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How to be a successful Anglophone translator in Quebec

“Being a minority is not such a bad thing.” – Grant Hamilton (“Going for Bloke,”
Circuit issue No. 109, fall 2010)

Reading the older issues of Circuit is like opening a time capsule. However, the older stories before computers (BC) are still interesting, even from today’s perspective after machine translation (MT). As we flip through the pages of Circuit, we see glimpses of volunteers at OTTIAQ (and its predecessors), such as Catherine Bowman, Brian Harris, Betty Howell, Bruce Knowlden, Susan Le Pan, Deirdre Mark, Mary Plaice, Roda Roberts, Wallace Schwab, Sharon Timms, Anne Trindall and Judith Woodsworth, to name only a few. Many of them worked hard to lay the groundwork for professional recognition and some of them are still actively working to promote it. Mary Plaice and Bruce Knowlden both served as president: Mary of the STQ and Bruce of OTTIAQ. Sharon Timms and Anne Trindall were very intent on administering and marking exams in a very professional manner, even before we received professional recognition. In case of doubt, they would ask an independent person to correct an exam a second time. To be considered a professional, you should act like a professional because “professional is as professional does,” according to Mary Plaice. Mary Coppin, the STQ’s executive director for many years, worked very hard to advance the profession, and set up three bursaries to encourage and recognize translation students each year (“Une femme de carrières,” fall 1988, issue No. 61). Finally, Betty Cohen paid tribute to Wallace Schwab for his contribution to obtaining professional recognition in her speech at the OTTIAQ meeting in 2012 at which he was named an honourable member. Clearly, Anglophones were working quietly in the background with their Francophone colleagues throughout the years leading up to professional recognition. OTTIAQ is now a professional order. So, what are we doing with our professional recognition now that we have it? For one thing, it is helping us to be successful translators.

To be a successful Anglophone translator in Quebec, you need to be very professional, just as Francophone translators are

When I was researching this article, I noticed a recurring theme in the Circuit articles by Anglophone translators: how to become a successful translator in Quebec. Anglophone translators basically have the same working conditions as Francophones. The main difference is that we do not have the same clients, at least in principle. Many of our clients are bilingual Francophones, as opposed to unilingual clients in Toronto for Francophone translators. As a result, our clients hire us to translate documents and websites to attract new business and accommodate their existing clients. These donneurs d’ouvrage tend to want to have a say about their English documents and websites. On the other hand, clients are usually receptive to our efforts to write good, readable English texts (Susan Le Pan, “To Market, to Market,” Circuit issue No. 20, March 1988).

Rule one: Communicate with your clients and pool your knowledge with them

According to seasoned translator Susan Le Pan (“To Market, to Market,” Circuit issue No. 20, March 1988), you should ask your client questions. Your bilingual clients may know the specialized terminology you need. Unfortunately, there is a myth that English is a simple language that has no rules and infinite flexibility. This leads some non-translator clients to make changes that are not in standard English. Many clients need to be guided through the translation process. In an ideal world, the client would notify you of any changes made to your text. If they make changes and you are not consulted, you cannot guarantee the results. However, any feedback is better than none. If the client has special terminology in acceptable English, take note of it. For Susan Le Pan, the ideal partnership involves the “pooling of knowledge”—the translator should consult extensively with subject matter specialists and (bilingual) clients.

Rule two: Write in proper English

According to Ken Larose and other Circuit contributors, good communication means writing in “proper” (i.e. standard) English. Charles Boberg, an author and professor at McGill University, and others have pointed out Quebecisms and gallicisms to watch out for because of the “intermarriage” of English and French in Quebec. An “all-dressed” pizza is an example of Quebec English according to Charles Boberg, a professor at McGill University (“All-dressed English: Why Quebec English is Unique,” Circuit issue No 109, English Translators Speak Out, fall 2010). It seems that Quebec English is also influenced by French in the real estate field. Anglo-Quebecers sometimes talk about going to their chalet instead of their cottage because a cottage is a two-storey house in Quebec. Anglo-Quebecers say one-and-a-half (1-1/2) apartment instead of a bachelor suite (CAN) or studio apartment (US), meaning no separate bedroom, with “half” referring to the bathroom. There are many other examples which cannot be covered here.

Rule three: Above all, focus on quality

To quote Anglocom president Grant Hamilton, “offer quality and clients will [beat] a path to your door.”1 You can do this by reading extensively, staying up to date by taking courses, using recent reference materials, such as dictionaries and grammars, and developing a network of contacts you can consult. When you compare a machine translation with a human translation, which one do you think your client will prefer?

1The ATA Chronicle, October, 2010,

A bright future for “Anglophone style specialists”

Grant Hamilton believes that “being a minority is not such a bad thing,” because it creates opportunities. Writing about the fact that many Anglophone translators are generalists, he said “They add value as style specialists, not subject matter specialists.” (Grant Hamilton, “Generally speaking, it’s not that easy!” La traduction générale : une spécialité, Circuit issue No. 110, winter 2011.)

Despite improvements to automatic or machine translation, there is still a place for translators who are good writers and revisers. Professional translators can do a better job than a machine, which is not to say that we can’t use the MT tools at our disposal to help us work faster and better. If you follow the three rules above, and other advice that you find in OTTIAQ's magazine, you will see that it is still possible to be a successful Anglophone translator in Quebec.

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