Amanda Grey – translator of the month of August 2010
This is the current edition in a series of monthly interviews with well-known translators.
Jonathan Goldberg, himself a professional translator, puts questions to Amanda Grey, a translator of Irish nationality who lives in Caudan in Brittany.
A link to Amanda’s CV appears at the end of this article.
Jonathan: How did you get into translation?
At school, I was torn between technical subjects like chemistry and physics, and languages. I spoke French from the tender age of 5, and learned German and Spanish at school. I looked for a university course that continued my study of languages, combined with a technical aspect and discovered the Applied Languages course at Dublin City University. I had no idea what translation was, but found that I very much enjoyed the challenge it presented.
Now, I translate exclusively from French into English in technical fields, mainly the automotive industry and the environment (renewable energy, sustainable development, waste and water).
Jonathan: What exactly do you enjoy about the challenge of translation?
I very much enjoy the challenge of producing a text that reads as though it had been written originally in the target language – not as easy as you might think! A translator has to be multi-functional; master the source language, write well and coherently in the target (native) language and have a good basic knowledge of the subject in hand. A healthy curiosity is essential. Style and culture are also fundamental and, more than just the linguistic exercise, the target audience must be kept in mind, as does the purpose of the document – to inform, persuade, sell, etc.
Jonathan: What did you not learn at university?
How to manage a business! I remember one piece of advice in a class called “Translation Tools” (this was way before computer-assisted translation), which was to get an anti-static mat under the chair you used to sit at your computer… I am sure, or I hope, that translation courses include this aspect of a translator’s job. I am often in contact with translators starting out who have very little idea of how to manage their customers, their files or even their day.
Managing deadlines was another thing I had to learn on the fly. Translation projects in university were usually small (a couple of pages at most) and deadlines were measured in weeks. It is an art to know how much work you can take on reasonably, without compromising on quality or on your personal life!
Jonathan: What is the hardest thing you had to learn as a freelance translator?
Without a doubt, the ability to say “no”. It is very tempting when you start out to accept every project that comes your way, regardless of the technical difficulty, the deadline or the tariff. Only after you make a couple of serious mistakes and realize you should never have taken on the project in the first place, do you seriously examine each project in light of your abilities and availabilities and think twice before accepting.
Jonathan: How has the profession changed since you started in 1989?
The biggest obvious change is in technology. When I did my first internship in a large French geological research centre, we had one computer between four of us. Translations were done with pen and paper, and typed up on an old IBM golf ball typewriter! Nowadays, computers, online dictionaries, CAT tools (computer-assisted translation) and Google (it must be said), have made the translation process more efficient and faster. It has not necessarily made it easier, as the wealth of information available, not always of good quality, makes the discerning choices of the translator more difficult.
I have also found that, over the years, clients tend to be more aware of the difficulties involved in producing a quality translation. No longer do they think that because you are a native speaker, you can easily “produce” 20 pages of translation for the following day, faster than it would take a secretary to type it up! They also tend to quibble less about linguistic aspects and view the relationship as more of a partnership.
Jonathan: What are the essential tools of the trade?
A computer goes without saying! There is a lot of debate in the profession still concerning CAT tools, but for me, working with regular clients and fairly repetitive technical texts, translation memory software enables me to offer long-term consistency to my clients and speeds up the translation process no end. It has also, over the years, enabled me to build up a corpus of specialist glossaries and memories that represent many years of hard work. Which brings me to another essential tool – backup systems. I learned the hard way…
There are also tools on the market to enable translators to organize their business (Translation Office 3000 for example). This software keeps all my ongoing projects in a database and shows me at a glance what document is due when, and which clients owe me money!
Jonathan: How do you see the profession of translator evolving over the next ten years?
I am optimistic by nature! I do not share the doom and gloom predictions of those who say that Google Translate will do translators out of a job, or that emerging markets will undercut prices and put us all out of business. Just like the languages we use, the profession lives and evolves and we have to adapt. Collaboration between translators is increasingly necessary and possible using the web, and standards are tending to educate clients and separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. As long as we live in this multicultural, polyglot world, there will be a need for translators!