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Faces of Wessex

An interview with French translator Claire-Marie Dubois

Inspired by this year’s theme for International Translation Day: Translation unveils the many faces of humanity, we have been chatting with some of our freelance translators as part of our ‘Faces of Wessex’ series, to find out a little bit more about our colleagues and their stories. Whilst we have good and often long-standing relationships with many of our suppliers, urgent requests and hurried emails can sometimes get in the way of taking the time to really get to know each other.

We’re hoping to strengthen those relationships and find out more about the personalities of the translators working hard behind the scenes. Perhaps by shining a light on potentially unusual hobbies or sharing reading recommendations we can all inspire each other!

We start off here with a mini-interview with French translator Claire-Marie Dubois, who we have been working with for over five years now. Claire-Marie supports Wessex Translations with requests for marketing texts, including press releases and tourism campaigns as well as technical documents such as white papers and training manuals.

So Claire-Marie, what inspired your love of languages?

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated by languages and people with different mother tongues than mine. When I was young, I invented all sorts of “fake languages” to play games. From the moment I started learning English in middle school I fell in love with it. Even after I started learning German and then Spanish, English has always stayed #1 for me.

And how did that love for languages then become your career?

Because I had always loved languages so much I naturally started translation studies but then life and love changed my plans and I became a primary school teacher for the first part of my career (14 years). As English increasingly became part of my teaching and I started organising school trips to England and ‘penpalshipsto enable my students to connect with English-speaking students, as well as travelling in different English-speaking countries with my husband, I realised that I wanted the English language to become a more important part of my life and career. So when life showed me it was time for me to try something other than teaching, my first idea was to come back to what I initially wanted to do which was translation. So I quit teaching, studied for a year to get my diploma in technical translation and there I was, living this new and challenging adventure…

How long have you been translating for now?

It’s been eight years now since I became a freelance translator and I don’t regret changing career a single day.

It’s great that you’re enjoying the adventure – has translation enabled you to discover any new topics or subject areas?

Technical translation is obviously quite different to teaching subjects in primary school so it was a real discovery of the business world for me. I found that I liked subjects I would never have imagined, like for instance all things related to construction or occupational safety (who knew concrete and asbestos could be so interesting!?), mobility and sustainable development (it’s exciting to discover the progress in those domains while translating). But I also found through translating eLearning materials that I still loved teaching and passing on knowledge, just in a different way, which is why I like translating HR and HSE documents.

Do you have a particular favourite text or project you’ve worked on? Can you tell us a bit about it?

I think my favourite project by far was translating a whole guide concerning an American trail entirely dedicated to places and people linked to the African American Civil Rights Movement. This was a long project for which I had to undertake a lot of research and thus deepen my knowledge of this very interesting movement and its famous and not-so-famous figures. Plus, since the document was not a technical one, the real challenge was more in the writing process which I really love: it is quite an exercise to try to translate such a text and play with words and sentences to make it sound as natural as possible in your own language while conveying the right emotions. It’s the same pleasure I feel when translating blog articles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community: I learn things about people’s lives and I try to translate and write as faithfully as I can to be sure it’s their message and not mine, while making it sound as if it had been written in French from the start.

And making sure the translation isn’t obviously a translation is the key – something which I think your logo illustrates so beautifully and cleverly!

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Other than making a translation sound as natural as possible, what do you find most challenging when translating a text?

I like having to carry out a lot of research on a new project and discovering a whole new terminology (words I didn’t even know existed fascinate me), understanding things I had never suspected existed. I love when a translation requires creativity because it’s a real exercise for the brain: your first translation is never the one that sticks. It’s fascinating to see how you can improve a text while keeping the original intent.

And what kind of research do you find you need to carry out?

Well, it depends on the project obviously: some projects do not require much research particularly when you’re used to translating such content. Then, if it’s a very technical project on a very specific topic, I need to start learning more about that topic and find resources in English and in French to get more comfortable with the content and the terminology. If the project is on a specific product or a company then I need to know more about it to understand the way they like to communicate.

So there’s a lot of work going on before you can even start writing – or typing! A lot of people probably don’t realise exactly what human translation involves, especially when machine translation tools like Google Translate are so accessible these days.

How do you feel about the use of machine translation within the translation industry?

It’s obviously fascinating to see the progress made in this field but as a translator what I enjoy in my job is to take a sentence in English and to have my mind search for the best way to say it in French with my own words and personality. I wouldn’t like to edit machine translation because I wouldn’t feel free and it would prevent me from being creative which is what I like most about being a translator.

I completely understand you there! I haven’t worked with MT much myself either but remember reviewing one text which had been run through a tool. Initially it seemed very good but had mangled a particularly expressive idiom which needed a complete rewrite using creativity – that exact level of personality that human translators bring to translation.

And when you aren’t translating, which hobbies fill your time?

A hobby I kept from my first career in teaching is reading illustrated books for kids and YA novels (dystopian novels especially). I’m proud and happy I had so many French students discover and love the Harry Potter books back then (I even organised a Harry Potter-themed trip to England for my students to discover all the famous places...). I secretly wish one day I’ll have an opportunity to translate children’s literature, that would be so cool!

Do you have any favourite books? Do you read translated books?

I only read in English, and sometimes in French when the author of the book is French but I don’t tend to read any translated works.

If you want to read an interesting book about translation, I could recommend “Par instants, le sol penche bizarrement” by French literary translator Nicolas Richard.

If I had to recommend just one book – be it in English or in its translated version – that would be Harry Potter all the way: the Jim Kay illustrated versions in particular!

I’ve read a couple of the Harry Potter books in French and loved how the spells and character names have been transcreated to keep the magic alive!

Do you have any favourite phrases that you’ve come across in English?

I love “street art” (the word and the actual art): it can be translated by “art de rue” in French but I like it best in English and I’m above all fascinated by all the creativity of those incredible artists. When I travel I always try to see if there are special places with street art to be seen and take a lot of pictures.

Thank you Claire-Marie for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing part of your story with us!

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