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I’ve had one of those weeks – and I’d rather not experience one again for quite a while… Without going into any detail, a committee I’m involved with has imploded over the last few days, not least because the new brooms (of which I’m one) have tried to introduce changes and come up against implacable dinosaurs who are resistant to change at any cost. It’s been a very trying time, and I, along with a number of others, have ended up withdrawing from what has become a thoroughly unpleasant situation.

However, my experiences this past week have set me thinking: the situation we have faced is not unlike some of the issues that afflict the translation industry as a whole. Here again we are often faced with dinosaurs, translators of many years’ standing who have been working in their chosen area for years and see no reason to change. They may be charging the same rates they’ve charged for years and have no intention of increasing them for fear of upsetting the status quo. They are loath to embrace new technology and refuse to adapt to CAT tools, regarding them as new-fangled inventions, not for serious translators. They certainly don’t believe in CPD; why should they? They have years of experience behind them, why should they need to learn anything new? And most of all, they have virtually no ability to see beyond their own little world, to the good of the profession as a whole: they inhabit their ivory towers, having very little contact with other translators, and thus very little insight into how the profession as a whole is developing.

Please don’t get me wrong: this is certainly not an ageist rant. I’m over 50 myself, so hardly in the first flush of youth – in fact, positively ancient in the eyes of today’s young graduates fresh from their MAs! I know and greatly admire many translators with considerably more experience than me, and indeed the very fact that I have met so many of them at industry events is testament to their willingness to keep abreast of the latest developments in the industry and serve as ambassadors for the profession. It is those intransigent few who cannot accept that there might be a better way: their negativity and resistance to progress are both draining and detrimental to our image as modern professionals.

By resisting change in this way, just as in my committee trials last week, I feel they are doing the translating industry a huge disservice. How can new translators expect to set decent living rates if some of the old guard are still using the same rates they used years ago? What kind of example does it set that CPD is regarded as only for those new to the profession? And where networking is regarded as very much a frivolous activity? As for new technology, their refusal to adapt has detrimental effects on the image of the modern translator overall. I have met a few experienced translators, even in relatively recent times, who refuse to use e-mail, insist on work being sent by fax or post, or can’t see the point in reproducing the format of the original text, because that’s not their “job”. One translator I worked alongside on a complicated agency job pooh-poohed the idea that we should be careful with field codes – “Oh, I don’t understand what they are: I’m just going to ignore them!”. By all means, don’t use CAT tools if you really don’t want to, but don’t knock the benefits they offer in terms of consistency, increased productivity, glossary management, teamwork and quality.

I am not especially technologically-minded, but in the 30 years or so since I started translating, the world of translation has experienced huge changes. When I started out, we dictated our translations for the typing pool, personal computers were non-existent and cut and paste literally meant copying a diagram, cutting it out with scissors, and pasting on the captions you’d typed up separately! Since those early days, I’ve seen the introduction of fax machines, IBM Displaywriter computers at work, followed by an Amstrad and a daisywheel printer at home, then an all-singing-all-dancing multimedia machine in the early 90s and the advent of file transfer by modem, before e-mail and the internet eventually arrived on the scene. I like to think that I’ve taken all this in my stride and adapted as I’ve gone along. I’ve attended networking events and training sessions in CAT tools and subject specialisms to try and keep my eye on the ball. I’ve upgraded computer after computer, switched to smartphones and even joined Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to keep up with the times. And I’m very glad I have – the benefits are manifold. Yes, sometimes I feel that technology is taking over and poses much more of a challenge than the actual translation (notably the idml file I had to translate last week, where neither the client nor I had InDesign, so obtaining a preview of the translated file proved rather a challenge…), but that’s part and parcel of modern life.

And by the same token, today’s world surely requires that translators and translators’ groups should try and keep up with the latest developments, not stick to outdated traditions just because that’s the way it has been done for the past 25 years? Experienced translators need to set an example for those who follow in their footsteps: embrace change, accept new technology, promote continuous professional development – because you’re never too old to learn. Encouraging newcomers to the business and passing on the benefits of one’s experience should surely play a part too? Pulling up the rope ladder after you’ve made it to a certain level is hardly in the interests of the profession….

Oh, and those dragons? I can only refer back to one of my previous posts on Manners maketh the translator. Rude e-mails and aggressive behaviour in meetings are a huge no-no for me, whether from a client, a colleague or a fellow committee member. Making unwarranted accusations against a peer is quite frankly unacceptable. No matter what the situation, respect for others should be paramount and I find it impossible to function where these principles are not observed. Those self-same dinosaurs are often guilty of being fire-breathing dragons as well. I can vividly remember one occasion when I posted a language query (an acronym, I believe) on a forum, only to have a long-standing member snap back a reply, with the comment “Surely everyone knows this?”. Well, no, evidently, I didn’t, despite all my years of speaking the language in question….. Making other people, be they clients, colleagues or acquaintances, feel two inches tall, or casting aspersions on their moral standing, is completely out of order – and yet still it goes on.

Ah well, office politics was never my strong point – and indeed the lack of it is one reason I enjoy being a freelancer. I suspect I’ll steer clear of committees for a while now, and return to the comparative calm of my own space, but I have no intention of ceasing to embrace change, however challenging. And I fully intend to keep on learning and developing as a professional translator, and passing on my experience to others, until the day I hang up my mouse!

Image (At least dogs don’t answer back…)