Interview with American wordsmith and translator Sharlee Bradley

Sharlee BradleyUpon the occasion of the recent retirement at 90 years of age of translator Sharlee Merner Bradley, after a long and fruitful career, we reproduce here an interview, the English original of which was published in Translorial, the journal of the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA). We present this abridged translation with the kind permission of Sharlee and of Translorial.

Question: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Answer: I was born in Toronto,  but I was 10 when my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, the first of a number of crossings of North America by train.

Question: How did you learn foreign languages?

A: My parents encouraged their children to learn French because it was the universal language, which seems old-fashioned today. French was taught beginning in the second year of junior high school in California. Latin was taught starting the first year of high school. So I had five years of French and four years of Latin before university.

During the Second World War, when the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, my mother told me how great it would be to become an interpreter for the United Nations. But that was never my goal. Rather, I had fun translating any literary or other works I studied at school.

Place des Nations Unis

In college, I took another year of Latin and continued on with French. I studied French each year until I received my doctorate at age 34. During my studies, I had to learn German and another Romance language: I chose Italian. My first paid translation job, offered by my professor, was to translate into Italian (!) an insurance survey. To reward myself, I went out and bought a gold bracelet as soon as I was paid.

I taught French in high school for for a few years, then snagged a Fulbright scholarship to study in France at the Sorbonne. That year plus two-years residing in Lausanne have been my only experience in a francophone country. But, one day in Lausanne, I received a phone call from the United Nations in Geneva, saying they had my name from the New York United Nations office (my thesis director had sent me to the UN in New York, where I passed the French exam). This was during the negotiations by the Kennedy administration on trade for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, and Geneva needed more translators. The “fascinating” subject I was assigned was the standardization of pallets for storing and shipping merchandise.

Spanish became my dominant spoken foreign language. I never studied it formally, but when we moved to the Canary Islands, I did exercises in a Spanish grammar book by myself. I was arrogant enough to believe that I was an expert in Romance languages because I had taught French for five years at the secondary level and two years at university. Since I was mother of an infant, I spent hours memorizing irregular verbs and repeating conversations I had heard while out of the house.

Canary Islands

How we ended up in the Canary Islands is a long story. In short, my husband, who subsequently died while we were living there, wanted to retire early. Since we weren’t wealthy, we went to the local library to research a place in the world with a mild climate, a language easy to learn and low cost of living. Believe it or not, we found a book entitled You Can Live Cheaply in the Canaries by Peggy True. The book convinced us and we left with our baby daughter, automobile, all our books and furniture without even making a trial visit, to spend the rest of our lives there; at least, that was the plan.

The thirteen years I spent in Spain seemed to have affected the French I had studied for 21 years and even my English; but upon my return to the United States, I began to receive requests to translate from French. Now, many years have passed and I translate equally well from Spanish or French.

Q: What did you do at university?

 A: BerkleyI received a scholarship to Vassar College. I took night classes at the University of California, Berkeley, towards a master’s while teaching at high school during the day; I was also librarian there. I was admitted to several honor societies, including Pi Delta Phi, promoting French language and culture.

I moved to Philadelphia with my husband and received a doctorate in Romance Languages from the University of Dictionary  Pennsylvania. Since my thesis advisor was preparing a dictionary at the time (University of Chicago Spanish-English Dictionary, highly regarded at the time), I wrote my thesis on lexicographical problems in monolingual French dictionaries, analyzing Littré, Larousse and Dauzat in detail.

University policy was that all courses in the first cycle ( graduate courses, not first cycle]) had to be taught in English. When a visiting French professor whose accent rendered the content of a linguistics course incomprehensible, we petitioned the department to allow him to speak French, but we were refused!

Q: Have you traveled abroad?

A: Yes, mostly in Europe. But also in Russia (a cruise from Saint Petersburg to Lake Ladoga, the Svir River and Lake Onega[)]; in China (a five-week trip) and in the South Pacific (two months on Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands). I once cruised the Amazon River and have often visited Mexico to play tennis.

One year, I learned a few words of Turkish when visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia and sailing and hiking along the south coast of Turkey. During another trip, I did a literary tour in south and southeast England and I stayed with a friend near Toulon, in France.

Q: How did you start translating? How long have you been a translator?

A: I received my first job through my Italian professor. Later, when I was professor at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, I did Seal_of_University_of_La_Laguna many translations for the Department of Physical Chemistry, not because I wanted work, but simply because I was there and I spoke English. The professors knew sufficient English in their field to understand technical articles, but when they attended symposiums and conferences, they couldn’t converse in English. I gave them English conversation classes during our lunch hour. Subsequently, they gave me monographs and articles to translate into English for presentations and for publication in foreign journals.

Q: Are you also an interpreter? For whom do you interpret?

A: Upon returning to the United States, since I spoke Spanish fluently, I offered to become a guide at the Philadelphia tourist information office. After learning the history of the city, I served as a guide for many Spanish tourists; I showed them the most traditional American historic monuments.

One day, the tourist office called me to say they needed an interpreter for Federal court since the regular interpreter was not available. Was I available? Even though I had never interpreted, I bravely responded that I would go and I did a good job, even though I could have done better.

ArizonaLater, after studying interpretation at the well known University of Arizona program, I was able to interpret almost anything asked of me and remain neutral. For several years I interpreted for the Marin County Health Clinic for Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal. Many were in a difficult situation, but some tried to take advantage of a system that would help them, even when they were able to speak for themselves. Thanks to my training, I could interpret impartially.

I also interpreted for the Parole Revocation Hearing Board at San Quentin prison, for the San Francisco Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Education in Fresno, the Labor Relations Board in Sacramento, for doctors, attorneys, insurance companies and more.

Subsequently, after ceasing interpretation for two years to care for my second husband when he was terminally ill, I stopped interpreting and for twenty years have done translation, exclusively.

Q: What problems (and possible solutions) did you run into during your career as a translator?

A: Internet access has solved many research problems. I no longer feel so isolated from a great university library as I have been. Now I am donating my dictionaries, a few CDs, reference books, etc.

I work with two monitors. I can consult my terminologies on one while translating on the other. I put the source language on one and the target language on the other except when using translation software. My preferred is Wordfast.

Managing my terminologies was always a priority. After each job, I entered the new terms; then the next time I needed one, I opened the glossary on the other screen while I translated.

I have done a number of projects using machine translation. The best were for the Pan American Health Organization. They created their own program with many shortcuts to make common corrections, such as substituting two nouns for a prepositional phrase.


Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with your professional activity? TWB

A: No, because last December at age 90 I decided that it was time to close up shop. But since I cannot completely cease translation, I still volunteer with Translators Without Borders. I also play tennis four times a week.


Tennis academic Sharlee tennis

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici

Interview with Serbian wordsmith, attorney, library curator, author, story-teller and tourist guide Viktor Lazić


Viktor cropped

Jonathan blue shirt snipped

Viktor Lazić


Jonathan G.

conducted by Skype between Los Angeles and Belgrade

  Lazik - LA - Belgrade  


JG: Before we speak about the two incredible family libraries that have been in your family for 9 generations, (and which now also serve as museums) would you introduce yourself?

VL: I am 35 years old. I live in Belgrade.  Previously I had a translation agency. (I am still a member of the Serbian Union of Scientific and Technical Translators.) I speak English, German and Russian and of course my mother tongue, Serbian. Today I am a practicing lawyer, specializing in corporate law and the restitution to their former owners of properties confiscated by the Communist regime.  I am currently working on a doctorate degree in the field of Chinese law: "Confucianism and Legalism as the dominant schools of Chinese law".

JG: You are also an author.

VL: In addition to my law practice, my academic pursuits, my extensive travels (to 90 countries on six continents), and my work in running the museums, I am a member of the Association of Writers of Serbia and a licensed tour guide. It has been my family tradition for many generations to have multiple degrees and professions. It has been used as a safeguard against the instability of life in the Balkans.

JG: Which books have your written?

VL: Lazik - book coverI have written 6 books and about 1000 articles in Serbian, mostly about travel, but also history. In my book, "The Great Adventure.", translated into 6 languages, I describe my journey of 421 days made in 2009/2010. I went from Kosovo to the North Cape of Africa and continued to Russia, then on to North Korea and Australia, and then I drove back to Serbia from Vladivostok, crossing the Gobi Desert on my own. Particular media attention in the Balkans was drawn by my description of the life of pirates in Malacca Straits, life of believers of sects of the self-proclaimed Jesus, Vizarion, in Siberia, and the life of ex-cannibal tribes and matriarchal tribes in Indonesia.  

JG: Where did you acquire your excellent command of English?

VL: I spent several months every year visiting an aunt in London. When I was 14, my country was at war and my city was very badly bombed. In the course of the bombing, my home was damaged, and my parents decided to send me to my aunt. After the horrible, 10-day ordeal of leaving Belgrade on which bombs were raining down, crossing a bridge that was bombarded only minutes later and dealing with unfriendly Hungarian officials on the other side, I arrived in London and stayed there for 5 months.

JG: Your love of books began at a very early age.

VL: I began writing poetry at the age of 6 years. At 8, I made an inventory of the family library, and at 12 I had 2000 books in my bedroom. Since childhood I dreamed of continuing the family tradition by creating an institution to maintain and expand the library, something that my family already tried to achieve before. I realized then that there were many family friends, famous writers and families owning large libraries and archives, who no longer had trust in state institutions but at the same time had no place to store their collections and needed to entrust their treasures in a safe place.


  Lazik surrounded by books  
  Viktor Lazić = bibliophile par excellence  

JG: Moving on to the collection of books that were handed down from generation to generation in your family, and the owner of which is now a cultural foundation [1] of which you are the President, tell our readers about its current situation, and we can then talk about its fascinating history, and about some of the unusual items in it.

VL: We estimate that the collection contains at least one million books. The collection serves both as a library and museum – divided into two parts, one containing books of Serbian literature and the other books, manuscripts, typewriters, etc. from all over the world. Most of the books are offered for reference purposes only and may only be read in situ in our reading room. At the moment capacity of the reading room is only 8 people but we plan to expand its capacity to 60 readers soon. But to a large extent, it is a museum, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The intake of books, which are often donated from other libraries that are closing or from individual collections, is about 5000 per week. Many of the books donated are not suitable, and we give them to other libraries.

JG: Are the visitors mostly librarians or scholars?

VL: No, many groups of children visit us, and it is our educational aim to open their eyes to books of many kinds, from far-off places, as well as other items of interest. It is an exciting way to spread knowledge, love and tolerance. But many experts from all over the world also come to use our material. Just recently we allowed researchers from Humboldt University (Berlin) to use one of our archives.

  Lazik (AO1)  


JG: The collection contains not only traditional paper books, but those written on bamboo sticks, silk and sheep fetuses or made of elephant excrement. Could you explain how and why these unusual materials are used for “books”.

VL: One of our aims is to showcase the history and richness of the world. This is why we brought books from all over the world, especially trying to obtain unusual books that bear witness to the diversity of the human mind. For example, we have books made on rice paper so that they can be eaten if the reader is hungry! These were traditionally done in China, where fear of hunger is deeply rooted in people’s minds. Or books from Thailand, created from the dung of elephants that Thai people still sometimes keep as pets at home! … Or tribal books on palm or banana leaves. We even have books with covers made of what were probably human bones…

Lazik - typewriter cropped
Lazik - Rare_books_and_artifacts _Adligat _Belgrade

Books are just the beginning. Typewriters and other literary objects are part of the collection too. MOMIR ALVIROVIC / COURTESY ADLIGAT 

You have a manuscript signed by Napoleon Bonaparte.  What is the story behind this item?

VL: I was in Parma, Italy, last year with an old friend of mine, a French woman from a noble family. We visited a museum dedicated to Marie Louise, Napoleon’s wife. My friend asked me what object in the museum my first choice would be to add to the museum’s collection. There were original Napoleonic objects around us, and I expressed my admiration of Napoleon, and of his famous Code, in particular, as I am a lawyer too. I stated that it would have been so amazing if we ever obtained any object related directly to Napoleon… After only a few months this lady found an original Napoleonic document and donated it to us, but she insisted on remaining anonymous. Behind the document is the story of Bernard Radelski, a Slavic soldier, either Russian or Polish, who most probably deserted the Russian army. We can only assume this, as the document states that he was a member of French military but belonged to the special unit comprised of ex-enemy soldiers, either war prisoners or deserters. Obviously that man did not like war, because he ran away from the French army too! Lazik - CambaceresUnfortunately, he was caught, tried and sentenced to 16 years with a prison stone tied to his leg, and he was ordered to pay a huge fine... Later the Emperor pardons him. The original document containing the pardon joined our collection. One interesting facet of the story is that the pardon reveals how bureaucratic the French state structure was, because even this simple pardon had to be signed not only by the Emperor, but also by his Ministers and Chief of Cabinet... So we have three more signatures on the document, those of Jean Jacques Régis de CAMBACERES, Hugues Bernard MARET and Claude Ambroise REGNIER – all of them extremely important people in their time. Mr Regis de Cambaceres is actually the real author of Napoleon Code, and he presided over the special commission that created the final version of the Code!

JG: Which other signatures do you have of famous Frenchmen?

VL: Our collection of books in French language and about France has more than 300.000 titles! French Revolution and French culture had significant impact on Serbia, and we are proud of this connection. Our First World War collection is especially important and has a strong connection to France. Of great significance are four documents signed by French kings - Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI. This collection was bought for us by one donor, but it has not yet arrived in Serbia. We are also proud to have a small collection of Jacques Prevert signed editions and photographs, a donation by the famous Serbian journalist Kosta Dimitrijevic, who actually met Mr. Prevert and interviewed him.

JG: You also have the handwritten letters of Nikola Tesla, the iconic Serbo-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and futurist, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC), electricity supply system. What are the contents of these letters?

VL: Tesla PupinaMihajlo Pupin, like Tesla, was a Serbian-American inventor, and holder of the Pulitzer prize, one of the most important American inventors of the 20th century, thanks to whom the phone and radar became useful instruments. Both lived in the USA. Tesla’s letters to the General Consul of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in New York, written three months before Pupin’s death, express great concern for Pupin’s poor health, rebutting previous rumors about their hostility. The relationship between those two giants is very important in the history of science and especially for Serbia. in 20 countries, in 10 languages (including the New York Times and the Washington Post). [2]


JG: The book collection was started by your ancestor in 1720 and opened to the public in 1882. It has undergone the vicissitudes of two world wars and many upheavals in Serbia and elsewhere. The stories you tell about some of these events could fill a book. In fact, you have agreed to write an article for us containing the story of how the library was tended for more than 50 years by your illiterate grandmother, who, in her old age, designated you as its heir. For present purposes please relate the efforts made by your great grandfather to save books during WW1.

VL: My great-grandfather Luka Lazic (1876-1946) was a true book lover. He spent most of his time reading or visiting the library that his father had opened to the public by in 1882. In 1908-1910 Luka Lazic took over the library. The family lived in small northern Serbian town, Kumane, which was then in the territory of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, and he was conscripted to the reserve troops of the Austrian army. Once Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, he would have had to fight against his own nation. So he decided to run away, to

Lazik - emperor
The entry of Emperor Francois-Joseph into Belgrade, by Frederic de Haenen, 1914

overtly cross the wide Danube river, and to join the Serbian troops. But he was concerned about the fate of the books back home, afraid that some Austrian officials or military personal might enter his home and destroy or remove them. So he asked his wife Marta to stitch his favorite, most valuable books into his jacket. The jacket was a very thick Hessian fabric, with a thick layer of sheep wool, which was perfect for putting objects inside it, and he chose 6 books to be stitched into the jacket. But he could not have known what awaited him. When Serbia was attacked from all sides at the end of 1915, the Serbian Command decided not to surrender, but instead to retreat in the middle of winter through the Albian mountains, in some of the highest, most unfriendly European territory, hoping to reach the Adriatic coast and be rescued by Allied ships. Many civilians joined the retreating Serbian army, fearing enemy revenge. Most of the 1.1 million Serbian victims of the WW1 died in this ordeal, considered to be one of the worst tragedies of this war, particularly for the Serbs. [3] Luka marched for hundreds of kilometers, through snowy mountains, fighting the enemy and withstanding the wind and cold, until he arrived at the Duress swamp more dead than alive. When allies sent ships to transfer the remaining Serbian soldiers to the Greek island of Corfu, a new drama awaited Luka – he boarded a ship that was soon hit by torpedo. He survived but had to jump into water to save a friend. Only one book survived this incident. However, what is even more

Lazik - digitized newspapers
These rare Serbian newspapers from World War I are among the works digitized by the Belgrade University Library, under a grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. MOMIR ALVIROVIC / COURTESY ADLIGAT

incredible is that once Luka arrived in Corfu, he continued to collect books… Our books and other materials published during the war that the soldiers were reading while waiting to fight, or even during fighting, are exceptionally rare. We received a grant from the British Library (in cooperation with the Svetozar Markovic University Library) to digitalize the collection under the world program designated for Endangered Libraries and Archive. Digitalization.

JG: To end this interview, I would like to quote Adam Sofronijevic, of the Belgrade University Library, who said about your museum. “These stories are fascinating. They tell us a lot about Serbian society and culture,” It is a story of book-loving, book-keeping, and extraordinary enthusiasm.” Moreover, your uncle Milorad Vlahovic has said “This is in Viktor’s blood,” “He was always obsessed with the collection. We are happy and proud that he has done this for the library, for the family, for the country.”

VL: I wanted to build a safe haven—a place where people of culture could entrust what’s valuable to them. My success is due to the fact that people trust me and my project as evidenced by the fact that 40 persons have donated their entire legacies of books, documents and cultural objects, while more than 300 donated their libraries in whole or in part. Support from State institutions has also been remarkable, and it demonstrates recognition of the fact that we are in a better position than the State to maintain this important project It is the fruit of work invested by nine generations of my family, and important to the nation. We hope to preserve it for many years to come.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

[1] ADLIGAT Society for Culture, Art and International Cooperation
Museum of Serbian Literature Book and Travel Museum 
Josipa Slavenskog 19a, 11.040 Belgrade – Banjica, Republic of Serbia 
+381 11 36 72 807+381 63 360 218 +381 63 88 54 927
[email protected]


[3] Richard C. Hall (2014). War in the Balkans: An Encyclopedic History from the Fall of the Ottoman Empire to the Breakup of Yugoslavia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-61069-031-7.

Interview with The Hulse/Rozenblum family – San Francisco linguists


Hulse family cropped

Francisco and Merav, our guest linguists of the month, live in San Francisco. I have known them for many years and seen at first hand their skills as professional translators (Spanish-Hebrew-English), as well as the trilingual skills of their son Adriel. I had one such opportunity when Francisco and I attended an interpreting conference in Los Angeles, and on our way to and from it on the underground railway, we discussed the anglicized Spanish directions emanating from the loudspeaker system. (Plataforma instead of andén).

As explained in the interview, the influence of Spanish on the couple was strong, despite the fact that Francisco was born in the USA and Merav in Israel. Having chosen careers in languages, they made a point of ensuring that their son would be trilingual, with his father speaking to him in Spanish and his mother in Hebrew. Adriel, now 13 years old, is schooled in English and Spanish.

Questions for Merav:


Q: What family influences did you have on your interest in languages?

A: While neither of my parents is a linguist, my parents grew up in the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, and as kids were fluent in Yiddish in addition to Spanish, and later Hebrew, too. One of my mom's cousins and her husband (both now deceased) ended up in Los Angeles in the seventies, and both worked as court interpreters (Spanish and German into English).

Q: How did you acquire a command of spoken Spanish and English while growing up in Israel?

A: I grew up in Israel, in a small, tight community (a Kibbutz) of immigrants from Argentina. The adults never spoke Spanish to us, kids, - it was against the norms and the ideology of the time - but spoke it among themselves. When I was four, my beloved granny came to visit from Argentina and stayed with us for a few months. She could only speak Spanish to me, and to everyone's wonder, I replied to her and soon became fluent. I started taking English, like all Israeli school kids, in 3rd grade and had always loved it and was good at it.

Q: How did you use your basic knowledge of Spanish and English in your academic studies?

A: I earned my BA in English and Spanish Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, thus perfecting my command of both languages further. In fact, that was the first time I studied Spanish in a classroom setting. I studied at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain, for a year, and upon my return to Israel decided that I wanted to become a translator. The Translators and Interpreters School at the Bar Ilan University decided not to open a Spanish-Hebrew program that year, so I was given a special opportunity to join the English-Hebrew program. I graduated three years later with a translation/interpretation certificate summa cum laude from both programs, as well as a Masters in English Literature.

Q: How were you able to maintain your command of Hebrew for professional purposes?

A: I was trained as a Hebrew-as-a-second-language teacher, thinking it could land me a nice summer job. Almost thirty years later, I still teach it. I still consider Hebrew my first language: I read mostly in Hebrew, translate only into Hebrew, and try to immerse myself in all Hebrew media.

Q: As a contract interpreter and translator for the US State Department, you have translated and/or interpreted for more than one high government official. I interpreted President Obama three times, I believe: the speech that he gave in Jerusalem in front of students during his visit in 2013; at the White House when he had President Abbas, President Mubarak, King Abdullah and P.M. Netanyahu for dinner in 2010; and at the State Department in 2011.

A: I was on the translation team of Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, and Trump's Riyadh and Jerusalem speeches in 2017. I also interpreted at the Annapolis Peace Conference in 2007 and at some high-profile federal court hearings in the year following the Patriot Act.

Q: Do you have a problem translating for President Trump, despite your personal opinion of him?

A: When it comes to my principles, I would feel better translating for a president that did not offend about half of the American people. But when I work, this should not be reflected in anything that I do.

 Questions for Francisco:


Q: How did you acquire your high skills as a Spanish-English translator and interpreter, having been born in the USA?

A: My father, Lloyd Kermit Hulse, was born in rural Oregon during the depression, to anglophone parents. At age 12 he started to teach himself Spanish from books. The history of the conquistadores was the draw. He studied Spanish in high school, then at Mexico City College. After his first marriage to a Mexican American, his fluency scored him a job as the Latin-American sales representative for a California company. During those travels he met my mother, a native of El Salvador.

Despite having landowning- and thus (nominally) aristocratic parents, the early death of her father forced her mother to work outside the home (as a seamstress), something foreign to a woman of her (former) social station. Thus, my mother didn’t finish secondary school, going to work in her mid-teens as a secretary and personal assistant at a local newspaper to help support the family. When she met my father at age 23, her immersion in local journalism had whetted her appetite for the world of letters, albeit without much study in English.

The couple soon moved to La Grande, Oregon, where my mother quickly acquired English while my father taught Spanish in the local high school. He then became an associate professor at Lewis & Clark College. A masters and a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati followed. The newly-minted Doctor moved his family back to Portland and continued teaching at Lewis & Clark as a tenured full professor, until retirement.

He led several exchange programs to Latin America, family in tow. During the 1977-1978 school year, he taught Spanish at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. That year I quickly learned German, then forgot it even more quickly upon our return.

Save for these few years abroad, I was raised almost exclusively in the U.S. With no Spanish-speaking classmates in elementary and a handful in high school, the island of Spanish immersion at home was almost all of my exposure. My parents always spoke Spanish to us whenever courtesy didn’t require switching to English for English-speakers to be included.

Q: What was your own study path?

A: I studied mathematics at Lewis & Clark. I tested out of the foreign-language requirement, placing into 3rd-year French (thanks to 3 years of study of the language in high school, where I was generally the star pupil, plus a month-long homestay in France immediately before the test). I used the resulting available credit-hours to take music and art classes.

A year of poorly paid “McJobs” after college did not quell the growing desire to study music. So off I went to Mills College in Oakland for a masters, where I ran up the exorbitant debt I’d avoided as an undergrad (by the simple accident of birth: being a faculty brat). With my coursework complete and my concert given, all that was left to do to finish the graduate degree was write my thesis (about my concert compositions), but meningitis sidelined me before I could even begin it.

Now it was time to get a job. I spent a year as a substitute teacher, another as a teacher of math and science at a continuation school, and a third as a math teacher at a middle school. This last one was the turning point, for three reasons: I realized that staying in the teaching profession would make me a curmudgeon long before my time; during that year, I taught half of my classes in Spanish; I served as an impromptu interpreter for other teachers at their meetings with parents of our students.

In the autumn of that year (1995), as I contemplated a new career, the experiences garnered from my last year of teaching gave me the confidence to volunteer as an interpreter at San Francisco General Hospital.

I immediately put the volunteering on my résumé and sent that rather thin C.V. to every interpreting-&- translation agency in the Yellow Pages. The bottom feeders among them scooped me right up. Ever the autodidact, I improved and moved progressively up the ladder, landing better clients and joining the rosters of tonier agencies. Finally, in late 2010, largely at the insistence of my wife, I knuckled down and studied seriously for the court-interpreting exam. I passed it in early 2011.

This story would not be complete without mentioning my great friend Omar, who is my wife’s second cousin, and the one who introduced us. I met this friendly Argentinean in 1993. His unwavering friendship through hours, days, weeks, months and years of dialogue, discussion, disagreements, and didactic debate, coupled with his generosity in correcting my piss-poor spelling in Spanish as I wrote practice essays for the CBEST (an entrance exam for teachers) rounded the rough edges off my virtual illiteracy in Spanish.

Q: From the day Adriel was born, Merav has spoken to him in Hebrew, and you have spoken to him in Spanish, while he has absorbed most of his English from the outside world. What other efforts have been made to make him truly trilingual?

A: Witnessing the transferability of literacy from one language to another is one of the many joys I’ve had as a parent. He’s 13 and has yet to stage the common rebellion of answering back in English. He’s proud of being trilingual. So far, so good. He’s had Spanish-speaking classmates since preschool, and he attends a K-8 dual-immersion bilingual school.

When he began kindergarten, Adriel’s reading and writing in Spanish sprinted ahead, followed quickly by English. His literacy in Hebrew (with a different alphabet and thus a predictably higher bar to entry) lags behind, to this day. However, this is one extracurricular I insist on: daily reading and writing in Hebrew.

Meanwhile, my French has rusted solid, and my Hebrew advances more slowly than the peace process with the Palestinians. Still, I managed to outdo my old man in one respect: my kid is trilingual, and tri-literate.

Question for Adriel


Q: Having lived in a trilingual family, and having had to speak with your parents in two foreign languages, and with your schoolmates and friends in English, is this something you would recommend to other multilingual parents for the benefit of their children?

A: I think I would recommend to multilingual parents that they teach their children multiple languages. Even though it can be hard for kids to remain proficient in the various languages they’re expected to know, it will help them in the long term develop language skills and be able to learn faster. Or for example, if the parents are traveling to their home country with their child, not only would the child be able to communicate fluently with the locals, but they could also practice their speaking skills in the language that is spoken there (assuming they have been taught that language). I myself have been mistaken for an Israeli kid when on vacation in Israel because I can speak Hebrew like a native speaker, which I owe to my mom teaching me the language at a young age.

Additional reading:

Trumps’s Hebrew Translator says she was happier working for Obama

The Times of Israel, 30.5.2017

Imaginary interview with Scots translator Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff



Jean Findlay (Moncrieff)



       Jean Findlay  
   - the interviewer


    Charles Kenneth
      Scott Moncrieff
      - the interviewee

Jean Findlay was born in Edinburgh. She studied Law and French at Edinburgh University and Theatre under Tadeusz Kantor in Kracow, Poland. She co-founded an award -winning theatre company and wrote and produced plays which toured to London, Berlin, Bonn, Rotterdam, Dublin, Glasgow and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. She spent years in London writing drama and book reviews for the Scotsman, and has written for the IndependentTime Out and the Guardian. She now lives in Edinburgh with her husband and three children.She founded and runs a publishing house called Scotland Street Press. . She is the great-great-niece of CK Scott Moncrieff.

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930)  is still known as ‘the man who translated Proust’.  Appropriately, the British prize for translation from French is known as the ‘Scott Moncrieff Prize’.[1] Jean Findlay, his great-great-niece, has written his biography, Chasing Lost Time, in which she shows the development of the translator going back to early childhood but also paints a warm picture of the full man: the soldier who retained his belief in the nobility of war despite witnessing and suffering from the effects of prolonged engagement in the trenches, the active homosexual at a time when an ‘act of gross indecency’ was a criminal offense, the fervent Catholic convert, the man who was at the centre of literary life in 1920s London and the spy sent to Mussolini’s Italy. Jean kindly agreed to conduct the imaginary interview that follows for the benefit of our readers.


JF:   Good afternoon, if we are in the same time-zone.

CKSM: I can do any time-zone you like, good day to you too.


JF:  I hope you don’t mind this intrusion into your celestial repose, but we down here need some input, some ancient wisdom.

CKSM:  Well, I learnt ancient wisdom just as easily you can.  I memorized Milton’s Ode on a Christmas Morning age five.  I studied Greek and Latin at seven.  I earned a scholarship at 13 to Winchester School for my translation of Ovid.  It is all about hard work and the dedication of the mother.


JF: Your mother was quite a nurturing soul. She read you the classics all through early childhood.

CKSM: Yes, I was familiar with Ruskin and his ideas at an early age, which helped me understand Proust later on.


JF:  We’ll come to that, but let’s go back to your mother.  She was a writer herself wasn’t she?

CKSM:  Yes, she wrote regular columns for Sunday newspapers and contributed short stories to Blackwood’s magazine.  She earned enough to pay for her youngest sister to go through University.

JF:  Your father was a lawyer.

CKSM: A judge on the criminal bench, or a Sheriff as it is still called in Scotland.


JF:  And you were expected to follow your father’s shoes into law?

CKSM:  I did study Law at Edinburgh University, but then won a bursary to study a further degree in English, specializing in Anglo Saxon.  That all helped me translate Beowulf, Wisdsith, Finnsburgh, Waldere, and Deor, [2] which was published in 1921.

JF: By that time you had come through the First World War

CKSM: Yes, Beowulf [3] was some kind of warrior’s catharsis. As were my poems in the New Witness and reviews and the funny war serial which tried to see the lighter side of it all. It was hell of course, but I always tried to see the poetry, the camaraderie, the humour.  The letters to my mother were not descriptions of gore, they couldn’t be, they detailed the animals I found, the French people I met, the good times that were had with fellow soldiers.  


JF: You made good friends during the war and you fell in love.

CKSM:  Ha, yes, of course that is what I am famous for.  Falling in love is a fine thing to be famous for. It was a momentous yet subtle, Moncrieff wilfred-owentender love and one that still holds a mystery a hundred years later.  I am proud of that. There was a whole BBC World Service programme on Armistice Day 2019 just about my love for Wilfred Owen. I met him at the wedding of Robert Graves in January 1918 and he was a shy, reticent unknown poet, whose hair was already Moncrieff Robert Graves shot with white in his early twenties. You should not send poets to war, and I had two years before helped secure a home posting for Robert Graves. I tried to do that for Owen, but men were in shorter supply in that last summer of the war.  Too many had been wiped out.  We met often to discuss poetry. I was translating The Chanson de Roland and extolling the way that French poetry does assonance and consonance and Wilfred was experimenting with these in English. It was a hot, weary time with London full of soldiers and I remember meeting him for a short leave off the train and trying to find a bed for him in London and walking from Eaton Square to Cadogan Square  five times that night with my leg in a caliper,  (much of it was missing), discovering that he’d left his pocket book on my desk. I wrote a sonnet:


Last night into the night I saw thee go,

        And turned away; and heavy of heart I clambered

Up the steep causeway: weary, late and slow

        By my lone bed arrived. But, I enchambered,

Out cried the sullen alert artillery:

        Shrilled watchmen: woke the slumbering streets in riot.

And, was I sad for my night’s swallowing thee,

        Then I was glad because thy night was quiet.


JF:  Therein lies the irony. You helped get his first poems published, but you couldn’t get him off the list at the War Office and he was sent out to be killed. And, devastated after his death, you wrote another sonnet for Owen and put it into the dedication for the Chanson de Roland.


When in the centuries of time to come,

Men shall be happy and rehearse thy fame,

Shall I be spoken of then, or they grow dumb,

Recall these numbers and forget this name?

Part of thy praise, shall my dull verses live

In thee, themselves- as life without thee – vain?

So should I halt, oblivion’s fugitive,

Turn, stand, smile know myself a man again.

I care not: not the glorious boasts of men

Could wake my pride, were I in Heaven with thee;

Nor any breath of envy touch me, when,

Swept from the embrace of mortal memory

Beyond the stars’ light, in the eternal day,

Our contented ghosts stay together.


JF:  Although let’s be fair, that is really not all you are known for.  You went on to translate Proust.

CKSM: And Stendhal, Pirandello, Abelard and Eloise and more. But Proust you see would have understood me; in many ways we had a lot in common, both closet lovers of men, obsessed by genealogy, the Ruskin link, my time spent in France growing to love its cathedrals and villages, language and religion. I converted to Catholicism, and Proust is full of Catholic references.  I wish I had met him, although sometimes reading someone’s work lets you know far more about them than just meeting them. 

Stendhal (Moncrieff) Apelard (Moncrieff) Heloise (Moncrieff)
(Marie-Henri Beyle)

Pierre Abélard
(ou Abailard ou Abeilard)


Stendhal [1783-1842]: French writer, considered one of the early and foremost practitioners of realism.
Abélard [1079 – 1142]: French scholastic philosopher, theologian and preeminent logician.
Héloise [1090-1164]: French nun, writer, scholar and abbess, who holds an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation.

They say a biographer knows even more, and a literary biographer knows most of all. But translating Proust is a magnum opus. 

Moncrieff Noel Coward
CKSM: I never finished it off: it finished me off.  Though it started gently enough.  He was the perfect mind to spend time with.  His novel is poetry, prose and metaphysics all rolled into one, with subtext, satire and innuendo in layers. Reading him slowed time down, translating slowed time down even more, and I needed to heal after the war.  I needed gentle minds and hearts.  Noel Coward introduced me to Eva Cooper [4] and I went to stay at Hambledon Hall in the country and read my Proust to her to start with.  Later I found other sympathetic minds to test it on.


JF:  You tested it on just about everyone you knew. 

CKSM: Yes, and moving to Italy helped a lot, there were so many English and American writers in exile.  The living was cheaper, the weather warmer and the churches, paintings and architecture are still food for the soul.  Also I loved swimming in the sea, even when I was a boy in Scotland, but after getting my wound and my recurring trench fever, I needed balmier waters. I rented beautiful rooms in Florence, in Pisa and finally in Rome, where I could concentrate on translation.


JF: But there was another job in Italy.  You were still working for the Government, reporting to the British Passport Office in Rome, a cover for spying activities.

CKSM:  We were keeping an eye on the rise of Fascism.  I remember noting on my first day in Italy that the country was being run by “teenagers on cocaine”. It was dangerous.  Not like the war, of course, but you had to watch your back. Louis Christie, Kings Messenger at the time, got badly beaten up by Fascisti in the street without warning and had to leave Rome for good.  For me, being a journalist/translator was the perfect cover.  I would wander down to the jetty at Livorno and chat to the sailors and discovered that the cargo they were loading on boats bound for Yemen was ammunitions for an uprising against the British Protectorate there, and among the crew were communications engineers and explosives experts. I also discovered army mobilisations and exercises taking place near Genoa.  

JF:  So Proust did not take over your life entirely. 

CKSM:  No, but I did develop a way of seeing things through his eyes and that not only showed the beauty in everything, but also the humour and the satire. Proust also bankrolled me. I got simultaneous contracts from New York and London, the Americans paid better and weren’t chicken about the content.  Chatto and Windus in London could not print ‘Sodome et Gomorrhe’, even though I translated it as ‘Cities of the Plain’, because of the Obscenity Laws.  Albert Boni in New York went right ahead and it was published in the US first because of this.

Moncrieff Luigi_PirandelloI also translated and tried to promote Pirandello to the English-speaking world.  I saw his plays and met him on several occasions. He was absent-minded, once he arrived for dinner 27 hours late. I had his blessing on my translations. I reminded Chatto and Windus that my instinct was good. ( I had advised them to buy the rights to Noel Coward’s plays and they had ignored that.) I was vindicated when Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for Literature later on.

JF:  There is a new translation of Proust: it took seven translators seven years.  What do you think of that?

CKSM:  That is 49 man years, longer than my lifetime.  Marvellous. Proust deserves to be re-translated for every era and to keep translators employed.  However, I do think that you need to keep my interpretation as a key to the times Proust lived in. 


JF:  The title you gave the whole novel, translating A la Recherche du Temps Perdu as Remembrance of Things Past, that still evokes controversy today, nearly a hundred years later.

CKSM:  Good, controversy is always healthy.  Let me explain.  It comes from Shakespeare’s sonnet number 30, “ When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/ I summon up remembrance of things past,/I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,/ And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.” When I translated Proust, all my readership would have been familiar with that sonnet and that line.  Temps Perdu in French means time wasted as well as time lost and time past, and sonnet 30 encapsulates all of these.  The modern translation, ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ limits the idea. I took all my titles of Proust’s volumes from poetry. I just never managed the last volume. Time got me first. I was still correcting proofs in hospital in my last days.

JF: You were also corresponding with T S Eliot.

CKSM: And reading Balzac, who said, ““le temps est le seul capital des gens qui n’ont que leur intelligence pour la fortune,” (Time is the only capital owned by people who have to live by their wits)

Moncrieff Urbs RomaJF:  You loved Rome and you died aged forty and are buried there. I found your grave in the Verano Cemetery, with the Alpha and Omega carved onto the stone.

CKSM:  Rome is the Eternal City, Urbs Aeterna.



[1] The Scott Moncrieff Prize  is an annual £2,000 literary prize  for French to English translation  awarded to one or more translators every year for a full-length work deemed by the Translators Association o have "literary merit". Only translations first published in the United Kingdom are considered for the accolade.

[2] This is the title of a volume of writings of early English authors which Moncrieff "translated" to the English of his day.

[3] Beowulf is an Old English epic poem. Produced between 975 and 1025, it is one of the most important works of Old English literature. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the "Beowulf poet".

[4] Eva Cooper was a cultivated society hostess who invited writers, such as the satirist Saki and Noel Coward the playwright  to her large house in Rutlandshire, where she looked after them and encouraged their writing. 


Interview with Wordsmith Christina Khoury


Christina profile   Jonathan preferred

Christina Khoury
the interviewee


Jonathan G.
the interviewer


Our interviewee this month is Christina Khoury, resident of the city of Haifa, Israel.

The interview resulted from a stay by your faithful blogger at the Beit Shalom (House of Peace) Hotel, where Christina works. The undersigned overheard Christina conducting three consecutive conversations in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Christina standing - cropped

  Christina - Beit Shalom

The interview is preceded by a short overview of Haifa and its history.

Jonathan Goldberg

Haifa, Israel

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Haifa has a history spanning more than 3,000 years. The earliest known settlement in the vicinity was a small port city established in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE).


Haifa map 2 Map - Haifa Mediteranean

Haifa and Marseille are twin cities

Over the millennia, the Haifa area has been conquered and ruled by the Canaanites, Israelites, Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans [1] and the British, and since 1948 it is part of the State of Israel, in which it is the third largest city.

In 1100 or 1101 Haifa was besieged and blockaded by European Christians shortly after the end of the First Crusade and then conquered after a fierce battle with its Jewish inhabitants. Under the Crusaders, Haifa was reduced to a small fortified coastal stronghold. The army of Saladin [*] (founder of a Sunni dynasty of Kurdish origins) captured Haifa in 1187 and the city's Crusader fortress was destroyed. The Crusaders under Richard the Lionheart retook Haifa in 1191.

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Haifa during his campaign to conquer Palestine and Syria but he was forced to withdraw. In the campaign's final proclamation, Napoleon declared that he razed the fortifications of "Kaïffa" (as the name was spelled at the time) [2] along with those of Gaza, Jaffa and Acre.                                    


  Napoleon soldiers

Monument to Fallen Napoleon's soldiers in front of Stella Maris Monastery

Haifa was captured from the Ottomans in September 1918 by Indian horsemen of the British Army armed with spears and swords. It became part of the British Mandate of Palestine until 1948, when the State of Israel was founded.

The population of Haifa is heterogeneous. Israeli Jews comprise some 82% of the population, almost 14% are Christians, the majority of whom are Arab Christians and some 4% are Muslims. Haifa also includes Druze communities

[*] Salah ad-Din (or Salahu’d-Din or Ṣalāḥ ud-Dīn) was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Port of Haifa   Haifa panoramic - cropped



Jonathan Goldberg: You come from a family with an interesting, cosmopolitan history. Tell our readers about that.

Christina Khoury: My paternal Grandfather was born in Torino, Italy and later moved to Genova where he got married and where my father was born and raised. My maternal grandfather had an Italian mother and Montenegrin father and was born in Constantinople in 1897. He met my grandmother in Constantinople, where she was also born. Italian was their mother tongue since they each had Italian mothers, although they were living outside of Italy.

In 1910 my maternal grandfather came from Constantinople to Haifa at the age of 13 with other members of his family to work on the Hejaz railway [3], first in Aleppo and Damascus and later in Haifa. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, construction of the Hejaz railway was halted. My grandfather remained in Haifa where he founded a factory. In 1925 he married my grandmother in Constantinople, the city of their birth. There, first my uncle (1927) and then my mother (1928) were born. In 1934 the family moved to Haifa when my mother was almost 5 years old. In Haifa, two more daughters were born (my aunts).

The family settled in Haifa and my mother and her siblings were educated in the local Christian Schools. They grew up in Haifa and spoke Italian.

During WW2, the family, being Italians and not part of the Allies in the area, were kept by the British as prisoners of war in different imprisonment Camps in what was Palestine under the British Mandate at the time, until 1948, when the State of Israel was established..

In 1948 my parents met in Haifa when my father, who was born in Genova, was on a short-term mission for the Italian consulate. They were married in Haifa in 1949 and my mother went to Italy for the first time as a young bride.

My parents settled in Genova, my father's birth town, and later moved to different parts of northern Italy. I was born in Genova but also lived in other regions of Italy before moving to Israel in 1984, at the age of 15.

J.G.: Tell us about the different languages that you speak:

C.K.: After moving to Israel from Italy I had to learn Hebrew and then continued my schooling in Hebrew, in Haifa. I had started English in middle school in Italy, but broadened my knowledge of this language here in Israel where I was able to practice it more and more. French is a language to which I was exposed already at a young age, since there are some members of the enlarged family who are French speakers, besides studying it in school. I picked up Arabic from hearing it here in Haifa from the Christian Arabs I became acquainted to. I learned German through my work, since the Hotel where I work belongs to a Swiss Organization, we get many German speaking guests. I took a course of German at the Haifa University and then practiced at work. My mother spoke 5 languages herself, so I must have inherited from her the love for languages.

J.G.: Of what religious faith are you and your husband.

C.K.: I was raised in a devout Catholic home but at an early age I chose Messianic Christianity, which is similar to the Evangelical Church.

My husband comes from a Lebanese Maronite Christian family. He was born in London to a British mother and a Christian Arab father, but came to Haifa as a baby. He grew up in Haifa and attended the Messianic Christian Community.

J.G.: In what languages do you speak to members of your family?

C.K.: I speak to my husband mostly in Hebrew, which was the language we were both schooled in here and is the main spoken language in Israel. I spoke to my late mother in Italian and I have continued that tradition by speaking to my daughter (who was born and grew up in Haifa) in Italian, and we both speak to my grandchildren in Italian. In that way five generations of my family on the female side have maintained their command of Italian (my grandmother in Constantinople, my mother in Italy, myself, my daughter and my grandchildren in Israel). At home, with my husband, our daughter and two younger sons and our son in-law, we alternate between Italian and Hebrew.

J.G.: How have you managed to keep a record of your family history?

C.K.: My mother memorialized her life in about 100 pages in Italian. I plan to translate them into English.

J.G.: What is Beit Shalom? What is your association with it?

C.K.: The Beit Shalom Hotel in Haifa belongs to a Swiss Evangelical (Protestant) organization. It was built in the 1970s. As a member of that Community in Haifa, I heard about a vacancy at the hotel 30 years ago, and I have been working there ever since.

J.G.: What kinds of guests visit the hotel?

C.K.: The Swiss organization arranges guided tour groups to visit the Holy Land, including a stay of several days in Haifa, with accommodation at the Hotel. In addition, members of the Baha’i religion, whose world center is in Haifa, find the location convenient because it is close to the magnificent Bahai terraces that occupy a large tract of Haifa. [4],[5] Guests and tourists both from Israel and abroad, enjoy our hospitality.

Haifa Bahai 1   Bahai 3 

                                                                                     Bahai Gardens

Haifa has several Christian communities. Can you describe them?

C.K.: in addition to our own messianic community, there are Latin Catholics, Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox. The Catholics in particular enjoy close relations, and to a lesser extent there are contacts between them and the other Christians.

J.G.: What is the degree of ethnic and religious harmony between the Jews, Christians and Muslims of Haifa?

C.K.: It is a wonderful example of peaceful co-existence. It is manifested in everyday life: commerce, entertainment and mixed neighborhoods. Some cultural institutions aim to further encourage co-existence through intercultural meetings and activities.

J.G.: Generally, do Christians as a minority in Israel feel unsafe as they sometimes do in other parts of the Middle East.

C.K.: As far as we know and experience firsthand, Christians have full freedom and live a peaceful life in Israel, especially compared to what we hear about Christians living in the surrounding Arab Countries.

J.G.: There are different theories about the origin of the name Haifa. What do you know?

C.K.: No one is  sure about the origins of the name "Haifa", but it could derive from the name of Kepha (rock – the name of Saint Peter in Aramaic), or it could also be the combination of the words "Hof-Yafe" חוף יפה which means "nice beach", or "Chipa" חיפה  which means "covered" because of Mt. Carmel which covers over the area…

J.G.: You work at the hotel during the mornings and some of the evenings. What do you do in your spare time?

C.K.: I look after my grandchildren and help young students with their English studies.


[1] Refers to the successors of Osman, founder of a dynasty that ruled the Turkish empire until its dismemberment after the First World War and the advent of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

[2] Haifa TintinIn French, before the adoption of the current spelling (Haifa), the city was known as Caïffe, Kaïffa, Caïfa, even Caïffa. It is this spelling that we find in the first version of Tintin in the land of black gold by Hergé, which appeared in serial in the Journal de Tintin. On the other hand, in the album, released in 1950, mention is made of Haifa (p.14). When the album was redesigned in 1971, Haifa gave way to the imaginary locality of Khemkhâh, just to get everyone to agree!

[3] Narrow gauge railway line, built between 1900 and 1908, to link Damascus to Medina (1,800 km). Ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II and carried out with German technical support, the project was intended to facilitate the pilgrimage to Mecca, promote trade and assert the Ottoman presence in the Arabian Peninsula. The Second World war of 1914-1918 sounded the death knell for the Hedjaz railway. Today, there are only a few segments left, in Syria and Jordan.

Haifa Hejaz map   Haifa Hejaz cover

[4] Baha’ism, also known as the Bahá'í Faith, is an Abrahamic and monotheistic religion that proclaims the spiritual unity of humanity. Members of this international religious community describe themselves as adherents of an "independent world religion". The Bahá'ís, disciples of Bahāʾ-Allāh, are organized around more than 100,000 centers, listed by the World Center in Haifa, around the world.

Haifa Carmelit[5]  The hotel is close to the underground metro, the "Carmelit", which was constructed by a French company and inaugurated in 1959 by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister. With only four carriages, six stations and one single tunnel-line of 1800 meters in length, the Carmelit is one of the smallest metro infrastructures in the world.

Interview with Israeli-American wordsmith (and translator/interpreter) Jonathan Goldberg


Man with 2 hats second optionFor several years distinguished linguists were interviewed every month for our French sister blog, Le Mot juste en anglais.  Readers therefore understandingly will ask : How have I, Jonathan, managed to insinuate myself into this exclusive club, which is usually reserved only for the illustrious? The answer was that at a point in time we were short of a high-level interviewer and interviewee. Desperate times call for desperate measures [1] so I decided, with an excess of immodesty, to fill the gap. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." [2]

But because my chutzpah [3] has its limits, I stopped short of asking anyone to interview me. So here I am, wearing two hats, those of both the interviewer and interviewee. On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même ! 

In preparing this "interview" for Le Mot juste, the first decision I needed to take was whether to draft it in English or in French. That was what is called a "no brainer" [4] in the USA. I have too much respect for la belle langue to maul it and I feared that the hachis parmentier that I wanted to cook would come out of the oven smelling like Shepherd’s Pie.


The next decision was whether to ask one of our band of faithful French translators to render this text into the language of Molière [5]. I decided that just this one time our French readers would not be molly-coddled [6], but would have to bite the bullet (forgive the mixed metaphor) and read the interview in what the French like to refer to as  « la langue de Shakespeare ».

J. G.

Shakespeare & Moliere

------------- -----------------------------------------------------

Two hats 20Question: Describe the experience of managing a blog to which so many gifted wordsmiths contribute their time and talents.

image from
Jonathan's attire when rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème

Answer: My motives for running the blog are both altruistic and egoistic: on the one hand, the desire that I often have to share with others the material I read; on the other hand, the fact that the blog is very good for my ego. Like many professional translators, I normally perform my work in the shadows. The blog, on the other hand, gives me a platform and a pretext to communicate with some of the crème de la crème of English and French linguists. Whenever I am able to introduce a gifted translator or contributor on the pages of Le Mot juste, I enjoy the opportunity, however fleeting, to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the best linguists around. 

Two hats 20Question
: You are not a literary translator with a slew of books to your name, so how could you expect to come out of the darkness into the world of fame and fortune and to reach an audience beyond the readers of the blog? Travailler non seulement pour des prunes mais pour la gloire.[7] [8]

Answer: Well, by chance, I did recently come under the bright lights and I have been enjoying a short-lived moment of fame, if not of fortune. I was not going to mention this, but  if you insist, I'll tell you about it. Last year I was commissioned to translate Emmanuel Macron's memoir cum political manifesto, Révolution. Because of time constraints, I contracted with a British translator to translate half the book, and we edited each other's translations. The book was published in November and the translators were invited to London for a panel discussion to launch it.

Macron English cover


Two hats 20Question: Was the co-translation a synergistic effort? Was it a successful collaborative work?

Answer: In my Translator's Note, I stressed the point that it was indeed a collaborative endeavour, with synergistic benefits, and I went out of my way in that Note to highlight my co-translator's skills. But you will probably get a very different answer if you ask her. Most likely the same view as that expressed by my first wife, following our divorce. 

Two hats 20Question
: What did your first wife say?

Answer: "Never again!."


Two hats 20Question: How were you able to gauge the public's appreciation of your translation of Révolution ? Even Anglo-Saxons [9] who read French with ease don't usually compare and contrast the source text of a book with the translation in order to grade the level of the translator's skill.


Answer: Paradoxically, the warmest expression of appreciation I received for this project came from two people who have probably not read the translation: M. E. MACRON and his Chef de Cabinet, M. François-Xavier LAUCH (see the images below).


  Macron dedication-page-001 - updated

    Chef de Cabinet-page-001 - updated

Two hats 20Question: Mr. Macron's handwritten dedication in your book is rather difficult to decipher.

Answer: Indeed. The language of the dedication, like that of the book, is somewhat cryptic, and to judge by the handwriting, you would think that M. Macron had trained as a doctor, not an economist. I leave it to our readers to decipher the President's handwriting. I'm sure they will enjoy the challenge.

Two hats 20Question: Will you now take on the translation of works by other famous French politicians, scholars or writers?

Jonathan working in the shadows

Answer: Never again! Working on a single project for 10 hours and more a day, seven days a week, at the expense of my other interests, is not my cup of tea. But for regular work projects, being only 80 years old (twice the age of the President of the Republic [10]), I do not intend to slow down. I will continue to ply my trade in the shadows as an anonymous and unknown translator and interpreter (French>English and Hebrew>English), and to devote part of the hours of each day outside of my regular work  to  research for the blog across a range of linguistic and cultural subjects. (My other blog activity involves roping in contributors, which is sometimes as difficult as herding cats. But once they submit their contributions, they usually prove themselves to be linguistic tigers.)

I have also revived an English-language blog that I had created some time ago and that had been dormant: The Lives of Linguists : Interviews with Writers, Translators and other Wordsmiths. It is accessible at And I am in the process of creating a French-language blog named Clio, un blog pour les amateurs de l'histoire. [11] Articles dealing with historical subjects that have been written for Le Mot juste over the course of the years will be imported into the new blog. Stay tuned!

As a staunch Francophile, I will have the continuous pleasure of seeing material posted in the mellifluous French language. [12] Together with the contributos and readers, I will continue the search for le mot juste en anglais - as well as in French.


[1] To reassure our readers that in the coming months there will be a dramatic improvement in the standard of the interviewees - a rise from this abyss - I will mention that two linguists of world renown, David Bellos and David Crystal, have agreed to be interviewed for the blog.   

[2] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711


[3] Oxford Dictionaries:

mass noun, informal 
Extreme self-confidence or audacity 
Origin: Late 19th century: Yiddish, from Aramaic ḥu ṣpā.

[4]  Selon Video Language Network sur le site Femme actuelle, cette expression est utilisée pour exprimer qu'un choix est facile à faire et ne nécessite pas d'y réfléchir plus longtemps.


[5] According to one theory, all or many of Molière's works were in fact written by Corneille, the historic French dramatist. See:


[6] Mollycoddling - World Wide Words

[7] L'Aiglon de Edmond Rostand - Nous avons fait tout cela pour la gloire et pour des prunes ! (Flambeau)
(Thank you, Jean Leclercq, for pointing me to the source of this quotation:

Dans L'Aiglon (Acte 2, scène IX), Edmond Rostand fait dire à Flambeau, vélite de la garde, après le rappel de ses glorieux états de service :

"Faits d'armes : trente-deux. Blessures : quelques-unes.
Ne s'est battu que pour la gloire, et pour des prunes.» }

[8) The French word prune and the English word "prune" are false friends. Prune (fr.) = plum (Eng.); prune (Eng.) = pruneau (fr.)

Plums-1 Prunes
plum = prune prune = pruneau

[9] The Anglo-Saxons

[10] When Macron is 80 years old, I will be 120 years. Between now and that time, I expect to receive a card from him containing the Biblical greeting: שתחיה עד מאה עשרים - "May you live to be 120 years." 

[11] What Makes French Sound Sexy
Mental Floss

[12] Clio was the Muse of History

Other articles by the author on his experience as a translator and interpreter:

The colonial influences on participants in a Los Angeles courtroom— from the perspective of a French-English interpreter.

An Interpreting Dilemma

Interview with wordsmith (and food translator) Carmella Abramowitz Moreau

                                              AN INTERVIEW TO BE SAVOURED

Andrea profile Carmella  cropped

             Andrea Bernstein
             - the interviewer

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau
- the interviewee

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau is a translator specializing in culinary translations from French, and living with her family in the 3rd arrondisement of Paris. The interview that follows was conducted by Andrea Bernstein, the spouse and personal chef of your faithful blogger. Andrea, like Carmella, was born in South Africa, where she obtained her doctorate in social work and was Professor of Social Work and Department Head at the University of Natal. After immigrating to the United States and working as an editor of academic texts, Andrea launched a new career as a consultant in the field of leadership development and was involved in the training of senior executives of major American companies. Both Carmella and Andrea are passionate about food and cooking. [1]


Andrea Bernstein:  You grew up in South Africa, where many languages are spoken, (eleven of which are now designated as official languages) but where there was no French influence, unless you count the arrival of the Huguenots at the end of the 17th century. Despite Sorbonnethat, you gravitated to the French language, and to everything French, initially by moving to Montreal, at the age of 23, then to France where you completed the Diplôme de Civilisation française at the Sorbonne. You then went on to obtain a diploma in French-English translation, followed by a Masters in the same area. You married a Frenchman, and have lived for 35 years in Paris, where your children were born.  What stimulated your interest in learning French and in becoming sufficiently fluent to become a translator?  

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau: I completed my first degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa in Social Anthropology and English literature. My main regret regarding this degree is that I studied Zulu for only one year. My father was gifted in languages and read many alphabets. I think he helped instill in me my linguistic curiosity. As a child, I briefly took French lessons with a wonderful teacher but in high school I had to choose between French and Latin and I opted for Latin. My real attachment to, and love of, French began after my first degree, when I started studying French largely on a whim, taking intensive courses at language schools in both Lausanne and Paris, before going to Montreal where I completed a graduate diploma in language teaching. A year at the Sorbonne, also intensive, helped me on the path to fluency. Choosing to settle in a country seems to demand that one at least aspire to fluency. I was lucky to have always benefitted from excellent language and linguistics teachers.


AB: When I look at the list of your translations, it seems you have specialized in art, music and cooking (with some diversions into urbanism, microfinance, science and ethnomedicine). Let’s concentrate on culinary translation for the purposes of this interview. How did you get started in the field?

CAM: Carmella with pavlova My first cookbook translation fell into my lap after someone with whom I had studied translation recommended me to a publisher, knowing that I love cooking and baking, and that I had previously taken courses. One thing led to another, as tends to happen. Some time previously, I had taken weekly pastry-making lessons for a few years with a marvelous pastry chef, also a remarkable teacher. He demystified many aspects of classic French pastry-making for me. Although I don’t necessarily make this sort of thing any more, I can quite easily explain how to make Italian meringue. I can tell if there’s a serious typo in a recipe quantity, or an important ingredient inadvertently omitted, and so on. Since then, I’ve also taken short Viennoiseries courses in Viennoiseries and bread-making. But the task of explaining how to fold and roll out puff pastry never gets any easier – I suppose this is the case for any kind of a technical translation. Living in Paris certainly makes it easier to keep up with cooking trends, for example neo-bistro cuisine.


AB:  Personally I love reading cookbooks (even if I don’t make most of the recipes). What are some of the special challenges you’ve encountered in translating recipes?

CAM: The most challenging is translating complicated recipes by well-known chefs that are included in books targeted at the general public. They contain ingredients that are often not readily available even here in France, such as the latest vegetable or citrus fruit that they have an exclusive supply line for, a rare breed of meat, a rare species of fish, etc. I have to convey to the home cook how best to reproduce the recipe. Then there are the instructions that are incomplete or fiddly -- recipes that top chefs use in their kitchens where sous-chefs are there to weigh out 43 grams of this and 127 grams of that. Meat cuts also differ from one country to another, even among English-speaking countries (and are far more intricate in France), as do weights of what constitutes egg sizes – an EU medium egg is more or less equivalent to a large US or Canadian egg, and Australia and New Zealand are different again. Added to the egg size difficulty is the French chef’s penchant for weighing yolks and whites – 75 g of egg white converts to about one-third of a cup, but who outside a professional kitchen likes to divvy up eggs? Percentages of butterfat in cream are not specified in certain countries but one needs to know what to use, Carmella ganachefor example, to make whipped cream or a certain type of ganache. Then there are the chefs who use idiosyncratic or regional terms for the preparation of part of a chicken or a common vegetable. At times, I resort to consulting my butcher or greengrocer. I long for the day when the US will switch to the metric system and kitchen scales become more widespread there, so conversions to the imperial system will no longer be necessary.


AB: How do you deal with the issue of a technical vocabulary? I believe there are often no exact equivalents for French terms.

CAM: I’m frequently asked if this poses a problem. It’s true that often there is no exact word for specific actions, and that French is very rich in technical culinary vocabulary. It’s generally quite easy to explain what has to be done in a few short, explicit phrases. Chiqueter, for example, a word I learned at pastry lessons, is the action involving scoring the edge of two layers of puff pastry to seal them together using the back of a small kitchen knife. And if you were wondering, yes, it tends to be recommended when making galettes des rois. I like to add the French word so that the reader becomes familiar with it.

Carmella SALT FATChanges in language as the world becomes increasingly foodier also need to be taken into account. The other day, I watched the series “Salt Fat Acid Heat”, in which Samin Nosrat made citrus suprêmes. For the moment I’m still sticking to “sections”, but I should think that soon all English speakers will happily be decorating tarts or cake tops with “orange supremes”. (Chicken breasts are another matter.) We have to juggle with the level of readers’ sophistication and how far foodie vocabulary has spread or will have spread by the time the book is published.





AB: Carmella repas-gastronomiqueGastronomy is part and parcel of French culture, as testified by the French gastronomic meal being included in the UNESCO list of world intangible heritage. Sitting down to enjoy a meal, whether gastronomic or not, is an integral part of the way of life. Is there any reflection of this facet in recipe books?

CAM: I feel I should preface my answer by saying that I see my task as twofold. Producing a book that will not only sell outside of France but can be used by the people who buy it, and making it as user-friendly as possible, while retaining the French touch in spirit. I don’t feel that making the necessary adaptations is a betrayal in any way, so long as I can remain true to the recipe. Having said that, there is a significant difference in the French and Anglo approaches to recipe writing. An English-language recipe will take the cook by the hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through each step (of course, depending on the target readership’s level of cooking). It will give pan sizes, cooking or baking temperature, an indication of doneness at each stage, the speed for the stand mixer and the length of time to beat at that particular speed. Many a French recipe, translated word for word into English, would look terse, or even unfeasible. Pan size? Oh, just use whatever you have. Indications of doneness? We’ve given you the cooking time – surely that’s enough! Storage instructions? But they go without saying. I suspect that the underlying reason is an assumption that the user of the cookbook will have cooked with a family member during childhood, or spent considerable time watching someone cook full meals, or know what the end result should be. In other words, a great deal of previous knowledge tends to be assumed, so I think that this is where the heritage comes in.

Ingredients have to be listed in order of use – a common recommendation in most English-language cookbook style guides, but not necessarily followed in France. If there is an instruction at the end of the recipe telling the cook to stir in the raisins that have been soaking
Carmella crepes-chandeleurin rum for 24 hours, I’ll start the recipe with an instruction to soak them 24 hours ahead. Here is an example I saw only yesterday: Now that we have transitioned from galette des rois season to la Chandeleur and crepes are everywhere, celebrity chef Thierry Marx published an online recipe for a crepe cake. One of the instructions is « Ajouter le lait préalablement porté à ébullition ». After so many years in France, I still find this discombobulating. As someone who cooks quite a lot, I transform it according to logical English-language order. Useful advice, though, is often a thorny issue, as notes generally appear at the end of the recipe in French – too late for some! If possible, I incorporate them as relevantly as possible, but layout does not always permit it.

Photos, too, may be problematic: English-speakers expect the end result to resemble the photo, but French books may provide an “artistic interpretation.” A recipe for a large cake may show several individual portions or be decorated with unspecified ingredients. In cases like this I find myself resorting to what a fellow translator told me is known as “creative insubordination”.


AB: You once told me that cultural issues crop up in the most unexpected ways. Please give us some examples of these.

CAM: Well, one needs to be au fait with all sorts of issues.  A chef who provided a recipe in a book I translated recently advised his readers to use only Iranian pistachios, for, in his opinion, nowhere else are such fine quality nuts produced. I don’t know how well this would go down in a country with a ban on many products from Iran, not to mention the fact that California is also a major pistachio producer.
Carmella lobstersThe solution is to find something a little neutral and bland (no pun intended) to say instead. Preparing live lobsters was an issue that triggered a long discussion with the translator with whom I was sharing a project. After research showing that crustaceans feel pain, Switzerland passed a law outlawing the boiling of live lobsters. How long will it be before other countries implement similar legislation? We do try to keep in mind the shelf life (again, no pun intended) of the recipes. Awareness of sustainability may not be as pronounced here as in the countries where the book is to be sold, so for seafood, for example, we may add a note advising the cook to check that certain fish, eels, or whatever, may be used responsibly.

Carmella community gardenPre-#MeToo, I gave a workshop to students working on the translation of a compilation of recipes from community gardens in Paris. A recipe for nettle soup was preceded by a short text on the long legs of a gardener wearing an attractive mini skirt. I asked the class what their reactions were. After some thought, the mainly women students said they found it perfectly acceptable, and a good reflection of the French way of life. The book was to be marketed to tourists in Paris and community gardens in large US cities. The dual-nationality American professor, who hadn’t really noticed this previously, was outraged and said, “Censor it!” I think it was her opinion that ultimately prevailed. 


AB: How do you deal with dishes that are well-known in France but possibly unknown to English-speaking readers?

CAM: When I have to translate a recipe for a little-known regional specialty, I usually ask if I can include a short history or explanation of the dish. I enjoy the extra research and if there is room, certain editors are happy to have a little bonus.

Carmella macaron-v-macaroonAgain, as the world becomes more and more foody, fewer explanations will become necessary. Some ten or fifteen years ago, we would have to explain that macarons are not the same as macaroons! Now, macaron doesn’t even require italics. Kouign amman seems to have emigrated from its native Brittany and hit the US, or at least parts of it.

Amusingly, I sometimes also have to deal with the reverse phenomenon. French chefs like to “frenchify” typically Anglo-Saxon recipes. I’m thinking of apple pie and cheesecake in particular, which they often explain to their French readers. The texts for these usually need complete rewriting and so I’ll draft a suggestion for the editor. It’s an opportunity for me to add a little culinary history or fun fact, though not every editor is receptive to this type of adaptation.



Carmella bookshelf Andrea bookshelf rotated
Carmella's bookshelf of cook books Andrea's bookshelf of cook books

Blog Editor's note: British spelling has been used in this interview.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with British wordsmith (and translator) Ros Schwartz


ChevalierOur guest interviewee is Ros Schwartz, a prolific, prodigious and prize-winning literary translator (French>English), as this interview and her CV below make clear. Ros was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her contribution to French literature by the French Government.In 2017 she received the John Sykes Memorial Prize for Excellence from the UK Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Ros lives in London, where she divides her time between literary translation and working as a Royal Literary Fund writing fellow at King’s College London. She is co-chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation Committee.


  Ros S
   The interviewee - Ros Schwartz The interviewer - Jonathan Goldberg


JG: . Since you completed your university studies in France, you've been extremely active both as a literary translator and in many branches of the translating profession. We'll talk about your career in a moment, but take us back to your school years. Where were you brought up, at what age did you begin to study French and how strong was your command of French when you entered University?

RS: My parents instilled in me a love of the French language, literature, music, food and wine that has become a lifelong passion. They were both ardent Francophiles, which was quite unusual for 1950s austerity Britain. The songs I heard in my cradle were those of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand and Mistinguett. They sang me to sleep with En passant par la Lorraine and taught me to sing Au Clair de la Lune before I knew my ABC.

When they didn't want me to understand what they were talking about, my parents would speak to each other in French, so naturally I made it my business to decipher and master this language very quickly.

At school, an inspirational French teacher, Miss Tucker, passed on to me her love of French literature, and I embarked on a French degree. But I wasn't cut out for academia, and the University of Kent and I parted company. I ran away to Paris, aided and abetted by my tutor, David Bradby, the distinguished historian of French theatre who remained a dear friend until his death in 2010. He helped me find my first job as an assistante in a Paris Lycée. I spent 8 years in Paris, doing a variety of odd (and I mean odd!) jobs (including working for the Gare d'Austerlitz telephone information service – there are probably people still wandering around Bordeaux  today trying to find the train to Port-Bou). During those years I immersed myself in every aspect of French life, from signing on as student at the radical university of Vincennes to picking grapes in Provence, unaware at the time that this was the best possible training for a literary translator. My friends in Paris devoted themselves to teaching me the slang of Belleville and the poetry of Verlaine.


JG. You have a LèsL from Université Vincennes-Saint-Denis (Paris VIII). What language courses did you take there?

RS: I actually did a degree in English and American studies with a minor in Italian. The 1970s were an exciting time to be in a radical French uni – the 1968 afterglow. Having been at a staid UK university (and dropped out), I took courses in subjects I could never have imagined, such as "Donald Duck and Anglo-Saxon Cultural Imperialism". But it was at Vincennes that I had my first taste of literary translation, under a tutor called John Edwards. He passed on to me his passion for translating.


JG:. Did you become a translator at the outset of your career?

RS: I lived in Paris for eight years, and then spent a year in India. On my return to the UK, I discovered that despite having languages (I also have Spanish), I was completely unemployable, having never worked in the UK. In Paris I had taught English in companies as a way of keeping body and soul together, but had no 'real' work experience. I was too old to go into a job at a very junior level, too inexperienced to go in at a higher level, and too much of a maverick to fit into a company culture. So I had no option but to invent my own career. I launched myself as a translator, having translated one book before leaving Paris, for which I had not yet found a publisher.


JG:. You've translated over 100 books from French into English. How long did it take you to establish the kind of reputation that put your services in such high demand?

RS: The publishing world is quite small and once you've got a foot in the door, editors tend to pass your name on. Colleagues too. It took a few years of letter writing, taking on other types of work, notably cookery books.


JG. Which of the books was the most challenging, linguistically or in other respects?

RS: Each book has its own set of challenges. My translation of Lebanese novelist Dominique Eddé's Kite was interesting because Eddé writes in French but with an oriental sensibility. It took me way out of my comfort zone, and by the end I had a curious feeling that I'd translated from Arabic, so different is the novel's structure and language from the western narrative tradition. Re-translating a classic, Saint-Exupéry's Petit Prince had a whole set of challenges, linguistic, stylistic, ethical, translating for children, creating different voices. More recently, I translated Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (The Feminist Press, 2017). It’s the memoir of an extraordinary woman who is a translator-activist as well as a poet. Every word of the French is exquisitely judged, so one false note in the translation would jar horribly. My most recent translation, A Long Way from Douala is by the Swiss writer of Cameroonian origin, Max Lobe. He writes in French but uses a lot of expressions in Camfranglais, which is an urban slang made up of English, French and words borrowed from local languages. I’ve talked about about the challenges in a recent interview


JG:  Do you find time to study the works of other literary translators? When you do that, do you have the source and target texts before your eyes?

RS: I'm not an academic, I'm a hands-on practitioner. I read voraciously, both translations and other literature. I am in permanent dialogue with numerous translator friends and colleagues. My work with English PEN's Writers in Translation Programme awarding promotional grants leads me to read a lot of sample translations. And as a mentor and external supervisor I see students' work. But I don't have time to 'study' translations. There aren't enough hours in the day.


JG: For those contemplating a career as a literary translator, would they have any realistic prospect of making ends meet, short of achieving the kind of success you've had.

RS: Making ends meet has nothing to do with critical success. Literary translation simply isn't well paid. And there is a limit to how many books you can translate in a year. Sadly a lot of translators find themselves churning out books in order to make ends meet. The quality of their work suffers. Most translators also have a day job. For years I made my living from running a small translation company and only did one literary work a year, for publishers who value quality and would give me the time I needed to do a good job. Now I lead workshops and am fortunate enough to have a two-year position with the Royal Literary Fund, an organisation that sends writers into universities for two days a week to help students with writing skills. Other colleagues work as teachers or editors or do something completely different as a way of earning a living.


JG: In 2009 you and Amanda Hopkinson jointly won the International Dagger Award for your translation of Dominique Manotti's Lorraine Connection. How did you divide the work between you and ensure a unity of style?

RS: I drafted the entire novel, then Amanda went over it in minute detail and made lots of suggestions, most of which I incorporated. Then we met up and thrashed out the problem sections. It was creatively satisfying. I've collaborated with Lulu Norman on a number of translations, and with Steve Cox and Sarah Ardizzone. For me, collaboration is a form of professional development. You learn a lot from working 'à quatre mains' and the end translation benefits enormously.


JG: In that same year you organised a series for peer-training translation workshops with the Translators Association, funded by the Arts Council of England. Could you explain the concept of a "peer-training workshop".

RS: Yes, it's a translator-led workshop for practicing translators. It can be language-specific or subject-oriented, e.g. translating sex/poetry/subtitles. The idea is to compare notes on techniques and strategies for dealing with challenges we all face. Although there are numerous undergraduate and postgraduate university courses for beginner translators, there's little mid-career training, so we decided to remedy that by devising our own workshops. I also run translation surgeries, where colleagues working with different language combinations bring along a specific issue which we discuss collectively. It’s interesting to see the crossovers and common challenges translators from different languages face, and to see the solutions the hive mind can come up with.

JG. You were also awarded the "Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres". Tell our readers how and why you were so honoured.


Ros Scwartz Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Cert (small)

RS: . It's a slightly mysterious process. In June 2009 I received a letter from the French Embassy in London telling me I'd been 'nommée au grade de Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' in recognition for my 'travail de traduction, et plus largement votre rôle dans la diffusion de la littérature française'. According to the French Ministry of Culture ,the award is made to people for 'la contribution qu'elles ont apportée au rayonnement de la culture en France et dans le monde'.

I imagine it's because I've always worked with French publishers and the Book Office here to bring French titles to the attention of UK publishers (in fact that's how I launched myself).


JG: You have also organised or overseen online translation courses, including one  offered by Birkbeck College. Could you compare the advantages and disadvantages for the participants of online courses as a substitute for face-to-face instruction. Why would a college offer courses free to applicants from throughout the world?

RS: There's no substitute for face-to-face teaching. The online course was one strand of a project that involved a weekend 'taster' course and a summer school. It was for those who attended the summer school and who wanted more practice, and for anyone thinking of doing translation who wanted to try their hand. We received funding for the project which enabled us to offer the online course free. But we weren't proposing it as a substitute for face-to-face teaching, and nor were we suggesting that anyone completing the online course was ready to launch their career. But it's good to be able to offer it to budding translators around the world, not all of whom have the means to come to London for the summer school or to go to university.

One of the most interesting translator development formats I’ve been involved in is the Vice-Versa programme run by the Collège International de Traducteurs (CITL) in Arles, France. The one-week workshop brings together six translators from French to English and six from English to French, under the supervision of a tutor from each language. Each half-day session is devoted to a translation by one of the mentees. So each person has the full attention of eleven others. It’s enriching to have input from the mother-tongue participants as well as from those working in the same language direction. CITL also runs a two-month residency with three translators for each language and three different tutors each in attendance for two weeks. The fledgling translators emerge from this ready to spread their wings. I thoroughly recommend this programme. Details

In October 2019 year I was involved in a workshop and mentoring scheme to train literary translators in Cameroon. It was part of research project led by the University of Bristol and Bakwa publishers in the capital, Yaounde. Cameroon has two official languages, French and English (as well as over 250 local languages), but there is no literary translation activity between French and English. We ran a week-long workshop to train a group of promising translators in each language, followed by a three-month mentorship. The short stories the mentees translated, written by emerging writers from a previous workshop as part of the project, will  be published in an anthology later this year. This experience has reinforced my conviction that mentorship is the most effective way of fostering new talent. 

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici. Traduction Jean Leclercq.

Interview with Canadian wordsmith (and professor of translation studies) Sherry Simon

The following interview was conducted by Skype between Los Angeles and Montreal




Sherry Simon

Jonathan G.

Professor Emerita in the Department of French Studies at Concordia University. 

- the interviewee   



           - the interviewer


JG: Your parents were born in Toronto. You spoke English at home and despite studying French at school, your first significant exposure to French came in your teens. How did that come about?

SS: My mom was very forward-looking…meaning that she recognized that French was important in Montreal! That may sound very obvious now, but I grew up in a city that was still practically a colonial city—with a powerful and very self-sufficient English-language minority. What was experienced by some as intolerable change starting in the 1960s (those who felt threatened or excluded by a French-language city) was experienced by others as a period of social, economic and political excitement. The fact that I took a university-level French course while I was still in high school changed my outlook entirely. I was increasingly attracted to French-language culture.

JG: You found Montreal to be comparable with Calcutta in certain respects. (You later wrote « Villes en traduction: Calcutta, Barcelona, Montreal », Presses de l'Université de Montreal, 2013). Can you expound on that comparison.

SS: Calcutta and Montreal were founded in the same historical period of colonialism—1609 for Calcutta, 1642 for Montreal. Montreal was founded as a French city, then there was the Conquest of 1759 which meant that Ville Marie became Montreal. Both cities were the products of spatial division—a more modern, spacious area which contrasted greatly with the rest of the city. Of course the colonial divides of India were very different from the colonial divides of Quebec—where two European powers were in competition, and where the indigenous presence had been largely obliterated. But the linguistic and spatial arrangements of Calcutta and Montreal share the same colonialist premise and the interaction between parts of the city shared similar dynamics. What I learned was that there was a great deal to be discovered when you looked at Calcutta and Montreal as cities in translation. The history of the Bengali Renaissance as it played out across Calcutta is rich and fascinating—the story of innovations in science and the arts that were a product of the interplay between communities. The same is true of Montreal, mutatis mutandis. A cultural history of the city since the 1940s for instance tells of numerous new pathways created across the city. Literary personalities such as Mavis Gallant, F.R. Scott or A.M. Klein have woven cultural ties between the French and English speakers, both in journalism and in poetry. What is important to note, however, is that translation is not always successful and that failed translation can also be useful to explore.

JG: You went on to study Comparative Literature at Brandeis University in the USA, and did your Masters in Paris, obtaining a Diplôme de l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, and a doctorate in literature compareé from the University of Montreal. Your career-path is somewhat unusual: although you were initially a literary translator you soon moved into the academic study of translating. Your positions have included Professeure du Département d'études françaises at Concordia University and membre de l'Académie des lettres du Québec.

The long list of books you've written includes "Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City", for which you reached the finals of the Ville de Montreal, Grand Prix du Livre. Although some might have regarded that as being an ivory-tower occupation, your writings were widely recognized, as witness the many prizes you have won, such as the Prix Andre-Laurendeau en Sciences humaines.

During your distinguished career, what advances have you seen in the role of the literary translator?

SS: The very fact of the expansion of Translation Studies as an academic field is a great success story of the last 3 decades or so. The growth has been exponential—books, journals, academic programs, summer schools, and the list goes on. The field is especially important in Europe, and literary translation is increasingly recognized as an important creative activity. Translators are getting more recognition, I think, in general—with the wonderful work of translators associations, of high-profile translators, and of academics who take the work of these translators seriously and are making their work the object of serious study. In Canada, literary translation benefits from government support and a certain degree of public recognition. But the same platitudes are often repeated. We still need to work towards further recognition of the creative value of translation—not only in relation to the Canadian scene but internationally.

Translation EffectsJG: Your very latest book, just published, "Translation Effects: The Shaping of Modern Canadian Culture" (written together with Kathy Mezei and Luise von Flotow, McGill-Queen's University Press, pp.496) deals, inter alia, with the subject of bilingualism. For the benefit of our readers who have not read it and may not manage to do so, could you give us one or two points on Canadian bilingualism?

SS: We argue in the book that official bilingualism has in many ways masked the multiform realities of translation within Canadian society. And so the book—which is a collection of 30-some essays—shows how translation is a factor is many aspects of literary and cultural life—through First Nations languages, immigrant languages, and the unequal transactions of French and English. While official bilingualism is an important element of our national self-definition, allowing the country to function, it only applies to the legal realities of the country. The cultural realities are messier, more unequal, but also creative of new mixtures.

JG: So why has the Federal Government gone to such lengths to promote and preserve bilingualism?

SS: Official bilingualism in its current form was a result of the political unrest of the 1960s. There is a very significant separatist movement in Quebec, always ready to re-emerge, and in the 1960s it was very strong. Official bilingualism was one response to this crisis, promising a French presence from coast to coast. But Canada also has a multicultural policy, which gives cultural rights to 'ethnic' groups. These rights are sometimes in conflict with one another, or perceived as such. It is true that official bilingualism has remained in place for many decades now, and seems to have performed its task well. But while the government used to do all its translation in-house, it now outsources practically all translation tasks, and no longer ensures training.

JG: Dr Paul Christophersen of the University College in Ibadan, Nigeria, in his book called "Bilingualism", is quoted as saying that it is almost impossible for a "so-called" bilingual speaker to achieve 100% efficiency in both languages. 

SS: Of course there is no such thing as perfect bilingualism. Bilingualism is almost always asymmetrical, however there are many Quebecers who function as well in one language as the other. Usually this is an oral skill. Writing is another story. There are very few people who write as well in one language as the other, and for instance, while many can read equally well in both languages, in Quebec the literary institutions are quite separate. But as for day to day functional bilingualism, there are an astonishing number of people who could claim this capacity in Montreal especially. And while French-Canadians in the past were 'forced' to be bilingual, it is now English-language Montrealers who are increasingly bilingual. But as for 100% efficiency, I would say that this is not really a useful marker. What is 100% efficient when language is concerned?

JG: Mr John Woodsworth, a Russian-English translator and someone who submitted a report to the Canadian government many years ago, proposed to CBC: Replace the current system of separate English and French-language TV networks by a single bilingual network, with a daily schedule of mostly (if not all) Canadian-produced programming originating alternately in English and French, with captions (sub-titles) provided in the second language.

SS: An interesting idea, but unlikely to happen. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regulates these matters. Twenty years ago it closed down a bilingual radio channel that alternated between French and English. With the present government's stance on public broadcasting, we will be lucky to retain public broadcasting, never mind revolutionize it.

JG: In the course of this brief interview, we have only been able to touch on the diverse fields of erudition that you bring to historical and cultural aspects of translating. Nevertheless, we hope to have given our readers an idea of what they may find in any of the numerous books that you have written. Many thanks.

 Sherry Simon - The Flow of Languages, the Grace of Cultures (in French)


This interview was conducted in June 2015.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici. Traduction Jean Leclercq.

Interview with British wordsmith Nicholas de Lange

De LangeYanky Fachler kindly acceded to our request and  travelled to Cambridge to interview Professor Nicholas de Lange, the English translator of over a dozen books by Israeli author, Amos Oz, including Judas, which was short-listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. An ordained Reform rabbi, Professor de Lange is Emeritus Fellow and Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University's Faculty of Divinity and Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He has held visiting positions at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, the Jewish Theological Seminary of Hungary in Budapest, the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, the Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Toronto and Princeton University. He is a prolific translator of contemporary Hebrew fiction, and has served as Chairman of the Translators Association. In the following extracts, Professor de Lange shares some insights on the art of literary translation.


Yanky FaschlerYanky Fachler is a translator, broadcaster and writer of  several books in the field of Jewish history. He was born in the United Kingdom, spent almost thirty years in Israel and currently lives in Ireland, where he is founder and chairman of the Jewish Historical Society of Ireland.






Y.F. :  How would you define a translator?

A translator is a reader who is also a writer. I read the text, and then I write it. My aim is to write a book that is word for word like the original – without being a word for word translation. Since I also write many books of my own, I see no difference between a translator and an author. As an author, you convert material from your mind on to the page. As a translator, you convert someone else’s work to the page. I am uncomfortable being asked which specific words of phrases in Hebrew I find difficult to translate. I don’t like being asked whether I find Hebrew a difficult language to translate. The actual words are almost irrelevant. I translate paragraphs.

 Y.F. :  Do you read a book before you start to translate it?

I don’t like to read the book in advance. Partly because translation is so badly paid that it takes up too much time; and partly because I like to discover the book as I go along. This approach, though, can lead you astray. In Oz’s My Michael, there is a couple living in Jerusalem who drink endless cups of tea. One day, the man is ill and he asks his wife to bring him tea with milk. With my British background, I found this strange. How had he consumed all the previous cups of tea? Then I learned that in Israel, tea with milk is only given to sick people. I had to go back and rewrite all the tea scenes, replacing cups of tea with glasses of tea. Going back to the question of reading a book before translating it, some of the other translators at the Man Booker event agreed with my habit of not reading the book first. But one translator was adamant: “I must read the book first, because I might not accept it.” The only time I have turned down a translation job is when I was too busy.


Y.F. : The actor Lawrence Olivier claimed that actors must learn to love the unsavoury characters they portray on stage. Does something similar happen with translators? Do you have to love some of the unsavoury characters you translate?

Laurence_OlivieN.d.L. :  Translation isn't impartial. Like Olivier rightly says, you must be on the side of the character. You must love the characters you translate. Many of the characters that populate Amos Oz's books are unpleasant, but I don't let my dislike of them stop me from portraying them as they should be portrayed. Anyway, unsavoury characters make interesting characters. You need enormous sympathy for the characters you are translating. For example, some of the books I translate have no narrator – they are entirely epistolary. Everything is in direct speech. Just as a theatre audience needs to know the distinct voice of each actor on stage, so the translator must make the reader aware of which character is speaking at any particular time in an epistolary piece. While on the subject of dialogue on stage and dialogue in translation, I once translated a piece for BBC Radio 3 that was only intended to be read aloud, not to appear on the printed page. The actress called me and said she had a problem with a couple of phrases. "Could you please go back and check the Hebrew to see whether that is what the author really meant?" My heart sank. This was going to be a disaster. Yet when I went back to the original, she was absolutely correct. Without knowing any Hebrew, the actress had stumbled upon a couple of places where my translation did not do justice to the original.

Y.F. : You are quoted as saying that a faithful literary translation demands transcending the words to convey the whole cultural context. Could you elaborate?

N.d.L. :  As a translator, you have to translate the context of the book you are translating. You are asking people to read about a culture they don't and can't know. You have to make the context clear in a subtle way. For example, when there is a reference to Chaim Nachman Bialik, Israel's national poet, you don'; have the luxury of using footnotes. You need to find a more subtle way of letting the reader know who Bialik is. It's the same with biblical and Talmudical references. I don't feel the need to explain what the Bible is or what the Talmud is. I leave it to my readers to pick up allusions and to look stuff up for themselves.

Y.F. : What is your latest Hebrew literature translation project?

N.d.L. :  I don't go out of my way to look for Hebrew books to translate, but I am currently engaged in translating perhaps the most challenging Hebrew novel, Days of Ziklag by S Yizhar. This hugely influential modernist work was first published in 1958, and is one of the two most difficult Hebrew books to translate. The other is Yakov Shabtai's Zikhron Devarim (Past Continuous). I was drawn to the Days of Ziklag project because it is the ultimate challenge for a translator – a bit like translating James Joyce. Although Yizhar was writing before the emergence of Holocaust literature as a genre, his War of Independence themes resonated with Holocaust themes such as ethnic cleansing.

Y.F. : Do you ever collaborate with other translators?

N.d.L. :  Right now, I am collaborating on S Yizhar's Days of Ziklag with a former student of mine, Yaacob Dweck. But what with me living in England, and Yaacob living in the USA, we have calculated that it will take us many years to complete the project [1] . I am not unaware of some of the perils of working with a collaborator. The translator Ros Schwartz once told me of her experience in co-translating a book with another translator. She soon discovered that they each had their own style, and this made it very difficult to find a consistent voice. Even little things like the propensity of one translator to use "start" where the other translator used "begin" caused difficulties. As a rule, I often feel uncomfortable reading other translators. If a book is translated from a language I don't know, I find myself asking what the original was like. I suppose I only enjoy translations that are extraordinarily well done.


Y.F. : In Judas, Shmuel gives Yardena a gift for her secular birthday and another for her Hebrew birthday. Having two birthdays is like having two identities. As a translator, does English represent your secular identity, and Hebrew your sacred identity?

N.d.L. :  That is a very subtle question. Yes, English is my secular identity. I certainly regard Hebrew as a sacred tongue, and I prefer to use it only for sacred purposes. I have translated more medieval Hebrew poetry into English than modern Hebrew literature. I don't speak modern Hebrew. I can't read a Hebrew newspaper. [2]  I can listen to the news, but I get lost when they talk about politics. I am unfamiliar with many modern colloquialisms. I do not even regard myself as an expert in Hebrew literature. At the get-together of the Man Booker Prize short-listed authors and their translators, the authors were asked to read from their work in the original language. Amos Oz wasn't there, and they asked me to read. I refused, because my spoken modern Hebrew is not good enough.


Y.F. : Jews have traditionally been multi-lingual. They spoke the language of the host country, they prayed in Hebrew, and conversed in Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic or Arabic. Does the Jewish cultural DNA give Jews an edge when it comes to translating?

N.d.L. :  It is true that through the ages, Jews used their linguistic versatility to become great translators. But the golden age was during the medieval period. In the world of modern literature, Jews no longer have an edge. Most of today's best translators are not Jewish. A lot of translations of modern Hebrew literature used to be clumsy, with translators often not even translating into their mother tongue. But things are much better nowadays, because the authors themselves have learned to be more choosey about who will translate them.


Y.F. : You seem to be drawn to works associated with Israel's War of Independence. Do you think that the war could have been avoided?

N.d.L. :  The main theme of Judas is the conflict between David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister – a true-life character, and the fictional character of Ben GurionShaltiel Abravanel. Ben Gurion believed that the Arabs would never accept a Jewish state in Palestine, so the only alternative was to fight them. Abravanel insisted that war was avoidable, and for his views he was expelled from the ruling elite. He did not think that Israel should be a Jewish state, rather a country in which all could live in equality as brothers. Whatever my views on Abravanel's views may be, I do not let this influence my translation.


Y.F. : In Israel today, some people brand Oz a traitor for his controversial political views. How have his views impinged on your long-term collaborator as Oz's translator?

N.d.L. :  I don't have any opinion about Amos Oz's political views. I am a translator, and I'm really not involved or interested in Israeli politics. I am an academic. It is not my job to pass judgement on the opinions expressed in the book. It is not my job to impose myself on the text. It's not my job to get involved in the politics. It is my job to translate what's put in front of me.


1. The interviewer, Yankjy Fachler, explained to us that de Lange apparently believed that despite modern technology, such as Skype, he and his assistant would have needed to sit together to pore over many fine points in order to perfect the translation.
2. We asked the interviewer how it was possible that Professor de Lange could not read a Hebrew newspaper and yet had translated all the books of Amos Oz, which are written so beautifully and at such a high register. Mr. Faschler explained that Professor de Lange was a specialist in medieval Hebrew and has translated much medieval Jewish poetry and liturgy. However, he had first met Amos Oz at Cambridge when they were both young, and apparently through that friendship he had developed an impressive command of modern Hebrew, despite his claim that he could not read a newspaper.
Cet entretien est accessible en français ici. Traduction Jean Leclercq.