Monday, November 9, 2015

Michel Limbos: A Personal Recollection

When you get to an advanced age you become aware that your relatives and friends are falling like ninepins. Thus it was with sorrow and nostalgia that I heard last week of the death of Michel Limbos, a prominent member of the Ottawa translation and interpretation community. It's true that since I moved to Spain nearly two decades ago I had lost all contact with him, but in the 1980s we worked closely together. I knew him in two of his roles. He was year after year a reliable teacher in our undergraduate translator training program at the University of Ottawa, where it was our policy to employ professional non-academic translators as instructors. And more personally he was my valued booth colleague on conference interpreter assignments. He had a quality that made him very pleasant to work with: his courteousness. He illustrated that the best interpreters have qualities besides the linguistic ones. He was a man of the world, having been born in Africa, educated in Belgium, and come to Canada as one of the generation that was recruited in the drive for bilingualism and better French.

When he was translation manager at the Canadian Export Development he was also my employer for a while in the mid 1980s. At EDC he ran one of the few services in Canada for Spanish translation; however it was for French that he set me to interpret EDC's monthly country-by-country creditworthiness meetings for the Senior Management Committee. These were very lively presentations by a French economist. I learnt a lot from it, so I was grateful for the opportunity.

The two strands, interpreting and the School of Translators, came together in an incident that brought out another of his qualities: his loyalty. When we started the interpreter training degree we put into it a component a compulsory on-the-job experience period which we called the practicum. It was very unusual at the time but we were encouraged by the success we'd already had with practicums for written translation. Practicums are valuable in interpreter training courses for several reasons, and one of them is that conference interpreting is a performance. It may be performed before a small group or it may, these, days, be broadcast to millions. Either way, you have to overcome stage fright. So to give our students the necessary 'baptism of fire', we used to organize conference teams ourselves and hire them out. However, we put strict conditions on this activity, and one of them was that the students must always be accompanied by an experienced professional to counsel them and to take over if they broke down. Unfortunately this procedure ran into vehement opposition from some of the members of a certain leading association of professional interpreters. They threatened to blackball our students and they made it difficult for us to recruit supervisors. But Michel and another interpreter (Jacqueline Mejias) stood by us. Eventually the association in question admitted Michel, but that was many years later at the end of his career.

He also stood by me in my painful relationship with the board of ATIO, of which I was president at the time. On one occasion he was the only member who turned up on time for the meeting, while the others were in cabal outside.

Thank you Michel. I will not forget you.



  1. Moving and interesting. I couldn't have described better my own school in Milan: "it was our policy to employ professional non-academic translators as instructors". It's nice to find a twin school, at least one in the world