Thursday, February 11, 2010

ITA 2010 Conference

The Israel Translators Association (ITA) held its annual 2010 Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem on Feb 8-10 2010.

This conference is one of the high points of my professional year. I have been participating in the ITA's conferences since they started, and this is the eighth time I have attended the event. It is an opportunity to learn something about the professional and business aspects of my occupation, to meet translators and to make connections.

The first day of the conference is always devoted to workshops. These are either aimed at beginners, or focus on specialist subjects, so I only attend when there is a topic of particular interest to me. This year I skipped the workshops and arrived at the hotel in the evening, in time for the cocktail party and gala dinner.

The keynote speaker after dinner was Oren Nahari, journalist and foreign news editor at Channel One News (Israel's public television station). He spoke about the decision making process in the media. Specifically, he noted that when there is a choice between what is important and what is interesting, the interesting is always given precedence. This seems applicable to many aspects of life. There are things we want and things we need, and we are often tempted to choose pleasure over necessity. Television news is supposed to tell people what they need to know, but instead it often has to tell them what they want to know. For example, celebrities get more attention than important but unglamorous news. Nahari mentioned that 83% of the Israeli public gets most of its information from television, but later contradicted this by noting the decline in viewing numbers and the rise of the use of online sources. I suppose it is not easy to get this sort of data, but either way this lecture seemed to support my decision not to have a television at all. I learn about the news from a combination of print newspapers, radio, web news sites and blogs, and I have no way of knowing whether the information I get is any more accurate than what is provided by television. At least it is less influenced by the power of pictures (or video).

Day Two opened with a plenary lecture on Humour and the Bible, by author Ephraim Sidon and illustrator Danny Kerman. As they noted, there is not much humour within the Bible, but biblical stories have been the basis for humour, both verbal and graphic, particularly in the last two centuries.

The first session started with Andrew Wilson, author of Translators on Translating: Inside the Invisible Art. The invisibility of the translator is sometimes considered essential - the translated work is supposed to read as if it had been written in the target language. The translator is also invisible in another way, by not being given credit for the work in the same way as the author. The final product is always someone else's. This seems to be an interesting book, and I may read and review it.

The next lecture was by Jeffrey Green, on the way literary translators need to read and understand texts in order to translate them in a literary form equivalent to the original work. This talk touched on the constant tension of form and content. A factual translation will focus mainly on conveying the content in the target language, but in literature the form, style, tone and register are equally important.

After lunch, Rachel Halevy, who edits translations into Hebrew, spoke about the role of the editor. It seems that in Israel, many editors think their duty is to lay down the law about which words and grammatical forms should and should not be used. Since Hebrew is a small language, such restrictions limit it even further. The long history of the language enables many alternate usages, and so the decisions editors make to permit particular forms and ban others are often completely arbitrary. She noted that Israeli authors use a range of language that editors of translations into Hebrew would probably find unacceptable. Instead, she suggests, the role of translation editors should be to catch "translationese" that the translator couldn't see, and to propose alternatives that sound better in terms of the musicality of the sentence or the register.

Then we heard the preliminary findings of some interesting research conducted by Prof. Rakefet Sela-Sheffey of Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Dr. Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan University. The study investigated the professional self-image and status of translators and interpreters in Israel. On the one hand, translators possess great power as cultural mediators. On the other hand, the profession has a weak image, is unappreciated and low paying. Translators are considered invisible, they work behind the scenes, and their efforts are in the service of someone else's text. The self-image and social status of translators was assessed by studying published interviews with literary translators (the elite of the profession, at least in the public eye), and interviews were conducted with working translators of various sorts. The elite literary translators tend to view translation as an art, as a calling or a destiny rather than a profession. They consider it to depend on personal skills and qualities, and some even consider the issue of payment to be irrelevant. At the same time, the ITA is trying to professionalize translators by teaching them business skills. Translators have to decide where they stand on the spectrum between art and business.

In the afternoon session, I heard Perry Zamek speak about using e-mail and e-mail groups for professional communication. As a reasonably technologically skilled professional, I didn't learn much I didn't know, but this was a useful lecture for many of the audience members.

There followed a lecture by Uri Bruck on translating websites. This was an important and familiar topic, as I am often asked to translate websites. The first problem is in providing a quotation and schedule for the translation, particularly when the customer says: "Look at the website and tell me how much it will cost and how long it will take". It is difficult or impossible to count the words on a website, especially a complex one with many links. Uri recommended ideally getting access to the website's content management system, or failing that, receiving the text for translation in a Word document or html. It is also important to proof-read the translation once the website is live.

That evening we had a tour of Jerusalem, about which I will write later.

The second day opened with a plenary lecture by Jost Zetzsche on the importance of using technology in translating. He argued that translators have been missing out by resisting new technologies instead of embracing them, with the result that software has been adapted to the needs of companies rather than translators. Personally, I am still skeptical about the need for translation memory tools for the sort of work I do, but my attitude may change eventually.

The morning session started with Don Jacobson speaking about translating for the construction business. It is always interesting to hear about other fields of specialization. Don translates for international construction projects where English is the common second language shared by people from many countries and backgrounds. There is a wide variety of documentation types, and many sub-fields, each with its own technology. Many of the documents are written by engineers who may be experts, but are not usually good at communicating. In this field, he also stressed, it is important to have professional liability insurance, and to explain to the customer that the translation must be checked carefully.

Next, Rina Ne'eman, owner of a prominent translation company in New Jersey, gave a lecture on freelance translators and how they can become more business-like. She gave many useful tips on how to be a successful entrepreneur, both in terms of practical behaviour and in terms of attitudes and presentation. While I agree with almost everything in principle, the way it was presented was as a sort of ideal of the sort of freelance translator a language service provider would like to work with. This person, it appears, must adopt a work-first attitude. While it is true that people who don't check their e-mail frequently may miss opportunities, the idea of being available for work all the time seems a bit excessive to me. I believe even the most dedicated professional is entitled to take time off and switch off mobile phones. Most translators work for several customers (direct customers or translation agencies), and sometimes have to refuse work from one customer due to prior work commitments for others. In the same way, I think even professionals can afford to refuse (or miss out on) work when they need to spend time with family, friends or themselves. Our work should be one part of our lives, one part of our identities, and it is important to find the right balance between wanting to gain a good reputation and satisfy the needs of our customers, and other aspects of life.

The session continued with former ITA Chair Micaela Ziv presenting the ITA's new Recognition program. This will be the first step towards ITA Certification. The recognition will be granted to ITA members who meet the criteria regarding training and work experience. I intend to gain this recognition, and will write about this in greater detail when relevant. Micaela also described the ITA's mentoring program, which helps new translators gain experience and confidence with help from experienced professionals.

Fabienne Bergman then spoke about her experience of collaborative translating. She helped translate a book from Czech to French, without knowing Czech. Her contribution was related to understanding the content and adapting the language to the appropriate style and register.

This conference was worthwhile as usual. I enjoyed the lectures, meeting translators I knew and also new people, the hotel and the guided tour. I look forward to next year's conference.


Perry said...

Thanks for the mention on your blog. I would say, having worked with Rina Ne'eman, that she is well aware that translators have a life apart from their work. And she understands that we can't always take up the jobs she is offering. On the other hand, when a job is offered, a response - even if negative - should be given as soon as possible, so that alternative sources can be found. And, if a translator turns down work too often, that translator will no longer receive work offers. There's a certain give and take in this area.

Ruth Ludlam said...

Thanks, Perry. I didn't mean to imply that Rina expected every translator to be available all the time, but it seemed like a more "work-first" attitude than I usually encounter. This may be suitable for some people, but not all.

Nina Rimon Davis said...

Thank you, Ruth, for your comprehensive review. Especially of the two lectures that you attended and I missed -- Don Jacobson's, and Rina's (though I've heard her before and am familiar with what she has to say.)