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Melanie, French and German to English, expert translator

This week the spotlight is on Melanie Wilkos. Originally from the United States, Melanie is a legal translator who works from French and German into English. Inquisitive, committed, and well-travelled, Melanie puts her foreign cultural knowledge to work every day.

What did you study in order to become a French and German translator?

I completed my French high school diploma in literature, with a specialised advance modern language. I was already passionate about languages other than my native language, English, which is why I learned French and German. When I got to university (Kansas City University), I decided to take a course that incorporated both languages and business.

I studied my chosen languages for 5 years (and added Spanish to the mix), and took NGO leadership classes, as well as business classes… This course gave me the opportunity to discover a broad range of different materials, to develop my curiosity, and provided me with solid cultural baggage. As soon as I graduated, I spent a year and 8 months working in West Africa with a humanitarian organisation.

My duties mainly included administrative and management tasks. I ended up realising that they required my language skills more and more. I began translating documents and realised the impact that my translations had.

This led me to start looking into a master’s degree in translation. I really wanted to find a “practical” master’s degree that would allow me to get a hands-on translation experience. I wanted to specialise in medical, technical, or legal translation. My goal was to work for an NGO. My research led me to the TSM [Multilingual Specialised Translation] master’s degree in Grenoble, as it was offering everything that I was looking for.

What made you choose France?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t think that I’d end up staying in France after graduation. I had already lived in France when I was younger, but I didn’t know Grenoble very well. The plan was to leave and go work for an NGO, but a series of events finally led me to stay here, and… I am actually in the process of applying for French naturalisation!

During my search for an internship during my second year of my master’s degree, when I was accepted by a company outside of France, I encountered a lot of Visa problems because of my status as an American student. I began to lose hope until one of my friends had sent me an advertisement for an internship in a translation agency near Grenoble. The advert seemed perfect for me and offered everything I was looking for!

I was offered a job as a French and German translator at the end of my internship. My manager helped me a lot with administrative procedures, and I became an employee at ACSTraduction before even finishing my internship period!

What does your cultural knowledge offer you as a translator?

For me, a translator switches between two different worlds when they translate. The source text reflects the way of thinking that is specific to the source cultural and linguistic context. Therefore, translators must transform the text into a different language which again has a different way of thinking.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel, I’ve spent more time abroad than I have in my own country! Studying in French education institutions has given me the opportunity to evolve and grow in two different contexts. So, I quickly realised the influence of different ways of thinking in writing.

A typical day as a French and German translator?

My job has many facets, I deal with translations for individual and professional clients. I also proofread documents that have been written in English, such as customer communications, and terminological research.

I also train in the interns, and I help with our internal timetable organisation by liaising with the project managers. I am also a consultant and deal with any questions relating to anglophone and francophone culture and any questions in relation to French and English translation.

What’s your favourite thing about French and German translation?

I love learning new things every day and sharing new cultural knowledge with people around me/ my colleagues. I also enjoy working with others and seeing people progress, partly thanks to what I was able to teach them or help them with.

What’s your watchword?

Open-mindedness and precision. Delivering quality translations is very important to me because it is an investment on the translator’s part.

By Emeline Cizeron, for ACS Traduction – 2019.

There will be another profile available here next week, don’t forget to check it out!