This 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.