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A Life in Translation
Bruce Knowlden, Certified Translator, ATINS

An interview by Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator, OTTIAQ

Many OTTIAQ senior members may remember Bruce Knowlden since he was president from 1996 to 1999 and then president of the Canadian Translators and Interpreters Council (now called the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council) and a member of the FIT Council from 1999 to 2002. After moving east to the Maritimes, he also served as president of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Nova Scotia from 2006 to 2008 and from 2009 to 2011.

Circuit: Could you describe how and why you got involved with OTTIAQ? Did you play a role in the fight for professional recognition?

Bruce Knowlden: In the early 1990s, I had been working as a translator for about 10 years, and I decided it was time to get more involved in my profession. I volunteered to chair the recruitment committee at the STQ, and over the next 10 plus years I had the opportunity to serve in various capacities. I was indeed involved in the process that led to professional recognition. I remember going to meetings at the Office des professions and meeting with university representatives. We had a lot of committees and mechanisms to set up. I also remember reading a book about mentoring, which was very popular at the time. The idea struck me that mentoring might be a way to help translation graduates transition from the university to the profession. We invited the author to a committee meeting, and gradually the idea caught on. I’m proud to see that OTTIAQ now has a well-organized and effective mentoring program. I feel fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time and to have helped OTTIAQ become a full-fledged professional order.

My work with OTTIAQ also opened up many opportunities for me nationally and internationally. I had fun helping organize the XVI FIT World Congress in Vancouver in 2002, which by all accounts was a great success. Moreover, I was approached about organizing a Canada-Cuba translation symposium in co-operation with McGill University, the Cuban translators’ association and the Cuban government translation service, which I’m sure OTTIAQ members still attend.

Circuit: Could you tell us a little about your experience as co-chair of the Final Report of the Canadian Translation Industry Sectoral Committee published in 1999? Given its conclusions, do you have any thoughts on what we can do in Canada and in Quebec to promote the profession?

Bruce Knowlden: Again, I was in the right place at the right time. I was president of OTTIAQ when Industry Canada approached us about doing a study to see if translation was indeed a “sector of economic activity.” The Sectoral Committee was the first of a number of industry associations and I think it got the ball rolling. As things progressed, I began to wonder about the role of professional associations in the “industry,” since our mandate was to protect the public and maintain professional standards. The role of industry associations was to promote the economic interests of their members. I think the professional associations helped strengthen the industry, and we have now reached a balance where both kinds of associations play their proper roles.

The best way for a professional translation association (called “order” in Quebec) to promote the profession is to continue making the public aware that translation is a profession, which requires a university education; that the profession is regulated by the certification process and other mechanisms; and that using the services of a certified translator or interpreter is in the client’s best interests. And most importantly, we need to make sure we are doing our job right, so that the public’s trust in certified translators and interpreters is maintained.

Circuit: Do you think that the role of reviser should be encouraged despite the time pressures and cost-cutting that all professional translators are facing? Should professional translators take a chance on their work being “good enough”?

Bruce Knowlden: Revision is an important part of the profession. It is essential in helping translation graduates become bona fide professionals, be it through mentoring or supervision in a translation firm or unit. However, once you have become a bona fide professional, like any other professional, you are solely responsible for your work. It should not need to be revised. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have access to the services of a good proofreader, you should definitely take advantage of that, since no one is perfect. And translations that are destined for publication should go through an editing process, like any text that is going to be published. If the client does not have the capacity to do that, the freelancer or translation firm or unit can provide the service. But I don’t think that every translation needs to be revised.

Circuit: What are your thoughts on the future for professional translators in a context where there is a lot of pressure on fees?

Bruce Knowlden: Towards the end of my career, I went back to translating, because I was more comfortable with words than numbers. And it’s been a long time since I was involved in the Sectoral Committee. So I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the translation market at this point. I know there are challenges for both freelancers and translation firms and units, especially in our globalized economy, but as translation professionals our services will always be needed, and hopefully people will be willing to pay a fair fee for them.

Circuit: Which books are you reading or have you read that you consider significant?

Bruce Knowlden: I have read many books about translation and language over the years and most have been well worth reading. Not too long ago I enjoyed reading The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow. I also read the sequel, The Story of Spanish, which was very informative. Of course being a translator means keeping abreast of what is going on in the world. I recently read Le Capital au XXIe siècle by Thomas Piketty and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, both of which provided thought-provoking perspectives on the state of the world. Lately, I have been reading Spanish and Latin American literature for the university classes I am taking, which has opened up a whole new world.

Circuit: Do you have any plans for your retirement?

Bruce Knowlden: I retired not long ago. And I did so with a sense of accomplishment. I contributed to my profession in my own small way and I think I did good work as a translator, in part thanks to a desire to maintain the standards of my profession. I’m going to continue working on a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University, which I have been doing part time over the past several years. I eventually plan to get involved in volunteer work, not in the translation profession but rather in the area of social justice or something like that.
If I may, I would like to thank my friends and colleagues at OTTIAQ for accompanying me on my journey. Keep up the good work.

Circuit: Thank you and best wishes for a happy retirement!

N.B. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s.


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