French Translations and Filipino Martial Arts – With David Crébassa

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On this World Translation Day, we introduce you to one of our esteemed translators, David Crébassa. He speaks 5 languages – French, German, English, Spanish & Mandarin. Besides helping people and brands communicate, David teaches and practises a form of Filipino martial arts called Kali. Listen on to learn more about his life, his admirable contributions to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the ‘Translate By Humans’ podcast, where I talk to colleagues, linguists and experts about their lives, cultural experiences and professions.

I am Shifa Miyaji, a content writer and social media enthusiast.

And today, I bring you a special episode on the occasion of World Translation Day.

Our newest episode, or should I say our newest series revolves around our translators, and here we get to know them better in terms of their journey, their favourite tools and tips and their role in the global community. We’ll also dig a little deeper and unlock some cultural insights and their perspectives about the translation industry.

Hi, David, it’s great to have you with us today. Welcome to our podcast.

Hi, Shifa. Thank you so much for welcoming me. It’s definitely a great pleasure to be with you, and thank you very much. You’ve pronounced, very surprisingly, but so happily, beautifully, my family name. So, congratulations to you.

Thank you David. So, I and our listeners would like to know you personally. So please tell us something about yourself, your native place, your education, the languages you speak. Perhaps any childhood memories you’d like to share with us?

Yes, with great pleasure. I’m coming from France, from the Southwestern part of France – the wine area of Bordeaux. So I was born not too far from it. We are surrounded by lots of rivers and mountains. It’s a beautiful area of France, which is also very well known for its gastronomy and many historical interests. I am the child of two. I’ve got a sister, Natalie. She presently lives in England, in the UK and, I’m married to Maxi, and we have a daughter who lives on her side in Australia. And, I and my wife, we’re presently living in the Philippines. So this is quite a large stretch in terms of time zones, we can say. For my educational background: a number of years ago, I did a baccalaureate in literature and majors in English, German and Spanish. I’ve been into languages for a number of years. I wanted to pursue translation and interpretation, and unfortunately, the studies were not affordable to me. So I took the next big step, which was to go into International Trade, allowing me to still practice English and German. I was already practising those two languages, which gave me quite a deep knowledge of European languages. So I speak English. I continued with German, simultaneously with Latin at that time. And the fourth language was Spanish. So I had the chance to have a wonderful teacher who had spent a number of years in Beijing. So it was my introduction to the Chinese culture. Presently, while we live in the Philippines and my wife is both a Filipina and French, I have the chance to live in a family who also speaks two of the dialects of The Philippines, which is Tagalog and Ilonggo (Hiligaynon).

Oh, that’s beautiful. And who would you say is your inspiration behind learning languages

Oh, well, that comes back indeed to a long time ago then Shifa. My inspiration would be my sister. She’s two years older than me. And she always had this leader attitude towards me, always very responsible and careful, but she wanted me to follow the right path.

And she was my first teacher. She loved already English, and she couldn’t help teaching me English. So actually, two years before going to grammar school, I already knew the upcoming lessons. So, once I started really learning English with a professional teacher in the classroom, I already knew almost everything by heart.

We can see that languages have always been a part of your journey. Do you have any other experiences that pushed you towards being a translator?

Actually, yes. When I joined the Navy, the captain of our company knew that I could speak languages. And I was called to be a driver on the ambassadorship of France. I really needed to have languages to care for any issues. Every now and then, I had the chance, and I worked in the hospitality industry for a number of years in a boutique hotel, which was very, very popular with mostly American clientele, but mostly with English-speaking clientele. And I would say that it was my first real professional experience and, I was speaking 90% of the day. I was speaking, writing, translating emails (oh, not emails at that time), translating letters, the paper-written letters to the director, so I spent fabulous years fulfilling my passion for languages in a different way and deepening my knowledge.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a translator, that this was something that suited you and you wanted to do?

Well, that is more recent. My wife came first to live in France but was recruited back to Singapore. So, we left for Singapore; it was in the early two-thousands. And I was mostly running a company in digital publishing, but I had also been contacted by a French – Canadian translator. She was a professional one; she asked me if I could help her with some projects. There, I had the chance to work as a translator professionally.

And then, a few years later, I started working with an international language school teaching French. And every now and then, also on their side, they got queries asking for translations. Most of the time, I would say it would be legal, like, birth certificates or marriage certificates.

So, the interest and the work grew. And I said, “Well, maybe it’s time to go more into translation and make it your main activity”. So, yeah, it took some time, depending on your knowledge and the industries. I worked in a variety of industries. I’d say it was most probably very helpful to understand how the corporate world works and be able to translate not only words but also ‘world’ and the environment and cultures.

Your journey seems pretty exciting, and there has been a lot of learning. So you must have noticed some contrast between the culture of France and the Philippines? We’d love to know.

Oh yes. We have, fortunately, some similarities. But we have a few contrasts. Absolutely. Every foreigner, I think, will notice it. Something that I’ve noticed, not only I would say in the Philippines, but since I’ve known the Filipino culture, is a sense of community. You hardly spend a dinner or a meal without talking about the relation that somebody has with another relation or with somebody. And I’m not talking about intimate relations, just the connections. You will know that person who knows that person (who is the brother of this.., because I was in class with.., but he’s the manager…). So it can be mesmerising for a foreigner like me to listen to this ping-pong of people that you’ve never heard of. And to try to design this web of connections, which for them makes lots of sense, which for me is just a real maze.

That is quite similar to the Indian culture.

Is it?

Yeah, we also have close-knit communities and large families. Most of us still prefer to live with our parents or even grandparents. So, what do you love about French culture?

The food, definitely. French culture is known for its food. And I love food. French culture is made of art. And one of the seven arts is food.

Yes! So, can you give us a glimpse into your life as a translator?

Okay, well, we’re getting intimate now 😀 So, right after I wake up, I try to make a point to put on my shorts and go out. I’ve got a beautiful little corner next to a mango tree, which is lit up by the sunshine. So I just do some meditation poses, deep breathing. Once you come back to your office or your place, the first thing you do is turn on the computer. Fortunately, TBH – Translate By Humans quite frequently sends me regular projects to work on. And if none, I’ve got two other activities and, so as you mentioned at the beginning, I also instruct martial arts. More specifically, it’s a Filipino martial art that we call Kali, so I teach this, but presently online. I had learnt it when I was in Singapore, and I also teach French – online for COVID reasons. So it makes my days, sometimes, quite hectic between one or two projects to work on, maybe a class of French and finishing with a class of Kali. And, so yeah, it keeps you busy until the late of the afternoon where I try as much as possible to do some workout.

So your day is really productive. That’s what I can make out 🙂

Yes. Unfortunately, my wife tells me often, “Why don’t you rest?” But I say, “I’ve got no time to!”, and I don’t mind that. I love what I’m doing. So I don’t mind.

So when you’re working, when you’re translating, what are the tools you cannot absolutely do without?

Well, definitely nowadays you need your laptop and the internet. In terms of tools, software, CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools are very useful. You shouldn’t rely on them completely. Personally, I’ve constituted a long list of technical dictionaries dealing with sports, health, transport, business. So, according to what I’m looking for, I will have the links to these dictionaries. Wikipedia, of course, can be helpful to compare, just like a journalist. You shall not rely only on one source. You want to make sure that your source is secure. So, yeah, so that will be the three main sources of work to make a project really faster and accurate and interesting at the same time. You discover so much.

Yeah. These are really helpful sources. So, David, what are you when not a translator. How do you unwind, relax, take a break?

All right. So yeah, when it happens, yes. As I let you know earlier, this is my moment after sleeping well. I like to continue the posing with meditation or deep breathing that I also do at night when I complete the day. On the opposite spectrum of this, I love high-intensity interval training. So, if and when I can, this is the kind of exercise I like to do. Before COVID, I was an avid runner. I ran some marathons back in Singapore. Here, a few or so races. So I used to love running. So when COVID is out, we’ll hit the tarmac again. If I cannot run, I can bike. So I love biking. So these are various activities which train not only your muscles but also your brain. And when you want to relax well, you put yourself on the sofa and watch Netflix. And something that I do sometimes when I don’t do anything would be to listen to jazz music. I love DIY repairing and communication with the family. Presently, it’s mostly with the internet, but, definitely, these are good moments to spend, catch up, and focus on people, not things or work, but people that you love.

Talking about the COVID pandemic and how it has changed the ways of the world, how did it affect your translation work?

Oh, I actually, I always dealt with translation projects in a digital manner. So the social distancing that COVID-19 requires affected it but in a very positive way. It’s a very dire, harsh situation. But for me, it has mostly enhanced or propelled me even faster into, uh, into translation. I can focus more. I’ve been very lucky to work very productively and regularly with, uh, Translate By Humans. And so it has affected me really positively.

So tell us about any of your memorable projects during this time, your most rewarding experiences.

But you think to yourself - "Well, yes, you did a good job". It's good. But on top of this, you're part of a huge project, touching millions of lives and souls. So that was very exciting and humbling at the same time.

- David Crébassa
Well, there is a project – one that I will remember, I’m sure for a long time, This project dealt with education. Firstly, being an instructor myself, for French and the Kali, the concept was already quite inspiring. It is a nonprofit client that targets marginalised, racial and ethnic groups. And, the students are mainly women and, of course, children. And the project was quite substantial. And technically, on the professional side, I was fully satisfied because to know that I could reach out to people who are not as privileged as I am to, to help them grow, feel empowered, to have a better life in the following year, in five years or ten years.

It’s amazing to feel like you’ve made a difference somewhere there in the world. I’d like to ask you, what is something that you wish you’d known before while you were starting as a translator? Something that you’d like to share as advice for the upcoming translators?

The first piece of advice that I would give is if you have any doubt, do not hesitate and push yourself to question your client or your client’s client. There there’s always room for misinterpretation. And you wouldn’t like to have your message misinterpreted. On the other, some errors from the client’s side are always possible. They may have left a typo, and sometimes it can be just a copy-paste from another document. So if you pay real attention to your document, you can say, “Hey, does it make sense to you as well?” If you have a doubt, maybe it’s time to raise it because it can be some very sensitive documents. But even if you feel comfortable that you’ve translated well, give yourself some time, not too many days, because the projects are always urgent and were needed for yesterday. Yes. But you have to make time to proofread it yourself. Actually, you have to reread it from the beginning. I’m always grateful to have had the eye. You’ve sometimes got fifty or a hundred pages to read. But when you find only one error, you’re so grateful to have found this error and say, ‘Well, it was worth spending another two hours rereading it’ and to hand over the most perfect that you could hand at this very moment. Be it for one client or millions of people in the audience, we have a huge responsibility. We’re some kind of a messenger for the company employing us as a translator, and people who won’t understand any French will rely on us 105%.

So, in the end, put all your heart and you have to be so proud at the end of this project. Every time, when I press the send on the mail, I say, "Yes, I can make it with a smile". And trust that it was a smile full of success on my side, on your side and on the client's side. We are four people -the client, me, you, and your clients' audience. So we are many people involved in just one project.

- David Crébassa

Right. Definitely. That’s some great advice. I believe this is what differentiates human translations from machine translations, how a human understands the cultural intricacies, the emotional aspects, and much more. What do you think about this? Do you believe that automated or machine translations can completely ever replace human trials?

Yeah. That could be a long method to discuss. Machine Translations (translating machines) can reveal themselves, quite an effective tool, actually. And they will be giving you A solution, if not THE solution, but at least a solution. So that can be helpful. But definitely, you shouldn’t rely on CAT blindly. At least, well, I don’t. What I do, is that when I receive a text, I first do my own translation, bit by bit. Fortunately, you’ve got your eyes, you’ve got your understanding of the concept, you’ve got your human nature that a machine will not understand. Imagine that you had said that you are dealing, with a poem, for example. A poem that will use allegories, which will invert grammar or syntax. You will have some poems translated, but it will make no sense. A human nature definitely will be able to understand the meaning. You will have a way to express it in a way that will be catching both the idea of the poet and the way that a French or French Canadian, French, generally speaking, will understand it and will appreciate both the words and the allegories or the frame of mind of the writer. It would be hard, I imagine, to decipher a poem accurately from a machine. Yeah. You have to understand where all those words come from, and if you have any doubt, you ask your client – “Please clarify, I have a doubt”. So only you, a human, will ask questions and will wonder or ask out loud.

True. That, that makes sense. So, you specified earlier that you’ve worked with a lot of areas in translation. Which one would you say is the most difficult one to work in amongst all the areas of expertise?

Probably, the legal side. When you have bylaws to translate, this is very specific. There will be a signature, and there will be millions of dollars or euros in the deals. So you have to make sure that everything is definitive. The I’s and dots are where they are, where they should be. And the vocabulary also can be really challenging. When dealing with these kinds of legal documents, it appeals to a higher standard, a higher quality of vocabulary. There will be lots of research to do, but if you don’t have a strong background originally in law studies. I did law studies when I studied international trade, So I would say, yeah, it could be most probably the one most challenging.

Okay. So we’ve really enjoyed talking to you, David. You gave us a fascinating glimpse into the life of a translator and a wonderful tour of France and the Philippines as well. We just have one last question for you. So how has your experience been with Translate by humans?

It’s so far so excellent. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience. I really appreciate the relationship with all the project managers and the assistants. The relation is really always courteous, very, very, very respectful, friendly at the same time.

I mentioned earlier that there are some urgent projects to work on. So there might be some pressure to work on it as much as possible. Sometimes it can be three or four pressures at the same time. So you’ve got to hold a number of horses. But always, we work on it in a collaborating way. There is a very good business relation between us.

So it’s not again for boasting. It just strengthens the relationships that we all have. And we know that we’re not just far away translators for you. We are definitely part of your team. And I hope this journey will last for long.

Thank you, David. It’s been an amazing experience for us to work with you, and we feel really pleased and humbled to have you today. Thank you so much for being a part of our translator series.

Languages are the best ways to communicate around this world, understand cultures, and be at peace with everyone; if you start talking, there is communication, there is understanding, and there can be love also. So, yeah, let's communicate and let's talk.

- David Crébassa
Thank you also. Thank you very much.

Definitely. We’re so proud of our global community of linguists, translators, interpreters, and it makes us feel really good talking to you and knowing about you. So, thank you so much for being with us today.

Thank you very much again, Shifa.

Thank you, dear listeners, for tuning in to our podcast and coming on this exciting journey with us. We will be back soon with another expert from the global language community.

Do subscribe to our podcast so you know when we release our next episode.

Happy Translation Day to all of you. See you soon.

About The Translate By Humans Podcast

Made by humans, for humans. The Translate By Humans podcast takes you through some inspiring personal stories and cultural experiences of people working in the language industry.

Shifa Miyaji

Shifa Miyaji

Shifa Miyaji is a Content Writer at Translate By Humans. A former student of Mass Media and Corporate Communication, she conducts intensive research for her blogs and articles and keeps tab on all developments in the language industry to curate interesting & trending content for all our social media platforms. Learning about new languages, cultures and cuisines excites her and when she isn't engrossed in the newest fictional hardback, she can be found fantasizing about her next solo trip.
Shifa Miyaji

Shifa Miyaji

Shifa Miyaji is a Content Writer at Translate By Humans. A former student of Mass Media and Corporate Communication, she conducts intensive research for her blogs and articles and keeps tab on all developments in the language industry to curate interesting & trending content for all our social media platforms. Learning about new languages, cultures and cuisines excites her and when she isn't engrossed in the newest fictional hardback, she can be found fantasizing about her next solo trip.
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