Translator conference in Brescia

The 13th Mediterranean Editors’ and Translators’ Conference in Brescia 26-29 October 2017

About MET: Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) is an association that unites English language professionals from 25 different countries on and off the Mediterranean rim. Founded in 2006 in Barcelona, Spain, the organisation with its more than 300 members offers opportunities for peer-generated continuing professional development, including the annual MET conference held this year in Brescia, northern Italy.

Regards from the Mediterranean editors and translators’ conference held in Brescia last week. Participating in a massive event like this certainly makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself, or rather, part of The thing that gives us the strong professional identity for which we all need to strive: the collegial community.

Here is MTM’s report on the highly engaging three days’ visit to one of northern Italy’s most charming historic spots.

Interiors and exteriors of Centro Pastorale Paolo VI

METM17* impressions, and the importance of sticking out like a sore thumb

One can hardly think of a more inspiring venue for meeting other professionals in the translation and localisation business than the beautiful Brescia, and especially the church-owned hotel and congress centre Centro Pastorale Paolo VI located in the historic city centre.

Central square in old town of Brescia

The four-day event that sold out in just ten days earlier in the spring brought nearly 160 English language professionals together, providing a rare opportunity for us to analyse, not only the pains and strains, but also the delights of working across languages and cultures. This year’s theme – Understanding the Client – never goes out of style, and the more we listen, the better we can discover what’s relevant to the client, and, therefore, to the translator.

Presentation on translating legal content by John Linnegar

The workshops held on Friday morning covered topics from scientific translation to questions of accounting and workflow. Among the topics, a systematic approach to translating contracts into English presented by Rob Lunn, a freelance translator based in Barcelona specialising in legal and business translation, stroke me as an interesting subject considering my customers’ demands. So, I picked this one among the impressive offering of workshops, eager to hear what’s new in the given field; after all, it had been a while since my translation studies at the University of Helsinki.

A new approach to translating contracts

Pragmatic as they may seem, not all of the solutions offered at the workshop are applicable to professional contract translation based on my 30 years’ experience. They involve interpretation and composing some kind of a simplified version of the original in the target language. It is tempting indeed to cut the corners and make the translation read well, but this may cause serious problems, should all not go smoothly in the fulfilment of the contract. Even if the language version was not binding on the parties, the misunderstandings potentially arising from such inequivalence can lead to disputes and break an otherwise beneficial contractual relation. So, as opposed to the instructions given at the workshop, a translator must never try to interpret or in any way correct the wording of contracts in the translation process, unless the corresponding correction is made in the original.

On the other hand, proposing corrections to the original can be in the client’s best interest, if the translator is in the position to do so in the first place. This requires establishing a confidential and direct relation with the client and the possibility to reach the right person from the client organisation already in the contract drafting phase.

This, if anything, is understanding the client; pushing a bit harder just to help them succeed in whatever it is they’re aspiring, provided it is legally and ethically sound, of course.

Never stop questioning and always make choices based on what is important to the client. This applies to workshops and badly written contracts alike. Unfortunately, there was no time left for open discussion. I hope Rob’s approach gives some repercussions afterwards.

After a delicious lunch in the company of colleagues from MET’s sister organisations Nordic Editors and Translators (NEaT) based in Finland and the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands (SENSE), it was time to look at the translator’s role from a slightly different angle.

“Is it ever our moral duty to stick out like a sore thumb?”

This question was raised by Michael Farrell, a freelance translator and transcreator from Mortara, Italy. He gave quite an entertaining talk on handling awkward situations where there was a serious mistake in the original. Which role should the translator adopt? Should we translate the mistake and remain invisible, or resort to translator’s notes? How would the author wish such problems to be solved? Wouldn’t it be much less embarrassing to them to be notified about this and correct the mistake in the original than to repeat something that is obviously wrong? The answer is yes, they most certainly would, and instead of being offended, most of them have thanked the faithful translator for reporting the mistake. This is the most ethical choice a translator can make, considering the circumstances, of course. Sometimes translator’s notes cannot be avoided; for example, if the author is beyond reach.

Taking the plunge

After the coffee break held in the Sala del Papa, or the Pope’s Hall, it was time for MET’s most appealing presentation, in my honest, albeit subjective, opinion. It was given by Anne Murray, an experienced medical translator and one of the “founding mothers” of MET who lives in Tarragona, Spain. She has a degree in translation from Dublin City University and a foundation certificate in medical writing from the European Medical Writers’ Association.

The important message she conveyed was basically to do what you love and to rid yourself of the tedious, ungratifying tasks. Finding out what you really like and focusing on the clients who value your efforts can make all the difference. Mind you, it’s not always the money but a strong interest in a special field and mutually beneficiary partnerships that count. I couldn’t agree more with Anne who probably sets an example for most translators, having all by herself, with several years of systematic determined work, reached a position where she can enjoy doing her absolute dream work, i.e. translating highly demanding scientific articles for The Lancet and other prestigious medical publications.

Specialisation can help raise the quality of translations and efficiency, not to talk about job satisfaction, when you know what you’re doing, how and for whom. Meaningful work should be a basic human right, but it can only be found through knowing what you love.

And we do love translation work, even when it’s not all that gratifying. I guess there are always moments of discomfort regardless of your profession, otherwise work would not be called work. Still, knowing you can improve your skills and customer relations is a strong incentive that can take you wherever it is you want to go. Point taken, thank you so much, Anne!

The disciplined writer

After Anne, there was one more presentation before the networking Aperitivo. The first keynote talk was given on Friday evening with a sympathetic Scottish accent by the charming Rowena Murray, Professor of Education and Director of Research at the University of the West of Scotland, and an expert in academic writing. She told us about her experiences of writing retreats and the writing process in general. It was a great consolation to hear that even the most experienced writers suffer from the writer’s block. According to Rowena, this is mostly a question of self-management. Time schedules come in handy here, so does sharing the space (co-working) with other writers. When you commit yourself to appearing at the venue regularly, preferably at a certain time, you create a routine that is much easier to maintain. A good hint was to never skip a break and to always get up and move a bit in order to support the writing process. Even when it feels impossible to start, it is important to put the first thoughts that come to mind on paper, raw as they might be, so you’ll have at least something to work on.

Networking aperitivo

Author support

On the chilly Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast and a cup of Italian version of filtered coffee called Americano, I deemed myself ready for more views on scientific writing. This was an all-female panel pondering writing practices at research centres. The panellists were chosen to represent different viewpoints with an emphasis on the demands of cross-cultural communication. Also here, author support was the key concern. Being able to provide appropriate feedback is critical to successful translation and editing work. This especially applies to editing non-native English in scientific publications. It sometimes takes courage to correct a highly educated person who obviously takes ownership of their creation. However, “taking the plunge,” as Anne Murray said earlier, is necessary and helps the author build their professional profile and prominence.

Panel discussion on working as editor at research centres. From left to right: Moderator Valerie Matarese; Panellists Susan Frekko, Maighread Gallagher-Gambarelli, Ketevan Glonti

When the translator is doing a poor job

Not finding an exact match with the themes I regarded interesting, I picked a presentation titled “Learning to deal with negative feedback” given by Patricia Cardoso Ferreira from Portugal, formerly a translator and editor, presently an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) coach. She proved the importance of adopting an attitude and openness to new ways of thinking. Nobody likes negative feedback, but it is much more useful for your professional development than positive feedback. It is also good to realise that it does not define you as a person, and that nobody to date has been born perfect. If the feedback addresses the job you’re doing and not your person, it’s almost always justified, something to work on to improve your performance. You yourself decide what to do with the feedback; it’s just another person’s viewpoint at a given moment of time, in a given context and state of mind. A key characetistic of professional work is the ability to receive, and learn from, negative feedback. Thank you, Patricia, for your inspirational talk; it feels much nicer, knowing that we’re not alone and that there is a well-planned strategy for handling the moments of despair. Therefore, there is no need to despair.

“Translator as a writer – or maybe not…”

The Saturday evening keynote talk looked at the translator’s role from the viewpoint of authorship. Can the translator be seen as a writer, and if yes, to what extent? Writing skills go without saying, but are they as necessary as reading skills when it comes to a translator’s performance?

Tim Parks

This question was put before us by Tim Parks, a literary translator and novelist himself. Born in Manchester, he grew up in London and was educated at Cambridge and Harvard Universities. In 1981, he moved to live in Verona, Italy, and now he runs a postgraduate degree course in translation at the Independent University of Modern Languages in Milan.

Be a reader first

According to Tim, to be a good translator-writer, you need to be a good translator-reader first. So, getting it right requires an in-depth, intracultural analysis of the original (ability to read between the lines), and being an absolute insider of the language and culture that has produced the source, but this as such is not enough: you must put it into relevant target context to come up with the best-selling translations.

Wow. That certainly takes a lot of skill. The translator is required to have more diverse skills than the writer: the latter needs only to understand and reflect their own culture, whereas the former needs to be a specialist in at least two different cultures and find a way to communicate one to the other in an understandable way that is true to the original, which can sometimes prove a mission impossible. But the very existence of literary translation proves otherwise. It is not only possible, but also critical to mankind, as we need to understand people from other cultures now more than ever.

That’s one heck of a task to fulfil, a real mission, a key to world peace even.

Next year in Spain

I hope to be able to show up at the next MET conference to be held in Girona next October. This is the forum I have been seeking for so long! It’s nice to have arrived at home, finally. I’d like to thank all organisers, speakers and colleagues for the extremely topical and well-organised conference and networking opportunity. Let’s stay in touch, and see you in Spain!

Eeva-Leena Alhos