This week’s Face of Gengo is Meryem, one of our English to French Canadian Senior Translators. Meryem was raised in true Montreal fashion in a French and English household. Despite her father’s Turkish background, she did not learn the language growing up, and chose to pursue it by moving to Istanbul as an adult. She now combines her love of writing, photography and translation wherever she finds herself in the world.
What languages do you speak? How did you learn them?
I was born and raised in Montreal and, like the city, my home was multilingual: I learned French through my French Canadian mother and English through my Turkish father. I went to school in both languages and it wasn’t uncommon for my friends and I to speak in a hybrid of the two. Despite my origins, though, I didn’t learn Turkish growing up. I took a few classes in college, but I didn’t progress beyond the basics. In 2012, I decided to remedy that and relocated to Istanbul to immerse myself in the culture and to properly learn the language. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s also been quite effective.
How did you get into translation? Do you translate full-time?
I have a background in social sciences—psychology and sociology—and I’ve always loved languages and cultures. My dual heritage was also something that I valued and wanted to explore further. After working in a library for many years, I thought about graduate studies, and the decision came naturally. I completed a postgraduate degree in translation and worked within the field ever since. I don’t translate full time, however—I also dedicate a portion of my time to writing and photography. I find the three mediums to be an organic fit for me.
What was your most enjoyable translation experience? Your most challenging?
Most expats share tales of longing for their motherland and I am no exception to the rule. This spring, when I was going through a bout of homesickness, I had the opportunity to translate articles for a German magazine that dedicated a full issue to a beloved street in Montreal. It was inspiring to be sitting in Istanbul translating articles about Montreal for a Berlin-based magazine. It’s one of those wonderful things about translation: it bridges the gap between worlds. Translating these pieces was a source of joy but also a solace for me, as it made me feel closer to home.
Describe your office setup or workspace. What is the view like? What kind of scenery do you look at every day?
I don’t have a well-defined office setup. I often travel and take my work with me wherever I go. This year alone I was fortunate enough to work from Istanbul, Lisbon, Berlin and Tbilisi, as well as within Turkey, whether at the foot of Mount Nemrut, in the old city of Mardin, in a small cove near Bodrum, in the valley of Amasya or overlooking Alanya’s medieval fortress. At this very moment, I am back in Canada in the Eastern Townships just outside of Montreal, watching purple loosestrife bend against a backdrop of tall pine, aspen and birch trees.
Based on your specific cultural expertise, what are the best books or movies you would recommend to others?
Quebec is the only province in Canada with French as its sole official language, and the only region in North America with a French-speaking majority. It has a rich and thriving culture, especially in cinema, with accomplished filmmakers such as Xavier Dolan, Denys Arcand, Jean-Marc Vallée, Denis Côté, Louise Archambault, Stéphane Lafleur, Philippe Falardeau, Denis Villeneuve, Chloé Robichaud and so many others making waves on the international scene… It would be difficult to do them all justice by picking only a few titles.
What is your favorite “translator’s snack” for while you work?
I don’t snack while I work, but I try to stay hydrated. I love a good allongé, green tea, sparkling water…
What online productivity tool saves you the most time? What is your workflow like?
I work best in the mornings when it’s quiet and I’m not easily distracted. For Canadian French and Canadian English terminology, Termium and Le grand dictionnaire terminologique are absolute treasures and fundamental to anyone working in these languages. Termium also has very valuable writing tools, such as the Canadian Style, Le dictionnaire des cooccurrences and Le guide du rédacteur. I also enjoy Linguee, if only for a quick glance at contextual examples.
Finally, if you had to give advice to your fellow Gengo translators, what are the best ways to relax and stay sane as a translator? What is your top tip for those who are just starting out?
Breathe. Get to know your text before jumping into it. Sometimes the first sentence is the hardest, but you will find your flow. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a fresh pair of eyes—ask for feedback and accept criticism. Reread, reread, reread… and keep translating!
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