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Following on from my recent post on my first visit to an ATA conference, I promised I’d write about the actual conference itself, reviewing the presentations and the conference content proper. Inevitably, with over 170 scheduled presentations, my report can only ever be a snapshot of those sessions I actually attended and can in no way be representative of the event as a whole. Equally, while many of us are keen to check out the programme of talks before signing up to a prestigious industry gathering such as this, I’m still very much of the opinion that the networking and the people you meet, whether over coffee, in the exhibition hall, or in the Ladies’ powdering your nose, are just as valuable as the presentations themselves. It’s those very contacts who may refer you to their (direct) clients in the future, after all…

Still, one of the reasons we attend conferences is not only to meet colleagues, but to learn new things and stretch ourselves, be it in our technical specialisms, the world of business, the art of translating or to pick up technological tips. I was particularly keen to attend an ATA conference precisely because I’d heard that they have a strong Scientific & Technical track – an area which is often under-represented at the European conferences I’ve attended. Admittedly, it’s hard to suit everybody under the far-reaching umbrella of Science and Technology, but to have a track all to itself – riches indeed!


On the first morning, I joined the throngs in the main room for Anne Goff’s enjoyable presentation on “Networking for Introverts”. Now this is a subject I’ve written about on numerous occasions as a dyed-in-the-wool introvert and former reluctant networker myself. Would it teach me anything new, I’d wondered beforehand? Well, quite apart from being an entertaining and slick discourse, Anne did suggest a few simple tips that struck home. Don’t fold your arms when chatting to new contacts, for instance – it immediately creates a barrier between you and them and makes it look as though you’re not interested. RSVP the minute you receive an invitation to an event – don’t leave it until the last minute as you’re sure to chicken out when the lure of that quiet book by the fire beckons… And don’t assume that going up and chatting to strangers equates to being pushy: you probably have a lot to bring to the table too. There were loads more tips along these lines and the room was crammed full of eager introverts; what’s more, Anne achieved the ultimate in actually persuading some of us to raise our hands and join in the discussion at the end! A very inspiring session and a great way to kick off the conference.

Other highlights included Chris Durban’s talk on “What about the blind spots?”. Chris is always excellent value and although I’ve heard her speak on some of these topics before, it was interesting to hear them put together as aspects often overlooked by unwary translators. In a nutshell, these may come down to basic business acumen, like making sure you use the right billable units, negotiating skills, allowing time for marketing/admin and still making sure you charge enough. Whereas some of these issues are relatively easy to address, other aspects are extremely hard to “fix”: having sufficient knowledge of your source language/culture for example, or insufficient specialist knowledge – and knowing when you’re out of your depth, for that matter. Writing skills are another tricky area and one that’s hard to polish, but how many translators are actually aware that they need to refine their skills in such a crucial and fundamental aspect of our profession? Hardest of all is the ability to gauge genuine client satisfaction: how many times do we hear colleagues justifying their work on the basis of receiving no complaints?! I can’t possibly attempt to cover all Chris’s suggestions for getting round these problems in this short review, but they centred on seeking out a trusted colleague to revise your work, constantly striving for the best, taking the initiative and suggesting improvements to clients, signing your work and getting out there and finding out what your peers are up to. Hear, hear!

One of my favourite sessions of the whole conference was “Arugula by Any Other Name: Coping with Translation in the Culinary Arts” by Joe Mazza, Head of the State Department Translation Division. As a keen Foodie Translator, this was right up my street and proved to be an often hilarious and irreverent, yet fascinating stroll through the pitfalls and challenges of translating in the world of food. As Joe pointed out, we culinary translators need an in-depth knowledge of botany, geography and zoology, as well as an understanding of all aspects of food and drink – and excellent research skills! He went through the key issues faced by food translators, not least knowing what to put in and what to leave out for your target audience. What’s normal for one culture might not be in another, such as the use of freshly-cracked eggs (how else would you use them?!), hen eggs (perfectly normal to me as we often see duck or quail eggs in my rural farm shop) or free-range/locally-sourced, which might or might not be relevant for particular cultures. The increasingly transnational palate is another concern, with fusion food very much the norm – how on earth do we tackle those long lists of speciality ingredients and international dishes with no direct equivalent? All in all, a great presentation – thanks to Joe for making us smile and nod in heartfelt recognition.

On a more serious note, Paula Arturo’s session entitled “Ask a Lawyer-Linguist: What’s Legal (and What’s Not) in Translation?” was an interesting canter through the whys and wherefores of translation contracts and what we should (and should not) sign up to. A timely reminder that we need to negotiate and only sign those clauses that we deem reasonable. Having our own terms and conditions is crucial too. If in doubt, do not sign – we are running a business too!

On the language side, I was drawn to a couple of French presentations: the first was by Angela Benoit on “Breaking the Mold: Throwing out Translation for an Intimate Look at Source Material”. Not unlike the premise of the “Translate In…” series of professional workshops, this was an attempt to persuade translators to move away from the source words and translate the concept behind a text, making it work in the target language, even if that means using entirely different mechanisms. She examined tourism texts, including marketing taglines for ski resorts, and suggested why particular tricks work for specific audiences and cultures. Altogether fascinating – and congratulations to Angela for what I gather was her first solo presentation at an ATA Conference!

The final French session was the much-vaunted French>English Translation Slam between Andie Ho and Jenn Mercer, ably moderated by Eve Bodeux. I’ve seen a number of these slams before, but I had the impression that they are a relatively new development across the Pond.The selected text was an immensely tricky article on Pokemon Go, a phenomenon about which I knew very little beforehand! Of the two valiant translators, Jenn seemed to have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the game via her daughter, whereas Andie was a relative novice. Let battle commence! As ever, it was intriguing to see the infinitely variable ways of translating the same source text. Particular challenges included the French author’s propensity to insert the names of Pokemon characters as wordplay in the flow of text, and the need to translate “in” jokes and puns. In short, a text I’d have run a million miles from! I can only congratulate both participants on their amazing efforts; I’ll stick to my nuclear and foodie texts, thank you very much…..


These are just my conference highlights; there were other sessions I enjoyed, including one on the Dutch language and culture (loved the stroopwafels, cheese and orange boas!), and some that I found quite dry or relatively uninteresting. You can’t win ’em all. I was disappointed by the scientific track on offer this year, which seemed to me to major on physics, not my strong point, I’m afraid. In previous years, there have been many I’d have loved to attend, so I’ll keep my hopes up for the future. It was disappointing that quite a few sessions were cancelled at short notice, although I fully realise that this is beyond the control of the organisers AND probably the speakers themselves. I had been particularly interested in Annett Brown’s talk on “Re-animating dead pdfs for CAT tool use” and was sorry it didn’t go ahead. Sessions on the nuts and bolts of the technological side of our job are few and far between, and all the more useful for that very reason.

I’m so glad I went to to San Francisco: I learnt a lot, met so many interesting colleagues and came back with my head buzzing with new ideas. Huge thanks to the organisers, who did a brilliant job. Next stop, the ITI Conference in Cardiff next May – I can hardly wait!