Interview Campaign with Translators: Alexandre Huillet from France

Alexandre Huillet

by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V. – The next interview for the campaign “Interviews with Translators” is dedicated to Alexandre
Huillet who has been a freelance translator since 1995 and journalist since
2000. He passed a Ph.D. in English Literature and a Degree in Journalism.
Also, he is a sworn and certified translator in Belgium and Luxembourg (and
soon in his home country, France).

spent one fourth of his life abroad and having foreigners in his own family, he
has an objective glance on things.

Milena Rampoldi: What are the principal linguistic and
intercultural problems for translators into and from the languages you handle?
Alexandre Huillet: Adapting your translation, e.g.
if I have an American source document, I must convert all miles into kilometres
or Farenheit temperatures into Celsius. Also, the best example of the
difficulty to reaching out another culture is knowing its codes. For instance,
I sometimes work with a Flemish translator: even though every time I have
worked for her, it all went well and we have good working relationships, I
always wince when she contacts me because she never starts her e-mails with
“hello”, which is considered extremely rude in France but is
apparently standard in Dutch/Flemish culture. And a more specifically
intercultural problem is best illustrated by humour: a same joke may make one
nation cry with laughter and leave another perplex.

MR: What do you think is important to
promote intercultural dialogue?
AH: Multiply cultural references understandable by both sides. 
For instance,
religious references in language might not be understood by a reader/listener
of another religion.
MR: How can translations improve
communication between peoples and promote a culture of inclusion and peace?
AH: By adapting a text to provide equivalent cultural references. This
apparently is what the newly created concept of “localisation” is all
about. When translating, the translator has to adapt the source text to the
language of the target reader/listener (so the latter understands it) and keep
as much as possible all the nuances contained in the source document.
MR: How can you explain to foreigners
how different your native language is?
AH: Every language has its own specificities. In French, conjugation and
grammar often are seen as difficult by foreigners who are brave enough to
embark on learning it. Not to mention all the exceptions which are a nightmare
to them and even to children when they learn it. As for English (I’m only
talking about British English), it is often seen as simple but it is a very
complex and infinitely rich and subtle language, even though a learner can get
by with a very small number of words – unlike French.
MR: How can your language to
foreigners in the best way?
AH: My language being French, probably by making it a bit simpler than it
actually is? French is famous for being complicated because it is not flexible.
To make it official correct standard French, everything has to go through the
Académie Française (the official institution of the French language, founded by
Cardinal de Richelieu in 1635) and accepted by it.
MR: What are the principal problems
you have when they have to translate into a European language?
AH: I suppose accuracy: French is very specific (with word order in
particular). It also hates repetitions. Translating in the vast majority from
English, it sometimes is a problem because English admits repetitions, as an
example, which French seeks to avoid at all costs.
MR: What does intercultural awareness
and intercultural empathy mean to you?
AH: It’s the basis of quality translation. It has to take into account
both accuracy and faithfulness but also cultural references. A good translator
must always think of seeing through the target reader/listener’s eyes and try
to anticipate whether the latter will understand each word, as some nuance are
sometimes quite tricky to render from one language to another.