Written by:
Oct 1, 2020

An Interview with a Translator: How French Translator Nathalie Serieys Works

French translator, Nathalie Serieys

Location: I have a permanent base in my home département of Aveyron, France, however I try and take advantage of the opportunity remote working offers by traveling abroad for extended periods of time as often as possible – warmer climates in winter, and cooler countries in summer.

Languages: I translate from English and Spanish into French, and I have basic knowledge of German, Russian and Swedish.

One word that best describes how you work:

Purposefully. Equally in the sense of mindfully choosing my assignments, strategically deciding what to work on first based on deadline and personal disposition, and keeping in sight the larger purpose of the content I’m translating.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I was born and raised in a very rural area in the South West of France. My parents were livestock farmers, which meant no traveling as a kid and very little exposure to other languages and cultures. At school, English was my favorite and strongest subject and I dreamt of seeing more of the world, so when I was offered a scholarship to finish school in the Lycée français in London, I jumped at the chance. I fell in love with the UK instantly and ended up staying there for 10 years, my first year in London and the remaining nine in Manchester, where I went to university, got my first jobs and started working as a freelance translator.

Over time, my thirst for traveling increased, and once I began getting regular translation assignments, I took full advantage of no longer being bound to a physical location to explore the world. In the beginning, I travelled almost 100% of the time, but now I have found that having a base and traveling less and slower suits me best. I travel for around half of the year, working from the countries I visit. As a translator specialized in sustainability and the environment, I try to be mindful of the way I travel and I fly as little as possible, so I tend to stay in Europe. Last year, for instance, I travelled throughout Scandinavia. The year before, I was in the Balkans. This year, I will be mainly in Germany.

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What made you first interested in translating?

Growing up in a very remote part of France made me curious about the world. I already loved languages, particularly English, and it seemed natural for me to keep studying what I enjoyed best. As I was already in the UK when I finished school, I decided to stay there and went to university in Manchester. After my degree in Spanish and Russian, I studied translation and interpreting. However, I did not work as a translator straight away. Instead, I worked for a car hire broker as a multilingual sales agent. It was during this time that I slowly started going down the logical path of offering my services as a freelance translator.

Take us through a standard workday for you--what are some of the things you do as a translator?

I am lucky in that being self-employed means that I do not have to stick to a strict routine and can organize my days as I like. As I love being outdoors, exploring and hiking, I plan my timetable according to where in the world I am, the weather forecast and, of course, my workload. This being said, I noticed that I am most productive in the morning, so this is when you are most likely to find me at my desk.

I love that my assignments are varied. Most translators have domains they specialize in, and mine are Environment & Sustainability, International Development, Outdoor Activities & Sports, as well as Marketing, Media & Entertainment. I also accept tasks outside of these specialisms, provided I know I can do a good job of translating them. I love that I constantly learn new things while translating – another perk of the job!

What apps, tools, or resources could you not live without in your work?

  • A reliable and fast internet connection.
  • A powerful and portable laptop.
  • My smartphone so that I can answer clients while on the go.
  • The Microsoft Office suite.
  • My trusted CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tool, a computer program designed to help translators work more quickly and accurately.

What’s a “hack” or learning technique that you use to figure things out in a new language?

When you start learning a new language, making progress is easy. After a while, however, it can feel like you’re stalling. What has always helped me is to connect the language with something I am passionate about. It could be a TV show in the new language, listening to music, YouTube videos, or something as simple as setting a website I frequently visit or even my phone in the new language. This way, I make progress, or at the very least keep the language fresh in my mind, without even realizing it.

How do you keep track of what you have to do?

I tend to keep things well-organized in my head and in my inbox. As I generally favor long projects over lots of shorter ones, this method works well for me. If I notice that tasks and assignments start piling up, I simply take a sheet of paper where I create a daily schedule of my week with to-do tasks, so that I never miss a deadline. I have been trying to use an online calendar, but I prefer to cross tasks off a list with a pen.

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What’s your least favorite thing to do and how do you tackle it?

Whenever I finish a translation, particularly a long one, it’s tempting to consider the job as done and to deliver it to the client. However, it’s important to revise and proof your own work to make sure that you have not forgotten anything, that the meaning is clear and accurate and that the translated text flows naturally. Provided I have time, I like to set the translation aside and revisit it a few days later with fresh eyes. If I’m short on time, I make a point of proofing what I have translated the next morning, when my mind is at its freshest.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The freedom to manage my days as I please. It has had a tremendous impact on my happiness. Every day when I wake up, I’m actually happy to turn on my computer and get to work. I love that I can take breaks when I like, make the most of the daylight or the sunshine in winter, or that I have the luxury of going food shopping or into museums when it’s quiet.

What would you say makes learning languages for translation different from learning languages for other reasons?

I have never learnt a language specifically for translation, but I would say that the key difference is that not only must a translator be able to understand the source language in all its nuances, they must also be able to express themselves perfectly in their mother tongue.

Nathalie Serieys cycling

What are you currently reading or what would you recommend?

Firstly, I always make time to read the news in my source languages and in French every day. As for my actual reading list, it can be quite hectic as it is usually shaped by my travels. For instance, when I was in the Balkans, I educated myself on the history of the region. When traveling through Scandinavia last year, I familiarized myself with the concepts of hygge and lagom, and I re-read the famous Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. At the moment, I am reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. A book I had been meaning to read for a long time.

What’s the best advice related to languages that you’ve ever received?

To not be afraid to make mistakes; it’s how you learn, which I guess is also true about most things in life.

What is your favorite "un-translate-able" word or phrase?

One of my favorite French expressions is “chanter en yaourt”, literally to sing in yoghurt. It means singing a song using made-up words because you do not understand the lyrics or the language. I “sang in yoghurt” a lot when I was a child.

How has knowing multiple languages impacted your life?

It’s made traveling so much easier. I know many French people who cannot speak a second language and who feel like they can’t travel abroad for fear of not being able to get by. Obviously, English is the most useful language, but I also found that knowing some Russian is very useful in Eastern Europe. Russian also helped me decipher street names in Greece, which would have been more difficult had I never learnt the Cyrillic alphabet.

A strange side effect of knowing several languages is not being quite the same person when I speak English as when I speak French, for instance, as my experiences in the UK and in France were vastly different and have shaped the way I interact with other people.

Additionally, speaking multiple languages has opened my mind to different ways of living and thinking. There are many benefits to learning a new language, and getting to experience a different view of the world is definitely one of the greatest ones.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re reading this, chances are you are interested in learning a new language, and I simply would like to encourage all users of Drops to keep at it and be consistent. It’s best to learn a little every day than to try and take in too much once in a while. Remember how you learnt when you were in school. You probably studied a little a few times a week rather than learning three months’ worth of lessons in one day. Assiduity is key.

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