Greatest Women in Translation: Canan Marasligil


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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers!

Today, let’s welcome Canan Marasligil.

Canan Marasligil

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1. I have to start by mentioning I absolutely loved your website! How creative to add a video to the landing page! Do you think your video attracts more people (especially potential clients) to your website and somehow make them navigate through it to learn more about yourself?

I don’t necessarily think about attracting more people to my website, I think that if they are already there, it means they found me in some way (probably via social media). I like playing with the web – I make my own websites (I have to thank Squarespace for offering such fantastic tools to play with) – and I am interested in how people interact online. So, to me, it is a matter of expressing my own creativity and offering as much interesting content as possible throughout the online spaces I inhabit.

2. On your website, you mention you “have started working with video to explore the links between literature and images.” How does that work?

Although I mostly work with words – as a writer, as a literary translator, as an editor – I am passionate about visual media, and am especially interested in the interaction between writing and images. That’s why I’m into comics, into screenwriting, and that is also why I started to create my own visual language through video. You don’t need much material nowadays to capture high quality images, so it is all about your eye: what do you see, what stories do you want to tell. I was inspired to start my YouTube videos thanks to French writer François Bon who has been creating a wide range of videos on his YouTube channel to talk about literature – he does readings (he is an amazing performer), hosts writing workshops, has a regular “service de presse” where he shares other writer’s work and much more – so I have joined this online community of literature makers he has created on YouTube (I know he probably won’t like me saying he created it, but he did). I have to admit, it is motivating to have an audience ready to watch what you are doing (even if very small, also, it depends how you look at it: I don’t think I could easily fill a room with 100 people which I am doing with a video and I think is amazing). I’ve been told I have an artistic approach to translation, so I think my video-making is also part of that urge to create. I see the world in a certain manner, I am inspired, visually, by the world that surrounds me, so I try to capture how I feel about it, and then edit it into short videos. It isn’t so different than writing actually, it’s all about stories you want to tell. I’m just using a different medium to do so.

3. You also mention “Translation off the page” is one of your favorite topics. Could you elaborate, and tell us why you like it so much?

I have to admit I do more translation work “off the page” than “on the page”. To start, I am not earning all my income from translation – if I would do that, I’d need to translate a few more books per year, which I don’t. This is a personal and deliberate choice, and I have many reasons for it. I am a hyperactive person (people who know me reading this will probably laugh now nodding) and I get bored very quickly when I translate, not because of the work – 90% of the time, I select what I want to work on so I usually love what I translate – but I am a slow translator, I usually don’t work on more than four pages in a day, and I am drained after, not just intellectually but emotionally. You see, I pour all my heart into a translation project, it is not just a job to me. This is why I am also picky with the projects I choose to work on. I recently accepted to translate work I have not chosen myself, and I regretted it.

To me, translating someone’s work means that I believe not only in their literary merits, but in their voice, as a person, as an artist, what they stand for.

I don’t separate the work from the artist. I am not talking about character here, I don’t care how nice or (un)friendly a writer is, I am talking about sincerity and values someone stands for. So, if at any point I feel my values are not aligned with an author’s, I cannot translate them. You have to remember that out of all the languages I could have translated from (I was trained to work in English, Spanish, French), I chose to focus on Turkish (the language my parents spoke to me in) and contemporary literatures from Turkey, and in the current political context, there is no way I can be apolitical about my choices. I guess this kind of “off the page” work is close to what one could call activism. Other types of “off the page” work I do is through workshops, and the idea behind these activities is to give tools to people – children, young people, adults – to play with languages and be creative using their own existing linguistic skills. I always start my workshops by asking participants about the languages in their lives – not how many languages they speak, read or write, but which languages surround them daily – by framing the question in this way, I already tell them: see, multilingualism is all around us, and we are all experiencing it, in one way or the other.

4. Could you tell us a bit about your project City in Translation, and pinpoint one or two fascinating aspects about it that you have come across during your exploration?

City in Translation is part of my work taking translation off the page. It started from my own urban explorations – I am what you can call a “flâneuse” – I like walking across cities. I do this a lot, and I don’t mean just walking from one place to another, it is a practice I am very attached to. Wherever I go, I always set aside some time to do these city walks by myself, camera in hand, without any specific purpose. I am interested in interacting with everything that surrounds me in cities, especially through translation. This means that I look at written words mostly (I could work on sound, but I haven’t focused on that yet), I search for the traces we are leaving across urban spaces, usually in many different languages. Sometimes I understand the languages, sometimes I don’t. It is one way to observe the world we live in. Through this process, I also learn so much about the different cities I walk in. Languages can tell you about the history of a neighbourhood, about its demographics, about the political context, and much more… So, I use this personal and artistic practice to develop content, like I did with the Yearning for Turkish exhibition I created and which was shown in St Andrews and in Norwich, and the various workshops I do with City in Translation. With Yearning for Turkish, I realised that this constant search for languages across cities was also one way for me to find “home” – my understanding of home being in movement, even if I keep seeing one of my main languages – Turkish – everywhere I go.

5. As a social media lover myself, I am also widely present on different social channels, and I am frequently asked how I find time to juggle them and manage to work at the same time. Well, I cannot help it but ask you the same question, since you have an even wider social presence than me, I think. What is your secret? (By the way, you may have noticed I have already started following you everywhere! )

I love social media because I love interacting with people. I met so many interesting people on social media. I am personally active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and all my profiles are public. I usually share things I am interested in, and bits of my own life without revealing intimate or private moments. So, if I post a selfie, there will usually be a story behind. Sometimes it can just be about showing people I’m happy and I love myself, and if it can help other women (even just one) loving themselves unapologetically, it makes me happy. I also post a lot about social justice issues, about freedom of expression, about women’s rights. I think social media can be a useful tool for creating one’s voice and empowering oneself and each other, to create solidarity, and to show the world that you (and people like you) exist, but not necessarily in a self-centred and narcissistic manner (while we can argue posting a selfie can be a narcissistic act, I am not interested in doing couch psychology and judging people). Also, people follow you on social media only if they want to. I don’t really care about being unfollowed, I am at peace with how I use social media. One thing that’s true though, it can eat your time up, and sometimes I do have the feeling that I am wasting a lot of time on social media, time I could use to write for example. But I think we’re all still learning how to use it the best way we can.

6. You have participated (and still do) in a few residencies for translators, in different countries. Could you tell us a bit about the experiences you have had and the benefits of being a Translator in Residence, in your opinion?

I love residencies. I have done a few, and I am currently doing one with La Contre Allée, a wonderful indie publisher in Lille, France. My first residency was with the Free Word Centre in London in 2013, and that truly changed my life. So many good friendships have started with this residency, and I am still working with many people I met during my time at Free Word. I am interested in residencies where you interact with local communities, not with residencies where you are given a room and space to write. I already have that in my home – life in Amsterdam is good and I am very privileged in that sense. If I travel to spend days, weeks or sometimes months somewhere else, I want to meet people, I want to learn from locals, from the different communities – with Free Word, it was about meeting all the wonderful organisations working around freedom of expression, but also with schools and more, in Senegal, I have learned from local artists, writers and musicians, but also from villagers on the impact of climate change, in Copenhagen I have interacted with academics and researchers working on topics about cities and culture, and in Lille, I am working with libraries, the city council, publishers… I learn from each one of them and I bring my own expertise too, it is a true exchange of ideas, knowledge and lots of fun too.

7. Although I could go on with the questions, let’s wrap up and find out who you pick to be our next Great Woman in Translation.

I want to nominate Marta Dziurosz, who was a translator in residence at Free Word Centre a couple of years after me. She is working in Polish and English. I especially love that she debunks the “native language” myth, which I’m sure she can tell you more about.

Greatest Women in Translation: Sarah Ardizzone


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Welcome back to our Geatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Ardizzone (nominated by Sophie Lewis), French to English literary translator.

Sarah Ardizzone

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1. One of your translations worth noting here is the graphic novel Alpha, the story of a migrant desperately searching for his family (by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux). In this interview you gave to Authors Live, you say that in your career as a translator, this is the one book you were adamant had to be published, so you were very proactive in going to publishers to publish it. Why is that?

Because it tells the most pressing story of our times: that of human migration. Equally, a graphic diary penned by a fictional migrant, who embarks on a cruel odyssey from Ivory Coast to France, and aimed at everyone, from YA (young adult) readers to the grown-up literary market to Amnesty supporters, wasn’t the easiest sell: so I had to work hard to find the right publisher. Barrington Stoke proved just that publisher. They fell in love with Alpha when we ran a Spectacular Translation Machine event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2015. Which brings me to your next question…

2. Another of your translations worth noting is another graphic novel, Line of Fire. The original book in French originated “a groundbreaking new translation event” called the Spectacular Translation Machine. What was the event about and how was you experience with it?

Together with co-curator Daniel Hahn, and with the support of the British Centre for Literary Translation, we created the Spectacular Translation Machine at the Southbank Centre for the London Literature Festival 2013. The idea was simple: invite the general public to translate an entire book, as a collaborative and creative endeavour, across a couple of weekends. What better way of re-discovering and celebrating what it is that we think we do when we translate? Around the room, as if at an art gallery, we hung the images from Line of Fire (a graphic diary created by Barroux, who discovered in a skip the real handwritten diary of an unknown First World War French soldier). The public was invited to choose a picture to translate, before receiving the text that accompanied it – together with expert help on hand should they need support or want to talk ideas through. One picture alone received 17 translations… Most of all, people took the time to sit and weigh words with each other, to talk about why they made the subtle and nuanced choices they did, to solicit each other on how they could express a voice more ‘authentically’ or push a turn of phrase further or produce something fresh while avoiding infelicities or anachronisms…

3. What are the challenges and what is so fascinating about translating graphic novels, in your opinion?

Translating graphic novels can be very liberating, because the text tends to be stripped right down to the essentials. It can also mark a shift from more verbose and sometimes ‘fanciful’ literary translation to what you might call ‘urgent quality translation’. There are all sorts of other issues that come into play too, because I’m obeying two masters (pictures as well as words) whose creators in the case of Alpha both have one-name monikers beginning with B! Alpha is a fictional character but it’s an Everyman story, and as a translator that puts the wind in my sail.

4. Your real translation journey began with the translation of Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader. Can you describe your experience to us?

Well, Daniel Pennac is a master storyteller and thinker – so that’s a challenge in itself, in terms of conveying his originality into the English language. The way he expresses his ideas is so unique and so characterfully voiced that it’s as if he’s pushing the French language beyond its limits – there should be an adjective for it: Pennacian. With The Rights of the Reader he goes to the heart of why we are naturally beguiled by stories, when we are first told them, and why the education system risks making us fall out of love with them as readers. Trying to communicate Pennac’s ideas in English led to some of the most memorable editorial sessions I’ve ever experienced at my publishers, Walker Books.

5. You co-founded Translators in Schools, “a professional development programme to widen the pool of translators and teachers with the skills to run creative translation workshops in schools.” Could you tell us briefly how it works, your current role in it and your experience so far?

I co-curate the programmes we run, in partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust. Recently, we held The Big Translate which was due to take place at the Southbank Centre but, due to recent tragic events in London, took place instead at Heathbrook Primary School – this was supported by King’s Cultural Institute. We are also running a Creative Translation in the Classroom programme, supported by the Rothschild Foundation; following a CPD day, four translators and teachers have now been paired to collaborate on piloting original approaches to translation in the classroom.

6. You are a judge and translation advisor of the In Other Words initiative, by BookTrust, “a new project to promote the translation and UK publication of outstanding children’s literature from around the world.” How are books shortlisted for the initiative, i.e. on what basis are they chosen to be translated?

We’re looking for exceptional children’s fiction for children aged 6 to 12 that has not yet been published in the English language. This year, we’re open to untranslated classics still within copyright as well as recent titles, and we welcome books written by authors of all backgrounds. The deadline for entries is 16th August – so please help spread the word. How do we choose which titles get shortlisted and have 10,000-word extracts translated? That’s the eye-opening bit, as well as the hard-graft. We work through 400 odd submissions, and consider which compelling stories, excellent writing and original, timeless or previously unheard voices stand out.

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

I nominate Canan Marasligil, writer, translator, editor and curator extraordinaire. Canan brings her translator’s eye to everything she does, including the way she walks around new cities.

Greatest Women in Translation: Sophie Lewis


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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Sophie Lewis (nominated by Alison Entrekin).

Sophie Lewis

Credits at the end of the interview.

1. Besides translating, you used to be senior editor at And Other Stories. What exactly do you do now?

I still edit but as a freelancer. I edit fiction for And Other Stories but also for other publishers, including Peirene Press and Tilted Axis Press. This sits more easily alongside my freelance translating: I try only to take on one major job, whether translation or edit, at a time, and run the smaller jobs of whatever kind alongside. In addition, though, since 2016 I have been running workshops on translation in secondary schools, under the title Shadow Heroes.

2. As editor of And Other Stories, you wrote this article about the Year of Publishing Women 2018. This has everything to do with our series, so why don’t you tell us a bit more about this amazing initiative?

What I didn’t manage to include in the article was an argument for why it’s even more important for a publisher working mainly with translations to publish women: if British publishing is male-dominated, what filters through via translation is so masculine it’s breathtaking. So the opportunity to get the word out around the world that we’re interested in something else, in women’s writing particularly, and then in digging into the systems and nets around women that allow them to write, be published and be translated – or not, was something particularly pertinent to And Other Stories. And with some very exciting books already scheduled for 2018 the provocation is already working its magic.

3. You mainly translate from French into English, and one of your numerous translations was Violette Leduc’s Thérèse and Isabelle, that, in your own words, is “groundbreaking women’s writing”, giving voice to “a schoolgirl in a convent school […] systematically repressed from a young age.” Being aware of the many difficulties women face and of the sex issues the world is facing, how was this experience of translating such an amazing woman writer and such a delicate story?

This was a very tough job. The prose was frequently both precise and purple, anatomical, highly detailed and also emotional and sensual. I had to find words for parts that are never comfortably named in English – the usual problem is the lack of middle ground between offensive slang and medical terminology. So I reluctantly employed some euphemism, while making sure I was as precise as I could be everywhere else. And I tried to keep hearing that teenage girl’s voice. Thérèse is precocious but also sheltered. She herself is finding new ways to express her experience and she does that awkwardly, sometimes, but always with genuine feeling. Following and recreating her experience was nearly as painful and exhilarating as it must have been for Leduc to get it down on paper.

4. Besides Leduc, you have also translated several other French writers, such as Stendhal, Jules Verne, Charles Cros, Marcel Aymé, Emilie de Turckheim, Emmanuelle Pagano. Have you already ventured into translating Brazilian Portuguese literature? If so, what have you translated so far? If not, why not?

I have translated short fiction by João Gilberto Noll and also a fair bit of non-fiction and paratextual stuff – for literary festivals and the like. I need to build up my contacts in publishing, so they know to trust me for this work as well as French books. I also need to read more Brazilian fiction, so that I can better trust my own sense of taste and how the literary landscape lies in Brazil. Lastly, I need to convince the Brazilian authorities to reinstate the translation funding so confidently announced only a few years ago. That would really help publishers make the leap to commission translations of Brazilian works.

5. What, in your opinion, are the main differences between translating from French and Brazilian Portuguese into English?

I find Brazilian Portuguese often more fluid, not being required to be quite as specific as either French or English. But really, the differences between each book and each writer’s style are much greater than the differences between the languages overall.

6. How did your story with Brazil and Brazilian Portuguese begin?

I originally began to study European Portuguese in evening classes. I had some ideas about what my next language should be and so chose Portuguese for somewhat academic purposes. I was the only person in my class to be neither related to lusophones nor in love with a lusophone. It was hard! Then my husband landed a job teaching in Rio, so we switched our Portuguese classes to Brazilian. It only really came together when we reached Rio. We lived there for four and a half years; our son Xul was born there in 2014.

7. Now it is your turn to nominate our next interviewee. Who inspires you the most?

I admire Sarah Ardizzone very much for following an inclination to specialise in working with younger writers and translating a youthful, ‘street’ world that requires immense sensitivity to slang and to street-level politics. As I see it, the work she translates presents at least as challenging difficulties as any other texts could do, but Sarah tackles them both more systematically and more passionately than any other translator I’ve encountered.

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Credit of Sophie Lewis’ picture (provided by the interviewee herself): photographer Anna Michell.
Source of the quote on the image: Sophie Lewis and her authors.

Greatest Women in Translation: Alison Entrekin


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After a one-month break, welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series! I assure you it was worth the wait.

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, the great Alison Entrekin, acclaimed literary translator from Brazilian Portuguese into English (nominated by Diane Whitty).

Alison Entrekin

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1. You were actually a professional dancer! What made you change careers and become a translator?

I hurt my sciatic nerve dancing and had to give it a rest. So I went to university to study Creative Writing, because it was the only other thing I liked doing. It wasn’t until several years later, when I was learning Portuguese, that I decided to study translation with the intention of becoming a literary translator.

2. According to Guilherme Sobota (Estadão), you are one of most popular translators when it comes to contemporary Brazilian literature in English. You have already translated Paulo Lins, Daniel Galera, Chico Buarque, and Fernanda Torres, to name but a few well-known Brazilian authors. You are currently retranslating My Sweet Orange Tree (Meu Pé de Laranja Lima), by José Mauro de Vasconcelos, and will start Grande Sertão: Veredas soon. What are /were the challenges of translating such famous works?

Every work comes with its own set of challenges and they’re usually not what you expect them to be. Sometimes it’s the syntax, like in Cristovão Tezza’s The Eternal Son, which is very Brazilian and seems to resist translation into English; or the vocabulary, like in Paulo Lins’s City of God, which is very colloquial and born of a reality that has no direct equivalent in an English-speaking country. Adriana Lisboa’s writing is very poetic, and I spend a long time trying to find the right balance and flow for her sentences in English. With retranslations, there is the issue of the previous translation being either dated or unsatisfactory in some way, and I feel an unspoken obligation to somehow make the new translation work in ways that the previous one didn’t.

3. Which book did you enjoy translating the most and which did you find the most challenging? In both cases, why?

Budapest by Chico Buarque, for the intense word-play, which is incredibly hard to reproduce, but so much fun. The most difficult to date was Tezza’s The Eternal Son. His sentences are long and winding, with many asides, and English just doesn’t have the grammatical flexibility to pack so much information into a single sentence and still sound natural. But I am sure that my next project, a retranslation of João Guimarães Rosa’s 1956 classic, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands—often likened to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake for its linguistic complexity—will make everything else feel like a walk in the park.

4. In this article you wrote for the Words Without Borders blog regarding your translation of Grande Sertão: Veredas, you mention untranslatability. I frown when people widely share articles with lists of untranslatable words in any given language. I do not believe anything is untranslatable, after all, what would our job consist of if this were true? Can you say a few words on the matter? What is your opinion regarding translatability x untranslatability?

I know what you mean about those lists. They often consist of words that describe culture-specific phenomena, which require a few sentences of explanation. Or words that compound a lot of information, which is easier to do in some languages than in others. Or words that are incredibly versatile—like saudade in Portuguese—and can be used in myriad ways, all of which require different translations in the target language. Perhaps they are better described as words that don’t have a single corresponding word in other languages. But they can be explained, and explanation is a kind of translation.

As for Grande Sertão: Veredas, it is possible to unravel the underlying meaning and translate it into straightforward English (albeit with the loss of many nuances). The 1963 translation does precisely that, but the translators chose not to go the extra mile (or light-year, as the case may be) and reproduce Guimarães Rosa’s linguistic alchemy, with its unique blend of quirky syntax, neologism and regionalism, which is what makes the novel so special. These things have to be reconstructed in the target language in the spirit of the original, because there are no direct equivalents, but it’s still translation, nonetheless. Anything that seeks to convey the message and spirit of something else is a kind of translation.

5. In some interviews you gave you mentioned punctuation as being the most challenging aspect of translating literature (as here). This is the first time I see someone point out punctuation, and not words, cultural aspects, or puns/jokes, as a challenge in translation. Could you please elaborate a bit more on the topic? What is so fascinating, yet challenging, about punctuation?

I think of punctuation as traffic signals in a text, telling readers when to stop, when to go, when there’s a bridge coming up.

But while the rules of punctuation are very similar in Portuguese and English, Brazilians and English speakers often punctuate quite differently. It’s all about usage. Brazilian writers regularly join clauses with commas where we would use full stops (periods) in English, and readers are used to it. It seems to help the flow, whereas it can have the opposite effect in English. When readers of English come across an odd connection between clauses (i.e. a comma instead of a full stop), they tend to stop and go back to try and figure out what they missed. So much for flow. I’m not saying that every time there’s a weird comma, we should use a full stop in the translation, just that a case can be made for this kind of swap in some instances. You have to analyse the context and ask questions: How does this piece flow? Who is speaking? Does this comma cause readers of the translation to pause where readers of the original keeping going? Does it change the rhythm or tone?

Just the other day I had to make a decision about whether or not to italicize foreign words in Chico Buarque’s My German Brother—with the author’s blessing, of course—as they are not italicized in the original. There are passages where the Italian-Brazilian mother says things half in Italian, half in Portuguese, and others where the brother tries to seduce an Argentinean girl in Portunhol (the Portuguese-Spanish equivalent of Spanglish), to name just a few examples. The transition from one Latin language to another is so seamless and natural in the original, but somehow clumsy in English without italics. I eventually came to the conclusion that italics, like punctuation, signal that something different is coming up, like a sign warning of a road bump ahead, and the translation flows better with italics. But it’s all very subjective, and case-specific.

There are days when I don’t agree with myself.

6. When you mention translation, people in general usually think of two things: interpreting and literature. The dream of most translation students is to become a literary translator. However, translating literature is not a bed of roses, as we say in Brazilian Portuguese. It once took you three weeks to translate three pages of a Brazilian literary classic, as you mention in the essay you wrote for WWB Daily (link in question 4). That is equivalent to 57 words a day! What is the advice you would give a student or beginner – or even an experienced translator – who would like to enter the realm of literary translation?

I think everyone needs to find their niche. A friend of mine, who is a legal translator, says she can’t imagine working on a single text for months on end. She will happily turn out several documents a day, and she does it so effortlessly because she knows the terminology back-to-front.

Literary translators, on the other hand, need patience and staying-power. Books have a habit of taking twice as long to translate as you thought they would. Every novel takes you somewhere different and you have to become an overnight expert in subjects you’ve never dealt with before (you invariably discover that your vocabulary is really very poor). I would say to someone starting out in the field: Always ask about the things you aren’t sure of, even if you feel stupid asking. If you can, read your translation out loud, listening for glitches, sense, transitions, alliteration that isn’t supposed to be there. Revise, revise, revise. When in doubt, revise again.

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

I nominate Sophie Lewis, editor and literary translator from French and Portuguese.

It was a pleasure e-meeting you and learning more about you, Alison. I really appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions for the interview. 🙂

Greatest Women in Translation: Diane Grosklaus Whitty


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Diane Grosklaus Whitty, nominated by Kim Olson.


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1. How did you get into translation? And what was the importance of co-translating a book by Mário Quintana, a well-known Brazilian author (and also translator), in your early translation years?

I drifted into translation much as I drifted into a 23-year residency in Brazil, cutting short vague plans to pursue an academic career in psycholinguistics. About two years into my ex-pat life, I started committing translations. I say ”committing” because I had no business tackling the task at that point. But it was 1978 and I was a native English speaker in a high-demand market, long before email, the internet, or even personal computers (I used a manual typewriter back then). Today I realize I got very lucky with Mário Quintana’s book: lucky to have been given the assignment and lucky that it didn’t present any major translation challenges, for which I would not have been prepared. Prime rule for a translator: know what you don’t know. I caught on to that over the years, as I took short courses and attended seminars in translation, and as experience hit me aside the head every once in a while. My four-year stint as in-house translator and interpreter for the Australian Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro (1982-86) was a period of intense on-the-job training. By the time the Australian government closed the consulate, I was ready to take the plunge as a full-time free-lancer.

2 The first thing that struck my attention when researching about you to create your questions was the quality of the detailed information one can find on your website, especially your vast portfolio. How important do you think it is for a translator to showcase their portfolio?

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all formula. If you’re a new translator starting out and don’t have much of a portfolio, spending time and money on a website might not be as important as investing in ATA certification or a new CAT tool. In my case, however, while I don’t have a degree in translation or a master’s in, say, public health, what I do have is vast experience – more years than I actually advertise! So my site serves to showcase my work in a way a resume never would. I actually created it just a year ago. I source over half of my income from direct clients in Brazil and when the real plummeted in late 2015/early 2016, I pulled back from the Brazilian market for a while and devoted my extra time to  designing the site. I’ve gotten little traffic through it (half a dozen certified document translations), but I think it serves its other purpose well. I should point out that only about 10% of my work is for agencies; busy PMs want a neat and tidy resume to tuck away in their virtual file cabinet plus a list of the CAT tools you work with; they won’t take the time to visit a website. But here’s an example of how it works with my direct clients: I was approached last fall by a publisher about a non-fiction book on Zika. In my email reply to her query, I highlighted relevant jobs from my portfolio and pointed the editor to my website, where she could also look at samples of my work in the ”snippets” tab. I can’t confirm that the website made any difference in the fact that I landed the assignment (my current favorite-ever), but having the information neatly laid out somehow made it easier to pitch my skills.

At the same time, whether you want to showcase your portfolio or not, I feel it’s important to maintain one. For years, I used to do this in a simple Word file, plugging the raw data into a table hidden inside a folder on my desktop. The website transformed a dreary act of record-keeping into the chance to see the efforts of my labor on display.

3. You mention your all-time favorite escort interpreting assignment was working for the Australian delegation at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. Could you tell us a bit what it was like and why you enjoyed doing it?

I think translators and interpreters are insatiably curious, and this particular assignment gave me glimpses into slices of the world to which I would otherwise not be privy. I sat in while the shadow minister for the environment – a devout Catholic – engaged in an hour-long private conversation with an elderly priest who had been a militant under the dictatorship; I also interpreted for the then-minister of the environment, whose appointments included meeting with a group of street children who were learning sustainable crafts. I was actually a “girl Friday” for the 40 or so members of the delegation, untangling logistic snarls, giving lessons in local culture, and accompanying groups through exhibits and sometimes just around town. Perhaps what I loved most was never knowing which of my language or cultural competency skills might come into play. And the Earth Summit was history – who doesn’t enjoy watching it unfold?

4. Besides having an amazing portfolio, you also showcase some great testimonials, such as “You are like Romário in Brazil. Nobody can replace you,” by a filmmaker, and “you choose the words as I choose the notes when I write an arrangement, very carefully,” by a jazz saxophonist and flautist. Do you think having testimonials help build trust with our potential clients and make them choose us?

Yes, definitely. In a world where ”e-meeting” has become the norm, and where scams are a constant plague, I think testimonials help legitimize your claims and add a personal touch. I’ve drawn most of the testimonials from email exchanges with clients (with their permission), and I have two criteria in mind when deciding what to post. First, I want the comments to mention the qualities and skills that I feel I bring to the job. Second, since the bulk of my work is for direct clients, I give top billing to recognizable names in a given field. So if a scholar or publisher contacts me about a potential job, I can direct them to my site, where they will often recognize a name or two, by reputation or even personally (Brazilian academia is a small world). It helped that I had horded positive feedback over the years in a special file. I recommend it for those days when a job, or a client, has you tearing your hair out and wondering why you ever decided to be a translator – you can take a stroll down memory lane and re-visit some of the clients who make your job a pleasure.

5. Besides having a thorough website not many freelance translators have, you also have a Facebook page, something else not all freelance translators have either (not to mention a rather active profile). And you do share some interesting articles there. How important do you think it is, for freelance translators, to be online?

I don’t consciously seek to maintain an active online presence. In fact, I’m not really a big fan of social media. I created my professional FB page on a whim, but then I found that it forces me to pull my head out of my work and have a little fun. When I left Brazil and returned to the Midwest, in 1999, I started my own little email newsletter for my clients back in Brazil, called ”News of North and South” (a nod to Elizabeth Bishop). It wasn’t focused on translation but on news that might be of interest to my clients – Caetano Veloso’s show in Chicago, my experience with ”return-to-my-native-culture shock,” a US report about something happening in Brazil. It was my excuse to send clients an email and remind them I existed, without directly nagging them for work. I’ve discovered that my FB page works much the same way. I post about translation, language in general, Brazilian literature in translation… and try to keep it light and entertaining. And since it’s FB, I also use it to advertise my accomplishments and pat myself on the back. I automatically repost to my personal FB page, because many of my FB friends are also longtime clients. I can’t say the rewards are all that tangible, but the investment is minimal. Over the years, I’ve learned that big rewards can come from tiny investments.

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

I would like to nominate Alison Entrekin, a force in bringing new voices in Brazilian literature to the world stage. Alison has three skills I greatly admire: a matchless talent for reproducing the Brazilian reader’s experience in English (a way of looking at translation that I’ve learned from her), utmost grace in crafting English prose, and an ability to reflect on the translation process itself – reflections that she generously shares with her colleagues, much to our good fortune.

It was a pleasure to e-meet you, Diane, and to get to know a bit more about you. I really appreciate your taking the time to kindly answer my questions. 🙂

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!