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.