Translating in Cambridge:Fun, Food, Friends and all things French

Translate in Cambridge was the latest installment in a series of high-level French <> English translation events held in various locations across North America, and then last year heading to Chantilly in France. It is unusual (unique?) in focusing specifically on one language pair, and on the actual craft of translation rather than business skills, marketing, specialisation and all the other aspects of a freelance career. After all, translators are writers in their target language, and you can be as clued up on everything else as you want, but if your translations aren’t up to scratch, there’s not going to be much repeat business.



The Cam by the Jesus Common Lido – picture perfect Cambridge evening

I’d followed the related hashtags enviously in previous years, but felt that logistics were really against getting even to Chantilly. Cambridge though, is only just down the road. Surely it could be possible this time round? Our summer holiday was specifically planned to avoid clashes with both this event and the BCLT Summer School before it. The fees seemed eye-watering at first, but the Goethe Institut bursary for the Summer School made doing both events possible, and family events arranged themselves to permit doting grandparents to take on childcare for the duration so it seemed really meant to be.


Kings College – quite a fancy porters’ lodge…

The venue was Kings College, Cambridge, resplendent in its faintly absurd architectural glories (with less romantic concrete add-ons round the back). The weather was (mostly) fine, the food fantastic. Tuesday evening’s formal dinner featured a truly stunning performance from the Lucy Cavendish Singers, while on the Monday we had the opportunity to see As You Like It performed in the college garden as part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. Although it was rather chilly by the end, the atmosphere with bats flitting in the fading light and a magnificent sunset building over the “stage” was magical.


… and the back view isn’t bad, either.

There were friends old and new to meet and make, networking and socialising, chatting over lunches and dinners, professional and personal conversations to be had. And for this introvert, there were welcome strolls from a very pleasant B&B a little way out of the city centre to ease me into the day, and explorations of the area around the college to stretch the legs and recharge the brain after lunch or before dinner, not to mention the chance to visit the chapel for free.

And the course? Well, there were talks on hunting down Gallicisms, or turning abstract French into hands-0n English; very practical discussions on issues such as press releases, subheads and job titles; a chance to work with Ros Schwartz on editing her first draft of Mireille Gansel’s memoir Traduire comme Transhumer – with her editor and author also in attendance; and my personal highlight, the opportunity to hear Anthea Bell OBE discuss her decades of experience translating Asterix. It was both a privilege and a welcome laugh at the end of the day; her depths of cultural and literary knowledge are incredible. Sadly I was too slow to get a copy of the latest book for signing, though.


Anthea Bell tells Ros Schwartz how she had waited decades for the chance to use certain puns in the latest Asterix book

Running parallel to this was an English-French track with similar panels and seminars. There was a French>English translation slam, and an English>French one, which, as always, confirmed that there is no two translations of the same text will ever be the same. Four highly skilled and experienced translators had made four distinct but equally valid translations of two texts. Although the subject matter and prose might have left something to be desired, the resulting discussion was scintillating nonetheless! There were discussions of particular words, bugbears or bêtes noires, which offered useful options for rendering them in our own language. And so on. There were chances to have a go and times to listen (even if the darkened corner at the back of a lecture theatre is not a conducive place to listen to rapid French in an unfamiliar accent after a late night…).


Special dispensation to stand on the grass!

I am now back to reality with a slight bump, pages of notes to organise, glossaries to write up, and a head buzzing with ideas and inspiration. This was a truly fantastic event, and many thanks go to Anne de Freyman for her determination to bring it to the UK and run it with the ITI. Magnifique! Next year, the event is heading back over the Atlantic, so watch out for Translate on Broadway, and there are rumours afoot of something similar being organised for Italian and German. Watch this space!

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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