Teacher and Translator

Raised in a family where his mother was a consummate francophone, Sam Bloom FR’83 was destined to pursue French. His first year at the Taft School (CT) nurtured his intellectual curiosity in French language and culture, and when presented with an opportunity to attend SYA France as a junior, Sam was all in.

Sam continued studying French as an undergraduate and pursued a doctorate in French literature. He has taught French literature and language at the secondary and university levels for over thirty years, including in Israel for nearly a decade. For the last eight years, he has been teaching French at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he has had the opportunity to lead groups of students on trips to Paris to explore the language and culture firsthand.

Lessons he learned while an SYA student remain palpable in his teaching. Sam said, "Of course, there has always been the linguistic edge that studying in Rennes afforded me, but I find that it is much easier to see the world through other people’s perspectives — even if I do not always agree with them. That understanding, or at least attempt to understand, has helped me as a teacher, as well as a translator. When I take my own students to Paris now, I try to impart that philosophy on them as they discover on their own."

Sam also works at the United Nations in Verbatim Reporting Services transcribing proceedings of the General Assembly, Security Council and other meetings into official English-language procès verbaux. Verbatim reporters translate and edit the speeches delivered by delegates in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish using written statements and audio records for reference. Each language has its own team that transcribes and translates meetings to preserve institutional memory for future generations.

Combining the skills of transcription, translation, editing and fact-checking, verbatim reporters ensure the substantive accuracy of all statements, while maintaining a uniformly high standard of style. They work under tight deadlines: records of meetings are issued within a few days, or even overnight in the case of Security Council meetings. Sam said, "We must transcribe documents accurately, quickly and grammatically without compromising the original meaning of the speaker. The challenge lies in not altering the original meaning and intent of the speaker as much as possible."

When asked what it is like bridging the worlds of translator/teacher, Sam notes that technology plays a prominent role in each. While computer translation is an invaluable tool for his UN job, where he translates both French and Spanish, it is one of the major challenges he comes up against as a professor. Students can effortlessly compose their writing assignments and presentations in English and translate them into French using any number of online resources. Likewise, it is hard to convince students to hone their power of memorization when they can call up a word or structure on their smart phones.

With that said, technology is no substitute for true language learning mastery. Sam credits his year abroad, and in particular Sunday family meals with his French host family, for teaching him "a great deal about l’art de la conversation," and for helping to shape his life’s trajectory.

About Sam Bloom FR’83
Sam attended SYA France as a junior from The Taft School (CT) and continued his education at Columbia University where he received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. He has taught French Literature at the university level, including Barnard College, University of Haifa (Israel) and the Fashion Institute of Technology.


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