Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer as part of the Translators without Borders (TWB) Community have a range of experiences and skills. They share our vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.
Valérie Thirkettle is a multi-talented translator who has worked with TWB since 2018 and has donated almost 550,000 words of life-saving information. Her dedication and motivation to take on new projects and the care she puts into her translations make it an absolute pleasure to collaborate. Valérie is a lawyer who spent the majority of her career working for a prestigious intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space. Recently, she retired to pursue her passion for translation.
A flexible working life
An avid traveler who divides her time between the Netherlands and South Africa, she enjoys the flexibility of TWB’s internet-based system. It gives her the chance to enjoy her other pleasures, studying literary translation, spending time with family and friends, golfing and enjoying nature, particularly in her beloved Africa. All the while, wherever she goes she can feed what she calls her “translation addiction.”
“I was attracted by TWB’s technology focus. I discovered how much language matters in humanitarian settings, so I hope my contribution can help people. And that it can improve the advocacy efforts of the organizations I translate for.”
Her ability to infuse her multi-sector knowledge into her translation work allows her to work on a number of different projects. “I am a trained lawyer and I have worked in international legal subjects and HR subjects. I like to make myself useful with the skills I have and contribute to the causes that resonate with me, and on a volunteer basis.”
Valerie keeps in contact with TWB’s Language Services Team by email. She is celebrated as a central, fun member of the community. The team recalls sharing many laughs with Valerie. With her varied experience, Valérie has seen the funny side of translation and mistranslation. She told us a story about a translation she once reviewed in which she noticed the section to sign and “date” the form mistakenly read “rendez vous d’amour.” “I loved it,” laughed Valerie, “filling in forms suddenly turned into something really exciting!”
Education for everyone
One of her favorite projects with TWB involved the revision and final linguistic sign-off of the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network’s How-to Guide to Collective Communication and Community Engagement. This is essential for teaching better communication strategies on the ground. It helps inform people about their rights and situations in languages they understand.
Translators can often become emotionally involved in a project. When working with Street Child, for instance, Valérie says,
“I felt a strong resonance with the task, and, like with a good novel, the end came too early!”
In fact, projects that assist young people tend to stand out for Valérie. Her time working with Think Equal also left an impactful and memorable mark. Think Equal has developed an early years education program for social and emotional learning. It was a large project in which Valérie took care of the entire revision. It included revising French versions of the program, an extensive set of books, lesson plans, and teaching materials. “The size and spread of this project made it complex, but an opportunity to develop new organizational skills for my translations.”
Overall, her translation experience has taught Valérie to appreciate the varied skills of other translators. She comments on how they build on one another’s strengths to deliver great work. She’s become increasingly involved in revising tasks and has embarked on qualifications in revising and proofreading. “My work with TWB gives me a great opportunity for continuous learning.”
One of her tips for other Kató translators is to “pay attention to the glossaries and be as consistent as possible with the terminology you use.” Valérie points out that you’re able to ask project managers for feedback throughout the process. “And of course, keep claiming more tasks, the humanitarian sector needs all the language help it can get!”
Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Valérie Thirkettle, Translator for Translators without Borders.