4 ways becoming a parent has made me better at my job

It’s no secret that becoming a parent, the mom kind in my case, completely changes one’s relationships, priorities, body, home, work–everything. Anthropologists have even coined the term matrescence (contraction of maternity and adolescence) to describe the radical transformation that takes place, even at a cellular level, in a woman’s life when she becomes a mother. But for some reason (media representations? the social disconnect between parents and non-parents? willful disbelief? biological blindness?), in the months leading up to becoming a first-time mom, I had no idea what to do to prepare my career for what was about to happen. This is a vital issue, particularly for freelancers, particularly for mothers (still in 2023, for all kinds of reasons), which I will definitely address more directly in a future blog post. Suffice it to say that getting back to full-time work as an independent translator has been hard fought. But in addition to the challenges of mothering a small child while also trying to rebuild, sustain, and grow an independent business, there have been some surprising benefits. As I reflect on my matrescence applied to the world of work, I can honestly say that since giving birth to my son, I have become better at my job in at least 4 important ways. And I am genuinely curious to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you think having children has had a positive impact on your professional self? And in what ways?

  1. PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE

As a linguist, I rely on all kinds of life experiences to get the language just right for a given text. Prior to becoming a mother, I worked on accounts for children’s brands. In the pre-child years, I had to spend extra time researching vocabulary and concepts specific to the world of early parenthood. Today, understanding the difference between a sleep sack and footed pajamas has gone beyond intellectual knowledge, it has become a part of my own story. I now know, on a deep level, what these kinds of objects mean to parents of babies, and I believe that shows through in my work. As my son grows, his interests begin to fan out beyond my own tastes and preferences. He’s becoming his own person, and as he does, he introduces me to new worlds and new experiences, all of which enrich my life and work.

2. PROFESSIONALIZATION

For me, I think it took becoming a parent to truly realize that I was a professional. It’s not that I didn’t take my job seriously before. It’s just that now I understand how important it is to set limits, stand up for my work and the work of others in my field, and take stock of what I do. This has translated into establishing realistic deadlines that ensure I can deliver high quality work; negotiating budgets that value the time, experience, and expertise I bring to a job; taking part in more professional growth activities (continuing education, association membership); and spending time reflecting on practice (this blog is part of that!).

3. PRACTICE

Reading with a child is one of life’s deeply pleasurable experiences. There’s nothing that can beat those moments cuddled up together, his tiny face engrossed in the pictures on the page. And from a linguistic perspective, children’s literature is rich with images, sounds, and plays on words. The attention to the mouth feel of words is particularly salient in this genre, much more so than in most contemporary adult literature. It’s such a wonderful daily reminder of how words sound and feel, which is important in the creation of a translation as well. Many words can say the same thing, but only some will truly pop in a given context.

Another way in which reading with my child flexes my translator muscles is the instant translation I now do of all non-English books that come into our home. This is a choice we’ve made in our bilingual family: Dad speaks with the kiddo in French and I speak with him in English. I take this decision particularly to heart since we live in a Francophone environment, so every day I work and rework (since kids love repetition) my Anglophone versions of Tchoupi, the p’tits docs series, Babar, and all the other Gallic children’s books on our bookshelves.

4. THE HUMAN TOUCH

Being a parent has become an integral part of who I am, a facet of myself that comes into dialogue with everything I do. As a professional, it has made me more empathetic, better attuned to my clients and their needs, more aware of my own strengths and limitations, and simply more human. In our society’s drive toward ever more technology, increasing isolation and social distancing, I have become more and more convinced of the importance of highlighting the human in what we do. I enjoy taking the time to discover who my clients are as people and professionals, understanding their audiences, and creating language that best reflects them.

By the way, this podcast, La Matrescence, by the French sports journalist Clementine Sarlat has been an incredible resource and inspiration for me on all things early parenthood: https://clementinesarlat.com/podcasts/la-matrescence/

style guides

The week has been hectic, particularly since Monday was a holiday in France–Easter 🐰. I feel like I’ve been rushing more than usual as I try to meet deadlines, stay on pace for larger projects, and meet with prospective clients.

A recurring theme this week (since every period seems to have its leitmotiv) has been style guides. I love it when clients come to me with detailed style guides that cover all the nuts and bolts of putting a text together, like whether or not to use the Oxford comma, or more intangible aspects like tone, vision, and target audience. There are many ways to communicate a message, and there are many different conventions one can follow. A style guide helps translators understand client expectations and get the language just right for a specific project.

Many clients don’t come armed with a style guide, and that is why I like to spend some time at the beginning of any project–big or small–going over some basic questions. What is the mission of your text? Who are your readers? Should I follow UK or US spelling conventions? Should measurements be converted into inches and feet?

Of course, I have my own preferences (Oxford comma ✅, American spelling [Merriam Webster]✅, Chicago Manual of Style ✅), but I always adapt to those of my clients. The key is to work together so that I can put my expertise at the service of your message.

By the way: One blogger and podcaster I find really helpful when it comes to subtleties in English grammar is Mignon Fogarty, the founder of Grammar Girl.

Notes de lecture: 3 livres et 1 podcast, 1er trimestre 2023

Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain (traduit en français par Lisa Stupar : Proust et le calamar). Très bel ouvrage qui raconte l’histoire de comment le cerveau humain, à travers la culture, a bricolé un chemin pour apprendre à lire, car comme l’indique Wolf dès la première phrase de son livre, “We were never born to read” [nous ne sommes pas nés pour lire]. Ce livre, écrit par une chercheuse en neurosciences, est conçu pour un grand public mais s’adresse aussi à tous ceux qui s’intéressent à l’apprentissage de la lecture–parents et enseignants–et à ses disfonctionnements éventuels ; il y a notamment des chapitres révélateurs sur la dyslexie. Les propos sont particulièrement pertinents dans le contexte américain où la méthode appliquée dans une bonne partie des écoles s’avère, de manière assez scandaleuse, inadaptée à l’apprentissage de la lecture et où, en conséquence, cette compétence est en forte régression chez les enfants et les ados (voir Sold a Story ci-dessous). Mais il s’agit aussi d’une belle apologie de la lecture dans notre société moderne, qui tend de plus en plus vers une lecture rapide, condensée, fragmentée et distraite.

Sold a Story, un podcast en 6 épisodes par Emily Hanford pour American Public Media (pas de traduction disponible). Reportage sidérant sur le constat que les enfants américains lisent de moins en moins bien et sur la méthode mise en place dans les écoles américaines depuis plusieurs décennies qui explique en grande partie cette régression.

Poverty by America par le sociologue Matthew Desmond et l’auteur du livre Evicted (2017), lauréat du prestigieux Pulitzer Prize (pas de traduction disponible). Sortie donc très attendue cette année. Je l’ai écouté en version audiolivre. En partant du constat pourquoi y a-t-il autant de pauvreté dans une nation qui est aussi riche que les Etats-Unis ?, Desmond dresse un portrait peu flatteur d’une société qui crée énormément de richesse pour certains, qui fait un maximum pour protéger les riches, mais qui garde les pauvres dans des situations précaires, en éviscérant non seulement les aides sociaux pour ces groupes mais aussi le bien commun. Ses propos lacèrent la gauche comme la droite et pointent le doigt aux cadeaux fiscaux réservés aux classes aisées, à la corruption dans certains états (où les aides fédérales pour les pauvres ont servi de tire-lire pour certains élus et leurs familles), au démantèlement des syndicats … Lecture nécessaire mais aussi pertinent pour les français … c’est un bon rappel de pourquoi il faut absolument protéger d’autres valeurs.

Victory City, le dernier roman de Salman Rushdie. Il sera disponible en français, grâce à une traduction par Gerard Meudal, à partir de septembre 2023. Bon, je ne vous fais pas découvrir ce grand auteur. Dans sa critique du roman pour The Guardian, Xan Brooks le qualifie de « lavish fairytale Â» (conte de fée somptueux), ce que je trouve assez juste. On rentre très rapidement dans un univers très littéraire, le texte qu’on lit serait la traduction condensée d’un poème/récit écrit au 15 e siècle par Pampa Kampana, l’originatrice d’une ville, Bisnaga, qu’elle a littéralement plantée avec des graines. Tous les habitants de cette ville sont des fictions ; c’est Pampa Kapmana qui leur a chuchoté leurs histoires. Dépaysement assuré.