We are very pleased to introduce our new Twitter administrator, Romina Marazzato. Romina has been tweeting about a wide range of fascinating science and technology news from the S&TD account since early 2019. Join the conversation at @ATASciTech or https://twitter.com/atascitech (for those without a Twitter account).
Romina, it seems that many scientific and technical translators take a roundabout path in their careers. Is that true for you? Tell us about how you became a translator with your specialization.
My path has been roundabout, for sure. I started in technical writing by accident. I was a language geek for most of my school years, and I did a lot of writing. I even won young poet awards in high school and college that got my poetry published. However, despite all that, writing was just an outlet for me. I never thought it could be a career.
In college, I majored in biochemistry. I wanted to be part of the Human Genome Project. In my quest to participate in research (an opportunity not afforded to undergrads back then), I found myself translating and editing journal articles for my professors. My language skills included French (with a translation diploma from Alliance Française), Italian (self-taught), English (studied for years), and Spanish (my native language), so I translated a lot. And I made money!
I realized that, as a translator, I could be exposed to a much wider range of projects than as a researcher. And as much as I loved learning, I loved sharing that knowledge even more. So, I went back to school for a translation degree. That was roundabout, too. In fulfilling requirements to attend a French university, I ended up in Los Angeles for a 12-month stay in a country where my third language is spoken—English, at the time. I taught Spanish at Occidental College and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English through equivalence. During a trip to San Francisco, I decided to check out the Monterey Institute, now the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. As you can guess, I didn’t go to France.
The practical approach at MIIS won me over, with professors like Sheila Shermet and Lydia Hunt, and the experience of sharing the classroom with speakers of eight different languages from dozens of places around the world. Sheila recruited me for the simultaneous interpreters program, but I had fallen in love with localization, so I only did interpreting as a “minor.” And, since I was also paying for the program on my own, focusing on translation would allow me to finish early.
In true roundabout fashion, my goal of leaving early did not materialize completely. I finished the program but did not leave. I met my husband right before I was supposed to fly to my next destination. We met through dancing: his best friend and I were part of a MIIS/NPS dance group (NPS is the Naval Postgraduate School of Monterey). He urged me to stay and MIIS offered me a temporary position teaching translation technology (back when you needed dongles and language packages.) Now, some 20 years and several pets later, we are married and have three children.
Between then and now, I have delved into localization for IT and medical devices—the linguistic, cultural, and technical adaptation of hardware and software content and functionality. I have worked for many companies, both directly and through LSPs: GE Healthcare, Medtronic, Philips Healthcare, Johnson and Johnson, Kodak Imaging, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Texas Instruments.
Eventually, I went back to MIIS to design and launch the Master of Arts in Translation/Localization Management (TLM degree). I am proud to say the degree is one of the most successful at the school and graduates are pursuing successful careers. Among many success stories, one of my first TLM graduates now chairs the program, and another, Jason Kopp, is now the Director of the recently added Decennial Translation Office at the Census Bureau (a timely mention in preparation for the 2020 census!).
Another experience that had a significant and unexpected impact on my path was my children’s schooling. We moved around a lot, so my experience does not come from one school district alone: we’ve lived in Memphis, Tampa, San Diego, Monterey, and Bakersfield. I also homeschooled my kids at different points under the guidelines of different states. Working and volunteering in K-12 education nudged my professional direction: it is not only children who need the basics reimagined.
I am now devoting a lot of time to training technical and non-fiction writers, instructors, translators, and editors in a range of strategies to write with clarity and style. In a way, I am going full circle, now teaching the very skills that opened the doors of science, translation, and localization for me.
Was it challenging for you to combine your scientific and linguistic interests? What advice would you give to translators or interpreters just starting their careers?
Looking back, it seems that combining those interests was inevitable for me. It happened quite seamlessly: as I was going deeper into science, my language skills shaped my path.
It is hugely important today to bring together science and language for sci-tech communication, both within and outside the scientific community. Within science, it is important to move away from “publish or perish” and paywalled content. Writing clearly is a big part of this. In terms of communicating with the public, we have so much to do! Understanding science is essential to education and citizenship. The practical implications of access to sci-tech knowledge are enormous. Juries make decisions on fellow citizens based on scientific and technical information. Policymakers pass laws for all of us based on scientific and technical information. A lot of ethical questions are emerging with new technologies. And, on a positive note, our understanding of the beautiful and magical world we live in seems to be in its infancy!
So, if you love both sci-tech and language, follow those passions! If you love one more than the other, remember that clear thinking and clear writing go hand in hand. Writing makes sophisticated thinking possible. Do not neglect the other side. Find ways to connect to your “lesser love.” If you came from a technical background, practice communicating your passion to specialists, non-specialists, and specialists of other disciplines. Team up with an awesome editor: not only will they polish your work, they will help you improve your writing. If you came to sci-tech from languages, read scholarly journals, shadow a professional in your new area of specialization, or team up with a specialist as your ongoing consultant. Either way, engage in continuing education opportunities. Constant learning is always the answer!
What is unique about your skill set? What sets you apart?
I am a perfectionist, for better and worse. And I love to learn. I live to learn. And to share what I’ve learnt. This world has so much to teach us, I treasure that. I think my best skill is my ability (and passion) to synthesize knowledge and points of view.
Because I am always trying to improve my understanding, my translations, and my editing, I am a very attentive listener. I love the opportunity to work with people who bring a different, solid perspective to the table. It reminds me to take a step back, reassess, and, if needed, recalibrate my choices.
What is your favorite type of interpreting assignment or text to translate? What makes it fun for you?
Those projects that push me outside my comfort zone. A project is the most fun when I get to learn something. This is not to say you should translate outside of your area of expertise. Studies show that many of the best sci-tech translators come from sci-tech backgrounds. But it is fun when you are translating a piece or interpreting in an environment that is itself exploratory.
I remember a project for Element Six about diamond blades that explored the chemistry behind the tools. Or an interpreting assignment for PureStorage about the personal journey of their best execs from around the world—not what I’d ordinarily interpret for a data storage company!
Can you describe a project that you’re most proud of, or one that was particularly memorable?
I have two that come to mind. One is related to a series of translations for MRI, CT, and PET scan machines and their accompanying manuals. I did many over the years. Often, devices and manuals shipped out and I did not hear back until an update came about. But after this particular GE Healthcare Discovery project, I went to visit family in Argentina and my sister needed a scan. Sure enough, they were using one of “my” machines. I had seen the English machines at work and tested localized versions, but this was such a personal moment. The doctors and technicians helping my little sister had all been trained with my translations. It reminded me how many lives we translators touch. Typing away at our desks, that’s hard to experience.
The other project is a recent one for community awareness about vaccines. I’m sure I don’t need to say much about current misconceptions. It is so paradoxical that the success of immunization in the US has been its own demise. People are incredibly unaware of the risks and how the whole process works. In an awareness campaign I was part of, a particularly hard concept to understand turned out to be “herd immunity.” Not only was the scientific knowledge missing, but many people were turned off by the allusion to our belonging to the animal kingdom. So, we decided to use a metaphor supported by a RedPenBlackPen graphic, bringing community into the equation. The graphic shows people holding umbrellas and one, under someone else’s umbrella, saying: “Hey guys, I don’t even feel any rain. Why are we doing this again? Just put down the stupid umbrellas, they are bad for your arms anyway!” We could explain how immune-depressed individuals cannot hold their own umbrellas and, hence, are the only ones who get to pass on immunization. It worked wonders!
Are there any resources you use when translating that you’d like to share with readers?
I use the NIH website a lot. I read research in my areas of interest. I love the clinical trial search feature. It helps you find information about other clinical trials for the same condition, treatment, or device you may be translating. The search engine allows you to search worldwide, which can be very helpful for localization.
For a quick lookup, I also use Linguee, DeepL’s human translations sister site; Termium, the Canadian Translation Bureau’s Database for French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese; and WordReference. If I find information I need in a language that I do not work with, I use DeepL to generate a machine translation, get a good gist, and assess the usefulness of the content. I find myself using Google Ngrams to track down collocations and use frequencies.
As for writing resources, I use the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English Specification—although not all documents require its rigor. You can obtain it with a simple request. I appreciate the tips and explanations in The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. For plain language, I consult several guides, including the Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cuttts, Plain Language in Plain English by Cheryl Stephens, plainlanguage.gov, and section508.gov for tips on accessibility. In other resources about writing clearly, I am appalled at the overreliance on readability scores obtained with formulas not intended for the texts they are used with. I am writing a book about Plain Language 2.0 strategies that incorporates linguistics insights about cohesion and coherence. Through examples from published texts analyzed using a lot of visuals, my book will help writers add text-building strategies to their toolbox.
How can readers learn more about you and connect with you?
Website: I am migrating my website so I will give you two addresses: www.claritywithstyle.com and www.languagecompass.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rlmarazzato (I mostly use this to connect with friends. I also use it to find stranded tango dancers in airports who might want to dance the wait away.)