Reflections on the ATA Conference by a Second-Year Attendee, or The ATA Conference and the Cycle of Learning

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Michele Rosen

Now that I’ve attended my second ATA conference, I can see annual attendance will influence my career as a freelance translator. Each year, I’ve gone to the conference with a set of questions about the profession and the industry, and, so far, I’ve come out with enough partial answers and new questions to drive my professional development throughout the following year, until the next conference, when I expect the cycle to repeat.

Surrendering to the flow of information coming from the conference was easier this time around. In 2016, just six months after deciding to embark on a new career as a freelance translator, I went into the San Francisco conference with basic but important questions about how to set my rates and whether I needed to add a second language pair. I came home from that conference with copious notes and pointers to books, blogs, podcasts, and papers that helped me to find the answers.

For example, as a beginning freelance translator, I feared that translators who work in less-common and more-difficult-to-learn languages than French were somehow more valuable, and therefore more likely to be in demand and more highly paid, than translators in a common language pair like French and English. Initially, seeing all of the (more experienced) French-to-English translators at the conference, I started to fear, as I heard one Spanish translator say, that “everyone can translate French.”

However, as I began to explore the fountain of information I had collected at the conference, I began to see that, as Corinne McKay has noted, every language pair has its pros and cons. In a blog post entitled “Which Language is Best,” McKay explained that, in her view, French and German are appealing for U.S.-based translators “because there’s a good balance between work volume and rates, and because U.S.-based translators have some financial advantages” over European translators. At the same time, while there is a critical need for Middle Eastern and Asian languages, she cautioned that, “for some of these language combinations, there is a lot of competition from translators who are not native speakers of English but who translate into English anyway, even if they shouldn’t.” This information made it easier for me to decide to shelve my tentative (and frankly unrealistic) plans to become fluent in Japanese.

As I prepared to attend the conference in 2017, the previous conference served as a milestone that let me see how much I had learned since then. With a conference and a year of freelancing under my belt, I certainly didn’t qualify as a newbie anymore, but I didn’t feel quite ready to be a buddy. That said, I knew the conference would provide the opportunity to ask new questions about what it means to be a translator and to continue to figure out what kind of translator I want to be.

These questions led me to attend T&I Advocacy Day, at which such questions moved from the theoretical to the practical. The event, organized by the ATA in partnership with the Joint National Committee for Languages, was intended to introduce ATA members to public advocacy for issues important to the profession. The organizers scheduled meetings for attendees with Congressional staffers and asked us to focus on three topics: wage rate estimates for translators and interpreters from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), language services procurement policies, and best practices for machine translation.

During the strategy session with the Maryland delegation, we discussed how to explain to Congressional staffers why the BLS should change the way it estimates hourly rates for translators and interpreters. A major point of contention is that the BLS only surveys translators with full-time permanent positions to determine the median hourly rate for translators and interpreters ($22.17/hour in 2016). In pointing out how reductive this single rate is, Evelyna Radoslavova argued convincingly that it’s difficult to generalize about translators and interpreters because we all deal with different language pairs and subject matters.

While I agreed with Radoslavova that it was important to make this point to the staffers, we also agreed that the diversity in the profession makes it difficult to craft a more precise description of the profession than the one currently used by the government, which states that translators and interpreters “convert information from one language into another language.” This definition is clearly vague and incomplete, but it isn’t easy to come up with a more precise definition that won’t exclude some translators.

While this difficulty poses a challenge for language industry policy advocates, it also creates the opportunity for each translator and interpreter to define the profession for ourselves. I expect to be contemplating this scary and exciting idea for the next several months, until I have another chance to immerse myself in the impressive breadth and depth of the ATA annual conference.

Michele Rosen is a freelance translator and editor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.

Working In (And Maintaining) Two Very Different Foreign Languages

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Ben Karl

When I tell other translators what language pairs I work in, I inevitably get one of several reactions: wow, those are so different! That’s impressive, where did you learn that second one? How the heck did you pick those two up? They’re nothing alike! Which language is that pink dot on your ATA badge?

My two working languages are French and Chinese (Mandarin). When I moved to Montreal for university, I decided that in addition to jumping into French translation, I would start taking another language as well. Portuguese, a language I was drawn to at the time, wasn’t offered, but I could choose from all of the official UN languages and others, including Hebrew and even Tibetan. At 8:00 a.m. on the first Monday of my first week, I attended my first Chinese class. The rest, as they say, is history.

Working with two very different languages presents a number of challenges and rewards. Below are just a few of them.


  1. The “mental gymnastics” of translation

An article in the November/December 2017 issue of The Chronicle by Roz Schwartz includes the following quote from Nicky Harman, a Chinese to English translator:

“I’ve no evidence for this since I only translate from Chinese, but I think that languages that are very different from English are harder to translate because you have to do more mental gymnastics to get an acceptable English version. Not even the simplest sentence can be translated ‘literally’ (yes, I know that word opens another can of worms!).”

While my observations are also purely anecdotal, I would agree that working from Chinese to English is much more challenging and requires significantly more time and effort than working from French to English. English has borrowed extensively from French and, by virtue of the fact that both are Indo-European languages, they share many more similarities than do English and Chinese. The increased difficulty of Chinese affects all aspects of a translation project, from quoting to the translation itself to quality control, adding an additional layer of complexity and difficulty.

  1. Differences in prospecting tactics

The francophone world and the United States have relatively similar business practices. Marketing usually involves demonstrating your value to a potential customer and the customer deciding whether or not to buy based on a variety of factors, from price to perceived quality to simple convenience. China, on the other hand, has an additional level of complexity. Many people have heard of guanxi, a Chinese term that literally means “relationship” but encompasses the myriad personal connections that lubricate business dealings in China. This often means getting to know your client or counterpart on a personal level over multiple meetings, meals, and drinks. For a US-based freelancer, developing such relationships in China is very challenging. Therefore, in my experience, Chinese-to-English freelancers in the US generally work with US-based companies that are communicating with China, whereas French-English translators are able to work more easily with clients all over the world.

  1. The world’s most challenging writing system

Chinese is widely touted as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Tones completely aside, the writing system rivals all others in terms of difficulty and complexity (you may be seeing a common theme here: difficulty and complexity!). According to the BBC, there are over 50,000 distinct Chinese characters (thankfully only about 20,000 of which are still in use and listed in modern dictionaries). A university-educated Chinese person will know approximately 8,000 characters and to read a newspaper (and be a decent translator), you need to know upwards of 3,000 of them. Since there is no link between a way a character is written and how it is pronounced, Chinese is one of the only languages where you can see the words on the page, know what they mean, but not remember how to pronounce them; or conversely, know how to say a word but forget what it looks like. These complexities, coupled with the stark differences between English and Chinese, mean that I consult my dictionary far more frequently for Chinese than I do for French.


  1. Broad cultural and linguistic reach

With English, French, and Mandarin combined, I can understand and facilitate communication between nearly 1.5 billion people. That’s almost a quarter of the people living on the planet! I get to experience an inspiring amount of cultural richness in what I am lucky to translate on a daily basis. In a single day, I can “travel” from Mainland China to Quebec City to Geneva to Kinshasa and back again.

  1. Lack of grammatical similarities or cognates

French and Chinese have almost nothing in common. French is relatively highly inflected; Mandarin has zero inflection. French grammar is derived from Latin whereas Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language. This makes it all but impossible to confuse them or mix them up. Other than English loan words in Chinese, such as caffeine (kāfēiyīn, 咖啡因), pizza (pīsà, 披萨), salad (shālà, 沙拉), and others, including many place names, there are no cognates and therefore no need to keep a watchful eye on faux amis. When working in Chinese, I do not have to worry about getting tripped up by éventuellement, excité, or luxurieux.

  1. Daily intellectual stimulation

I often have the privilege of working on Chinese and French texts in the same day. Working from just one language to another can be challenging enough, so having the chance to work from multiple languages a day is an excellent way to keep my synapses firing. I definitely earn myself a nice glass of wine at the end of a long day (and that wine is often un bon vin français).

If you work in two very different languages or have had similar experiences, tweet the FLD at @ATA_FLD and Ben at @Bentranslates.

Ben Karl, MBA, CT is a French and Mandarin to English translator based in Reno, Nevada who specializes in marketing, financial, and creative content. Visit his blog, Ben Translates, or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

FLD Member Updates – First Quarter 2018

Members provide updates to share with the French Language Division. If you have a professional update you would like to share, please email it to us at

  • Nelia Fahloun won the “Translate in Cambridge” (2016) EN>FR translation contest. The announcement of her award was made in 2017. The source text and her winning translation are available here: and her translation is number 8 in the list. In addition, Nelia’s first published translations were released in 2017, four chapters in a book on youth policy in Europe (L’Europe de la jeunesse) for the Presses de l’EHESP (École des hautes études en santé publique). 
  • Ben Karl graduated with an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno in July 2017. Congratulations, Ben!
  • Nanette McGuinness had three French graphic novel translations released ​in 2017:
    – ​​Sea Creatures: Reef Madness #1 – (Papercutz, January 24, 2017)
    ​​- California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas – (First Second, March 7, 2017)
    – Sea Creatures #2: “Armed & Dangerous – (Papercutz, May 23, 2017)​
  • Jenn Mercer and Carolyn Yohn co-translated Can Finance Save the World? by former World Bank director Bertrand Badré (originally published in French as Money Honnie). The translation was released on January 30, 2018, by Berrett-Koehler Publishers,. It includes forwards by both Emmanuel Macron and Gordon Brown. More information is available here:
  • Dr. Bruce D. Popp‘s translation of Poincaré’s On the Three-Body Problem and the Equations of Dynamics has been published and can be found here: In addition, at the 58th ATA Conference held in October 2017 in Washington, D.C., Bruce was awarded the S. Edmund Berger Prize for his translation of Henri Poincaré’s classic work. See the FLD newsletter article on this for more information.
  • Valeriya Yermishova is an FLD member and both a French and Russian to English translator. Her first Russian > English translation was published. in July 2017. It was The Life of a Bishop’s Assistant by Viktor Shklovsky and the translation was published by Dalkey Archive Press.

My Day on Capitol Hill

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Karen Tkaczyk

When I saw that ATA’s 58th Annual Conference in Washington, DC included ATA’s first Translation and Interpreting Advocacy Day I jumped at the chance to attend. I wasn’t alone: forty-five translators and interpreters participated. We met with staffers in congressional offices to inform them about issues affecting the T&I professions.

This event was arranged by the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL). JNCL, along with the National Council for Languages and International Studies, lobbies Congress and the Executive Branch on behalf of the language community.

About a week before the event we received statements on advocacy issues and recommendations for action that were the foundation of our discussions. We had three topics:

  • Inaccuracies in Prevailing Wages Rate Determinations for Translators and Interpreters
  • Machine Translation vs. Human Translation
  • Language Services Procurement: The Need for the Best Value Approach

These position papers impressed me when I received them, and I tried to absorb the material as I prepared for the day. As well as the papers we were to hand off to the staffers, we received several pages of helpful tips on what to expect and information on navigating Capitol Hill. (Tunnels: who knew?)

In the morning JNCL gave us training on how to present these problems and solutions to the people we met. After lunch they bussed us over and set us loose. Three of us present were from Colorado, so I had reassuring company for our first two meetings with our Senators’ offices. Then I was on my own as I went to my Representative’s office. Having the statement papers to fall back on when I was nervous was very helpful.

We had been warned in the training to expect a range of responses from staffers and to avoid using any keywords that might trigger partisan hackles: better not to mention the ACA in my Freedom Caucus Representative’s office, for instance. In practice the receptions varied from dry to warm and friendly, without any awkwardness. None of the staffers I met appeared to know anything much about language issues and how our industry works. Two seemed to think that using machine translation was not a wise option for anything that mattered, so that led to some light humor. I felt that we had raised awareness of how our industry operates—the idea of many of us being self-employed, small business owners. One of the staffers seemed especially intrigued by the ideas in the three papers we discussed, appeared to be convinced that they had value, and told us who he had shared them with when we followed up.

I hope that among the 45 of us we managed to influence some of these Counsels or Assistants to a point where they will reflect on what we said and tell their bosses, and also that this will just be the first of many such opportunities for ATA. In addition, I and many others who participated can say that this was a valuable life experience and are thankful to have had the opportunity.

Karen Tkaczyk has been a Fr>En technical translator since 2005. She is the current ATA Secretary.

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Beth Smith

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is part of a continuing series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Beth Smith is a French to English translator specializing in tourism, advertising/marketing, and the psychology of happiness (an accidental specialization developed when translating the book The Finance of Happiness by Renaud Gaucher).

How did you get involved in translation?

I did my first translation back in grad school. One of the professors was editing a special edition of a journal and needed a bunch of people to translate texts, so he asked me to translate an excerpt from a Haitian novel. I enjoyed it, I got paid, but never really thought about translation again. Several years later (in 2007, I think), a French friend who is a filmmaker asked me if I would translate one of his scripts into English. I enjoyed it so much that I started researching translation, did the NYU certificate, and here I am.

Do you have a favorite French or English book?

I’m going to reveal my lowbrow tendencies here, but in English, I’d have to say the Harry Potter series. Ok, it’s not a single book, but I’m not going to pick one over the others. I’ve read the series several times and have spent much time over the years discussing the books and movies with friends, students, acquaintances, random people, errr… anyway. Harry Potter.

In French, I’m really torn, but I’m going to go with Boris Vian’s L’écume des jours. I read it for the first time in a grad school class, and struggled a bit, as I had only been studying French for four years at that point. But I love Vian’s inventiveness and the way he plays with language, plus there’s such heartbreak at the end. In a good way.

Where would you most like to live?

The obvious answer is “somewhere in France,” as that was something I dreamed of for a long time. But in the summer of 2014, I went to visit a friend in The Netherlands, and he took me to the island of Texel for a day. For some reason, I completely fell in love with it: the beach, the boats in the harbor, the small towns, the cute houses, everything. I’m not even a beach person! So I have a semi-plan to eventually move to Texel. At the moment, I’m still teaching full-time as well as translating, but eventually I’ll take the plunge into full-time freelancing. Then who knows?

What is your favorite quote?

What do you want? A medal or a chest to pin it on?

This is kind of obnoxious and I’m not sure it’s an actual quote, but my dad used to say it to me all the time when I was a kid, and it makes me laugh. I never got a medal, so I should have asked for the chest!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Buying a house. My finances were a shambles for several years after grad school.

Facets of French Translation: Geeking out at ATA58

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Trudy Obi

I find conferences to be most valuable for encountering new ideas and new people. The 2017 ATA conference, offering a multi-day schedule of educational sessions and networking events, provided opportunities for both in spades. As a bonus, the sessions and events offered by the French Language Division gave me the opportunity to geek out about French (sometimes even in French) with a group of knowledgeable linguists. I discuss below two FLD sessions that were helpful in expanding the way I think about specific facets of French translation.

Having attended Grant Hamilton’s session entitled “Turning Abstract French into Hands-On English” last year at ATA57, I was excited to see that he was offering a session this year on Canadian French: “Translating for Canada.” Hamilton did not disappoint, presenting a lot of practical information about breaking into the Canadian market. (The good: Canada is officially bilingual, so virtually every Canadian company needs translation services and will pay premium rates for high quality. The challenge: Canada is officially bilingual, so many translation buyers will be fluent in your target language—you’ll need to be on top of your translation game.) Hamilton also emphasized the importance of being familiar with the geography, history, politics, and language policies of the region where the target audience lives; he provided a useful overview of these details for Quebec.

What interested me the most, though, was Hamilton’s discussion of the differences between European French (FR-FR) and Canadian French (FR-CA). No two translators I’ve asked about this issue seem to agree on what they are, so I was interested in hearing his perspective. After outlining the evolution of Canadian French, he noted that FR-CA is very similar to FR-FR in more technical texts (with the exception of legal texts), whereas there are substantial differences in vocabulary between the two in informal writing.

Especially interesting to me were the differences Hamilton described between the way FR-FR and FR-CA each interact with English. Where FR-FR often imports English words for use, FR-CA tends to calque English or, as Hamilton puts it, “commit anglicisms with French words.” I was reminded of a survey about shopping habits that a client recently had translated for several countries: to render the phrase to go shopping, the translation for France imported an English word (faire du shopping), while the translation for Canada used a calque (magasiner, formed by analogy: EN a shop (n.) → to shop (v.); FR-CA un magasin (n.) → magasiner (v.)). Another difference between the two varieties of French—one that might be jarring to translators used to working with FR-FR—is the tendency of FR-CA to treat faux amis as true friends: for example, FR-CA uses eventuellement to mean EN eventually, while FR-FR uses it to mean EN possibly.

While Hamilton touched on the differences between Canadian and European French, Angela Benoit focused on the differences between anglophone and francophone audiences in her session, “Breaking the Mold Again! Throwing Out Even More Translations for an Intimate Look at Source Material.” As you might guess from its title, this session was the sequel to the one Benoit presented last year at ATA57 (“Breaking the Mold: Throwing Out Translation for an Intimate Look at Source Material”). In order to avoid falling into the trap of translation-ese, Benoit proposes a method involving studying pairs of analogous native documents in English and French—adjacent texts rather than parallel texts, since both are originals. She demonstrated her approach using several pairs of advertisements for similar products from anglophone and francophone countries. Benoit pulled out the concepts common to each pair and then opened the floor for discussion of the differences in the way the advertisements communicated these ideas. We also looked at the ideas that were found in one ad but not the other, discussing what clues these might give us about the expectations of the respective audience. Benoit’s process is a systematic way to identify the elusive conceptual gaps between source and target audiences. Of course, we all know these gaps exist—but they may exist only as vague notions hovering around our mental periphery, and peripheral vision is fuzzy. As a result, we may take these gaps for granted or not consider them closely (enough) in the translation process. Benoit’s process forces us to articulate and attend to them before we begin translating.

Many thanks to the French Language Division for offering these and other sessions that engaged my inner French geek. I’m also very happy to have gotten acquainted with other French linguists, both in FLD sessions and in social events. Au plaisir de vous revoir (ou vous rencontrer) l’année prochaine!

Trudy Obi, Ph.D., is an editor, project manager, and French to English translator at ION Translations, LLC.

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Carolyn Yohn

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is the first in a series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Carolyn Yohn translates French and Hungarian legal and academic texts into American English under the name Untangled Translations.

How did you get involved in translation?

With earning a language degree in mind, I spent my first year of college in Switzerland at a small, dual-accredited American school. About a month in, the career counselor called about a job she found that immediately made her think of me: one of our politics professors was writing a book on Switzerland’s relationship to the EU, and the Euro currency specifically. He could read his Italian and German sources but needed help accessing information in French. I spent the year poring over books, articles, and speeches, summarizing everything in English and picking the stand-out quotes to translate more completely for him. To this day, I don’t believe he has finished his book, but the project taught me just how valuable my language skills were—and that I could get paid to use them.

What subject areas do you translate?

I translate French and Hungarian texts related to law and political/economic history, with a substantial sideline translating documents for visa applications. Book-length non-fiction projects are my favorite.

Tell us about a particularly interesting project you have worked on.

Soul Stories, my first Hungarian book translation, is on its way to the printer now. What a fun ride getting there! I originally connected with the author, a journalist, through an expat mailing list for Bay-Area Magyars. He had written several popular collections of poetic bursts of encouragement in a charming prose style and was interested in self-publishing English translations of his favorites in a new volume. It was a leap of faith to take on the project, and I have no regrets.

Where would you most like to live?

Budapest and Montréal are definitely on my list of “some day” homes. For now, the Sacramento, California area treats me well; it’s nice to have so many days with good weather to get outdoors.

Do you have a favorite French or English book?

I actually collect copies of Le Petit Prince in languages that I have at least dabbled in. So far, that includes the French original and translations into English, Hungarian, and Swahili. I even have a beautiful pop-up book version. Some day, I’ll add Italian, German, and Romanian translations to the collection.

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

I recently became a PADI-certified SCUBA diver! I grew up by the Atlantic Ocean and might as well be a fish, but being able to dive several stories underwater for 30-40 minutes at a time took the experience of swimming to a new level. The final training dive was to 35ft at Lake Tahoe (about 60ft adjusted for altitude). We played tic-tac-toe on the sandy bottom, annoyed a few crawfish, and watched a school of silvery fish shimmer by. Magic!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Some volunteer translations I provided helped a client of a Georgetown law clinic earn political asylum. The young attorneys working his case sent me a photo of the group in front of the courthouse on the day asylum was granted—the man’s big grin of joy and relief reminds me just how personal translation work is. Whether we see the end result or not, what we do to help people communicate truly touches lives.

Quatorze ans d’industrie pharmaceutique plus tard, ou de l’anglais au créole

by Priscilla Tuernal-Vatran

Titulaire d’une Maîtrise de Langues Étrangères Appliquées (Anglais-Espagnol) obtenue à l’Université Paris Sorbonne (1982), complétée par un Master 2 LEA Management International des Assurances de l’Université Paris Nord obtenu en septembre 2015, j’ai longtemps été salariée. Il y a quatre ans, j’ai décidé de quitter la région parisienne pour me réinstaller dans mon île natale, la Martinique.

Nouveau virage professionnel : je quittais le confortable statut de salariée pour endosser l’habit de traductrice indépendante.

Le 1er février 2017, j’ai fêté mes trois ans d’entrepreneuriat. Je fais de cette expérience un bilan tout à fait positif.

Je traduis essentiellement de l’anglais vers le français, mais également de l’espagnol vers le français.

L’anglais a été le fil conducteur de ma carrière, je l’ai utilisé à tous les postes que j’ai occupés. J’ajoute que l’anglais me passionne depuis mon tout premier cours de 6ème, à l’âge de 10 ans.

J’ai connu plusieurs tournants dans ma carrière professionnelle. À 40 ans, je me suis retrouvée intérimaire pendant 8 mois dans une entité publique qui gérait sa fermeture. Une collègue proche de la retraite m’a conseillé de considérer l’industrie pharmaceutique et m’a surtout expliqué l’intérêt de cette industrie. J’ai suivi ses recommandations et c’est toujours en qualité d’intérimaire que j’ai accepté une mission dans ce secteur d’activité, pour le compte d’un laboratoire pharmaceutique. J’étais recrutée en tant qu’assistante pour seconder un chef de projet clinique dans la préparation d’un audit de la Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sur un centre en France, dans le cadre d’une étude clinique internationale multicentrique. Ce chef de projet a pris le temps de m’expliquer l’étude, et surtout de répondre patiemment à toutes mes questions, sur les essais cliniques en particulier, et sur la recherche clinique d’une manière générale. De mon côté, j’ai lu nombre d’articles sur ces sujets. Je découvrais un domaine d’activité que je ne soupçonnais absolument pas.

Au bout de trois mois, j’ai eu une proposition en CDI, en tant qu’assistante. J’avais un peu l’impression de recommencer ma carrière à zéro, mais j’ai joué le jeu. Je suis restée 10 ans dans ce laboratoire pharmaceutique, au département médical.

À la suite d’un plan social, je suis brièvement retournée à l’enseignement dans une structure associative, puis je suis revenue à l’industrie pharmaceutique, outsourcée au service Marketing d’un autre laboratoire, où j’ai passé un an.

En août 2010, j’ai été contactée par un cabinet de recrutement pour un poste à pourvoir dans une CRO (Contract Research Organisation, société sous-traitante de laboratoires pharmaceutiques pour la conduite d’essais cliniques). J’y ai passé 3 ans.

Lorsque j’ai quitté la région parisienne pour me réinstaller à la Martinique, mon projet professionnel était clair : être traductrice indépendante.

Dans le cadre de mon plan marketing pour la recherche de clients, j’étais inscrite sur le site de plusieurs agences de traduction, sans succès jusqu’au jour où un gestionnaire de prestataires situé à Barcelone m’a contactée. Il recherchait un traducteur d’anglais … en créole … connaissant la recherche clinique … J’ai été contactée par le biais de mon profil LinkedIn.

Le contexte de formation

Pratiquement toutes les études sur lesquelles j’ai travaillé étaient des études internationales. Dans un premier temps, j’ai démarré sur une étude portant sur la Maladie d’Alzheimer (MA). J’étais rattachée au Groupe Thérapeutique Système Nerveux Central. Ceci m’a permis de découvrir des pathologies telles que l’Accident Vasculaire Cérébral (AVC) ou le traumatisme crânien. Par la suite, je suis passée au Groupe Thérapeutique Métabolisme, Hémophilie et Diabète. Enfin, j’ai rejoint le Groupe Thérapeutique Anti-Infectieux et Maladies Tropicales, Dysfonction Érectile, Oncologie et HIV.

En tant qu’Assistante de Groupe Thérapeutique, j’étais chargée de la préparation des dossiers de soumission au Comité de Protection des Personnes (ou Comité d’Éthique). Ces dossiers regroupent les documents de démarrage d’une étude, à savoir Protocole, Résumé de l’Étude, Brochure de l’Investigateur, Formulaire d’Information et de Consentement Éclairé (FCE), Cahier d’Observation (dossier de suivi médical du patient tout au long de l’étude). Pour les études internationales, tous ces documents étaient rédigés en anglais et l’un de mes rôles consistait à faire la liaison avec les agences de traduction pour la traduction en français.

Une fois l’avis favorable du Comité de Protection des Personnes obtenu, il convenait de préparer 2 réunions de lancement de l’étude.

La 1ère, la Réunion Investigateurs, regroupait tous les investigateurs nationaux et internationaux ainsi que les infirmiers d’étude, toutes ces personnes étant chargées de la bonne conduite de l’étude dans les centres.

La 2nde réunion se déroulait avec le personnel interne au laboratoire et rassemblait l’équipe projet dédiée à une étude spécifique. Elle était animée par le Chef de Projet Clinique, responsable en interne de la conduite de l’essai.

Les documents de l’étude étaient soigneusement présentés au cours des deux réunions.

Ma formation

Tous les documents administratifs d’une étude me passaient entre les mains. Étant curieuse de nature, je prenais le temps de les étudier en version anglaise et française et c’est ainsi que, petit à petit, j’ai constitué mon glossaire de recherche clinique. Le poste d’Assistante de Chef de Projet Clinique m’a permis de maîtriser tous les documents de la recherche clinique, jusqu’au rapport de fin d’étude et aux publications et présentations de résultats, en passant par les déclarations d’événements indésirable graves (effets secondaires graves).

J’ai travaillé en particulier sur le Formulaire d’Information et de Consentement Éclairé. Ce document est fondamental pour le patient qui participe à un essai clinique. En effet, le médecin investigateur l’utilise pour expliquer au patient potentiel l’objet de l’étude et l’intérêt qu’elle peut présenter pour lui, tant sur le plan médical que pratique. Une fois le patient convaincu de l’utilité de l’étude pour lui-même, il signe le document et donne ainsi son consentement écrit pour rentrer dans l’étude.

La traduction de ce document est donc cruciale, même si elle l’est pour tout document à traduire. Il convient de fournir des informations précises au patient qui souffre d’une pathologie particulière. On doit lui indiquer combien de temps il sera traité, par quel type de produit expérimental, à quelle fréquence, à quels examens il sera soumis, quel est le rapport bénéfice-risque, quels effets indésirables il peut potentiellement développer, quelles précautions particulières il doit prendre.

De plus, la formulation doit s’adapter au public visé, en particulier pour les études portant sur des sujets enfants. Selon le cas, on tient compte de la maîtrise de la langue d’un enfant de moins de sept ans, d’un pré-adolescent ou d’un adolescent presque majeur.

Le 2ème type de document sur lequel j’ai longuement travaillé est le Contrat de Recherche Clinique. Je devais rédiger les contrats pour les prestations des intervenants, à savoir établissements de santé, médecins investigateurs, membres des comités scientifiques des études, et tous les contrats annexes avec associations de recherche médicale, et prestations spécifiques (laboratoires d’analyses biologiques, médecins spécialistes comme par ex. radiologues, anatomopathologistes, etc.). J’ai exercé cette fonction pendant 3 ans au sein du laboratoire puis encore 3 ans dans une CRO. C’est dans la CRO que le pont entre le contrat, la maîtrise de l’anglais et la traduction française a pris tout son sens. Tout d’abord, comme je travaillais pour la filiale française d’une société irlandaise, tous les contrats étaient bilingues, mon contrat de travail stipulait d’ailleurs que je devais fournir des tâches de traduction. Et très vite mon supérieur hiérarchique s’est appuyé sur moi pour la révision des contrats types.

Ce poste impliquait la maîtrise de plusieurs paramètres. D’abord la nécessité de tirer parti du Résumé de l’étude pour établir le contrat. En effet, ce document contient non seulement les obligations des parties selon le déroulé de l’étude, mais également l’annexe financière qui regroupe toutes les procédures et examens médicaux que subiront les patients.

Dans la CRO, je faisais partie d’une équipe dédiée pour un laboratoire américain. J’étais donc l’interface entre la cellule financière aux États-Unis et les établissements de santé. Plus d’une fois, j’ai dû décrocher le téléphone, négocier le dépassement de budget demandé par un établissement de santé et justifier les coûts poste par poste. Il fallait donc maîtriser le vocabulaire concerné car pas question de bégayer !

Les autres sources de formation, le réseau

Outre la formation acquise par mon expérience professionnelle, je dois souligner le rôle incontestable que joue internet avec, d’une part les dictionnaires en ligne, d’autre part toute la littérature médicale, les revues spécialisées, les registres d’essais cliniques français et étrangers, les sites internet des laboratoires, des associations médicales ou de patients pour se documenter sur des études similaires à celles pour lesquelles on traduit, les pathologies, les stratégies de traitement.

Ainsi, récemment j’ai été confrontée à la traduction de documents concernant l’allogreffe et les chimères homme-animal. Voilà deux sujets dont je n’avais jamais entendu parler. Mais à force de taper des mots-clés dans les moteurs de recherche, j’ai pu me renseigner sur le sujet et remettre une traduction aboutie.

En outre, les liens d’amitié que j’ai conservés avec plusieurs anciens collègues me permettent de contacter quelqu’un lorsque je ne suis plus sûre du terme consacré dans telle ou telle situation. Il suffit d’un courriel ou d’une interrogation sur Messenger pour avoir rapidement la réponse.

Enfin, mes amis et les membres de ma famille médecins et pharmaciens sont également de précieuses aides.

Le bilan

J’ai donc travaillé 14 ans en recherche clinique et depuis 2 ans maintenant, je suis prestataire d’une agence de traduction. Je traduis essentiellement 2 types de documents, les formulaires d’information et de consentement éclairé et les contrats de recherche clinique. Il m’arrive aussi de traduire des caractéristiques de produit, parfois des résumés de protocole pour certaines pathologies que je connais bien, ou de la documentation portant sur des dispositifs médicaux, lorsque je m’en sens capable. En revanche, je ne m’aventurerais pas à traiter une Brochure Investigateur ou un Protocole !

Je tire un bilan très satisfaisant de cette collaboration. En effet, je peux utiliser une compétence que je maîtrise. Traduire pour l’industrie pharmaceutique est en quelque sorte l’aboutissement de mes 14 années d’expérience professionnelle dans ce secteur d’activité. Cette collaboration m’apporte des demandes de prestation tous les jours, mais je ne suis pas tenue de répondre favorablement à toutes les demandes. Elle me permet aussi de réaliser 40% de mon chiffre d’affaires à l’international, hors de mes petites frontières locales. Pour diverses raisons, je limite mon chiffre d’affaires avec cette société et je n’ai pas accepté le contrat d’exclusivité qui m’a été proposé lors de la signature de mon contrat de prestation.

Ainsi, l’on peut traduire pour le domaine médical sans être médecin de formation. En revanche, je suis persuadée que l’expérience acquise en recherche clinique a été déterminante dans le fait que je traduis pour l’industrie pharmaceutique car, sans cette expérience, je n’aurais pas été contactée et de mon côté, je n’aurais sans doute pas pensé à cette niche.

Priscilla Tuernal-Vatran’s passion for the English language first, and then for other languages, has guided her career and helped her form unforgettable friendships. She can be found at and

Wait for Your Pitch—Growing Your Translation Business by Turning Down Work


by Stephanie Strobel

At the 2017 ATA conference, I attended a great session on specialization and expanding into technical markets. Thank you Lebzy González, Nick Hartman, Karen Tkaczyk and Matthew Schlecht. The panelists pointed out that there is more than one way to become a technical translator. Perhaps you studied language and translation and landed a position with a technical company, or you trained yourself in technical language by reading lots of journals or, maybe, you had a technical background and you decided to trade in your calculator and apply your linguistic muscles to technical translation as a second career.

After you obtained your technical expertise by whatever appropriate means, the next step in becoming a specialist is to just do it. Just specialize. How do you decide what you want to translate? As recommended in the book Simple Abundance, one way to figure out what you want, is to make a list of what you don’t want. I have such a list—while I will accept work that may have some legal, some financial, some chemical, or some life sciences in it, I won’t agree to translate a hand-written medical record, a pharmaceutical patent or—god forbid—a financial report. That still leaves me with a wide array of subjects I am willing to translate: aerospace materials, aeronautics, cement making, aluminum smelting, automotive, medical devices, the list goes on. In fact, I’m still working on narrowing my specialization even more.

Back to the title of this article, yes, actually, turning down work helps you grow your business. There’s more than enough work to go around—billions of dollars annually. So wait for your pitch. Here, watch me: a client contacts me about a heavily chemical project. Will I spend my time killing myself, doing tremendous research on a tight deadline when I know that Karen Tkaczyk can certainly translate it better and faster without a hair out of place? Nope. I tell my client, “This isn’t within my area of expertise, but I can recommend a great translator for the job. Please keep me in mind for the next project.” With great thanks, the client rushes off to hire Karen. Of course, Karen nails it. And I get high marks from my client for being honest and resourceful. Plus, I’ve done Karen a favor which she may return in kind. The client does contact me later with a project that’s right in my sweet spot, and Karen does indeed refer a great client to me. Repeat the process with her and others and I get more work in my specialty—true story.

This brings me to the ATA divisions. What better place to find people to refer work to? As I mentioned, I don’t translate every technical subject. Furthermore, I translate only French into English. Not Italian, not Spanish, not Japanese and not German. This is where the connections made in ATA’s divisions are useful. I keep an eye on the questions and answers that come up on the email groups for the ATA SciTech division and for FLD and on the FLD and SciTech Facebook pages. That’s one way I get an idea of what people do and who is helpful. That information is useful when I need to make a referral outside my language pair or my expertise or for English to French inquiries.

Attending sessions at the ATA conference also increases my confidence in my division colleagues. Over the years, I’ve referred an Italian to English patent translation, a German to English environmental translation, a French to English financial translation, even an English to Portuguese software translation to professionals I’ve met at ATA conferences or through the email lists. That doesn’t even count the French to English technical translation work I’ve referred to others I met the same way.

By all means, feel free to take on a stretch project now and then. But just like in baseball, there’s a sweet spot in the strike zone; wait for your pitch and you’ll get a great hit.



Stephanie Delozier Strobel is a Pennsylvania-based Mechanical Engineer turned French translator who studied French along with Engineering at Drexel University.


Winner of the S. Edmund Berger announced

At the 58th ATA Conference held last month in Washington, D.C., Dr. Bruce Popp (pictured below) was awarded the S. Edmund Berger Prize for his translation of Henri Poincaré’s classic work Sur le problème des trois corps et les équations de dynamique, thus achieving one of his goals of making Poincaré’s classic accessible. Bruce himself gave us a glimpse into his process in a previous À Propos article here.

We are proud to have one of our very own FLD members receive the prestigious award and would like to congratulate Bruce on his hard work and success!

Photo by Lebzy Gonzalez