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Introducing –

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition © 2020 defines wordsmith as:

  1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
  2. An expert on words.

For the purposes of this blog, we prefer a wider definition, one that embraces all those who (like the undersigned, a professional translator) use words - both those in their mother tongues and those in the foreign languages they aspire to command - as their tools of  trade and the object of their passion.

This blog has its genesis in a French-language blog,, which has been active since I created it in 2010. For several years LMJ has run monthly interviews, initially with translators and subsequently with other linguists. We have dubbed each such interviewee “Linguist of the Month”.
The  goal of WordsmithsBlog is to reproduce interviews conducted in English, (as opposed to those conducted directly in French) and published on Le Mot Juste. Since 2012,  our interviewees have run the gamut of wordsmiths, including poet Hélène Cardona, translator John Woodsworth, linguist, broadcaster and educator David Crystal, historian Peter Hicks, lexicographer and terminologist René Meertens and interpreter Ewandro Magalhães  – all trailblazers in their fields. Hopefully the lives and careers of future interviewees will capture the interest of our readers, as those of our past guests have done for readers of Le Mot Juste. For a full list of wordsmiths whose interviews appear on this blog, see here.

Helene Cardona 2


David Crystal

Hélène Cardona

David Bellos

David Crystal 


Hicks 11.19

Meertens 1.2019

Ewandro Magalhães

Peter Hicks 

René Meertens 

Finally, a word about our interviewers: in addition to your humble bloggers, Jean and myself, many guest linguists coming from widely different fields of language and literature have taken on that role. They include Michèle Druon, professor of French studies, Cynthia Hazelton, lecturer in legal and commercial translation, Joelle Vuille, professor of criminal law, Silvia Kadiu, lecturer in translation studies, Isabelle Pouliot, Grant Hamilton, French-English translator and author - to name only a few.We invite you to subscribe to You can then enjoy regular postings designed to open a window for you on the varied lives of these fascinating people — wordsmiths who share your love of language.

Michele DRUON Grant Hamilton updated Cindy

Michèle Druon

Grant Hamilton

Cynthia Hazelton

Kadiu 11.19

Isabelle Pouliot


Silvia Kadiu

  Isabelle Pouliot

Joelle Vuille







Jonathan Goldberg,

Los Angeles, 28 November, 2019





An Interview With Jean Moorcroft Wilson – biographer of Siegfried Sassoon

An Interview With Jean Moorcroft Wilson

By Hannah Hunter

Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967) was born in England to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. He was a satirical poet who also wrote prose but who gained prominence for his poems of World War 1-- a war in which he performed acts of great bravery but which he managed to survive. He converted to Catholicism, which became a central part of his life.

Jean Moorcraft Wilson lectures in English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is married to the nephew of the distinguished British writer, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and runs a publishing house with her husband. Dr. Wilson is widely recognized as the foremost scholar on the great English war poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Years in the making, Siegfried Sassoon: Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend (published in May 2014) encompasses the poet's complete life and works.

In this book, Wilson reconstructs Sassoon's experience going into the war as a patriotic youth and coming out as a pacifist. Upon his return home from the front, he expressed his pacifistic convictions in his poetry and gave a voice to the millions of his fellow veterans who had been permanently scarred- physically and emotionally- by the catastrophic conflict.

Jean Moorcraft Wilson kindly agreed to be interviewed by LMJ's correspondent, Hannah Hunter, in advance of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, with which Sassoon's life and poems are intricately linked.



H Hunter: How was Sassoon's poetry received, and how was it affected by his growing celebrity?

To begin with it was met with almost complete indifference, only Edmund Gosse bothering to read it, and his mother: bless her cotton socks! And then [of course removed here] later on, as the war progressed and as what he was saying made more of an appeal to people and made more sense to them, then his reception was based not so much on him personally but on what the poetry was saying. But then once they saw him, and saw how handsome he was, and how Byronic he was, they took more notice; Philpot, the painter said: "you are rather Byronic, aren't you?" [1] So I think that then he was regarded as a very Romantic figure, and that helped to promote his poetry.

Celebrity affected his life deeply, although it was his poetry that first got him noticed; but then of course he was a lovely man to have around because he was handsome, because he was a very attractive personality, and because he was socially OK, he could be presented as a kind of figure head. When the pacifists wanted to fight their cause they had Sassoon up there fighting for them, didn't they. You know, because he was a soldier, because he was young and good-looking, he got a good reception.

I have a talk that I give on Sassoon and on the other war poets, and I say that he's the icon really because he's got all the qualities; the only quality he doesn't have is that he didn't die young. He's of the upper/middle classes, his men adore him, he's brave, he gets the MC: all these things he does, he's a fantastic figure! And yet inside I think he's really very young and very naive.


H Hunter: When do you think that Sassoon was writing his best poetry?

Well I think there were two periods when he was most affected, and produced the best poetry, and the war was one of them. Edward Marsh [2] was absolutely right, he needed a proper subject for his poetry - he needed to focus on a particular subject - I mean you can't write forever about getting up at dawn, can you? So there is this sense that when he got to the war he had a cause. Then in the twenties when he left the army, and there was nothing to fight for, you feel him losing this cause; of course, it comes back in the 1930s when he starts writing his prose because again he has a subject, more or less the same one, the war. The other period, I think, is the period when he's thinking about whether he should go into the church or not, the Catholic Church.

I think when he tries in the 1920s to write his political satires, and the social satires, that actually it's not his best poetry. His best poetry in this period is the poetry about himself; and one of my favourites is When I'm Alone, which is a lovely poem that he wrote in the twenties. I think when he starts to be political that you feel that he's not really terribly in control of his material: that it's being done as an exercise.

Once he goes into the church in the mid-fifties, the poetry seems to me poor, because the tension has gone - he's made up his mind - and poetry seems to me to rely very much on tension. I think that his conflicts before he decides on the church translate into a poetry of tension and there's something real there, there's a subject; whereas before that he seems to be writing about whatever takes his fancy, because he's a bit desperate for a subject. This later conflicted poetry is worth looking at. Not all of it succeeds by any means, but I think it's interesting, and the equivalent – well not the equivalent but a shadow, a pale shadow if you like – of what he was doing in the First World War. But in both cases he had something to write about, something he cared about. I don't believe he really cared so much about the

other subjects: those that weren't the First World War or his entry to the church.

I don't think he's the greatest of our poets. (Maybe that's because I don't terribly like satire.) I prefer his prose. I think he's a very important poet, a highly significant poet, but he doesn't reverberate in the mind in that lyrical sense. Perhaps it's because I like lyric poetry, I mean I much prefer Edward Thomas or Wilfred Owen. I think Sassoon's poetry was essential and I believe it was very powerful and as satire it can't be bettered.


H Hunter: Sassoon is dubbed a 'war poet' but his work predates WW1 and outlives WW2. Do you think it undersells him to associate his work so exclusively with WW1?

It obviously does undersell him, but maybe understandably so. But what I think undersells him even more is the lack of recognition nowadays of his achievements as a prose writer. I don't know whether you've read Fox-Hunting Man but it's a wonderful book: it's humorous, it's well-informed, it tells you how he's feeling as a child, it's full of wonderful insights into things. It seems to me a marvellous picture of a pre-war world plus the beginning of the war, and it is a very, very good book. I also find Memoirs of an Infantry Officer very good in terms of what it says about war. But I think that's where the real underselling of Sassoon comes, in his prose writing. And yet people did know Fox-Hunting Man because it was set as a GCSE book. [2] He was undervalued as just a war poet, that's why I originally wrote my biography in two volumes as I thought the second part of his life was just as much of an achievement as the first and equally fascinating.


H Hunter: Who do you see as the most authentic father figure in Sassoon's life?

Oh Rivers without a doubt, yes, Dr. Rivers. [3] I think that their relationship was complicated by the fact that Rivers was probably deeply attracted to Sassoon. Sassoon's letters which talk about loving Rivers, and Rivers would save me if I go smash or bust, or whatever he says…I think Rivers understood him, and I love Rivers because Rivers is actually affected by Sassoon's point of view. I think there may have been more than a little attraction to each other; I mean more than is normal between a father and a son, maybe. The fact that Sassoon was older when he met Rivers probably made him more aware of himself and his homosexual tendencies; whereas with his groom, Tom Richardson, for example, in his youth, that was really a kind of father-figure. His father had left his mother before Sassoon was five, a terribly sad story, and he was left without a father but with a very handsome, commanding, powerful young man to look up to in Richardson-- you know, youngish!


H Hunter: What reasons do you think lead Sassoon to join the Catholic Church?

I think when he goes into the church he does that for many reasons. One of them is a genuine feeling of being just without anybody, without anything. It seems to me that Sassoon went into the Catholic Church partly because he found in it a largely male society. He also wanted to be under orders; he loved the ritual of the Catholic Church which was why he didn't go into the Church of England like his mother. And he loved the monks, he loved being back in that male world: he loved cricket, he loved hunting, for similar reasons.


What do you enjoy most about writing biographies?

I love the detail, I love the connections, I love the people involved, I love discovering those connections, which I believe reflect a great deal more about your central character: who that person is friendly with, what he cares about, how he relate to the outside world.

I find Sassoon highly entertaining: I think he's very funny, he's a nice person. People often say to me: do you like the people you write about? So far yes I have, I liked Sassoon. I started off by thinking that he was a misogynist, and wondering whether I would get on with this. But I ended up by loving him!


[1] Lord Byron[1788-1824],

[2] Sir Edward Howard Marsh KCVO CB CMG (18 November 1872 – 13 January 1953) was a British polymath, a translator, arts patron and civil servant.

[3] W. H. R. Rivers (1864-1922) was an English anthropologist, neurologist ethnologist and psychiatrist   best known for his work treating World War I  officers who were suffering from shell shock. 

Interview with British wordsmith (and poet) Pascale Petit


Pascale Petit

Poet Pascale Petit, our interviewee, was born to a Welsh mother and French father and grew up between Paris and Wales. Four of her seven poetry collections were nominated for the T.S. Eliot Award. Poems from Fauverie won the Manchester Poetry Prize and she was also granted a Cholmondeley Award. Pascale has been the judge for many major prizes and her work has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, French and Serbian. Pascale lives in Cornwall but travels regularly to France. Her website is


Pascale Fauverie Pascale Petit Mama Amazonia


Alice (cropped)Our interviewer, poet and critic Alice Hiller holds a Ph.D. from University College London in transatlantic writing. She has been mentored by Pascale Petit under the Jerwood Arvon scheme. Author of The T-Shirt Book, she reviews for the Times Literary Supplement  and Poetry Review and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Prize. Alice divides her time principally between London and Oxford. 


Pascale - the T-Shirt Book Pascale the Bridport Prize


In the interview that follows, Alice speaks to Pascale about growing up between two languages, why she writes in English about France and the Amazon, and her most recent collection, Mama Amazonica, published by Bloodaxe in 2017.


Alice. Alice (cropped)Can you tell me about your links to France? You were born in Paris and you hold a French passport?


Pascale petit
Pascale. I am about to become a British citizen because of Brexit, but all my life I've been a French citizen. I was born in Paris in 1953, then sent to live with my grandmother in Wales. From two and a half to seven I lived in Paris so I spent my early childhood mainly there. As an adult I never went back to Paris until my father made contact because he was dying. I went to see him in the Latin Quarter. Over the two years that I visited him I grew to know Paris, having hated it as a child. After my father died, and I started going to Paris on my own for writing retreats, I really fell in love with the city, the Latin Quarter, the museums, Notre-Dame

Pascale Notre-Dame

Alice (cropped)Alice. You spoke French as well as English growing up?


Pascale-petit 2Pascale. I'm not really sure which was my mother tongue. I think that what happened was that I would forget one. As a child you learn a language so fast. When I was going to be sent to my grandmother in Wales aged seven, I didn't know any English. Just before we went, my father and mother were trying to teach us a few words. When we arrived and sat on my grandmother's settee, my poor aunt, who was sixteen, was trying to speak French with us. We constantly forgot a language, my brother and myself, and then learnt it again.


Alice (cropped)Alice. I've noticed that while you always write in English, your poems are often set in the landscapes of South America and France. Does your imagination go there instinctively?


Pascale-petit 2Pascale:  Yes. I lived in London almost all my adult life, and I haven't written a single poem about London that I would put in a collection. I love Paris as a city. I don't love London. It was a great place to live when I was young - if you're trying to become a poet or a sculptor, as I was. I love London's multiculturalism, though.

  Pascale Zoo-Father-cover

Alice (cropped)Alice. In The Zoo Father, which was your breakthrough collection from 2001, in addition to your Amazonian poems about re-meeting your father in Paris, there were also poems about the Midi. Is that area important to you?

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: The Languedoc, and the causses in particular, and the dry stone walls, were my first Amazon.



Pascale Languedoc

Alice (cropped)Alice. I also spent time in the Causse (causses) as a child. There is something about the solitariness of the landscape and the light that is extraordinary.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: My mother bought a vineyard when I was twelve, where we camped in stone huts. It was on a steep slope, so mountainous, just under the Larzac and the Grézac plateau. It was overgrown, very lush, and when we would arrive at the beginning of the summer holiday we'd have to get the scythe out, and cut a path between the two mazets. One was the sleeping mazet and one was the kitchen, at the top, right in the sous-bois. You would walk along the path and these snakes would move in front of you. Then there'd be the lizards and the huge insects. I've been back many times since then. It's now no longer a vineyard, just a patch of wild land, but the insects never seem so big as when I was twelve. Then they seemed absolutely enormous.

Alice (cropped)Alice: I think there's a sort of hyper-realism about how you see things as a teenager. In
The Huntress, the collection which followed in 2005, you explore your Welsh mother in terms of the cave systems of the Languedoc, and you write about excavating painful memories through the medium of beautiful crystals.

Pascale The Huntress


Pascale herault-le-languedoc

Grotte des demoiselles

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: I was haunted by my mother. I loved looking at the Grotte des Demoiselles - the suggested shapes of the stalactites and stalagmites - and the formations of the crystals in the ceiling. I can't help thinking about the inside of a mountain in terms of the inside of my mother. I was living with my grandmother in rural mid-Wales when my mother bought the vineyard. I remember the summer holidays there as being rather exciting and fun, and her being ok. Although she had suffered from mental illness as a child, it was only when I went to live with her when I was thirteen that she became quite mad. The Larzac was also an Eden – where I was scared of her, but not terrified. My next book will return to that area.

Alice (cropped)Alice: The French language can also be a site of memory for you? I'm thinking of 'The Dragonfly Daughter' when you wrote "I know her by her French name, libellule".


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: That's from being in the vineyard with my mother. She spoke French absolutely perfectly. She was completely bilingual. She would have told me what it was called in French. She used to try to keep our French up. We used to have to speak French at meals in Wales. When I went to live with her in Wales at thirteen she would have called things by both their French and English names. The memory is locked in the French word.


Alice (cropped)Alice: There's a terrifying poem in your collection The Huntress called 'Lunettes' where you describe seeing your father's "lunettes" when he came into your girlhood bedroom in Paris. The word unlocks a Pandora's chest of memory. You realize the poem – about the rape of a child - through the progressive dictionary definitions of its meaning.

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: It's almost totally a found poem. Obviously I moved it around and adjusted it.


Pascale Treekeeper_tale

Alice (cropped)Alice: Responding to a more positive element within your French heritage, as someone who originally trained and exhibited as a sculptor, was the Midi a key part in awakening your visual sensibility?
I'm thinking of the poem 'My Larzac Childhood' in The Treekeeper's Tale of 2008, when you remember the "grass-snake-flashing paths" and the "museum of the dragonfly's abdomen". You describe the dragonfly wings as if the light is coming in through museum skylights.

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: I have a thing about glass. I think it was because I was placed in an incubator when I was a baby. I think of my mother in terms of a glass mother because she was very brittle and otherworldly. She was strange to us. I think that brought this obsession with glass to my looking at the glass wings of the dragonfly. I became a visual artist through drawing. It happened when I was deeply unhappy at home in Paris and I would be left in school in the evenings. It was a horrible school. I don't think I was any good at school because of the language. I would draw, and I found I could escape. I had a total facility. I drew submarines in the ocean. It was a way to make an alternative world for myself. Later in Wales I became very good at school, and there was a lot of pressure for me to go to university, but I chose to go to Art School.


Alice (cropped)Alice:  Art can be a place where we are able to realize ourselves if we come from backgrounds which don't allow us to say who we are. We become ourselves in the art that we make and then take that self forward.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: As a child I was deeply withdrawn. In my art I wasn't withdrawn. I was an extrovert in my art.



Alice (cropped)Alice:  Your poems are not shy poems.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: People are often surprised when they meet me because I am so shy and quiet and my poems aren't.



Alice (cropped)Alice: In Fauverie, your last but one collection, you engage with Paris in much more detail. This comes from the time you spent reclaiming the city?


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: I began discovering Paris like a tourist. I fell in love with Notre- Dame. I spent every day going in there. There were also the sparrows outside I could hand-feed. That was such a wonderful draw.


Alice (cropped)
Alice: You had a living, nurturing transaction in the city.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale:  I rented short-term lets in the Latin Quarter as close to the Jardin des Plantes as possible. Usually facing the gate. I would walk in the gardens every day. And discover new things about Paris each time. It was wonderful.


Alice (cropped)Alice: The Fauverie poems are very powerful. Having a creative engagement with a place where you have suffered, and making good work, even if is complex or has difficult themes, gives the work deep roots.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: I did those very pleasurable things, but also went back to the Boulevard de Grenelle, in the 15th arrondissement, where we lived. My father Pascale Grenelle 2 had given me the address. I went there and twice I was let into the cellar where I was locked as a child. I'd had so many dreams about it when I was a child and then a teenager. I made an installation when I was on my BA course – of being in that cellar. In my memory the main feature of this cellar was a window. Afterwards I told myself I must have imagined this because cellars don't have windows. I went into this cellar, and there was a window. It was at the top of the stairs, looking over the courtyard, very high. It was one of those small courtyards which I remember so well as a child. There was the cellar then you went down the steps and there was the earthen floor. It was the most terrifying cellar I've ever seen. The first time I told the concierge why I was coming. He let me in and the light went off and it was terrifying. Every detail comes from that visit.


Alice (cropped)Alice: In Mama Amazonica, your current collection, which was published by Bloodaxe in September 2017, there is a poem 'Square de la Place Dupleix', which takes the reader to the Paris square of chestnut trees and pigeon gods, and then lets them fall back into the "coffining dark" of your childhood.

Place dupleix

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: That poem should have been in Fauverie. Although Mama Amazonica is about the abuse and rape of my mother by my father, at the kernel of it is a sequence of poems about how that trauma also permeated to his children. I really wanted to write about finding this park. I tried on several occasions but I could not find it. Nothing matched my memory. Then I went behind our block and there it was. It was incredible. There was the church. There was the school with the infant school next to it. I had to find my own way to school and back and I always got lost even though it was very close. I remember my mother telling me off, saying "It's just around the corner." I have no sense of left and right. I just went in the wrong direction. I would play in the sand in the square, which I also see as a precursor to being a sculptor, and then the gendarme, who was in his little hut, would put me on a stool, and phone my mother, and say "She's here."

Alice (cropped)Alice: In Mama Amazonica, although many of the poems are based on two recent trips you made to the Amazon, and have vivid Pascale Musee_de_la_Chasse_et_de_la_Nature descriptions of being in the Amazon and the creatures you saw there, there are also more poems about Paris. I was interested in 'Bestiarum' which takes as its starting point Walton Ford's 'Bête du Gévaudan' at the Musée de la Chasse et Nature. It seems to be informed by the French idea of the loup-garou.

Pascale-petit 2Pascale:  The legend is from the Lozère, just above the Languedoc. I discovered the Musée de la Chasse quite late. They have contemporary artists among the permanent displays. It is such a beautifully curated museum. I loved Walton Ford's paintings. There are two poems in Mama Amazonica based on his work. 'When My Mother Became A Boa' comes directly from one of his paintings.

Pascale Walton Ford Boa

Alice (cropped)Alice: The Seine and the Amazon are flowing in and out of each other?


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: In the Musée there are stuffed wolverines, for example. There are lions. They do things in Paris not allowed in the UK. Quite a lot of stuffed animals in shops. The French imagination is much more open to the Amazon. In England, if you write poems about India or Africa, places where there have been colonies, there is more empathy, whereas South America is too removed. Before the day of researching online, I found that Paris had all the ethnographic books I could not get in the UK.

Alice (cropped)Alice: The jaguar is a central beast in Fauverie and Mama Amazonica, but your close encounters with jaguars came in Paris initially?

Pascale jardindeplantes

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: When I used to visit my father, at the end of his life, he was living just by the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes. There was a black jaguar, and a gold female jaguar. They were in very small cages at that point.


Alice (cropped)Alice: You finally saw a jaguar in the wild from a boat on the Amazon, leading to the extraordinary, healing poem, 'The Jaguar' which closes Mama Amazonica.


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: The experience was one of the highlights of my life. I absolutely worship them. I have read everything you could possibly read about the jaguar. When I stayed in Paris I would go to see Aramis the jaguar and Simara, his young girlfriend, every day, not long before closing time. They would feed them, then he would spring into action.

Pascaloe jaguars

Alice (cropped)Alice: One of the pleasures of Mama Amazonica is that you translate the experience of the Amazon into words that make a 5D environment for the reader. Do you think the fact that your mind has had to move through different languages has helped you in the way that you are able to realize yourself as a poet?

Pascale-petit 2Pascale: Thank you for saying that. I do aim to do that. I had never thought of it being to do with the fact that I had to move from language to language when I was a child. I always thought that it was because I was an artist, and I still need to make sculptures in my books, and installations, and environments that people walk into. I need to make them very physical and very real. That is always a tussle with language. Language has to be strong enough to reconstruct the images and sounds and sensory details to surround the reader.

Alice (cropped)Alice: Finally, I know you're deeply engaged in judging. You've just judged the Manchester Poetry Prize. You're judging the National Poetry Competition. But what lies beyond this in 2018 in terms of plans for your own works?


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: I have a project on the go. I think all that I would say is that one of the main themes is foreign-ness. It partly comes out of Brexit. It's partly because I had to get British nationality. It partly comes out of my Welsh grandmother, who brought me up. She was born in India. She was half Indian but it was a family secret. It's hard to get any facts at all about this because it's very covered up. But those are my plans for this year.

Alice (cropped)Alice: And I gather there will be a French translation of Fauverie in 2018?
Pascale valerie_rouzeau_220x500


Pascale-petit 2Pascale: Yes Valérie Rouzeau, an absolutely wonderful poet, the ideal translator, has translated Fauverie and it will soon be sent out to the publisher.



This interview was conducted in January 2018.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici. Traduction Nadine Gassie.


Interview with Andrew Leigh - British wordsmith (and translator)

Andrew Leigh, a British translator specializes in legal and commercial translations from Spanish and from French into English. Andrew owns Allegro Legal Translations, based in Sheffield, south Yorkshire. Our faithful correspondent, Cynthia Hazelton, like Andrew, holds a law degree and works as a professional legal translator. Cindy also teaches French-English legal translation at Kent State University. The interview was conducted between Cleveland, Ohio, USA and Sheffield, England.


Andrew Leigh, LL.B.


         Cynthia Hazelton, D. Jur.


(population 550,000)


(population 400,000)

Cynthia Hazelton : Please tell our readers the trajectory of your career as a translator.

Andrew Leigh : I suppose I took a typical path to a translation career.  I was good at languages in secondary school and took my first degree in languages at the University of Salford.  I continued my education at the University of Westminster in London where I earned an M.A. in Translation in 1999. Immediately after graduation, I found a job as an in-house translator at an agency in London.  I worked there for three years.  It was a wonderful way to get started in translation.  I worked on all types of translations, and my senior colleagues edited my work. I learned by actually doing translations in a very supportive atmosphere.  At that time, I wasn’t specializing in any one field.  I did medical, technical, accounting and business translations.  I decided that it would be best to specialize in one field, and I enjoyed the law very much.  That’s when I started to take more legal work.

In 2003 I moved to Sheffield and set myself up as a freelance legal translator.  I soon realized that to be a good legal translator, I needed some background in law.  I translated during the day and went to law school at night for 5 years.  We had two children during this time, so my life was very busy.

When I received my law degree, I established my business as Allegro Legal Translations.

I work for private individuals, corporations, law firms and translation agencies.  I enjoy working for different types of clients.

C.H.: Because you specialize in legal translations (from French to English and from Spanish to English), this puts you in the field of “jurilinguistics."  This means that you have to bridge two languages and two legal systems at the same time. You have to convey in the target text, for example, a concept in French law which may be foreign to your British or American client. How do you prepare yourself to translate between the Civil and Common Law systems?

A.L.Well, this is what I do every day.  This is where having a law degree comes into play.  Having a solid understanding of both the Civil and Common law systems gives me an appreciation of both systems.  For example, when I have to translate the name of a court, such as the Conseil des Prud’hommes, which has no equivalent in Common Law, I understand how to explain it in English.

C.H.Can you give us an example of a legal concept that exists in one system but not in the other?

A.L.The Common Law concept of « trust » doesn’t exist in Civil Law.   And the Civil Law concept of “réserve héreditaire” doesn’t exist in Common Law.   Here you have to ask yourself who is the client.  If this translation is for a private client, I will have to expand on the translation and explain the concept.  If it’s for a lawyer, particularly one who deals with French law, I can leave the term in French or translate it, but without explanation.

C.H.: Much has been written and spoken about Machine Translation. The NY Times and the Economist have recently carried articles about the great progress that Google has made in this field. Have you already felt the effects of MT in your business?

A.L.No, I haven’t experienced any change in my business.  The volume has not changed and I’m still translating the same kind of documents.  I haven’t been asked to do post-editing of a MT document.


C.H.Do you think human translators will become redundant?

A.L.The role of human translators will probably change, but I don’t think we will ever become redundant.  There will always be a need for a human translator, somewhere along in the translation process.  As an example, I was translating a document recently and arrived at a word in the source text that made no sense in the context, even though it was a correct word in the source language.  I finally realized that it had been misspelled.  The properly-spelled word made perfect sense.  A machine couldn’t have done that.  It required a human translator to catch the error.

I recently saw a quote about this topic:  “Machine translation will only be a threat to people who translate like machines.“

C.H.: How will Brexit, once it has taken place, affect the tendency of Brits to work and live abroad, and will it have an effect the motivation of the younger generation to study European languages?

A.L.Translators are generally broad-minded.  A recent survey of British translators showed that around 95% of them favored staying in the EU. I’m sure Brexit will result in a loss of opportunities.  I took part in the Erasmus program, and studied in France and Spain.  Brexit will affect the freedom of movement to live and work in another country.  Translators will have to apply for visas and work permits.   There will be barriers to integration.

In the UK, it’s no longer compulsory to study a foreign language throughout high school.  I’m afraid that Brexit will increase the number of students who never learn another language.

C.H.Here in the USA, tremendous resources are devoted to providing translating and interpreting services at the local, State and Federal level. For example, the written driving texts are available in some States in a variety of languages.

Do you believe that such a policy serves or harms the immigrants who need to acquire a good command of English in their adopted countries, such as the UK and the USA?

A.L.In the U.K., many governmental administrative documents are translated into ethnic minority languages, such as Urdu, Pashtun and Arabic, but they are not often translated into the major European languages like French, Spanish, Italian, etc. In Wales, documents like election ballots are printed in both Welsh and English. I believe that all citizens have the right to access public services in a language that they can understand.

Language is just one part of the integration conundrum.  True integration also requires social, cultural, educational and economic equality of opportunity.

C.H.:We live in a world where automation is taking away jobs in many fields. You have done some webinars.  Do you foresee the webinar or the video conference as reducing the staff required by a university to replace conventional lectures or even international conferences?

A.L.The webinars I’ve given have involved law or the business of translation. Here in the UK, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting runs a very successful online course called  Setting up as a Freelance Translator, which covers 8 modules such as Breaking the No Experience Barrier, Using Social Media, Writing a Business Plan and Invoicing.  My module is Getting Paid on Time.

I have also given webinars for eCPD Webinars. My most recent ones were on the subject of EU law.

Webinars allow people from all over the world to log on and learn new things.  I don’t see webinars replacing universities or international conferences, though.

C.H.What is your greatest challenge in legal translation?

A.L.I never know what‘s coming next, what I will be translating from one job to the next.  This makes my job interesting.  To be a good translator, you have to have intellectual curiosity because you’ll be doing a lot of research. Translation requires more than just putting words down on paper.  It requires having a wide breadth of knowledge about the topic.

C.H.: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A.L.It’s very important to keep working on your core translation skills.  Success in translation comes more from one’s abilities than from having a flashy website or a strong presence on social media. 


[1] Les Traditions Juridiques du Droit Civil et de la Common Law

This interview was conducted in March 2017