Report on ATA conference experience
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Toronto, Canada. October 13-17 2004
By Tisha Klemetz
The ATA conference was an amazing experience for me. It was my first professional translation conference, after almost 5 years as a freelancer. I met lots of people, chatted in most of my languages, made great contacts and had about 22 requests for résumés!! The sessions were amazing. I had a great amount of important insights and useful information.
There 1400+ attendees. Apart from the opening session, orientation for new members and ATA annual meeting (Thursday and Friday morning respectively), I attended to one specific for literature, one for Nordic languages, three for Spanish translation and six other sessions (14 in all). A problem was trying to decide which session to attend, as frequently I had several ones at the same time that I wanted to go to.
Thursday morning. Opening Session. Public dissension due to one of the speakers, a journalist who’s worked in Iraq. He hadn’t spoken for more than a couple of minutes, and really said nothing offensive as far as I could understand, yet someone got up, exclaimed “This is so offensive!” and left. Many other people continued leaving as he went on speaking. Many people were upset by him, it seems he didn’t talk about what he was supposed to. Really, a war report didn’t fit into the context, but I found it interesting nevertheless.
I attended the Orientation for First-time Attendees, but that wasn’t so inspiring. I’d already been to many conferences of different sorts, so the procedure of behaving in a conference and how to get the most out of it wasn’t anything new to me. A basic tips was “stay hydrated to avoid headaches and colds”… Well, I already got used to drink lots at BYU!!
The Literary Division Annual Meeting was my first “chosen” session, Thursday afternoon, directed by Clifford E. Landers. Boring. The main topic was “if there are about 50 members in the division, why are only 10 present in this meeting? What could we do to have more attendance?” Reactivating members, indeed, it sounded like a church meeting in that sense. The main reason given was that since literary translation doesn’t pay, and most translators “eat” by other sources, then it was more useful for them to go to a session where they really obtained money-producing information. I would have added “if you do anything remotely fun, they would come”.
It was interesting, though, to notice that most literary translators are old (50s and above, apart from 3 Kent students) and to realize (by asking) that in order to do literary translation the translator himself is expected to go with a proposal to the publisher. I didn’t know, I thought if you were established, had contacts with publishers and so, that literary translation was a field just as productive as any other one, with the exception that generally clients don’t ask you to translate books but more often technical or legal documents. So I guess I’ve been lucky, by obtaining book translation assignments directly, and paid by the word. Because literary translation isn’t usually paid that way, but as a fraction of the royalties - so you depend on the success the book has, when getting paid. So I got unseful information from this session anyway.
My next session was How to Tame the English Pronunciation Monsters. Very funny presentation! Maya León Meis is a Peruvian (Spanish) native but came to the US at age 5. Her English is absolutely perfect, and she teaches at a college. She has a book published on how to get rid of your foreign accent, specially directed to Spanish-speakers. Highly interesting insights on how to place your tongue on or in front of the alveolar ridge in order to obtain the English vs. Spanish sounds. She mentioned how English-speaking people “sing” much more than the Spaniards (intonation), which explained why I felt slightly confused when coming to Utah in some verbal interactions with people, in interpreting the feeling they wanted to communicate to me. We laughed with tricky words, in which a mispronunciation of the vowel changed the meaning to a “bad” word, such as beach, sheet, fork, etc. Some people seem to be pretty terrified and avoid those words whenever possible! It was mainly directed to interpreters, and one important suggestion was take your time to pronounce clearly.
Friday morning. Annual Meeting of All Members. Interesting to get a feel of what ATA is like, how members interact with each other… Being a brand new member, most of the information I found no use for, but it was good to see the way things are done within the association.
Ensuring Payment: Before, During, and After the Project, by Ted R. Wozniak. I thought this was a something really important subject, and indeed the session was productive. Good advice was to make sure you have all data from your contractor before starting (address, phone, invoice data), beware of PO boxes and “freemail” accounts (although there are exceptions). Look up references before you start. We discussed several online directories of payment practices, such as ProZ, GoTranslators and TranslatorsCafe, apart from several mailing lists and betterwhois.com and the like.
There I met a PhD student, from Kent I believe she was, who works as an interpreter and translator. She shared some procedures she uses in court interpreting (with dangerous, armed “clients”, she specifies in her contract she wants a bodyguard with a foot’s distance, and once this policeman walked away two or three feet and she said he had broken the contract and left), as well as other monetary policies. We had lunch together with a few other translators, it was fun and helpful. The only lunch I had during conference (the rest was a quick apple or cereal bar, I wanted to stay and make as much of my time as possible!).
Getting the Message Right: Translating Advertising and Marketing Texts in Swedish, by Ian Hichliffe. This was really fun, as he has worked as an in-house translator for IKEA in England for several years. The basic idea is that you can never translate advertising, you have to trans-create it. The problem is there are so many references to cultural or social background in the punch lines and other ways of selling ideas and products, it’s really tricky. He showed us many examples of translations (or creations, the solutions he produced) from Swedish into English, it was highly enjoyable and very fun. Just a few could be kept as translations, “when Lady Fortune smiles – although in this business she most often frowns” he said. Such an example was the Canon ad; “Kan nån, kan Canon” -> ”If anyone can, Canon can”. You have to translate ideas, not words.
I didn’t go to the Nordic Division Annual Meeting since I feared it would be just as bad as the literary one, and I had already talked to all the Swedes around.
Google is Your Friend: Terminology Searches on the Internet, by Marcello J. Napolitano. Sounded good, but after the third time that someone in the public asked “please, could you just show step to step how you got to the Google page?” I couldn’t stand the very basic level any longer and left. But at least I learned that it was possible to search “term + glossary” or “glosario” in Spanish or whatever language you get, and keep trying until you came up to a dictionary, definition or the like on the term you are looking for. Google has pages specific to most countries (.es for Spain, .se for Sweden, .com.ar for Argentina, etc), so it’s good to go to such a one and make sure the terminology you’re using is the correct one for the target locale.
I left after 10 minutes and run to the vendors exposition. It took me many hours to get through it all, so I used any time I could (lunch breaks, for example). There were many software vendors (I talked to Trados and Wordfinder, which is a software that combines your search in multiple dictionaries and enables you to create your own glossary), ProZ had a booth, many universities had booths (I didn’t talk to any, though), and multiple translation companies, which in general said “email / register online and give us your résumé”, which is what I did.
I was slightly late to Free and Open Source Software for Translators, by Corinne L. McKay, unfortunately handouts where gone by the time I got there. There are very many programs parallel to Windows, Office and such, that are mostly free and are generally found more stable, which is good to know (they crash less frequently than Microsoft, she said). The problem is many are only “open source” programs, which means they work only on Linux (a free system) environment, instead of Windows, so she suggested next time you change computer, keep the old one, install Linux and play around with it. You need to have at least Microsoft Word, though, or a way to “fake” the documents and produce .doc files, to send them to the clients. The point is you can have a lot of software for free or very low cost. I had no idea such a whole world of “open source” software existed!! I learned a lot of new words, a whole new dimension to me.
Saturday. 3 colliding interesting sections the first hour! I first opted for Claims Against Translators: What Are They and How Can They Be Prevented, Mitigated, and Defended? by Antonella G. Dessi who works for a law firm, because I don’t like trouble and it’s good to know how to stay away from it! You see, in Europe we don’t go around suing each other as you do here (fortunately!!). As for my personal situation, as a Non-American citizen, the answer was if I’m working with private persons I’d need my own American insurance, but working with an agency (as long as I make sure beforehand) I would probably be covered under their insurance. Yet another thing I must remember to speak about before I accept a project… I must make a list!!
Wiki for Translators, by Richard S. Lane. This was fabulous. A wiki (the wiki wiki web) is a funny name for a great idea. Within the Internet, wikis are interactive webs. Anyone, or any authorized member, may get in and do changes on the page, thus using it as a “collective online whiteboard”. You can also set up private pages where to load files up and down. Thus, huge files of many megas can be received without collapsing email accounts, and if the email with the translation doesn’t reach your client (emails often get lost), the client can go up to his special page within your page, and download it from there, even if you’re not in your office just then and he needs it immediately.
A good use of this is when you are working in an online group. Sending emails with the discussion means you end up with a whole pile of mails to keep track of, it’s almost impossible to search for the specific information you need within them, and if someone enters the group at a later stage you would have to forward all those emails, and he/she would have to read this endless line of comments that maybe keep contradicting each other as time goes by, while if a wiki was available, the changed ideas would simply be removed and he/she could limit the work to read the relevant items.
I still have a slightly cloudy idea on how to proceed, I went to twiki.org (twiki is one of the free programs that can be used, such as WackoWiki and MyWiki) and opened an account, but there you only can upload files of up to 50 kb. I guess I should download the program and upload it on my own webpage, but it looks like I need to download and install perl, apache and several other programs that I never heard of and have no idea about! They are free but I don’t know how to use them, and wonder what effect that may have on my system. I have emailed and asked for feedback. In the meantime, there’s a nice explanation and tutorial at:
I think wikias are a great idea! I will be learning more about it and hope to be able to implement it soon.
Words in Context: A Sample of Continuing Education for Spanish T&I Professionals, by Madeline N. Rios. Not much new information but we got a nice handout with examples of terms that may be translated with very different meanings, and getting it right is specially important in legal and technical translations. Just another testimony on why machines cannot do proper translations! The human needs to select the proper word, which at times doesn’t necessarily match any of the dictionary options (dictionaries at times are simply wrong). Also funny examples on why you must take care of using the correct target locale, specially in the multiple south-American Spanish dialects.
Sleuthing the Pig: The Art of Spanish English Technical Translation, by Aaron Ruby. This session really made me decide I won’t be doing technical translations. Not only do I dislike them, but getting the terms right can be incredibly hard (he mentioned one term that had been coming up several times and it took him 5 years to find!!). Google is a great help, to find the right words in context (yet another mention to the need of taking care of the locale, and using the Internet).
Often technical terms are invented by the client and its group, so they cannot be found anywhere, in that case you’d better contact the client and ask him: it’s in his main interest that you get it right.
Good ideas: build a library with texts written originally in your source and in your target language (not translated), on the fields you work with. That way you know which language is the one actually used in both countries by the professionals in the field.
Create a glossary, and make sure to include wide definitions and even images if you find them, to be able to re-use it years later and remember what it was about. He gave us a great handout (40 pages or so) with a glossary on his latest project (petroleum industry).
And never, ever, go to the bilingual dictionary as your first choice!! You must look up in a monolingual dictionary first (Oxford was chosen by him as the best English one since it includes even words long fallen in disuse. In Oxford a term never comes out of the dictionary, and at times you’ll find those in your texts) and make sure you understand the context, know what they’re talking about before you can translate it (many words have multiple meanings, “pig” for example).
My insight: that’s all very good and I’ll be applying it to nutrition, which is the more technical of my fields! But technical, really technical, no thanks if I can help it!
I would have liked to attend the Spanish Literary Translation Workshop, but these last two sessions (half-sessions) were at the same time. Besides, I found it funny that two of the texts they were going to work with were by José Luis Alonso de Santos and Itziar Pascual, both of whom have been professors of mine at college in Spain.
Principales problemas en la traducción de preposiciones inglesas al español (“Main problems in the translation of English prepositions to Spanish"), by María Barros who is from Spain and works for the UN. She had to catch a plane immediately after, so she read her handout aloud, quickly, and ended the half-session 10 minutes early. Interesting ideas, which I can look up in her handout (it was all in Spanish, Spain Spanish for a change, sounded so good to me). She was much too stressed to be able to give a proper conference, poor thing. But it was insightful to see clear examples on why you cannot translate prepositions literally (often you have to “work around them”, add more or delete them).
Yoga Moves for the Desk-Bound Translator, by Jude L. Lupinetti. I loved this one! The instructor is a registered Yoga teacher. She adapted some popular yoga exercises, such as the Salute to the Sun, to be performed around your chair. Basically it was conceived as a short break in between your translation day. Because you shouldn’t be more than 45-60 minutes at a stretch in front of the computer (not good for the eyes, or body). Translators often suffer from carpian tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, back problems and the like. So making the effort of stopping a little, giving your mind and body a break, and moving, seems utterly important. It felt good to stretch a little after that long day of conference…
Overall, an amazing experience! I would recommend everyone who can to attend to such conferences. I learned very much and enjoyed it immensely.