I first heard about the ELIA Together conference in Barcelona from a Spanish translator colleague at the ITI Conference in Newcastle last year. I’d never heard of ELIA until that point; it stands for the European Language Industry Association and primarily represents the interests of translation, interpreting and localisation companies. Tempting though the thought of Barcelona was, I didn’t think any more about it until later in the year when a colleague on Facebook reported that, in line with the “together” theme, ELIA was offering a 10% discount to freelancers who joined forces to register in groups of four or more. Reading more, I learned that this was the association’s first venture into bringing together language service providers and freelancers and had the backing of our own august national body, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. My interest was piqued: not only was this event in a city right at the top of my must-visit list, it actually sounded really interesting to boot! Job done: I signed up along with another 20 or so colleagues, and the countdown to the conference commenced.
Somewhat surprisingly, many of my professional colleagues seemed to think that a conference with the professed aim of uniting agencies and freelancers must of necessity be a villainous excuse to exploit the latter! A number of people wrote blog posts on this subject, and there were mutterings in various e-groups about the dastardly lengths to which LSPs would go to extract their pound of flesh… I didn’t get it, personally: for me, conferences are primarily about networking, be it with colleagues or clients. You’re only going to be exploited if you present yourself as a victim; better by far to view yourself as an equal partner and see what you can achieve by working with others. Interesting presentations are always useful, of course, but the main rewards come from what you take away from other people. Suffice to say that I went with an open mind and came back fully satisfied. To my mind, it’s not dissimilar to the Brexit debate – how can we hope to influence anything if we don’t get involved?
The conference was held in the spectacular World Trade Center on Barcelona’s harbourfront and took the form of three parallel tracks: relationships, growth and technology. Hardly surprisingly, after some 30+ years in the industry, I found myself drawn mainly towards the growth sector. Whilst I’m very happy as a freelance translator, the timing of the conference was actually perfect for me as I’d recently been offered the chance to take on a large and fascinating project which would involve a lot more outsourcing than I currently do. The first panel session in the growth track couldn’t have been more fitting, looking as it did at the growth from freelancer to translation company and beyond. With entertaining contributions from Heidi Kerschl and Anja Jones amongst others, it offered some interesting insights into potential future directions.
Other highlights for me included the excellent talk on overcoming strife in the translation industry by Lloyd Bingham and Andrew Morris. As a long-standing member of a Facebook Group, where positivity and support for others are essential qualities of group interaction, and aggression and derision are most definitely frowned upon, I was already fully on board with Lloyd and Andrew’s points. It was interesting to hear, however, that some members of the audience felt that ranting was an entirely justifiable way of letting off steam and couldn’t see the damage to the profession wreaked by translators who should know better constantly moaning about clients/rates/conditions etc…. What sort of example are we setting newcomers to the profession, to say nothing of clients who might happen across the worst examples of these practices on translator forums? Rather than the prescriptive approach to the problem postulated by one commenter, surely the solution is to encourage positivity, pride in one’s work and support newcomers in striving for better things – what’s not to like?
I also thoroughly enjoyed Karen Tkaczyk’s extremely entertaining presentation on what high-end successful freelancers expect from their agency clients. Ranging from streamlined processes (no endless databases to fill in), paying on time (please don’t tell us the accountant is on holiday!), asking how we want to be contacted (working parents don’t always appreciate phone calls when children (or dogs) are creating havoc behind the scenes!) to letting all translators/proofreaders working on a team communicate with each other, these may all be obvious points, but ones that absolutely deserve to be highlighted. Successful freelancers can pick and choose who they work with, to a great extent, and it certainly doesn’t only come down to rates: agencies/clients who respect their freelance translators’ needs and create a pleasant working atmosphere are worth their weight in gold.
John Moran’s all-too-short presentation on dictation software for translators was a case of preaching to the converted in my case, but it was interesting to hear his academic research into the potential productivity gains to be achieved by dictating: results I can fully substantiate! Discussions with fellow Dragon users in the bar after the event also taught this old dog one new trick: I’d no idea that you could get a Dragon app for the iPhone that enables you to use your phone as a microphone when you’re out and about. Having recently invested in a neat (but not particularly portable) tabletop microphone, that’s definitely something I shall be looking into next time I’m working away from home.
On the downside, the final presentation of the conference, the plenary LSP X factor session, was rather a waste of time as far as I was concerned. Agencies who talk about recruitment processes and refer to freelancers as vendors are never amongst my favourites… but each to their own! I also didn’t like the tendency, throughout the conference, of some agencies to distinguish between freelancers and business owners – as though freelance translators aren’t already business owners in their own right, with our own brand, USPs and market share. The profession most certainly couldn’t do without us….
In the end, I decided I’d rather go and network before the closing session, but was thwarted by the fact that the trade stands/coffee providers had all shut up shop and gone home, leaving a lot of translators in need of their coffee fix! Not even a bottle of water to be found… The organisation had been excellent on the whole, but I do think that not providing a green room with access to coffee/tea/water throughout the conference (especially as the Friday was a public holiday and the cafés/bars on site were closed too) was an oversight. The food was excellent throughout, however – well done to the organisers for hitting just the right note with their tempting little canapés (or should that be tapas?!). And wine with lunch? – Only on the Mediterranean! Very civilised….
The more conferences you attend, the greater the rewards you reap in terms of people-meeting: it was great to meet up with the SO crowd, some of whom I’d met before, lovely to meet new people I’d only encountered via their blogs (but who were even more interesting face-to-face) and a real treat to catch up with colleagues I’ve encountered at other conferences over the years and especially a very good friend I first met when working in-house over 30 years ago – how time flies! And of course, meeting new contacts is always a delight and inevitably leads to new avenues opening up in the future – that’s what it’s really about, when all is said and done.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Barcelona, stunning city that it is. My Spanish-graduate son had primed me well, but I was still overwhelmed by how fantastically beautiful it is with all that fabulous Gaudi architecture, delicious food and amazing sights on every corner. I squeezed a huge amount in during my whistle-stop stay, from the Olympic village and castle up at Montjuic, to the exquisite Gaudi follies at Parc Guell, and of course the outrageously brilliant Sagrada Familia and the city’s manifold other treasures…. I will definitely be back!