Forging ahead

I attended ITI Conference in May, the theme of which was ‘Forging the future of the profession’. As I approach my summer break I have been looking back over my time in Sheffield.

My conference experience began on the Thursday, with a stint at an ITI research network event (I was there in my capacity as practising translator). This event will form the basis for an e-publication, as with its previous incarnation. In the first session, groups discussed various scenarios, seeing what ethical (rather than practical) issues emerged; this would inform a research project. Next came a Faraday discussion: the academics at the event briefly presented their papers (which we had read in advance), after which came questions and discussion. I was interested to hear Dragoș Ciobanu’s enthusiasm for voice recognition software. Many of the speakers also presented at the Conference on the Friday or Saturday, often on approaches to MT and AI.

My Thursday got busier and busier, as colleagues arrived from around the world. Some of them were chilly in Sheffield in the rain; I was better equipped to cope, having only travelled a couple of hours down south to get there. Catharine Cellier-Smart told me about the latest shark attack on a surfer in Réunion (I enjoy her updates, as I studied and worked there briefly). David Warriner, who’s based in Canada, told me about the lineup for Glastonbury this year (naturally). The welcome reception at Bungalows and Bears was a real cacophony of different voices and languages (no, nobody knows why it’s called that). The ITI German network caught up over tapas afterwards.

Then it was Friday, and time for the Conference itself. I can’t possibly describe everything I saw, heard and thought, but here are some impressions of the event. I was pleased to see and hear the ITI Bulletin editor Radhika Holmstrom in person. She was the first speaker and set a suitably multicultural, portfolio-career note for this forward-looking conference. The flexible working theme continued later with the presentation by Lizzie Penny and Alex Hirst from the Hoxby Collective, who had moved from more conventional jobs into a different way of freelancers working together (and yes, they were asking for collaborators). They describe this as a #workstyle revolution.

Adam Fuss spoke about Translators as Communicators, with tips such as only opting to work in copyediting if you can edit quickly – it might not be worth your while otherwise. For copywriting and transcreation, it was important to invest time in research and keeping up with the markets; he recommended an ATA webinar. Adam also discussed providing consultancy services on communication such as PR; he mentioned reading around the subject with the help of organisations in those fields, such as the CIPR in the UK.

Could the future involve working more closely with clients? David Jemielity certainly does: he talked about an advertising campaign at the Swiss Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (BCV), where he works in-house, and gave plenty of real-life examples. He described some benefits of working closely with the creators of the source text, which included seeing the ST as an ongoing, diachronic process rather than a static, synchronic snapshot; it helped that these adverts were seen in the context of the campaign as a whole. This point of view helped the translator to focus on the overall message the ST author wanted to convey, rather than being limited to the details of the particular ST they received.

The campaign in question initially ‘translated’ the source language ideas to suit the target audience: from in-house finance speak to language in general everyday use. The emphasis was on keeping the ads relatively informal, practical rather than abstract, and using figures that were relevant to the audience – ordinary people in the Canton.  For instance, ‘a third of mortgages locally are with the BCV’. This preparatory work was done before translating into the target language.

I attended several talks at the Conference on how to ‘forge ahead’ in literary translation. The speakers impressed their audiences with knowledge and experience in what can seem daunting, and very specialist, fields: Carolina Smith de la Fuente on illustrated books, including graphic novels, William Gregory on translating for the theatre, David Warriner on translating crime fiction, and Daniel Hahn on teaching literary translation. It’s hard to sum up these really worthwhile, in-depth sessions, and of course many of the tips were targeted at the speakers’ own disciplines – each of which involves conveying meaning, which is not all contained in the individual words on a page of source text.

I found myself noting down helpful hints during Daniel’s session on teaching through practice. I was particularly interested in the idea of exercises which oblige students to replicate aspects of the source text other than literal meaning. If you ask people to translate a Greek poem into English when none of them know the source language, or some birdsong (an idea from Sasha Dugdale), then they will be forced to focus on aspects of the source material other than meaning! Needless to say, I may not use those particular exercises with generalist MA students. But the idea remains relevant: it’s about getting to the essence of what the source text is transmitting, and then conveying that in your translation.

Sessions on the future of ITI, and by extension languages in general, provided a call to action aimed at reaching the early stages of a translator’s development. Alison Hughes encouraged us to ‘reach out’ and become ambassadors for languages, inspiring the next generation of translators and interpreters. Outgoing ITI Chair Sarah Bawa Mason looked at the work done by the ITI, and much more besides. Translation Nation was an example of good practice, taking translation activities into schools.

I liked the idea that we can reframe translation to ensure the work is done, if not purely by humans, then at least by centaurs – the technology can do the legwork, but there must always be human brains in charge! The Conversation was cited as a good place for spreading the (true) word about translation, since many news agencies look there for information.

At the plenary on Saturday, Oliver Kamm enthralled and moved his audience, providing moral support with which we can face the future. He expressed his heartfelt support for a multilingual, multicultural approach to life. He also provided apt examples from translations by his mother, the late Anthea Bell; it would have been her 83rd birthday the previous day.

I was pleased to help to publicise the contribution of women translators in a small way, by plugging ITI North East’s exhibition In/Visible which had travelled to Sheffield for the Conference. After the closing session, the North-East contingent packed up the exhibition and headed for the train home full of information, encouragement and enthusiasm.

(Thanks to ITI for letting me use the photos!)