A tale of two conferences

I recently returned to Sheffield for the first time in nearly forty years to attend the Institute of Translation and Interpreting Conference 2019. Sheffield is a city built on the fine steel industry, and when I was a student there it was a city in decline, but on my recent visit I was impressed with the wonderfully revitalised city centre. The conference was held in Cutlers’ Hall, the Victorian headquarters of the Company of Cutlers. It is a very grand but also comfortable building and provided a wonderful, historic backdrop to a very successful conference.

The theme of the conference was ‘Beyond the core: forging the future of the profession’. The forty-five presenters responded to this theme in a variety of ways. There were four concurrent streams, one of them dedicated to interpreting. This made chosing which presentation to go to quite a challenge! I often wished I had a time-turner so that I could go to at least two of the four presentations scheduled at the same time.

I noticed three main sub-themes among these many presentations:

  • The need for language professionals to adapt to the changes that are having an impact on our profession:

There were several sessions on this theme, many with a focus on ways to respond to machine translation or on ways to improve the service we provide and therefore gain, rather than lose, from these changing conditions. I went to Chris Durban’s presentation in which she spoke about the need to specialise even within a specialisation, and to be bold in our translations. She used the analogy of a tentative rock climber who clings too close to the rock face compared with an expert, confident climber who hangs back from the rock face, and therefore has a clearer view of what they are doing.

  • Ways in which we can all promote our profession: several presenters chose to react to these changing conditions by suggesting that we all advocate for our profession, in a variety of ways. Karen McMillan Tkaczyk asserted that we must stop relying on examples of translation bloopers to convince clients to engage professional linguists and start showcasing our work through a great online presence, portfolios and advocacy, while Alison Hughes talked about the work of the ITI outreach group who engage with schools, universities and business representatives to explain the role of translators and interpreters.
  • Ways of working with other language professionals to enhance our service to clients, our professional development and our own enjoyment of what we do:

There were presentations on revision clubs, flexible working communities or collectives and partnerships. Juliet Baur and Mason Colby’s account of their working partnership was a highlight for me: they have been working together as an informal partnership for a few years. They explained the advantages for both their clients and themselves, but did not shy away from talking about the tricky aspects such as the need to discuss and resolve any tensions that arise between partners. These presentations gave rise to much discussion among translators in the breaks and will, I think, result in many of us looking into ways of working collaboratively with our peers.

On this theme of collaboration in translation, I gave a presentation about the Treaty of Waitangi and told the story of the huge collaborative effort made by the translators who took part in the Treaty Times 30 project. My very grateful thanks to NZSTI for their generous support to attend this conference.

[photgraph: MH with ITI frame credit: Mandy Hewett Translation]

You can read two delegates’ reactions to the Treaty Times 30 project here:

I’d like to mention three other presentations, covering slightly different themes, which I enjoyed very much:

Lucinda Byatt spoke  about ‘What’s involved in Translating (Literary) Non-Fiction? Rewards and Challenges’. Lucy talked about the types of text that are termed literary non-fiction (including a wide range of book genres including narrative non-fiction, quality journalism and blogs), the practicalities of finding such work, and what the work involves. I went to this presentation thinking it would be interesting but not necessarily directly useful to me. In fact, it struck a real chord with me and made me aware that the translation jobs I have most enjoyed doing fit into this area of specialisation. I came away with several steps to take in developing my own specialisation.

Anja Jones, a translator who now runs her own agency Anja Jones Translation (AJT), gave a very practical presentation on ‘Crunching the numbers: how to grow your translation business’. Based on her own success in building an agency, she talked about how you work out for yourself what you should charge for your work, and ways of growing your business. She very generously shared a spreadsheet for managing costs and pricing.

For pure fun Oliver Kamm’s presentation about the translation career of his mother, Anthea Bell, who translated all of the Asterix comics into English, was a delight. He is a great speaker and was obviously very touched to accept on her behalf a posthumous award from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Why a tale of two conferences?

I was hugely nervous about giving a presentation at such a big conference, but on the day it was easy because the atmosphere of the conference was one of such friendly collegiality. I met and shared experiences with many likeminded professionals, including the owners of two great agencies, and would thoroughly recommend attending, even if, like it did for me, it means stepping outside your comfort zone.

Why did I entitle this report on the ITI Conference ‘A Tale of two conferences’? Well, three days after I got back from England I went to the NZSTI Conference 2019 in Christchurch. That too was a great conference, and in my opinion the quality of the presentations there was on a par with those at the ITI Conference. So, even if going to a conference overseas isn’t on your radar, attending the next NZSTI conference in Auckland is a must.

By Mandy Hewett

Photo by ITI

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