An introduction to Jean Leclercq

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Tuesday, July 17th, 2012 In Blog, Guest blogger, Translation By Stephanie

Dear readers,

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Jean Leclercq, a professional translator, co-author (with Jonathan Goldberg) of: Le mot juste en anglais, a blog oriented for both English and French speakers. Jean has a passion for words. In this interview, we will discover Jean’s climb up the career ladder in the translation industry, from a curious coincidence. Jean is far from being “lost in translation”… In the future, we intend to meet Jean once a month in order to learn his points of views about some social subjects and current affairs – notably about Turkey – since the Copypanthers main office is located in Istanbul. In addition, Jean is a distinguished expert of Turkey, both yesterday and today… Happy reading!

How did you get into translation? Why did you stay in it?

Honestly, by luck. After some sound literature and law studies, I was in Canada for some time. I met the person whom became my wife and went in pursuit of a job. I was offered two possibilities: be a sales assistant in a department store or translate English to French. The second solution suited my profile better. I started in the translation department within a big firm. I learnt by doing, amongst pleasant colleagues who helped me a lot. Then, after a few years’ experience, I attempted the recruitment exam for a big UN organisation and as luck would have it, I was hired. In the beginning, translation for me was only a provisional job, but I quickly noticed that I was hooked and it would be difficult to reorient myself. Starting from being a makeshift translator, I was slowly becoming a professional translator.

Do you like translating? What do you like about it?

With as much sincerity for the previous question, I will answer that I gradually came to like translating. At the beginning, I found it interesting, but nothing more. A way to bridge me over until a professional opening came my way that better fit my training. Translating texts seemed to me like a burden, sometimes unbearably. The approach appeared servile. Along the way, I realized that whilst translating I was learning many things, that I was getting familiar with all sorts of subjects, that each text was an occasion to enrich my knowledge. There was also the desire to convey the message as faithfully as possible while adapting it to the target language’s subtleties. I discovered that translating was much more than just lining up words; it was creating; it was sometimes saying it better than in the source text. In brief, translating is also reinventing the text. Therefore, I started to like translation.

Isn’t a translator just a lonely person behind their desk translating?

Due to the very nature of their work, the translator is often isolated. They often feel the “solitude of a long distance runner,” the feeling of entering a tunnel when one begins a lengthy job, like in the translation of a book. Moreover, admittedly, the occupation appeals to introverts, the shy ones, and sometimes even the tormented. The work often has few rewards. The translator is an artisan of the shadows and, more often, is only asking to be ignored. And yet, there are some methods to animate the work: setting up teams, meetings to harmonise terminology, tutorials by seniors, but little used, for lack of return. In this respect, the possibilities now offered by blogs and social networks, can help to open up the translator to end his/her isolation. I am thinking, among others, about Fusionista (Montreal), the Café des Freelances (Paris) and network meetings organized by ATAMESL or the SFT Matinales. Whether one wants to join and participate is another question.

Have you ever encountered a text to translate you found unacceptable and/or you did not understand the author’s point?

Of course, and it is in front of such texts that we sometimes rebel. The translator is the only one whom really reads the document. As J. Salas Subirat said, “Translating is the most attentive way to read”. By unravelling the text, we discover all its weakness and, often, when a translation problem arises, it’s because of awkward expression in the original. A Canadian writer once told me that if he could afford it he would get all his books translated in order to track down weaknesses. How well he understood the complex alchemy of translation!

Regarding the previous question, what was/would be your response?

Try to contact the author of the text so as to elucidate the difficulty. If possible, meet him. In an organization such as the one I worked for, the document writer would be around. Two types of reactions are then possible. The less frequent is this kind: “It says what it says, just translate it!” But, more often, it’s an understanding and collaborating attitude that will lead the author to edit the original in favour of higher clarity and accuracy.

According to you, what are the essential qualities for becoming a (good) translator?

I am tempted to answer what Mrs Seleskovitch said when she was asked the same question regarding the interpreter: good knowledge of at least two foreign languages and, above all, a good credential of general culture. I will add that the translator must also perfectly master the target language, that is, his/her native language. Indeed, s/he must therefore know all the grammatical and lexicological characteristics of the target language, if s/he wants to bring out all the nuances of the text s/he is translating.

How many languages do you speak? Are you especially talented in certain languages? For example, in which language do you dream, read an adventure book, a cook-book, take notes, etc…

I always say that I know only one, my native language. But, I translate from English and Spanish, and I get by in another few languages. The aptitude, to my opinion, is the will to communicate with another. If this will dwells in you, you will have the aptitude. The rest is a question of work. The apprenticeship of languages requires an effort. You have to cram, at least at the beginning, to acquire the critical mass that will allow learning more agreeably. As for the language in which we dream, I think this is an illusion. The dream language doesn’t belong to any idiom in particular. The classic scholar Champollion, a first class linguist, was said to dream in Amharic, but that was a joke! Regarding my lectures, the original is always preferable, whatever the subject, and as for taking notes, yes, I do more and more, since my memory is not what it formerly used to be.

Finally, my last question, if you had only one bit of advice to give to our fellow translators, what would it be?

This single advice will depend on the translator’s professional experience. To the beginner, the junior, I will say to have confidence, do not be discouraged, and break the isolation. To the experienced, the senior, I will say to welcome the young ones, to help them and give them confidence in themselves, because it is a job where we tend to doubt a lot.   Thank you Jean and see you very soon! We will follow Jean’s advice and if you need translation services, please contact us!

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