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The definition of “enormity” is standing with your feet in the surf on one of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever stood on, looking out over VERY turquoise blue water while a sun shower falls around you. Then trying to imagine this beautiful, peaceful haven completely filled with tanks, submarines, airplanes, bombs and thousands and thousands of men just charging out of the ocean and running up the beach. And THEN, turning around and wondering which one of the 10,000 people buried on the hill behind you died where you are standing.

Omaha Beach at Normandy.

My journey to Normandy wasn’t originally on the agenda.  I’m there on a fluke; a last-minute, split second decision that was made not even 36 hours prior.  The original plan was to go to Brittany for a few days before heading to Paris, but the seeds of doubt had been planted in my brain by my mother and Violaine, who both remarked that this was a place to absolutely be visited if given the chance.

So that’s how I find myself right off the coast of the English Channel, standing in the surf of Omaha Beach.  I am alone.  It’s a Monday afternoon and not vacation time.  It’s off-season.  I look around and no one is to be found – I see two little dots waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down the coastline, two other folks enjoying the solitude on the next beach over, but for 10 minutes, I have Omaha all to myself.  I gaze out over the absolutely beautiful water.  The sky is a mix of dark gray clouds and abundant sunshine against cobalt blue, and a sunshower begins to fall as the above-written words form in my mind.

I am eventually joined by a handful of other people, but in general, at any given time there are less than 5 people standing on this coast.  After the beach, I walk through the sun and rain back up the lush green hills to the American Cemetery.  I wander through the rows of sparkling white marble crosses and stars of David.  Names, states of origin, dates of death.  June 6, 1944.  June 7th and 8th are close seconds.  July 25, 1944.  June 31, 1944.  There are flowers on some.  On others, flags.

The layout of the Invasion Plan.

Graves looking over Omaha.

A fallen soldier from Colorado. I don’t know why he has both American and French flags, unless he was half French as well. In any case, I liked this one a lot.

It’s beautifully kept and an absolutely stunning resting place.  As I walk the rows in relative silence, stopping briefly to serve as an interpreter between an American man and a group of French high school students who are here for a school project, I look back and forth between the graves and the ocean.  I think of the museum from the day before, and the memorial I visited before coming down to the beach.  The photos of what this place looked like that day, and I try to imagine this pristine, quiet, beautiful and secluded area looking the way it did during the Invasion.  I am unsuccessful.

The town doesn’t look all that different than it did that day.  There are no cute, charming cafes, no touristy shops.  It’s 1945 stone building architecture lining country roads.  That’s it.

A street in Coleville sur Mer, right off Omaha Beach.

Wildflowers lining the street and overlooking the beach.

I feel a quiet and subtle sense of patriotism on the bus ride back.  But not in an American-centered way.  More in a “wow, look at the way all these people and different countries pulled and worked together for the greater good” sort of way.  This cross-cultural effort, a secret conspiracy that went off more or less without a hitch right under the noses of one of the most oppressive regimes that ever existed.  The fact that we were able to do this – all of us – is an extraordinary feat and probably the single most shining example of international cooperation and fraternity.

I spent two full days in Caen, following in the footsteps of famous figures in French history – William the Conqueror and his queen Mathilde, Charlotte Corday in her pre-revolution days, Edith Piaf’s relatives who owned their own café in the most historical part of the city.  This time here is not rushed the way my vacations sometimes are; I don’t run around.  I lazily wander the old streets, sauntering through the market on my self-guided walking tour that was listed in my booklet.  But I also leave a lot of time for relaxation – lounging in cafes, reading, watching a movie or two.

William the Conqueror’s fortress.

A view of Caen from atop a hill. You can see the abbeys and cathedrals from here very well.

A church originally built in around 1000 that was destroyed permanently during the World War II bombings. This is all that’s left.

Charlotte Corday frequented this building very often prior to moving to Paris and being executed during the revolution. She was one of the secretaries of the women’s abbey just next door.

The oldest neighborhood in Caen. It’s now the restaurant quarter. Edith Piaf’s folks owned a cafe here.

With the systematic downpours that happen every day here, making the streets look like there’s a flash flood, hanging out outside isn’t always a possibility.  I manage to sneak in a museum or two when that happens, and the whole pace of my 72 hours in Normandy is blissfully relaxing.

The exhibition at the Caen Memorial.

The diary of a boy explaining what the gold star means and where he needs to wear it. Written in French.

Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

“Invasion…all aboard for the invasion!”

Finally, on Tuesday, I pack up my things and catch the 3pm train direct to Paris.  As it pulls into the platform, I smile and I realize that this is my final trip with the SNCF.  It’s a sobering realization.  I climb in and find a seat, and am carried toward my final stop, and my final 4 days in France.

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I’m writing this entry in my room as the sun is rising over Avignon, the light blue sky mixed with tinges of orange, rose and streaks of white from clouds and passing airplanes.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in my own bed for over a week, and while normally at this time I’d be getting up, getting breakfast and then heading to work at Louis Gros, it’s les vacances scolaires, which means that yours truly is off of work until March 12.

This past week bought a special treat as the one and only awesomeness that is Jennifer Kneeland decided that I was worth her mid-winter break, and decided to come on over to France for a week to see the sites and eat as much cheese and pastries as possible.  She arrived on Saturday evening and just left yesterday morning from Marseille, leaving us plenty of time to see things that neither one of us have seen before.

On Monday I had to work, so she took a day trip to Nîmes while I was at Louis Gros.  On Tuesday, however, I took her to school with me to meet my kids.  Jen is a teacher in New York and was super interested in seeing how it was done on this side of the big pond.  She was a HIT.  They were THRILLED at the chance to meet another American and ask her questions, and she was excited to see the differences between her school and mine.  I was so proud of my munchkins this week – they were SUPER polite and really awesome with her.

My interpreting muscles were flexed quite extensively this week as I essentially managed the conversations between her and…well, everyone.  I’m happy to report I was extremely successful.  I cannot tell you how awesome it is to allow two people who otherwise would not be able to speak to each other communicate.  My favorite part, by far, is what I’ve affectionately started to label “the void” – the moment just after one party says something funny or impressive and there’s absolutely NO reaction from the other party until you’ve said it in the appropriate language.  One of the funniest examples include when Jen told the kids about the size of her school compared to theirs:

Kid: (In French) How many students are in your school?

Rachel: (repeats that in English to Jen)

Jen: Well, I think you guys will be super surprised to hear my school has 700 students in it.

Students: (absolutely no reaction whatsoever)

Rachel: (repeats that in French)

Students: WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

It’s hysterical.  Especially when it’s kids who by this point you know rather well, and you know what they’re going to find LIKE SO TOTALLY AWESOME!!!!!  Being the medium through which that excitement is found is super fun and rewarding.

Wednesday we took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, FINALLY.  I’d purposely been holding off going for when Jen got here.  It’s a beautiful town – very pretty, colorful, classically Provençal, and I introduced Jen to some of the local goods like Calissons, as well as tried steak tartar for the first time (it was okay, but not something I’d get again).

Due to a rather unpleasant run-in with street harassment in Aix, we arrived at Sufia’s on Wednesday a little tired and cranky, but had a lovely Indian-themed soirée with the gang with Sufia as master chef.  Absolutely delicious, and I’m glad Jen got to meet the people who I spend most of my time with here in Avignon.

Thursday afternoon was my last day at work before vacation, and then enjoyed another evening out with the gang at a local theatre where they were doing a free showing of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (the Passion of Joan of Arc), a really famous silent French film from the year 1928.  Then, on Friday, we woke up, I packed my little duffle/day bag and Jen packed her larger suitcase, and me, her and Chika hopped a train to Marseille for a fun girls weekend before Jen had to catch her flight back to New York on Sunday.

Chika and I had been to Marseille before but never to really hang out and see it – I was there for a training waaaaaaaaaaay back in the beginning in early October but only for one evening and I didn’t get to see anything.  I was also there for a few hours in early January when I got back from Nantes after Christmas, but only to crash overnight in a youth hostel.  I was excited to actually visit the town this time and take some time to explore.

We arrived in Marseille early afternoon to 70 degree weather and an absolutely impeccable, cloudless blue sky.  We immediately set out to see the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de la Garde and ended up staying there for a few hours, watching the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea and the city:

A little angel looking out over Marseille.

Marseille as seen from the Cathedral. The sea is just next to it.

Three lovely ladies hitting the town.

Cathedral artwork.

Sunset over the sea from Marseille. Words cannot describe how gorgeous this was in person.

Afterwards, we went out for absolutely AMAZING couscous.  Due to the North African/Tunisian influence in the south of France, you can find INCREDIBLE couscous at great prices in this area.  An appetizer, main dish, coffee, and dessert for under 15 euros?  Yes plz.

We slept like hell on Friday night (we are actually starting to wonder if we’re getting too old for youth hostels…perish the thought!) but plugged ahead on Saturday, spending the day taking the train out to la Côte Bleue (the blue coast), hiking the cliffs along the water and lazing around the small seaside towns:

Hiking the coast.

A little red lighthouse. Alex, this one is for you.

Seaside town on the Blue Coast.

After crêpes for dinner, we crashed hard and slept beautifully Saturday night.  On Sunday, Jen had to leave early to get back to New York, so we hugged tightly and said goodbye.  It really struck me while doing so that it actually wasn’t going to be too long until I saw her again – 3 months.  That’s all that’s left.

While she was in an aeroplane over the sea, Chika and I spent the once again warm and sunny morning wandering the streets of the Vieille Charité neighborhood of Marseille, a beautiful area recommended to me by Françoise:

Vieille Charité.

The windy streets of the neighborhood.

After that, we headed out to the beaches on the coast of Marseille, taking in the amazingly clear blue water of the Mediterranean Sea:

Me on the coast of the Mediterranean. Next stop across the sea, Africa.

After a drink at a small café by the water, we finally headed back to Avignon, arriving back around 6pm, exhausted, sandy and having had the weekend of our lives (or at least, of our time here).  All in all, I LOVED Marseille.  It kind of has a bad reputation as being dangerous and dirty (and according to Françoise, 10 years ago that was totally justified) but it’s gotten much better and I found it had SUCH a charm to it.  Every city has its own characteristics and slogan, and Marseille was a town of friendly, boisterous folks with a bit of grit, good humor, and a half metropolitan/half beachtown feel.  You get the feeling people here are just freakin’ trying to help you for cryin’ out loud, and what’s the rush with trying to get everywhere fast, and oh what’s that, you don’t like us?  Fuck you, we’re Marseille!

Anyway, on that note…

I’ve been experiencing such a period of calm, peace and reflection these past 2 months, and even more so now with le grand froid (the big cold) being over and the days getting longer and longer.  As I sat on the coast, staring out at the water with the sun shining down on the waves, talking to two good friends, I truly realized that I have arrived at a state of tranquility, joy and peace that I have not experienced since before my time at Columbia, which at this point feels like another lifetime ago.  I’ve been feeling generally quite good since I quit that job to begin with, but only now, over a year later, have a reached a state of what I would describe as “equilibrium.”  A sense of total calm, and contentment with my life exactly as it is – santosha, as we say in the yogic community.  I feel hope again, but more importantly, for the first time in years, literally years, I feel stable, grounded, and very, very, very alive, whereas before I always felt like I would fly away if the wrong situation hit me just right.

I have a plan that I am hoping to follow upon my return to the US that I am cautiously optimistic for but by no means married to, and that in and of itself is huge.  If there’s one thing I can say I’ve learned over the past 14 months, it’s flexibility.  I described it to Jen last week as she and I took a walk along the banks of the Rhone River.  For so long, I thought the path to what I wanted in life could only be taken one way.  Like I needed to be on this one highway, and if I got off that highway, everything would fall apart.  But now I realize it’s so much less complicated than I was making it.  I was at point A, and I want to get to point B.  As long as I’m steadily heading towards point B, which I am, what does it matter if I take the next exit and try a back road from time to time?  No one is going to die, and life isn’t going to fall apart.  Like Meg Ryan’s character says in French Kiss, one of my favorite 90s RomComs:

There’s no home safe enough, and there’s no relationship secure enough.  You’re just setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, and having an incredibly boring time in the process.

Amen.

It’s been a sort of change in energy, a shift in consciousness on my part, and one that I am welcoming, utterly and completely.  I am being smart and responsible while at the same time going on faith.  I’ve found a balance between the two extremes that I kind of swung back and forth between for a while.  And that, I’m realizing more and more each day, is what this year was supposed to be about.  Ostensibly I came here for professional reasons, but now I see that’s not why I really needed to come here.  I came here for my soul.  And my soul is very, very grateful.

As Chika put it to me as we hiked the cliffs the other day: “it’s been noticeable.  You’re just…more well than before.”

With only 3 months left in France, Chika and I have started to realize that the clock is beginning to tick.  The homesickness that I mentioned a few entries back is gone, replaced by a realization that we’re coming down the home stretch and we need to profit from our time here as much as we can, especially now that Spring is coming and the weather is getting nicer.  We’ve been very good about our day trips and seeing the region, but now we’re ready to sit down, calculate exactly how many weekends we have left, and plan out exactly what we want to do and when.  On our list is our much-talked about trip to Chatêauneuf du Pape, the wine region we plan to spend a weekend biking through in a few weeks, swimming under the Pont du Garde, renting a car to see the Ocre cliffs at Roussillon, and much more.

I leave for Nice on Friday morning.  2 days on the Riviera, then off to Rome before meeting up with the fabulous Rebekah in Florence next week.  I’ll check back in with you all after I get back, between the exorbitant amounts of yoga and running I’ll need to do to make up for the massive amounts of pasta I’m about to consume.

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I bought my ticket home yesterday.

It seems weird, like it’s too early to be doing so, like I just left, but when you look at the calendar, you see that I’ve already been here 4 months – half the stay overall.  And buying a plane ticket 4 months in advance is not at all unusual.  As a matter of fact, that’s downright expected.

When I first decided to do this, I was really interested in the idea of staying for two years.  However, as time has gone by, it’s become pretty clear that that isn’t going to be a possibility.  The reason remains obvious – $$$.

I thought I could do the two years because at the time, I was expecting financial support from the CAF – financial support that was denied because, in the vein of true French bureaucracy, someone decided it was a good idea to look at what you made in 2009 to determine whether or not you should get assistance in 2011.  Given that my salary was…healthy in 2009, I was swiftly shot down when I submitted my request.  This would also be the case for next year, since my 2010 salary was the same story.  Tant pis.

The savings I was counting on from that financial addition thus never materialized, which is the savings that I was counting on to support me through the summer and also through next year.  Which means that I more or less have been living hand to mouth with NO money left over at the end of the month.  The tutoring gigs have helped me manage more comfortably, but at any time I buy something or need to plan a trip somewhere, it results in sacrificing other comforts and being ultra aware of finances.  Given the fact that saving money is a priority over the next few months and through the summer, it is best that I return home after my contract ends on April 30 (although my last official day of work is Thursday, April 19).  I have some VERY PRELIMINARY ideas of plans I’ll hopefully be arranging and working on to get back in the saddle upon my return to New York, none of which I am going to say a word about right now.  Still too early.

What I WILL say is that a trip to Pays Basque, one of the most beautiful regions in France, is happening in May before I make my final trip to Paris, and an impromptu trip to Venice in March to see Rebekah is quite likely, if I can find a couchsurfer to crash with.  Fingers crossed!

That being said, once it was determined that coming home after the contract was definite and thus in four months (writer’s note: WHAT THE FUCK?!  WHERE did the last half of this year go?  Didn’t I JUST get here?), Mom wisely told me to keep an eye out for airfares this week – apparently they fall like crazy after the New Year, especially if you look on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.  I got some news from Marie-Ève in Montreal (the friend who I was supposed to visit prior to my departure, which was prevented by Hurricane Irene, if you remember correctly) that she’s going to be in Paris from the 7th to the 14th of May.  It seemed perfect that I would head up there to meet them, as well as happen to be in Paris at the exact time of Cécile’s birthday.  Then…well, get on an airplane.

I found a flight for VERY cheap on Iceland Air.  Which is how it is that at 7pm on Saturday, May 12, I will once again be on American soil.  A year more experienced and a year wiser.

YIKES.

BUT!  There’s still 4 more months to go, and I plan to make the most of it!  Starting off with a recap of Noël.

I left Avignon for Paris on the 16th and proceeded to have the BEST TIME EVER in that city to date.  I am going to proudly announce to the world something that I never thought I’d say: I LOVE PARIS.  I love it in the Springtime, I love it in the Fall, I love it in the Summer when it sizzles, I love it in the Winter when it HAS A HUGE BIG EFFING ROCKEFELLER STYLE CHRISTMAS TREE IN FRONT OF NOTRE DAME!

O Christmas Tree! Notre Dame Cathedral with her sapin de noël at dusk.

All cheesy lyrics aside, I did have a beautiful time in Paris, which was decorated TO THE MAX with decorations that seriously rivaled New York.  I can’t even begin to describe to you what the Champs Elysée looked like – 5th Avenue back home would back away in terror.  I couchsurfed with Agnès, a friend of a friend’s who I ended up with through a total twist of fate, and spent a lovely four days being hosted by her and gallivanting around the stores, monuments, parks and Christmas markets with Hélène, Chika, and her boyfriend Ash, who flew in from Vancouver to spend the holidays with his lady.  It was also EFFING FREEZING.  Like, the type of cold that chills you down to the bone.  We made it work.

Mostly by drinking entirely too much mulled hot wine for our own good, but let’s be honest – is there really such a thing as too much hot mulled wine?

Chika and I clutching cups of mulled wine at Place de la Concorde. That square right behind us? Is where 15,000 people were murdered during the French Revolution. The guillotine literally sat right there.

The answer is no.

After my lovely Parisian adventure and my run in with the SNCF (grrrr), I ended up out in Vendée to spend about 10 days with ma gihls.  I stayed with Leidi and Hélène, studying my face off during the days but also taking some time out to see Intouchables (the biggest hit among French films this year – a beautiful movie), have a Raclette soirée at Aline’s, and partake in yet another French Christmas at Hélène’s brother’s François’ house.

I’m willing to bet that you all think you ate a lot during the holidays, right?  Well, allow me to make you feel better.

In under 24 hours, the following ended up in my stomach:

  • Pâté and Foie Gras on tartines
  • A peach/many liquors cocktail
  • Raw veggies as appetizers
  • Shrimp (the real deal – as in, tear their heads off and rip off their legs)
  • Salmon with dill cream
  • Lobster (same real deal as the shrimp)
  • Crab
  • Roasted chicken
  • Potatoes au Gratin
  • Salad of any and all kinds
  • Green beans up the yin yang
  • Every type of cheese imaginable
  • Bûche de Noël – 3 different flavors
  • Coffee
  • Nuts
  • Champagne cocktails with chestnut and mulberry syrups
  • Cooked clams in their shell with butter and cream sauce
  • Sliced marinated duck
  • Mushrooms and chestnuts with garlic and herbs
  • Speculoos
  • Bread, bread and more bread
  • More wine than I could possibly know what to do with.
  • More chocolate than I can possibly know what to do with.

I literally needed to be rolled home.  Christ, just looking at that list makes me swoon.  But we had a great time, listening to Christmas music, opening gifts and playing with Abel, Hélène’s 15-month old nephew and THE CUTEST little boy ever, who quickly became a big fan of mine (and me of him).

Then, at long last, we rang in 2012 with our friend Pauline in her beautiful new house in La Roche’s town center.  We were 6, and after stuffing ourselves silly with a ridiculous amount of food and fish and cheese and wine, ended up getting swept up into Guitar Hero for almost 4 hours.  It resulted in me passing out on top of a sleeping bag in Pauline’s office at 5 a.m., breakfast at 12:30 in the afternoon and returning home around 3ish to pretty much crash.  Word.

I return to the south today – my flight with Ryanair leaves Nantes at 20:20 and I get into Marseille at 21:30.  I’m staying the night at a youth hostel in Marseille, and then will be back on the train to Avignon the tomorrow morning rather early so I have enough time to drop my things off and get to work tomorrow afternoon.  I would’ve preferred to get back to Avignon tonight, but since this is France and not New York, OF COURSE no regional trains run after 8:30.  Thus, hostel.

Back to the old grind.  It was a lovely vacation, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to get back to “real life.”  Or at least “real life while living in a foreign country.”  It’ll be nice to get settled back into my room in Provence, see other friends again and generally just settle back into my daily routine.

In other totally unrelated news stemming from the three hours of studying a day I’ve been doing, simultaneous interpreting from French to English is getting much easier, while consecutive interpretation needs to go hang itself.  Jesus.  I swear I have the short term memory of an ant.

This entry is all over the place.  Apologies.

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The title of this post is most likely leaving you scratching you head.  For this, I apologize.  Avec une orange, tout s’arrange is the French equivalent of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  The literal translation is “it all works out with an orange.”  You get the idea.

However, Orange is also the name of one of the towns here in Provence, where Chika and I decided to take a day trip yesterday.  There is a roman amphitheater there that is still used for performances today, and it is, quite plainly put, exquisite:

The full backdrop of the Roman Amphitheater. It's truly spectacular in person.

Gaaah. My former ancient studies major drools.

After our visit, we stopped to get savory crêpes for lunch.  Or, as the horribly and dreadfully English-translated menu called them to our very great amusement, “salty pancakes.” (Their dessert counterparts were called “sugar pancakes.”)

Seriously, you should’ve seen this menu.  Other beauties were “Salad of Goat” for goat cheese salad and “Dessert Choices at Home” for homemade desserts.  Honorable mentions go to “liver fatty” (foie gras), “cream brown” (chestnut cream), and “supplementary creamy” (extra whipped cream).

Me enjoying hot chocolate at the cafe.

People, it was so bad I actually whipped out a pen and corrected the entire menu where there were mistakes.  I handed it back to the waitress at the end, very kindly explaining and telling her that I was a translator and I just wanted her to know in the event that they reprint their menu.  She seemed grateful, but whether or not that was to cover up her annoyance with the snobby American and her Canadian friend has yet to be determined.

I have officially begun my training with Interpreter’s Edge, which arrived in a mail about 2 weeks ago and which has been AMAZINGLY helpful.  I’ve also found a website which has the entire series of Law and Order (New York: Police Judicaire en français) and with which I plan to watch one episode a day along with my formation.  All that legal jargon you hear on TV?  That’s basically what I’m learning every day, and I’m discovering more and more why so many people have claimed simultaneous interpretation is the easiest of the three (the three being simultaneous, consecutive and sight translation).

I was always under the impression that simultaneous was the hardest due to the lack of time to think things through.  BOY HOWDY was I wrong on that one.

While that is true, with enough studying and a good enough command of the language AND the terminology in court that will be used, you can pretty much handle any simultaneous situation without too much difficulty.  Why?  Because you don’t need a good memory to do it.  When you’re talking right along with the guy next to you and listening to him as he chatters on, you don’t need to remember anything.  Retention isn’t a requirement for simultaneous interpretation – when the lapse is only 2 or so seconds, you don’t forget anything.

Consecutive interpretation, on the other hand…YIKES.  I’m going to give you all an assignment.  Go put on a YouTube video or something right now.  Let the person talk for three sentences with some dates, numbers and times.  Lots of detail.  Pause the video, and then repeat back every single thing that person just said verbatim.

Yep.  See what I mean?

Short term memory?  Is a BITCH.  And I’m learning that more and more every day.  Verbatim recall of testimony is HEINOUS and I can see why so many people claim it’s so much harder now.  Screw having to interpret into a second language – that’s the easy part.  The hard part is remembering EVERY SINGLE WORD that person just said in three or more sentences and repeating it back without leaving anything out.  Cheese and rice.

There are memory exercises involved to help with this, like note taking and visualization (I personally find visualization MUCH better than note taking – like many interpreters, I just write down numbers and names), but a lot of it is just a skill that improves over time with experience.  I do find that interpreting back and forth between languages is much easier than just repeating what someone says in the same language it was said in.  I don’t know why.  But doing the latter helps to give the memory a bit of a workout.  It does get VERY frustrating, though.

Translation: "If you take my spot, then take my disability, too." NICE.

Then there’s sight translation, where I read a document in French or English and then interpret it out loud in the opposite language as I read.  So far, it’s proven to be harder than simultaneous translation but easier than consecutive.  With my daily news articles, I give it a try as much as I can and I know it’s a skill that will continue to build.

I can see why so many people, bilingual they may be, fail this test the first time.  It’s such a specific, formulaic training and way of thinking.  It’s not enough to speak two languages – you need to know how to do these specific tasks in both, and if you don’t, no amount of fluency is going to help you.

That being said, I love every single second of this.  Regardless of what happens in the future, I know this training is going to VERY MUCH help my abilities as a translator and interpreter in the future.  My essays are getting better and better with hardly any red coming back to me now in Hélène’s corrections, and Valérie, who took a look at my work just a few days ago out of curiosity, came back with the comment that if you looked at what I was writing now and compared it to an essay of mine three months ago before I left, you’d say two different people wrote them.

“Good for you, girl,” she said the other day, when we were on Skype together.

And so it goes.  5 more days of work and then…CHRISTMAS VACATION!  Paris then Vendée – I’m super stoked.

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So Rachel, you ask.  You are like, working over there, right?

Ha.

I don’t blame you if it doesn’t seem like it – after all, this journal has been chock full of photos of me gallivanting around Provence, wandering through vineyards and little towns and along the board of the Mediterranean with my friends, eating an obscene amount of ridiculously good French food, and overall just kicking back and having a good time.

And yet, trust me my friends, I AM WORKING.

Part of the reason as to why it may not seem like it has to do with timing.  In my humble opinion, us assistants got here at a VERY strange time of year.  I arrived in Provence on September 28, six whole weeks ago, and this has been the schedule:

September 28 – October 3: Arrival.

  • October 3-6: “Training.”  (I use that term very loosely).
  • October 6 – October 19: Uh…so are we like, gonna do anything or are we just gonna sit around?
  • October 19 – October 23: First actual week of being in the classroom.  Observation week.
  • October 23 – November 3: Toussaint Vacation.  See last entry.
  • November 3 – Present: Oh hey look at that, we actually have a job to do!

Of course, this is from a totally “day job” perspective, meaning what I was brought here by the government to do, which is educate fine French youth on the joys of the English language.  That being said, even though that part took a while to get off the ground, I’ve been pretty hardcore flooring it work wise since I arrived in Avignon.

Much of that “free” time listed above wasn’t actually free at all.  We all remember the reason why I am here – to improve my language skills and get more in country work experience which will increase my chances of passing the ATA exam in under three tries.  The ATA exam is…special.  To put it bluntly, NO ONE passes this thing on try 1.  Most folks need to take it, fail it, get there test BACK to see where they messed up, use that to study, and then take it another one or two times to pass it.  I am under no delusions, and fully expect to fail this thing miserably and pathetically the first time around.  That being said, I’m hoping that my training here will make it so that reviewing the mistakes from the first go will allow me to pass it on the 2nd, at the very least, 3rd.

I’ve done some more research, and I’ve made the decision that it’s highly likely I’ll also be trying to pass the NY State Court Intepreter exam as well.  That way I have all the certifications necessary to have access to the best jobs available for language professionals back home.  I’ve found a very good and highly recommended training program – ACEBO – which has been used by many many many language professionals to study and prepare for the court exam.  Again, it’s most likely a “try and pass this under three tries” sort of deal, so hey.  Baby steps.

I’m slowly but surely finding my footing again with the language.  So much of it is day to day – Monday I’ll be ON FIRE, spitting out full discourses with little to no need to even think, the words flowing forth from my mouth in such an effortless fashion that it’s laughable.  Those are the days where I go to bed cocky and overly-impressed with myself, where I think back on all of the conversations I had that day and I feel like I’ve made SUCH huge progress, knowing that I made so few, if any, mistakes.

Then of course, I wake up on Tuesday, and I’m this dude:

Yeah, I hear ya, buddy.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was discouraging, but those are the moments where it’s more important than ever to just keep on keepin’, and I sit down to fill all of my spare time in with my self-imposed work schedule.

The work that I’ve created for myself basically involves three major elements:

  • Read my face off.  No, really.  I read everything I can get my hands on, and then I read some more.  This includes novels, newspapers, magazines, labels, EVERYTHING.  I then highlight said face-reading-off activities:

Harry Potter et L'Ordre du Phénix.

This is my retention exercise.  Whenever I come across a word I don’t know, I highlight it and look up the definition, and keep it in a separate file, Nouveau Vocabulaire, on my computer.  So far it’s worked very, very well.

  • Dictées.  I spend a huge amount of spare time on the Net, looking up videos that have to do with current events, politics, and even just topics that interest me.  I listen to the video and then open a word document, where I write out every single word the person says.

My written copy of the above video.

  • And, last but not least, writing and oral presentations.  I record myself on the computer as I “shadow” the speaker in said videos (meaning I repeat every line they say just like an interpreter does with a one sentence delay, and try not to lose them.  This allows me to practice both listening AND speaking at the same time, which is essential for an interpreter).  I also will write an essay on the topic, which my personal copyeditor friend Hélène is only too kind to correct.

An essay written by yours truly, with corrections by Mlle. Malard. 🙂

As time goes on, these exercises will get progressively harder and harder to allow me to get used to doing several things at a time, forcing my brain to be able to listen to a French sentence, repeat it flawlessly, WHILE doing something else like writing 1-100 on a piece of paper, etc.  This will prepare me for the day when I can listen in French and at the same time translate into English, two different yet highly necessary tasks.  Again, ACEBO will help in this regard.

Aside from that, I’ve gained two clients at the University, a 20 year old boy and girl who both need help with oral exercises (stop giggling, JJ) and conversation to pass exams at the end of the school year.  This has helped TREMENDOUSLY with my rather tight financial situation and gives me a much more reasonable budget to live on given the absence (or at least, likely absence) of the CAF.  It really refines my teaching skills and I’m learning itty bitty stuff about the English language I would’ve never known otherwise.  Today, I helped Agnes differentiate between many/much and fewer/less.  Let me tell you something people, I had NO IDEA what the rule for that was until this afternoon when I was forced to actually sit down and think it out.  When it’s your native language, it’s so intuitive you don’t think to question.  Go figure.

The day job continues to go well for the most part, and I find that teaching the kids is a LOT of fun.  My two calm schools, Massillargues and Farfantello, are full of lively, sweet, sometimes a handful but still adorable children who are SO EXCITED that I am there.  I get kisses every day when I leave and literally get clapped for, along with cries of joy when I walk in the room.  Being taught English by an American is just, oh my god, like THE COOLEST THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111111111one, and their appreciation and excitement warm my heart.  I’ve also learned that I have a rather uncanny ability to manage a classroom and am STUNNED at how much I sound like my elementary school teachers when needing the kids to settle down.

So far, just getting silent and refusing to talk until they stop works 99% of the time.  The 1% of the time it doesn’t happens more often than not at Louis Gros, my “bad” school, where it’s sad to say the kids are not as sweet as their Massillargues and Farfantello counterparts (for an explanation as to why that is, I invite you to look at their home lives and parents.  Jeeze Louise, it would make your hair stand up on end).  For the most part, I make it work and the kids can be managed enough that I can teach them, but I can’t really say that I ENJOY working there.  It’s doable, but I don’t look forward to it the way I do the other two.  Last week, for the first time, in one class where there was a sub, it got so bad that after 5 minutes I merely told the children I was not going to waste my time teaching people who obviously did not want to learn.

I’ve never seen a group of people get so quiet so quickly.  You could’ve heard a pin drop as I walked to the back of the room, packed my things, and walked out.  Just to be extra “kiss my ass” about it (which is seriously stupid considering they’re 8, but hey), I turned around, smiled sweetly, and said “bye!” before closing the door firmly.  Their looks of shock and complete disbelief were laughable, but I held it in check.   We’ll see what the repercussions of that are on Monday.

I’ve pitched the idea of a yoga class once a week at Massillargues and Farfantello, who happen to be right next to each other, and so far the directors don’t seem totally opposed to it, so we’re going to ask around and see if there’s enough interest to get one going.  The only concern is that there’s a large Muslim community here, where someone touching your body in that fashion can be a big no-no depending on the person.  I’ve been staying steady with my home practice after finally finding a yoga mat en ville, finding my first steady regular time on the mat every day that I haven’t had since my days at YTT.  My love for yoga has rushed back tenfold since my return to France, and I find that it’s helping tremendously during my time here, which, while wonderful, is full of instability and the unknown.  It’s a beautiful way to stay grounded and keep present at a time when I often find my thoughts drifting to “what’s going to happen when I get home?!”

Last but not least…I’ve updated my website.  RMT Translation.  For many legal reasons I can’t really advertise to companies here like I can in the US, but I continue to post on Craigslist for small jobs, as well as translate weekly for Watching America.  I’m okay with not doing much hired translation work, however – I’d rather use the time to train, train, train, so that I can get to doing the real deal upon my return to the US.  Whenever that is.

Next weekend…Thanksgiving!  A la Française!

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If that’s the case, then damn, I am going to do even more talking than I normally do in this post.

I could tell you all about Toussaint Vacation (which I have two more days of), about how Leidigrine and Hélène decided at the last minute to come on down to Avignon and see the sites, how I barely spent anytime at home due to wandering aimlessly around the region, but I’m not going to use words.  I’m just going to show you. (more…)

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