Friday, February 27, 2009

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.

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