Meet the Translator – Beatrice
Tell us more about yourself!
I’m a freelance translator, providing translation services from French and Spanish into English, my mother tongue. I’ve been working as a translator for 18 years now. That time has flown by! I make the most of the flexibility afforded by working on a freelance basis, balancing work with family commitments and my love of getting outdoors and exercising – especially running and playing tennis.
How did you get started with languages and translation?
My mother went to a French-speaking school in Belgium and encouraged me to learn French from an early age, bribing my sisters and me with tea at a café once a week where we spent the meal learning the French words for knife, fork and cake! I loved learning French and Spanish at school and went on to study French at university. From there I jumped into a city job in banking, but soon realised that I really missed translating! I went back to university and completed a Master’s degree in Translation, which was incredibly useful and interesting. I got a job as an in-house project manager and translator at a translation agency, before going freelance just over ten years ago.
What content do you specialise in?
I translate content in all sorts of subject areas and I love the variety this brings, but over the years I have ended up focusing primarily on legal, medical and pharmaceutical texts.
What kind of challenges have you come across when translating and how have you overcome them?
Legal texts are challenging because legal systems differ between countries, so there is little one-to-one equivalence between terms: for example, a magistrat in France is a legally-trained judge or official, whereas a magistrate in the UK is a layperson; and the French word juge can mean a court as well as a judge. Depending on what the translation is to be used for, explanatory footnotes or paraphrasing may be necessary. On the other hand, legal texts are generally written with great grammatical precision, which means they are unambiguous. I also get satisfaction out of disentangling the infamously-long sentences found in French court judgments! Medical translations can be complex as they often require research, but there is excellent equivalence: a heart does the same thing the world over!
You also edit machine translations – what particular challenges does this type of work throw up?
I’ve been editing machine translations for about 6 years, and in that time the quality of the output has improved immeasurably. Some machine translation systems are now highly sophisticated and produce translations that require relatively little intervention.
As you might expect, the main challenge with Machine Translation with Post-Editing (MTPE) is ensuring that the translation sounds convincing and natural, as if it has been produced by a human translator. Sometimes this means rearranging the sentence completely, or adjusting the register to suit the job in question. Some texts are more suited to machine translation than others. Legal texts such as contracts work quite well, whereas something like a commercial presentation, or even a website, where the source file may contain lots of individual words or phrases without much context, is liable to be misinterpreted. Creative texts, such as publicity materials, also generally need more human intervention to achieve the right level of fluency, tone and impact. However, as in many other industries, artificial intelligence is starting to provide incredible translation results, even “learning” from the human edits made.
How can clients/translation agencies help get MTPE right?
An issue common to both MTPE and human translation is consistency. Ensuring that the edited MT output is fed back into the machine translation system and/or into a client-specific TM and termbase will help improve the quality of MT output and post-edited translations. Quality of the source text is also important. Although machines are now able to recognise many typos and common errors and handle them correctly, the better the quality of the source text (in terms of grammar, clarity and accuracy), the better the output is likely to be.
Do you think MTPE is here to stay?
Absolutely. I think that, ultimately, all translation work is likely to involve a degree of post-editing, and that translating completely “from scratch” may well end up being a thing of the past.
What’s the best way to learn a language in your opinion?
Spending time in a country where the language is spoken is without doubt the best way to immerse yourself and acquire good spoken language skills. On the other hand, as a translator specialising in a particular area of translation, the type of language you will be faced with on a daily basis is likely to be quite specific, and you will not necessarily come across it in everyday life. A solid grasp of grammar will stand you in good stead, and after that it’s about reading, researching and learning as you go.
What advice would you give someone looking to become a translator?
Go for it! It’s a fantastic career, full of variety and opportunities to learn. Being able to write well in your native language, and in a variety of registers, is crucial. Familiarity with the jargon of a particular industry sector is also helpful, and undertaking formal studies in translation will likely give you a basic grounding in range of areas.
Finally, why do you Love Language?
I love the intellectual challenge of decoding one language and trying to convey all the levels of meaning into another language – and making it sound natural! I love that language is always changing, and that it can be used in a myriad of creative ways. Above all, it’s about self-expression and communication with others.