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MATI Member Spotlight: Margie Franzen

07/15/2013 5:37 PM | Anonymous

Margie Franzen is a Spanish/English interpreter and translator and a Dutch/English translator and has been a member of MATI for one and a half years. She has a M.A. in Economics and a M.A. in Spanish Literatures & Linguistics.

How did you acquire your B language(s)?

Right now I work full-time at Dean Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin and a lot of patients I interpret for ask me the same question! Well, first, they want to know where I’m from. I’m from Wisconsin, am not Latina and started learning Spanish in 7th grade because, well, because all 7th graders did. I didn’t get it at all! I didn’t understand the concept of conjugation nor did I have a particular motivation to learn other languages. At that time in Beloit, Wisconsin, I didn’t have Spanish-speaking classmates, and it wouldn’t be until high school that my best friend would actually be from a Spanish-speaking family.

I do remember vividly the day I got hooked on learning other languages (besides Spanish, I’ve since studied and learned, to various degrees, Portuguese, German, French, Latin, Arabic and Dutch). That day I was sitting in a freshman Spanish class, and a student waltzed in while class was  going on and had this totally short but also totally rapid-fire, to my ears fluent, exchange with the teacher in Spanish. I wanted to be able to do that!!!

Still today I usually joke that my language learning habit comes from this emtional place of “wanting to be on the inside”. And, I love the challenge of making new sounds. That is, admittedly, the hardest part for me, but after seeing how it does come after enough practice, it keeps me optimistic! Right now I’m grappling with Dutch vowels and trying to become a more fluent speaker of Dutch. People in the Netherlands have a bit of a tricky time placing me because my accent is a weird mix of all my other “B” languages (Spanish, French, German). I have an amazing Skype tutor from the Dutch Club of Chicago, I watch the news regularly in Dutch, I read as much Dutch as my after-work hours allow and go to Amsterdam about once or twice a year.

And, in the meantime, I try to keep up with my “A” language, English! I don’t know the meaning and nuance of half the words my mother knows. She is, perhaps, the person with the widest passive and active English vocabulary I know!

What inspired you to get into your field?

The joke here is that I recently realized how many “crushes” I’ve had on translators. Erasmus of Rotterdam, Fray Luis de León….the idea that there were people out there willing to take on the challenge of figuring out where our non-fictions come from and of creating linguistically accessible readings of that knowledge is a constant attraction for me.

My way to translating is a long-winding one. I am very interested in pregnancy, childbirth and the way people seek or attain good health. While I was studying Spanish literature and linguistics in graduate school, I, along with everyone else, learned how Arabic medical technologies were brought into Latin by a whole monarchy-sponsored translation infrastructure. In our more modern times, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was absolutely floored by the variation of practice and options available to me based on who and how knowledge and skills had been passed to various practitioners, in this country and others. My daughter is now 9 years old and I continue to be interested in the responsibility translation – or language, more generally – has in sustaining not only a high-quality professional life, but a highly imaginative personal life as well.

What continues to inspire you?

In my free time…no wait, in all my time, I sit around and dream up ways to get people to read more. And, working as a translator has convinced me that translating is an amazing way to delve into the reading process. Like spoken conversations where speaker and listener are both responsible for keeping up a conversation, written meaning is co-created by writer and reader. The thing with translation is that there is a writer who is mediating this co-creation and so it gets even more interesting.

I used to be someone who scoffed at reading things in translation. I’ve since left that attitude behind because it doesn’t serve me. Most of the literary theory I’ve based papers on have used theories I read in translation. When I read medical texts in my native language, English, for my interpreting work, I recognize that this body of knowledge is indebted to translated research, albeit some years ago. In a way, my regular yoga practice and the skill that yoga teachers bring to class have been made possible by the translation of yogic texts. Basically, it’s a gratefulness to my everyday activities that continue to inspire in me an awe of translation’s power to influence.

Do you have a book, blog or methodology that you would like to recommend?

Yes. Many. Google (not all at once!!!): Asymptote translation journal, Versal literary mag, For the Love of It Wayne Booth, Toon Tellegen English, Michel de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life.

If you could ask your MATI colleagues for advice on an issue, what would that issue be?

Right now I’m very, very curious to know what children’s authors people love from other languages. Don’t worry about whether you know if it’s been translated yet or not. I can research that!

I’m also looking for advice, feedback and innovative, optimistic suggestions for translation workshops. Some of the workshops I do are on my website: That said, I’m looking for facilitators for the languages I don’t speak or read. Email me if you are curious to know more!


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