in any way I can, and that includes having a special discount rate for NGOs that work with causes that are close to my heart, such as slave labor, environmental issues, children, medical procedures for the poor, emergency response, etc.

Translators without Borders (TWB) is an independent non-profit association established in 1993, dedicated to helping NGOs extend their humanitarian work by providing free, professional translations. The funds saved through the use of volunteer translations can then be used by the NGOs in the field, enabling them to extend the scope and reach of their humanitarian work. I fell in love with TWB because it’s not only an opportunity to give back to the global community but also a way of being part of something bigger, something greater, set out to make this a better world for our children and our children’s children.

6. You wrote the English Version of Brazil’s Anti-Corruption Law with Stefano Enepi. Well, you have an educational background in Law and also translate this type of material, right? How is the book useful to law translators? Also, could you tell us a bit more about how you came up with the idea of writing it and how was the writing process?

Because of my legal background, I have always translated all kinds of legal documents and, more often than not, they include quotes from different laws. Throughout the years, I felt there was next  to nothing out there when it comes to Brazilian legislation in English, and we’re talking about a BRIC country that is quite complex to do business with in terms of legal framework. Brazil is also going through a period of sociological change, in which people are tired of corruption and are saying ‘enough is enough’, so when the new Anti-Corruption Law came into effect, it was a no-brainer that it needed to be available in English as well.

I partnered with Stefano Enepi for the review because of his legal background and because he was a resident of Brazil, with deep knowledge of the language and culture behind it all.

It was a great project for us. It put our names out there and it shows potential clients what we can do.

I also chose that particular law for ‘protesting reasons’. I too think that enough is enough. It’s time we come together as a society to make our country a great nation. And fighting corruption is a huge part of that process. I hope our English Version of Brazil’s Anti-Corruption Law helps people, government officials, and companies to do business the right way in my country.

I may no longer reside there, but Brazil is my country and I want to see it become a great nation for our people.

7. What are your plans, goals, dreams, wishes, whatever you like to call them, as a freelance translator entrepreneur, for the short and long term?

Oh boy, where do I start?

Professionally speaking, I’m focused on growing my business and presence in the US right now. In the long term, I’d like to translate more Brazilian laws, work with more NGOs, volunteer more often, and educate others on the Translation and Interpreting market, business, and careers. One dream that I have is to develop continuous education courses for our fellow translators, thereby sharing what I know and have learned thus far as a translator and entrepreneur.

My other focus is my family. My husband and my son are my life and I want to see them happy and healthy every day. I want to grow old with them and be there for them every step of the way. They are the main reason for every good thing in my life.

8. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next interviewee. Who is your role model?

I nominate Luciana Meinking – Brazilian translator with a PhD in Portuguese and English Philology from the University of Freiburg, Germany, and a member of the American Translators Association. She is, by far, the best translator I ever worked with.

Luciana does a great job and far exceeds the ability of an average translator. She always brings her keen analytical skills to the table and is an excellent researcher and linguist. Her many years of study and experience, along with ethics and professional attitude, definitely add value to any translation/localization project. She is trustworthy, consistent, and reliable! I always love working with her and, throughout the years, we learned a lot from each other, especially when it comes to glossary management and researching skills.

Thank you so much for accepting my nomination, Melissa! It’s always such a great pleasure to welcome you on my blog. I loved learning a bit more about you.

Now stay tuned for next month’s interview.


Greatest Women in Translation: Deanna Hammond

Welcome back to our wonderful and inspiring Greatest Women in Translation series!

Our last interviewee, Muriel Vasconcellos, decided to write a tribute to her role model, Deanna Hammond, whose life was cut short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 55.


Deanna Lindberg Hammond (1942-1997)

My nomination for this month’s Greatest Woman in Translation is a colleague who unfortunately is no longer with us. More than anyone I ever worked with, Deanna Hammond deserves to be recognized for the breadth of her contributions to the profession. She enriched the field and set an example in many different roles: not only as the head of an important translation service and a hands-on practitioner of the craft, but also as a leader of the translation community in the United States, an author, and a teacher. Her life was cut short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 55.

Best known for her work with the American Translators Association, Deanna held a “day job” for 20 years as head of Linguistic Services at the Congressional Research Service, overseeing translations for the United States Congress. Her section was responsible for translating anything that members of the Senate and Congress, or their offices, wanted to read in English or present in another language, from international treaties to news clippings, from legislation to letters from constituents, with scientific papers and research proposals in between. She also reviewed translations done by other colleagues and contracted the services of private translation companies for large projects and languages not covered by CRS staff. Even after her illness prevented her from going into the office, she remained on the payroll and continued to translate documents at home. She was posthumously awarded the Library of Congress Distinguished Service Award, a high honor granted for “contributions of great significance.”

While shouldering this serious responsibility, Deanna also found time to contribute unstintingly to the advancement of our profession. During her two decades of service with the ATA, she was active in many of its efforts to raise public awareness about the work and professionalism of translators. First elected to its Board of Directors in 1979, she served two terms as secretary of the Association and ultimately held the positions of president-elect (1987-1989) and president (1989-1991). As president-elect, she organized two annual conferences attended by nearly 1,000 members and negotiated contracts for meeting venues for six years into the future. She embarked on her presidency with the intention of putting ATA’s house in order, an effort that included rewriting the Association’s bylaws and moving ATA headquarters to the Washington, D.C., area. In addition, she worked on improving the accreditation program and increasing the number of translation courses and degrees offered by higher learning institutions across the United States. While striving to advance the profession, she also found herself facing challenges that arose with wisdom and integrity. Her contributions were acknowledged in 1992 with the Association’s highest award, the Alexander Gode medal for distinguished service to the translation profession.

Deanna also served the profession in other capacities — for example, as head of the U.S. delegation to the Statutory Congress of the International Translation Federation in 1990 and as president of the Interlingua Institute from 1993 until her death.

She took an interest in machine translation and provided extensive advice during the formative years of the International Association for Machine Translation and the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas. In this role, she and I worked closely together. Her wisdom and experience were key to taking what had been an idea sketched out on the back of an envelope, so to speak, and transforming it into a vibrant worldwide system. We were both committed to seeing that MT was used for appropriate applications and not as a substitute for real translation.

In addition, Deanna published extensively on professional issues in the field of translation, authoring articles in such publications as the Congressional Record, the Modern Language Journal, the Annals of Political Science, and the ATA Chronicle. She was also editor Volume VII of the ATA Monograph Series, Professional Issues for Translators and Interpreters.

Whenever she had knowledge or experience to share, Deanna was a tireless mentor. She was especially committed to supporting aspiring translators. She taught courses in Spanish-to-English translation at The American University in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s and at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, from 1993 until 1996. In fact, she was a teacher before she was a translator. Her first job was as a teacher at the superior school in Pullman, Washington. She then traveled to Colombia, South America, where she taught English as a second language from 1964 to 1967, first in Medellín as a Peace Corps volunteer and later at the Industrial University of Santander. She also taught ESL at Northern Virginia Community College from 1974 to 1977. In addition, she was an active member of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 1942 of a Canadian father and an American mother, Deanna spent her early years in the area of Port Angeles, Washington. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Washington State University, a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Ohio, and a Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics from Georgetown University. She was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Beta Phi honor societies.

Her life of devotion to service extended beyond translation. In the 1990s, as her participation in ATA came to a close, she became active in Zonta International, a worldwide organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women. She was president of her local Alexandria Club and was ultimately appointed East Coast International Chair.

Deanna was the consummate professional.  Her energy, commitment, and integrity inspired the people around her to do and be their best. The bar that she set would be hard to match. Yet with all the activities on her plate, she still found the space in her life to be a delightful and loyal friend. Her sunny personality and her willingness to help others never faltered. Another colleague, Jane Morgan Zorrilla, summed her up perfectly:

I have never met anyone so outgoing despite her shy nature, so serious despite her wild sense of humor, so focused despite the thousand ongoing projects in her head, and so compassionate despite the antagonism that her determination sometimes brought out in others.


The material for this article came from Deanna’s Wikipedia entry, an obituary by Jane Morgan Zorrilla at the link above, other obituaries, and personal recollections.


Since we reached a dead end, our next interviewee will be, once again, nominated by me. This time, I decided to choose one of my Brazilian role models, Melissa Harkin.