SAM at a Glance

By Anne-Charlotte Giovangrandi

A veteran SAMiste shares her experiences at the 2018 Medical English Seminar in Lyon-—will you join her in 2020?

Photo credit: Indelebile photographe.

Photo credit: Indelebile photographe.

Short for Séminaire d’anglais médical, SAM is organized every other year in Lyon, France, by the Société française des traducteurs, the French sister association of the ATA. Presented as a medical English writing and terminology training, it is geared toward translators working in French and English who specialize—or wish to specialize—in medicine. It attracts linguists from all over the world, most coming from France and the UK. This article focuses on the 2018 conference, which was held over five days at the University of Lyon School of Medicine. As registration for the 2020 conference will open early next year, now seems to be a good time to spread the word about it. → continue reading


Webinar presenter David Jemielity

Webinar presenter David Jemielity

January 2014 marked a milestone—NCTA’s first webinar! This new chapter in NCTA’s history was kicked off by David Jemielity, Senior English Translator and Head of Translations at Banque Cantonale Vaudoise in Switzerland.


I first came across David Jemielity at the ATA conference in Denver, where he was the Distinguished Speaker for the French Language Division, delivering two terrific presentations on how to make financial translations sound less like… translations. When I asked him last year if he would be willing to adapt his presentations into a webinar for us, I was thrilled when he said yes. His presentation had never been offered as a webinar, so we also had a world first! → continue reading

Wordplay: Brits vs. Yanks

By Jonathan Goldberg

We have of course all been exposed to various—if not many!—examples of the differences between British and American vocabulary, but can we ever get enough? The answer, thankfully, is “no.” So let’s explore some bathroom … well, terminology, if not exactly humor (with help from the French and Spanish).

This word, most commonly used in the United States, is a euphemism for lavatory, because it eschews any mention of toilet activities performed there. Lavatory, meaning a place where one washes (as well as the apparatus itself), is itself a euphemism, as is W.C., which is short for water closet. Both of these terms are more prevalent in Britain than is restroom.

Bathroom is another word used in the U.S. to mean a restroom, toilet, lavatory, or W.C. Other synonyms in American English, although far less frequently used, include lav, john, loo, and can. Spanish displays the same modesty in the expression cuarto de baño, literally bathroom (or simply baño). In some Spanish-speaking countries, the term W.C. is adopted as is from the English, although pronounced differently. But Spanish has three other words used to indicate public toilets. One is servicios, meaning services, obviously a euphemism. Another is aseos, which without the s has a variety of meanings in Spanish, including cleanliness. The third is lavabo, from the word lavar, meaning to wash.

The common denominator of all these low-key words is that they suggest only the bodily cleaning-up activities performed after the toilet has been used for its primary purpose. The English word toilet is derived from the French toilette. Originally, the French word meant “a cloth on which items used for grooming are placed,” vaguely similar to the present-day (British) English toilet or toilet-bag—“a waterproof travel bag for holding toiletries (soap, toothpaste, etc.).” Later, the French cabinet de toilette came to mean the room in which one washed, from whence its present-day meaning of a W.C., or restroom. British English has adopted the word toilet to mean also the act of dressing and preparing oneself, as in “he made his morning toilet and went to breakfast.”

In the U.S., one stands in line; for example, waiting to use the restroom at a sporting event. (Although in New York, one stands on line.) In Britain—and indeed in English-speaking countries where British English is in use—one waits in a queue. Queue is, in fact, used in the U.S. in this sense, but only in the field of information processing, to mean “an ordered list of tasks to be performed or messages to be transmitted.”

French has the same word, queue (pronounced differently). This has at least two meanings. The first is that of a line or queue, identical to the British use. (In French you don’t stand in line, you make the line—faire la queue). The second meaning is “tail”—as of an animal. The visual similarity between a line of people and the tail of an animal is clear.

A further use of queue, “a braid of hair at the back of the head” (albeit a somewhat arcane definition) also bears that visual association. The Spanish word for queue (line of people) is cola. As in French, this has the additional meaning of “tail.” However, the word tail in English is used not only to denote the wiggly protrusion of animals but also (among other interpretations) the tail end of an animal or object—such as the tail of an airplane.In the latter respect, the meaning is similar to that in French and in the Spanish of some Spanish-speaking countries, because queue and cola are both used in those two senses of tail. (The Spanish word cola has the additional sense of glue. Cola also exists in English, as in the brand names Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, having acquired the meaning of a carbonated soft drink, but it has its origin in the fact that Coca-Cola was originally composed of an extract from the kola nut, as well as from the leaf of Peruvian coca. Kola is also a language spoken south of Lake Chad, in Africa.

Many Americans might be unfamiliar with the term knickers, commonly used in England to mean women’s panties. Paradoxically, the word from which it is derived, knickerbockers, has its origin in New York. (The New York Knicks basketball team takes its name from this word.)

In England, women’s underwear is probably more typically designated today by the more chic French word lingerie, originally used to mean anything made of linen but now well ensconced in English as women’s underwear. The word bra is a short form of brassière, imported into English and still used in French. But the common French word is soutien-gorge, meaning literally a throat-holder, devised presumably by someone with a poor knowledge of female anatomy. (Brassière should not be confused with brazier, meaning “a container for holding hot coals,” or brasserie, a restaurant serving alcohol—although certain men might be excited by all of these concepts.)

There are many words in Spanish meaning bra, depending on the country of use. Sujetador—literally a subjugator—sounds daunting enough to make any woman want to burn her bra. Sostén, literally a support, also stays well clear of mentioning that part of a woman’s body which the bra serves to keep in place. Vive la modestie! As for men’s wear, knickers was originally used to denote men’s as well as women’s underwear, but the expressions in vogue today are shorts (boxers and briefs) in America and underpants in England.

This article appeared in an abridged form in the Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005 issue of Toga, the newsletter of the Plato Society of UCLA ( NCTA is grateful to the Plato Society for granting us its permission to reprint.

An Innocent Abroad:Elevating our Profession Down Under

By Danièle Heinen

A new opportunity, half a continent away; an exciting job, an exotic locale, a chance to make a difference for a company relatively new to the intricacies of translation. What could be better? Well, read the story of our intrepid reporter, NCTA member Danièle Heinen, to find out exactly what could have been better.

I guess I could mimic Lauren Bacall who recalled “How I went to Africa to shoot the African Queen and nearly lost my mind” and say, “How I went to Brisbane, Australia to create and run a translation department and nearly lost my mind!”

In February of 2005, a long-standing client of mine referred me to the position of translation manager for a Canadian-based mining company located in Brisbane, Australia. Inco, at the time the world’s second-largest producer of nickel, was constructing a nickel mine and processing plant on the island of New Caledonia, a French overseas territory that holds about 30% of the world’s nickel reserves.

With the Project Engineering Office in English-speaking Brisbane and the mine facilities in French-speaking New Caledonia, the need for translation services—even more, for a structure for translation services—was obvious. Business practices in New Caledonia follow a variety of customs and regulations, most of which are European or French in origin, and which therefore require documents in French, including work permits and visas. On the other side, the requests for translations into English came from managing engineers in Brisbane responsible for the various portions of the project; these engineers were mostly monolingual English speakers, and it was often only at the last minute that they realized a translation was needed—on topics that ranged from mechanical to electric to fire protection and more—which then compounded the urgency. Most of these engineers, obviously, had no idea of what translation entailed.

 Translation? What’s that?
Prior to my arrival, the translation requests were handled by a competent, yet already overworked administrative assistant who acted as translation coordinator within the Contract and Procurement Department. Although she had no experience with translation and did not know French, she nonetheless developed a useful translation request form and tracking worksheet. Still, hers was purely a processing role. The local translation vendors were two French women who lacked translation training, and yet who were asked to handle virtually any subject and work in both directions.

The quality of the locally delivered translations was variable and unreliable; there were also spelling and grammar mistakes, and accents missing: a case of “I didn’t know I could reconfigure my keyboard under Windows,” and blaming the Microsoft Word spellchecker. Termium was unknown, while the GDT and the use of an electronic bilingual dictionary was known by one translator only.

Reviews, both technical and linguistic, were done by the requesting department, provided there was a bilingual (French or Canadian) engineer in the department. The translations came back with a number of terminology queries, but reviewers lacked time, and so coped as best as they could, amending the translations themselves.

A low level of support
Process problems were compounded as the technical documents went through a review cycle within the Engineering Department, where the translation requests would often be made at different steps of the process without anyone noticing that there might be only the equivalent of five to six pages of changes from one revision to the next; the entire set of documents was retranslated, sometimes by a different vendor.

In addition, the source and the target documents would sometimes be amended separately; to deal with this, a bilingual document format, with English on the left and French on the right, was designed to ensure matched text. The lack of secretarial staff that could read French, however, worked against the best intentions of this system. Problems with converting text from PDF documents further complicated things.

As if the existing process at the mining company were not difficult enough, the translation scene in Australia posed further obstacles. Translation and interpretation in Australia is mostly linked to immigration and medical concerns, not mining and engineering. AUSIT, the Australian translators association, includes members whose primary profession is not necessarily translation. NAATI, the national translation certification body, has three levels of certification, and very few translators working from English to French had reached the advanced level listed on the NAATI website; understandable, perhaps, as this was a paid listing. Finally, French is not the lead foreign language in Australia.

Digging in
Where to start? During my first trip to the country, I made a number of recommendations on procedures, looked at resumes, and interviewed people. I found one excellent professional translator with a translation degree from an institution in Belgium (but who could only work part-time), and set out to find freelance translators in the various technical fields that the project covered. In terms of tools, I decided that a translation memory tool would be in order, and also made lists of dictionaries in both paper and electronic format to order for in-house use.

Back in Canada before returning to Australia the second time for the duration of my commitment, I put a call out to ATA’s French Language Division and to NCTA to look for certified translators with technical knowledge. I also contacted professional colleagues from Canada and Europe (the time difference would be much easier to deal with from Brisbane). I also found a lone French Canadian translator who had been working in Brisbane—and who had connections with New Caledonia and mining for some years—and was very knowledgeable about various translation tools. My final team incorporated members from California, Canada, Australia, and France: a truly international effort!

Seeds of change
Once in Australia for good, I implemented SDLX with the use of both Elite and Professional licenses and encouraged the freelancers to use SDLX Lite to start with; some already used WordFast or Trados so we swapped TMs in TMX format. As I was far from knowledgeable about all the intricacies of SDLX (which resulted in a few nightmares!) I enlisted the help of the local translator I had found who already knew SDLX, and trained the newly hired inhouse translator/reviewer and the translator working on our HR documents. In turn, we offered training for the local freelancers.

My colleague put herself to the task of developing a TermBase, starting with an excellent glossary put together independently by some of the Canadian and French engineers. We also installed various electronic dictionaries and a French spell and grammar checker as standard tools for inhouse use. We also researched and purchased various software programs to deal with the PDF issues, all the while arguing for the need for native source files.

Administratively, we redesigned the translation request form and tracking spreadsheet, allocated a sequential number for each request, insisted on the need to nominate a native speaker for each translation request to review the translation from a technical point of view, and initiated searches for possible existing translations before assigning any work. Those searches—and the building of libraries from what we found—turned out to be extremely time-consuming, as there was no reliable archiving system of the matching source and target files. Eventually we started building translation memories, which were still quite rough because there was no manpower to do much review of the texts we decided to process. We deemed a number of them unusable and had to discard them.

The final tally
There were other issues: procedures that someone else had to establish and implement as I had my plate full; the impossibility of planning the workload as there never was an estimate of the number of documents that would require translation; the inability to find another professionally trained inhouse full-time translator (our normal working week was 45 hours); the need to deal with new types of documents for translation, as often is the case when a new translation department is established; and more into-English translation than had been expected, which created the need to find more translators in other fields and in a different language direction.

Above all, the main challenge and frustration came from having to constantly educate our internal clients as to the translation process, explaining that we were, like the engineers, university trained, and that a mistranslated document could pose huge risks.

Like Lauren Bacall, I almost lost my mind. But I survived, and the new system we put in place is now humming along—thanks mostly to my first colleague and the good people who have followed.

Still, having learned a bit, I’m ready for another assignment.

Untranslatable Words – Serendipity

By Yves Avérous

In my language direction, English to French, the first word that comes to mind when I am asked about untranslatable words or expressions is serendipity. And, in fact, I’m apparently not the only one: in June, 2004, a British translation company voted serendipity one of the ten most difficult words in the English language to translate. But the problem in French, as it turns out, is less about finding an equivalent concept than it is about finding as beautiful a word! (Although the word form has lately been imported into French as sérendipicité or sérendipité, these are not accepted, or even known, usages.)

It took an extremely refined Earl of England, Horace Walpole, to coin a noun so flourished and evocative. And discovering this word for the first time was for me—as I suspect it might be even for native English speakers—itself serendipitous, a “happy discovery” or “happy coincidence.”

Serendipity has no direct equivalent in French, but there is more than one popular expression to translate this happy turn of fate. “Ça tombe à pic,” “quel heureux hasard,” or even the optimistic saying “le hasard fait bien les choses.”

Here is a word with the quality of never being boring; it conjures up the most exciting and extravagant stories. Even the sound of it stirs the imagination: “serene,” “Serengeti,” “dippity-doo,” “des petits sereins” (little birds) … and all sorts of pleasing notions. Serendipity, in fact, comes from a quite beautiful proper name in itself: “Serendip,” an old name for the island of Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon. And it is a legendary tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip,” which so enthralled Walpole that it inspired him to create our untranslatable word!

The connection? Ceylon was fashionable at the time of the writing of the tale, and riddle-solving in the literary salons of elegant Venice even more so. What made the three princes of Serendip successful was their great sense of observation and deductive reasoning, which led to Walpole’s notion of “a gift for discovery by accident and sagacity while in pursuit of something else.”

The original definition of serendipity is indeed “discovery by accident,” but in a very neutral, not necessarily happy, way. When, for example, Alexander Fleming noticed as he was cleaning his laboratory that penicillin mold had contaminated one of his experiments, the discovery of this wonder drug could certainly be said to have been a “serendipitous” event.

These days, one of the best ways to make serendipitous discoveries is to browse the Internet with the help of a search engine such as Google or Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Using either of these tools one can, and often does, stumble upon unexpected (and sometimes unexpectedly happy) discoveries. (A caveat—because Wikipedia is written by its readers in a collaborative effort, not all that is published there is to be taken as gospel. Perhaps that’s why the French version of the serendipity article is titled “Sérendipité”!)

Wikipedia will, however, reward you with an article by Robert Boyle on “The Three Princes of Serendip,” which brings to light the amazing voyage of the tale from its introduction to a Western audience in 1557 by Venetian publisher Michele Tramezzino to its ultimate role almost 200 years later in inspiring the famous word. It was in 1754 that Lord Walpole acknowledged in a correspondence to his friend Horace Mann the receipt of a painting, painstakingly obtained, as serendipitous.

The final words on the subject belong to author John Barth who, in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991), wrote a beautiful evocation of serendipity: “You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for somewhere else and lose your bearings, serendipitously.”

Finding that “je ne sais quoi”: The French Literary Translation Workshop

By Olivia E. Sears

As part of an ongoing series of literary translation workshops, NCTA and the Center for the Art of Translation jointly sponsored on June 4th a French Literary Translation workshop moderated by noted local translator Zack Rogow. In this half-day workshop, Zack led an intimate group of translators through the ins and outs of literary translation, touching on both poetry and prose translation, as well as rights acquisitions and book proposals. Zack himself has worked in both commercial and literary translation, and has won several awards for his translations of great French writers (including André Breton, George Sand, and Colette). He is the new editor and artistic director of the Center’s journal of translation, TWO LINES.

The workshop began with a general introduction to the translation of poetry. Zack focused on several translations of a French sonnet, Arthur Rimbaud’s “Ma Bohème (Fantaisie).” By comparing three different English translations of the poem, Zack delved into the difficulties of translating the Petrarchan sonnet form into English: is it worth trying to achieve the same meter, or replicate the rhyme? This discussion led to an overview of the literary translator’s priorities. Zack suggested that the translator should decide which of these priorities is paramount when confronting a text: is the top priority to capture the spirit of the poem, or the literal meaning of the poem, or the music and form of the poem? To demonstrate his point, Zack broke the participants into small groups, each of which had to argue over these priorities and try to come up with a balanced translation of Rimbaud’s poem “O saisons, ô châteaux.” The results of these translations-by-committee were extremely diverse and quite amusing.

Next we turned to prose translation with a look at several different works in French: the first chapter of the satirical Micromégas by François-Marie Arouet Voltaire; a page from Colette’s Les Vrilles de la vigne; and an excerpt from André Breton’s Nadja. We discussed the tone of each piece, the form, and the voice, all aspects of the original work that must be considered prior to embarking on a translation.

The last part of the workshop focused on practical questions for the literary translator. First and foremost, how should a translator choose a project? Because literary translation doesn’t pay well, Zack urged participants to seek out authors whose style they have an affinity for and to choose a text they love. Retranslations can be rewarding, especially if there is a book a translator feels is important but that has fallen out of attention or was poorly translated. It is essential that translators revisit even classic texts periodically, particularly works with dialogue, which changes substantially over time. A new translation can help us see a text in a new light.

To close, Zack briefly discussed rights and contracts—including consulting the sample contracts created by the PEN American Center—and urged translators to push for their name to appear on the title page and the cover of the book. All in all, the participants left the workshop with renewed excitement about their craft. The Center hopes to continue the collaboration with NCTA and discuss possibilities for a variety of future workshops.