Volume 31, Number 3

In our high-tech world, the ATA exam continues to be a low-tech institution. BY NINA BOGDAN

The decision to take the ATA certification exam is based on a number of factors, one of which is whether or not the individual translator is at the stage of their career that they are ready. There is nothing more frustrating than spending the time preparing for the exam (and paying the substantial fee) and then not passing.
ATA statistics on this issue make it clear that novice translators, for example, those who have just graduated with a degree in a foreign language—even an advanced degree—should not expect to pass the exam. The overall pass rate for the ATA exam is under 20%. These statistics are not broken down by language combinations as, according to Terry Hanlen, ATA Deputy Executive Director and Certification Program Manager, this would be like comparing apples and oranges since some language combinations have hundreds of exams while others only have five. → continue reading


In this first part of a two-part series we look at how certification fits into the language provider’s business plan. BY NINA BOGDAN
Quote to ATA exam.
In the eight years since 9/11, analysis of events, policy debates, and proposals for change have steadily continued in one venue or another. The one conclusion that seems irrefutable is that we, as a nation, were woefully unprepared when it comes to the application of translation and interpreting skills. There were many references to a purported backlog of Arabic language material left untranslated at such a critical time. This led to revelations of our lack of qualified linguists in other “critical” languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Farsi. → continue reading


An ATA-sponsored translation tools seminar in San Francisco provided information about ways to increase professional productivity. BY RON TISCHLER
Morning instructor Rosalie Wells.The translation tools seminar held on March 14, 2009 at the Westin Market Street in San Francisco was divided into morning and afternoon sessions, plus there were exhibitors, a networking session, and a parade! The parade down Market Street, which seemed to have something to do with the color green, could be watched (until you got too cold) during the lunch break. The morning session, given by Rosalie Wells was titled “Productivity Tools for the Professional Translator.” The afternoon session, given by Dierk Seeburg of IcoText, was titled “Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) Tools, from Term Extraction to Integrated Translation Environments.” There were about 100 attendees and four exhibitors: Across, Payment Practices, Total Recall (product named Snowball), and Wordfast.
→ continue reading


Poolside breakfast to gear up for the workshops of the day.

Poolside breakfast to gear up for the workshops of the day.

The 2008 ATA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida drew a diverse crowd and positive reviews from NCTA attendees. Poolside receptions, balmy weather, and great workshops were enjoyed by all. BY KAREN TKACZYK, FARAH ARJANG VEZVAEE, AND RENATE CHESTNUT. → continue reading


A report on a workshop for candidates planning to take the ATA certification examination. BY NORMA KAMINSKY

On August 23, Tuomas Kostiainen, NCTA President and member of the ATA Certification committee, who has been an ATA exam grader, once again stepped up to share his knowledge, experience, and advice with translators contemplating taking the ATA Certification Exam. Tuomas’ presentation included a discussion of the exam itself, reasons to take it, explanations of eligibility requirements, skills tested in the exam, grading, preparation, planning, types of errors, and tips for success. → continue reading


By Alison Dent

You’d think that handling the press would be easy for an industry that deals with words. But maybe not.

I think everyone who attended the 48th Annual ATA Conference here in San Francisco last October would agree that it was a great success. Hard work and many hours of volunteer time went into the conference, the pro bono project work, and the effort to get local publicity. On the first day of the conference, in fact, reporter Steve Rubenstein of the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed ATA President Marian Greenfield and ATA Public Relations Committee Co-chair Kevin Hendzel. The resulting article, “Translation business booming—terrorists’ languages most lucrative,” was published the next day.

War means business

Although the article successfully captured some of the buzz of the conference, it was impossible to ignore the one point that stood out above all others, and which ultimately served as the basis for the blaring headline: the message that war is good for business. While this statement may be a truism, was this really what ATA had intended to convey? Or, had the words of Ms. Greenfield and Mr. Hendzel been twisted in undue emphasis?

It didn’t take long for the NCTA members’ Yahoo! group to light up with animated discussions among members over this article and its intended message. One member felt strongly that the misrepresentation began within the leadership of ATA, and wrote a lengthy letter to the NCTA Board expressing his concerns. NCTA then contacted the ATA Board to solicit its reaction to the Chronicle article and request clarification of the intended message.

In Mr. Hendzel’s reply to NCTA, he confirmed that the reporter, Mr. Rubenstein, intended to focus on the business side of the T&I industry. However, nothing was published about this subject: neither about the international commercial market associated with globalization, for example, nor about the U.S. domestic market, an area that is growing rapidly as hospitals, courts, and other public venues are beginning to provide translation and interpreting services in response to Presidential Executive Order 13166—topics which were talked about at length in the interview. Instead, Mr. Rubenstein—or his editors—stuck like a dog with a bone to the deliberately controversial notion of war being great for business, despite repeated efforts by Mr. Hendzel to steer him away from this.

Selling out; selling more

“How much can you earn?” “What are the ‘hottest’ languages?” These are the questions that reporters are trained to ask, believing that this is what most people really want to hear about. In the world of journalism, the answers to these questions, after all, create the headlines that sell newspapers. And yes, it was an eye-catching headline; yes, it made us read the article; and yes, we did talk about it at length afterwards. But does that mean that the article accurately portrayed the event and circumstances it was meant to cover? No, far from it. While the article did remind the public that translation is not all done by software on the Internet, it offered very little useful or interesting information about our profession. As with the lack of mention of business issues cited above, there was also no mention of the human side of translating—of any positive contributions made by translators and interpreters in war zones, for example, such as providing assistance in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts. Or of the lowering of civilian and religious conflict by allowing the various parties to communicate.

Somehow the old adage of there being “no such thing as bad publicity” just didn’t hold true in this case. Instead, with its emphasis on the sensational aspects of war-mongering, the article portrayed our profession in a negative, ambulance-chasing light. Because in the world of journalism, after all, sensationalism is what sells.

A different fight

In 2008, with ATA boasting over 10,000 members, and NCTA over 600 in this, our 30th anniversary year, we can look back and see that as a profession we have made great strides. But this episode has clearly demonstrated that we are not beyond having our words twisted. Jiri Stejskal, who took over as ATA President after the conference, agreed that the reporter’s slant was disturbing, and reflected poorly on ATA and the profession. Although a letter from ATA to the San Francisco Chronicle was reportedly being drafted, there is no information on any progress on the issue since then.

There is much, however, that we can still do. Specifically, we need to continue our efforts to get positive publicity for our profession; we need to educate our clients; and we need to get smarter about dealing with the press.

It’s time to use the tools of our trade—words—to fight for our cause