A Newbie’s Impression of the ATA 58th Annual Conference

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Gabriela Nunes

As a Brazilian translator and interpreter (my working languages are Brazilian Portuguese, English and French), one of my career goals was to attend an ATA Conference. Finally, in 2017, I had the pleasure of going to the ATA 58th Annual Conference in Washington, DC—and the meeting was an amazing event for the reasons that I list below. One of them was totally unexpected.

First, as I aimed to establish contact with new clients, the job fair represented an awesome opportunity to be in touch with them. Being a good student, I did my homework, having my résumés prepared in advance and my business cards attached to them. As a result, today I am working with some of those agencies that I met in the fair.

Going to the ATA 58th Annual Conference was also important to meet new and old colleagues (even those from other language pairs). For this, I used every opportunity to connect with other attendees and exchange business cards: breakfast, lunchtime, elevator, salsa and yoga classes, sessions, etc. I also went to the dinner of two Divisions to which I belong, the Portuguese Language Division and the French Language Division. On both occasions, I met wonderful people with whom I exchanged professional experiences and have been in touch since then.

Needless to say, being in Washington, one of the most influential capitals in the world, was also an opportunity not to be missed by me as a former international affairs student. So, I also enjoyed the tourism aspect of the event. I visited the main memorials of the city, government buildings and, of course, its malls and surrounding outlets.

In short, the ATA Conference was worth all the energy I invested into it: visa procedures, redesigning my business card, updating my résumé, finding nice roommates for the conference (which I did!) and rescheduling my projects. Incidentally, telling my regular clients that I would be unavailable during that week because of the ATA Meeting impressed them and reinforced my commitment to professionalism and continuous quest for excellency in my work. What a good surprise!

I recommend to every translator and interpreter working with English to attend at least once an ATA Conference. It does open our minds as professionals and does put us in contact with amazing people and insightful ideas. So, let’s start 2018 with plans for New Orleans. I hope to see you there!

Gabriela Nunes is a Brazilian translator and interpreter. Having lived in the United States, France, Switzerland, and Brazil, she works with Brazilian Portuguese, French, and English. Her fields of expertise are international relations, medical, and technology.

Reflections on the ATA Conference by a Second-Year Attendee, or The ATA Conference and the Cycle of Learning

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Michele Rosen

Now that I’ve attended my second ATA conference, I can see annual attendance will influence my career as a freelance translator. Each year, I’ve gone to the conference with a set of questions about the profession and the industry, and, so far, I’ve come out with enough partial answers and new questions to drive my professional development throughout the following year, until the next conference, when I expect the cycle to repeat.

Surrendering to the flow of information coming from the conference was easier this time around. In 2016, just six months after deciding to embark on a new career as a freelance translator, I went into the San Francisco conference with basic but important questions about how to set my rates and whether I needed to add a second language pair. I came home from that conference with copious notes and pointers to books, blogs, podcasts, and papers that helped me to find the answers.

For example, as a beginning freelance translator, I feared that translators who work in less-common and more-difficult-to-learn languages than French were somehow more valuable, and therefore more likely to be in demand and more highly paid, than translators in a common language pair like French and English. Initially, seeing all of the (more experienced) French-to-English translators at the conference, I started to fear, as I heard one Spanish translator say, that “everyone can translate French.”

However, as I began to explore the fountain of information I had collected at the conference, I began to see that, as Corinne McKay has noted, every language pair has its pros and cons. In a blog post entitled “Which Language is Best,” McKay explained that, in her view, French and German are appealing for U.S.-based translators “because there’s a good balance between work volume and rates, and because U.S.-based translators have some financial advantages” over European translators. At the same time, while there is a critical need for Middle Eastern and Asian languages, she cautioned that, “for some of these language combinations, there is a lot of competition from translators who are not native speakers of English but who translate into English anyway, even if they shouldn’t.” This information made it easier for me to decide to shelve my tentative (and frankly unrealistic) plans to become fluent in Japanese.

As I prepared to attend the conference in 2017, the previous conference served as a milestone that let me see how much I had learned since then. With a conference and a year of freelancing under my belt, I certainly didn’t qualify as a newbie anymore, but I didn’t feel quite ready to be a buddy. That said, I knew the conference would provide the opportunity to ask new questions about what it means to be a translator and to continue to figure out what kind of translator I want to be.

These questions led me to attend T&I Advocacy Day, at which such questions moved from the theoretical to the practical. The event, organized by the ATA in partnership with the Joint National Committee for Languages, was intended to introduce ATA members to public advocacy for issues important to the profession. The organizers scheduled meetings for attendees with Congressional staffers and asked us to focus on three topics: wage rate estimates for translators and interpreters from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), language services procurement policies, and best practices for machine translation.

During the strategy session with the Maryland delegation, we discussed how to explain to Congressional staffers why the BLS should change the way it estimates hourly rates for translators and interpreters. A major point of contention is that the BLS only surveys translators with full-time permanent positions to determine the median hourly rate for translators and interpreters ($22.17/hour in 2016). In pointing out how reductive this single rate is, Evelyna Radoslavova argued convincingly that it’s difficult to generalize about translators and interpreters because we all deal with different language pairs and subject matters.

While I agreed with Radoslavova that it was important to make this point to the staffers, we also agreed that the diversity in the profession makes it difficult to craft a more precise description of the profession than the one currently used by the government, which states that translators and interpreters “convert information from one language into another language.” This definition is clearly vague and incomplete, but it isn’t easy to come up with a more precise definition that won’t exclude some translators.

While this difficulty poses a challenge for language industry policy advocates, it also creates the opportunity for each translator and interpreter to define the profession for ourselves. I expect to be contemplating this scary and exciting idea for the next several months, until I have another chance to immerse myself in the impressive breadth and depth of the ATA annual conference.

Michele Rosen is a freelance translator and editor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.

My Day on Capitol Hill

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Karen Tkaczyk

When I saw that ATA’s 58th Annual Conference in Washington, DC included ATA’s first Translation and Interpreting Advocacy Day I jumped at the chance to attend. I wasn’t alone: forty-five translators and interpreters participated. We met with staffers in congressional offices to inform them about issues affecting the T&I professions.

This event was arranged by the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL). JNCL, along with the National Council for Languages and International Studies, lobbies Congress and the Executive Branch on behalf of the language community.

About a week before the event we received statements on advocacy issues and recommendations for action that were the foundation of our discussions. We had three topics:

  • Inaccuracies in Prevailing Wages Rate Determinations for Translators and Interpreters
  • Machine Translation vs. Human Translation
  • Language Services Procurement: The Need for the Best Value Approach

These position papers impressed me when I received them, and I tried to absorb the material as I prepared for the day. As well as the papers we were to hand off to the staffers, we received several pages of helpful tips on what to expect and information on navigating Capitol Hill. (Tunnels: who knew?)

In the morning JNCL gave us training on how to present these problems and solutions to the people we met. After lunch they bussed us over and set us loose. Three of us present were from Colorado, so I had reassuring company for our first two meetings with our Senators’ offices. Then I was on my own as I went to my Representative’s office. Having the statement papers to fall back on when I was nervous was very helpful.

We had been warned in the training to expect a range of responses from staffers and to avoid using any keywords that might trigger partisan hackles: better not to mention the ACA in my Freedom Caucus Representative’s office, for instance. In practice the receptions varied from dry to warm and friendly, without any awkwardness. None of the staffers I met appeared to know anything much about language issues and how our industry works. Two seemed to think that using machine translation was not a wise option for anything that mattered, so that led to some light humor. I felt that we had raised awareness of how our industry operates—the idea of many of us being self-employed, small business owners. One of the staffers seemed especially intrigued by the ideas in the three papers we discussed, appeared to be convinced that they had value, and told us who he had shared them with when we followed up.

I hope that among the 45 of us we managed to influence some of these Counsels or Assistants to a point where they will reflect on what we said and tell their bosses, and also that this will just be the first of many such opportunities for ATA. In addition, I and many others who participated can say that this was a valuable life experience and are thankful to have had the opportunity.

Karen Tkaczyk has been a Fr>En technical translator since 2005. She is the current ATA Secretary.

Facets of French Translation: Geeking out at ATA58

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Trudy Obi

I find conferences to be most valuable for encountering new ideas and new people. The 2017 ATA conference, offering a multi-day schedule of educational sessions and networking events, provided opportunities for both in spades. As a bonus, the sessions and events offered by the French Language Division gave me the opportunity to geek out about French (sometimes even in French) with a group of knowledgeable linguists. I discuss below two FLD sessions that were helpful in expanding the way I think about specific facets of French translation.

Having attended Grant Hamilton’s session entitled “Turning Abstract French into Hands-On English” last year at ATA57, I was excited to see that he was offering a session this year on Canadian French: “Translating for Canada.” Hamilton did not disappoint, presenting a lot of practical information about breaking into the Canadian market. (The good: Canada is officially bilingual, so virtually every Canadian company needs translation services and will pay premium rates for high quality. The challenge: Canada is officially bilingual, so many translation buyers will be fluent in your target language—you’ll need to be on top of your translation game.) Hamilton also emphasized the importance of being familiar with the geography, history, politics, and language policies of the region where the target audience lives; he provided a useful overview of these details for Quebec.

What interested me the most, though, was Hamilton’s discussion of the differences between European French (FR-FR) and Canadian French (FR-CA). No two translators I’ve asked about this issue seem to agree on what they are, so I was interested in hearing his perspective. After outlining the evolution of Canadian French, he noted that FR-CA is very similar to FR-FR in more technical texts (with the exception of legal texts), whereas there are substantial differences in vocabulary between the two in informal writing.

Especially interesting to me were the differences Hamilton described between the way FR-FR and FR-CA each interact with English. Where FR-FR often imports English words for use, FR-CA tends to calque English or, as Hamilton puts it, “commit anglicisms with French words.” I was reminded of a survey about shopping habits that a client recently had translated for several countries: to render the phrase to go shopping, the translation for France imported an English word (faire du shopping), while the translation for Canada used a calque (magasiner, formed by analogy: EN a shop (n.) → to shop (v.); FR-CA un magasin (n.) → magasiner (v.)). Another difference between the two varieties of French—one that might be jarring to translators used to working with FR-FR—is the tendency of FR-CA to treat faux amis as true friends: for example, FR-CA uses eventuellement to mean EN eventually, while FR-FR uses it to mean EN possibly.

While Hamilton touched on the differences between Canadian and European French, Angela Benoit focused on the differences between anglophone and francophone audiences in her session, “Breaking the Mold Again! Throwing Out Even More Translations for an Intimate Look at Source Material.” As you might guess from its title, this session was the sequel to the one Benoit presented last year at ATA57 (“Breaking the Mold: Throwing Out Translation for an Intimate Look at Source Material”). In order to avoid falling into the trap of translation-ese, Benoit proposes a method involving studying pairs of analogous native documents in English and French—adjacent texts rather than parallel texts, since both are originals. She demonstrated her approach using several pairs of advertisements for similar products from anglophone and francophone countries. Benoit pulled out the concepts common to each pair and then opened the floor for discussion of the differences in the way the advertisements communicated these ideas. We also looked at the ideas that were found in one ad but not the other, discussing what clues these might give us about the expectations of the respective audience. Benoit’s process is a systematic way to identify the elusive conceptual gaps between source and target audiences. Of course, we all know these gaps exist—but they may exist only as vague notions hovering around our mental periphery, and peripheral vision is fuzzy. As a result, we may take these gaps for granted or not consider them closely (enough) in the translation process. Benoit’s process forces us to articulate and attend to them before we begin translating.

Many thanks to the French Language Division for offering these and other sessions that engaged my inner French geek. I’m also very happy to have gotten acquainted with other French linguists, both in FLD sessions and in social events. Au plaisir de vous revoir (ou vous rencontrer) l’année prochaine!

Trudy Obi, Ph.D., is an editor, project manager, and French to English translator at ION Translations, LLC.

Review: Translate in…/On Traduit à Québec

by Jenn Mercer

This year’s Translate in Québec/On traduit à Québec was the 8th in a traveling series of FR<>EN translation workshops focused on craft. This series, which began as a small workshop in the Catskills, has since been held in such varied locations as Cambridge (U.K.) and Chantilly (France). This is only the second one I have been able to attend and, mostly coincidentally, both have been in Québec.

Before I get in to the benefits of attending the Translate In/On Traduit À workshop itself, I must confess that visiting Québec is one of my guilty pleasures. I love going to France, and the joys and advantages of full immersion are irreplaceable, but… there’s something to be said for the convenience and vocabulary-building exercise of having bilingual versions of everything everywhere.

Can you believe the hotel actually apologized for the construction? My fellow translators and I were delighted by all of the detailed architectural terminology—value added! Photo credit: Jenn Mercer

However, even for those who are not language geeks, Québec is lovely and Vieux Québec was well worth the many hikes I took down and then back up to the hotel. To put the altitude changes in perspective, there is a funicular at one point and many of the staircases are named to reflect their history, but also the fact that they are a durable part of the landscape.

Nevertheless, the point of the translation workshop was to learn more about the craft of translation and it did not disappoint. Each day started with bilingual sessions featuring quick tips: Allô Docteur Termino/The Word Doctor were led by pairs of translators including Ros Schwarz, Marc Lambert, François Lavallée, Lillian Clementi, David Warriner, and Marie-Christine Gingras. These sessions were brief, but packed in so many tips, it would be impossible to summarize them here. Even the reverse sessions provided valuable tips and I quickly stopped worrying about the translation direction.

For the first two of the three days, this was then followed by a Traduel/Translation Slam with the texts provided to attendees in advance. On the first day, this was in English to French and then the second day was French to English. Again, I found myself so caught up in the myriad of choices involved in meaning and expression that I feel I got as much out of the EN>FR as I did from the FR>EN slam. If I were to offer any criticism it would be that in most real-world situations, a client would be expecting a text that stayed closer to the source. However, the looser approach taken by the duelers made for an excellent conversation starter.

After these appetizers, we got into the main course of the workshop—the single direction translation sessions. If you have attended other sessions led by Grant Hamilton or Chris Durban at ATA or another conference, you will have an idea of their style, but all of these sessions were entirely new and well worth the journey.

Grant Hamilton presented on “The Writerly Translator,” in which we got to roll up our sleeves to improve our writing skills. This was a great cross-training exercise and fit well into a theme I noticed in the workshop overall. Many of the sessions were not so much about coming up with a list of terminology, but reshaping our brains in a similar way to how higher level math allows you to “see” equations.

Chris Durban’s presentations on “Reporters in the Crosshairs” and “Helping French Companies Control The(ir) Story” used different approaches to present the responsibilities of a translator and to get a better view into the expectations of some very different target markets. The presentation on French Companies in particular was an interesting example of how the different expectations in French and English business culture call for not just translation or even transcreation, but the creation of documents that may not have even existed in the source language.

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one of Ros Schwarz’s two sessions, but it is hard to complain about having too many options. The session I did attend, “The Sound of Music,” concentrated on writing well—regardless of how mundane the subject may be. Schwarz encouraged us to both concentrate on the basics of grammar and to free our minds and let our innate creativity take hold.

Although I cannot report specifically on Ros Schwarz’s literary translation session with François Lavallée, I did attend a session with this same pair during a previous “Translate In/On Traduit À” event and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having an experienced literary translator translating under the eyes of the author himself—no pressure! In fact, Lavallée was very easy to work with and provided valuable insight into his text, and the group work generated great discussion material.

This was the first time I had attended a session by David Warriner and I enjoyed the two sessions he presented and his contributions to the French>English Translation Slam. His first session was on “Premium Tips for Translating Insurance.” Warriner included both a structural overview of the translation market in Québec and the rest of Canada, as well as its repercussions on the terminology used. I found this fascinating, as I worked for years at a U.S. insurance company where everything is regulated per state. He provided a treasure trove of resources and did his very best to make insurance entertaining.

His second session, “Sailing Close to the Wind: Creativity Under Pressure,” used his experience with a very fast-paced racing event to show techniques for maintaining quality on a tight deadline. Rather than go into the minutiae of boating terminology, he emphasized the importance of knowing a field inside out before entering a premium market. His focus was on writing well when you do not have the luxury of sleeping on it or going through a thousand drafts. For a presentation based on knowing a lot about a niche industry, his tips were generally applicable and very useful to any translator.

Next, I decided to attend Lillian Clementi’s session on “Connective Tissue: Crafting More Readable Translations.” This is the one session where FR>EN translators had to make a decision on which session to attend. It is a testimony to how well-targeted these session are that this was incredibly difficult. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Clementi’s session, and translators I spoke to were happy with their choice regardless of whether they chose this or the literary translation session with Schwarz and Lavallée. Her session was on those little connecting words and the difference between how French and English use these words. It was a refreshing approach and I can see myself using the list of helpful words we developed quite often.

The last day of the workshop was structured a bit differently with a longer joint session instead of the quick tips and slam/traduel pattern. The best way to describe this might be to start with the names of the sessions in French and English:

  • FR: À contre-courant, pour des traductions encore plus idiomatiques
  • EN: Switch Hitting for More Idiomatic Solutions

Which of these titles is the original? Does it affect how you would approach their translation? In this session, Grant Hamilton and François Lavallée led us in tackling translations of difficult and highly idiomatic texts with one simple twist—our “source” text was actually a translation. After we wracked our brains, they would show us the actual source. I think we hit upon the actual phrase only once, which shows how many “correct” answers a translation dilemma can have. In all, it was the perfect grand finale to an inspiring workshop.

The theme running through all of these sessions was that of becoming a better translator, by seeing both of our languages in a new way, understanding our clients, and writing well in any language. This workshop is very different from the ATA conference. Because of this, I would hesitate to say whether one was better than the other, but I would say that every FR<>EN translator should try this at least once. You may very well get hooked.