Making Sense of it All – It’s All in the Translation!

When we arrived in France seven years ago we threw our four children into french school. They were aged between six and twelve at the time. Normal, you might say – well not really, as they didn’t have a word of french between them. When I picked up my daughter on the first day after a couple of hours she was looking decidedly stressed, if not a little close to tears. In an attempt to soften the blow we gave them all mobile phones, thinking that they might be able to text us for translations of the more tricky words..

…well that might be all of them!

But those phones were confiscated by the well-meaning staff in order to force them to integrate. And amazingly, integrate they did. One by one the language got under their skin and by about a year they were fabulous french speakers.

Being fabulous french speakers, and being fluent and bilingual are not the same things. There are still days, seven years on where words do not come, coloquial meanings are a little ambiguous or words simply do not exist in the alternative language.

Incredibly my children haven’t really complained about the process although there are certainly days when they have felt tested, and in those moments they have muttered inwardly, and outwardly,


And I in those moments have boyed them up in motherly fashion saying,

“because one day, and you never know when, this will all make sense, this will become an advantage and suddenly a door will open for you”,

and I always hoped it would!

And then suddenly, just when it was least expected, an opportunity came. An email popped in my inbox from the organisers of “Terres de Paroles” with a tentative question,

“can you interpret”.

Only days earlier my sister-in-law and I had been messaging about a canadian author, a friend that she knew from her home town of Waterloo who was touring Northern France for her book tour. Carrie Snyder, author of “Girl-runner’, or more poetically known in France, “Invisible sous la lumière”(Invisible in the light) was in Rouen. At the last moment the organisers of the event had found themselves without a translator. I volunteered my daughter, now 19 for the opportunity.WP_20160407_002[1]

Translating is always easier from the foreign language to your native one, but this event required translating in both directions which involves remodulating, interpreting and rephrasing the dialogue on the spur of the moment in front of an audience avidly waiting for the ‘raison d’être’, the inspiration, the motivation and the explanations  that the author wants to share about their book.

And as much as I was intrigued by the book, the characters, the setting and the plot, I was also thinking,

“This is why,…. this is why you have braved what we inflicted on you all those years ago”

..for my daughter seemingly effortlessly translated the long dialogues and questions from the french presenter to Carrie, and took to the microphone to return to french the canadian author’s responses for us. IMG_5653

Carrie signed for us a copy of her book, which we are excited to read. The french title seeming so much more succinct to us, a finger on the nerve fibre of the book, the raising of the achievements of a sportswoman, hitherto hidden in plain light of day under the discriminations of the era she lived and performed in, into the conciousness of today.

IMG_5650So to Carrie’s four children, a month without their mother in Canada, I say thanks for lending your mother to us, and for allowing this experience to show our four children just what a skill they possess; and to Carrie, thank you for coming to Rouen and sharing your book with us,

..and to everyone else, read this book -it promises to be good,

“Girl Runner” by Carrie Snyder,


“Invisible sous la Lumière” – for us, we are, after all in France!

girl runner

13 thoughts on “Making Sense of it All – It’s All in the Translation!

  1. Wow–so wonderful that your daughter had such a great opportunity to do the interview! We visited Rouen last September and fell in love with the city. It was our first visit to France and we stayed behind Cathedral St. Vivien in an apartment. Nine days of great exploring, food, and people!


  2. So thrilled for your daughter, a huge milestone. I understand so completely everything you are saying. People say children will be fluent in a year or two, but there are so many different levels of fluency. Fluent amongst friends in the playground is one thing, but put children in a foreign situation with words they don’t use on a daily basis and suddenly they are far from fluent, it’s an ongoing experience learning a new language. I admire all children who enter foreign schools unable to speak a word of the local language and yet they persevere, they make friends, they learn how to communicate, all five of ours have been in this situation and all five have come out the other side, with a great sense of humour, some tears, lots of frustration, but most of all with a great sense of pride.


    • I knew you would have the same kind of experience. Language is such an evolving medium isn’t it? My daughter said that when she was translating she noted that a good quantity of the peopke in the audience were the upper side of 50. It’s tough, she said to find the right vocabulary for the appropriate generation when it would be so easy to convert into her usual “adolescent speak”! Even your dog has difficulties it seems despite leaving Australia many years ago!!


  3. French was my first foreign language to learn, as I have French Canadian ancestry. But my daughter’s favorite was German. Now she lives and works in Germany and is fluent in German. When she first flew over to work, she said at first, at the end of the day, she had headaches from trying to think, remember, interpret meanings and gestures. Now she has trouble remembering English words!


  4. Hi again Miranda, my comment on your latest blog seems to have been accepted so I am trying again here, as I remember writing a heartfelt message of congratulations to your daughter at the time, which was then lost. Her achievement was definitely worth commenting on. You must have been very proud of her.


  5. Oh bravo to your daughter! We have the same experience and feelings after throwing our children into French school from Australia. My son says the same thing, it’s easier to translate from English into French, yet he and my daughter have wowed me how well they have done here. With plans to return to Australia soon, sometimes there is no logic in the advantages of speaking French, so I hope that one day my kids will get a chance to see their hard work pay off.


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