This is a new series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Enjoy! And, if you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.
Victor Foster is a French to English translator, terminologist, and IT trainer based out of Silver Spring, MD. He currently serves as Vice President of the National Capital Area Translators Association board of directors. You can learn more about his terminology business at www.virtual-terminologist.com. And you can learn more about Victor below!
Question: How did you get started in translation?
I had re-entered school years after my first try and was majoring in business. I decided I should learn a foreign language to give myself an edge compared to other business majors. I minored in French for sentimental reasons. My biological father was a Creole from Louisiana and spoke the patois known as Creole, which is derived from French. Anyway, I took a French writing class and Professor Marco Roman persuaded me to switch my major to French, as he felt I had a talent for it.
I quickly decided I didn’t want to be a teacher or a professor so how to make money? Translation offered the greatest potential. But how to learn about it and try it out without incurring a huge expense to maybe discover it wasn’t for me? After that I went to the grad program at the University of Oklahoma and spent 2 years in Clermont-Ferrand as part of an exchange program. I wanted to have first hand experience of the language. I wanted to breathe it and live it.
Whilst there (Yes, I love to throw in British English, it’s so pretentious, isn’t it?) I studied literary and business translation in addition to the literature classes I was obligated to take because of my literature major. I was hooked from that point forward. I came back and graduated with a MA in French Literature from the University of Oklahoma. From there I went to Kent State and enrolled in their Translation Studies program. I graduated from Kent with an MA in Translation in December 2000.
In the Summer of 2002 Joe Mazza from the State Department contact Dr. Sue Ellen Wright inquiring about assistance with Trados and Multiterm, which the State Depatment had recently purchased. Dr. Wright recommended me and I was off to Washington where I soon became known as a CAT tool expert, particularly with Trados products. Trados was part of the Kent State curriculum. Before coming to DC I had done work for the Liquid Crystal Institute of Kent State (translation of science journal submissions) and Millipore (medical devices) and a few other companies.
Q: Why do you keep going at it?
I love the challenge of translation. I’m especially keen on observing and participating in the blending of technologies with the art. I consider translation to be more art than science, and technology enhances it rather than diminishing it as so many seem to fear. Things are developing so quickly and it makes me feel like I’m constantly adapting to stay on top of things. Just dogged determination to succeed, I guess.
Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?
Be proactive. Be assertive (read: aggressively pursue your professional goals). Don’t be afraid to say no. You’ll better maintain a good reputation if you don’t take on work you can’t be 100% confident you’ll do well.
Q: What’s the strangest assignment you’ve ever had?
The most interesting job I had wasn’t really a language translation project. In 2010 I worked on a Microsoft text to speech project. I had a huge spreadsheet with categorized tabs with thousand of rows each of text where I had to rewrite the text using a specific format that the software could interpret and then vocalize as speech. It took hours and hours. Microsoft then took the text and developed the text to speech programs we’re all familiar with these days.
A few months later they sent me the resulting audio files, and using a system of metrics they had created for grading how well the programs translated the text to speech I had to grade how well the software converted the text to sound vocalizations that mimic the human voice. We’re talking hundreds of files for each text to speech voice type: Veronica, Ralph, et al., etc. I guess only someone like me could find that type of thing interesting rather than just tedious.