Blog Postpost

Posted Thursday November, 10th 2022

Dafna's Work in France and the Netherlands

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I was in Paris teaching a DDP Level 1 course last month. I was under the impression that I spoke French well enough to teach, but it turns out it was trickier than expected. Luckily, I had the assistance of a wonderful translator named Catherine. This moment led me to think about how the extent to which knowing the nuances of a language helps transmit the deep sense of empathy that we try to convey when we work with clients. The culture of a place is embedded in the language.

During this French training, I conducted a role play with a participant playing the role of a 14 year old girl who expressed (in a not so nice way) that she is not going to cooperate in therapy because it's a waste of time! And also, she thought I was useless. My main goal at that moment was to convey that: I understand, I get it, I believe you. In order to get that point across, I often find myself repeating the phrase "You make sense". But that is when I am speaking in English; I don't know how to say that in French.

So I asked Catherine to translate, and that sparked a long debate. In French, "You make sense" translates into "You are right/accurate" or otherwise "I understand". But, that wasn't quite what I was trying to say.

A very similar thing happened when I was in the Netherlands, where the participants argued that "You make sense" sounds too logical, like you are calculating a math problem. I've had the great fortune of training in many different countries. In each place, it takes time for the participants to find their own words and voice to match the empathy that we are trying to convey to our clients. What is amazing to me is that by the end of four days together, the participants and myself are able to find a way to really share true intersubjectivity and empathy despite the language barrier.

Part of it is having wonderful translators who have just the right equivalent phrase or image for a word that doesn't exist in the other language. I'm also fascinated with how the translator is transmitting the meaning through their body language and tone of voice.

Catherine was a cultural translator as much as she was a language translator. It fills me with gratitude and humility, to experience over and over again, that we as cultures are at once so unique and yet have so much in common.

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