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ITI Sustainability in Translation conference – my experience: day 1

Having now recovered from last weekend’s ITI Conference ‘Sustainability in Translation’, at which I co-presented with Sarah Dillon, I’d like to share some of the key points I took away from it.

At the conference I attended last November, I decided to ‘live tweet’ from the event. But this time somehow the mood just didn’t take me, and I also knew that a few other delegates, particularly @nickrosenthal and @serenadorey would be tweeting updates, so I knew it would be well covered. Not to mention the fact that I was cripplingly nervous about my Sunday morning appearance as a speaker, so was rather distracted by that! So, I stuck to good old-fashioned paper notes this time, and here are my thoughts:

The conference had 3 key themes: ‘sustaining the profession’, ‘sustaining the professional’ and ‘moving with the times’; each  session being built into these. The Saturday morning began with the keynote speaker, Katerina Germanis from the FSC, describing the FSC’s work, and also giving a brief insight into its translation needs. This set the tone for the weekend very well. It seemed clear to me that the FSC are currently rethinking their translation ‘strategy’ and assessing how best to proceed, so there may be some interesting developments there.

Next up was Helen Wolfson, international coordinator at Friends of the Earth, who gave a great overview of some of the work they do. Helen (clearly a very experienced and talented speaker) explained that FOE work with 3 official languages, and all their material needs to be available in each of these, meaning that their translation needs are huge. I was so impressed with the presentation, I decided to join FOE!

One of the most eye-opening sessions for me came up next: ‘Where have the translators gone?’, by Klaus Ahrend, Fiona Harris and Terry Clough of the DG Translation. I wrote a blog post a while ago about this, when the problem of sourcing talented into-English translators first arose in the mainstream British media, but I really had no idea that the problem had got so serious so quickly. About 1/3 of their staff translators are due to retire in the coming years. Some figures for you:

  • In 2000, they worked with 10 language pairs and had 185 translators
  • In 2004, they worked with 19 language pairs and had 222 translators
  • In 2008, they worked with 22 language pairs and had 156 translators
  • Their order volume has gone from €1.2m in 2005, to €3.8m in 2008.

As you can see, the general trend is fewer and fewer suppliers, against increasing (and wider) demand.  A particular problem is finding high standard English translators for the languages of the newer EU members. This is something Fiona Harris is seeking to address, namely by starting a MAJOR awareness-raising campaign (even using Youtube videos!).

According to Marcel Lemmens of Teamwork Vertaalworkshops, a similar situation is unfolding with the Dutch language. He explained there is a mismatch in the market in terms of Dutch>English translators. There is a major shortage, and only 2 universities in the UK offer translation courses where students are able to have Dutch as their source language. Marcel also emphasized one of the key take-home messages of the conference – that target language writing skills are the single most important skill in translation.

I really, really relished the next sessions – a series of presentations from recent MA in Translation students from assorted universities across the UK. They gave us a brief overview of their dissertations, which varied from translation gains in the international reporting of Chinese leaders’ speeches, to issues surrounding working as a sign language interpreter. You can read about some of the graduates in interviews on Sarah Dillon’s blog.

The conference then moved back towards an environmental theme, with a presentation by Cat Akana of Blue Planet Multicultural, a translation company specialising in the environment. I think our eyes were opened to just what a dire situation we’re in, in terms of the environmental challenges that lie ahead, and we were reminded of the need to take action now, before it’s too late. In fact, as Cat pointed out, climate change is happening NOW, and peak oil may already have happened, meaning that the ‘future’ we still assume to be far off may already arrived. Some of us may have noticed translating more and more environment-themed texts, and this is likely to continue to increase.

We were then treated to a fascinating presentation by Silvia Ferrero, owner of MediaLoc, on the games localisation industry. I’m not very familiar with this type of translation, but learned alot about what is involved, including a high degree of creativity and sometimes rewriting in order to achieve the best final result.

As we moved towards wrapping up the 1st day, we discussed contingency planning with a panel of experts. Questions from the floor included (paraphrased) ‘how safe is the internet?’, ‘should I use online word processing tools?’ and ‘how often should I back-up my work?’. We were shown techniques in supporting mobility and flexibilty through folder and software syncing, how to boot from Linux in the event of a system failure, and how to link your main PC to others in your office. The main message from this session was that we should never just rely on ONE solution, contingency planning means preparing for several eventualities.

The final session was by Liz Robertson, Chair of the Association of Translation Companies, entitled ‘Sustainable relationships in a recession’. I really enjoyed Liz’s presentation, and particularly appreciated how well she set the tone for the 2nd day (and for our presentation). Her key points were that translators and translation companies are usually seen as 2 separate groups, that there was a lack of mutual recognition. Instead we should be focusing more on working in cooperation, since we already share a common goal. Her take-home points were: 1) know your client, 2) understand yourself and 3) ask for feedback, and welcome it when it comes.

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  1. Danilo Nogueira

    May 20, 2009

    Just to thank you for sharing this information with other-side-of-the-worlders like me. Looking forward to Day 2.

  2. Serena Dorey

    May 20, 2009

    Great report on day 1, Philippa!

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May 20, 2009

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