Hall of fame: Miriam

A dedicated and highly proficient translator in our English and Italian as well as English and French language pairs, Miriam became a multilingual by chance and by choice. From a teenager translating for fun to an ATA-certified professional, she believes that the combination of academic learning and everyday practice is highly valuable for a career in translation.

What languages do you speak and what are your experiences with learning them?

Aside from English, I speak three languages: French, Dutch and Italian.

French was the first language I studied, thanks to my grandfather. When I was 13, he took me to France and insisted that “no granddaughter of his would be an ignorant American traveling without knowing the language” and paid for French lessons. I studied it throughout high school and college, but didn’t apply it to my everyday life until I met a guy from Burkina Faso (17 years after the last time I’d studied French) whose opening line was “Tu parles français?” (do you speak French?). He is the father of my six-year-old daughter. I always say she would never have been born if I’d studied Spanish like more practical Americans do. Now my West African French is fluent, and I know a lot about luxury fashion terminology in French, thanks to working on Vestiaire Collective jobs for Gengo.   

In high school, I spent a year in the Netherlands through the AFS Intercultural Programs. It was a full-immersion program and I lived with a family and attended high school in Dutch (you don’t know real boredom until you go to a two-hour biology class in a language you don’t know). I learned Dutch very quickly and was fluent by the end of the year (though without a solid academic basis). Now it’s most useful as a party trick to impress people. I visited my host parents often over the last 25 years, but my Dutch is naturally quite rusty. It’s interesting though that comprehension remains almost constant, whereas production makes me sweat. When I try to study new languages now, like Spanish or Dioula (a West African language), I miss having the absorbent mind of a 16-year-old. I used to translate Dutch to English for fun, which was the origin of the idea of becoming a translator.

I studied Italian in college and spent my junior abroad in Florence, where I return often. I became an Italian-to-English translator in 2000 and became certified by the ATA in 2001. I learned Italian both academically and in practice, both of which are useful for translating.

My full translator story can be found here.

What are your favorite translation tools?

I use CafeTran as a CAT tool but, at the end of the day, nothing beats Google and its many features. I find image searches handy for product descriptions like those I do for Gengo. I find Google searches helpful in distinguishing between what is “correct English” and actual common usage.

What are your tips to become a Wordsmith?

This line stuck with me from a recent New York Times article:

“A good metaphor for the act of translation is akin to the attempt to answer the question ‘What player in basketball corresponds to the quarterback?’”

To translate well, you should know the rules and habits of both the source and target language. And you have to accept that things are always lost and gained in translation, which as Umberto Eco says, is the art of “saying almost the same thing.”


Want to become a Gengo translator?


Megan Waters

The author

Megan Waters

Megan manages all things translator-related as Gengo’s Community and Digital Content Manager. Born in South Africa but now based in Tokyo, she’s passionate about languages and people. Megan spends her free time exploring secondhand shops, camping in the mountains and hosting the occasional dinner party.

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