Friday, February 27, 2009

2009 ITA Conference - Day 3

The Seventh International Conference of the Israel Translators Association, Day 3 (February 25, 2009).

I missed the first session of this day due to a prior commitment - my weekly BNI meeting (I am currently chair of my group, the Haifa Chapter). So I arrived in time for the second morning session.

The first lecture was by Igor Vesler, entitled Translation Economics - Process Pricing. Since translators are actually paid for their time (whatever pricing system they use, ultimately there is a limit to how much good work can be done in an hour), it is worth taking into account the additional time that has to be devoted to research. Translators spend extra time searching for the appropriate terminology, the correct spelling of proper names, finding similar documents to compare the style, adapting the translation to the target audience and so on. The best way to price these extra time-consuming tasks is to check the source material before giving a quotation and estimate the additional time required. This way, the price can be set accordingly, and the translator can also give the customer a more realistic timetable for the job.

Then Marsha Brown spoke about Grantwriting in the Global Village. This is not strictly a translator-related subject, but some translators are involved in writing grant applications for non-profits, and Marsha Brown explained the specific skills required to create a well-written application.

After lunch, Ami Argaman lectured on Speaking Proficiency Testing in the US Government. Again, not really translator-related, but still interesting to language professionals. The US Government has established tests of various foreign languages for job applicants, and this lecture focused on the SPT, explaining how it is performed and graded.

Then Sharon Neeman gave a talk she had prepared in collaboration with Maurice Tszorf, entitled A Village of Translators: Rosetta-L and other lists. Sharon and Maurice are members of several international translation-related email lists, and the talk described how translators discuss various aspects of translating, life and even politics (allowed on Lantra-L, not on Rosetta-L). Friendships are formed, and sometimes people meet in person.

After this lecture, I felt too tired to stay for the final plenary session and closing remarks, so I left. These three days of intensive study and networking have contributed a lot to my professional self-image and my relations with colleagues. I intend to continue attending the ITA annual conferences and some of the monthly lectures. I encourage readers to join a relevant professional organization in order to acquire further professional training and enjoy the support of colleagues. The business world can be collaborative, not only competitive, and it's up to every individual to decide how to view the world and what to do to enhance that world view.

2009 ITA Conference - Day 2

The second day of the Seventh International Conference of the Israel Translators Association (February 24, 2009) started with a plenary session, and then split into three parallel sessions.

The keynote speaker in the plenary session was Israeli author Eshkol Nevo, and his talk was entitled Secrets from the Writer's Desk. He spoke about how he found his ideas, how characters get lives of their own, how he collaborates with his translators into different languages and the difference between translations into languages he speaks and those he doesn't. Memorably, he compared working on the translation of a book quite a while after its publication, when he has moved on to other work, as similar to necrophilia!

As an aspiring writer, I love reading (or hearing) what authors have to say about their creative processes. As a translator, I also like discovering how authors work with translators. So this was a very welcome keynote speech.

I don't read enough Hebrew literature, partly because I read so much in English, and partly because I don't spend enough time in the Israeli cultural milieu. However, having heard Eshkol Nevo describe his work and read from his two novels, I bought them at the book fair (conveniently, the annual conference usually has a book fair that often sells books mentioned by lecturers...) and hope to read them soon. In fact, I may have to start writing a Hebrew blog in order to write about the Hebrew books I read.

Readers of English may be interested to know that Eshkol Nevo's first novel, Homesick, has been translated (by Sondra Silverston) and published in the UK. It will be published in the US later this year.

After the plenary session, I attended two lectures in the morning session. First I heard Ester Halac speak about Translating for an International Audience. This lecture discussed Global English (or International English, or English as a Lingua Franca), explaining that more non-native speakers use English than native speakers. Translators need to make their English simple and comprehensible for the target audience. She gave useful examples, and was pleased to hear from the audience that even in academic writing the active voice is now preferred. Or should I say: "... even in academic writing, publishers and editors now prefer the active voice"?

The next lecture was by Ilona Azar de Vlieger, entitled Think Global, Act Local. This lecture dealt with globalizing, localizing and culturalizing content for multi-national Internet projects. Since the Internet has only 23% worldwide penetration, and the greatest growth is expected in non-Western countries, translators will play a role in adapting web content to new markets.

After lunch, I attended two lectures in the first afternoon session. Fabienne Bergmann spoke about Linguistic Precision and Loaded Words. Translators often encounter culturally specific and politically loaded terms. These have to be translated into the target language accurately, without distorting the author's intention. It is currently less acceptable for translators to add footnotes or comments explicating the terms, or even to provide a glossary (except in some books), which makes this task more challenging.

Then the former ITA Chair, Micaela Ziv, gave an entertaining talk on the familiar problem encountered by English-speaking translators living in Israel: Hebrew starts to influence our English and we are at risk of writing Heblish. Being aware of the various ways this influence is expressed should help translators write "proper" English that doesn't sound like a translation.

After a short break, I attended two lectures in the second afternoon session. First I heard a relatively new literary translator (English and French to Hebrew), Shai Sendik, lecture on Getting Into Character: Creating Characters in Literary Translation. He compared the process of character formation by the translator to an actor learning a character before acting in a play (or film). The translator has to learn everything possible about the character, then think how to express this in the translation. I believe literary translation is difficult and subjective, and this lecture confirmed my assumption that a literary translator adds a level of personal interpretation to the text (and this is inevitable and acceptable). Some works of literature have been translated into Hebrew many times, in different decades, by translators with different styles and approaches. On a slightly different topic, Shai Sendik was asked how he, as an Orthodox Jew, deals with material he finds immodest. He said he avoids translating anything he considers inappropriate.

The final lecture of the day was by Yael Sela, entitled Editor-Translator Clash. This lecture described the complex relationship between literary translators and the editors of the translation (usually both freelancers employed by the publisher). Israeli publishers do not always encourage the translator and editor to collaborate, and sometimes even refuse to tell the translator who the editor is or let the translator receive the edited text before publication. Yael Sela has worked on both sides, so she was well-placed to explain the view points of translators and editors, and give specific advice on collaboration aimed at improving both the end product and the job satisfaction of both parties.

2009 ITA Conference - Day 1

The first day of the Seventh International Conference of the Israel Translators Association (February 23, 2009) was devoted to workshops. Four workshops were held in two parallel sessions, in the morning and the afternoon.

In the morning, I attended a workshop entitled The Internet as a Business Engine, by Erez Raz of Xtra Mile. This workshop replaced one on a similar topic that was cancelled (by the lecturer) one week before the conference, since less people had registered than expected. I was impressed that the ITA managed to find a replacement workshop at such short notice.

The workshop started by pointing out the importance of having a website, since many translators, especially freelancers working from home, don't have one. Only about 20% of Israeli businesses have a website, despite the high penetration of the Internet in Israel.

This workshop, like some other lectures, suffered from the diversity of the participants. Some members had minimal knowledge of the Internet, while others had more experience and their own opinions about how to advertise themselves. When Erez Raz explained how to set up a free and simple website using free tools such as Google Sites, one participant declared this to be a bad idea, saying that an unprofessional-looking site, especially one without a dedicated domain name, looks worse than having no site at all! The lecturer explained that websites can be made to look professional even if they are made by a non-expert using free tools.

Then we proceeded to the main topics of the workshop: how to promote your site using SEO (search engine optimization), blogs and contents, and social media. Of course, it was difficult to discuss each of these topics on a level sufficiently comprehensible for beginners and sufficiently advanced to prove of some benefit to the more experienced participants. On the whole, I would say Erez Raz maintained a good balance, and I learned some interesting things. I am not a complete novice and came with more background information than most participants, though I haven't yet fully applied my knowledge.

SEO is aimed at getting your website to appear among the most popular results on search engines when people search for particular terms. There are methods for improving the site's ranking using on-page optimization and off-page methods, such as links to and from the site.

We also learned about PPC advertising (such as Google AdWords) and renting out paid advertising space on your website (such as Google AdSense). It is important here to choose the most relevant search terms and to concentrate on a specific niche. We also discussed Google Analytics, a tool for tracking the traffic to your website.

We then discussed content creation for the website, the use of blogs, and finally social media.

In general, this was a useful workshop. I could have benefited from a more advanced level, but that would have excluded the less knowledgeable participants.

In the afternoon, I attended a workshop entitled Good Time Management - How to Overcome Procrastination, by Dr. Yossi Shalev, of the Shalev Institute. This is an important subject for most people I know. Very few people are naturally efficient, and time management seems to be an acquired skill.

Among the useful tips given in this workshop: don't leave lots of papers on your desk, as unfinished tasks create pressure. Decide what to do with each piece of paper immediately: do, drop or delegate. When you want to change a habit, adopt the new habit for 21 consecutive days, and then it should become part of your lifestyle.

Dr. Shalev defined time management as managing the occurrence of events. This requires a change of emphasis for some people, so that they see themselves as capable of controlling things rather than just letting things happen to them.

He discussed self-image and self-esteem as factors in people's happiness, and explained that the 20% of the population who have an inner locus of control also have higher self-esteem and greater happiness than those whose lives are controlled by outside factors.

In practical terms, we have to distinguish between urgent and non-urgent, essential and non-essential tasks. Usually people only do what is urgent, but if the essential tasks get done on time, there will be less urgent tasks to interfere. For example, when trying to complete a piece of work, it is possible to decide not to answer the telephone or look at emails for two hours. It makes me really sad when I see people who are slaves to their phones and refuse to turn them off even during meetings.

At this workshop, too, there was a wide diversity of participants. On the one hand, people who registered for this workshop had admitted they needed help and taken the first step. However, some of them seemed to be very resistant to the very idea of change. There are always some people who prefer to believe that everything that happens is external and beyond their control. During the break I tried to persuade someone that it is possible to change one's habits and even personality, as I have been doing over the years.

Dr. Shalev combines extensive knowledge of psychology, teaching skills, dramatic abilities and humour in his presentation. His presentation was a matter of taste. I heard that some participants found the style inappropriate or at least not what they were expecting, and were disappointed. Personally, I have learned to take the best aspects out of whatever I encounter. In this way I don't feel bored or waste my time. Perhaps a different lecturer could have presented this subject in a way more suited to the expectations of the participants, but this goes both ways. More open-minded participants can benefit from a wider range of lectures.

In the evening of the first day, the ITA held its traditional cocktail party and gala dinner. There were welcoming speeches from the ITA's Chair, Inga Michaeli, and from the President of Lahav (the Israel Self-Employed Association), Adv. Yehuda Talmon (who also spoke at the International Networking Week Conference I attended earlier this month).

The after-dinner lecture was by journalist and historian Dr. Gadi Taub of the Hebrew University. He spoke about Values in Israeli Society, a lecture mainly devoted to explaining the history of Zionism and the values it represents. This was interesting, in some places controversial, and well-presented.

2009 ITA Conference - General impressions

This week, I attended the Seventh International Conference of the Israel Translators Association. The conference was held at the Dan Carmel Hotel, here in Haifa. The theme this year was Translation in the Global Village.

In this post I will discuss the conference in general, and later I will write about the specific workshops and lectures I attended and what I learned.

I have been a member of the ITA since 2000, and have attended all the annual conferences and many of the monthly lectures the ITA organizes. The membership has grown to about 500, mainly Israeli translators in a wide range of language pairs, and some overseas translators with some connection to Israel or Hebrew.

The ITA is run by an elected committee of volunteers, translators who devote some of their valuable time to organizing the events, moderating the email discussion group and other activities aimed at promoting the status of the profession. This year the ITA has hired an administrative assistant, and for the first time the conference was organized by Ortra, who did a very professional job, reducing the work load of the committee members.

The membership of the ITA is very diverse. The main languages represented include Hebrew and English (still the majority), Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, and other European languages, and also some Asian languages. Translators come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some have always been translators, while others took up the profession later in life as a second career. Israel is a country of many immigrants, and so has many bi-lingual citizens. Some of these become translators, while others may teach their mother tongue. Some ITA members are quite young and new to the profession, such as students and recent graduates of translation studies courses. Others have twenty or even fifty years of experience. Since it is a profession that requires mental rather than physical abilities, many translators are elderly or have some physical disability. Among the members we have Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, native Israelis and immigrants from many countries (both recent and veteran immigrants), and people from all sectors of Israeli society. I haven't seen any statistics on the gender of translators, but my impression from this conference was of a slight female majority (perhaps 60%).

This diversity is interesting, but can also create some discomfort. People like to be surrounded by those similar to them, and can sometimes assume that most people are like them. Some of the more "successful" translators, those running agencies, for example, seemed to expect everyone to be at their level, while considering the beginners as less than "professional". This sort of unsympathetic attitude seemed to me rather intolerant. I will give examples of attitude differences among members in my later posts on the lectures themselves.

I was pleased to meet some friends and acquaintances. Translating is a rather solitary occupation, and one of the main benefits of membership in the ITA is the social aspect. Meeting and talking to other translators helps members feel they are not alone, learn what other professionals do in certain situations and certainly improves their professional self-image. Of course, many ITA members communicate on email lists with other translators every day, but there is something different about meeting in person. Translators also cooperate with their colleagues by passing on work they are unable to do for various reasons. I witnessed some participants finally put faces to the names of people they had corresponded or even collaborated with and were meeting for the first time.

The annual conference usually lasts three days, with workshops on the first day and lectures in parallel sessions on the next two days. Participants can choose how many days to attend, and whether to stay at the hotel or not. When the conference is held here in Haifa, I don't stay at the hotel (which makes participation slightly cheaper, but has some disadvantages). This year I chose to attend all three days, and it was a very exhausting experience. In future years, I may have to attend less days, or at least not try to attend all the lecture sessions, as it seems a bit counter-productive to end up really tired afterwards.

This conference is one of the highlights of my professional year, and I gave my first public lecture at the 2008 ITA Conference.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Audrey Niffenegger - The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife, Vintage, 2005.

Spoiler warning!

When my mother gave me this book, she said: "It's not really science fiction, but I think you'll like it". The definition boundaries of the science fiction genre can be debated. Some would include this book, arguing that even though the time travel described is not typical of SF time travel stories, this still qualifies as "speculative fiction" (one of the terms abbreviated as SF, alongside the more popular term "science fiction"). But in terms of the book's tone and style, it should probably be considered literary fiction, of the type describing contemporary life in a vivid and realistic way, but with a twist.

Henry discovers, at the age of six, that he sometimes travels in time, though not of his own volition. He often visits himself, in his past or future, or witnesses events in his own life or that of people around him. Sometimes he visits times and places with no relevance to him. He cannot control or prevent his time travels. He appears in the new place and time, naked and disoriented, and has to learn to steal and run fast in order to survive whatever circumstances await him. These episodes may last minutes, hours or days, and then he returns to the time and place he originated from. Later in life, he discovers that this remarkable ability is caused by a genetic mutation.

Readers of science fiction will find this set-up rather unconvincing. It seems unlikely that a genetic condition could cause time travel. The existence of two different versions of the same person at one time seems to break the law of conservation of matter. However, it is worth suspending disbelief and reading the story. The point is not to explain how or why this happens to Henry, but to explore how he attempts to lead a normal life, and his complex relationships with the people around him, some of whom know or discover the truth.

When he is 28, Henry meets Clare, 20, and discovers that his later self had been visiting her from when she was six years old and until she was 18. She is already in love with him, while for him this is their first encounter. They develop a relationship and get married. There are several logical loops described that would not appear in a typical SF time travel scenario. For instance, the older Henry writes down for the child Clare a list of all the dates and times when he will visit her. Clare keeps this list and gives it to the 28 year-old Henry when they first meet, so that he can memorize the list to give her younger self. It is made clear that this time travel does not imply multiple universes splitting off with every change, and that what happened in a time travel incident cannot be changed. The paradoxes often discussed in time travel stories have no place here. Everything seems inevitable.

The story is presented in sections, each one starting with the date(s) and the age(s) of Henry and Clare, which makes it easier for the reader to piece together the sequence of events. We follow their attempts to live a normal life, with the constant knowledge that at any moment Henry could disappear on a time travel incident (or reappear from one), or that a Henry from a different time could appear. This shadow of uncertainty is similar, but in a more extreme form, to what we all experience about our futures. On some level, we are all aware of our mortality (and that of our loved ones), and the risk that at any moment our sheltered lives could be changed forever by various extreme events. In this case, both Henry and Clare suspect that there will be no happy ending, and despite or because of this, they focus their energies on trying to find a genetic cure.

The story and characters are poignant, and the descriptions of both everyday life and the characters' emotions are vivid and realistic. This is a story of love surviving in difficult circumstances.

Details of Hebrew translation.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Five ways to be more considerate

Being considerate involves awareness of other people's perspective, and action to make life better for others, not just for oneself. Here are some examples of things one can do, and what not to do, all taken from everyday life.

1. Be tidy. Imagine that public places are your own private living room, just minutes before you're going to have visitors you want to impress. You wouldn't want litter all over the floor, chewing gum stuck where people can tread or sit on it, or graffiti with names or slogans painted on the walls.

2. Be efficient. When you are queueing (waiting in line), you can save time for people after you if you have your money (or bus pass, or tickets) ready when required, instead of just starting to search your bag or pockets when asked.

3. Be aware of space use. When you stop to look in shop windows or talk to people, make sure you are not blocking the whole of the pavement (sidewalk) or walk space. This is particularly relevant if you have a child in a pram (stroller). More importantly, don't block the area at the top or bottom of escalators. When people reach the end of an escalator, they have to step off it, and if the space in front is blocked, this could cause a pile-up of people who have no other option but to move forward.

4. Be quiet. Public spaces are full of noise - traffic, conversation, in some places music. You can reduce the total noise by having a relatively quiet ring tone on your phone, and limiting your conversations when in public. People riding with you on the train or bus don't want to spend the entire journey hearing you talking. If you are with someone else, make them the priority, and try to postpone any phone conversations you get. It's more polite to tell someone "I'll phone you back" than to give the phone call precedence over the person you are with.

5. Be health-conscious. Some of the things people do in public can harm the health of others. Specifically, smoking and leaving the car engine running. Personally, I am strongly opposed to smoking and would be overjoyed if everyone in the world could give up. However, people who do smoke can still become considerate of others by being aware of how the smoke spreads. Don't smoke where it is forbidden by law, and try to find somewhere out of doors, far from other people. I can smell smoke from 10-20 meters away, and sometimes have to move quite a long way from where I was standing just to avoid it. Also, be aware that a strong smell of smoke sticks to the smoker for several minutes after smoking. People who throw away their cigarettes just before getting on a bus or train are still exhaling smoke inside the carriage... As for leaving the car engine running while the car is stopped (some people do this to keep the air conditioning on while they wait for someone), this causes pollution which is bad for everyone's health and also for the environment. Switch off the engine when you park the car.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

International Networking Week conference

Yesterday I attended the International Networking Week conference, organized by BNI (Business Network International), the networking organization to which I belong. This year's Israel conference was held at Xanadu in Petah Tikva. Over 300 people attended.

The conference was hosted by BNI Israel's Co-National Director, Ms. Yarden Noy. It opened with a video greeting recorded by BNI Founder and Chairman, Dr. Ivan Misner.

Yossi Bar-El of the Graduate School of Business at the College of Management spoke about the concept of co-opetition (cooperative competition).

Adv. Yehuda Talmon, Director of Lahav, the Israel Self-Employed Association, spoke about the status of small and medium businesses in Israel, which constitute 98.6% of businesses, but do not benefit from the sort of laws that protect this sector in other countries.

Prof. Oren Kaplan of the College of Management gave a fascinating lecture on the relatively new field of Positive Psychology. He spoke about the lack of causal connection between money and happiness, stating that over a certain level of income, money makes no contribution to people's happiness. On the other hand, happy people earn 30% more than unhappy people. His conclusion was that success doesn't lead to happiness, but happiness can lead to success. Among the factors that increase people's happiness is the happiness of their friends. This is one of the important aspects of networking, and supports something I reported in an earlier post.

Adv. John Geva, the legal advisor of the Association of Insurance Brokers & Agents in Israel, gave tips for business owners, such as how to pay in installments by credit card so that the payments can be cancelled in case of non-delivery, and how to add a beneficiary to insurance policies.

After lunch, we heard from Mr. Dan Pinhasi, of Clal Finance, about managing pension funds and investments during the recession (a lecture somewhat at odds with the conference's slogan "I Refuse to Participate in the Recession"), and from Mr. Yariv Sapir, VP of marketing at Clal Finance, on the psychology of the investor, who noted that 85% of our everyday decisions are irrational.

We then had a networking session at the tables, and I chaired the activity at my table.

After that, the conference's Guest of Honour, MK Shelly Yacimovich, spoke about her social-democratic vision and how this applies to small businesses. She has always opposed the excessive power of the large magnates (both in her previous career as a journalist and in her legislative activities in the Knesset).

The conference ended with an inspiring talk from BNI Israel's Director, Sam Schwartz. He emphasized BNI's philosophy of Givers Gain, saying one should give without remembering and receive without forgetting. He suggested several ways of finding new business referrals and contacts, and maintaining good relations with existing customers.

The annual International Networking Week conference is always one of the high points of my year. This year's experience made clear to me how I have developed over the past two and a half years of BNI membership. BNI has helped me develop my public speaking abilities and think about the marketing of my business through word-of-mouth (which has always been my main form of marketing). From a shy and introverted person I have become much more confident and outgoing. I have taken on several leadership positions within my group (BNI Haifa), and am currently in the middle of my six-month term as Chair ("President") of the group ("chapter"). I recently chaired a Visitors' Day with over 90 people present. My BNI experience also enabled me to give my first professional lecture last year, at the 2008 ITA conference. I have calculated that in 2007 and 2008, about one third of my income came from referrals.

I encourage readers who are self-employed or small business owners to visit a local meeting of BNI (click here for the chapter search).

More importantly, I have shared this experience to show readers that it is possible to change and to become a different person. Think about who you would like to become, and believe that you can achieve it. Work on becoming that sort of person, even if at first it feels like you're pretending. Fake it till you make it (I didn't like this slogan when I first encountered it, but it works). Our thoughts determine our reality, and our self-image certainly determines our personality. You can change your self-image and your personality to a greater degree than you would believe possible. It's just a matter of practice, habit and determination.