Marie-Agnès Latourte: When training and business intersect

In this interview, Marie-Agnès Latourte teacher at ISIT discusses translation training which seems to meet the expectations of both students and businesses.

Even before enrolling at ISIT in order to obtain a diploma as a translator and then conference interpreter, Marie-Agnès Latourte embarked on the translation of a play by the German playwright Wolfgang Borchert, « Drauβen vor der Tür », which she discovered in high school. After graduating, this young translator has built up freelance clientele in the fashion industry, insurance and hotel sectors, but is mainly dedicated to the medical sector and works for large pharmaceutical companies. Then, after a few years of experience, she decided to return to the classroom to pass on, in turn, the tricks of the trade.

Today in charge of the Master in Intercultural Communication and Translation at ISIT, she notes: “Training which doesn’t evolve, which does not listen to the business, nor to current trends in translation or communication is doomed to disappear.” And continues: “At ISIT, we are in very regular contact with businesses through training and apprenticeship supervisors. It is the guarantee of a certain reliability and a match between training and the business world. In addition, we have a teaching staff, who are very focused on the project mode, which allows our students to learn to work in a team and respect differences. We also have very varied linguistic profiles with Arabic or Chinese and, in recent years, students whose mother tongue is not French. They are therefore in contact with cultures and very different linguistic profiles and they learn to listen and work with others, which prepares them very well to life in a company”.

In this interview, Marie-Agnès Latourte reveals to us the secret of this training which seems to meet the expectations of both students and businesses.

What is the added value for your students on the job market of having opted for a master’s degree that combines translation, communication and interculturality?

Today, a minority of students are dedicated exclusively to translation. In this case, they work as freelancers, translators or project managers for translation companies or international organizations like the UN, NATO, the European parliament, etc. But, in businesses, in the last twenty years or so, it has become clear that the translator as such has become less and less present.
Companies often had a translation service attached to the documentation service, but these services have, for the most part, disappeared even though translation needs are still very much present.
We noticed that communication services were keen recruiters of translation skills. They hire assistants, internal or external communication managers,… who, as part of their communication activity, translate. They translate, for example, websites or manage social networks.

And, in this context, rapidly growing international companies need people who speak at least English and French but sometimes also Spanish, German or Italian and have a perfect command of translation or writing. So, it was a way for our students to continue to do what they like, that is translation, to continue to use their languages in writing but without occupying positions openly mentioning the functions of technical translator or writer.

Why could a bilingual person who studied communication not take on this post?

If our students had not associated their knowledge of intercultural communication with linguistic knowledge, first, they would not have this ability to not make what is called a literal translation but a real adaptation.

Secondly, they would not know the constraints imposed today essentially by digital communication in terms of adaptation for different audiences, different cultural targets, etc. And it’s something that you learn when you have years of translation behind you and you understand that translation is not only using CAT software to transfer words from one language to another.

I also think that knowledge of cultures and intercultural communication courses that our students receive during their training allows them to be very good translators and be appreciated by businesses. After a few years of experience, they have access to prestigious posts as editors in International Offices, or managing large client accounts in translation companies. Translation is something that cannot be improvised. You can be bilingual but not able to translate. It is better to have an excellent mother tongue rather than a bicultural or binational profile with a sometimes imperfect command of the two languages.

ISIT has diversified its training, what does it say about the translation market?

We have noticed that today there are a lot of translators posts, which have disappeared in businesses. Indeed, they increasingly use the services of translation agencies or companies whose rates are competitive. Diversification of training is a response to a need to find a post that will suit for each of our students. Besides, they enrolled in the school because they like languages and culture, but there is perhaps a quarter of students of the Master in Communication and Translation who want to devote themselves to translating full-time. I also think that the translator stereotype – the person working alone in front of a screen doing research on the Internet and using software – pushes students to turn towards in connection with their profile today. In other words, open to the world, attracted by other cultures and other languages but also ready to learn other skills and experiment with other professions.

For you what are the qualities required to be a good translator?

First of all, it is essential that our students master the language they are going translate, i.e. the source language. They must understand it perfectly, so, during the first year, they have many language courses, writing, comprehension, oral expression and translation. Then, they are mainly asked to appropriate a text having understood all the implicit elements it contains in order to adapt it, reformulate it, and make sure that this text in the target language is really a creation rather than a transfer of words from one language to another. Finally, for those who really want to move towards translation, they follow terminology courses in which they analyze terms in a specific context, their meanings, their word order, etc. They are also taught to have a spirit of discrimination that dictionaries cannot have because they offer translations of terms without knowing the context. Lastly, during their studies, they are taught the theory of translation and it allows them to become familiar with different areas such as subtitling, legal, technical and financial translation, etc. In short, when they leave, they can move towards their chosen field and already have a good background to face the world of work as true professionals.

Is it essential for a translator to master the CAT tools?

Yes, it is absolutely essential in translation. In the Master that I run, we ask our students to master at least Trados because it’s the CAT reference. Obviously, they may well be asked to use Wordfast or DéjàVuX in a company, but what is important is that they know that this software is a real help for translators. It is for this reason that we raise awareness of these tools. Today, when employers recruit them, they ask them to master CAT software. It is a bit like mastering Office suites or knowing how to use subtitling software for an audio-visual translation, it’s the basic tool.

Translation into English: Chloe Findlay

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This article has been written by Lara

Lara studied photojournalism at IHECS in Liège (Belgium). After travelling in Asia and New-Zealand she now lives in Buenos Aires and works at Cultures Connection.