Marc Joss is a London-based football translator and interpreter. He speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.
Marc has been involved in a host of high-profile translation projects including Guillem Balagué’s Messi, Barça: The Official Illustrated History of FC Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography, as well as translating for the English version of Marca.com. He also works with Premier League clubs as an interpreter.
In the first of a two part interview, we talk to Marc about his translation work.
First of all Marc, what’s the difference between translating and interpreting? You hear them used interchangeably.
Well, a translator uses the written word. If it’s spoken, it’s interpreting.
So when Mourinho was at Barcelona and was referred to as Bobby Robson’s ‘translator’…
…he was actually an interpreter. The words ‘translator’ and ‘interpreter’ exist in similar ways in Spanish (traductor/intérprete), French (traducteur/interprète) and Italian and Portuguese. It’s a bit of a misconception across the world about how they’re used.
And how did you get into the translation side of things?
I studied languages at the University of Birmingham and then taught English abroad for two years after graduating. One day a friend sent me a link that Guillem Balagué, the Spanish football writer, was looking for someone to work for him full time – English native, Spanish speaking, likes football. So I looked at the link and thought ‘this is absolutely incredible…maybe this is what I should be doing with my life’. So I put together my CV, sent it off, was quietly confident… and I never heard back.
7 or 8 months down the line, I’d been away with some friends, we got back to Luton airport and my friend Dom said ‘I’m pretty sure that’s Guillem Balagué over there’. So we let a few people go past us, met Guillem and struck up a conversation. I told him I loved Spanish football and had been watching him on Revista since I was about 10. I mentioned that I spoke Spanish as well as a few other languages, loved football and wondered if he had any advice. He explained he was writing a book on Lionel Messi – an authorised biography – and there was a chance he’d need an additional translator, I could barely believe my ears.
So one Thursday night in September 2013 I got a call from the translator who was already working on the book, asking if I was available to translate 12,000 words by Monday. It was initially for free (not the translator’s decision), but I’d get a credit in the book and there’d be a high chance of subsequent paid work if I impressed.
And is it realistic to translate 12,000 words in 4 days?
If you drop everything else and just do that, it’s possible.
The chapters I started on were halfway through the book, so I’d missed out on Messi’s very young days in Argentina. He’d already broken in at Barca. And the very first chapter was about how he didn’t get to play when Barcelona beat Arsenal in 2006, which was a heartbreaking memory for me as an Arsenal fan!
Luckily, apart from that it was quite a friendly chapter. It was all football stuff, nothing too technical about injuries or psychological issues. That helped me get through it in time. Guillem and the team were pleased with what I did so they sent me another chapter, and another… And I started getting paid too which is when I was able to see a potential career path unfurl!
So that was the first big break. Since then I’ve also translated Guillem’s biography of Ronaldo, and his official history of FC Barcelona.
You must have learned quite a lot…
I’ve learnt to be prepared. I’ve always found themed multilingual vocabulary lists to be the most effective way to collect and immerse myself in new material. If an exciting word or idiom comes up in any of my languages, I make sure I add it to my ever-growing glossary. Whenever I know the topic in advance, I read up as much as possible and thankfully the internet (especially Wikipedia and YouTube) has in-depth material on pretty much everyone in the football world nowadays!
So what’s the translation process – do you read the whole text first?
I usually have a quick read of a few pages and go through them in one block, but my main focus has always been capturing the author’s message and conveying it in the appropriate style and register. I’ve sort of worked out the process myself. I did some translation work at university, but nothing as big as this, so the Guillem stuff has been amazing as a learning process.
And is translation a collaborative process between you and the author?
It depends on who the client is. Sometimes you’ve just got to produce a final piece: no queries, no questions asked. The amazing thing about working for Guillem has been that I’ve always been able to drop him an email and make sure that I’m getting his message across in the best way possible. I’d often send him alternatives and say ‘do you want it like this or like that?’ and we both really enjoyed that style of collaborating. It has also taught me a huge amount along the way.
There must be a huge element of trust: you’re responsible for the reputation of this book with English-speaking audiences.
Exactly, and these books are largely written for the English-speaking world. They do get published in Spanish, but the football book culture is much stronger in the UK than it is in other countries.
More from Marc next week when we talk about his interpreting work with, among others, West Ham and Arsenal. In the meantime, say hello to him on Twitter.