Lost in Translation

Susan Woodfine

Heidi Hoff Photo: Susan Woodfine
Heidi Hoff
Photo: Susan Woodfine

She is nestled away in the quiet village of Isle-Verte, and for the most part, Heidi Hoff prefers it that way. Her work is solitary, but if she needs a second set of eyes, her partner, Paul Fortier, is never far. Hoff works as a translator (from French to English) and, at times, in tandem with her partner, who offers English to French translation, when he’s not working as a teacher at the CÉGEP in Rimouski. Hoff believes their complimentary status, he a francophone and she an anglophone, is a strong selling point. She works from home and the fact that she is far from any major centre has not affected her business. She hasn’t stopped since she set up their partnership, Hoff & Fortier, Services de Traduction et Communication, back in 2007.

Hoff arrived in the Lower St. Lawrence in 2000 from Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 41. She had a year of high school French buried somewhere deep in the cerebral cortex of her brain. It took no time to resurface; French is her fifth language. Hoff welcomes linguistic and cultural transitions, “Just to give you an example of why I can end up in Quebec and it’s perfectly normal in my family: My father was Norwegian, my mother is German, they met and married in Venezuela, I have a sister who was born in Norway, another sister was born in Kitchener, Ontario, and my third sister and myself were born in Massachusetts.”

Hoff’s integration was fairly easy given her background. For the most part she is pretty self-sufficient, “I like being with people, but I am perfectly fine on my own.” In the early years, Hoff took time to get to know her neighbours, “I was working at home so I started volunteering with various groups in the village and taught English at the local CÉGEP and private classes [but I] stopped when I started the company.” Those experiences have served Hoff well, “I became a translator by default, because people were asking me to translate,” she says. Before taking the plunge into full-time translation, she also worked as a ghostwriter and scientific editor.

Today her client roster is as diverse as her background. Hoff could put a map of Quebec on the wall and cover it with thumb tacks to show her clients – they’re all over: l’Association touristique régionale du Bas-St-Laurent and other heritage-related contracts in Rivière-du-Loup, Cacouna, Kamouraska, Rimouski, Mont-Joli, and so on, stretching to Gaspé across to the North Shore and up to Chibougamou to name just a few places.

Each translation is a challenge for Hoff. Her eyes light up when she talks about various ‘documents,’ “I am innately a researcher; many clients are delighted at the time you spend on a text, probably because nobody would ever look at it as closely.” She is genuinely interested in each subject that comes her way, from tourism to company web sites to translations from university professors in Montreal and Quebec City, “It’s a real mix that takes me out of my comfort zone, such as mindfulness training for executives – that’s intriguing. I don’t have the details [of their strategy],” she laughs, “But I know they’re doing it.”

In many ways, it makes sense that Hoff became a translator. The job requires knowledge and experience. Hoff has both as a result of her travels and family lineage. But her academic baggage is impressive too. She completed a bachelor of science in biochemistry from Purdue University, followed by a degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, then added several years of graduate research on animal viruses – work that took her to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica (where she learned Spanish). And with the last name “Hoff,” she became the go-to person for German translations/revisions while writing research papers.

Heidi Hoff and Paul Fortier at their home in Isle-Verte Photo: Susan Woodfine
Heidi Hoff and Paul Fortier at their home in Isle-Verte
Photo: Susan Woodfine

Hoff met her Québécois husband while she was still living in the U.S. She eventually made her way to his home in Isle-Verte. When Hoff isn’t working hard or lost in translation, she is outdoors, “I love being on the St. Lawrence. It’s all about the water and the sky [for me] and I have that at my doorstep.” As for knowing about where to go and what to see, she is probably on par with her husband, given that she has translated much of the material that is out there.

A common complaint from newcomers in eastern Quebec is the distance from family. Hoff is no exception, but this Isle-Vertoise doesn’t dwell on that: she gets in a car or hops on a plane. The upside to translation and working for yourself is that you can do it from any location.

Hoff & Fortier
Services de traduction et de communication
L’Isle-Verte, QC

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