October 2018 – A Tale of Two Cities

The past two months have been a very busy time for WMTS. In between various projects, two events had been jotted in my diary for some time: the Peak Translations 40th Anniversary Conference in Manchester on October 5th and the CIOL Translator’s Workshop in Berlin on November 3rd. Both events were extremely useful, so much so that I thought I’d share an overview of them both and the main issues raised which are affecting our industry.

Peak Translations’ 40th Anniversary Conference, Imperial War Museum North, Manchester – October 5th 2018.

There could not have been a greater dichotomy between cold, dreary October weather and the warm, friendly atmosphere I encountered that Friday morning inside the Imperial War Museum North. After arriving early to take in the celebrated Poppies: Wave installation, I got chatting to some of my fellow translators and interpreters over coffee before the morning session began. Being that the act of translation is so often a solitary affair, it was a great opportunity to find out from others what they were working on and to share experiences: both good and bad.

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Poppies: Wave

The morning session began with a brief introduction from Peak Translations‘ very own Helen Provart followed by a get-to-know-you session for all attendees. As over forty translators and interpreters were present, a large portion of the morning was needed in order to get around everyone. This said, it was fantastic to see the diversity of language pairs and specialisms currently situated in the North-West.

Following a short break, Helen then gave a short presentation on post-editing machine translation (PEMT) explaining its evolution from rule to statistical-based translation as well as more recent developments with the advent of neural machine translation. As its presence in the marketplace continues to grow, the topics up for discussion included the nuts and bolts of how machine translation works, the potential challenges and benefits of engaging with the technology and the current training available for those looking to keep up with the rapid technological innovations shaping the potential future of the industry.

This glance into the technological haze was followed swiftly by Emmanuelle Parker who gave an interesting insight into the day-to-day of a voiceover artist. She discussed her personal motivations for moving into the sector from translation as well as giving a brief overview of how the industry works. What stood out for me was Emmanuelle’s description of the need for a voiceover artist to truly believe and be invested in the project at hand, whether it be an enthusiastic product advertisement or mimicking the enthusiastic inflections and intonations of the red-carpet commentator.

To finish off the morning session there was also a brief discussion on subtitling (a topic which I will also touch on later in this post). Once again, Helen Provart gave an engaging overview of subtitling methodologies as well as pricing structures and relevant available training. Of those present, few had prior experience of subtitling and a major conversation point centred around the perceived need for heavy investment, both monetary and time, in subtitling software packages and video editing.

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Changing format for the afternoon session, attendees were given the choice of attending one of two planned workshops: Multilingual Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or Video Conferencing. In the vein hope of being able to understand exactly what it is that my brother does for a living, I opted for SEO.

After a lively discussion about what SEO constitutes and how its application can make the difference between the success and failure of a website in attracting the attention of prospective clients, we were let in on some handy trade hints and tips for improving the search-ability of even the most arbitrary-seeming elements of website design. The overarching message that I received from the session was never to underestimate the importance of ‘doing the work’ of designing a website and its content in such a way that will render it as visible as possible to both search engines and those dream clients out there in the internet ether that we all wish for, but may never connect with simply because they just don’t know that you exist. It was a fascinating talk for a relative layperson such as myself and in addition, I can now have an semi-intelligible SEO-related conversation with my big brother rather than getting bogged-down in the quagmire of acronyms and technical jargon.

The day ended with a lively Q&A session for all the presenters as well as members of the Peak Translations team and a representative from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Many present took this opportunity to express their fears and worries around the impact of Brexit on our industry. Despite the continuing political uncertainty, those present, many of European descent, maintained an overall positive outlook for translation post-Brexit and shared the opinion that the industry would benefit more from these type of collaborative events so graciously organised by fantastic teams at Peak Translations and the North-West Translator’s Network.

Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) Translators’ Workshop, Berlin – November 3rd 2018.

The SORAT Ambassador Hotel, set in the shadow of the Tiergarten along Bayreuther Straße, was the setting for this fantastically informative event. I have to admit that it had been a while since I last visited Berlin, but this workshop organised by the CIOL German Society was well worth the trip.

Following a brief introduction from Jadwiga Bobrowska, the day began with a fascinating presentation by Richard Delaney on the subject of certified legal translations. During his thoroughly engaging talk, Richard discussed the legal basis for safeguarding the fairness of criminal proceedings under European Directive 2010/64/EU, as well as the differing protocols and standards inherent in the British and German legal systems. He noted that in Germany, court translators work both into and out of their target languages which stands in contrast to the CIOL’s own Code of Conduct. Richard also talked about the difficulty of ensuring quality translations within the UK given that no enforceable restrictions or limitations on potentially inexperienced freelancers currently exist. As has been the case for a while in Germany, Richard also noted under the aforementioned EU directive that Courts should “endeavour to establish registers” of sworn/approved translators to carry out this type of work. To this end, he made a plea to the CIOL to produce either a stamp or seal, a certified translator status or specific qualification which could be used by its members to confirm the accuracy and trustworthiness of the work they produce for criminal court cases. I, among others present, agreed with such a proposal as well as a revised draft of the self-certification documentation recently offered up by the CIOL. This truly was an presentation packed with insight and set the tone for the three remaining presentations.

After a short break, we recommenced with a discussion on translating subtitles by Dörthe Busch. In her talk, Dörthe touched on the different formats currently used in subtitling along with the challenges faced by those working in the industry such as time constraints, where to position texts and the potential differences between what one hears and what one reads. She also gave an insight into the importance of understanding the natural steps of a video segment in order to ensure high-quality subtitling accompaniments. A demonstration of the software packages EZ Titles and Titlebee was given, featuring examples of work that Dörthe had previously undertaken. To finish off her section of the day, participants were invited to test our own subtitling savvy using another example video on the differing meaning of hand gestures across cultures and languages. A nice bit of fun which some of us all fingers and thumbs!

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The afternoon session started with perhaps the most anticipated presentation of the day: The Key to Music Translation by Janet and Michael Berridge. I thoroughly enjoyed this talk, especially learning about Janet and Michael’s extensive knowledge and experience of working in the music industry, with particular focus on classical music and composers. They described how, for many years, they have worked with record industry and independent music clients on various type of materials including CD booklet notes, artist biographies and press statements to name a few. Having an extensive knowledge of both music and history, they claim, is key to understanding how potential clients choose the projects they do, pointing to anniversaries both sombre and joyous, celebrated music festivals as well as the wants and needs of smaller independent labels who wish to try and break new ground by exploiting alternative international markets. In addition, Janet and Michael gave an insight into the reception of various pieces of their work, both warm and cold, by industry magazines such as Gramophone and in some cases, their very own clients whose opinions on the chosen translation style were sometimes too strong to move beyond. Early on in their presentation, the pair made clear their lack of love for using CAT tools in their daily work, owing to the fact that they will often go beyond their brief doing extra research on a particular artist to try and enhance, where possible, the experience of the end customer: the music lover. Instead, they made an impassioned plea for purely human translation methodologies in relation to creative subject matters, be it music or any other art-form. For someone like me, who is a passionate music fan, it was extremely interesting to hear from people who not only translate music-related materials but who had also previously worked in the industry itself for many years. Whilst I agreed with their call for human translation, I’m sure that there is plenty of room to incorporate existing CAT technologies into the creative sectors of translation.

Last, but certainly not least, was Rose Newell with her presentation, Translating for Marketers. The crux of this sometimes rather heated discussion was to try and understand our clients in the context of who in food chain, we as translators, are speaking to. From business owners to marketing directors through to secretaries and junior staff members, Rose walked us through how a person’s personal stake will affect the interactions that take place. She suggested that it is always vital to find out what exactly is the source material we are translating; how much there is; the deadline; how often you are needed and the budget for the work. She also pointed to elements of beneficial information which would help move discussions along with a potential client, more specifically: the person you are actually in contact with such as; the contact’s role; the reason for the translation; its purpose for the wider project being undertaken; its target audience and, if possible, background on the business’ market position. With darkness drawing in and the day growing long, Rose then proceeded, through a series of example marketing texts, to stoke the cooling embers under our feet with a discussion on identifying specific cultural and industry issues which would, in theory, help aid discussions with a potential client about the work being commissioned.
The discussion on this topic was, to say the least, lively; with opinions divided around the room as to the exact role and responsibility of the translator in situations were proposed marketing materials for localisation could either potentially cause offence, exacerbate existing cultural differences or simply not land well on the proposed target market. Is it the responsibility of the translator to warn a client about such issues? In doing so, is a translator showing good conduct or perhaps taking a step too far into the marketing strategy of a third party? The room was certainly divided and, like the UK Parliament earlier today, a consensus was not reached. As translators, we do hold a certain level of cultural and industry knowledge which could be of huge potential value to an organisation which perhaps has not quite done their homework? Nevertheless, the ethical quandary of acting on such insider-information outside the realms of an agreed contract, which could aid the very same client with their marketing strategy, will remain unanswered. Despite the obvious advantages of such practices for building rapport and trust with a client, I personally invoke a line from the Ballad of East and West: “never the twain shall meet”. For WMTS, acting in this manner constitutes an ethical red line similar to that of insider-trading within the banking sector; providing a potentially unfair advantage to a privileged few. The role of the translator is to act in accordance to the work detailed for them in a legally binding contract, not to blur the lines between translation and marketing adviser.

Having run well over the advertised finish time, the day drew to a close with the discussions moving to the much less formal setting: the hotel bar. It was great to be part of all the discussions which took place and to share ideas and experiences with so many of my fellow colleagues.

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All photographs by William Maitland ©

Author: Will Maitland

German and French > English Freelance Translator

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