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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

30 September 2021

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A life brimming with languages

The languages that exist around the world are a conduit for the special connections between families, friends, neighbours and even between nations. Accessing these languages is made possible largely by translators — language professionals trained with specific skills to aid communication. JCU Senior Lecturer Dr Florence Boulard shares about the diverse and beautiful work of the translator.

Florence was born in New Caledonia and grew up in the capital city of Nouméa. Her father was born in mainland France and her mother was born in Laos with a Chinese father and a Vietnamese mother. “Growing up, I was always surrounded by multiple languages and cultures,” Florence says. “They included French, Vietnamese, Chinese and Pacific Languages.”

With diversity woven into her upbringing, Florence developed a passion for languages early on in her life. “As a child, I was lucky to travel many times with my family between Nouméa, New Caledonia, Port Vila, Vanuatu and Brisbane, Australia. Through those travels I became particularly interested in Bislama and English. In 2004, I got a student visa that allowed me to migrate to Australia.”

Florence completed a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Languages as well as a Bachelor of Education at University of Queensland. She then completed her master’s and PhD studies at JCU.

“It was during my time as an international student in Australia that I began to formally learn about the science behind languages,” she says. “Studying linguistics brought me a range of opportunities, but most importantly it helped me to understand and appreciate the power of language. Translating and interpreting require more than just linguistic knowledge. In fact, there is so much more to language than just words.”

Florence  Boulard in Vanuatu speaking in Bislama with local ladies.
Dr Florence Boulard.
Left: Florence Boulard in Vanuatu speaking Bislama with local women. Right: Florence Boulard recording 360 degree videos for her JCU virtual reality teaching and learning project. Supplied by Florence Boulard.

A relevant cultural context

Florence is the Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at JCU as well as the Director of JCU’s Academy of Modern Languages. She has been lecturing in French since 2012, bringing her own brand of experience, passion and determination to the role.

She ensures that her students develop not only strong language skills, but the ability to navigate intercultural interactions and experiences. “Our French students are provided with opportunities to develop their intercultural competency,” Florence says. “In particular, our French program challenges cultural hegemony and enables our students to discover that French is also the language of many communities living in the Tropics.”

The program’s FR1001 Foundation French subject is a great example of this Tropics focus. Florence says the subject is best described as the study of Pacific French, allowing students to develop cultural awareness and gain insight into Pacific cultures. “Being able to understand cultural context is critical when it comes to translation,” she says.

For example, if students are reading a text written by a French author from mainland France and they come across the word “Tata”, it is likely that the author is referring to one’s aunt. However, if students were to find the same French word by an author from New Caledonia, it is likely that the author is using the word to say a friendly goodbye.

“Meaning can easily get lost in translation, even when translating single words,” Florence says.

Florence says most French learners spend time understanding the various transformations that the level of register can have on the language use and its translation. Register refers to the type of French a speaker uses. This includes formal French, informal French, refined French and modern or familiar French.

“French is one of those languages that has an informal and formal way of addressing people,” Florence says. “The grammar will change depending on which register you are speaking in.”

An example is the formal pronoun “vous”, the singular form for “you”. While this is used in formal French, Florence says people in French Polynesia rarely use this pronoun. “However, this does not mean that the person speaking is being less respectful,” she says. “It’s just part of the culture.”

Florence Boulard with a J.C.U. Master's student discussing 360 degree application for French language class.
Florence with JCU Languages student in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Left: Florence with a JCU Master's student discussing 360 degree application for French language class. Right: Florence with JCU Language student in Port Vila. Supplied by Florence Boulard.

The importance of translation

Florence's professional career has only enhanced her drive to help students take their language skills into the world.

“I consistently remind my students that language is like a magic trick. It enables you to transfer the thoughts that you hold in your mind to someone else’s mind. It allows you to imagine concepts and ideas that have not yet been created. Many of us take language for granted until we realise that without language skills, we are deprived of one of our most treasured cognitive abilities — communication.”

Florence says language is the most complex skill that most humans will successfully master. Most of us learn our first language as a young child, when our brains are like sponges.. But those who learn additional languages as adults must work a little harder to master such a skill. People who choose to become translators must also be mindful of whether their language skills can appropriately convey the exact meaning, tone and depth of the language they’re translating.

“Being able to translate ideas and abstract concepts from one mind into another requires careful, unique and complex skills,” Florence says. “There are great benefits of translation as well as significant dangers. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example that reminds us all of the power of language and the importance of good translation.”

Australia is a multicultural and a multilingual country where free access to accurate translation is vital, especially in times of crisis. “Being able to convey the emergency associated with the pandemic across multiple languages was critical in providing all people with sufficient and accurate information so they could keep themselves and their families safe,” Florence says.

“I believe that the UN’s International Translation Day is an important opportunity to celebrate languages and thank all language professionals. Their work enables people to be closer to one another through the sharing of knowledge and by making information accessible and comprehensible to all, irrespective of one’s language and cultural background.”

JCU Senior Lecturer  Dr Florence Boulard

JCU French language students at South Pacific Community boardroom in Noumea, New Caledonia.
New Caledonia, an island of Melanesia where French is the official language.
Left: JCU French language students at South Pacific Community boardroom in Noumea, New Caledonia. Right: New Caledonia, an island of Melanesia where French is the official language. Supplied by Florence Boulard.

New beginnings

“I would like to thank all who have taken the challenge of learning and maintaining fluency in more than one language,” Florence says. “It is worth nothing that there are a wide range of translators out there, from the professionally accredited translators to the more amateur ones. Yet all of them have the power to play a significant role when it comes to bridging the communication gap.”

A subject that Florence is currently teaching at JCU contributes to bridging communication gaps in the classroom. Entitled Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms and Communities, it is a Master’s level Education subject for future teachers. The subject focuses on using specific pedagogical strategies that draw on theories of culture, linguistics and education frameworks to ensure that all learners have access to rich learning experiences and the opportunities afforded by education.

“I love teaching this subject because it is an honour to engage with future teachers and to be able to play a role in meeting the needs of students for whom English is an additional language or dialect.”

Whether it is through future teachers, professional translators or those who grew up speaking more than one language, sharing knowledge and information through translation is a powerful act.

“Knowledge of an additional language will always add value to both our professional and personal lives. All languages are equally valid and worth learning about. The best thing is that almost everyone can learn an additional language if they set their mind to it. While fluency and accuracy are important for professional translators, sometimes knowing just a few words in a new language can be sufficient to create new and exciting beginnings.”

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Featured researcher

Dr Florence Boulard

Senior Lecturer

Florence is a Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts, Society and Education at JCU. Florence teaches in the Languages program as well as in Education and Arts subjects. She is also the Director of the Academy of Modern Languages which runs from both JCU Cairns and Townsville campus.

In sharing her passion for languages and culture, Florence works in partnership with a range of schools in Queensland and in the Pacific. Her community engagement and research work is led by her desire to build stronger, international-minded communities.