Volume 9, No. 4 
October 2005

Regina Alfarano


Front Page

Select one of the previous 33 issues.




Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Translators and Translations: Paintings and Shades in Their Frames
by Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Twelve-step Program to Recover from Translationese
by Ted Crump

  Translators Around the World
Translation Accreditation Boards/Institutions in Malaysia
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur d/o Gurdial Singh

  Translators and Computers
La traduction automatique par opposition à la théorie interprétative — analyse d'un corpus de productions réelles
Chidi Nnamdi Igwe

Strategies for New Interpreters: Interpreting in the Indonesian Environment
by Izak Morin

Picturesque German—German Idioms and Their Origins
by Igor Maslennikov

  Translator Education
Training of Interpreters: Some Suggestions on Sight Translation Teaching
by Elif Ersozlu, Ph.D.
The Contact Between Text, Mind, and One's Own Word in a Translation Workshop
by Leandro Wolfson
A Competent Translator And Effective Knowledge Transfer
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur a/p Gurdial Singh

  Literary Translation
L'Épreuve de l'autre dans la traduction espagnole de Vivre me tue
Dr. Nadia Duchêne

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Discovering Translation Equivalents in a Tourism Corpus by Means of Fuzzy Searching
by Michael Wilkinson
CAT Tools and Productivity: Tracking Words and Hours
by Fotini Vallianatou

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translator Profile


Translators and Translations:

Paintings and Shades in Their Frames

by Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

When Gabe invites his fellow translators to write for the Translation Journal Translator Profile, he gives us our hardest "Job" or "Project"—to talk about ourselves! And with it, he gives us great responsibility: to share our life experiences with peers, beginners, experts, students, clients, and whoever is in any way interested in Translation. Which is to say: a privileged forum. With that thought in mind—sharing a privileged forum—I hope to meet the Journal's expectations.

iving quite secludedly in São Paulo, Brazil—as secluded as one can be in a humongous city—I greatly enjoy what I do. Of course as most of us, I could do with fewer working hours, and maybe one or two days off now and then. But that is sheer wishful thinking! Those of us working out of home lose track of hours and days, and let ourselves be engulfed in the sea of translation! Admittedly a choice made, though!

One starts building a career at some point in life, many times unawares. A natural gift, an opportunity that comes around, an unexpected request, cumulative preparation and studying, some sort of need, choice-making, a plan. Some, all, or none of those. Every professional career does have a marked starting line, though.

I was lucky enough to have been awarded a one-year scholarship on the American Field Service exchange student program to the US. Back in the mid 1960s it was quite an undertaking in Brazil. Cultural and social differences were astonishing for a 17-year-old who had never flown before, had never left the small-town public school, had never traveled alone, and had not even been introduced to a hamburger, except for Popeye's cartoons! Only much, much later did it dawn on me how deeply impacting the whole experience had been, as the peculiar experience of studying Latin in the US—and translating poetry from Latin into English—at 17 (and of course the "class" only had two of us in such adventure!). Of course Brazilian children would study Latin as of 6th grade back then, which was to say I had studied 7 1/2 years of Latin before I went to the US. Not only Latin was compulsory in public schools—but French and English as well, as of 7th grade! Needless to say, the one-year experience was key to my professional life. Back to Brazil, I went to São Paulo University (USP) and majored in English and Portuguese. Immediately after graduating I started my master's program, and also started teaching at USP. In 1971 I was also on the young team that founded the 2nd Translation University Course in Brazil, at Ibero-Americana. In 1977 I joined the staff starting the Translation Course at USP. From the early beginning I mixed teaching and coordinating/directing in both courses. At that time, while treading my way from my Master's Degree to my Ph.D., I was unable to focus on Translation, since USP did not include it in the graduate program. American Literature and British Drama were my topics. Translation had been, though, at the core of my professional activity all the time. It did bother me that I had been spending too much time teaching/coordinating Translation and Interpreting, and taking care of Translation Associations and Unions rather than doing what I really wanted to do—translating. I did find a way to at least have a taste of the "real thing," though, while organizing and coordinating seminars, conferences, and courses; while founding the first publishing company specialized in translation publications in São Paulo, (Alamo) and the first Translation Journal in Brazil (Tradução&Comunicação). I also extended my Ph.D. drama dissertation to cover translation aspects, discussions, writings and publications, as well as presentations at conferences. So, although I was unable to devote too much of my time to what I called "getting my hands dirty," I have been involved in the translation world full time since 1971.

I had to wait until my post-doc, though, to make my choice: an official academic project on Translation Studies. Again, privileged enough to be a Fulbright Scholar, I went to New York State University at Albany for one of the most interesting projects I was ever involved in: "The translations of William Kennedy in Brazil." Two years later, as a British Council Scholar, I had the chance of attending the Literature Seminar in Cambridge, England, where I could focus on the translation aspect of the discussions. My academic career—always based on Translation—increasingly gave way to translation activities per se as of mid 1980s. By mid 1990s I was done with teaching, but of course I kept advisoring my Masters degree students until Oct, 2000, when the last one presented his thesis. By then, I had already been to New York University at NYC, to teach a Summer Program on English into Portuguese Medical Translation. From then on, I have been a staff member with NYU for the Online Translation Program, teaching some of their courses from my home base in São Paulo.

And how did I step into Translation back when Translation, strictly speaking, was hardly heard of in Brazil?

One's professional life is built on cumulative stages, or layers, treading a pathway that is similar to one's personal life stages. Broadly speaking, those stages are interconnected and interwoven. Strictly speaking, they represent separate territories. A painting depicts different colors and shades, different styles and techniques, with a finishing touch: the frame—ideally, a harmonizing frame.

Translators cannot avoid the common grounds. Translation is a deeply-involving profession, built in cumulative stages and layers, demanding a wide-reaching life experience, requiring the different colors and shades that depict the different areas of knowledge, the different cultures, the different needs expressed by human beings, the different urgencies modern life swirls in.

A painting adds to nature, brings forth details gone unnoticed, enhances those that have been noticed. Translation adds to social experience and legacy, brings forth information that would otherwise go unnoticed and lost, enhances communications that have been partially understood, and is pivotal in making life happen. Literally, translation makes life—technology, sciences, art, research, politics, war, peace, entertainment—happen. Or help, despair, urgency.

Against such a background—I was only 18 and had just returned from my exchange program in the US—a phone call urged me to go to a community hospital in Limeira, my hometown, to "help make some medical equipment work." How could I ever do that? What they actually meant was: "We want to understand how to make the equipment work. It has just gotten here, and if we don't get it going, the patient will die." So, that was quite an unexpected start! From my Latin into English poetry experience back in Wisconsin, to the medical environment when the family and the doctors of one of the wealthiest men in town wanted to make some machine get going! Get it going or a man will die! I will never, ever, in my life, forget the stress and the adrenaline! After each sentence, each button pressed, the next sentence, and the darn machine coldly staring at me, apparently accusing me of being hesitatingly slow, not confidently pro-active—defying me! We did beat it, though, and IT WORKED! And the man was saved—at least at that point in time!

I was drenched when I left the hospital. It was a scuba diving initiation into translation! And most certainly, the very reason why I have never, ever translated any manual, any equipment instruction, any "nuts and bolts" since then, and hopefully, will never, ever, in the future come across such "surrealism" in the translation world......

But that stress and adrenaline never went away. They are integral parts of translation. They are at the very core of interpreting sessions, of translation team projects, of corporate letters, of medical protocols and clinical trials, of poem lines, of novels and short stories, of the description of art exhibit pieces. Stress and adrenaline are at the very core of translation. As we all know, translation is not only about languages, knowledge, cultures, and all that comes with it, of course, but about those using it for those purposes: people.

In the cumulative layers that make up our professional lives, the turbulence of my first experience was undoubtedly repeated at other instances, under different shades of the same colors, always looking for the best-fitting frame for the finishing touch.

Extensive reading on and translation of a client's material needs led me to Medical Translation. Corporate documents and market research slowly introduced clinical trials in a number of medical areas, but FDA documentation came again unexpectedly. And urgently. Enough to pave the way to what now has been over 20 years of medical translation.

For quite a number of years I had seen poetry translation as something not just for me. When teaching Literary Translation, I never included poetry in my syllabus. Whenever the group was interested in poetry translation, I always invited someone to "play that part." Until I had a "total immersion" experience again. And from all "master instructors" in the world, I was thrown into the raging sea by the leading master Haroldo de Campos. Never to leave the raging sea.....The same adrenaline, the same stress—but quite the opposite from what happened with nuts & bolts: poetry translation, re-visiting my Wisconsin Latin poetry adventure, has turned into a new passion.

And the layers, with their colors and shades, brought to me a poem called "Mein Herz" (My Heart), written in Portuguese, with a German title, to be translated into English. The poet—also a translator, and one of the best I have ever met in my life, Nelson Ascher—asked me, after reading the first version: "Are you a doctor"? "No", I answered. "Why"? "Because your translation is medically surgical."

Again the layers, the colors and the shades. It's not only my peers who ask me—I ask myself: how can poetry and medical translation coexist? How can medical trials and poem lines share working hours? And how can they share some interface ground with related areas such as art, sculpture, advertising, and corporate documents?

Always the layers, the colors and the shades. One drawback technology poses us with is the conventional, old time clock—still, only 24 hours! But 16-20 hours a day is quite an amount of time for reading, for learning, for exchanging, for contributing, for re-doing, for editing, for revising, for reviewing. I would repeat ad nauseam two key statements to my students: 1- Do not charge less than you deserve for your work; never, ever charge more than you believe you deserve for your work. 2- Choose what you really like to do as a profession, and above all, have fun doing it.

No wonder I started by saying I greatly enjoy what I do. Otherwise, I would not be doing it. My peers know it quite well, and those starting or planning to start in the profession will soon find out the advantages of the translation profession. Among them, some can be pointed out: it rewards the cumulative years of experience, which is to say, age counts positively; it encourages and demands ongoing learning, which is to say, it is intellectually healthy; it also demands recycling and updating, which is to say, it is continuously evolving; it fits in wonderfully with self-employment, which is to say, one can—or tries to!—manage one's own working days and hours. Even if that successful management ends up to be wishful thinking—the translator is the manager of his/her layers, colors, and shades. And of choices made, broadly speaking, very broadly speaking. Translating is making choices, with the inevitable responsibilities involved.