Volume 5, No. 3 
July 2001

  Lou Korda





Thank You!
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
The Making of a Translator
by Louis Korda
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
  Legal Translation
La traduzione giuridica
by Deirdre Exell Pirro
  Arts and Entertainment
In the Footsteps of Giants
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
One Translator's Thoughts on Localization
by Dag Forssell
  Translation Theory
Translation and Language Varieties
by Magdy M. Zaky
  Translators Around the World
The First Three Years
by Timothy Howe
  Translating Social Change
Translation as Rewriting
by Berrin Aksoy, Ph.D.
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXIV
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
An Effective and Inexpensive Translation Memory Tool
by Andrei Gerasimov
Translators’ Emporium
Letters to the Editor
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
Translator Profile

The Making of a Translator

by Louis Korda

et me begin my story so to say in medias res (since Latin had been my favorite subject in gymnasium). Here I was, in 1945, in Budapest, where I had been born 28 years earlier. The city was pockmarked with gashes, holes, and craters left behind by Russian shells and bombs. I knew what was coming, and the first thing I did was go to Prague and apply for a Czechoslovak passport, since Slovakia was my father's birthplace. I got it and left for Switzerland, where I enrolled in the Hotelfachschule in Luzern. Beside hotel management, I studied Portuguese, since I hoped to emigrate to Brazil, where I had an uncle.

I hope to participate in ATA's Mentor/Mentee program, and I cordially invite any novice translator to call or write to me to discuss his or her questions, problems, or aspirations.
Eventually (by this time I lived in Antwerp) I managed to obtain an immigration visa to Venezuela, and a transit visa to Brazil. But there was no way for me to stay on in Brazil for longer than 30 days, and I had to fly up to Caracas. There I worked in the Hotel Majestic as desk clerk and bar manager, and—on the basis of my Latin—quickly learned Spanish, and just as quickly forgot my Portuguese. (Well not completely, it seems: years later I sat for the Portuguese to English ATA accreditation exam, and passed).

By 1948, having married an American citizen, I was on my way to the USA. My wife, Carmen, who was of Dominican/Puerto Rican descent, was perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish, and was of great help in correcting me every step of the way in both languages. We landed in Miami, which we found too hot and humid, and shortly thereafter we arrived in New York. With a few brief interruptions, I've been living in the New York metropolitan area ever since.

The first job I landed was in the translation department of The National City Bank of New York (now known as Citi Bank). I translated on the old manual typewriter from Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese to English for $40 a week. (A cup of excellent coffee at Horn & Hardart's was 5 cents, and the subway token cost 5 cents, too). My English was still rudimentary, but it was getting better every day. My congenial colleagues helped a lot.

One of them, Leonard Bushong, took me under his wing, because he suspected that I had no idea about the American idiom. To test me he told me the story about a newspaper reporter who was given the assignment to cover an incident that happened in an insane asylum, where one of the inmates raped another and then escaped. He wrote up the story in all its gory detail and handed it in to his editor with a long and convoluted headline. The editor threatened to fire him unless he came up with a headline that was short and had real punch. "And what do you think that headline was?" asked Leonard. "I give up," I said. "Nut screws and bolts" he said, laughing at his own joke. I looked at my friend and asked in all innocence: "What has hardware got to do with that?"

That's when he suggested that I go to college and continue my education in English. I enrolled at City College of New York, took evening classes, and did quite well. Later on, whenever I could, I took college courses: at the New School, the George Washington U in Washington, DC, and the Thomas Edison State College in Trenton. It took many years, but I finally graduated in 1987.

After a couple of years at the bank I was looking for greener pastures and found a job with Exquisiteform Brassieres. I learned to sew those garments on a double-needle machine, which wasn't easy. The idea was that I would become proficient at it and, since I spoke Spanish, would move to Puerto Rico to be foreman at one of their factories. It didn't work out, because Carmen had a much better job, herself, in New York by that time, and refused to move.

So I went to work for a foreign-exchange dealership, and after I learned the basics of the trade, I went and opened a branch office for them in Washington, DC.

Then Amertrade hired me and sent me to Mexico City to run their branch operation. That job lasted three years, at the end of which I got divorced and moved back to New York, where I was hired by Revlon. Fragrances and cosmetics suited me well, and I stayed with that industry (via 4711 colognes, Dorothy Gray and Germaine Monteil cosmetics, Marcel Rochas and Sonia Rykiel perfumes) until I retired at the age of 67.

I married again: this time Renee, a Viennese, and learned the Austrian variety of German. Then, 30 years ago, my third and last wife, Edith. She is a Berliner and to this day corrects my Viennese syntax and I correct her mistakes in American English. We get along just fine.

After I retired from cosmetics, I decided to go back into translation on a permanent basis, and applied for a job with the FBI. They hired me and I spent the next 15 years working for them in New York. A year ago I retired for the second time, and only freelance for the Justice Department if they need me and I feel like it.

Over the years I also developed and practiced a number of hobbies: besides sewing, I've done picture framing, bookbinding, stained glass work and furniture refinishing. I like to keep my hands busy with things that require manual dexterity. It relaxes me between long, and mentally exhausting sessions translating at the computer.

I almost forgot to mention that I am part-time faculty at New York University, where I've been teaching, on and off, German>English medical, as well as legal translation at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (just recently renamed: Center for Foreign Languages and Translation).

I am ATA accredited in French>E, German>E, Hungarian>E, Spanish>E, and Portuguese>E.

Throughout my checkered career I have always tried—and many times succeeded—helping others. I hope to participate in ATA's Mentor/Mentee program, and I cordially invite any novice translator to call or write to me to discuss his or her questions, problems, or aspirations.

My advice to anyone who cares to listen: find a hobby that you can practice while taking an occasional break from the monotony of translation.

P.S. Articles that I translated and that appeared in the ATA Chronicle:

An Impassioned Translator, excerpted from Escola de Tradutores by Paulo Ronai,
from Portuguese.

Preamble to Hungarian Poetry by Laszló Cs. Szabó,
from French.

Report on a Visit by István Eörsi,
from Hungarian.

The Greatest Experience in My Life by Krisztina Virágh,
from German.