Ten things about Kennedy

Post date: Nov 03, 2009 10:12:35 AM

How did you get into languages?

I have been interested in language from an early age. My parents spoke French at home when they didn't want us to understand, and that was something that always fascinated me. I don't come from a bilingual background at all - my family is 100% native English-speaking on both sides.

What did you study at University?

My first degree focused mainly on French and German literature - from the Middle Ages to the "modern" period. I didn't feel it had much of an application at the time, although now I'm glad I did the course: it provides a useful counterbalance to all the technical stuff I've done since then.

What's the worst interpreting error you have ever witnessed?

Confidentiality prevents me from being too specific. Plus you have to bear in mind that I work in a relatively restricted field (nuclear power). However, in my experience a surprisingly common mistake that even the most experienced liaison interpreters make is to assume that their technical knowledge allows them to make an active technical contribution to their clients' discussions. I have seen several interpreters get egg on their faces in a complex technical environment as a result of having added their own two penn'orth instead of sticking to conveying the clients' messages.

What are the best and worst things about being a self-employed translator and interpreter?

The best bit is the freedom, obviously. I am my own boss, and I can come and go as I please (family permitting, of course!). The worst part, I suppose, is the other side of the same coin: when I'm translating, it's tempting to keep nipping to the office to "do a bit" in the evenings and at weekends, when it's much more healthy to have a complete break from work.

Who is your favourite translation theorist?

What? That's unfair. I've had to brush up on my theory since I started lecturing at Aston University, but no-one in particular stands out. Mind you, I like Peter Newmark for his grumpiness. My favourite "amateur" theorist is Ian Peisch, a Paris-based translator and long-standing customer, who said to me long ago "Don't translate; write." (Expletives deleted, naturally).

What's the best example of innovation in the translation and interpreting field that you have witnessed recently?

I have picked up the notions of "peer check" and "peer challenge" through my work in the nuclear industry, and I think this is something that interpreters, in particular, could benefit from. It's always useful to have feedback from peers, both positive and negative. I have even heard people use the phrase "thank you for challenging me". It takes great confidence to be able to handle challenging feedback, and that's something that we as interpreters don't always have, no matter how much we might protest to the contrary.

If the story of your career was made into a film, who would play the leading role?

Johnny Depp - he's such a chameleon he would understand the role of the translator and interpreter.

What advice would you give to a freelance translator starting out in business today?

Manage your clients strategically, with an eye on the long term. And above all write well in your target language. So many translators haven't the faintest notion about writing a target text to a brief. They may be brilliant linguists on the face of it, but in most commercial translation the ability to write is vital. And I don't mean getting away from the source text: I just mean writing a translation that precisely reflects the intended function of the target text. That's something that can be hard to understand, never mind deliver.

What's your favourite work-related journey?

I like travelling home on the train after a day in London. I also love travelling by train in Belgium, where the announcements switch language depending on what region you are in. Brussels is best, because then you get both French and Dutch.

If you weren't a linguist, what would you do?

It's hard to imagine. I'd like to think I could have been a writer. I'd still be a professional sportsman manqué no matter what I did!