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It would be a great injustice to describe Yves Champollion only as “the great-grandson of Jean-François Champollion, the French Egyptologist who deciphered hieroglyphics and curated the Egyptian collection in the Louvre Museum” for the reason that he is also the owner of the computer-aided translation programme Wordfast; he has managed translation projects for global companies such as Siemens, Microsoft, IBM and Ford; he has learned six foreign languages; and he has lectured on translation at Sorbonne University.

I was promised this interview on 22 June 2023, on the evening of memoQfest in Budapest. While chatting with Yves Champollion, I swayed from one thought to another. I hope you will have the same feeling while reading it.


Mr Champollion, what have you been doing since the memoQfest 2023 in Budapest?
I am working on a set of utilities for translators called “PlusTools”. That will help them maintain their assets like translation memories and glossaries. It will also facilitate conversions between many formats that are widely used in the industry, such as TMX, TBX, XLIFF, etc.

Having over forty years of experience as a pioneer in the translation industry, you are now the CEO of Wordfast, an MS Word-based translation memory tool. Have you reached your goal in terms of career?
We should never reach our goals. If we do, it’s probably because those goals are too easy. I’m trying to approach the ideal, but I never will.

My goal was to make translators’ lives easier in the sense that they could focus more on the meaning of things (which machines can’t do) and less on technical hurdles. The current situation isn’t promising, as the level of complexity has steadily risen from the days of pencil and paper, then typewriters and their ribbons, early word processors and temperamental floppy disks, etc.

How did you decide to start Wordfast? What was the idea behind it? Where do you think Wordfast is among other popular CAT tools?
Wordfast was started to simplify CAT tools at the end of the nineties. And make them affordable. The popularity of Wordfast has been steady in the past two decades, but there is certainly more that I can do.

Wordfast has three offices in the USA, two offices in France, and other offices in the Czech Republic, Serbia, Finland, Spain, China, Brazil. Besides, you are frequently invited to speak at language industry events worldwide. After seeing and working in so many locations, what can you tell us about the differences in these geographical areas regarding project management, translation, and localization?
Wow! That’s a wide-ranging question.

Differences in 2023 are not very marked. Globalization is steamrolling the scene, and differences tend to shrink. The translator is increasingly becoming a keyboard operator, far removed from the end client. Gone are the days when I would meet my clients in their offices, collect a stack of sheets to work on, talk with them to iron out terminology issues, try to understand their needs and be paid directly in hand. A large part of the fate of translators resides in translation associations and their capacity to defend the profession’s status.

You worked as a freelance translator for thirteen years and as a project manager for three years before starting Wordfast. From your point of view regarding translation and project management, what has changed sharply since that time?
The binary relation, as I’ve explained, the direct one-to-one connection between translator and client, is vanishing. The in-person aspect is disappearing, replaced by a faceless triangular relation (client/agency/translator).

I will not whine over that or lament the good old times. Times are changing, and it’s up to translators and professional associations representing them to defend the status of translators.

Since when have you been called “the million-word guy”? Why?
That was in an article of “Language International” published in 2001. It was written after I released the initial version of Wordfast to enable a small group to turn out a million-word project in a record time. The late and very missed Bob Clark wrote the article. Those were the pioneering days of CAT tools.

Between 1996 and 1999, you were the project manager and consultant for large translation projects of companies such as Siemens, Alcatel, Microsoft, IBM, Ford, etc. What is the most significant experience you gained from those large-scale projects?
Working under pressure for demanding clients in projects involving very complex formats. Not cracking under pressure is perhaps the main quality of a project manager, constantly beaten between hammer and anvil, with demanding clients, a demanding boss, and invisible translators.

You were also a visiting lecturer at Sorbonne University for three years. What can you say about the academy when you compare it with the language industry?
The setting was ESIT, a higher school of translation and interpretation. I was only giving training on translation technology and tools.

I learned that modern students learn fast, and some surprised me with an acute sense of no-nonsense, a thing that the industry is not always getting.

If the treasures of the past had not been translated, the Renaissance would never have happened. Thus, it can easily be said that today’s science and technology owe a lot to translators. Do you agree?
Absolutely. In ancient civilizations, a person who mastered a foreign language was considered a demi-god. Scribes had an aristocratic status. Much later, think about the School of Toledo, which is often overlooked as the harbinger of the European Renaissance. Their immense work between Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic unlocked the wisdom of over thousand-year-old documents and laid the foundation not just for the Renaissance but for a spirit of cooperation among the three main religions of the Western world—a thing we sorely need now.

What is a successful translator’s secret: being text or reader-focused?
The final destination is the reader. Text is only a transient form.

In an interview, you have called yourself “a Zapatista of translation”. In what way?
Probably in the way that the human factor is always the final goal, whether in industry or politics. Whenever the human factor is overlooked, problems occur. Keeping the human factor in mind is a recipe to avoid nonsense. “If the powerful can make you believe absurdities, they can make you commit atrocities”.

Having said that, I used “Zapatista” in a sort of romantic sense, in the heat of an interview, like “Robin Hood” perhaps. Maybe the real person was not as kind-hearted as the legends say!

What do you think about AI? Can machine translation and AI replace human translation completely? Will we still need “human” translators in the future?
A computer can translate literature that mentions ice cream but will never feel how ice cream tastes. Nor how betrayal feels like. The current AI craze is built upon the fear that machines will overtake us. But they will do so only if nonsense prevails, and machines will beat us only if the greed of the powerful leads them to ever more power. Using AI or technology to control others or using slaves or armies to do that, all begins with the same nonsense.

Now let us come to your relation to the early nineteenth-century French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered the Rosetta Stone with the help of his language skills: What is it like to be the great-grandson of such a scholar? If I am not mistaken, he was also the curator of the Egyptian collection at the Louvre. How do you feel when you visit that museum?
Well, that is very difficult at school. You are expected to be an uber-student, but I was very average. Imagine yourself being born as “Einstein” and not being able to do maths!

Yes, I have entertained many guests in France and made them visit the Louvre. It’s always the same amazement! Ancient civilizations are fascinating. And we have only scratched the surface of understanding what made them tick.

My last question is probably the most difficult one: After your death, how will people talk about you: “Excessively hardworking? An innovator? An ideal boss? A revolutionist?”
Oh, my God!

I will recycle an old joke this way: “If a moron talks about CAT tools at my funeral, I am not going”. The most boring place is a conference about CAT tools, LSPs, standards, and such things.

Laziness is the mother of invention. I’ve always tried to alleviate the chore of translating (mainly translating boring manuals) to achieve the same output with less work, and I hope I’ve accomplished something.

Thanks for this inspiring conversation, Mr Champollion.
I thank you.

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