By Alejandra Ramírez Olvera
Change is the new normal. As we struggle to keep our balance and steer the ship amid the greatest storm many of us have ever seen, rapid change is the currency in which we negotiate our nights and days and the priorities we can fit in them nowadays.
Thinking through this piece, I wanted to stay as far away as I could from Covid-19 and the “P-word”. It turned out to be impossible. Everything is impacted by it these days: the free hours I had
to work on this article, the thoughts flooding my mind and casting light on perspectives, worries and questions I might not have considered had we not experienced such abrupt disruption of our
lives. Additionally, the changes that came with it.
For this issue of Deep Focus, I had planned on interviewing Angélica Cervantes, veteran dubbing translator who more recently devoted herself to quality assurance (QA) and is my sensei and
friend. I would ask about how QA in Mexico has evolved over the last 5 years, the type and quality of products she gets to review on a daily basis and the trends we ought to keep an eye on. But
life and the ongoing pandemic got me reflecting on a different issue, albeit prompted by that interview.
Interview in a Nutshell
Before addressing specific questions, Angélica walked me through her journey into translation for dubbing and later QA. “It was fate”, she said of the former. As a trained translator and interpreter for the tourism industry, her initial goal was to learn to subtitle. She loathed dubbed movies, that is, of course, until she ended up in the field, prompted by people who saw qualities n her that would serve the industry and helped her get going.
There was the theater-turned-film director who gave her pointers at a time where no formal AVT training programs existed in Mexico, the sound engineer who would let her in on tips to render a
better-timed dubbing script, and the colleagues who helped her take the leap that now sees her reviewing and evaluating not only translated films and TV series but also videogames, something she would have never dreamed about a couple years ago. Her years as stage actress and director also helped lay a foundation that would, for instance, enable her to read and, in turn, translate a script faithfully.
Through this whole account, one thing kept popping up in my mind: mentorship. Afterwards, as confinement enveloped our lives and forced us to reinvent ourselves, I explored it further.
Reinvention and Mentorship During Confinement… and Afterwards
As soon as it became apparent that confinement would last longer than any of us would have thought, thousands of courses—not an overstatement— on everything from baking to mindfulness to, of course, translation, flooded our social media and e-mail inboxes overnight; like mushrooms emerging after rain. Blame it on the uncertainty —and the consequent need to feel in control— many of us were experiencing, the very real need to reinvent ourselves and tap into unused or new talents to secure a job and an income, or perhaps the also very real need for trained professionals to deal with the sudden increase in translatable audiovisual products. There was suddenly an array of short courses and workshops within our reach—many of them devoid of theory and involving minimal teacher-student interaction— promising to turn us into competent subtitling, dubbing, legal or medical translators in a few weeks at most. I will not comment on their quality or rigor. I will, however, point out what many of them overlook: mentorship.
Contrasting Angélica Cervantes’ account of how she, despite her lack of training in the field, became a competent professional largely thanks to the guidance she received from others to what
these online training options offered, I didn’t see overt and intentional attempts to establish mentorship or collaborative relationships to supplement the content taught. It may be that the goal of this type of education is to cover current practical needs, leaving research, theoretical exchanges and knowledge building —more conducive to developing mentorship— to university programs, as their history, tradition and resources better serve these purposes. Fair enough. Still, as many people reinvent themselves by seeking out new professional opportunities, knowledge about the nitty-gritty of everyday AVT is essential to secure good longterm working and payment conditions, assert our profession’s worth among clients, peers and the public, and advance our field in general. This requires mentorship.
So, I call on colleagues launching or scaling-up AVT-training ventures to look past the business side of it. Sure, developing a know-how took you years of effort and study and it is only fair (and
necessary; your children can’t live off of gratitude) you get financial reward. Putting together a course or workshop to meet demand is a great idea; I applaud every effort that brings AVT out of the empirical realm and into the professional one. But please, don’t abandon mentorship altogether. Consider investing in the people on the other side of the screen, beyond offering them the basics of, say, Aegisub, CPS and spotting. Teach them the ropes of successful rate negotiations, tell them the truth about the marketplace, and about their right to be credited. Point them toward higher education programs worth considering. Tell them there’s a whole corpus being built as we speak and encourage them to dig into it, so that they have better tools to justify their translation choices.
Being physically isolated or remote (as was already the case for most of us, even before the pandemic) does not mean our training programs have to follow an “every man for himself” approach. I believe that the more collaborative networks and mentorship relationships we establish, the better we will weather not only the Covid-19 pandemic but any and every challenge ahead of us.
So, let’s reinvent ourselves, refine our skills and acquire new ones. Let’s capitalize on our knowledge in these times of financial uncertainty. But let’s not do away with the deep interactions that nurture us not only professionally but personally. We’ve been presented with a challenge. It’s time to act on it.