Profile of ATA 2016–2017 School Outreach Contest Winner: Marybeth Timmermann

(above) Marybeth Timmermann posing with advanced Spanish students (including her son Matt, next to her in a black shirt) and the result of their hands-on translation activity at Greenville High School in Greenville, Illinois.

This year’s ATA School Outreach Contest winner impressed her audience with real-life localization examples!

Marybeth Timmermann, an ATA-certified French>English translator, is the winner of the 2016–2017 School Outreach Contest. She won a free registration to ATA’s 58th Annual Conference in Washington, DC for an all-smiles photo taken during her presentation at Greenville High School in Greenville, Illinois, where she spoke to students in the school’s advanced Spanish class about translation.

Raising Awareness about Translation in Small-Town Illinois

Marybeth had been reading about the School Outreach Program and contest in The ATA Chronicle for many years and had always been interested in participating. In March 2017 she gave her first School Outreach presentation about translation to her son’s Spanish class at Greenville High School. “I just called his teacher and asked if I could present,” Marybeth says. “He was very excited to have me.”

“Greenville is a small town and we don’t have much contact with people who speak foreign languages,” Marybeth explains when asked about her motivations for giving a presentation. “Other languages just aren’t a part of our lives, so I wanted to stress the idea that translating is something people do, not just something that phones and Google Translate do.”

Marybeth decided to speak to the school’s advanced class because they were juniors and seniors in high school who had chosen to study Spanish as an elective. Since studying languages is considered impractical in her small town, she wanted to challenge that way of thinking before the students went off to college. “I wanted to show them that you don’t just have to be a teacher if you study language. You can do translation or interpreting too.”

Marybeth did a lot of research before starting to prepare her outreach material. “I read through all the presentations that are available on the School Outreach website and listened to one of ATA’s free webinars about the program.” She found that none of the presentations available online quite fit what she wanted to do, so she decided to create her presentation from scratch. She then spent a lot of time researching Spanish translation examples she could include in her talk. “I don’t speak Spanish, so that was a real challenge.”

When Marybeth started her presentation by speaking French, it came as a big surprise for the students. “This is a small town and I know all the kids. To them, I’m just Matt’s mom,” she says. “They were so shocked to hear me speaking French.”

Having gotten the presentation off to a great start with this attention-grabber, Marybeth moved on to the basics. Topics included the differences between translation and interpreting, common specializations, and places where you can work (e.g., freelance and the private and public sectors).

Her next step was to explain that translation is more than word-for-word substitution by providing a few simple examples from the Spanish translations she had collected during her research. One of the examples she used pointed out that although three words are used to say “I am fine” in English, only two words are needed to say the same thing in Spanish (estoy bien). Marybeth then explained how false friends can lead to serious misunderstandings and got a laugh from students by pointing out that embarazada in Spanish means “pregnant” in English, not its false friend “embarrassed.”

She then moved on to more complex examples using metaphors and idioms from the Dominican Republic, where the class teacher is originally from. Her final example came from a real-life translation her son pointed out to her earlier in the year. They were at a McDonald’s where there was an advertisement for breakfast sandwiches playing on a screen in both English and Spanish. In the English version, the ad ended with text across the screen that said “More Breakfast, More Amazing,” while the Spanish version ended with Más y más y más rico (or “More and more and more delicious”). Her son was surprised to see that the ad used all the same images, but the phrases at the end didn’t say the same thing. Marybeth used this example in class and the teacher helped explain why a literal translation of the English version wouldn’t sound appealing to a Spanish-speaking audience.

Marybeth also spent time talking about the role of technology in translation, including computer-assisted translation tools and machine translation. She wrapped up by discussing how translation is a growing profession by including statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. She concluded by explaining what the students could do to become a translator or interpreter and mentioned ATA as a great resource for aspiring linguists.

The Winning Photo

The winning photo of this year’s School Outreach Contest is of Marybeth and the students posing with the result of a translation activity. She gave the students an index card and asked them to write down an example translation that showed one of these:

  • Differences in number of words
  • Structural differences in the language
  • False friends
  • Idioms/metaphors
  • Cultural differences (used in advertisements, for example)

The students wrote down their answers and then posed with their index cards after finishing the activity. “We had so much fun,” Marybeth says.

A Life-Long Adventure with the French Language

Marybeth also grew up in a small town in Illinois with limited exposure to foreign languages and cultures, but immediately fell in love with French when she started studying it in high school. When attending Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, Marybeth decided to double major in mathematics and French. Math was the “smart” choice—something that would get her a good-paying job after college—and French was the major she really loved. She spent her junior year studying in Nantes, France, and quickly realized she wanted to go back one day. She returned to Illinois to finish her degree and then returned to France immediately after graduation to work for a year as an au pair in Rouen.

It was during a social situation in France that she had what she calls her “aha” moment—when she decided she wanted to work as a translator. “I was in a group social situation where there was a man who only spoke French and many others who only spoke English.” Marybeth says that when an English speaker told a joke that made everyone laugh, the French man was totally lost and afraid the group was making fun of him. “And all the English speakers looked to me, the only bilingual person, to clarify the situation so he would know we weren’t making fun of him. When I bridged the gap was the moment I knew I wanted to work in translation.”

When Marybeth got back from her year working in France, she dove headfirst into a master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At the time, her university didn’t offer a master’s in translation, so she studied second language acquisition and took as many electives and independent studies in translation as she could. She also worked with a professor there doing research on translation. “I was his assistant and helped him analyze his research.”

Need Some Tips for Your School Outreach Presentation?

No problem! Just visit ATA’s online School Outreach Resource Center. Our goal is to give you quick, convenient access to material you can use in making presentations about the translation and interpreting professions. The material is organized by grade level. Each level includes What to Say, How to Say It, Extra Credit, and Presentations.

  • Tips on speaking to elementary school students
  • Tips on speaking to middle school students
  • Tips on speaking to high school students
  • Tips on speaking to college/graduate students

Just go to and click on Resource Materials.

Working on The Beauvoir Series

After finishing her master’s degree in 1996, Marybeth joined ATA, passed the French>English certification exam, and started working as a part-time freelance translator. She has been working mainly as a contributing translator and editor for The Beauvoir Series, edited by Margaret A. Simons and Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir and published by the University of Illinois Press, ever since. Simone de Beauvoir was a French writer and feminist, most widely known for her essay “The Second Sex.” The collaborative project has consisted of translating six volumes of Beauvoir’s collected works, including two volumes of diaries and four volumes containing her philosophical, political, literary, and feminist writings. Three more volumes are forthcoming in the series. Marybeth says the most challenging part of working on this project has been editing. “There have been up to eight translators working on one volume. My job is to review and edit the translations to prepare the volumes for publication. We check it with the source and try to keep the style and voice consistent throughout all the volumes,” she explains.

Working part-time on this project has been great for Marybeth’s lifestyle. Of her four children, two are in college, one is in high school, and she is currently homeschooling her youngest. “I’m able to teach my fifth-grader French at home,” she says. “I wouldn’t have this opportunity in the public schools here.”

Marybeth also taught translation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2004–2009. “I helped the university develop their first online translation class before their Center for Translation Studies existed,” she says. “I learned a lot while teaching. When I graded students’ translations, it helped me as a translator. I was always improving my own skills, even while teaching.”

Getting Involved in the School Outreach Effort

Marybeth says she was thrilled to have received free registration to ATA’s Annual Conference for winning the School Outreach Contest, since initially she had not planned on attending. Although Marybeth is currently working as a part-time translator, she says that “going to the conference this year was a big step to start moving into full-time translation.”

Now it’s your turn to join the efforts of ATA’s School Outreach Program! The 2017–2018 School Outreach Contest is now open and the winner will receive free registration to ATA’s 59th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, from October 24–27, 2018. The deadline for submissions is July 18, 2018. The winner will be contacted no later than August 20, 2018. (Please note that you must be a member of ATA or an ATA-affiliated organization to enter.) For more information, visit

Tell Us Your Story!

If you visit schools to speak to students about translation and interpreting, we would love to hear from you—whether or not you decide to submit a photo to the contest. E-mail School Outreach Coordinator Meghan McCallum at with a description of when and where you presented and let us know about your memorable experience.


Molly Yurick is a Spanish>English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality, and airline industries. She has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a BA in Spanish and global studies and a certificate in medical interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. Contact:


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