Rainy weather reading

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The rainy season is in full swing in California, and I have been taking advantage of the weather to snuggle up with some great books. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

  • Ces enfants de ma vie, by Gabrielle Roy – This French collection of related tales starts out slowly with some shorter stories, but keep with it! It builds into longer, more personal tales of life as a young teacher in remote areas of 1930’s Canada. We read this for our local book club, and those of us who finished it could not stop talking about the ending. The sweet descriptions of the Canadian landscape are a great touch to help you embrace the colder seasons, too.
  • Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut – The story of a war veteran who teaches at a college for the disabled, then at the prison across the lake, and survives the takeover of the town when the inmates escape (among other things). It hits a bit close to home in the current American political climate, but Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. Perfect if you like witty, sometimes dark humor.
  • Pacsirta, by Dezső Kosztolányi – For those of you who read Hungarian, I loved this description of a family experiencing temporary empty-nesting when a couple’s daughter visits cousins out of town. Plenty of laughs, with enough substantive food for thought to keep you hooked. And there’s no sappy Disney ending.
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard – I am still working on this piece of non-fiction. Teddy Roosevelt was a total character with huge capacity for persistence. This book documents the trip he took after losing his bid for a third presidential term, down the Amazon with his son Kermit. They faced disease, death, and even murder. Fascinating!

What are you reading lately? Can you recommend any favorite authors? Share in the comments below!

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How I chose my specialty field: Stephen Schwanbeck

Stephen Schwanbeck is a native Californian but grew up in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest. He moved to France in 1994 as a student and has resided there ever since. A member of the ATA and the SFT, he has been translating professionally for 15 years. In 2010, he left his day job and became a freelance translator. Although the work may be hard and the hours long, he loves it.

stephen

Hi, Stephen! Thanks so much for letting me pick your brain about how you chose your specialty field! I’m sure there are plenty of new translators out there that can benefit from hearing your story. Picking a specialization can be confusing.

Let’s start with a bit of background. You’re a technical translator—do you specialize in any particular subject matter? What sort of documents do you work on most often?

I specialize in nuclear safety and security, HVAC and pharmaceuticals. That said, being a technical translator, I work in a lot of other fields as well. I mostly translate reports, instruction manuals, brochures and protocols. I do get the occasional menu, though.

When did you first decide that this would be a good specialty for you? Did you have prior knowledge of the subject matter, or a related hobby or interest?

I didn’t really decide that any of these fields would make good specialties. The real reason is because of my clients. They sent me work and I realized that I found it interesting and I was able to do it. Before becoming a translator, I didn’t really have any prior knowledge in any of these fields. At school I was mostly interested in literature and history. I wasn’t at all technical minded.

How did you learn to work in this specialty field? What did you do to make sure that clients could trust your abilities with their technical documents?

I learn as I go. I do a lot of research on the Internet and I try to read as much as I can on each subject. That’s not to say that it makes good bedtime reading, but you need to keep up with developments and vocabulary. I’ve been translating for 15 years, so I have a fair amount of experience in a variety of fields and in translating. I always agree to do a short test translation so that new clients can see my style and how I work. For example, if I have a question or comment about something in the source document, I’ll flag it in a separate file and send it to the client.

What keeps you interested in working in this subset of translation? Why do you like to translate technical texts?

Well, I really enjoy the variety. Every day, or nearly every day, there is a new document in a different subject to be translated. One day it could be a document on nuclear safety and the next it could be a lab report or a menu. I like translating technical texts because the subjects are interesting and I usually learn something. I often joke that the things that I learn make good icebreakers or subjects for dinner conversation.

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the next 5-10 years? Do you think there is room to grow in this specialty field?

I think I’ll still be translating. I don’t know if I’ll still be a freelancer or if I’ll still be working by myself or maybe with an associate. Only time will tell. There definitely is room to grow in technical translation. There are so many subjects, technologies are constantly changing and there are so many new developments being made.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about technical translation, or translation in general?

Technical translation isn’t as hard, or as boring, as people may think. On the contrary, it can be quite interesting and sometimes even fun. Also, you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the subject you’re translating. If the document is well written, you have a fair understanding of the subject and you have good writing skills, odds are you’ll turn out a good translation.

As for translation in general, it’s still highly misunderstood by the public in general and even by many translation clients. It’s up to us to correct that.

Spotlight on: Gilles de Rais

Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of the spooky celebrations, I want to share a spooky (but real!) story about a Frenchman named Gilles de Rais. Are you ready? If you are faint of heart or in the mood for something more innocent, you may exit the haunted ride now.

Gilles de Rais portrait

Gilles de Rais was born in 1404/5 in Anjou, France to wealthy landholders. He married Catherine de Thouars in his teens, effectively becoming one of the richest men in Europe. He worked hard and he played hard: when he wasn’t fighting (for the Duchy of Brittany, in the Hundred Years War, alongside Jean d’Arc…), he reportedly entertained even more lavishly than the French king’s court. But that was not the sum of Gilles’ personality.

Everyone knew that he was notoriously extravagant, having neither sense nor understanding, since in effect his senses were often altered, and often he left very early in the morning and wandered all alone in the streets, and when someone pointed out to him that this was not fitting, he responded more in the manner of a fool and a madman than anything else. (source)

De Rais’ dark side was even blacker than what he showed in battle and more unusual than what people saw in the streets. By the 1430’s, after his family secured a royal order prohibiting further sale of estate property and land, de Rais had turned to the occult and alchemy to fund his expensive lifestyle. He brought demon summoners and others to his court to further his knowledge of Satanism. Then, children began to go missing…

By September 1440, de Rais was brought to trial for his occult practices, and worse. During his practice of the dark arts, he is said to have abducted, tortured, and killed up to 150 boys and girls (the count ranges between 30 and 150). Sources disagree as to the results of the trial: some say he confessed to the civil crimes under torture, or to avoid torture, and others say he refused to comment on the heresy charges until threatened with excommunication. This has led some modern historians to question his guilt altogether. Ultimately, he was hanged for his crimes in late October of 1440.

You probably already knew something of this infamous Frenchman. His life is said to have inspired the famous tale of Bluebeard, recorded by the brothers Grimm and in the French collection of Mother Goose’s Tales. Spooky!

For further reading:

Bluebeard Tales from Around the World (book)

The Trial of Gilles de Rais (book)

 

Legal literacy and prisons

Many of us take for granted our basic ability to read, analyze, and interpret texts of varying difficulty. A recent post on the blog From Words to Deeds reminded me of the more concrete consequences of illiteracy. (Knowing the alphabet and reading basic words is not quite the same as being literate—here, I’m focusing on the consequences of lacking more advanced levels of literacy.)

Shakespeare

If you have 15 minutes, visit From Words to Deeds and watch the video embedded there. In quick summary:

A PhD-level Shakespeare scholar has spent many years of her career working with convicted murderers to explore their thoughts on revenge, honor, and other higher-level concepts as presented in Shakespeare’s works.

The men were encouraged to think about the events and scenes in relation to their own lives. They were asked whether different characters’ responses to certain acts were reasonable, and they were asked to explain their reasoning.

This experience with formal education led to many personal breakthroughs for them.

The video is meant to be inspiring—and it is in many ways. Who doesn’t like a good phoenix-from-the-ashes tale? But there is an  unaddressed tragedy in the story of these prisoners who understood the lessons of Shakespeare “too late.”

Imprisoned at a young age, before the age of legal adulthood, before really grasping these higher-level ethical concepts, they have no chance of returning to the real world. Now that they have finally learned to go beyond basic literacy (reading words off a page), to analyze what they read and apply it to their own past—they will never have the chance to put their new-found social and moral skills to use beyond the controlled environment of a prison.

Les Misérables cover art

This is not a “new” problem. Consider the similar tragedy in Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo.* For those unfamiliar with the basic plot, it is huge work of social commentary (i.e., based on real life) threaded with the story of the fictitious character Jean Valjean. He steals a loaf of bread to help his family and is thrown in prison. He gets out of prison, then steals silver from a priest to kickstart his new life (since no one would hire him or otherwise welcome him back into society… a conundrum not unheard of today, too!).

Valjean becomes a productive member of society, but he never escapes his past—he is persecuted in the real world by a police inspector, and in his own mind by his regrets.

How different these lives, both real and fictitious, would have been if 1) they had known how to find alternative, legal solutions to their problems by analyzing existing literature, and 2) they had avoided entering a prison system that persecutes rather than heals.

There are some interesting initiatives out there for you to build legal literacy and help others learn. Margaret Hagan, recently featured in the ABA Law Journal, runs a site called LawDojo and started the Open Law Lab, too. If you are a visual learner, I recommend both those sites.

How do you educate clients, friends, colleagues, or yourself about different legal concepts? What can you do to help others become more literate using your current skills?

Interview with an expert: Virginie “Moustache”

Moustache Books logo

Virginie, or “Madame Moustache,” is the French brains behind US-based Moustache Books, a great resource for buying affordable French literature in North America. I first mentioned her bookstore on this list of sellers. Now, Virginie is here to share a little bit more about her shop and procuring non-English books for sale in the US.

So, tell us a bit about yourself, Virginie!

I come from Toulouse, in the southwest of France. I studied literature and theater there, then I continued my theater education in Paris. Alongside my studies, I worked for several years in bookshops and editing, which I’ve always loved. After having spent some time in Central Europe teaching French literature and language, I decided to return to bookselling. This decision corresponds to my arrival in the United States 7 years ago, in San Francisco to be exact. But I only picked back up with book selling when I arrived in New York four years ago.

What made you want to run a bookshop? Why “Moustache” Books?

The year I came to New York, the Librairie de France in Rockefeller Center had just closed its doors. This was the only source for French-language books in New York. With my desire to one day open a bookshop in mind, I said to myself that it was a good time for it (or maybe a bad one? after all, it might not be a good idea to open a bookstore when all the other ones are closing…).

At first I wanted to open a real bookstore, with windows, bookshelves, walls… an actual store, you know? But the exhorbitant prices in NYC quickly discouraged me. I found work as manager of French stock in a bookstore in the Upper West Side and I learned about the American market for two years. Then I became pregnant, and I made use of my pregnancy to set up Moustache Books: the idea was to start by selling over the Internet only, and to see where that would take me…

Why Moustache? Because it’s so France! (well, especially our policemen). And since it’s a name that people can remember easily, and it works just as well in English as in French.

Who is your typical customer? Do many Americans buy foreign-language books?

The majority of my clients are Americans who read in French. Their language levels differ. There are quite a few French, too, who contact us, but most French people have their “things,” their network for finding books, like having them sent from France by their friends or family, or filling a suitcase when they go there.

What makes Moustache Books work is schools with bilingual programs, French departments at universities, and book clubs. We also work with French institutions here in the United States, like the consulate, some Alliance Française chapters, and Lycées Français.

Lastly, we have a special-order service through which we offer to order books that are difficult to find.

How do you learn about new books that your customers may like? How do you decide what to stock?

My selections are made in part as a function of what I like, and I also try to offer authors who are not super-well-known in the United States. American readers always hear about the same French authors, who have influential press here—these authors are of course available here, but I try to vary it a little and to draw people towards other texts. It doesn’t always work, but it is important to me that my selection reflect upon me somehow as a reader. I don’t just want to sell for selling’s sake, I want to try to really do some real work as a bookstore; as an advisor. This isn’t very obvious when one doesn’t have a “real” store, but we’ll get there!

What are your favorite aspects of running your store? What makes it worthwhile?

Advising readers, discussing books with my clients, even if it’s usually by email, it’s what I like. And for me, being able to get to know talented authors, books that change people, it’s a real privilege. I would just like to have a little more time for Moustache Books: I take care of my two-year-old son almost full time (and I wouldn’t want it another way), so sometimes I’m a bit preoccupied by things other than Flaubert and Houellebecq. But for now I’m able to manage the two.

Another thing I like a lot is participating in festivals and meetings with French authors in New York. That’s the time when I get to know readers and further discuss things.

What’s your favorite French book? Who is your favorite author of any nationality? Why?

Hmmm.. that’s tough to answer. All I can say is that lately, the book that has left the greatest impression is a novel by Pascal Quignard, ‘Les solidarités mystérieuses’ published by Gallimard in 2011. Both poetic and understated, it’s a book that uses little to say a lot about relationships between people, and that expresses in an incredibly balanced way the emptiness one can feel, but also the abundance, all in suggestions… All that planted amidst a mind-bogglingly honest Breton setting. I am not a huge fan of Quignard in general, but this one really took my breath away.

Now, the author that changed my life is not French, it’s Henry Miller with his Sexus, Nexus, Plexus trilogy. I was 18 years old when I read it and my whole universe opened up all at once.

There’s also Louis Calaferte, with ‘Septentrion.’ An autobiographical book of uncommon majesty.

Are there any up-and-coming authors we should look for in particular?

Cécile Guilbert, François Beaune, Stéphane Legrand

What else would you like to say about entrepreneurship, selling books, or life in general?

I could not be happier. While waiting for Moustache Books to develop a bit more and for my son to grow up, in those tough moments when I feel like nothing is working, I simply think of Henry Miller and the formidable appetite for life that he can inspire, and everything seems much easier.

What an inspiring thought, Virginie! Thanks so much for sharing your passion for literature and the business of books. I see so many similarities between your work in words and my own. Good luck growing!

Readers, be sure to check out Virginie’s virtual store, Moustache Books. She really does have a great, unusual mix of authors and formats. You can also check out her blog, French Book Notes. Who have you read lately?

Local Linguists: Mila Cobos

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read the other interviews in the series here, here, here, here, and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Mila Cobos, English to Spanish translator

Mila Cobos is an English-to-Spanish translator who lives in Fairfax, Virginia. She has a degree in Translation from the University of Granada, Spain, and has been certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) since 1994. She specializes in Healthcare and Social Services documents, although she enjoys working with all kinds of subjects. You can connect with Mila on LinkedIn.

Question: How did you get started in translation?

As a teenager in Spain, I was always listening to music on the radio. I loved to sing to my favorite songs and a lot of them were in English. The lyrics to some of those songs used to appear in a teenage music magazine I read (no internet back then, so it was not so easy to find song lyrics!). I was always trying to translate the songs with my limited English and my friends would ask me what they said. I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up, not translating lyrics, but helping people understand what others were saying and contribute to the communication between cultures.

Knowing I had to learn English really well, I came to the US as an exchange student my last year of High School. After returning, I attended the School of Translation at the University of Granada in Southern Spain… and the rest is history!

Q: What keeps you in the game?

Whether I’m working on a healthcare document for the Spanish-speaking population in the US or a business document going to a Spanish-speaking country, I like to know that I am helping people. After they read my work, they can understand something that was originally foreign (literally!) to them and hopefully it will make their lives a little easier.

Also, the fact that I have seen so many bad translations everywhere makes me want to do my job even more. Several times I have written to companies that had signs or instructions written in “Spanish” that were completely unintelligible. Since they tried to have a translation, I’m assuming they were aiming to help their Spanish-speaking employees/customers. But, how much help were they getting when they could not understand the message?

Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?

Make business cards and always carry some with you. You never know when a business opportunity is going to pop up.

Also, try to meet other translators. Most of them will try to help you and give you advice. Look for the local chapter of the ATA or other translator groups where you live and attend some of their meetings or conferences. [Note: Around Washington, DC, the local chapter is the National Capital Area Translators Association.]

Many thanks to Mila for sharing her story! I’m happy to learn about a fellow translator who picked up language skills while on a high school exchange year. Have a question for Mila? Ask away!

Local Linguists: Nadine Edwards

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read the other interviews in the series here, here, here, and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Photo of Nadine Edwards, Japanese patent translator and interpreter

Nadine Edwards is a patent specialist and Japanese to English translator/interpreter. She has a background in computer science and specializes in translating all types of patent documentation related to information processing, electrical and mechanical engineering, and optics. She also interprets at patent-related presentations and invention disclosure meetings. You can find out more information on her website.

 

Question: How did you get started in translation?

I became intrigued with the art of translation while working for a Japanese electronic components manufacturer at the company’s headquarters in Kyoto. More specifically, I was hired as a native English speaker with a technical background to work in their intellectual property department. After becoming proficient in business and technical Japanese and experienced in patent-related matters, my department tasked me with finalizing a system for and actually evaluating the outsourced patent document translations we received. The perspective was that skillful rendering meant avoiding the pitfalls in Japanese to English patent translation that occur because of differences in the patenting systems, and meant providing a clear and concise translation that did not change the scope or intent of the original. My experience evaluating translations from the buyer side aroused my curiosity in the art of patent translation and of patent writing.

Q: What keeps you in the game?

I enjoy translation and interpreting, and having my own business offers a certain kind of pleasant flexibility. The process of translation itself feels like working on a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that requires extra detective work and even experimentation to find the right pieces. In a sense, it is like writing a computer program. [Carolyn says: Absolutely! Computer languages are just as interesting to play with as natural languages.] As for the flexibility, when I decided to move back to the US, I wanted to be able to use my experience in patenting, my technical background as well as my Japanese language skills to customize and shape my career into something that would allow me to keep learning about new technologies and keep me going back to Japan. Despite the challenges, I keep playing the game to keep doing the things I enjoy.

Q: What has been your favorite assignment thus far?

My favorite thus far is my first paid interpreting assignment. I chaperoned six Japanese university students and interpreted for them at various presentations on US patent practice. The experience made me realize that I do enjoy interpreting and the opportunity to help people who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to interact and learn from each other.

Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?

Especially for those entering translation from another field:
a) If you can find one in your language pair, participate in a translation program or translation workshop. [Like NYU, perhaps.]
b) If you have confidence in your source language speaking skills, do certainly try to get phone interviews or appointments with potential clients in your source language country.
c) Know what your ideal client looks like. From the business they are in, to what they think of you, to why they should ask you for advice.
d) Learn to say No. If you keep going back and forth with yourself trying to find excuses to take on a project, you should probably just say no.
e) Ask a lot of questions—even if you only end up asking them through a search engine, there is vastly more information available online from the veterans that ever before. You don’t have to jump on the bandwagon, but definitely take stock of the different perspectives.
f) Understand what the landscape looks like and where you want to be in it. For example, along the supply chain there is the very end (blind bidding) and there is the front (specialized agents and direct clients who call you for advice). Your positioning will affect pricing, negotiability, and the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert or a part of the team.

Many thanks to Nadine for her practical advice! I wholeheartedly agree with her words for “debutante” translators: the best thing you can do is to treat your freelance hopes as the business venture they are. Take yourself seriously as a professional, and so will the clients. If you have any questions, ask away. And if you have any advice, do share!

Local Linguists: Di Wu

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read other posts in the series here, here, and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Di Wu is a Chinese linguist specializing in engineering, localization, and technical texts in Washington, DC. Find him on LinkedIn.

Question: How did you get started in translation?

I started teaching Chinese part time in 2004.  Then my previous company declared bankruptcy in 2005.  I knew it was just a matter of time until I lost my engineering day job, and I’d better start an alternate career just in case.  I started doing freelance translation in the summer of 2005, and the business did not pick up until a year later.

Q: Why do you keep going at it?

I love languages.  I enjoy translation a lot more than my old engineering job.  I did a year of full-time freelance translation in 2009-2010 until moving to DC area in late 2010 and started working as a full-time in-house translator.

Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?

If you build it they will come.  Be patient.

Q: What’s the wackiest story or two you have related to translation assignments?

I have two stories. One of my freelance clients has a tendency to assign me ultra-urgent jobs (few thousand words in less a few hours) while asking me to reply ASAP about my availability, but then always asks me not to start until I get a confirmation.

Also, once I did a medical interpretation job for a poorly managed agency.  They’d have up to four different people calling me four times a day to confirm an assignment I’ve already agreed to.  One time one of those calls happened when I was walking around in a big hospital trying to find the right room, so I was quite annoyed.

Many thanks to Di for sharing! I know I can certainly commiserate with those urgent-but-don’t-start-yet job assignments. Ha! How about you? Share your comments below!

Local Linguists: Theresa Shepherd

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read other posts in the series here and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Theresa Shepherd, French-English translator

Theresa Shepherd is a French-to-English translator specializing in marketing, food, and tourism. She has worked for big, established F&B brands, start-ups with something exciting to pitch, and a whole range of clients in between. She is based in Washington, DC (for now). Find her at LinkedIn.

 

Question: How did you get started in translation?

The real question is how did translation get started in me! I got bitten by the bug in my teens—translating a magazine interview as a bonus project for my French class—and I’ve been itching ever since.

With two degrees in French, two years in-country, and another year working for all intents and purposes in France (the only thing that gives away the French Embassy’s actual location is the absence of A4 paper), I knew I had the proficiency, the nuance, and the cultural background I needed to pursue translation as a career. All along I had been translating when I could at work and at home, taking courses as part of my degree programs, trying my hand at different texts—because of the itch. It’s a fascinating itch, one that combines the urge to create, the desire to communicate, and the thrill of the chase (for just the right word or expression).

But I also knew I still didn’t fully understand how the industry worked. So in 2005, I applied for a project manager position at a translation company. It was the best next step I could have taken.

I learned terminology management and client management. I got a crash course in Trados. I saw what made a good translator and a bad one, and what made a good translator someone I wanted to work with again or not. I worked on complex multi-language projects with intricate layout requirements and countless rounds of quality checks and proofs. And since I had high-level skills in both French and English, I was made part of the internal editing team. I learned best practices such as creating style guides and client glossaries. It was an invaluable experience.

When it was time to set out on my own, I was ready. And to pursue the adage “Do what you love” to its extreme, I decided to focus on just the juicy stuff. Food (yum). Travel (sigh). And marketing, where you put all of the art and all of the craft (and all of your business savvy) into play to create something that strikes the same emotional chord as the original.

Seven years in, I get to scratch that translation itch every day.

Q: Why do you keep going at it?

I keep at it because, cheesy as it may sound, I feel I am contributing to society in my own special way. I know that I’m adding value (with or without tongue in cheek, depending on whether you’ve drunk the business-speak Kool-Aid) in this global age. I can help connect people with the products and experiences they are looking for.

When I see a bad translation, I want to fix it. It just seems like a waste of a good opportunity to communicate something. And I think we all feel very deeply how tragic it is when communication fails. Saving those communications is one thing that keeps me going.

When I see a good translation, I get goose bumps. Like when you read really good writing. Or when you see a really good ad (think the Chrysler “Imported From Detroit” spot that debuted in still-bleak February 2011). I love that feeling of (dare I say?) transcendence, and I want other people to feel it too.

Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?

The ATA Business Practices list is such a concentrated source of wisdom and insight, I usually just steer new translators to that. But it is always worth mentioning how important it is to invest in having your translations reviewed by an experienced colleague for the first several months, or any time you’re working on something that’s more of a stretch outside your comfort zone.

Yes, it takes a little away from your immediate cashflow, but it is the single best way to work out any kinks in your translation skills so you can make your clients happy, get more and better work, and keep moving up the fee ladder. Consider it part of your start-up budget.

Many thanks to Theresa for her thoughtful responses! If you have any questions, ask away. And if you have any advice, do share!

Local Linguists: Paul Merriam

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read the first in the series here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Paul Merriam translates Spanish, Polish, Russian, and German into English. He works out of Fairfax, VA, and is a member of the National Capital Area Translators Association. You may know him from his eloquent responses to mainly legal questions on the ATA Business Practices listserv. Learn more about his translation business at www.pmerriam.com.

Question: How did you get started in translation?

It was expected when I was in the Army. I dealt with Russian, Polish and German, just in case any Russian-speaking, Polish-speaking, or German-speaking countries should decide to attack.  (The Warsaw  Pact had one of each.) That’s less of a concern now, particularly since the German-speaking member of the Warsaw Pact is now part of a NATO ally, and the biggest Polish-speaking country in the world is also part of NATO.

Q: Why do you keep going at it?

It keeps me in touch with the events in those countries, plus I like the linguistic aspects.

Q: What’s the most unusual job situation you’ve ever experienced?

There was one time I was interpreting for a visiting Soviet delegation. They were visiting a US facility. The director of the facility gave a speech along the lines of “Welcome to our facility. I hope you find your visit fruitful. …” I interpreted that. The head of the Soviet delegation responded along the lines of “Thank you for inviting us to your facility. I hope our visit will lead to increased cooperation. …” I interpreted that as well. Then I noticed everyone staring at me. The second speech had been in English and rehearsed. I’d just been in automatic pilot mode.

Q:  What a great story! I have to ask… What did you do in response?

After the initial speech, the Soviet delegation wasn’t all that sure of its English [anymore]. We had a laugh and went on.

Many thanks to Paul for sharing! As you can see, he’s another hardened veteran of the business. I encourage you to visit his website to learn more about his work. He maintains an especially good list of resources for legal linguists. Enjoy!