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 part of a continuing 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.