Jonathan : You were born in the United States. Where and when did you learn French ?
In high school I had four years of traditional instruction in French. Years later, I realized my teachers had taught me all the French grammar I would ever need to know (more than all, in fact: I have never had to translate the pluperfect subjunctive!). But I could hardly speak the language. Reasonable fluency in conversation did not come until after college, when I found myself in a former French colony, Senegal, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve lost the little Wolof I learned there, but French has stayed with me.
Jonathan : How did you become a translator ?
By chance, and relatively late in life. In 1990 my wife’s employer offered her a two-year expatriate assignment in Paris, and I knew it was too good a deal to pass up. I quit my salaried job, we moved to France with our two young daughters, and I became a stay-at-home dad a.k.a “househusband”. After a few months, I cast about for something gainful to do while the kids were in school. I had a computer, good keyboard skills, and familiarity with Microsoft Word. A friend of a friend had started a translation company in the city. I was presumptuous enough to think I could translate from French to English. I asked that person to let me try. She did, and that is how I got started – at 0,35 FRF a word. I was a generalist then: I would translate any text I was offered.
Jonathan : What are your fields of specialization ?
Only one: financial. Within six months of starting out as a translator, I had found that I could specialize in what I knew from my previous life. I had a graduate degree in economics and a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) credential in investment management. There was much that I still had to learn about banking, law, accounting and so on, but I was better positioned than most to acquire the knowledge I would need.
Jonathan : Do you prefer to translate or interpret?
I do not do interpreting at all. I would not be good at it, and it does not suit me. One thing I like very much about translating is that I do not have to leave the house to do it!
Jonathan : Who are your clients ?
At this point I have just two. Both are smallish translation companies in Paris that I have been working with for fifteen years. The market for what I do is mainly in Europe, not in North America. I am happy not to work directly for end customers. From nine time zones away, I am not going to keep Paris office hours; I want an intermediary to do that for me.
Jonathan : Do you use machine translation (MT) software?
I do. For every translation. I am now so used to a translation-memory environment that I have difficulty going back to the old way. For translating, I have been using one CAT tool in particular for some nine years. For aligning and generating bitexts, I use a different program. My project for the next few months is to become proficient in one of the newer CAT tools that handles both tasks well. I’ve owned the new software for several months but haven’t had time to learn it.
What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of translating financial texts?
Without question, the greatest difficulty is getting the terminology right: choosing the appropriate terms and wielding them correctly. For me, this is the definition of what a translator has to be able to do to be a specialist – in any field.
The trickiest challenges in financial terminology are often hidden behind common words and phrases. For example, take “consolidation” in the accounting sense. The very same word is used in both French and English, much of the time in the very same way – but there is one key difference in what the word is understood to mean in France. Suffice it to say that I know no way to state this meaning precisely in a phrase of fewer than eight English words. And that is a problem because where this difference matters, mistranslation can be a major error.
A different kind of challenge is posed by the French phrase « franchissement de seuil[s de détention] », common in securities law and regulation. Here, the equivalent term in English is the semantically unrelated phrase “notification of major holdings”. It is not strictly speaking a translation, but it is the term the translator will need to use in almost any text in which this subject comes up. In both languages, the term used is a shorthand reference to a disclosure obligation, but each shorthand focuses on a different aspect of the obligation.
Very interesting. Very many thanks, Robert.