On October 20-22, the Language Resource Center hosted their annual Translate-a-Thon event. This intense weekend of translation assists a variety of community-based organizations and institutions in translating their written materials into a variety of different languages. This is a vital service that makes these materials accessible to a much broader group of people, allowing those with low English literacy to engage with these programs.
One of my first experiences with a group translation project was at Translate-a-Thon 2014. Less than confident with my language skills, I was hesitant about this translation event that my Portuguese professor kept bringing up, but resolved to check it out regardless. In true freshman manner, I showed up completely alone and completely terrified, but was immediately caught up in the energy of the room. I ended up joining another student to translate a pamphlet for Meals on Wheels into Spanish. I honestly don’t think I was much help to her, but still enjoyed the chance to debate word choice, flow, and the importance of translation. This year, I had the opportunity to interview a few participants in Translate-a-Thon 2017 about their projects.
First up, Larissa Siregar — a Global Activities Scholar in the School of Social Work. Larissa spent two years working with the Peace Corps after completing her undergraduate degree, so the importance of translation is a familiar subject. When I spoke to Larissa, she was working on translating a document from Safe House Ann Arbor aimed towards victims of domestic violence.
How did you hear about Translate-a-Thon?
Actually, I heard about this through my return Peace Corps. Network and was initially interested in some of the African language translations. I ended up doing Spanish because that’s what I have more background in. I only learned about it Thursday evening, then spent some time here Friday. So this is my second day participating.
What have you found most challenging about this weekend?
Well for me, looking through my social work lens, with translation in general you have to be careful not to be too literal. But I’m also thinking from the perspective of potential victims seeking assistance and what language might speak to the according to the situation that they’re in. So with psychosocial support, some of the language may be technically more correct in one way but not really speak to the situation that they’re in. So I’m thinking through all of those things as I’m working on bits and pieces at a time.
So trying to reconcile the technical wording with the actual spirit of the document is hard?
Right! Or even trying to think what is actual wording in a conversation vs. when you’re in crisis mode looking for support. Those are two really different ways of speaking or writing.
What have you found most rewarding about this weekend?
What’s rewarding is that, well for me, I get to practice my Spanish skills. I’ve been looking for opportunities to connect with that. Also feeling like I can contribute to some of the advocacy for potential clients in organizations like this, and making information and language accessible for crisis situations — and that’s just the project I decided to do. That feels very rewarding for me, and I guess empowering too, because if I were ever to be in that type of situation, you know, I would want the language to make sense to me when I’m going through so many things.
Do you speak any other languages?
Well, I’m Indonesian, so I speak Indonesian. I also speak some Swahili, but Spanish and English are the only languages I’ve learned formally.
You mentioned that you were in the Peace Corps. Where were you based?
So we were evacuated halfway through, but I did get to return to another country. I was in Sierra Leone and Liberia. My cohort was evacuated out of Sierra Leone partway through due to the Ebola epidemic. So when I returned, it was a little less than a year later to a neighboring country (Liberia), which was also affected by the Ebola outbreak. It was pretty intense, but it was very rewarding as well.
Have you worked on any other translation projects?
Growing up bilingual, I was always helping my parents to translate either Indonesian to English documents or proofreading or revising some of their English to better fit what they wanted to say. And I knew how challenging that was because there was a whole conversation that needed to take place — it was never just the document in itself.
-Interview by Anjali Alangaden, October 2017