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Featured Student: February 2012

Alaina Sylla

It didn’t take long for Alaina Sylla to get noticed in her master’s program in Language, Literature, and Translation. For the final project in her Introduction to Translation class, Alaina translated the conference program and presenters' notes for a consortium of organizations promoting the rights of the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin, La Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA).

“This is Alaina's first semester in the program and she is already using translation to promote social justice,” class instructor Leah Leone wrote last fall.

“Alaina is equally conscious in her courses,” Leone continued, “where she is quick to share helpful information with her peers, going beyond assignment parameters to bring in outside information and alternative points of view.”

Alaina, who is specializing in Spanish-to-English translation, came to UWM after a double-major in English literature and Spanish at UW-Eau Claire. She was a bilingual education assistant in the Eau Claire Area School District, where she helped English as a Second Language program children and acted as liaison and interpreter for Spanish-speaking parents. “It sparked my interest in providing language services like translation and interpretation professionally,” she says.

Alaina plans to graduate in Spring 2013.

1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?

Translation is the rendering of a text in one language—the source language—into another—the target language. Because a translator works with another person’s words, she must take great care to produce an accurate translation. Interpretation is the rendering of spoken language from a source to a target language. Interpretation is carried out either consecutively, where the speakers and interpreter “take turns” communicating, or simultaneously, where an interpreter carries out her interpretation at the same time that the speaker is speaking.

2) What brought you to UWM for your graduate studies?

Once I decided that I wanted to pursue translation professionally, I researched academic programs around the United States that would prepare me for the field. I had discovered that computer programs that aid one in the translation process were very important to the field, so I was looking for a program that would offer me an education on such programs as well as on the theory and procedures for translation. I found that very few universities in the United States offer classes on computer-assisted translation (CAT). Many also seemed to focus on literary translation—a very interesting subject and something I hope to pursue someday; still, I was interested in learning about subjects that would offer greater employment possibilities in the near future. After comparing the various programs around the United States, I found that UWM had a very well-rounded program. It was one of the few universities that offered classes on CAT tools and offered a great variety of other courses on translation as well. Also, I corresponded quite a bit with Lorena Terando—a professor in the MALLT program—while I was deciding whether or not to apply to the graduate program here, and she was so patient and forthcoming with answers to all of my questions that I therefore applied feeling confident about my decision. Finally, as I’m from Wisconsin, it has been great to be able to pursue an education in translation without having to move far away from my friends and family. That was definitely a nice bonus!

3) What's been your best experience so far?
I learned about a volunteering opportunity at the Milwaukee Justice Center through my Introduction to Interpretation course last semester. This organization aids individuals who would otherwise have to face the justice center alone with filling out forms and through brief legal advice clinics. I’ve learned a lot about Milwaukee County’s legal system working there, and I’ve also met some great people.
4) If you were able to merge another discipline with yours, what would that be and why?
I would merge some sort of discipline having to do with technology with language studies, perhaps graphic design or Web publishing. Technology is very important in the translation industry, and any sort of knowledge one has on that field would really set them apart from the competition.
5) What is your favorite stress-reduction activity?
I enjoy reading for pleasure and taking walks. I’ve got a whole array of favorite television programs, like 30 Rock and Fringe, which are great to turn to after a long day of studying. Also, keeping in touch with friends and family is a great way to reduce stress.
6) What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
I previously lived in Eau Claire for about five years. I really liked the people there and the community itself, but Milwaukee has a lot more to offer as far as entertainment. I love all of the museums. I also think that Lake Michigan is awesome. I didn’t grow up around any large bodies of water so having Lake Michigan just a couple miles from my house is really cool.
7) Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student?
I’ve had to give up my social life. Weekends have been mostly devoted to homework, and breaks from homework have been more about taking a couple of hours off than a whole day off.
8) What are your plans for after graduate school?
I would like to eventually work as a freelance translator and interpreter. When I first graduate I would like to get a job at a translation agency to gain experience.
9) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?
I think you have to be very motivated, dedicated, and organized. You also have to like what you’re studying in order to maintain motivation throughout the semester. I think focus is also important because it could be really easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of homework required for each course. Carving out time for each class and focusing on the task at hand are important for success in graduate school.
10) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
Get ready for online classes. They’re great because setting up a very individualized schedule is very possible when taking online classes. Still, it’s really necessary to set up specific times that you plan on doing the assignments for each course so that you don’t fall behind.

Page last updated on: 12/18/2014