Volume 5, No. 1 
January 2001

  Danilo Nogueira





Translation Journal
Translator Profile

A Vocation Found

by Danilo Nogueira
   was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in December 1942, to a lower middle class family, with accent on lower, I would say. We lived in a rat-infested decrepit house owned by my grandfather in a neighborhood where most people were of Italian origin, although my family is Portuguese and Spanish.

In those times, you could divide schools into three levels: many very bad private schools, some good public schools and a few excellent private schools.
In those times, one went to school at seven and in February 1950 there I went—to a private school that was far from luxurious, but still more costly than advisable under the circumstances. Three years later we moved to a better home in a different section of the city—and I began my career in the public school system. In those times, public escolas primárias, that is, first to fourth grades, were very bad and I felt the dip in quality. However, the next year, I was in the ginásio—and the ginásio estadual in those times was something special. There were very few of them, there was a very tough entrance examination (one out of three were accepted) and prospective teachers also had to pass a tough examination.

It was a great place, indeed. School buildings were in short supply and GET (Ginásio Estadual do Tatuapé, now Instituto de Educação "Professor Ascendino Reis") functioned as an evening school, using a building that during the day was a grupo escolar, or primary school.

Many of the students were quite old. In those times, one often dropped out of school at eleven but came back at fifteen or so. One of my female colleagues was eighteen - an elderly lady by my standards. Many of them were too tall for the desks they used. Mostly, poor people who had to struggle for a place in public school because even the cheapest private academy was far beyond their means. Many had daytime jobs.

But the general level was very high. In those times, you could divide schools into three levels: many very bad private schools, some good public schools and a few excellent private schools. In other words, a public school education was a guarantee of quality.

I spent nine extraordinary years in high school, for I flunked twice and that requires further explanation. In those days, there was no such a thing as career guidance and my parents just wanted the best for me. So, when I finished junior high (ginásio) I moved into the science-oriented científico senior high, supposedly "the best." However, this was a big mistake, given that to this day I find the rule of three a mystery. So I crawled along until I was expelled, as was anyone who flunked one too many times. With hundreds of bright, hard-working boys eager for a place in a tuition-free school, the State had no room for laggards like me.

I deserved my bad grades. I knew nothing and cared less. All I wanted was to learn English, talk with my pals and play the accordion. I entirely lacked a sense of direction in life.

Under the spell of Gilberto Rizzo, my second English teacher, who now lives in the U.S. and with whom I had a very long telephone conversation the other day, my knowledge of English began to improve. Once someone taught us about pen pals (Dr. Sven V. Knudsen, Copenhagen, Denmark—anyone remembers?) I got a few pals for myself and soon was writing letters for several other colleagues, whose English was worse than mine.

On the day of my last oral examination in Philosophy, I decided the examination could wait until I had expounded a certain point in world politics to a group of bored colleagues and was quite late. The teacher, Father João Dias greeted me with a "you are late" in English, to which I retorted with a "better late than never" in the same language. Both of us felt that the first one to switch back to Portuguese would lose face, so we went on and on in English. Not very good English, but still recognizably English.

But I, as I said, I was expelled from school for flunking one too many times. And I entirely lost my bearings. I could easily have finished high school in a private academy and then go to college, but somehow I drifted along making some money by playing the accordion and private tutoring in a number of things some of which I did not know very well. In those times the accordion was very much in fashion and I played it reasonably well. For a time, I was an attraction on the Jewish hour on TV—despite the fact that I am not Jewish. But this is São Paulo and nobody pays too much attention to those things.

For a time I taught English at a local chain known as Escolas Fisk and when I got married I ran my own Fisk franchise in Porto Alegre, in the South of Brazil. It was a complete failure and I had to return to São Paulo, absolutely penniless. A few months later I landed a job as a translator with a CPA firm. It was 1970 and I was going on thirty, but it was only then that I discovered what should have been obvious since I had started writing pen pal letters for my colleagues in high school: viz. that my life was in translation.

In the beginning I worked as a part-time staff translator for the CPAs and moonlighted for a publisher. I soon decided to work full time as an independent.

I drudged along until the Internet became a reality three or four years ago. Then there was Trad-prt, a list for those translators who have one foot in Portuguese. I am of the garrulous type; always eager to give an unbalanced opinion on some matter I have only an inkling of. Of course, I am quite experienced in some fields and some of my advice on those things has been useful. But I am quite sure it was the quips that made me known.

Then Gabe invited me to write for the Translation Journal. Although I am very vain, not to say conceited, I am also a very insecure person and must confess I was terrified of the proposition. But my first contribution was quite successful and my articles have become sort of a permanent feature, something I am very proud of.

I have also conducted seminars on technical matters in three Brazilian cities, with attendees from eight Brazilian states. Then there was the unforgettable week in Portugal, working in Lisbon and talking to students in Coimbra. Then there were the talks to students and peers in colleges and conferences in Brazil. Then there may be a seminar in the U.S. next year. Then there were the glossaries published in Brazil, of which the first two have already appeared and others are due in the near future. Last but not least, I am now working part-time in a translation company, doing this and that.

Life can be great fun, believe me.