I know it seems like I’m taking advantage of Reunion being in the news but it was always going to feature on this blog. It’s just that now everyone knows where it is! I spent my third year of university in Reunion studying on the Erasmus programme. Fortunately for me, my university had just set up a partnership with theirs, and since I have family there, it was an ideal choice for my year abroad.
Before I left, I hadn’t done much translation at all. It seems strange to me now but my university course didn’t actually include any translation modules until final year, so my first proper introduction to translation was in Reunion. We had a class for translating into English (thème) and one for translation into French (version), so I didn’t realise then that professional translators only translate into their native language.
My thème classes stand out most in my memory. My teacher was all the way from Scotland; she’d been living in Reunion for many years and she had been one of the first (if not the first) English teachers on the island. I loved her classes because she was so passionate and I think some of her enthusiasm rubbed off on me. We mostly did literary translation – nothing like what I do now – such as excerpts from crime fiction by Fred Vargas or Georges Simenon.
In those days, I didn’t even know that translation software existed. I did all my homework by hand on that special ruled paper they use in France, and with a fountain pen no less. I’d find it hard to do a handwritten translation if I tried now, and I definitely wouldn’t have the time. What a luxury it was to have a whole week for a 250-word text. It makes me unbearably nostalgic thinking of those lessons, hot sun shining down outside and an ocean view not far off. A world away from my current work space!
I learnt in Reunion that translation skills are to some extent, innate. Speaking two languages is not enough to be a good translator; I am conscious of this more and more every day. Back then, I did very well in my translation exams and I could see I had a knack for it. More importantly, I absolutely loved translating. Of course, when I did my Masters two years afterwards, I met a whole bunch of other people with exceptional language and translation skills so I knew I still had so much to learn.
My Erasmus experience taught me a lot and it has marked my life in several ways. Even then, I instinctively knew I wanted to become a translator (and interpreter!) but I could never have imagined being where I am today. My experience even inspired my MA dissertation project, which was about translating from French into Creole, but that’s a topic for another day..