Diary of a fledgling translator, Part 1

Céline invited me to share on her blog my journey as I start a career as a freelance translator. She thinks it will be informative and educational for others planning on doing the same thing. For me, the thought process of putting down my experiences in writing, as well as your comments and advice, should help me view my efforts from a critical point of view and take a few steps back, thus helping me in my endeavour. However, this remains a personal experience and should be seen as such.
Part 1
I shall dedicate this first part to presenting my background. I was born and grew up in France, where I studied languages and literature. I started getting interested in languages when I discovered reading in primary school, and more particularly through the books of a mysteriously named author: Enid Blyton. When my mother told me he was English, numerous questions came to my mind. How was this possible, since Oui-Oui (Noddy) spoke French? Later, when I understood the principle of translation, questions kept coming up, thick and fast, like: "Does the name of an object, translated from English into French, refer to the same object we have in France?" I am still moved by how judicious and penetrating a child’s questions are. How is it possible that, at such a young age, the complexity of such questions can be perceived?
On top of that, the pronoun "he", used in "he was English", refers back not only to the generic term "author", but also to the individual. Just imagine: for over 15 years, I believed that the creator of my childhood friends (Noddy, Brer Rabbit, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven), was a man! This discovery taught me two central lessons: first, a shaky knowledge of the source language’s culture can bring about enormous mistakes, and second, every piece of information must be verified. All this shows that my decision to start a career in translation, far from being a fad, is born of a profound, long-lasting passion for languages.
From then on, my education was straightforward. I studied as many languages as permitted by the French education system. Two living languages and one dead language from age 11 to 15, then three living languages until age 18, with trips abroad in the summer. English became my favourite language at secondary school and I decided to become a teacher. After the Baccalauréat, I carried on studying arts in hypokhâgne and khâgne before taking a degree and an MA in English literature at the Sorbonne University. I then took a teaching degree and a French as a foreign language degree. As well as my studies, I did all I could and travelled as much as I could to learn more about this fascinating country and its language: I worked as an au pair in Lancashire and studied in Liverpool.
My teaching diplomas allowed me to teach in the Paris region for three years before taking some time out to join my husband (a researcher) in the UK. I’ve been teaching French to adults for the last five years. As the chances of going back to France were getting slimmer and the need to find a mobile and flexible job was increasing, I decided to go back to my first passion: translation.
As I was searching the Internet, I found a site full of good advice managed by a French woman, whose background was similar to mine. Following Céline’s advice (you had probably guessed it was her site), I signed up to a long distance learning course at City University to take the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ Diploma of Translation. This ten-month course provided me with a framework, documents to prepare for the exam, deadlines and goals. It also helped me to recapture translation skills, improve my speed and learn more specialised vocabulary.
Eighteen months later, armed with the diploma, I’m about to give up, temporarily at least, my comfortable life working in education to dive into the murky waters of freelance work.
To be continued

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:53+00:00 June 6th, 2007|Guests|4 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Valerie Ciavarini Azzi June 6, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Hello Marie and Celine and everybody,
    Thank you! Thank you to finally give me an opportunity to make a comment on this blog! I’ve been reading Celine’s blog every week over the past few months , always impatient to discover her next entry and the other readers’ comments, and I’ve even subscribed to her feed, although I must admit her entries tend to get lost among The Guardian and Le Monde’s feeds… Anyway, I’ve never felt I could make a valuable contribution so far, so I remained silent – a VERY difficult exercise for me, as you’re going to realise – but at last the day has come!!
    After reading Marie’s entry, I can only wonder at the many paths that lead to translation. As a child, I wanted to be a vet, then a fashion designer, then an architect and I ended up doing a “bac C” (maths and sciences), getting a postgraduate degree in business and working in a bank! But, as Marie, I loved reading and I, too, was particularly fond of Enid Blyton’s books, so could that be it, the smallest common denominator? After that, I got acquainted with an Italian, moved to London with him, got married, had baby number 1, baby number 2 and two month after she was born started an MA in Translation Studies out of pure curiosity. And loved it. By the end of it, I had also started preparing the IoL exam and the birth of baby number 3. At about the same time, I started working occasionely, by word of mouth only, until the beginning of this year, when I decided it was time to do it professionally, i.e. with a membership to establish my credentials, a PI insurance, etc. Tax-wise, I had registered as a self-employed the day I had accepted my first assignement and I’ve alway kept my NICs in order since then (which so far means ensuring I have a valid exemption…)
    To come back to Marie’s experience, I’ve found the IoL exam preparation very valuable to practice translating at a reasonable speed, learn some basic, recurring translating principles, and more importantly, learn to be demanding with myself while remaining humble: however skilled and gifted we are, there’s always room for discussion and improvement in a translation.
    The MA was purely theoretical and geared towards doing a PhD but it’s been invaluable in the sense that it’s given me a strong background in applied linguistics, made me appreciate the role of translation in how language/literature/culture change over time, and it’s helped me choose what to focus on in my practice as a translator (source or target language/culture?). I would strongly recommend to anyone contemplating becoming a translator to read some seminal texts, such as those collected in Lawrence Venuti’s The Translation Reader, London, Routledge, not only to get an idea of all the decisions one has to make when translating and of all the consequences such decisions have, but also, and this is more to the point, to trigger some reflexion on your practise. Celine’s blog also serves this purpose with wit and fun!
    Marie, I definitly think it’s worth joining an e-group. The IoL Translation Division’s e-group, which discusses all aspect of a translator’s practice, is VERY helpful. You need to be an IoL member to join though. Check if ITI has an open e-group you could join? These groups discuss all kind of topics, from vocabulary to payment practice to IT troubleshooting to fee negotiation and you often get an answer within an hour or two if it’s urgent.
    I also think you should very seriously think about what your rates will be, if you haven’t done so yet. If this is a topic you’re interested in I can try and copy some of our recent discussions on the Iol’s e-group. Let me know…
    Well that’s all for today, I hope this long posting will have activated a brain cell or two!

  2. Marie June 7, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Well, Valerie, you can be reassured…your contribution is definitely very valuable to me. I think you are right about Enid Blyton being a common denominator among many Anglophiles or Anglicists. Today again, a friend of mine who used to teach English in France was mentioning how The Caravan Family (La famille Tant-Mieux) played a big role in her life.
    Very good point about joining an IoL e-group. I had not clearly thought about it yet since my application for Membership is being examined. But it is now on my list. As far as the rates are concerned, your advice is more than welcome. I am sure Celine will agree to pass it on to me.
    Looking forward to reading your comments to Part 2.

  3. céline June 8, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Oooh a delurker! Hi Valerie and thanks for your great contribution. I totally agree with you about joining online discussion groups. When I started off, I collected enormous amounts of information through the forums of sites such as proz.com or translatorscafe.com. They attract a lot of extremely talented and helpful translators who are more often than not very happy to help out beginners and provide excellent advice.
    And by the way, I am the proud owner of ALL the Famous Five books (well, Club des 5 in my case).

  4. Valerie June 11, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I’ll come back to you with more info at the end of the week, when I’m finished with my current job. Have a nice week everybody!

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