Review: Translate in…/On Traduit à Québec

by Jenn Mercer

This year’s Translate in Québec/On traduit à Québec was the 8th in a traveling series of FR<>EN translation workshops focused on craft. This series, which began as a small workshop in the Catskills, has since been held in such varied locations as Cambridge (U.K.) and Chantilly (France). This is only the second one I have been able to attend and, mostly coincidentally, both have been in Québec.

Before I get in to the benefits of attending the Translate In/On Traduit À workshop itself, I must confess that visiting Québec is one of my guilty pleasures. I love going to France, and the joys and advantages of full immersion are irreplaceable, but… there’s something to be said for the convenience and vocabulary-building exercise of having bilingual versions of everything everywhere.

Can you believe the hotel actually apologized for the construction? My fellow translators and I were delighted by all of the detailed architectural terminology—value added! Photo credit: Jenn Mercer

However, even for those who are not language geeks, Québec is lovely and Vieux Québec was well worth the many hikes I took down and then back up to the hotel. To put the altitude changes in perspective, there is a funicular at one point and many of the staircases are named to reflect their history, but also the fact that they are a durable part of the landscape.

Nevertheless, the point of the translation workshop was to learn more about the craft of translation and it did not disappoint. Each day started with bilingual sessions featuring quick tips: Allô Docteur Termino/The Word Doctor were led by pairs of translators including Ros Schwarz, Marc Lambert, François Lavallée, Lillian Clementi, David Warriner, and Marie-Christine Gingras. These sessions were brief, but packed in so many tips, it would be impossible to summarize them here. Even the reverse sessions provided valuable tips and I quickly stopped worrying about the translation direction.

For the first two of the three days, this was then followed by a Traduel/Translation Slam with the texts provided to attendees in advance. On the first day, this was in English to French and then the second day was French to English. Again, I found myself so caught up in the myriad of choices involved in meaning and expression that I feel I got as much out of the EN>FR as I did from the FR>EN slam. If I were to offer any criticism it would be that in most real-world situations, a client would be expecting a text that stayed closer to the source. However, the looser approach taken by the duelers made for an excellent conversation starter.

After these appetizers, we got into the main course of the workshop—the single direction translation sessions. If you have attended other sessions led by Grant Hamilton or Chris Durban at ATA or another conference, you will have an idea of their style, but all of these sessions were entirely new and well worth the journey.

Grant Hamilton presented on “The Writerly Translator,” in which we got to roll up our sleeves to improve our writing skills. This was a great cross-training exercise and fit well into a theme I noticed in the workshop overall. Many of the sessions were not so much about coming up with a list of terminology, but reshaping our brains in a similar way to how higher level math allows you to “see” equations.

Chris Durban’s presentations on “Reporters in the Crosshairs” and “Helping French Companies Control The(ir) Story” used different approaches to present the responsibilities of a translator and to get a better view into the expectations of some very different target markets. The presentation on French Companies in particular was an interesting example of how the different expectations in French and English business culture call for not just translation or even transcreation, but the creation of documents that may not have even existed in the source language.

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one of Ros Schwarz’s two sessions, but it is hard to complain about having too many options. The session I did attend, “The Sound of Music,” concentrated on writing well—regardless of how mundane the subject may be. Schwarz encouraged us to both concentrate on the basics of grammar and to free our minds and let our innate creativity take hold.

Although I cannot report specifically on Ros Schwarz’s literary translation session with François Lavallée, I did attend a session with this same pair during a previous “Translate In/On Traduit À” event and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having an experienced literary translator translating under the eyes of the author himself—no pressure! In fact, Lavallée was very easy to work with and provided valuable insight into his text, and the group work generated great discussion material.

This was the first time I had attended a session by David Warriner and I enjoyed the two sessions he presented and his contributions to the French>English Translation Slam. His first session was on “Premium Tips for Translating Insurance.” Warriner included both a structural overview of the translation market in Québec and the rest of Canada, as well as its repercussions on the terminology used. I found this fascinating, as I worked for years at a U.S. insurance company where everything is regulated per state. He provided a treasure trove of resources and did his very best to make insurance entertaining.

His second session, “Sailing Close to the Wind: Creativity Under Pressure,” used his experience with a very fast-paced racing event to show techniques for maintaining quality on a tight deadline. Rather than go into the minutiae of boating terminology, he emphasized the importance of knowing a field inside out before entering a premium market. His focus was on writing well when you do not have the luxury of sleeping on it or going through a thousand drafts. For a presentation based on knowing a lot about a niche industry, his tips were generally applicable and very useful to any translator.

Next, I decided to attend Lillian Clementi’s session on “Connective Tissue: Crafting More Readable Translations.” This is the one session where FR>EN translators had to make a decision on which session to attend. It is a testimony to how well-targeted these session are that this was incredibly difficult. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Clementi’s session, and translators I spoke to were happy with their choice regardless of whether they chose this or the literary translation session with Schwarz and Lavallée. Her session was on those little connecting words and the difference between how French and English use these words. It was a refreshing approach and I can see myself using the list of helpful words we developed quite often.

The last day of the workshop was structured a bit differently with a longer joint session instead of the quick tips and slam/traduel pattern. The best way to describe this might be to start with the names of the sessions in French and English:

  • FR: À contre-courant, pour des traductions encore plus idiomatiques
  • EN: Switch Hitting for More Idiomatic Solutions

Which of these titles is the original? Does it affect how you would approach their translation? In this session, Grant Hamilton and François Lavallée led us in tackling translations of difficult and highly idiomatic texts with one simple twist—our “source” text was actually a translation. After we wracked our brains, they would show us the actual source. I think we hit upon the actual phrase only once, which shows how many “correct” answers a translation dilemma can have. In all, it was the perfect grand finale to an inspiring workshop.

The theme running through all of these sessions was that of becoming a better translator, by seeing both of our languages in a new way, understanding our clients, and writing well in any language. This workshop is very different from the ATA conference. Because of this, I would hesitate to say whether one was better than the other, but I would say that every FR<>EN translator should try this at least once. You may very well get hooked.


FLD Dinner in Washington, DC for ATA’s 58th Annual Conference – Sign Up Now!


The French Language Division’s dinner at the Washington, DC conference will be held at La Tomate Italian Bistro. We hope to see you there!

We expect this event to sell out. 

Friday, October 27 at 7:00 p.m.

La Tomate Italian Bistro
1701 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009


~ SALAD – you will choose one of the following: Mozzarella over Vegetable Caponata – OR-  House Salad

~ ENTRÉE – you will choose one of the following: Fusilli – OR – Pork – OR – Salmon

~ DESSERT – Tiramisu

Note: Drinks are not included.


Price: $56.00 per person and this includes three-course dinner, tax, and gratuity.

NOTE: All non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages will be the diner’s responsibility and are *not* included.

Payment for the dinner must be made in advance by PayPal ( to and received, on or before Friday, October 9, or before the event sells out.

Please select the “send money to friends and family” option so that the FLD is not charged additional PayPal fees.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We do not provide refunds. You may sell or give your ticket to another conference attendee to attend in your place. If you do so, please notify us of the update, but the FLD does not provide refunds once a spot for the dinner has been purchased.


From the conference hotel, the Washington Hilton, La Tomate Italian Bistro is a 10-minute walk, one mile
along Connecticut Ave NW. For those who’d like to walk as a group, we’ll meet up in the conference hotel lobby at around 6:45 p.m.


Contact us at

Review of Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary


Review of Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary
Thomas L. West III, JD

Review by Anne Goff

Mr. West’s new dictionary is the first trilingual dictionary focused solely on Swiss legal terms. This dictionary includes Swiss civil law, criminal law, constitutional law, debt collection, bankruptcy, and corporate law. It is divided into two parts:

  • Swiss French – Swiss German –American English translations, followed by a list of 108 French abbreviations commonly found in Swiss legal texts,
  • Swiss German – Swiss French – American English translations, followed by a list of 144 German abbreviations commonly found in Swiss legal texts.

Both lists of abbreviations include many one- and two-letter abbreviations. What frustrated translator has not learned to loathe these abbreviations after multiple fruitless Internet searches?

The approximately 5,750 entries in each section are laid out in columns with all three languages side by side as pictured below.

Where terms differ from their non-Swiss French or German counterparts, the corresponding term is noted after the Swiss term. For example:

  • actions liées (F : actions à cessibilité restreinte) / restricted shares, shares with restricted transferability
  • boiler (F : chauffe-eau) / hot water heater
  • case postale (F : boîte postale) / post office box
  • corps de chauffe (F : radiateur) / radiator
  • décharge (F : quitus) / “discharge” of the board of directors
  • droit dispositif (F : droit supplétif) / non-mandatory legal rule (one that can be contracted out of)
  • écolage (F : frais de scolarité) / tuition fees
  • place de travail (F : emploi) / job
  • servitude foncière (art. 730-744 CC) ( F : servitude prédiale) / easement that runs with the land
  • soustraction d’impôts (F : évasion fiscale) / tax evasion

As exemplified in the entries above, this dictionary includes quite a few non-legal terms that often appear in legal texts.

Trickier terms include a brief note of explanation. For example:

  • postulat / parliamentary motion asking the government to legislate (as opposed to a motion requiring the government to legislate, cf. motion)
  • poursuite / debt collection (legal action to enforce payment in cash or the provision of cash coverage by a debtor who fails to meet his payment obligations)
  • préfet / Chancellor of State (representative of the Cantonal Government responsible for the administration of the district)

I particularly appreciate that many terms include the precise section number of the relevant Swiss Code or Act in which they can be found. Context is key, and in legal texts, having the appropriate context is extremely important. For example:

  • prélèvement sur les biens de l’enfant (art. 320 CC)
  • présentation d’une lettre de change (art. 1011 CO)
  • divorce (art. 111 CC)
  • divorce pour rupture du lien conjugal (art. 115 CC)
  • comptabilité commerciale (art. 957 CO)
  • concentraction d’entreprises (art. 4 LCart)
  • circonstances personnelles (art. 27 CP)

The Swiss government has published unofficial English translations of major Swiss codes. Some of these translations may differ from those in this Swiss law dictionary. The unofficial Swiss government translation uses British legal language instead of American. Those translating into British English should be aware of this difference, but those translating into American English will appreciate this detail as it is often difficult to find non-EU resources for European language source texts. Some differences include:

  • court of appeals (instead of court of appeal)
  • railroad (instead of railway)
  • plaintiff (instead of claimant)
  • disability (instead of invalidity)
  • labor (instead of labour)

This focus on American English is not surprising since Mr. West earned a BA in French and English from the University of Mississippi summa cum laude and an MA in German from Vanderbilt University. After earning his JD at the University of Virginia School of Law, he was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in 1990. Having practiced law for five years, he began his own translation firm, Intermark Language Services Corporation, specializing in legal and financial translation. This background is important in a field so full of potential pitfalls.

According to Mr. West, much of the terminology in TERMDAT appears to come from a French-to-German legal dictionary published in 1950 and compiled in the 1940s, and is thus very outdated. Mr. West’s law dictionary includes language from the new uniform civil and criminal procedure codes that took effect in 2011.

This is particularly significant since prior to 2011, there was no uniform legal code for Switzerland as a whole, and terminology varied greatly between cantons. It is important to note that the old terminology is not included in this dictionary. In the wake of the 2011 linguistic uniformization, Mr. West has published a translation dictionary that applies to contemporary legal language across all of Switzerland.

I believe this Swiss law dictionary will be a beneficial resource for translators working with French-language legal texts.


Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary

By Thomas L. West III, JD
Intermark Language Publications

ISBN: 9781929570034
© 2017

Available at:


510 pages

≈5,725 entries

6 x 1.2 x 9 inches

1.9 lbs.

Reviewed by Anne Goff

Anne Goff is a French-to-English translator and professor at California State University Sacramento.

Some Thoughts on Translating Poincaré


At the American Translators Association (ATA) conference in San Francisco in November 2016, I talked about Translating Poincaré. Instead of providing a summary for this blog of what turned out to be a very interesting talk, I’d like to discuss some related points that didn’t make it into that talk. My presentation discussed the book I translated, Sur le problème des trois corps et les équations de la dynamique, by Henri Poincaré. The book transformed the study of orbits in the solar system. Before the book was published, the motion of planets in the solar system, governed by Newton’s deterministic laws of motion and gravitation, was thought to run like clockwork, and most efforts were focused on the computation of positions of the planets and effective methods for doing those computations. In his book, Poincaré instead studied the differential equations (the actual mathematical form of the laws of motion) and their properties as a specific example of a dynamical system and was able to build the mathematical proofs and tools of dynamical systems theory. After the book’s publication, it was known that the stability of the solar system is not assured since it could be subject to chaotic behavior like other dynamical systems. Since the conference, I have signed a publishing contract with the publishing company Springer, and they are preparing my translation for publication.

Why this book?

I first heard of this book either around 1978 while I was an undergraduate at Cornell University or around 1982 while I was a graduate student in the astronomy department at Harvard University. I no longer remember the particular time or context although there are a few conceivable possibilities.

What is clear, many years later, is that I was in an environment that recognized, respected and understood (on some level) the importance of this book. And, it did so despite two obstacles. The first was of course its age; it was published in 1890. The other obstacle, from the perspective of a US academic environment, was the language; it was written in formal French with a specialized vocabulary demanded by the subject matter. In 1982, I spoke French that was fully adequate for many purposes. Yet it then seemed to me unlikely that I would be able to read and understand Poincaré’s work, so I made no effort to try. Together, this means that the book was a classic, but inaccessible to a large readership even though its existence was well known.

On the way from 1985 (when I was awarded a PhD) to 2014, my life and career experienced some strange twists and turns and sharp bumps and jolts. By then I’d become an established, independent translator from French into English working mostly with complex technical subjects.

One of the distressing realities of freelance work is the unpredictable switch between frenetic feeding frenzy and frustrating famine. In the spring of 2014, during one such famine, I started to look for stimulating intellectual activity to fill the time until the next feeding frenzy hit. I immediately focused my search on potential projects that could make a connection back to what I had once been: an astronomer and mathematical-physicist

In fairly short order I had a few ideas for projects involving dynamics and the stability of rotating astrophysical fluids. I talked to some people. I tried to assess the effort and resources that might be needed. While this route seemed plausible, it didn’t grab hold of my interest and hang on.

At the same time, my interest in Henri Poincaré’s work resurfaced. I found Poincaré to be a compelling author. I was very interested in carefully understanding what Poincaré had written. What better way to do that than to translate his book? I quickly found that it was easy to find scanned images of his works online. (The website hosted by the Université de Lorraine for the Henri Poincaré Papers, and its bibliography in particular, is very useful.) In addition to this book, I also looked at Les méthodes nouvelles de la mécanique céleste and his three books popularizing science (La Science et l’hypothèse, La Valeur de la science and Science et méthode).

These last four books all had existing translations of unknown quality. It was also clear that typesetting the equations in Sur le problème and Les méthodes nouvelles would require a significant effort. On the other hand, I recognized that I would likely find that effort satisfying. My presentation at the ATA conference discussed what was involved in typesetting the equations for one page.

I prepared a sample translation of a chapter from La Science et l’hypothèse, and after discussions with Maria Ascher and Michael Fischer—then at Harvard University Press—I decided to dive in and start translating Sur le problème, motivated by my interest in the author and subject.

As paying translation work flowed in, I translated patents and documents for clinical trials, and as that work ebbed, I went back to translating mathematical physics. In that way, I got two things that really interested me: stimulating intellectual activity and close, detailed study of a book and author that had long interested me.

Errors and Typos in the Source

The published version of Poincaré’s book that reached the public had a limited amount of lint, or distracting errors of a typographic nature not affecting the fabric of the work. I found twenty-six. For example, in one place the equation numbers advance from 3 to 5, and equation 4 does not appear anywhere else in that section. Nothing can be done about an error like that during translation, and so the error is replicated. On the other hand, on the next page the first subscript, ,was incorrect, but I could easily correct it to . With other similar errors, I corrected them unobtrusively.

My Approach to the Translation

In preparing this translation, I tried to keep several objectives in sight. The first was accessibility. At one level, this objective is valid for any translation. The purpose of translation is to take a document which was written (and therefore accessible) in one language and fit for one particular purpose and render it in another language (making it accessible in that language too), where it is fit for the same purpose or some analog thereof. In this instance, I understood that purpose to be a scholarly presentation of Poincaré’s ideas and approach to studying and understanding dynamical systems, and particularly the general three-body problem. This implicitly includes the ideas of time and audience: one hundred twenty-five years later, the expected audience for my translation is English-speaking people knowledgeable in dynamical systems wishing to understand how a foundational classic of the field established and set its direction.

Looking deeper, there was also the issue of voice. In the translation I tried to avoid speaking in my own voice, meaning retelling in my words what Poincaré wrote, and tried to follow closely what and how Poincaré wrote, letting his voice come through while respecting the standards of grammar, syntax and phrasing expected in contemporary, professional US English.

Essential to both of these is the matter of accuracy. In preparing my translation, I worked through and sought to understand what Poincaré was writing about so that I would be able to accurately present it in my translation. I then checked and rechecked this translation to eliminate any misunderstanding, inconsistency or infelicity that might have gotten through anyway. I am human, so I can be certain that I was not fully successful despite my best effort.

My opinion that this is a classic of the literature of mathematical physics that deserves to be understood, and that Poincaré merits the recognition and credit that follows from that understanding, was fundamental to my effort and motivation.

Bruce D. Popp

Bruce D. Popp, Ph.D. is a French into English scientific and technical translator.


I Tried It: Hiring a Translation Intern


One of the best business decisions I’ve made in recent years was to hire an intern. I had learned about it while take a massive open online course (MOOC) on employment law through Northwestern University. If you don’t have a budget to pay an assistant yet, or want to test the waters before you hire part-time help, recruiting an intern is a solid move.

Because of the nature of labor laws, an intern generally can’t produce work product for you. (If you’re not compensating them, you can’t earn profits off their labor.) Interns must have documented knowledge gains from their experience, and they have to learn about the meat of what you do – coffee jockeying and photocopying shouldn’t be their main responsibilities. Likely, working with an intern will have a negative ROI – it will take some time away from your regular work, and for anything they produce you will have to take extra time to correct it. But it’s not as useless an effort as the language of the law makes it sound.

I found my intern like most opportunities I’ve had in business, through happenstance. M. graduated from the same departments at my alma mater as I did, and her advisor had suggested she contact me in late 2014 with questions she had about becoming a translator.  (The French Department was putting together a program on alumni who actively use their language degree in their career, so my name was already being thrown around in those discussions.) I had put out a call for a remote-working intern through the University of Virginia alumni career board with only OK results. M., on the other hand, was a perfect candidate and her interests aligned with mine; it was a natural connection.

We set up a 20-minute telephone call to discuss logistics, our mutual expectations, and some of her other questions about the field. A week later, M. submitted her resume and an example of her translation work (executed as part of coursework, rather than for a client). Based on her availability and my own, we decided to work together for 10 weeks by email, with weekly telephone calls to discuss assignments in detail. She signed a standard non-disclosure agreement before we started; you may also consider using a non-compete agreement or limiting access to your active client database.

In order to meet the legal requirements of having an intern and still get something helpful out of it for my business, I created a curriculum for M. that gave her an introduction to the business side of things and also had “real-life” translation assignments based on my past client work. M. had what we called “permanent tasks,” to be completed every week, and also “variable tasks,” which alternated between language and business lessons. All of it was designed to be doable in 8 hours or less of her time per week – since I didn’t have the budget to pay an assistant, I wanted to be sure she could help me around an income-generating job. Everything was flexible except the weekly phone calls, which I structured using preset agendas.

The permanent tasks related to market research and advertising. She was responsible for sending me links to 5 articles of interest to the translation community every week; this helped her form an important habit for herself and learn more about the industry, and I used the links I liked to post to my social media. She was also responsible for submitting the names of at least 3 new prospective clients or events in my area that might be useful for meeting potential clients; this gave her insight into how prospecting works, and I learned of events I may not have found on my own. She was also responsible for coming up with “fun stuff,” mainly related to marketing. This is a skill that is difficult to teach – applying your creativity to business, and learning to create your own tasks. If you’ve only ever worked as not-a-boss, it can be difficult to learn to make up a to-do list for yourself. Through this permanent task, M. came up with some fun quote pictures for me, which were becoming popular on social media at the time.

The variable tasks were more like homework assignments from traditional courses. M. translated short passages from my prior client work on a range of subjects, including a diploma translation assignment that proved helpful to her in a later job. She learned to create glossaries and take the time to focus on deceptively simple phrases (“Je suis Charlie” was our first example). She learned how to cold-call people and find out how much agencies versus individuals charge for certain kinds of work. I provided her with an office form I use to track common errors (which I catch during the proofreading stage of projects) and differences in various client styles. We also discussed client management issues, such as how to set up a new project cleanly and work with a range of client personalities.

Throughout the 10 weeks, we had a constant dialogue for feedback – Were the assignments addressing her needs? Were they addressing my needs? Were we communicating our expectations well? Based on her comments after the internship ended, she gained confidence in her abilities, new skills, and a wider perspective of what translating professionally truly entails. I strengthened my ability to manage others, delegate tasks, and separate business concerns from language concerns. The experience also forced me to organize myself better and to actually implement some of the systems I had set up for marketing.

In all, it was quite a rewarding experience to be both a boss and a mentor. She still sends me links of interest from time to time, and I still answer her occasional questions as she finishes up school and enters the working world. If you are looking to do something new with business in 2017, definitely consider an internship program!

Carolyn Yohn

Carolyn Yohn translates French and Hungarian legal and academic texts into American English under the name Untangled Translations.

A Translator’s Review of the Box-Office Smash Arrival


The translation world has been abuzz about the film Arrival since it was released on November 11, 2016. Translators have been intrigued, and some would go so far as to say flattered, by the elevated position a language expert is given in a Hollywood blockbuster. On top of that, the starring translator is tasked with saving the planet!

The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is originally from Québec and likely no stranger to malentendus and the trickier aspects of communication. His work is a carefully crafted narrative about memory, love, and the future of humanity. The film’s protagonist, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is a linguistics professor at an unnamed university. She is fluent in English, Farsi, Mandarin, and other languages. She is contacted by an Army intelligence officer played by Forest Whitaker when aliens arrive on earth. She has top-level security clearance from previously working on a Farsi translation project for the government. When they meet in the film, Whitaker’s character says, “You’re at the top of everybody’s list when it comes to translations.”

This, as every translator and linguist knows, is a common misconception about our respective professions. Despite language services industry jargon that refers to translators as “linguists,” linguists—i.e. theoreticians of language—are not necessarily interested in translation at all, nor are they necessarily good translators for that matter. The likelihood that a linguistics professor would be tapped to translate Farsi for the government is essentially nil, but Louise nevertheless winds up being the perfect choice to decipher the alien visitors’ language. Her work both saves the world from certain destruction and unites the human race at a critical juncture.

The film’s central issue is finding out why the aliens have come to Earth. As Louise points out in one scene, the sentence “What is your purpose on earth?” is fraught with issues for a linguist in her situation. A translator might compare it to asking a third-year French student to translate Pascal’s theorem or Perec’s La Disparition into English. Just take the word you: what is the alien word for you? What is the possessive form? Is there a separate word for the singular you, the plural you or a general “all of you aliens” you? And how in the world do you convey an abstract concept like purpose when even the word you is elusive? Translators are used to, and relish in, analyzing complicated sentences, but no translator should ever be called upon to decipher a language that he or she does not know. That is indeed the work of a linguist. Viewers should not get hung up on this distinction for too long, however. The film is science fiction after all, and what follows is a poignant, thoughtful, and suspenseful rendering of what Louise’s field work into the aliens’ language looks like. This has implications not only for her personally, but for the entire planet.

Louise quickly realizes that since the aliens’ spoken sounds are not reproducible by human vocal cords, she should focus on their written language, dubbed Heptopod B after the aliens themselves are dubbed heptopods. Heptopod B is written in billowy streams of ethereal black ink emitted from the aliens’ squid-like arms. It resembles the milky clouds of cream in your morning coffee. The ink materializes into a circle like the drips of the brush of a clumsy calligrapher. It is displayed on the luminous barrier that separates the humans from the aliens within their giant black pod of a spaceship. Louise determines that, due to the circular nature of the writing, the aliens perceive time in a non-linear way—with no beginning and no end. Once she makes this discovery, the plot delves deeply into the ramifications of a linguistic idea called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the theory of linguistic relativity.

Readers who are fluent in more than one language will undoubtedly identify with the idea that, to a certain degree, learning another language can change the way the world is perceived. This is, in many cases, what draws translators to the profession in the first place: the joys and challenges of translating not only words, but different cultures, world views, and realities. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that a speaker’s very thoughts are determined by the language that he or she speaks, and consequently, becoming fluent in a different language could alter the learner’s thoughts in profound ways. Arrival explores this idea to the extreme as Louise starts to experience the side effects of learning Heptopod B.

It is safe to say that translators and other language professionals will view Arrival differently than the general population. There are myriad parallels between Louise’s experience and that of many translators. Some, such as the role that technology plays in decrypting the heptopods’ language, are glaring and resonant. Deciphering Heptopod B without a computer in such a short amount of time would have been impossible, and while the programs Louise’s team uses are more like CAT tools on steroids, they nevertheless echo the use of increasingly sophisticated and computerized tools in our everyday work. They also mirror the increasingly important role that technology plays in translation. Other parallels are subtler and may resonate more or less strongly depending on the viewer. Many translators will empathize with the fact that Louise’s work, much like our profession, is misunderstood by outsiders and the fact that those who are unfamiliar with what we do often hold us to unrealistically high expectations. Why can’t Louise just waltz in and ask the aliens why they are here after merely hearing an audio recording on someone’s phone in her office? Translators will commiserate with the long hours Louise spends alone at her desk, poring over a text into the darkest hours of the night—though her task is to avoid an impending global war or potential alien takeover, whereas a translator would likely be working merely to help a client with an urgent request. Others still will relate to the introversion and subtle loneliness of Adams’ character, coupled with an underlying, quiet confidence. She may have been content to work alone on her academic papers and Farsi translations in her office but was forced into the world to share her talent with those who needed it.

The film’s most powerful aspect for translators is that it allows us to imagine what it would be like if our skills bestowed super abilities—as if being able to read and translate one or several languages in a single day was not super enough. What if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis were true to the extent that it is portrayed in the film? Being a polyglot would suddenly become much more desirable, and our roles as conduits of culture and communication would become infinitely more complex and critical. We will likely never have the gift of omniscience, no matter how many languages we speak or write, and most of us will not be called upon to save humankind, but we will all continue doing our part to ensure that we keep communicating and that we, hopefully, understand each other just a little bit better.

Ben Karl

Ben Karl is a French- and Mandarin-into-English translator specializing in marketing and finance. He is based in Reno, NV.

The Role of the Genealogical Translator


My response to the question “what do you do?” tends to be a conversation stopper. I’m a professional genealogist and genealogical translator. Most people don’t have an idea of what either field entails. A professional genealogist or a professional translator might have some idea, but they’re usually missing part of the picture.

I usually begin by clearing up a few of the typical misconceptions. First of all, genealogy (the study of family history) isn’t a hobby for me, although I do trace my own family tree on occasion. In my professional genealogy career, I primarily do two kinds of work: research, in the form of tracing a client’s family tree, and teaching. While my post-secondary education in history gave me some background in genealogy, I’ve had to pursue extensive additional study to meet my clients’ and students’ needs. I current hold a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University’s Center for Professional Education and expect to complete a Certificate in Canadian Records from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (Toronto, Canada) this Spring.  I’ve also completed a number of non-certificate granting courses, including the Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Education Program. Genealogy is a tremendous amount of fun, but my business also represents a great deal of study and knowledge. Second, translation isn’t a hobby for me either! As the professional genealogy field is still developing its “rules” and “structure,” it is fairly easy for someone to call themselves a genealogist or a genealogical translator. This, unfortunately, has led to some people claiming to be professional translators who have had nothing beyond a high school study of the language. Thankfully, such individuals are rare – but they have impacted the reputation of the genealogical translator. Most, like me, have a mixture of exposure through daily life and formal education. I hold a BA in French Literature and have completed K-12 World Language teacher training.

If my listener has accepted my professionalism, their next question is often about genealogical translation and how it differs from typical translation. At first glance, genealogical translation seems simple. In most cases, all you’re doing is translating civil registration (what Americans call vital records) from French to English. Most employ standard sentence structure, so a translator is not faced with the literary complexity of a novel. But that understanding has missed a few important factors.

The first of these factors is the handwriting. Can you read the document below? This is actually on the easier side, as most of the document was printed. Whether you’re aware of it or not, handwriting and spelling have shifted dramatically over the centuries. An “ff” recorded in an older document is now read as “s.” A circonflexe in French word indicates the word originally contained an s — île was once isle. In fact, there’s a field dedicated to the study of the changes in writing, called paleography. To understand these changes, a genealogical translator either has to have read a number of historical documents or had formal training. Having both, as I have, is more typical.


For those of you who were struggling, a transcription follows:

“Luxembourg, Civil Registration, 1662-1941,” images, FamilySearch ( accessed 5 February 2015), birth entry for Anne Marie Reuter, image 562; citing Niederanven, “Naissances 1796-1829.”

[Second entry on left side of the page. The entry is in two columns; the first is to the left of the body of the entry. Words in bold are preprinted]










No. 11

L’ AN [L is oversized] mil huit cent vingt-six, le Dix-Sept du mois de Février

à onze heures du matin par-devant nous Jacques Funck, Bourgmestre

officier de l’état civil de la commune de Niederanven, canton de Betzdorff,

Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, est comparu Jean Reuter

âgé de trente ans, Manouvrier

domicilié en cette commune, Lequel    nous a présenté un

Enfant du sexe féminin__, dont son épouse Catherine Danckhoff,

est accouchée Aujourd’hui à dix heures du matin à Senningen,

et auquel il a déclaré vouloir donner le prénom de Anne Marie

Lesdites déclaration et présentation faites en présence de Mathais

Schmit âgé de vingt huit ans, Clerc de Notaire

et de Etienne Noÿs âgé de trente quatre ans,

                     Huilier                        domiciliés en cette commune, et

                     ont les témoins ______ signé avec nous le présent

                     acte de naissance, après qu’il leur en a été fait lecture. Le comparant a

déclaré ne pas savoir signer de ce enquis.

[ ?] Noÿs

Schmit [appears to be signature]

Funck [appears to be signature]


After the handwriting, the next factor to consider is the language. Words are added and dropped from a language as new things are developed and older things disappear. Did “email” exist even thirty years ago? The above document is largely written in language a modern French speaker would recognize, but there is one exception: “huilier.” Most would be able to translate the word as “oiler” or “oil maker,” but do you know what it entails? Georgette Roussel indicates in the “Vieux Métiers“ section of the blog Familles de nos villages ( that the huilier was responsible for taking the harvest to the mill and returning the oil to the village. Today, the person who controls the mill would have the title. A genealogical translator is responsible for recognizing and communicating the difference if it at all impacts the nature of the document.

Third, one must consider the document’s structure. While typical translation allows some fluidity in wording so that the document “reads naturally” in the target language, genealogical translation tends to be much more rigid in keeping the original structure. Why? Because the original structure can tell us something about the circumstances under which a document was created and offer details about your ancestor’s life. The format of the above cited document, a civil registration from Luxembourg, was regulated by law. A failure to use the word “épouse” can indicate that the couple was not married and may require additional research into their background.

In most circumstances, the genealogical translator would produce the following translation and stop, as their clients are controlling the direction of future research.










No. 11

The year one thousand eight hundred twenty-six, the seventeenth of the month of   February

at eleven in the morning before us Jacques Funck, Burgomaster

officer of the civil state of the commune of Niederanven, canton of Betzdorff,

Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, appeared Jean Reuter

aged thirty years, laborer

domiciled in this commune, who presented to us a

Child of the feminine sex, to whom his spouse Catherine Danckhoff,

gave birth Today at ten in the morning at Senningen,

and to which he declared to want to give the first name of Anne Marie

The said declaration and presentation made in presence of Mathais

Schmit aged twenty-eight years, Notary’s Clerk

and of Etienne Noÿs aged thirty four years,

oil manufacturer domiciled in this commune, and

the witnesses signed with us the present

certificate of birth, after he had been read it. The appearing

declared to not know how to sign this inquiry.

[ ?] Noÿs

Schmit [appears to be signature]

Funck [appears to be signature]


Schmit [appears to be signature]

Funck [appears to be signature]


Yet, in other cases, in which they are acting as genealogical translator and genealogist, they would use the information contained within the document to pursue further research. In this case, we know Anne Marie Reuter’s parents were Catherine Danckhoff and Jean Reuter, aged 30, and that they were married. Finding their marriage certificate is a logical next step.

The role of the genealogical translator is often considered to be  either confusing or deceptively simple. The reality is that my occupation is neither. It simply uses different set of rules than typical translation, requiring a greater awareness first, of the history behind the creation of the document and second, of the nuances of the document that must be conveyed in the target language. For a history lover fluent in a second language, genealogical translation can be a perfect fit.

Bryna O’Sullivan

Bryna O’Sullivan is a Connecticut based French to English genealogical translator and professional genealogist.


À Propos: FLD Member Updates – Third Quarter 2016

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 movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

  • Angela Benoit is teaching Transcreation, a language-neutral online class offered by the NYU School of Professional studies. Prospective students interested in this class may contact the school at 212-998-7200 or for information about enrollment for the next term (Spring 2017).
  • Eve Bodeux published a new book called Maintaining Your Second Language for translators and interpreters and other language lovers who need ideas on how to stay fluent in their first or second language for professional or personal reasons.
  • Bryna O’Sullivan presented a successful poster session on genealogical translation to the Association of Professional Genealogists 2016 Professional Management Conference.
  • Bruce Popp took the written and oral exams in June 2016 for the Diplôme approfondi de langue française. After passing, he received the Diplôme approfondi de langue française – niveau C2 from the French Ministère de l’éducation nationale in September 2016.
  • Kathleen Stein-Smith’s book, The U.S. Foreign Language Deficit: Strategies for Maintaining a Competitive Edge in a Globalized World (Palgrave Macmillan), is now available. In addition, she was invited to join the CSCTFL (Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Advisory Council.
  • Karen Tkaczyk was admitted in August 2016 as a Fellow of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. For more information on what it takes to become a fellow, visit the ITI site.

L’arabe du futur : une jeunesse au Moyen-Orient (1978-1984) – Riad Sattouf

ata-fld-newsletter-logoI am not someone who has a natural inclination to read graphic novels. The first one I read, at the urging of a book group, was Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I thought it was a fascinating peek into what it was like to grow up in Iran and it made me realize that graphic novels can indeed be literary endeavors. This particular genre is a revered form of expression within Francophone culture so I am in good company. My most recent foray into the world of graphic novels was to read Riad Sattouf’s L’arabe du futur : une jeunesse au Moyen-Orient (1978-1984) by Allary Éditions, the subject of this article.

Sattouf, who has published various autobiographical and fictional works to acclaim and worked as a cartoonist for both Charlie Hebdo and Le Nouvel Observateur, was born to a French mother and Syrian father. His graphic memoir covers, as the title notes, Sattouf’s first years of life, from 1978-1984 when the family lived very briefly in Paris as well as their time in Libya and Syria, his father’s homeland.

Sattouf’s mother comes across as a sympathetic figure but is not as fully developed as the character of his father. I often marveled at her ability to put up with the rudimentary conditions in which they were forced to live and while she seemed to do so without complaint for the most part, this is not to say that Sattouf portrays her as a pushover. She is surely a product of her era and her experiences living in lands so different from France, her country of origin. At times we see her stand up for herself, her family and her European values while still being mindful of the cultures in which finds herself (Libyan and Syrian). The author’s admiration for his mother and her ability to adapt is evident in his work. Her steadfast respect for herself and her children from a European perspective make me curious to read Sattouf’s next volumes in the series (there are three in total) to see how her relationship with her strong-minded husband evolves.

This first volume of Sattouf’s memoir is as much about his father as about himself. His father is always in search of a “better” life for himself, where he will receive the “recognition he deserves.” As the story begins, Abdel, Sattouf’s father, has recently received his doctorate in history from the Sorbonne. To put it to good use, he uproots the family, leaving France to accept a low-paying, low-prestige teaching position in Libya. He is a pan-Arabist whose sometimes inconsistent philosophy of life revolves around what Sattouf portrays as Abdel’s obsession with the Arab way of life getting the respect it deserves.

While Sattouf approaches his story with humor and makes us laugh at times, his frankness about the harshness to which he was sometimes subjected as a child can make us cringe. We learn about his bicultural experience through his personal perspective. As someone who is the product of a very different bicultural lifestyle, I found this fascinating and I am anxious to read the next two volumes in his autobiographical series.

Eve Lindemuth Bodeux

Eve Lindemuth Bodeux is a French to English translator and independent project manager who lives in Denver, CO.

Getting Certified: The Canadian Experience

ata-fld-newsletter-logo“You either have it or you don’t.” That’s what a lot of language professionals think about our profession. It’s what I thought when I was a university student studying abroad in France and I would listen to other American students speaking French, trying to determine if I was as good as they were. Ten years later, I decided for myself that I had a gift for languages—without anyone ever telling me so—and I decided to give freelance translation a try while living in Quebec City, Canada. It was only recently when I obtained the title of Certified Translator from the Corporation of Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters of New Brunswick (CTINB), however, that I felt that my opinion of myself was justified. While the road to certification was a bumpy one for me, it has turned out to be a positive and fulfilling experience that I would recommend to all translators, regardless of where you live.

First, let me give you some background information. Not having studied translation formally in school, when I first started out I didn’t realize that Canada had its own roster of translators associations, or that certification was even an option. After speaking with an acquaintance in the US who had told me that I needed to be certified in order to work for the company where he worked, I joined ATA and decided to start by completing a mentorship with an experienced translator. At the beginning of our mentorship, my mentor told me how she had failed the ATA certification exam twice before passing on her third try. Since I looked up to her and valued her advice, I figured that getting certified was essential in order to make it as a translator, and I decided to go for it on my next trip to the States. Unfortunately, after eventually failing twice myself, I decided that I would wait until trying again, thinking that I needed more experience and practice.

At the same time, since I didn’t know how long my husband and I would be living in Canada, I debated whether an American or Canadian certification would bring me the most benefit. I eventually heard about Quebec’s professional association, the Ordre des traducteurs terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (OTTIAQ), and started looking into their certification process. I learned that, in Canada, the titled of Certified Translator is granted by each province’s regulatory body, the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC), and that each province’s translators association has its own certification process. I was happy to find out that OTTIAQ offers a few different paths to certification, all of which take into account one’s educational background and professional experience and don’t necessarily involve an exam (more on that later). Given my specific experience, the only other criteria I had to fulfill before submitting my application for review was obtaining at least 5 years of experience.

Just before reaching the 5-year mark, my husband accepted a job offer in Saint John, New Brunswick, and more options became apparent to me after looking into New Brunswick’s certification process. Now, I not only had the option of taking an exam or having my qualifications reviewed, but I could also get certified by way of a mentorship. Given my experience with the ATA exam and the uncertainty of meeting the requirements for a “certification on dossier,” I opted for the mentorship in the hopes that my work would speak for itself, in the end.

I should note that, while ATA certification boosts your credibility in the United States, it is not required by all government agencies and, in some cases, a foreign certification will do. In Canada, however, certification is often required by the Translation Bureau in order to translate official documents for the government. And in New Brunswick—the only officially bilingual province in Canada—certification is mandatory. All the more reason for me to be certified.

Over the next 6 months, I submitted more than the minimum of 30,000 words to my mentor for her review and feedback. While my first few translations came back with a slew of comments (turns out I did need more practice), little by little I started seeing fewer and fewer revisions and, by the end of the mentorship, more than one document came back to me with no revisions at all. Although my mentor told me from the beginning that her aim was for me to go from a “very good translator to an excellent one,” I didn’t start to feel worthy of receiving the title of Certified Translator until she told me a few months into the mentorship that she was definitely going to recommend me for certification.

The big news came a few weeks after the end of the mentorship when I received word from the president of the CTINB that my mentor’s recommendation had been approved by the board and I was officially a certified French-to-English translator. Hooray! It was about time.

Looking forward, I hope to take advantage of the reciprocity agreement between the CTINB and Quebec’s association to have my certification recognized by OTTIAQ, as well as benefit from the liability insurance that the Order offers. As with ATA, there are many benefits to being a member of other translators associations; you just have to pick and choose which ones are most beneficial to you.

And who knows: maybe ATA’s new computerized exam will prove to be another way for me and many other translators to demonstrate our skills, in the conditions in which we feel most comfortable. It’s what I’m hoping for, at least!

Natalie Pavey is a French to English translator who specializes in French to English translation services in the fields of sustainable development, business communications and marketing.