French Translation Competition 2020

We are delighted to announce the fourth University of Sheffield French Translation Competition for Year 12 and Year 13 students in the UK.

Yoga Mat

The Winners of our French Translation Competition 2020

Congratulations to the 10 winners of our French Translation Competition!
They are (in no particular order):

  • Alexandra Claessens, Newstead Wood School
  • Charlie Collins, The Castle Rock School
  • Charlotte Netherway, Lord Wandsworth College
  • Daisy Williamson, New College Doncaster
  • Hannah Nicholls, Balcarras School
  • Maeve Halligan, Hills Road Sixth Form College
  • Maisie Fraser, Hills Road Sixth Form College
  • Ji-Hyung Choi, Sheffield Girls’ High School
  • Louis Sherwood, Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College
  • Molly Carroll, Norwich School

We received 175 entries for the competition and very much enjoyed reading them! As ever, the overall standard was impressively high. Many thanks to all of you who entered the competition.

A fair copy of the translation, based largely on the best entries, is available below, followed by a few remarks on the main translation issues that arose in it.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide feedback on individual entries.

Merci encore une fois et bonne chance pour vos examens !
Dr David McCallam and Colleagues in French & Francophone Studies


Emmanuel Carrère, Yoga (Paris: POL, 2020)

One of the big hits of the ‘rentrée littéraire’ of 2020, Emmanuel Carrère’s book starts with his participation in a yoga retreat. But his quest for inner peace is repeatedly shattered by external events (terrorism, refugee crisis, death of a friend) that reawaken his demons (memories of infidelity, alcoholism), ultimately diagnosed by doctors as bipolar disorder. So, instead of a study on yoga, Yoga becomes an ironic, brutally frank exercise in the redemptive power of literature.

A short summary of the book on Europe 1 can be found here (1 min)
And an interview with the author on France Inter here (23 mins)

Puisqu’il faut commencer quelque part le récit de ces quatre années au cours desquelles j’ai essayé d’écrire un petit livre souriant et subtil sur le yoga, affronté des choses aussi peu souriantes et subtiles que le terrorisme djihadiste et la crise des réfugiés, plongé dans une dépression mélancolique telle que j’ai dû être interné quatre mois à l’hôpital Sainte-Anne, enfin perdu mon éditeur qui pour la première fois depuis trente-cinq ans ne lira pas un livre que j’ai écrit, puisqu’il faut donc commencer quelque part, je choisis ce matin de janvier 2015 où, en bouclant mon sac, je me suis demandé s’il valait mieux emporter mon téléphone, dont j’aurais de toute façon à me défaire là où j’allais, ou le laisser à la maison. J’ai choisi l’option radicale et, à peine sorti de notre immeuble, trouvé excitant d’être passé au-dessous des radars. C’était un petit pas à côté encore de prendre le train à la gare de Bercy, un satellite de la gare de Lyon, modeste et déjà provincial, spécialisé dans la France profonde. Wagons vétustes, compartiments à l’ancienne, six places en première, huit en seconde, couleurs marron et vert-de-gris rappelant les trains de ma lointaine enfance, dans les années soixante. Des troufions dormaient, étendus sur les banquettes, comme si on ne les avait pas prévenus que le service militaire n’existe plus. Tournée contre la vitre poussiéreuse, ma seule voisine regardait défiler sous une pluie fine et grise les immeubles tagués de la sortie de Paris, puis de la banlieue est.

(251 words)


Since I have to start the story somewhere of those four years in which I’ve tried to write a cheery, discerning, little book about yoga in the face of things as cheerless and indiscriminate as jihadist terrorism and the refugee crisis, sunk in the deepest of depressions to the point that I had to be interned in St-Anne’s Hospital for four months, only then to lose my publisher who for the first time in thirty-five years won’t read the book I’ve written – so since I have to start somewhere, I’m choosing that morning in January 2015 when, doing up my bag, I wondered whether it was worth taking my phone with me or better to leave it at home, as I’d have to part with it anyway where I was going. I went with the radical option and, barely out of the building, I was excited at the sense of having gone off grid. From there it was just a short step to Bercy station, an offshoot of the Gare de Lyon, unassuming and already provincial, offering journeys into France’s rural backwaters. Here were dilapidated carriages, with old-fashioned grey-green and brown compartments, six seats in first class, eight in second, recalling the trains of my distant childhood in the 60s. Some squaddies were sleeping, stretched across the seats, as though no one had let them know that military service was a thing of the past. With her face turned to the dusty glass, my only fellow passenger was watching the graffiti-covered high-rises slide past through grey drizzle as we exited Paris, then its eastern suburbs.

Some remarks on the translation

The main issues with this translation included how to handle the impossibly long first sentence; how to articulate it as a whole or whether to modulate it by breaking it up into shorter sentences. It could be successfully rendered as one sentence, but this required keeping a tight rein on its tenses and register (e.g., for the register, using contractions throughout, ‘I’ve’, ‘won’t’, ‘I’m’). We have a selection of the best choice of vocabulary in the fair copy but there were other equally felicitous turns of phrase – to give but two examples: instead of ‘cheerless and indiscriminate’, ‘bleak and blatant’, or instead of ‘offshoot’, ‘on a branch line’. Two other tricky features of the translation were the explicitation needed to convey the full cultural sense of ‘la France profonde’ and a way, if possible, to signal the gender of the narrator’s fellow passenger in the last sentence, which is clearly marked in French, of course.  

About the competition

The competition was open until Friday 6 November at 5pm. Students of French in Years 12 and 13 in the UK were invited to submit their translation of the original short French text below. Only one translation per student was permitted.

The prize

The authors of the ten best entries each receive a prize of a £25 book token and an invitation to take part in a special virtual Translation Workshop organised by the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sheffield, involving French academics, Masters students in Translation Studies and alumni who work in translation-related fields. The Workshop will be held on Wednesday 9 December 2020.

The judges 

The translations are read and judged by a panel of French experts from the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sheffield.

View previous competitions from 20192018 & 2017

Four students laughing while sat at a bench, outside the Students' Union

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