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professional freelance translation conference

A Review of APTIC’s 1st Professional Translation Conference

professional freelance translation conference

By Maeva Cifuentes

Last weekend I attended APTIC’s (L’Associació Professional de Traductors i Intèrprets de Catalunya) first conference in Barcelona. It was conveniently located in Raval, my favorite barrio. Despite the rain and dismal skies on the first morning, the crowd of freelance translators was active and engaging. All the presentations were useful and passionate, but I will only be covering the ones I connected to the most.

APTIC is a professional translation association formed in 2009 from a merger of two associations. It opened with the aim to represent the interests of translators and interpreters in Catalonia and now offers opportunities for professional development, resources, and contributes to improving the industry’s working conditions. The members of the executive committee were buoyant, active, and clearly passionate about translation and the language industry. The conference focused on scientific and literature translation as well as general business aspects of the industry (we even discussed the unmentionable topic – rates!).

Over the two-day period, the conference ran parallel with the ‘Spectacular Translation Machine’ going on in the back room. Daniel Hahn, British writer, translator, and editor, developed this concept to have the public take part in the translation process. He aimed to make normal people understand how complex translation is. Taking the French book On Les Aura!, the diary of a French soldier in the early part of World War I, he mobilized the public to translate it into their own language. We were to select a page, translate it on a sheet of paper, and clothespin it to its match. Each page of the book, containing the text and its corresponding illustration, was printed, laminated, and tastefully hung up on the backroom walls, where attendees could read the oeuvre during the breaks. Interestingly, not everyone present understood French; their translations were drawn from the illustrations and whatever knowledge they had, resulting in a diverse exhibition of target texts. Daniel’s objective was to make people engage with the process, showing them that the process is more important than the product.

After the break, during which I spent an hour chain-drinking coffee and talking to other translators, Xurxo Mariño gave a presentation on the human brain and its perception of language. His thesis, that everything is a construction and that context determines conception, was beautifully demonstrated with an auditory illusion. With a head of white hair and a dynamic energy, he elucidated various parts of the brain relating to language (Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area) and how they develop in humans. According to him, at 6 months of age, humans can learn any number of languages ‘natively’, after which we lose the ability to make sounds from a new language. I have some qualms about ‘maternal’ language and how to define it. Hearing it argued from a biological perspective was compelling, but not fully convincing. I’ll read more about it.

The second day of the conference, sunnier than the first, started with a roundtable discussion of APTIC’s translation of “Interpreting, Getting it Right” into new language versions. Its translation had only taken a few days, but they spent weeks discussing and poring over the style and word choices. It seemed to have been an enlightening and challenging collaboration. Chris Durban gave her presentation “Working the Room.” She spoke with charm, managing to put some humor into what can often be a serious subject. She pushed the idea throughout to understand your client’s industry and to show the client that she can trust you. You need to be ‘in with the crowd’ to get the best clients. She started by offering examples of bad letters to clients and kindly made fun of the atrocities’ authors. Let’s hope we never get on that list! Aside from those with grave spelling and grammar mistakes, there were some that overused ‘I’ or did not prove how they could serve the client.

Your whole pitch, Chris said, should focus on the client, and not on you, your skills or your translation degree. Show them that you know who they are. What can you do for the client? Accordingly, direct, interesting clients do not care about your list of CAT tools nor about your membership in professional associations (though there are other benefits to translation association membership). A well-specialized translator should be able to pass the ‘Turing test’ of specialization, meaning it should take your potential client at least 10 minutes to figure out that you’re not actually a lawyer, or a banker, or whatever position in your field of specialization. She spoke a little over two inspiring hours, offering directly applicable advice and hypothetical situations and I, among many others, left feeling both inspired and like I have a lot of work to do.

APTIC offered an integrated and compelling conference this year. It could have been improved with interpreters for non-Catalan speakers (though I hope not to need one by this time next year!) and a selection of vegan food for the 15 EUR I paid for a lunch that I could not eat. Nevertheless, I made some useful connections and got a great deal of take-home lessons that will help me further my career. I’m looking forward to my next conference in June, in Porto, Portugal. See you there!

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