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Good translation means thinking in a different way – Interview with translator Stephen Shipside

Welcome in a new entry of our series of interviews with translators from all over the globe. Translation is a very diverse industry – we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This episode is an interview with Stephen Shipside.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Steve Shipside translator interviewStudied English literature with French at Cambridge, taught English for business in France for a while, fell in love with Paris, then Marseille, France, the French, and the French language.  I then entered journalism in the UK in 1990 and wrote (in English) about business and communications before being asked to be the UK correspondent for a French title. Started to work in both languages, then started to find niches in the work that I did whereby my expertise in media and communications and the ability to speak French found me work.  Began working (freelance) for the World Association of News publishers (WAN-IFRA) and found that a lot of work now involved translation. My LinkedIn profile.

How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?

I enjoy translation because it’s more than mechanical substitution of one phrase for another; good translation means thinking in a different way, it is cultural and even emotional if you want to get the tone right.  It is almost like being paid to have an alter ego.

What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?

Used forums a lot more to listen in on the questions and answers of others, use of online language learning tools – ideal for  when I have a few minutes free.

How do you prepare for a translation project?

My work is in the field of journalism so I spend a lot of time in the milieu, either physically or by reading to get a feeling for the nuances (something dictionaries can’t give).  Since a lot of my work is translating journalism for business it is about style and tone as well as accuracy.

What aspects of your job are the most challenging?

The fact that language and business terms evolve so fast that it is easy to get caught out on an unfamiliar usage.

What excites you the most about the languages you work with?

I’m English. Where I come from just being able to speak more than one language is already quite a big deal (sorry about that) and it is very satisfying.

What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?

I don’t know if ‘funny’ is the word but once I was translating on a trans-Saharan trip by Landrover for a film project.  At the last checkpoint before the Tanezrouft (Land of Terror) route over the desert a scruffy man approached the team leader and muttered something which to the team leader’s schoolboy French sounded like he wanted to change money. The team leader was hot and tired and was already shouting at the man to leave him alone before I was able to step and explain that the phrase ‘pièces de rechange’ had nothing to do with ‘money’ or ‘change’.  Instead they were the spare parts for the vehicle that we were required to have before being allowed to cross.  The ‘moneychanger’ was the official who had the power to let us go on or to call off the whole trip based on whether he felt we were adequately prepared.  It was one of those situations where translation strays into diplomacy.

What are good or bad things about freelancing?

Bad; insecurity, having to be very patient with clients who don’t always understand what they are asking for or why I am not and will not be the cheapest solution. Good; pretty much everything else. Being your own boss is the best.

What are you wishes for this year? What excites you, what are you sceptical about?

There are always new tools, new social media and therefore new ways of plugging into other people’s experience.  I’m sceptical that human skills in media are not necessarily being rewarded with pay that reflects the time and effort involved.  Everyone is looking for a cheap shortcut and I have lost count of how often I am forced to defend human translation against the likes of Google Translate.

What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?

Don’t think it’s about pure language ability – learn the industry you’re working in and never underestimate the need for people skills – even if you never meet anyone face to face.

Thanks to Stephen for the answers!

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