Greatest Women in Translation: Charlotte Collins

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Image credit: Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series! It’s been a long time since our last interview due to my vacation. We are now back with our last interviewee of the year, Charlotte Collins, nominated by Marta Dziurosz.

Welcome, Charlotte!

Charlotte Collins

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1. You only started as a literary translator in 2012. Before that, you were mainly a journalistic translator. However, with the very first book you translated, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, you won the 2017 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translation Prize. Do you think that having had a connection with the book beforehand made a difference to the way you translated it? I’m referring to the fact that you were asked to write a reader’s report on the book for Picador, were very enthusiastic about it, and the publisher was convinced to buy the rights.

It’s not unusual for a translator to come to a book in this way, after writing a reader’s report for the publisher. What I didn’t realize at the time, because I was just starting out, was that you’re seldom asked to read something this good! It’s a rare delight for me to feel such an intense personal and emotional connection with the work.

I’m not sure to what extent that influenced the translation process, though. I try to be meticulous with everything I translate. Literary translation isn’t just about communicating content; you’re trying to reproduce, as closely as possible, the atmosphere and feel of the original. But this is such a delicate thing to do. It’s necessarily subjective; the text is being filtered through your own mind and sensibility, so what you’re reproducing for others to read – and interpret – is your impression of it. Another translator will inevitably reproduce it differently. So however ‘invisible’ a translator tries to be, they can’t help but be an integral part of the text.

Because of this, I feel a duty to try and stay as close to the original as I can – without, of course, sounding clunky. I pay very close attention to what I believe to be the author’s intention (though here again my interpretation can only be subjective), and feel I have a responsibility not to betray it. So, for example, I might be weighing up translation choices and find myself thinking, “But if s/he had wanted to say that, s/he would have chosen this word instead.” In which case I’ll stick with whichever’s closer, providing it works.

I felt it was especially important to do this with A Whole Life. It was clear to me that the author had chosen each word with great care, for a reason, and it was vital that I do the same. With other texts I might allow myself a bit more freedom. The one I’m translating now, for example – Mark und Bein (Homeland) by Walter Kempowski – requires a much looser approach: he has a very distinctive style, and that needs to come across, but it runs the risk of sounding awkward in English. I’ll be discussing with the editor how free it can be. It’s a challenge.

2. You think the literary translation community is “tremendously supportive.” How do you think this benefits new translators entering the market?

I think this is a wonderful time for emerging literary translators – in the anglophone world, at least; I can’t speak for other regions. Translated fiction is enjoying something of a ‘moment’ – sales are up, the readership is expanding, and new and reconstituted prizes like the Man Booker International, the Dublin International, the new Translators Association prize for emerging translators and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation are making a fantastic contribution to promoting translated literature, as well as increasing the visibility of the translators themselves and an appreciation of what it is we do.

One of the most valuable resources out there is the Emerging Translators Network. It was set up by three of my colleagues in 2011, and is aimed at translators who are just embarking on their literary career. It now has hundreds of members all around the world. The ETN provides practical peer support and advice via an online forum, and it’s also a great social network. As is the case for any writer, there’s the potential for translation to be quite an isolated profession. I was lucky enough to move into literary translation shortly after the ETN was founded. There are so many translation-related events happening, and if you look or post on the forum you can usually find colleagues who are going. Some colleagues I met just a few years ago are now close friends.

Once you’ve published something, or have a contract to publish, you’re eligible to join the Translators Association of the (UK) Society of Authors. It’s really worth doing, not only for the networking and in order to keep abreast of developments in the profession, but also because, once you’re a member, you can send contracts to the SoA’s legal team. They’ll check them for you with a fine-toothed comb, and advise you on what you could and should be asking for. That alone is worth far more than the membership fee!

3. I previously watched and shared on my social media channels the speech you gave on accepting the prize mentioned in question 1. I’ve just watched it again to write these questions and was equally impressed and inspired by it. One of the most beautiful things you said was that you “feel passionately that the learning of languages is tremendously important for breaking through […] walls, for crossing […] borders, for making […] connections, for understanding other cultures.” You made a connection between this growing spirit of isolation, especially among political leaders, of not wanting to communicate, to reach out to other people and cultures, and the drop in the learning of languages by English speakers. Could you elaborate a bit on the connection between learning new languages and the spirit of openness and understanding?

In order to learn to speak another language well, you need to understand how that language works within the culture. Language isn’t just words. Everyone knows – translators especially – that words exist within a context, and that context is all. So learning another language means you’re opening yourself up to that other culture, learning about different ways of thinking and doing things; you gain a sense of a different history and environment, a different way of life. It can’t help but broaden the mind. Our world today is globalised: we’re not living, and cannot live, in isolation, be it social, cultural, economic or political. But we’ll never all be the same. We can and should celebrate our differences and diversity – including linguistic diversity – while at the same time seeking to bridge those differences and facilitate better understanding between peoples. The better we’re able to communicate with someone in their own language – the more of their language and culture we understand – the better we’re able to understand them and their way of thinking. And that of course puts us in a better position to build bridges, cement ties, do business, negotiate peace, do whatever it is we want or need to do.

Even learning a language to a very basic level will take you some of the way. It’s not just about being able to speak fluently: you’ll experience and understand how different languages actually force you to think and communicate differently. I’ve learned to appreciate, for example, that my bad habit of interrupting people is even more unacceptable in German. How can I possibly know what someone’s trying to say when they haven’t even got to the verb! And when speaking in German you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to say, otherwise you may have to go back and start the sentence again. It’s much easier to waffle in English.

4. In your opinion, not only learning languages but also reading translated fiction is important for the exploration of new cultures. You say that, when we read, we enter into the character’s head; we become that person, we are drawn into their world. How is that particularly special when reading translated fiction?

For all the reasons given above. It’s essential that we broaden our understanding of others, of how people outside our own little bubble of experience live and think, and why. It’s important that we learn to have empathy, and realise how our actions impact on those around us. What better way to do this than through fiction? Fiction takes you inside someone else’s head; you’re directly experiencing things from their point of view, thinking their thoughts, living their life, hearing their voice inside your mind as if it were your own, being transported to places you’ve never seen, that may not even exist. If you look at it this way, reading is a kind of magic. And if you’re reading literature in translation, the starting point is already a culture other than your own, so the book will inevitably transport you to places and points of view outside your immediate realm of experience.

5. In your speech, you said: “It is important, especially now, that we read well, that we read wisely, and that we read translations.” How do you think we – translators – can play our part in increasing awareness of this?

First, we need to promote ourselves more. Translators are not, on the whole, natural Rampensäue (limelight-hoggers). In our profession we spend the majority of our time working at home, on our own, in silence, with just a book for company, in close communion with the mind of someone who may or may not be dead, and is almost certainly unaware of our devoted attention. This is what we’ve chosen to do, and there are probably reasons for that. I think many of us find it difficult to promote ourselves and our work, beyond telling a few friends and colleagues when we’ve got a book out, either because we’re a bit shy, or because we’re afraid of coming across as arrogant or pushy. To me, each individual translator is a representative of and an advocate for the profession. This is why I support the #namethetranslator initiative, which aims to ensure that translators are always credited alongside authors on websites, in reviews, broadcasts and so on. We want readers to be aware of the work we do, to be conscious that they’ve just read and enjoyed a translation, because it might make them want to read others. In my experience, once people really start thinking about what translation involves, they’re intrigued and want to find out more. At literary festivals, translators are becoming a bit of a draw in themselves – talking about a specific book, examining their craft, discussing with the author, or representing him/her if s/he is unavailable (or dead). Once we can command that interest, we acquire a platform to speak about our work, about the books we love, and about wider contemporary issues, and be heard.

6. “Life is just one moment after another. They might be big moments or small moments, but every one is precious.” This was another of your touching lines, referring to the depth of the book A Whole Life and the author’s attention to detail. I reckon one of your big moments in life was receiving the prize. How about one of your small, but special, moments? I would love to learn what it was.

Small, special moments… well, there are so many. They’re all around us, all the time. You just have to focus on them. As soon as anyone talks about it like this they immediately sound like a New Ager, but it’s true. I’d say that, like Andreas Egger in A Whole Life, I often find them in nature. I have lots of memories of moments spent looking at a beautiful view. For example: sitting outside a mountain hut early one morning and looking down on the mist clearing from the Kaisertal as the sun came up, all those little fluffy clouds drifting off like sheep in search of the exit. Or… aged 18, reading T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for the first time, under the sloping ceiling of an attic room. It was breathtaking – I felt as if I were being swept up and away in a whirlwind, and when I finished I more or less fell off the bed.

And all shall be well and 
All manner of thing shall be well
 
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
 
Into the crowned knot of fire
 
And the fire and the rose are one.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who has just stepped down after three years as co-chair of the Translators Association. As well as being a multiple-award-winning translator in her own right and one of the leading practitioners in her field, Antonia’s also a dedicated mentor and an inspiration to a great many of her colleagues, particularly emerging translators from the Polish. She has long been a vocal and active champion of translators and translated fiction.

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Guest post: Plain language and translation

Welcome back, dear readers!

Missed me and my wonderful contributors? I have just returned from a much-deserved 20-day vacation, during which time I did not work at all nor post on social media and on the blog. However, before and after those 20 days, of course things were/are hectic, so that is why I have been absent from the blog. Bear with me for a while, and I promise it will be worth it. I have been working in the background, inviting people, having post ideas, so I will come back with our regular editorial calendar at full speed.

And now let’s return in great style with a dear and talented colleague I had the pleasure of meeting at last IAPTI’s Conference, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April, Joanna Richardson.

Welcome, Joanna!

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Image provided by the author

Plain Language and Translation: Think of the Reader

My work: plain language instructor for professionals

While not actually working as a translator, my job for the past 15 years at Argentina’s largest law firm, teaching lawyers how to write in plain English and editing their published work, has kept me closely in contact with the difficulties that professionals face when writing in English as a second language.

Translating complex legal texts into English, and making them understandable for foreign clients is a daily challenge, but don’t worry, plain language can help!

What is plain language?

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.

Source: International Plain Language Federation

 How did it all start?

Quintilian was talking about plain language back in Roman times. But the modern plain language movement kicked off in the 1970s, when grassroots consumer rights associations started to ask their governments to improve their documents. In the UK, in 1974, two elderly ladies died of hypothermia after not being able to fill in a form for fuel subsidies: the Plain English Campaign, still going strong, came into being as result of this tragedy. In the USA the New York Tax Law was revised into plain language in 1978 in response to consumer pressure.

Plain language around the world

Today, the UK is a leading example of this trend and the government website gov.uk has won awards for both design and plain language. In the USA, the Plain Writing Act was enacted in 2010 and around the world, both English-speaking and other, there are many instances of plain language legislation and its positive effects for citizens, and how it saves money for both private and public institutions. The two NGOs: Clarity and PLAIN (Plain Language Association International) have many examples of plain language worldwide on their websites. And the Center for Plain Language, a US-based NGO, also has many examples.

The EU is one international organization that has been aware of this problem for some time. In 1998 they published a booklet on clear translations called Fight the Fog, but the situation deteriorated as the EU grew and took on more languages. In 2011 the booklet was updated by plain English expert Martin Cutts, author of the Oxford Guide to Plain English, and was published in 23 of the EU’s languages: How to write clearly. This booklet can be downloaded free here and has lots of tips on how to avoid EU-speak and improve translations. But even so, it is not mandatory in the EU so many of the suggestions go unheeded. For many languages this is still their only plain language resource.

Plain language for translators

We are not talking about plain language in literature, but official government documentation, forms, contracts and legal writing, the sort of things that citizens have to deal with every day on and offline. These kinds of documents are often written in very complex language and when they are translated, things only go from bad to worse.

Who are these kinds of official documents written for?

The people who have to read them are pushed for time and these days, generally reading them on a small screen. We need to think of our readers today, particularly when translating. Getting the message over to the reader without losing their attention is a constant challenge. And plain language is a great tool.

Bear in mind these 8 recommendations for plain language in translation:

  1. Write short sentences – even if this means chopping up an excessively long sentence and rewriting it into 2 or 3 sentences.
  2. Use active voice – the passive voice is useful but is always longer and less direct. It fails to mention the doer, so can be ambiguous.
  3. Avoid nominalizations – like information or application. Use the verb form like inform or apply to make your writing stronger.
  4. Avoid sexist language – in English it is not acceptable to use the male pronoun to refer to both genders and the modern tendency is non-binary, using the gender-neutral pronoun they in the singular.
  5. Use everyday words – and if you must use jargon, explain it.
  6. Avoid the negative – it is not a clear way of thinking.
  7. Use personal pronouns – address your reader directly.
  8. Avoid shall which has an ambiguous meaning that lends itself to confusion. Use must for obligation and the present tense when something is simply a statement.

So, next time you are translating a government form or a financial document, first think of your reader and translate it into plain language!

What an insightful post, Joanna! Thanks a lot for your kind and rich contribution!

About the author
joanna-richardsonJoanna Richardson
 is a British national who has made Buenos Aires, Argentina her home.
With a background in literature and translation, since 2002 Joanna has taught plain English writing skills to Spanish-speaking lawyers at Argentina’s leading law firm, Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal.
More recently she has applied her expertise from the clear communications field to coach professionals in public speaking.
Joanna enjoys creative writing and making chutney in her spare time.
Website: www.plainenglish.com.ar
Contact: plainenglishargentina@gmail.com
Twitter: @jomrichardson

 

 

Greatest Women in Translation: Marta Dziurosz

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Created by Érick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Women in Translation month is over this year, way buzzier than the previous years, but we can keep doing our job here, interviewing and recognizing the great women we have in translation.

Please welcome Marta Dziurosz, nominated by Canan Marasligil.

Marta Dziurosz

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1. The first literary translation job you found on your own was at a book fair in Poland: you say you introduced yourself “at the stall of every publisher, left them some hand-made materials […] and one of them bit.” If you had to do it again, would you do anything differently? What advice would you give to those who are starting out and would like to do the same thing you did?

That was a surprisingly successful strategy for a completely different time and place – I wanted to start translating from English into Polish, and it was perhaps ten years ago. The market of translated literature in Poland is massive, which has all the predictable problems, but it also means it was comparatively easy to start working this way. My relationship with that one publishing house lasted for seven years and I was very happy to be working with them. The thing is I am now doing it again, but the other way round – translating from Polish into English, which is a completely different kettle of fish. The market is tiny and because the resources for publishing translations are so much more stretched, you need to be more canny when introducing yourself if you want to be successful. I won’t lie – it does help to be in London and meet people personally, but exciting things in translation-focused publishing are also happening in the North, with the Northern Fiction Alliance and the focus on translation during the Edinburgh festival. Edinburgh, just like the London Book Fair, the Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School in Norwich, Translate at City and International Translation Day, are great focal points of the year when you get a massive shot of industry knowledge, so it’s great to try and be there. People on ETN (the Emerging Translators’ Network) usually have good tips on where to stay. In general, preparation is key – before you pitch or introduce yourself, know what you want to do and who you want to talk to. On the other hand, though, chance encounters and conversations are also great and potentially fruitful. Finally, read widely in your language to see what you like, and read as many books as you can translated into English from your language, see how they do it and ask yourself why.

2. Being a non-native translator of English yourself, you talk a lot about this controversial subject (here, for example). You say you are “increasingly confused about who a native speaker really is” (link above). Why is that?

I want to help make it less controversial. The reason why I am confused about this term is that you’d have to be wilfully ignorant not to see that people arrive at languages at various stages of their lives and through various circumstances.

Language competence, cultural sensitivity, suppleness of phrase, a sly sense of humour, an ear for nuance – these are not exclusive to “native” speakers.

The division between “native” and “non-native” defines the latter negatively, as if through some sort of lack, and “non-native” is frequently used as a shorthand for “in need of linguistic instruction”. I wrote an article about this for The Linguist and a good few people emailed me saying they’ve been holding themselves back in their careers because they felt it wasn’t the done thing to translate into a language you’d come into later in life. Isn’t that a shame?

3. You work at Pan Macmillan, drafting and negotiating most of their translators’ contracts. As you say, it “is an interesting peek behind the scenes” and gives you “the chance to mediate between the two sides of the deal” (link in Q1). What have you learned, as a translator, with this experience? And what advice would you give to translators regarding contracts based on this experience?

As a translator, remember that the person you’re negotiating your contract with (sometimes it will be a dedicated contracts person, sometimes not) is a human being, and not your enemy. Both sides want the deal to happen (preferably on good terms and with the minimum of hassle). Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to negotiate for your preferred terms, but pick your battles and know when to gracefully accept a compromise. Remember that the terms of your contract will to some extent depend on the terms of the “head” contract – that is, the contract your publisher signs to buy rights in the book with the original rights holder (for example, the publisher of the original Spanish book you’re translating into English). If you’re a member of the Translators’ Association, you can use their free contract vetting service, or you can listen to a podcast of an event about this I chaired at Free Word, to cover the basics.

4. You have recently presented a keynote on scents in literature. “The purpose of the talk was to reflect on the many ways in which scent is used in literature to evoke emotions and tell stories,” as you point out in the event’s blog, where you also provide a reading list related to the topic. Could you explain in more details what translating scent is all about?

We had a whole panel discussion about it at Free Word. I am very interested in the transmission of ideas; in this case between words and scents and vice versa. The perfumer Thomas Fontaine recently said in an interview: “Perfume is a story; we get a story from a, for example, fashion brand, and we translate that into fragrances”. At the Free Word event, it was fascinating to discuss the embodiment of a brief into a fragrance, and the translation of scent into literature, as well as translating a book about scents from French into English. When making a transition between languages, or between scent and text, what gets carried across? You can dig pretty deep in that topic, and Ricarda Vidal, one of the participants of the discussion, did just that in her Translation Games project.

5. You are an Associate of London’s Free Word Centre, and were their 2015-2016 Translator in Residence. As a TiR, last year, as part of Free Word’s celebrations around International Women’s Day, you chaired a panel discussion on women in translation, a topic that has everything to do with this series. How can we tackle this gender imbalance in international literature and make a difference? Do you think initiatives such as Women in Translation help somehow?

Of course I am incensed that we still need to discuss this, but we do still need to discuss this. A few recent lists of recommendations for books in translation included barely any women authors, and in terms of review space (dramatically scarce as it is), percentages of books in translation published and event/panel appearances the field is still far from level. The initiative you mention, the new Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, And Other Stories’ idea of publishing only women in 2018 – looking at the history of publishing and the endless years when focusing exclusively on men didn’t even warrant a comment or a moment of reflection, I’d personally say they are very necessary. They make us reflect a bit more about what we read, where we find our recommendations, who we support with our money, attention and time, whose perspective we find worthwhile.

6. As an advocate of Polish literature, what book, in particular, do you recommend for someone who would like to start exploring it? As you already recommended a few that have not been translated yet in your interview to Jen Calleja (link in Q1), it can be one that has been already translated.

The most beautiful Polish book I’ve recently read in translation was Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft and published by Fitzcarraldo. I reviewed it for the Glasgow Review of Books – it’s a beautiful, tender look at people in transit, a personal encyclopedia of travel, movement, migration.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate the eminent German translator Charlotte Collins, whose work I admire – this is for very selfish reasons, I’d just like to know more about her practice!

ConVTI draw

And the winner is...

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash, edited on Canva

And the winner of ConVTI’s free registration is…

Priscila França

Sorteador

Ganhador

Congratulations!

The event’s organizers will send you an email on the next few days explaining how to register.

If you were not the lucky winner but are interested in attending this amazing event, we still have four 20% discounts available here. All you have to do is leave a comment on the link’s post until August 18. It’s as simple as that.

I will send the registration link to all ten winners of the discount by email soon.

Are you lost and have absolutely no idea what we are talking about? Click on the link above for more information.

Thank you all for participating! And a special thanks to the amazing women behind ConVTI, Gio Lester and Márcia Nabrzecki, for coming up with the event, organizing it and offering us the free registration and discounts. You rock!

See you on August 26-27. After all, I am also attending the event. 😉

Greatest Women in Translation: Canan Marasligil

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Created by Erick Tonin

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.

From ConVTI to you

We have agift for you!

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash, edited on Canva

Português abaixo. Español abajo.

We’ve got gifts!

This blog and my translation podcast, TradTalk, were proudly chosen as the channels to officially launch ConVTI last month. Now the lovely organizers of this innovative event, Márcia Nabrzecki and Gio Lester, decided to kindly offer 1 free registration and a 20% discount to 10 of my followers as a sign of appreciation for our warm welcome. Isn’t that amazing?

If you missed the launch or does not even know what I am talking about, stop! Read about it here and feel free to watch/listen to the podcast interview (in Portuguese) here before proceeding. You can also visit the event’s website (link above) for more information. Also take the chance to connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Moving on to our lovely gifts…

Draw of 1 free registration

Fill out this brief form (also available on the bottom of this page) to join the draw. It’s that simple.

The draw will be held on August 14, 8 a.m. (EST). The lucky winner will be announced here on the blog, and the post will be shared on the event’s social media channels and mine.

20% discount to 10 followers

The first 10 followers who leave a comment below will win 20% of discount, paying only US$60. Ready, set, go!

Important: Should you be interested in the discount, leave a comment below even if you fill in the form for the draw and/or we reach 10 comments. Should the draw winner be one of the first 10 people to comment below, his/her discount will be transferred to the 11th commenter.

This is your chance to watch great talks by big names in translation, such as Paula Arturo, Jost Zetzsche, Kirti Vashee, Barry Olsen, from the comfort of your home sweet home (office) at a fraction of what you would spend with a usual conference. So don’t wait! Comment below and fill out the form.

Attention: You must be a translator, interpreter, dubber, subtitler, or other translation-related professional; or a student of any course related to any of these professions to participate. Comments and forms by random people will not be eligible to participate.

Good luck, dear followers!


Ganhamos presentes!

Como o Carol’s Adventures in Translation e meu podcast TradTalk foram os canais oficiais de lançamento do ConVTI, as queridas Márcia Nabrzecki e Gio Lester, organizadoras do evento, decidiram, em agradecimento, gentilmente oferecer 1 inscrição gratuita para o evento e 10 descontos de 20% para meus seguidores, vocês! Isso não é incrível?

Caso vocês tenham perdido a divulgação e nem saibam do que se trata, pare agora! Leia aqui a publicação (em inglês) no blog, assista/ouça aqui a entrevista que fiz com a Márcia para o podcast e acesse o site (link acima) para mais informações. Não deixe também de seguir o evento nas mídias sociais: Facebook, Twitter e YouTube.

Agora, sim, vamos ao que interessa: como participar.

Sorteio de uma inscrição gratuita

Para participar do sorteio, basta preencher este formulário (também disponível na parte inferior desta página) com seu nome, sobrenome e endereço de e-mail. É rápido e simples.

O sorteio será no dia 14 de agosto, às 9h (horário de Brasília). O ganhador será divulgado aqui no blog, e a publicação será compartilhada nas redes sociais minhas e do evento.

Desconto de 20% para 10 seguidores

É simples: os 10 primeiros seguidores que comentarem abaixo, aqui mesmo nesta publicação, ganharão um desconto de 20% no valor da inscrição, pagando apenas US$ 60,00 cada um. Valendo!

Importante: caso queira aproveitar o desconto, não deixe de comentar abaixo, mesmo se inscrevendo para o sorteio e/ou se atingirmos os 10 comentários. Caso o ganhador do sorteio seja um dos 10 primeiros a deixar um comentário, seu desconto será transferido para a 11ª pessoa que comentar.

Esta é sua chance de assistir a palestras incríveis de grandes nomes nacionais e internacionais da tradução, como Paula Arturo, Jost Zetzsche, Kirti Vashee, Barry Olsen, sem sair do conforto da sua casa ou do seu home office e economizando! Portanto, comente abaixo e preencha o formulário.

Atenção: é preciso ser tradutor, intérprete, dublador, legendador ou outro profissional relacionado à tradução; ou aluno de um curso relacionado a uma dessas profissões. Comentários e formulários de pessoas aleatórias não serão considerados.

Boa sorte, queridos!


¡Tenemos regalos!

Como Carol’s Adventures in Translation y mi podcast TradTalk fueron los canales oficiales de lanzamiento de ConVTI, las queridas Márcia Nabrzecki y Gio Lester, organizadoras del evento, decidieron amablemente ofrecer, como agradecimiento, 1 inscripción gratuita para el evento y 10 descuentos de 20% para mis seguidores: ¡ustedes! ¿No les parece increíble?

Si se perdieron la divulgación y no saben de qué se trata todo eso, ¡paren un minuto! Lean aquí la publicación (en inglés) del blog, vean/escuchen aquí la entrevista que le hice a Márcia para el podcast (en portugués) y visiten la página (link arriba) para obtener más información. Además, no dejen de seguir el evento en las redes sociales: Facebook, Twitter y YouTube.

Ahora sí, vamos a los que nos interesa: cómo participar.

Sorteo de una inscripción gratuita

Para participar en el sorteo, basta completar este formulario. Es rápido y fácil.

El sorteo será el día 14 de agosto, a las 9 h (hora de Brasilia). El ganador será anunciado aquí en el blog, y la publicación será compartida en mis redes sociales y las del evento.

20% de descuento para 10 seguidores

Es fácil: los 10 primeros seguidores que hagan un comentario abajo, aquí mismo en esta publicación, ganarán un 20% de descuento del valor de la inscripción, solo pagarán U$ 60,00 cada uno. ¡Ya empezó!

Importante: si quieres aprovechar el descuento, deja tu comentario aquí abajo, aunque también te inscribas para el sorteo y/o lleguemos a los 10 comentarios. Si el ganador del sorteo es uno de los 10 primeros que dejan un comentario, el descuento será transferido al 11º que haya comentado.

Es tu oportunidad para ver ponencias increíbles de grandes nombres nacionales e internacionales de la traducción, como Paula Arturo, Jost Zetzsche, Kirti Vashee, Barry Olsen, ¡sin salir de la comodidad de tu casa o tu home office y ahorrando! Así que, deja tu comentario aquí abajo y completa el formulario.

Atención: es necesario ser traductor, intérprete, doblador, subtitulador o profesional relacionado con la traducción; o alumno de algún curso relacionado con una de estas profesiones. Los comentarios y formularios de personas ajenas al sector no serán considerados.

¡Buena suerte, queridos!

 

Greatest Women in Translation: Sarah Ardizzone

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Image created by Erick Tonin

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.

ConVTI (Virtual Interpreting and Translation Conference)

 

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Márcia Nabrzecki and I, Gio Lester, have a lot in common. Besides being Brazilian and translators, we are also advocates, instructors, and mentors. Last year, a common friend brought us together and the result is a 2-day event that we believe will delight those who attend it.

I better tell you a bit about ourselves. My career in Translation and Interpreting started in 1980. Yes, I am a legacy professional and have witnessed and adapted to many changes over the years. I have also been an advocate for our professions: President of two Florida Chapters for the American Translators Association-ATA (2001-2003; 2011-2012; 2015), Director and also Interim Vice Chair for the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (2010-2013), mentor for members of ATA and also of its Brazilian counterpart, ABRATES, and currently I am also the Editor of The NAJIT Observer, a weekly online publication by the National Association of Judiciary Translators and Interpreters. Márcia started her career in 1995. Love for her profession led Marcia to engage in activities beyond translation projects. She is busy mentoring other professionals for Coletivo Identidade, a program that evolved from T&I events in Curitiba and spread to other cities in Brazil; she leads workshops and organizes events such as the monthly barcamps that also started in lovely Curitiba. Márcia manages to find time to lead Pro-Page, Traduções e Projetos, her own company. You can read more about us here.

So, after a few conversations and planning, we decided to throw a party at your place. Well, actually, a conference. Why, you may ask. Well, how many conferences have you missed this year? How many more are on your wish list? The truth is, regardless of origin, language and customs, we all share the desire to learn, grow and save. ConVTI ([//kon-vee-tee-eye//], in Portuguese, Congresso Virtual de Tradução e Interpretaçãomakes all three available to all of us.

Márcia and I feel the same way: earning continuing education credits, networking with colleagues, improving the quality of our services, etc. should not be a hardship. And we have a solution that makes use of modern technology to solve that issue – after all, this is the 21st Century!

Our professions have experienced exponential changes at different levels. Technology’s effects have been both negative and positive: clients expect a lot more from us in a shorter period of time but we have tools that help us work smarter; new market segments are open to us but the learning curve can be discouraging; there are incredible new tools out there but either cost, availability, compatibility, or something else are obstacles.

However, technology has reached a point that allows for presenters from all over the world to congregate on your laptop. And we have arranged just that for you: a great professional event with international talent, respected colleagues, best representatives in their specializations. ConVTI will fill in the gap between events, allow professionals to meet their certification requirements and learn from leaders in various segments. And the latest: HeadVox will be providing simultaneous interpreting for the live sessions.

We have put together a collection of top-notch T&I professionals to delight you. No divas. We wanted an even constellation of professionals who understand the changes in the market and what they mean to us.

Wherever you are, we promise you two event-filled days. On August 26, we will have four 1-hour presentations followed by a 90-minute panel on MT and interpreting technology. The day’s closing event is a live roundtable with all presenters. On August 27, we will have six 1-hour presentations and the closing is another live roundtable with all presenters. ConVTI will cover subjects ranging from the practical side of translation to the technical aspects of it, interpreting technology and changes in judicial interpreting, the business side of our profession, and we are working on bringing sign language interpreting into the offerings. Since Márcia and I do believe in equal opportunity learning, we have plans to have the presentations subtitled in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

And your wallet will be happy too: No airfare cost. No hotel cost. No meals cost – well, that will depend on you. Just take your mobile device to wherever you feel more comfortable and join us. A flat fee of $75 gives you access to the 2-day event. The presentations will be available for sale after the event.

Are your ready for a visit? Have your computers, laptops, cell phones or tablets at the ready. We are coming your way: August 26 and 27.

Visit our website for more detailed information. Also, like our Facebook page, follow the event on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated. Should you have any doubts, send us an email to info@convti.com.

If you missed the webinar The Business of Being in Business – Part I: The Professional Side (free webinar to give you a taste of ConVTI), just click here to watch the video. And get ready for the second installment: The Business of Being in Business – Part II: The Commercial Side coming to you on June 24, at 8 am EST – check your local time on Time Buddy. Registration is now open, just click here.

Márcia has talked about the event (in Portuguese) for the TradTalk podcast. You can watch or listen to it here.

About the author
GioBrazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester‘s career in translation and interpreting started in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with. She has held many volunteer administrative positions within various organizations related to our profession, and often speaks and writes on issues that affect us. As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. Gio has been a contributor to The NAJIT Observer since its inception in 2011, and its Editor since 2016. She can be reached at gio@giolester.com.

Greatest Women in Translation: Sophie Lewis

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Created by Érick Tonin

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.

* Image created with Canva.
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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Created by Érick Tonin

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. 🙂