Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) bring a range of experiences and skills, but they share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all of our translators, and we love sharing their stories.
This month, we are discovering how Sybil’s experience as a teacher makes her an invaluable humanitarian translator. From her home in Massachusetts, USA, she translates vital information, working from French into English. While we often talk about translating from ‘bigger’ languages like English into less commercial local languages, Sybil makes a difference in the lives of thousands by translating into her native English. Since 2011, she has completed almost a hundred tasks for TWB, providing over 200,000 words to nonprofit organizations and the people they support.
“Thanks to my experience in the classroom, I was already very familiar with a lot of the vocabulary and the context of many translation tasks.”
Natural progression: a freelance career
Sybil’s journey with TWB began seven years ago when the just-retired teacher found herself in search of a second career. As a newcomer to the world of translation, she appreciated the short tasks and generous deadlines offered by her first projects. Through feedback and collaboration, she learned how to work with translation project managers, accept assignments, meet deadlines, and continuously improve her translation work.
“My first published work as a translator was through TWB, in collaboration with other linguists.”
To build her skills further, Sybil completed a French and English Certificate in Translation Studies through New York University’s online program. This academic pursuit, coupled with her continued progression and practice with TWB, has allowed her to effectively build a new career after retirement.
As she built her skills, she relished the challenge, taking on more proofreading and revision tasks on top of her translation work. “This year has been particularly challenging in that I have been tasked with several transcription and subtitling projects.”
These projects have taken Sybil beyond translation: she’s transcribed from French to English, edited a French transcript, and synched English subtitles to a film.
“Without a doubt, working with TWB and obtaining a French and English Certificate in Translation Studies have been the two major influences shaping my freelance career.”
Serving communities across the globe
Throughout her time as a TWB volunteer, Sybil has translated documents from all over the world. She’s focused particularly on supporting communities in Africa, a continent which holds a personal interest for her. As a junior at college and a budding traveler, she spent a year abroad in Nigeria, and later served for the US Peace Corps in Francophone Cameroon. There she worked for two years as a teacher of English as a second language (ESL).
Now, serving TWB, she supports our mission by assisting individuals and populations who need the services of a French to English translator. So, while this is not her first time aiding communities in countries including Nigeria and Cameroon with her language skills, Sybil stays up-to-date with global humanitarian issues she has seen first-hand, through the challenging and meaningful tasks she encounters with TWB. And the TWB team certainly appreciates her know-how; Dace, TWB’s Translation Emergency Coordinator is quick to praise Sybil for being “ever supportive and responsive.”
Over 8,000 miles away in Bangladesh, another community benefits from Sybil’s expertise. In one personally significant project, she worked on guidelines for teaching English to Rohingya children who had recently arrived in Bangladesh. Her quick work enabled the syllabus to be immediately implemented and helped the community’s children continue their education in their temporary campsites. As a professional educator, she was able to collaborate with colleagues to produce lesson plans, syllabi, and curricula for English literature, ESL, and French language and literature classes.
While her now extensive experience in humanitarian and development translation means Sybil must have many poignant stories to tell, she describes how a few are forever ingrained in her memory. Take, for example, addressing the mental and physical health of people in Haiti immediately after the devastating earthquake in 2010. On another occasion, an in-depth assignment explained how women in an African country have to travel extraordinary distances, often by foot, for difficult operations, and why they are not always successful. These might seem like difficult topics, but in putting such important information into another language, this translator is truly bridging a gap of human experience, and sharing information that has the power to shape humanitarian approaches for the better.
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Apply here to become a volunteer translator for TWB, and help serve communities across the globe.
Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Sybil, Kató translator for TWB.