Thursday, January 17, 2013

Author Interview with Nataly Kelly, "Found in Translation"

 Why did you become interested in translation?

My earliest memory is of not being able to communicate. As a very young child, I vividly recall trying to explain something to my mother and aunt, and they didn't understand me. The frustration of not being understood is one of my strongest memories.  I believe this is why I became a translator and interpreter. Having a talent for languages is one thing, but having a passion to help people communicate is another thing entirely.

Do you have any advice for aspiring translators?
This field is so diverse that there is truly something for everyone who has the necessary skills and proficiency. If you love video games, there are localization jobs out there.  If you have a beautiful voice, there is multilingual voice-over work available.  There are translators (written language) and interpreters (spoken or signed language) who specialize in cosmetics, sports, the opera... even those who work for NASA!  Success as a translator depends on many factors, but for those just getting started, I suggest looking into professional associations, such as the American Translators Association.

What about advice for people who are struggling to learn a new language?

First, find a method that does not make you struggle.  Look for ways to link it to something you absolutely love. The author Tim Ferris credits his Japanese proficiency in part to his love of comic books. Likewise, I was blessed to have a teacher from Korea, Mrs. Helen Kim, who taught me to sing classical music in various languages. My relationship with her helped fuel my desire to learn other languages and to see them as something fun and enjoyable, thanks to music.

Second, don't be hard on yourself. I often encourage people to focus on what they are good at instead of worrying about what they aren't good at where languages are concerned. Who cares if you have a strong accent or you can't conjugate a verb perfectly? Aim for proficiency instead of perfection. Eventually, you'll get better.  Mistakes are part of the process!

How would you describe Found in Translation in ten words or less?
"A fun book that reveals how translation shapes your life."

Why did you write it?

I dreamed for many years of writing a book that would shake up the average person's notion of translation as a dry, boring, or academic topic.  It's actually fun, exciting, and fascinating!  It really does affect life as we know it.  My hope is that this is the conclusion that the reader comes to after reading the stories in the book, which are quite diverse.

Are there any particular funny or moving anecdotes about your experiences translating that didn't make it into the book that you would like to share?
Oh, absolutely. We'd need a separate book of those!  One moving example that comes to mind is of a situation in which I was interpreting for a speech therapist, who was asking questions to help a stroke victim recover her speech and language skills. She asked the patient several questions, such as "Who drives the bus?" and "Who teaches at the school?"  The questions became more complex, and she eventually asked, "Who grows the food?"  The answer the therapist wanted to hear was "the farmer," but the woman responded with, "the mother." The therapist then asked her, "Who grows the food for a lot of people?" The patient said, "God." That experience really made me realize that translators and interpreters are not just bridging languages, but leaping across cultural chasms as well.

As for a funny example, I was once interpreting via telephone for a patient in a doctor's office. The doctor asked him to undress and left the room to enable him to do so.  When the doctor came back, the patient had not undressed yet.  When asked why, he said he did not want the interpreter to see him.  I was only connected via telephone, but he thought I could see him through the phone. This was about 10 years prior to Skype video calls.  Perhaps he was ahead of his time!

And come to think of it, I've also been called "the interpretator" once or twice instead of "the interpreter."  That always makes me smile.

Nataly Kelly is an author, consultant, and advisor in the areas of language services and global business.
She is the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense Advisory, an independent market research firm dedicated to language services and technology, located in the Boston area. She has formally studied seven languages, has traveled to 36 countries, and has obtained higher education on three continents.
Thanks so much to Nataly for stopping by In the Next Room! To learn more about her and her translation work, stop by her website. To read the review of Nataly's latest book, Found in Translation, click here

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