The Monterey Institute: A Translator’s Tale

The purpose of this post is to help you answer the question: Is it worth it for me to get a degree in translation? By degree, I mean a formal, one- or two-year academic program that teaches the theory and practice of translation. Clearly, the answer to the question will depend on the individual and their circumstances. To help you decide, I will describe my experiences at the two-year master’s degree program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California (MIIS), way back in the late eighties.

Two caveats come with this post. First and foremost, as I’ve just said, I attended the institute back in the Jurassic Period, when it was still known as the Monterey Institute. I’m sure the school has changed its curriculum and its entire program to some degree. Yet I still think it will be valid for me to talk about the teaching methods, the organization of the program, and the benefits I derived from attending.

The second caveat is that you should not assume I believe that a specialized degree in translation is the only way to go. A fair number of us have arrived at the destination of professional translation through many a winding turn and side road. I am certain that plenty of excellent translators out there never attended such a program. For me, however, the experience proved essential.

When I was at the Monterey Institute, the translation and interpretation program was divided into two years of two semesters each. Candidates had to pass a screening process that included demonstrating fluency in at least one other language, their B language. Your A language is your native language (not necessarily English), a third language is your C language, and so on.

The first year was devoted to honing English skills through exercises that taught us how to analyze a text, and introducing us to the various methods of interpretation: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting. We also learned how to translate. Translators who learn on the job can certainly figure out an approach to their craft, but I am grateful that I had experts teaching me exactly how to read a text, how many passes to go through to produce a final translation, and what each pass should consist of.

At the end of the first year, I opted for the translation-only track. Classes consisted of small groups of six or seven students; we would go around in a circle reading aloud one section of a translation we had prepared in advance as homework. One class was technical translation into and out of the foreign language; the other was general texts in the same two directions. “Technical” texts included anything from an article on local area networks to a description of the Chernobyl disaster. “General” texts tended toward international affairs and politics because many of the teachers worked for the European Union. They were practicing translators and interpreters, able to give us critical exposure to real-life skills and methods.

Meeting in small groups meant everyone had to participate, and everyone was able to receive feedback from professionals. Working into our B and C languages provided useful insights into why those languages use the styles they do, and how to go about molding them to fit the usage norms of our native languages. I think it would be difficult or impossible to reproduce these aspects of the program on your own.

The Monterey Institute teaches students to be generalists, on the theory that if you know how to research a topic and how to translate, the specializations will come as you build your career. This training contrasts with that of translators who have received degrees in a specialized field such as law or biology, most likely in their native language, and then learned how to translate as they went along. Ideally, a student would have both types of education, in a much longer academic program combining undergraduate and graduate studies. But life is rarely ideal. A college education requires a great deal of time and money. My own view is that while a master’s degree in translation is not essential to becoming a translator, a bachelor’s degree certainly is. Four years of undergraduate work provide the exposure to the wide breadth of basic knowledge that translators need to understand the texts they are translating.

Another benefit of the Monterey program is what I think of as the network effect. Because of the professional connections with the EU and Brussels, graduates often moved to Brussels with their degrees to begin work. When a friend from my class and I did the same, we had three instant contacts in the city to show us the ropes. As with any college program, you get to know a group of people, and they become potential job connections, along with the school’s alumni.

A graduate degree program is not feasible for everyone. I was fortunate to have attended the Monterey Institute; I learned lessons and gained experiences that I never would have otherwise. Luckily for all of us, a plethora of online and in-person training programs and courses also exists to help us perfect our craft.

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

After graduating from the Monterey Institute, Diana Rhudick worked briefly in Brussels as a translator before returning to the States to teach and start her freelance career. Following a short stint as a translation agency project manager, she began her own translation and editing business.

Currently, she divides her time between her freelance work and project management for a boutique translation company.

International Translation Day 2019 – A Day in the Life of a Translator or Interpreter

Have you heard? ATA is encouraging translators and interpreters to celebrate International Translation Day (ITD) in a BIG way this year! A United Nations resolution passed in 2017 recognizes ITD as the day to pay tribute to the work of language professionals, and to celebrate this huge step for our profession, ATA is celebrating big time on September 30, 2019. We just need your help to make it happen!

What’s the big deal?

How often do you meet people who don’t know what translators and interpreters do, or how many times have you cringed when you heard a translator referred to as an interpreter and vice versa? How often have you had to explain to friends or family members that yes, you do make a living as a translator or interpreter? How often do you encounter people in your community who are unaware of the role language services play in our world? Probably all too often!

What’s the plan?

On International Translation Day (September 30, 2019), ATA will unveil an informational video taking viewers through a day in the life of a translator or interpreter. The video will help you get the word out to both your professional andpersonal network—people who may not be familiar with what you do—about the importance of your profession and your role in it.

I’m in. What do I need to do?

  • Follow ATA on social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram) and share the video on your own social media accounts on September 30. You can also visit the ITD webpage on September 30, download the video and post it on your own social media accounts. In your post to social media, we’d love to see you tell us what a day in your life as a translator or interpreter looks like.
  • Find out if your local ATA Chapter or Affiliate will be hosting a gathering to celebrate translators and interpreters. If not, consider hosting one yourself!
  • Schedule a School Outreach presentation in honor of ITD. Now is the time to teach the next generation of translators and interpreters about our exciting and growing profession. Materials and inspiration can be found at the School Outreach website.

A Day in the Life of a Translator or Interpreter!

ATA is set to make International Translation Day 2019 all about showing the world what a typical day in the life of a translator or interpreter looks like. Raising awareness about translation and interpreting will help pave the way for a better future for our profession, and it can start right here in our own backyards. You can help! Mark your calendars, follow ATA on social media, and help spread the word by sharing the video on September 30, 2019!

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

Uncovering New Opportunities: Genealogical Translation as a Specialty

Genealogy is in the news these days with the popularity of services like 23andMe—and that has implications for professional translators. At the most basic level, genealogy is the study of family history. Yet, it is a wide-ranging field that includes everything from the hobbyist trying to identify their fifth great-grandparents to the professional genealogist helping a probate court locate the heirs to an estate to a lineage society specialist completing an application to the Sons of the American Revolution. By the field’s very nature, it’s common for genealogists to find themselves in need of the assistance of a translator.

But not just any translator. Like the subspecialties of legal, medical or business translation, genealogical translation requires specialized skills. What those skills will be depend somewhat on the project for which the translator is being employed.

Forensic Genealogy

                The website of one forensic genealogist defines forensic genealogy as “genealogical research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications.” Forensic genealogy can include everything from the identification of missing heirs in a probate case to determination of ownership on oil rights (see examples and more information here). Translation can come into play when the case crosses a country’s borders, as the documents that indicate relationships may be in a different language than that of a court.

Because their translations—if not the translators themselves—are likely to appear before the court, the translators working with forensic genealogists are expected to have a good understanding of legal translation. Their translation must be in a format that will be acceptable to the court hearing the case. They additionally must be prepared to answer any questions that arise about their work, both to the forensic genealogist and to the court. Due to the nature of court hearings, anecdotal evidence suggests ATA-certified or otherwise credentialed translators are preferred.

While an understanding of legal translation is required for those translators working with forensic genealogists, a grasp on the evolution of their source language is also beneficial. The majority of forensic genealogy cases concern recent events, but not all. The translator must be comfortable identifying and working with terminology that was used a century ago but may not be in a modern dictionary. A misunderstood word risks dramatically impacting the hiring genealogist’s case.

Traditional genealogy

                Never truly named, traditional genealogy is the study of family history using artifacts, documents, and oral histories. It can take many forms, depending on the client’s goals. An individual wishing to join a lineage society may need to document birth, death and marriage according to the society’s standards. Someone else may simply want to learn as much as possible about their sixth great-grandfather, even though they lived in another country whose records are kept in a language they do not speak. These genealogists may find themselves in need of a translator to meet the society’s requirements or to overcome a brick wall.

As Google Translate has gained a strong foothold among genealogists, translators are rarely hired until desperation sets in—and it’s discovered that the translator may have skills a translation software program cannot provide. Translators working with traditional genealogists must be prepared to develop several unique skill sets. First and foremost, they must be able to read older handwritten documents in their country’s source language. In 2016, the Association of Professional Genealogists published an article in their Quarterly entitled “Why I love Google Translate.” In it, the article’s author encourages the use of Google Translate to enter unfamiliar texts, including those in cursive. Realistically, someone who does not read the source language may be able to copy a printed document. They are far less likely to be able to accurately copy a handwritten document. Most genealogists know this and will seek help when they cannot pick out the individual letters of a document. Second, translators must become familiar with older versions of their source language. The documents a genealogist will provide to a translator will rarely be from the twentieth or twenty-first century—and may be as old as the mid-seventeenth. It’s not uncommon to find words in these documents that are no longer in the modern dictionary. After all, how often is a French-speaker asked to translate “este” in today’s world? A translator with the ability to read older forms of the language and handwritten documents will find themselves in the perfect position to assist genealogists who have otherwise given up all hope.

Now what?

While there is a well-established market for German genealogical translation, that of other languages is still growing. Many genealogists—including forensic genealogists—may not know help exists, let alone where to hire it. For those interested in building a market in this subspecialty, the best first step is to raise awareness of your existence. Reach out to genealogy groups covering regions or ethnicities that speak your language. Speak at national genealogy conferences. As more awareness of genealogical translation builds, the market will follow.

References:

Pam Vestal, “Why I Love Google Translate,” The Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly Volume XXXI (2): 85.

“Forensic Genealogy,” Stone House Historical Research (https://www.stonehouseresearch.com/forensic/: accessed 8 June 2019).

“Forensic Genealogy.” Sunny Jane Morton, “5 Questions with Forensic Genealogist Leslie Lawson,” FamilyTreeMagazine (https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/5-questions-forensic-genealogist/ : accessed 8 June 2019).

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Bryna O’Sullivan is a Connecticut based French-to-English genealogical translator and proprietor of Charter Oak Genealogy.

Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part Two)

by Joseph P. Mazza

This post is part two of a two-part series by Joe Mazza. Read last week’s post here (you won’t regret it): Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part One).

Having survived the surly eviction from a Latino grocery store, I decided long ago to pursue the vocabulary of national life on less dangerous turf—namely around the dining room table, followed up by copious online research. Then I check my research after the next meal, just to keep things real.

In some cultures, it is not uncommon to spend a good hour or more chatting around the table after any meal, and there have been times in my life when these talks have lasted far longer, with one meal simply blending in with the next. In Peru, they call this post-prandial prattle la sobremesa, which in itself is one of those hard-to-translate cultural bywords. Naturally, after countless sobremesas in Lima and DC, spread out over two decades, my storehouse of Peruvian expressions is enormous. And my information extraction techniques have become more refined with the passage of time!

At last year’s ATA Annual Conference (2018), I delivered a session focused on eight words that stood out in this 20-year campaign to master the Spanish of Peruvian life. Each word had been a challenge for me, and each challenge had a story. The input from the Peruvians and non-Peruvians who attended my session was invaluable. The hardest part of preparing the talk was deciding which eight expressions to pick.

Criollo and cholo

Two words were ethnographic labels—criollo and cholo—that have proven supremely difficult to translate. The first term is a cousin of “creole” in English, so an ATA Annual Conference in New Orleans was the perfect venue to discuss it. You have to take on a word like “criollo” in a single-country context, so “creole” is of little use as a translation.

In Peru the word suggests a mixture of cultures, particularly along the coast, where European blended with African and Native American. Yet the focus is on the sum of the parts, not the parts themselves, and when a Peruvian says something is “criollazo,” (super-criollo), you think of how some in the United States say “all-American.”

Peruvians are fond of citing examples of their innate ingenuity, using the phrase “la chispa criolla” (the spark of criollo genius). I have been called “el gringo criollo,” and take that to mean I have earned my merit badge in Peruvian studies!

But so often these are loaded words, ones that can include and exclude, depending on one’s perspective and intent, and ones an outsider such as me had best be careful about using.

Cholo” is perhaps even more fraught, focusing as it does on the Native American contribution to Peruvian life, acknowledging the blending with other cultures, and ranging from the proudest epithet to the vilest insult. Peruvians will call out to their buddies, “Oye, cholo…” (Hey there, cholo), and one of my wife’s cousins refers to me in direct speech as “cholito de mi corazón” (literally “little cholo of my heart”). Here, the word is almost denatured from its original meaning.

There is a comic series called Super Cholo, and a popular YouTuber named El Cholo Mena which tempt one to think the word is safe to use. Yet examples of disparaging uses of cholo are easy to find in print, on the Internet, and in everyday speech. It is a word that invites a translator’s note, which invites even more trouble!

El Señor de los Milagros

Turning to the spiritual side, we looked at the Catholic devotion to el Señor de los Milagros (the Lord of the Miracles), to whom most of October (el mes morado) is dedicated in Peru. The primary miracle occurred when an image of Christ, painted on the wall of a church in Lima frequented by Afro-Peruvians, survived an 18th Century earthquake.

If you are Peruvian, you are expected to know that el Cristo de Pachacamillo, el Cristo negro, and el Cristo morado all refer to el Señor de los Milagros; that you will see hundreds of people each October wearing robes known as la túnica morada, la indumentaria morada, or el hábito morado, and that you will be eating the traditional cake known as el turrón de doña Pepa.

Armed with all this cultural knowledge, we were ready to take on this 2014 headline from El Comercio: “Despide el mes morado con el turrón de los feligreses.While the uninitiated might be tempted to translate this as “Saying goodbye to the purple month with the nougat of the parishioners,” during my presentation, we were able to infuse authenticity into our translation, and came up with “Month-long religious festival concludes as the faithful flock to buy traditional dessert.” I thought “flock” added a nice spiritual touch!

Los conos

Next we turned to the terminology of urban planning in greater Lima, the sprawling metropolis that more than a third of Peru calls home. There, the term “los conos” (the cones) refers to the newly developing triangle-shaped areas (or “Lima emergente”) to the north, south, and east, as contrasted to “Lima tradicional,” which includes the city center (aka Cercado de Lima—because there was a wall around it once) and its outlying districts. Somewhere in the middle is the old port city of Callao.

Chalaco

Most demonyms (gentilicios) in Peru fit predictable patterns. Hence those from Arequipa are arequipeños, and those from Chachapoyas are chachapoyanos. But the proud people of Callao are chalacos, and they consider themselves a breed apart from their neighbors, los limeños. The good-hearted sparring between chalacos and limeños is not unlike the exchanges I have overheard between the denizens of the various boroughs of New York City. One piece of advice learned the hard way: when you land at LIM (Jorge Chávez International Airport), never tell a chalaco cab driver you are glad to be in Lima. You are likely to hear “You mean you are glad to be in Callao—you’ll be in Lima in a few minutes!”

Suyo

Suyo” is a Quechua word meaning “quarter,” and it is often mistaken for the Castilian possessive pronoun el suyo (which maddeningly translates to his, hers, its, theirs, or yours). This double entendre is rich fodder for clever journalists. The Quechua suyo comes from the four quarters into which the Inca Empire, or Tahuantinsuyo (Land of the Four Quarters), was divided.

The boundaries of the quarters radiated from the capital at Cuzco, the “navel of the world” (qosco in Quechua). One needs this deep history to understand the term’s modern usage. For the contemporary Peruvian, “los cuatro suyos,” means “from all corners of the country.”

The famous “Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos” (March of the Four Quarters) in July 2000 was a nationwide protest march converging on Lima. The Peruvian diaspora in the United States is sometimes referred to as “el quinto suyo,” (the fifth quarter), which should be an oxymoron.

La U/Alianza

As a nod to the soccer fans in my audience, I included the Janus-faced pair La U/Alianza—two rival crosstown soccer teams in Lima. Loyalty to one team or the other is a point of honor among many Peruvians, and the outsider must tread with a good set of chimpunes (cleats) on this dangerous playing field!

The Club Alianza Lima, aka los aliancistas, los blanquiazules, or los íntimos, was established in 1901, and plays in a neighborhood known as Matute, which also serves as a byname for the team in sports commentary. Their archrivals are the Club Universitaria de Deportes, aka los cremas, los merengues, or la U, established in 1924, and playing at a stadium in the Ate neighborhood.

Each year, the teams face off at a grudge match called the “superclásico,” and the country goes wild.

Incidentally, despite their rivalry, the two teams have been known to help one another in times of trouble, and this show of unity is commemorated in the popular dessert known as the combinación clásica, a dollop of rice pudding (for La U—perhaps emphasizing the Castilian), next to a dollop of purple corn pudding (for La Alianza—perhaps emphasizing the African and the indigenous). Five millennia of cultural movement and a century of athletic brinksmanship, served in a glass dish!

Yunga(s)

We ran out of time before getting to the last word—las yungas. This is another Quechua loanword, and often refers to the warm valleys high up in the Andes.

When we study Spanish in the US, we learn that several Andean countries have three regions—coast, mountains, and rain forest (costa/sierra/selva). And many of our fellow students in these very countries learn the same three subdivisions.

But a noted Peruvian geographer named Javier Pulgar Vidal (1911–2003) delivered a paper in 1940 called Las ocho regiones naturales del Perú, in which he posited that there were not three, but eight natural regions to his country, to which he attached indigenous names. One of these was la yunga, in the singular.

Such words inspire us to reclassify our world, to question convention, to reach back into the past, and to mine it for the future. Which is, in essence, our overall mission as language learners, as we stumble on the vocabulary of national life . . . in all its glorious varieties.

Image source: Pixabay

Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part One)

by Joseph P. Mazza

I envy those who take up foreign languages spoken in a single country. Sure, there may be regional varieties within that country and émigré communities too. Yet these happy colleagues have the institutions and lifeways of only one country to tackle. Japanese linguists will be the first to dispute how easy this really is!

Having been a Romance/English translator for years, I find the sheer number of national variants of Spanish, French, and Portuguese both invigorating and overwhelming. Even with Italian, one has to stay on top of Italy, Switzerland, and Vatican City, not to mention San Marino, with its co-heads of state called “Captains Regent” (gli Eccellentissimi Capitani Reggenti); its 8 subdivisions called “Castles” (Castelli); and its dates cross-reckoned “from the foundation of the Republic” (dalla Fondazione della Repubblica, or d.F.R.), which, by tradition, occurred in 301 AD. If you have ever dealt with a document from that Most Serene Republic, you know what I mean.

Let’s face it, why else did we venture down this career path, if not to visit with the people, see the sights, hear the music, and learn the history that come as part of the package? To me, mastery of what I call “the vocabulary of national life,” that is, the words used by a community of language speakers within a country to describe the unique features of their national existence, is the most fascinating part of language learning.

Yet in our zeal to conquer the legal, technical, and other terminology that peppers our source texts, we translators sometimes neglect this vocabulary of national life—some of which defies translation, to the eternal frustration of term base builders. The systematic study and charting of this ever-changing vocabulary should indeed be part of our continuing education. To bring structure to what is often a random learning process, I have set down ten categories, in no particular order:

·         Geography ·         History
·         People and society ·         Business
·         Government ·         Cultural life (including sports!)
·         Infrastructure and resources ·         Spiritual life
·         Education ·         Food and drink

Although born of reflection, the list is my own invention, and the categories are flexible. If you are a soccer fan, you can merge two categories, and use the spare for that much-loved sport, in which case you could relabel “culture” as “all culture outside of soccer.”

The point is to stay well rounded, and to make sure that some categories are outside your comfort zone. Then go to it. Find out what sports teams are tops in Tegucigalpa; what dance tunes are pulsating in Punta del Este; what folks eat for Sunday breakfast in Badajoz; and who is the patron saint of Cochabamba. Do this systematically, and your Spanish will be all the richer for it. So will your translations.

If you are a multi-Romance linguist, repeat the process for French, Portuguese, and Italian. Ten categories, several hundred terms for each, multiplied by 60 or 70 countries . . . you had best start young!

When I married a Peruvian nearly two decades ago, I acquired a ringside seat beside one of the two dozen national cultures played out in Spanish. I vowed to stop at nothing to explore every lexical byway of the Peruvian experience in Spanish, leaving Quechua and Aymara for another lifetime. My glossary entries numbered in the hundreds. Some Peruvians looked at me with admiration. Others thought I was a spy.

Sometimes, the quest has had unintended consequences. One summer day, my wife and I ventured into a Latin American grocery store in the DC suburbs. I quickly became distracted by a rack of herbs in plastic packets, each with its name in what seemed to be authoritative Spanish and English. So taken was I by this lexical herbiary that I whipped out a notepad and started jotting down words. The store owner/bouncer lumbered over and said “Buddy, you gotta leave . . . I don’t need anyone here writing down my prices. I know the competition sent you!” I sensed he had little appreciation for the vocabulary of national life, so we turned tail and left. My wife was not pleased—“They had the best tamales in DC, and now we can never go back.” To me, this was acceptable collateral damage in the translator’s eternal quest for truth.

Tune in for part two of this article, in which Joe Mazza will delve into the vocabulary of national life in Peru. [You can now read part two here.]

Image source: Pixabay