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Translation across Campus: The One Where it All Comes Together

There’s something kind of amazing that happens to a piece of literature when it is read aloud. It’s difficult to describe, but almost as if the words are transformed from something static into a living, breathing presence simply by being read aloud. I found this especially true during the reading and reception held to celebrate the release of the newest issue of Absinthe: World Literature in Translation this past Friday.

This latest issue, “Unscripted: An Armenian Palimpsest”, showcases the work of contemporary Armenian authors who produce literature and poetry from across the Armenian diaspora. The issue is made even more special because it is one of the few collections of this type of work available today. What made this event particularly exceptional for me, and I suspect the rest of the attendees, is knowing that each of the readers had personally translated and edited the very work that they were reading.

Having read through the entire issue a few times before this event, I considered myself fairly familiar and rather fond of its contents. However, I was absolutely unprepared by how much my appreciation and understanding of each piece would grow after hearing them read aloud. Maybe it was the fact that every word read was one that had likely been the focus of considerable deliberation that made these readings so meaningful. Or perhaps it is that each voice provided a depth of emotion and inflection that simply cannot be replicated in print. Whatever it was, I’m glad so many people had the chance to see months of work come together.

In addition to my blog posts chronicling translation projects taking place across campus, I have also worked as the undergraduate intern for Absinthe over the past semester, hence my familiarity with the issue. So this event was certainly doubly exciting for me! While I certainly wasn’t in the middle of any huge decisions regarding the journal, I had chance to witness how translation efforts come together at the most formal levels. Primarily, this involved an astounding level of collaboration and communication to ensure all contributors were on the same page and pleased with the final product.

In addition to the many things I learned about coordinating so many moving pieces and meeting often-difficult deadlines, my experience as an intern is especially valuable to me because it gave me a way to contextualize what I was learning about less-formal translation projects. I had the chance to speak to a variety of people on campus who are involved in some sort of translation work, whether it’s through a hobby, internship, or career. What has emerged to me from these conversations and from my experiences with Absinthe is that translation takes on a variety of different forms in daily. Rather more importantly, I’ve also found that each of these forms is uniquely valuable and valid.

Sometimes translation serves a highly practical role, as it did for Translate-a-Thon participants or medical interpreters. Here, perhaps, function outweighs grace to a certain extent, but that is not to say it is a cruder form. In a hospital, it’s absolutely vital that patients receive the most important information. But balancing that important duty with compassion for a patient’s situation is both a skill and an art. Other times, the aim of translation is to create a piece of art or to preserve a historical perspective. The process here is much more extensive and strategic, as was illustrated during my work with Absinthe and conversation with Kristin Datta.  

Regardless of where it happens, translation is a key facet of everyday life, and one I am glad I had the chance to explore over the past few months. And with that, my series comes to an end. Thank you to everyone that shared their experiences with me and to everyone who has provided guidance along the way.

— Anjali Alangaden

Translation across Campus: Where Medicine Meets Translation – An Interview with Megumi Segawa, by Anjali Alangaden

Minoring in Translation Studies is perhaps not the most typical choice for an undergrad hoping to go into medicine. And over the past couple years, I have often been asked how I see these two seemingly distinct fields of study interacting. But for me, the connections between translation and medicine are both clear and increasingly important.

On a daily basis, most physicians find themselves interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and identities. Sometimes that means working with patients who may not understand English or who struggle with comprehending often complicated medical jargon. Being an effective and compassionate health care provider requires physicians to bridge these communication divides. If that isn’t translation at work, I don’t know what is!

To further explore how translation and medicine interact, I spoke to Megumi Segawa, who has worked as a Japanese Healthcare Interpreter in the University of Michigan Health System since 2007.

Could you describe a little bit what medical interpreters do and how they function within the medical system?

Interpreter Services is a department at Michigan Medicine and we provide free interpreting services for patients with limited English and deaf and hard of hearing patients.  Staff interpreters are available for Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Russian and American Sign Language.  Basically we show up at the patient’s appointment and work with them throughout the medical encounter.  We provide assistance at check-in, in-take, doctor visit, check-out, various testing and procedures, ER visits, and Labor & Delivery.

How long have you been working with the medical interpreters? How does someone get involved in this field? 

I have been working as a staff Japanese interpreter since 2007 but started to work as a temp interpreter a few years before that.  I had interpreting experiences in other fields before I joined Interpreter Services and learned about medicine and medical interpreting though training sessions and online.  There’s a 40-hour medical interpreter training program called Bridging The Gap and that is something everyone must have before working as a healthcare interpreter.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an interpreter?

Interpreting for terminally ill patients are always difficult.  Similarly interpreting for parents whose baby/child has serious problems is also very tough.  What is hard in those situations is that you feel as if you were delivering “bad news.”  On top of that, you also have to voice the reaction to the news, so you end up feeling everyone’s pain.

How many interpreters are active in UMHS and how many languages do you accommodate?  

I think we have about 100 interpreters including staff interpreters and temp interpreters.  We have many temp interpreters for languages other than the 7 foreign languages I mentioned in Q1 such as Romanian, Polish, Greek, Somali, and Hindi.  When there is no in-person interpreter available, we provide phone interpreting services through an outside agency.

Are there any other things you’d like to add?

We also translate medical records and patient education materials for providers and patients.  Translation and interpretation are rather different things.  Just like not all bilingual people are good at interpreting, not all interpreters are good translators and visa versa.

-Interview by Anjali Alangaden

Translation across Campus: Translating History, One Video at a Time – An Interview with Kristen Datta, by Anjali Alangaden

I first met Kristen Datta in a freshman seminar during January of 2015. We were both pretty interested in languages and were both considering pursuing a major in Linguistics. One thing that I immediately found fascinating about Kristen was her interest in learning both Japanese and German, a pair of languages that were completely foreign to me. As I was studying Portuguese at the time, another not-so-common language on campus, we quickly connected over our interest in languages and our struggles to understand the often painfully dense literature we were discussing in class.

In the three years that followed, I’ve had at least one class with Kristen every semester — honestly not that unusual of an occurrence in the Linguistics Department — and every semester I have learned a little bit more about her. For example, she comes from a family of science-minded individuals, but has branched out to pursue a dual major in Linguistics and German. I also found out that her grandmother was Japanese, which guided her interest in learning that language. And as I discovered just a couple months ago, Kristen is also doing an internship with a nonprofit called the World War II History Project that aims to discover and preserve the firsthand accounts of participants and survivors of World War II.

First off, could you describe the project that you’re working on?

So the project is for an organization called the World War II History Project. It covers interviews with a lot of different sorts of World War II veterans, but a decent number of them were German prisoners of war in the United States actually. So they were captured in North African and brought to the US as prisoners of war. We have these video interviews, but no transcripts – so I’ve been doing a lot of transcribing for sure. My supervisor is writing a history book on this, although I’m not sure about all of the details. So a lot of what I’ve been doing is mainly focused on these German prisoners of war.

How did you find out about this project and get involved?

It was actually through the German Department, you know those weekly emails about all the things going on in the department. Well, they had this list of internships and stuff so I sent in my application and did a Skype interview.  And then, yeah, it worked out!

So this is clearly part of a larger project. Is this based primarily in the US or somewhere else?

Yeah it’s based mostly out of the US. My supervisor’s in Florida, I think. But some of the other people working on this are in Germany.

How much time do you put in per week?

During the summer I was doing a lot more, obviously. I usually did a few hours a day then, but recently I haven’t been working on it as much. Coursework and all that stuff kind of gets in the way, but I’m still working on it here and there when I can2

Of all of the things you’ve translated, what do you think is maybe the most interesting?

I know a decent amount about World War II history through my German studies and history classes in general. But it’s really interesting to have a perspective from the prisoners of war, especially the Africa campaign because that’s not a lot of what I know about. I guess also, it’s personally interesting to me to here about this as well because my grandmother was Japanese-American, and she was actually in internment here in the US…so kind of looking at the comparison of how Japanese-American citizens were treated in internment camps versus prisoners of war. It’s also interesting because these interviews

Can you tell me a little bit about the videos you’ve been working on?

The main guy whose interviews I’ve been working on, well he was an interpreter so he speaks both German and English very fluently. The only problem is that he switches back and forth between the languages throughout the interviews. You know, it’s kind of fun to see the ways he incorporates the languages and how he talk about specific things. Also, my military vocabulary has become a TON bigger.

Oh that’s interesting! Tell me a little more about that.

Yeah, the worst is definitely place names! So like I said, he was part of the Africa campaign which I’m not that familiar with. So I’m trying to use all these clues like ‘I know they’re in Tunisia, and this name sort of sounds like this so…?’ I usually end up Googling a name that I think I heard and look at maps, trying to see what things like cities and lakes and bays that they’ve referenced. But yeah, thankfully my supervisor knows the history of this way better than I do and she did all of the interviews, so she can give me a lot more information than I would have otherwise. Also, a lot of times they use the German names for locations, so I really have to backtrack and try to recreate the German pronunciation and spelling.

You’re a German major, right? Have you found that you linguistics background has helped you in this?

I’m mostly relying on my German honestly. I like to think that it helps, but one of the nice things about German, at least, is that the spelling is a little more understandable. The spelling and pronunciation aren’t exactly the same, but at least they’re close. If there’s a word I don’t know, I can usually just transcribe it how I think it’s spelled and then refine as I go.

You’ve probably listened to quite a few hours of footage at this point. Is there anything he’s said that particularly stuck out to you?

I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know in general. I think it’s also really interesting to hear how his work as a translator in the prisoner camps kind of affected how he interacted with both Americans and the German prisoners of war. After the war, he actually ended up living in the United States for quite a few years actually, so I think it’s kind of interesting to see how he went from being a prisoner of war to being a long-term resident of the country that captured him. He talks a lot about the fights that did break out or some times that they were mistreated by the guards, but overall, it is an interesting dynamic to look at both the good and the bad interactions and how that influenced his decision to stay in the United States.

-Interview by Anjali Alangaden

Join us for a reading from new issue of Absinthe on December 8th!

The editors of Absinthe: World Literature in Translation are pleased to invite you to the launch of our upcoming issue, “Unscripted: An Armenian Palimpsest.”

Please join us in celebrating this publication with a reading on Friday, December 8th from 3:30 – 4:30 PM in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan (2024 Tisch Hall).

Readers include Maral Aktokmakyan Erdogan, Meg Berkobien, Tamar Boyadjian, Dzovinar Derderian, Michael Pifer, Peter Vorissis.

 

Translation Across Campus: Translate-a-Thon 2017 — An Interview with Alexandra Husted (Ford School of Public Policy), by Anjali Alangaden

One of the most enjoyable parts of Translate-a-Thon has to be the share out on Sunday afternoon. After three days of collaboration and translation, participants have the chance to come together and share what exactly they’ve been working so hard on. Although the Sunday session tends to be a bit smaller when compared to the crowds on the other two days, the ideas being discussed were anything but.

In addition to describing the variety of materials that had been translated over the weekend — from community cookbooks to domestic abuse pamphlet — participants also discussed the challenges they faced and how they see translation evolving in the age of online translators.

For me, one of the most novel parts of this Sunday was the closing workshop on how to professionalize translation experiences. I’ve always known there is great value, both metaphorically and monetarily, in having documents and words in an accessible language. However, I had zero idea on how to actually go about finding opportunities and choosing which are most suitable. Really interesting stuff!

Just prior to the share out, I spent a few minutes talking to Alexandra Husted, a graduate student in the Ford School of Public Policy about her Translate-a-Thon project. Prior to coming to Michigan, Alexandra worked as a project manager at a small translation firm, so this sort of work was more than familiar to her.

How did you hear about the Translate-a-Thon?

I think we got an email from someone at the Ford school. I saw it and just figured I’d check it out.

What are you working on translating today?

For Freedom House, it’s a privacy statement for their clients. Freedom House works with refugees and I’m translating into French.

What have you found the most challenging part of this?

It’s pretty technical legally, so that terminology is pretty difficult. Unfortunately it just has to be technical and legal, so it’s not always going to be that understandable to people in kind of hard situations, but in order for Freedom House to cover themselves they have to stick with more regulatory language, I think.

What have you found the most rewarding part of this?

Well I’ve only been here today, so I haven’t worked on that much. But obviously, this is important information. And even if it’s sort of legalese, if it’s not in your own language, you know, or at least in a language you speak, you can’t understand it at all. So it’s nice to help out with that.

Where did you originally learn French?

I just took it in school for a very long time. And then I studied abroad. I studied it in high school and middle school and maybe before.

Have you worked on translation projects before?

At Michigan or in general? In general, I used to work at translation company. It was pretty small just outside of D.C. I was a project manager for them, so I had some translation experience going in. At the organization I was mostly managing, so not translating that much. But mostly, I tended to translate from French into English. If you’re serious or more rigorous translation, that’s generally what you would want. At that job it was also pretty technical, kind of legal-y stuff!

-Interview  by Anjali Alangaden, October 2017

Translation Across Campus: Translate-a-Thon 2017 — An Interview with Larissa Siregar (School of Social Work), by Anjali Alangaden

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

Translation Across Campus: When the Language Bug Bites

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a variety of different languages, both within my own family as well as our broader community. Somewhat unluckily, I never managed to learn any of these languages properly. Not that I’m completely hopeless! I can contribute to conversations and (much more importantly) understand all of the family gossip, but neither of these feats is particularly impressive in a family full of polyglots.

My linguistic failings aside, constantly being around several languages had a lot of wonderful effects, including the fact that I was constantly witnessing and experiencing countless moments of informal translation. Whether it was trying to explain the American grading system to my grandparents in India (who still aren’t entirely sure whether getting an ‘A’ is a good or bad thing) or attempting to understand the complex family tree of my Lebanese neighbors, informal translation has been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember.

Not that I ever really realized this fact, as these sorts of mixed interactions are ubiquitous in any multicultural family or community.  It wasn’t until I started taking classes related to my minor in Translation Studies that I began to regard my experiences in a new light. In these courses, I encountered the theories and techniques utilized by translators for the first time. Although the material was primarily aimed at translating literature, the discussions of the obstacles faced by translators — how to preserve cultural context, literal vs. metaphorical translations, engaging a completely new audience — applied to so many of my own experiences.

The more I looked, the more I saw translation at work in almost every imaginable context. I was fascinated by the translation spectrum I began to see emerging. These interactions ranged from extremely formal to quick informal explanations of cultural practices in my ESL class to the months-long intensive translation projects I saw taking place in the Comparative Literature department.

In an effort to explore the sides of translation that are so often overlooked, I will be publishing a month-long series of reflections and interviews with people engaging with translation in new and innovative ways. I hope you’ll enjoy joining me on this exploration of translation across campus!

-Anjali Alangaden

The Translate-a-thon is here! October 20-22, 2017

Registration is open!

Undergraduate and graduate students, UM faculty and staff, local community members, all are welcome! Join us for our translation marathon weekend; meet other translators, enjoy good food, and serve your community through translation.

Language Resource Center 1500 North Quad
Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 9am-9pm, Sunday 9am-3pm*

What is the Translate-a-thon?
The Translate-a-thon is a short, intense, community-driven translation marathon, where volunteers interested in translation come together to translate materials for the benefit of our local, national and international community. We accept projects from a variety of disciplines in a variety of different formats: including print, video and digital/web-based. We welcome all languages to our event.

*Although we encourage participation all three days, it is not required!

Panel: “Lost in Translation: Perception and Expression across Borders and Languages”

Thursday 5-7pm, September 14, 2017
West Conference Room, Rackham (4th floor)
Panelists: 
Samer Ali (Near Eastern Studies)
Miranda Brown (Asian Languages & Cultures)
Ana Morcillo Pallares (Architecture)
Acrisio Pires (Linguistics)
In 1922, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein declared that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” With the globally-connected community at the University of Michigan in mind, we invite you to an exploration of the cross-cultural academic expressive production that accompanies thinking and writing from a non-English background. Taking the University of Michigan as a case study, we hope to engage questions of scholarship and public expression incubated in the globalized environment that is the contemporary American university. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of English as a Second Language or as a lingua franca, we seek a discussion around scholarly expression in a multicultural, globalized academia. How does an American academic culture of expression interact with the increasingly international body of authors on campus? And, can non-normative writing paradigms find footing in American academia? Please join us for a scholarly conversation on multilingualism and the pleasures and difficulties of translation.
The public is welcome!

U-M student translations published in TRANSIT

Throughout the Fall semester 2016, the Department of German at the University of Michigan hosted Selim Özdoğan as Max Kade Writer in Residence. During his residency, Özdoğan visited Professor Kristin Dickinson’s seminar “Un/Translatability in Theory and Practice” to workshop student translations from his most recent novel Wieso Heimat? Ich wohne zur Miete (2016) (Who Said Heimat, I’m Only Renting). Students first read the novel and then selected individual chapters to translate. Over the course of several weeks, students then read, discussed, and edited each other’s work together with the author. Overall, this project offered the exciting opportunity for students to engage in a collaborative translation practice which underscored the value of translation as an ongoing process rather than simply an end product. The selections presented here comprise several humorous, pointed, and poetic scenes from the novel.

Students Mary Boyd (left) and Susan LaMoreaux (right) with Özdoğan during his writing workshop.

Read the student translations as well as an interview with Kristin Dickinson and Selim Özdoğan on the TRANSIT website.