Interview with a Brazilian Portuguese Translator, Lucia Singer


Name: Lucia Singer

Location: São Paulo, Brazil

lucia singer

What languages do you work with?  What are some of the intricacies or challenges of the particular language you work with?       

I translate/edit and proofread mainly from English into Brazilian Portuguese, although now and then I also translate from Spanish into Portuguese.

Let’s focus here only my main language pair. The three main challenges, in my opinion are:

1) Polysemy (coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase): the English language is highly polysemic and it may occasionally happen that the context cannot indicate which term should be chosen to Portuguese.

2) Word repetition: in English texts -mainly the technical ones- it  is common to repeat the same word 2-3 times in the same phrase, while repeating  the same term in the same line/paragraph is considered “poor Portuguese”. Whenever possible we should look for synonyms to replace these repetitions but then the client or the editor might say, “for the sake of consistency you should translate all the terms the same way”. And this puts us between devil and the deep blue sea …

3) Text expansion: English is a very concise language and almost always the translation into Portuguese means an expansion around 15% to 20% words. Additionally, texts coming from the USA tend to present too many abbreviations and acronyms, which sometimes can be translated but in some instances there is no equivalent acronym and it should be fully spelled in Portuguese.  

What are some of your most interesting projects? Why?

My preferred projects are those related to clinical trials, genetics, molecular biology, pharmacy and educational texts directed to patients and lay people. I am a biologist, initially specialized in Genetics and Biostatistics, and later I got a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology.   Most of my life was dedicated to research and education at the Biomedical Sciences Institute of the University of São Paulo and these are the most interesting areas for me because they represent a link with and continuation of my favorite areas in science.

What is the best part about being a translator? What do you love about it?

The variety of subjects and opinions we encounter in our daily life is the best part about being a translator. I love having new experiences and the opportunity to learn new things almost daily. It is good to feel that I can help researchers, patients, and healthcare professionals in varying fields. 

How did you know you were “ready” to be a translator?

I knew I was ready soon after I retired from academia. As I was used to read/write scientific papers both in Portuguese and in English, the transposition to the translation industry came very naturally. Also, soon after retirement  I had the opportunity to translate some medical articles for a couple of friends that loved my translations and this encouraged me to further study the Portuguese and English languages, read about translation processes, and attend classes and conferences on translation.

What is the most difficult part about your job? 

The most difficult parts are to explain to a potential client some facts like: a) medical translations are a very delicate area and should be done very carefully; after a translation is completed I like to re-read and edit it twice, preferably on different days to catch possible errors/omission. Therefore I do not accept a job with an unrealistic timeframe. b) Brazilian Portuguese is very different from European Portuguese, therefore I do not translate something they call “Universal Portuguese” because this does not exist.

Can you translate a sentence for us? Your favorite quote? Your favorite word?

I will not cite my favorite quote because as George Santayana (philosopher, poet and writer) said:
 “Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.”

In Portuguese :
“Para cada provérbio sábio há quase sempre uma contrapartida, nem sempre menos sábia, para contrabalançar”.