Janet Altman, 1955-2012

September 20, 2012

A leading conference interpreter who went on to play a crucial role in the training of new generations of interpreters has died.

Janet Altman was born in Manchester on 31 March 1955 and then moved to Leeds, where she was educated at Allerton High School, before going on to study French and German at the University of Bath. She then completed a course in translating and interpreting at the University of Bradford and spent the early part of her career as a professional interpreter, first for the European Union in Brussels and then as a freelance in Rome, thereby adding Italian as an extra string to her bow.

Although she continued to take on translating and interpreting assignments, Ms Altman eventually moved back to the UK and a life within the academy. A master's at Bradford led, in 1983, to a job as a lecturer in interpreting at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. She relocated to Manchester in 1992 to focus on translation work for the EU and went on to oversee successive English editions of the annual report by the European Trade Union Confederation.

In 2001, Svetlana Carsten - deputy director of the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Leeds - was setting up an MA in conference interpreting and translation studies. She persuaded Ms Altman, whom she knew from their days together at Bradford, to join a small team of highly experienced and still-practising conference interpreters responsible for creating the new linguistic professionals urgently required by many European and international organisations.

The unit soon acquired a prominent position in the field and established Leeds as one of only two UK universities recommended by the International Association of Conference Interpreters. In 2009, it signed a memorandum of agreement on the provision of training with the European Parliament's Directorate-General for Interpretation.

Ms Altman's essential contributions included the intensive two- or four-week English enhancement summer courses in Leeds aimed at non-anglophone European Parliament interpreters, many of them from new accession countries.

Dr Carsten described Ms Altman as "an outstanding linguist who was highly effective in passing on her knowledge to the younger generation. Though she had high standards and strong convictions, she was much loved by her students, since she was strict but not demoralising, offering very constructive objective assessment of their work, along with excellent advice on what they should do to improve."

Janet Altman died of a brain tumour on 17 August and is survived by her father, mother and husband David Hayes.


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