Volume 5, No. 4 
October 2001

  Isa Mara Lando





Translation and International Politics
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
How to Become a Translator
by Isa Mara Lando
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Choosing the Best Bid—An Application of Two Managerial Decision-Making Theories
by Aysel Morin
An Easy Translation Job
by Danilo Nogueira
  Bible Translation
Problems of Bible Translation
by Ilias Chatzitheodorou
  Literary Translation
Fidélité en traduction ou l'éternel souci des traducteurs
by Nassima El Medjira
The Power of Sound
by Joanna Janecka
  Translation Theory
Constructing a Model for Shift Analysis in Translation
by Dr. Mohammad Q. R. Al-Zoubi and Dr. Ali Rasheed Al-Hassnawi
  Translator Education
Trial and Error or Experimentation or Both!
by Moustafa Gabr
  Book Review
Virgin Birth and Red Underpants—The Translator's Responsibility in Shaping Our Worldview
by Zsuzsanna Ardó
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXV
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
Translators’ Emporium
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
Translator Profile

How to Become a Translator

by Isa Mara Lando

s Bertrand Russell once said in his famous article "How to Get Old," start by choosing your ancestors well. It is no coincidence that many colleagues profiled on this website are Jewish like me. Chances are you'll have a cosmopolitan family scattered over many countries and will hear many languages spoken at home since early childhood. In my case, besides Portuguese (my native language, since I was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil), some Yiddish from my grandmother, some English and French from aunts and cousins from New York and Brussels. Plus folk songs in Spanish, plus some Hebrew for reading prayers. That makes six languages that I would hear often by age eight.

I am proud of belonging to a trade which is inherently pacifist and concerns itself with promoting good international understanding.
How does all this affect your brain in such an early age—the age of maximum "brain plasticity"? Well, strongly! The very "wiring" of your brain is being formed at that stage. This plethora of linguistic stimuli activates neural connections, pumps blood into certain parts of the brain, makes it ready and hungry for more stimuli of the same type. Is this what they call "a talent for languages"? Well, some talent! I'd say "luck," rather. Just think of the edge someone with this background will have over other people who heard only one language at home and started learning a second one seriously at age 15 or much later. No wonder my two brothers have also become translators.

Let's add that my mother used to read aloud for us children—especially light, humorous crônicas by Fernando Sabino and Rubem Braga from the then-novel magazine Manchete. Today I can fully appreciate what these authors did for my Portuguese—Sabino with his light prose and delicious sense of humor, Braga with his beautiful poetic prose, his sensitive, sometimes poignant observations of daily life.

What else? I used to live next to a good children' s library, and there I spent thousands of hours reading, in an era without computers and a rather primitive TV that did not appeal to me very much. I read tons of Monteiro Lobato—rich, thought-provoking children's literature. Later, in my early teens, I read a lot of Mark Twain and Jack London in translation, honing my appetite for adventure (armchair adventures, that is!).

Another major lucky strike—at age 12 I had a wonderful English teacher at school. Besides giving us a solid grammar and vocabulary foundation, she used to teach us songs—Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole.... hits of the early 60's. Boy, did that make a difference, in that tight, disciplinarian school! She spoke only English with us and told us anecdotes about her life in the U.S.—with a gleam in her eyes that every teacher should have. That sparkle, that enthusiasm for teaching and sharing, that love for the English language, is what she passed on to me, and that hopefully I was able to pass on to some of my students later on.

Now comes travelling... another strong point in Jewish families. I went to Europe and Israel at age 18 and made good friends from several countries. My English got better and more natural. Later I had a marriage of sorts with an American—a very intelligent and articulate young man—and spent a few months speaking only English at home with him. This makes a world of difference too—just try speaking a foreign language as you make love to (or war against) a native speaker, using that foreign language to express your deep emotions. In these circumstances, that language stops being a kind of artificial leg on which you can barely rely and which does not really feel like your own. It becomes second nature, a real part of your inner self.

Later I studied English Language and Literature at São Paulo University and taught at Cultura Inglesa. After a few years, feeling dissatisfied with the poor quality of the translations I saw around, I decided to try my hand at the trade. I worked for the well-known publisher Editora Brasiliense and later for Companhia das Letras, right from the beginnng of this excellent publishing house, back in 1986.

Since then I have translated about 80 books, of which some 25 for Companhia das Letras and Companhia das Letrinhas. Among the authors I would mention V.S.Naipaul, Bernard Malamud, John Fante, Susan Sontag, Yukio Mishima, Amos Oz (English version) and most famously, Salman Rushdie (delicious Haroun and the Sea of Stories). I have also translated a few theater plays that were put on with success in São Paulo, most notably Angels in America and Fiddler on the Roof, complete with songs—oh, the pleasure of recreating the stheitel my grandparents came from!

At present I translate regularly for two magazines, National Geographic and Harvard Business Review, plus children's books and occasionally art catalogues. I specialize in computers and software, since I also have a background in computer programming. I specialize in computers and software, since I also have a background in computer programming.

The end result of all those translations is a book of my own, VocabuLando—Vocabulário Prático Inglês-Português,* which I published in 2000 and which contains 14 years' worth of research and systematic annotations. It complements regular dictionaries with a large number of synonyms in Portuguese, thousands of example sentences, warnings about tricky words, false cognates etc. It has been very well received and gets many warm compliments from colleagues and students for its usefulness. I hope to be able to publish \its Companion volume next year—an exercise book now in the making.

In short, I try to share around whatever I have been able to learn. It's the least I can do given all the luck I've been blessed with. Being a translator has also given me the chance of making good friends among my colleagues—and the Internet cannot be praised highly enough for having brought us all together.

I can say I am proud of belonging to a trade which is inherently pacifist and concerns itself with promoting good international understanding. As good as translation programs may get, I think good translators, like good craftsmen, will always be needed.

* VocabuLando was reviewed in the January 2000 issue of the Translation Journal.