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‘The Translator as Strategic Partner’ conference, London, 22nd-23rd November

The Camden Centre

Last weekend I attended the conference ‘The Translator as Strategic Partner‘ here in London at the Camden Centre. Those following me on Twitter may have seen that I was live micro-blogging from the event throughout the weekend. I had intended to do this, as an experimental way of tracking the events and my thoughts in a more as-it-happens fashion than I would have been able to do otherwise, plus it meant  translators across the world on Twitter unable to attend could tap into the conference it virtually. The live tweeting seems to have worked fairly well (as far as it could – live tweets without links are rarely enough to supplement full text) and other tweeting translators seem to have appreciated it.

What I’ve done in this post is to paste in almost of all of my Twitter updates and use them as subheadings to structure my report summarising the main points I took away from the conference. Let’s see how this goes…and be warned that will be long!

Enjoying pre translation conference meal and networking at Betjeman Arms, St pancras, London

The weekend really began on the Friday evening before the ‘official’ start to the conference.  Lots of delegates arrived promptly for the advance registration, not forgetting to leave enough time for a sneaky drink at the bar before heading out for a meal at the Betjeman Arms. It was great to meet so many other translators from the UK and around the world (it was an international conference), and be able to put faces to the names of people I’ve so far only met ‘virtually’ over the years. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meal itself (but thumbs up for being able to cater for such a large number of people) but the venue itself is awesome, and the company was ace.

Early start. I’ll now be live tweeting from the translator as a strategic partner conference this weekend. Stay tuned!

OK, so we get going early on the first morning to help with registration and welcome people on their arrival at the conference. I’m not accustomed to such early starts (6.30am) on a Saturday but I was really excited about the speakers on the agenda. Today we were due to hear from such distinguished translation professionals as Michael Benis (the organiser), Ros Schwartz, Bill Maslen, Cate Avery, Jay Kettle Williams, Jost Zetzsche and Nick Rosenthal.

Welcome address by Michael Benis: being quality driven rather than cost driven

Michael starts off by setting the theme of the conference, the subheading of which is ‘a workshop conference for a changing industry’.  The following two quotes basically sum it up:

Quote: “for a communications industry, the translation industry doesn’t communicate very well”. We have a problem guys

Quote: “the client cares about their business objectives and bottom line”

In short, the translation industry needs to roll with the punches and adapt to clients’ needs in order to survive. As shy, retiring translators we often undersell ourselves, and, in Michael’s words ‘effective cross-cultural communication requires a strategic partner’. What else do offer?

Next up: Ros Schwartz on client relations

I was really excited about this session, the title of which was ‘Client relations: Why and how to be proactive’. Ros, who works mainly in creative and literary translation, argued that in translation nowadays fidelity to the original is simply not enough. It has to be more than that; it goes without saying that clients expect us to be reliable, meet our deadlines and stay faithful to the original message of their texts, but what will really make a difference to the ‘bottom line’ (see above) is that their translated texts are fit for purpose. This was a crucial point, since cultural differences usually mean that what would be acceptable for one target audience would not make an impact on that of another cultural/linguistic community.

Copywriting skills and how they add value to your profile as a translator and what you offer to clients

Moreover, as translators we are also writers (this was echoed by several speakers at the conference during the weekend), and we can hone these skills in order to add value to what we offer. We can positively seek feedback from our clients to see where we can help them reach their business objectives, such as bringing our copywriting skills into play (Ros also provided a list of writing courses).

Working together as specialists to produce a project: be a problem solver

Ros went on to argue that clients have articulated and unarticulated needs from their translators – they may not even realise what they really need from their translations and it is our job to make that our business. As strategic partners and language specialists we are able to identify and highlight blind spots for our clients.

It’s all about communication, guys. Truly excellent talk by ros schwartz

All in all a really thought-provoking session. Ros was obviously coming from the perspective of a translator who mainly works with direct clients, but the crucial points should be applicable to those who work with translation companies as well. Highly recommended.

Bill Maslen encourages us to seek out feedback – ask to see the final product that goes to the client

Bill Maslen (of the Word Gym) was up next, with a session (intriguingly) entitled ‘Strategic partnerships: principles and solutions, triumphs and tragedies’. Bill used a chart he had clearly put a lot of thought into that very neatly illustrated his point, and demonstrated the buy-in from the top-level guys in companies throughout the product development process, i.e. right at the end, when the translation is commissioned, the buy-in from the top bods is almost zero. What does this tell us?

…seeing the final product will help you understand your client’s needs and the sort of copy they’re looking for for their target market

This session followed on very nicely from the one before, again commenting that in terms of the perceived value of what we do, translation really suffers from a brand image problem. To improve this we need to get more involved, and really understand our clients’ needs better. We need to demonstrate how we analyse the texts and the overall process. What’s to stop us asking for a brief?

Interestingly, Bill encouraged us to ask to see the final product that is sent on to the end client. I personally haven’t ever done this, as it’s often slightly more difficult to have a two-way dialogue with translation companies, rather than direct clients, but it’s a very good idea, and something I would like to try.

After a distinctly un-Italian Italian buffet lunch we move on to a translator-client joint presentation. Nice to see a united front

This session was with Cate Avery, a patent translator, and one of her clients. This wasn’t a format I’d seen before at a conference, and I liked it. Cate explained the process involved in patent translations with a good dose of amusing anecdotes, and she and her client discussed what it is that makes Cate a good supplier to them.

Update: What does a client look for above all? ‘Reliability’ ‘cost effectiveness’ ‘intelligent approach’ and ‘good working relationship’

These were the words of Cate’s client on what they look for in their translation suppiers. In short, ‘reliability’, ‘cost effectiveness’, and ‘good working relationship’ shouldn’t be anything new, but ‘intelligent approach’ wasn’t something I’d heard before. To me it goes without saying that translators should have an ‘intelligent approach’ to their work, but perhaps this needs to be demonsrated more clearly in how we approach our clients and in our marketing campaigns.

Paraphrased quote from Jay kettle Williams: ‘the days when we can call ourselves a translator, full stop, are gone’.

I don’t think I was the only one amazed by Jay Kettle Williams’ superb oratory skills. He presented a very entertaining and lively session called ‘It’s not what you want to give the client, it’s what the client needs’. This may have been a controversial way of looking at things for many translators, but it continued the theme already established earlier in the day. An true expert on linguistics, Jay calls translators the ‘code-breakers’ for their clients; highlighting the fact that we often do so much more than simply ‘translate’ A to B.

Now speaking: Jost Zetzsche on idealised notions of translators. He asks ‘does quality spell u-s-a-b-i-l-i-t-y?’

Jost Zetzsche, of Toolkit fame, spoke about our age-old idealisation of the patron saint of translators, St. Jerome. We risk being constrained by this idealisation of a translator who, let’s face it, innovative as he was at the time, was born c. 347. Instead, we need to roll with the times and think about the true purpose of our texts – I empathised with this, and it returned to the discussion around a text’s fitness for purpose again. Oh, and Jost also briefly introduced us to his cute little mascot Jeromobot.

Closing up the ‘official conference’ part of day 1. Q&A discussion, prize draw, and then much needed drinks and dinner!

The first day of the conference ended at around 5.30pm, following a comprehensive Q&A session with the panel speakers which dealt with issues such as ROI from marketing campaigns, ‘educating’ project managers who don’t like translators with ‘queries’, where agencies can find good translators, reference documents and translation tests (one panellist expressed the view that receivied wisdom tells us that quality translators will not offer to do free tests for clients – hadn’t thought of it that way).

A particular quote I remember from this part of the day was that ‘nobody is going to read your texts as carefully as a translator’ (I can’t remember who it was, unfortunately). How true that is.

An enjoyable evening’s networking was spent with 91 other delegates at Ciao Bella in Bloomsbury. My report on day 2 of the confernce will follow next week…

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  1. […] the conference I attended last November, I decided to ‘live tweet’ from the event. But this time somehow the mood just […]

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November 28, 2008

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