FIGHTING WORDS

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

The Conference by the Bay

By Steve Goldstein, Editor

The 48th Annual ATA Conference
San Francisco
October 31 – November 3, 2007

“The convention seemed to capture the current wave of interest and enthusiasm that is rippling through the translator world, as most convention-goers seemed to sense that the tide is in the process of being turned—that it is perhaps not now unthinkable that our professional pride and prestige will soon take on greater and more justified proportions.”

Those words were written 29 years ago, by a young translator and writer; an emissary from the West Coast to the 19th Annual ATA Conference in New York, who had, just a few short months prior, been a part of the birth of his own local organization, the Northern California Translators Association, in San Francisco.

The President of NCTA at the time—a man who had taken that young translator under his wing in the nascent organization—had just been elected President of ATA as well, and was about to take office at the New York conference. This was an unheard-of and unprecedented occurrence—a West Coast president of what was at the time a largely East Coast organization. There was electricity in the air, and our young translator would get to write about it, in the unofficial conference coverage report. He would also bring back some of that momentum with him to San Francisco, where a small group of his colleagues was already at work building the foundation for what would in time become one of the national organization’s strongest local chapters.

Times have changed since 1978, of course. That NCTA and ATA President, Thomas Bauman, is sadly no longer with us to see some of the important changes that his work initiated and continued; changes at the national level, certainly, where our profession has indeed come a long way—although not without having continued obstacles to overcome. Today, ATA is of course no longer just a regional organization, but it’s not just a national one, either; today, it is a powerful international professional association of over 10,000 members around the world.

But changes have occurred at the local level, too. And nowhere, perhaps, has the example been more instructive than here in San Francisco. ATA has brought its annual conference back to the birthplace of its most active chapter several times in the past three decades, watching as NCTA continued its own robust growth, built as always on the infectious enthusiasm of dedicated and tireless local volunteers who believe in working together to strengthen their profession.

Today, that dedication continues, through NCTA’s active role as the host chapter of the just-concluded 48th Annual ATA Conference in our City by the Bay, and via this special Translorial supplement reporting on the event. In these pages, we look at the conference from a variety of perspectives that may not always be found in the standard, straight-ahead reporting of the conference, as that information is available elsewhere. It is, instead, a decidedly more human approach because, well … translators are people, too, and that always seems the more interesting viewpoint, doesn’t it?

All those who are reading these words owe a debt of gratitude to their NCTA colleagues who did double-duty at the conference: as regular attendees, trying to learn and network and grow their own careers and businesses, and as your reporters, to give you a taste of the conference that you might not have otherwise had the opportunity to savor. Without their dedication and sacrifice—including that of Oscar Arteta and the tireless Christopher Queen, who took our terrific photographs—this supplement wouldn’t have been possible, and so to them I say, Thank you!

Has the tide in fact turned for our profession, since twenty-nine years ago? Certainly. But there’s still more turning to do, and while our young translator from that bygone era is no longer so young, he’s still here—to keep learning, growing … and working, to help turn that tide.

Unwinding:Mastering the Conference Schedule

By Marilyn Luong, with Karen Tkaczyk and Andrea Bindereif

Which session to attend? How can I be in three places at once? I don’t have time for that lunch! … Sound familiar? Here’s a way to take the stress out of a conference.

Into the chaos of the multi-story complex I darted, ready to tackle the 48th annual ATA conference. Then I stopped; stopped to look at the map, stopped to decide which session to attend, stopped to breathe, and stopped to relax. The ATA conference has a lot to offer, but to take advantage of those offerings, I realized that I needed to focus, and, more importantly, that I needed to be calm and relaxed, alert and awake. So, instead of rushing to another session, I rushed back to my room. To take a nap!

When we are refreshed, we can absorb more from the sessions, we can sound more coherent when networking with our colleagues, we can be more convincing when discussing a business strategy with a potential partner we meet at the conference. But, in the hustle and bustle of all the meeting rooms and exhibit booths, where is there a reprieve? The answer is hidden in the corner of the exhibit hall, where you’ll find the massage corner, offering free massages. It is okay to take a few minutes from the activity filled day to forget about finding more translation business. The business will always be there; better to address it when you are relaxed from a massage!

On the move

Another way to ease the burden of a busy schedule is through exercise. The morning yoga class at this year’s conference has now become a regular, annual feature. As the instructor in previous years was not able to be present this year, a freelance French-English financial translator, Stephanie Tramdack Cash, took over the program, called it “Stretch, Move, & Breathe,” and offered a very pleasant morning wake-up call. Rather than being a pure yoga class, it was more diverse, taking the best of Ms. Cash’s experience with yoga, Martha Graham modern dance technique, ballet, and Qi Gong: sore feet were surprisingly well taken care of! The classes were well attended, with the available space pleasantly full, which made the attendees full of energy for the day ahead.

Still another exercise activity that relaxes you is taking a walk. To get through three long days of workshops, training sessions, panel discussions, and networking—three days of being exposed to artificial light and air-conditioned rooms—a walk does wonders!

So it was no surprise that about 15 people were eagerly awaiting the second walking tour on Saturday evening, right after the conference officially ended and before everybody got ready for dinner or other entertainment. And the tour was well chosen: Marilyn Straka, a knowledgeable guide who showed a true passion for the lesser-known beauties of San Francisco’s business district, gave the group a well-rounded view of the area. After a brief introduction to the history of the City, she took the walkers to the parrots of Telegraph Hill and showed them some of the spectacular fountains and little squares, always sprinkling historical facts with interesting anecdotes, and sharing quirky stories and little oddities. The group then went on to the art deco murals of Rincon Center, the market shops of the Ferry Building, and finally a walk on the pier at the Embarcadero. Fortunately, the weather was rather warm and the group enjoyed a beautiful view of the Skyline at sunset. Our visitors from out of town were clearly impressed and seemed to have fallen in love with our City. A huge thank you to Naomi Baer for organizing and coordinating this popular activity!

Finally, to relax at the conference, when we meet someone new we don’t need to talk only about  translation; we can unwind by talking just as friends. This is a good way to remember what is truly important in life. So next time you face a hard translation project, or a tough interpretation assignment, or even the daunting schedule of an ATA conference, remember the techniques of unwinding that are available from meetings such as this one. Relax, gather, and compose yourself. Stretch. Take a walk. And a nap. And loosen up with colleagues.

Only then will you be ready for the chaos.

From Butterflies to Bouquets: Trials of a First-Time Presenter

By Karen Tkaczyk

What’s it like to stand up in front of scores of people you don’t know and make a presentation? Even more interesting, what’s it like to prepare for it?

October 31st—there I was heading off for San Francisco with my slides prepared. It had all begun at the closing reception of the ATA conference in New Orleans last year. I was chatting with friends and they started talking about what they would like to see the following year. I impulsively said “Maybe I could do something?” and that was that. They encouraged me and I came home wondering about aspects of my work that would lend themselves to an educational session. It had been a number of years since I had given any sort of professional talk, so it felt like a new experience.

I submitted a proposal to ATA in March of this year to present on the topic of “Terminology for French>English Technical Cosmetic Translation.” In June I heard that it had been accepted. I had 90 minutes worth of content and handouts to plan and, optionally, a paper to write for the conference proceedings. ATA regularly sent out “speaker checklist” emails to keep me informed and on track in my preparations. I received emails in the ensuing months from people who had seen my name on the schedule and wanted to talk to me about the content or to wish me all the best. There was a huge amount of support and encouragement from my colleagues.

I submitted a paper on the topic during the summer and sent in my handouts, and then finished my slides in the days leading up to the conference. As my talk included both technical and language-specific material, I had asked both a cosmetic chemist and French-to-English translators to take a look and to give me their impressions. I received feedback that my talk was very interesting, sufficiently in-depth to be challenging, and well-structured, but possibly too long for a 90-minute slot. I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine how I was going to make it last the full 90 minutes!

Now it was time to be there, and to be a speaker. The specialness starts when you register and you receive a “Speaker” tag to stick to your conference badge. Nothing like the badge of NCTA President Tuomas Kostiainen’s rainbow collection of tabs, of course, but still, it was a great ice breaker. As people walk around looking at your tummies trying to pick up the information contained on the badge, my “Speaker” identification was a natural way to get conversations started. Many people asked me about the topic of my presentation, and whether I was nervous.

Ah, that subject of nerves. My presentation was not until Saturday afternoon. That left a lot of time to become nervous. I was fine as I arrived, excited about attending the conference and meeting up with trusted colleagues whom I had never met in person or had not seen for a year, and I wasn’t bothered about the fact that I was speaking. I handed in my electronic file for the DVD upon arrival so that I would not be tempted to spend time tweaking it further.

Countdown to success

It would have been wonderful to have had an early slot and get the presentation out of the way, but that was not the case. My first nerves appeared on Friday. I asked the ever-helpful ATA staff if there was a speaker-ready room that I could use to practice my setup; “No, not this year,” came the reply. Nerves gripped me. ATA staffer Teresa Kelly took me aside and answered all my questions reassuringly, particularly regarding the technical help that would be available as I set up my laptop and microphone.

As Friday evening approached I was becoming nervous. My roommate helped with wardrobe indecision on Saturday morning. Eating lunch on Saturday was a challenge, but I was with friendly, reassuring people who kept things light-hearted. When I arrived at the room the technical help was indeed present and efficient, and they handled the minor details, such as screen settings, that I assumed I would have to do myself. The room was soon pleasantly full, and included plenty of faces who were known to me.

During the presentation, the time flashed by. I was really enjoying telling people about the subject, to the extent that I lost track of time about halfway through and did not get through all of my slides. Next time, I’ll take a stopwatch to keep myself on track!

Next time, you say? Yes, it was a great experience. My audience asked for Part Two next year since I hadn’t finished my material. Whether or not that happens, I will look forward to sharing what I know with other groups at other times. All in all, being a presenter was a very satisfying, and rewarding, experience.

Between the Cracks: the Non-Session Sessions

By Luis Salvago-Toledo

Sure, you could learn how to deconstruct a Brazilian legal document. Or combine Windows and Linux on your computer. But what if you just had to play a game of Scrabble?

It isn’t easy to think of any place on earth that can, acre for acre, offer as much human variety, and its accompanying linguistic flair, as San Francisco. Still, at times The City finds a way to outdo itself—even if just for a few days. One such rare occasion was the ATA conference.

Educational and informational sessions and seminars, plus the opportunities of the job marketplace, were the main magnets pulling most attendees. A variety of other incentives, however, were also available. Some of them became the blinking lights directing my footsteps.

Although I didn’t participate, I made a point of watching part of the tennis tournament held at the San Francisco Tennis Club. I was glad to be present, and see our own Sharlee Merner Bradley, who—while waiting with scouting eyes and alert mind and limbs for her opponent’s serve—typified those who delight in the nectar of life and, when drinking it, never leave in the glass a single drop to waste.

Bob Croese, the tournament organizer from Michigan, was a fine representative of those without whom associations like ATA and ours couldn’t exist—the volunteer. How many hours did he devote to making the event possible? Suspecting his disinclination to track such figures, I didn’t ask. To make his involvement more poignant, at the last minute some unexpected player appeared. With sportive gallantry, Bob yielded his own slot to the newcomer. Way to go, Bob … maybe you’ll get to play next year.

When I stopped by to watch the Scrabble players in the evening, I noticed the similarities in the mental attitudes of these players and their tennis counterparts. There they were, the word warriors, misleadingly making us think that, by being seated, they were at rest. Hardly so. Scrabble may lack a physical component, but, like in tennis, the body assumes the effect of the mind’s continuous engagement. A winning move uplifts both mind and body; its lack is also felt in both realms. To be engaged is the common denominator joining both groups.

Of course, in addition to Scrabble and tennis, there were a multitude of other extracurricular activities, including separate dinners organized by the various language divisions of ATA (Japanese: spicy!; French: long!), an After Hours Café for literary readings, stretching sessions, and informal networking all over the place.

In addition, opportunities for engagement were always present within the confines of the conference. I had breakfast with members of the board on two occasions, including the first meeting of the new Board of Directors, where I, and other conference attendees, were warmly welcomed. My main motivation was to get a feeling of the “character” of the board at work, mainly the interaction of its members and how convincingly decisions were made.

Such curiosity stemmed from some previous negative experiences. Over the years, I have witnessed enough board decisions being made in an atmosphere that did nothing to dignify the process. One or two members were allowed to decide the direction of the event, while the rest felt comfortable with their expected rubberstamping. As far as the new board goes, Jiri Stejskal, our new ATA president, seemed to be aware of the difference between “presiding” and “directing.” The overall impression the meeting left on me was very positive. Issues were discussed back and forth until everyone felt ready to vote on the item in question. Willingness and readiness to get things done, in my opinion, were their guiding stars. Their unhurried adherence to time I saw as an additional plus.

As for obtaining feedback from the general membership, the gathering following the Closing Session was ideal. The event practically over, this was the time to listen. Comparisons between the San Francisco and New Orleans conferences popped up right away. Some felt that last year’s sessions offered more; others weren’t so sure. To many, the noise level in the vicinity of the lecture areas was a problem before, and still is. I fear that this issue can only be ameliorated, but never eliminated. On the other hand, some of us felt that one of the most striking improvements over last year’s conference was the registration area. Unlike at the prior event, at no time did I feel there was congestion. The larger space helped.

In closing, while the sessions were on the whole informative and interesting, it is fair to ask: How was everything else? Considering the demanding preparation for the event, its many-faceted implementation, and the huge numbers of attendees to accommodate, I feel ATA’s performance in delivering its extra-curricular events may be summed up in an eternal adage: Veni, vidi, vici.

21st Century Language: Russian at the Conference

By Nina Bogdan

How are changes in a language over the years noted and measured? One little-considered way is to identify the presentations made on it at successive ATA conferences.

One role of ATA in our modern world is to follow certain trends in the evolution of language use. These trends are linked to the commercial need for translators and interpreters in certain language pairs. The evolution of language in general is a fascinating topic, but love of language alone is not enough to ensure a language professional’s economic survival. The varied selection of Russian language workshops at the ATA conference this year covered many of its “flavors,” from “1001 Ways of Translating Children’s Poetry from Russian into English” to “Chemistry 1: Basic Nomenclature of Organic and Inorganic Compounds.” The latter workshop was, unfortunately, cancelled, but deserves mention as it represented the far end of the specialty spectrum.

The last twenty years have been significant for the Russian language. The breakup of the Soviet Union  has actually caused a decrease in the use of Russian, as many former republics have moved to revive use of their own native, and neglected, languages and to discourage the use of Russian as the primary means of communication. In fact, according to Nicholas Ostler, in his book Empires of the Word, A Language History of the World, Russian is the only current top ten language which is “…set to lose speakers in the twenty-first century.”

The rejection of Russian is not difficult to understand if one is at all cognizant of the role of the Soviet Union on the stage of world politics in the 20th century. Nevertheless, it was during Soviet rule that literacy rose to unprecedented levels in Russia and its republics, and the success of this policy was due to the standardization of Russian in the schoolroom and beyond.

The ironclad control of the Soviet government over every facet of its citizens’ lives is no more, and the evolution of Russian continues as Russian society itself and its institutions continue to evolve. One of the workshops offered at the conference, “Translation and Corporate Governance in Russia,” would not have been offered twenty years ago, simply because there were no corporations in Russia—as the Western world knows them—until relatively recently. With the vocabulary of the commercial and financial worlds having become an integral part of the Russian language, terms such as “Joint-Stock Company” and “Limited Liability Company” are now commonly used and known. Nevertheless, the word “business,” which is directly transliterated into Russian, still does not have positive connotations for most Russians.

A workshop that delved into the vocabulary of the world of law was titled “Translating Court Forms: Lessons Learned.” Legal terminology in general is another evolving branch of the Russian language. The main idea of this particular workshop was that, to better serve the Russian émigré community in the U.S., the Russian language must be manipulated and massaged to encompass American legal terms and concepts—no easy task, to be sure.

Workshops on grammar are, by necessity, ubiquitous, and this year was no exception, with the offering of “Aid for the Imperfectly Articulate: Tips on English Article Usage.” The Russian language does not have articles such as “the” and “an”, which can make translations into English rather challenging. This is unlikely to change no matter how much Russian evolves.

Finally, a workshop at the conference titled “The Susanne Greiss Lecture: Lost in Translation—the Verbal Content of Visual Art,” discussed the concept that works of art are deeply rooted in verbal culture. This particular topic had a specific interest for language professionals but the topics of Russian art and literature in general are of endless and timeless interest. Interestingly, even during the Soviet era, when the Russian language was undergoing what might be termed forced or unnatural change (the language of political repression or the penchant for acronyms to disguise real meaning, for example), there was never any real attempt to negate the contributions to language by Russia’s greatest 18th and 19th century writers and artists, specifically, of course, Alexander Pushkin, who is generally acknowledged to be the creator of modern Russian.

Of course, “modern” Russian is a relative concept like anything else, since the Russian of Eugene Onegin, one of Pushkin’s most famous works, is not the Russian of today’s high-tech, computer-driven world. The opening of Russia to the West by Peter the Great gave impetus to the introduction of many “foreign” (that is, Western European) words which unquestionably changed the language but also made it richer. And today, few, if any, people will say “электронно-вычислительная машина” (electronic calculating machine) rather than the English import “компьютер” (computer). Some may argue that this is a pollution of “real” Russian by imported words, but what is Russian, if not the culmination of centuries of linguistic imports and infusions, adopted and adapted, that have served to create the multi-faceted, complex and uniquely beautiful language that we speak today?

As we move forward in the 21st century, we wonder with interest what new presentations will be offered on the language at upcoming ATA conferences.