Mount Union Students Translate Salem Resident's Genealogy Chart

April 30, 2010

A group of eight students at Mount Union spent a portion of their spring semester translating a Salem resident's genealogy chart that was written in French. Through this service-learning project, the students found that Claudette Swank’s family is related to Céline Dion.


Swank originally contacted Mount Union because she wanted to speak with someone who spoke French. She was born in New Brunswick, Canada, where the primary language is French and was interested in conversing with other individuals in hopes of retaining the language. Dr. Frank Triplett, professor of foreign languages got to know Swank and volunteered students in one of his French course to translate her families’ genealogy chart.

Triplett noted that the 40 page chart was written in French and it dated back to the 1600s. “It was challenging, but not impossible,” he said. Triplett also confessed that there were some words used in the chart that he didn’t know either. “They rose to the challenge. It wasn’t just another assignment to them.”

Katherine Hlavin, a senior business administration major with a minor in French from Medina, found this project to be very interesting. “The biggest surprise was that we were translating for someone that was still alive, and in the actual genealogy,” she said. “It was cool to learn about her family and then meet her in person.”

The eight students were split into two different groups, one that focused on the father’s ancestry and another that focused on the mother’s ancestry. They not only spent class time on this translation project, but the groups also met outside of class.

Although the students found this project interesting, they also had to play detective in order to find out what some French words and abbreviations meant. “The thing that surprised me the most was the difficulty of finding the abbreviations,” said Stephany Delawder, a freshman computer science and French major from Alliance. “Dr. Triplett and I spent 45 minutes one class looking for what an abbreviation meant.”

“The most important lesson that the class learned is that translation is very precise,” said Triplett. “You can't throw away any words. You also can't translate word for word, so you have to make sense of the sentence.”

The class had to use a variety of research tools including online resources, dictionaries and the library to complete the translation project. The class created five different versions before the final document was finished, and Dr. Triplett double-checked every student’s work.

“It was beneficial because it gave our class the opportunity to not only translate French, but to translate Canadian French,” added Hlavin. In order to translate, the students had to familiarize themselves with different types of French.

Once the genealogy chart was finished, the class got to meet Swank. “She was thrilled,” said Triplett. “She is going to mail the translated genealogy chart to her children.”

Triplett was very pleased with how the students worked together as a team. “With effort, this project was within reach,” he noted. “The students did a fantastic job. I’m really proud of what they did.”

The students were proud of what they accomplished as well. “I felt for the first time that what I am majoring in will be useful in real life. I know that the French language has many real-world applications, but sometimes it does not feel this way, and this was confirmation that it really does,” said Delawder.

This service-learning and real world experience was beneficial to the students and Triplett hopes to do something similar to this project in the future.

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