I promised that I’d write a second part to my review of last month’s METM event in Split and I’ve finally managed to sit down and do just that. Deciphering my scrawled notes was a little tricky one month on, but I think I got there in the end. This time I’m getting down to brass tacks and looking at the actual content of the presentations – or my highlights at least.
The format of a MET conference is slightly different from other conferences in that they start with a number of 3-hour workshops, spread over two days. These can be booked separately from the conference itself, allowing delegates to further pare down the cost of the event if they so wish. At an eminently reasonable €40 per session, this is an excellent opportunity to have an in-depth, hands-on look at the subject of your choice. Typically, I could have quite happily attended at least three of the offerings on the Thursday afternoon: Ruth Simpson’s ‘Wine words – translating in the wine world’, Jenny Zonneveld’s ‘Advanced word skills’ or Alan Lounds’ ‘Dealing with parentheses: commas, brackets and dashes’ – I love a good grammatical discussion! I could only choose one, however, and my gourmet side won in the shape of Ruth’s wine workshop.
I wasn’t as enamoured with the second day’s offerings, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I heard good things about Juliet McCann’s MemoQ workshop, but as a confirmed Trados user, it wasn’t for me (despite later winning a MemoQ licence in the raffle at the AGM – I handed it back to go to a more appreciative candidate). Impossible for the content committee to second-guess what will appeal to each individual, though, and I used my free Friday morning to very good effect visiting a local UNESCO site, as I explained in my previous post. There was certainly an excellent balance of workshops on offer on both days.
On to Ruth’s wine workshop: Ruth is a delightfully entertaining speaker, who just happens to be married to a vineyard owner in Chablis, so speaks very much from the horse’s mouth. She gave us a fascinating tour of the wine-making year, covering grape varieties, cultivation problems and tricky terms, which are often the same in English as in French. She also went through tasting terminology, telling us about commonly used words for wine colour, taste, nose and finish. We even had an aroma test with little fragrance sticks to see just how good our own noses were. I picked up the liquorice straightaway, but strangely the honey completely passed me by, even though I detest honey with a passion and usually avoid wines with that element. After the break, we got down to the serious business of wine tasting, helped by Ruth’s detailed tasting notes. All in all, an extremely enjoyable session, whether you already translate in the wine industry, simply come across wine translations in a broader gastronomic context, or just have a passion for wine in general.
Day 2 saw the start of the conference proper, which started mid-afternoon after the second round of workshops. The first of two keynote speeches was by David Jemielity, who also spoke at the ITI Conference in Sheffield earlier this year, and I was initially slightly concerned that he was going to cover similar ground. I needn’t have worried: while he obviously started out from the same fundamental premise as senior translator in a corporate environment, his talk this time focused on the need to tailor the translator’s input to what works in a high-powered corporate environment, while still producing top-quality communications that are effective in whichever language they’re issued. Interesting points he made included the fact that words are not necessarily a useful metric for assessing added value in multinational communications: a point that also came up time and time again in other presentations. He also suggested showing senior managers examples of what other companies in the sector are doing in a similar area. Even if, as freelancers, we don’t translate in-house or work with direct clients, looking at comparable texts on an English speaking competitor’s site is a great way of ensuring that we are pitching our translations right. Similarly, CEOs and CFOs are unlikely to be interested in niceties of style or grammar errors introduced by non-native edits down the line, but if you tell them that the changes you’re proposing will enable them to tighten up their business risk management procedures, then their ears might prick up…. I can’t possibly reproduce the entire content here, but this was a great way to kick off the conference.
One last point I must share with you sounds really obvious, but I’m sure I’m not alone in having made this schoolgirl error at times: when you’re asked to justify a translation by a non-native speaker, as we all are some time or another, do NOT make the mistake of doing it in your source language. You’re immediately putting yourself on the back foot. Instead, use your native language: your critic will be flattered AND you will have the upper hand. After all, it is your native language, not theirs, and one in which you can dazzle, ever so politely and pleasantly, and ultimately intimidate them into realising you actually do know what you’re talking about. An excellent point on which to conclude.
Another presentation that caught my attention was Jenny Zonneveld’s talk on ‘Preparing the winning quote – effective job estimates’. Jenny ran us through her comprehensive workflow for preparing bids, including allowing time for pdf conversion, layout, e-mail exchanges, questions and resolution, points that are often overlooked if you just quote based on word count. This was followed by a lively discussion on how to quote: words/hours or project-based? This included the challenge, if we are quoting on an hourly basis, of how to establishing a trusting relationship with the client so they are happy to accept the hours you say you’ve spent or are going to spend. We also touched on adding CAT tool discounts, whether we should automatically do so or only if asked (if at all). Fascinating stuff – and many very differing opinions.
Next stop was Lloyd Bingham’s entertaining take on the rise of Pseudo-English, where non-native speakers (particularly, but not exclusively the Dutch and the Germans) adopt English words, but don’t quite use them in the right way. We’ve all come across these, I’m sure, but handling a client who insists that their not-so-English word should stay the same in the English translation is a different matter, requiring lots of tact and diplomacy. Lloyd mentioned a Dutch client’s insistence on using hunting rather than headhunting, for example. Another I hadn’t come across before, which actually came up in the audience discussion at the end, was the use of “Mister” in Italian to refer to a football manager. The use of swear words is a similarly contentious issue, where many non-native speakers of English seem to think we swear a lot more than we actually do, leading to some very interesting phrasing in adverts that just wouldn’t pass muster here in the UK.
The final keynote speech, given by Lynne Murphy, tackled ‘The evolution of concision: editors’ role in changing English’. Again, I’ve heard Lynne speak before, at the ITI One Day In… event at Gray’s Inn in London last year, but she is always a joy to listen to. She discussed the evolution of the English language with particular attention to differences between US English and UK English. The former tends to be much more prescriptive than UK English, which can mean that having your work edited by an American editor is quite a thorough experience. In the UK, we have a preference for more unspoken rules and tend to trust our ear on what sounds right, probably because we had very little formal grammar teaching for the majority of the last century. Changing language trends in the US and the UK have led to a more informal approach becoming the norm in the UK, but a process of densification in the US, using fewer words to convey the same message: e.g. ‘is’ where we might say ‘is being’, and an emphasis on cutting out superfluous words like ‘very, rather, really, quite, in fact’ – awfully (British) English, I realise now :-). Food for thought indeed.
The last session I want to mention is the MET AGM. As an ITI Board member, I always find it interesting to see how other organisations do these things, and this was a relatively informal, but well-attended session with an interesting discussion in the Any Other Business part of the proceedings. At this year’s online ITI AGM, one questioner asked why we don’t hold our own AGM at the conference, and the answer lies in the sheer numbers involved. Organising a large conference is already very labour-intensive, as is the governance and financial side of organising an AGM for an organisation with over 3,000 members, let alone the timing issues of getting everything ready after the end of the financial year. However, it was extremely instructive to attend a different kind of AGM.
The off-topics broached at the end included a request to consider the environmental aspects of conference attendance. A number of attendees at this year’s conference had already set out to travel in the most sustainable way possible by arriving by train/bus and/or ferry rather than air. It turned out that there were limited international flights to Split in the first place and delegates from Spain had had to go via Frankfurt, which does seem rather excessive. Admittedly, not everyone can afford the time for long overland journeys, but it is certainly worth considering and it was suggested that a sustainability working group could be set up to provide support for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint when travelling to conferences. Dispensing with the conference bag, not using disposable cups and cutting down on paper handouts at the event were also mentioned, although the committee were keen to stress that they have already pared down the conference programme to a neat A5 booklet this year.
All things considered, a very enjoyable mix of presentations, including others that I simply haven’t had time to mention. There was a choice of three tracks for most sessions, so it would be unusual not to find something that appealed. The final keynote speech finished at 6.30pm on the Saturday afternoon, by which time I was definitely suffering from tea deficiency (plea to organisers: more “proper” tea, please!). A pleasant sense of information overload is a good way to feel after a busy few days of conferencing – time to let our hair down at the gala dinner and reflect on what we’d learned and who we’d met over the past few days.
Next year’s event is in San Sebastian, in Northern Spain, which promises to be an equally delightful venue. Sadly, I won’t be there, as I have my sights set on the ATA Conference in Boston, but I shall certainly be up for another METM event in the not-too-distant future.
*Thanks again to MET and their official photographer, Mario Javorčić, for the photos of the presentations.