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On being professional: Takeaways from Aptrad’s 1st Conference in Porto

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By Maeva Cifuentes

Situated on Europe’s Atlantic coast, the historic city of Porto hosted Aptrad’s first translation conference, centered on the theme of “Stages in the career of a freelancer.” The eve of the action-packed weekend was celebrated with a Port wine tasting at Calém, a salient Porto wine cellar. The sweet tawny and white Port wines were enjoyed with Fado, a mournful and emotional music that is a staple of the Portuguese culture. Paula Riberio, Rui Sousa and José Braga, the conference’s diligent organizers, coordinated various social events over the weekend that were highly enjoyed by all those who attended. The wine was flowing and the cellar was buzzing with exchanges between energetic linguists. Everyone was eager for the weekend’s contents. The conference venue, Hotel Tuela, overlooked the ocean to the west and a cemetery to the North, reminiscent of typical British pointy-roofed houses.

With the conference targeting people from all “stages in the career of a freelancer,” the participants befittingly ranged from novice to ‘celebrity’: Chris Durban, Andrew Morris, Michael Farrell, Tess Whitty and other notable figures were present. Though there were a handful of students, their numbers seemed low and I surmise that the majority of attendees were experienced, professional translators (and some interpreters!). Under the umbrella of a translation professional’s career, the presenters spoke about professionalism, community, attitude, dealing with clients, social media and marketing – all rather interconnected.

According to Lloyd Bingham, social media and community advocate, it is up to linguists to professionalize our unregulated sector, to unify and form our values and protect them from commoditization. With two avenues to professionalization, Lloyd discussed approach (how to view the profession) and conduct (how to act professionally). He argued that we need to professionalize translation to take the sector back from LSPs, to qualify specialists and to differentiate the profession from the industry. While professionals should have a monopoly over the sector’s work, in translation’s case, LSPs hold the majority share of translation services. On this note, Chris Durban rebutted that there is, in fact, a surplus of good (emphasis on the good) clients who prefer to work with excellent, highly-specialized translators, and that LSPs dominate only the bulk end of the market. Though true, that fact does not take away from the argument that the translation sector desperately needs to be professionalized. The lack of regulation and professionalization probably influences, to a large extent, the consolidation of the bulk market and the shortage of highly qualified translation professionals.

Important aspects of a profession, mentality and unity, lessens unaffiliated and disenfranchised translators. Aside from the benefits of enhancing prestige and ethics in the sector, professionalization would, through professional associations, regulation and policy changes, organically balance the gap between the bulk market and the premium market. Conduct, Lloyd’s second essential avenue to professionalization, was brought up repeatedly throughout the conference, especially the aspect of translators ranting and bashing online. Alina Cincan, translator and owner of Inbox Translations, disclosed that she often finds her translators through social media and is instantly put off by those who complain about their clients or their work online. As digital professionals, ranting about bad clients hurts us incalculably. Apart from the unprofessional image you are portraying of yourself to the world, ranting brings you bad energy: instead of focusing on finding the right clients, you spend time complaining about clients you shouldn’t be working with in the first place, a point reiterated by Chris Durban and Tess Whitty. According to Tess, complaining will only attract more negativity, and you should spend your time finding clients and colleagues that make you feel good. I would say that this applies to all domains of life.

Further on this point, Andrew Morris contended that the key to preventing events that would cause you to complain is simple: be authentic, know what texts you want, what kind of people you want to work with, and accept no less. This argument provokes the “Yes, but…” mindset that Chris Durban often brings up in her presentations: “Yes, but I need to make ends meet, so I will take the work that I can,” “Yes, but we don’t all have the luxury to choose only the best clients,” etc. But why not? Your attitude has a profound effect on your business, and ranting only shows you have the wrong attitude and you are not evaluating your worth appropriately.

If translators are evaluating their worth as professionals accordingly, and still find themselves working only with (or for?) disrespectful clients, then maybe this is a clue that something else needs to change: are you good enough? After Lloyd’s argument that we professionals deserve respect and good clients, Chris Durban asserted that not all translators ‘deserve’ to work in the premium market and that in fact there is a huge quality issue associated with the above. Translation professionals actually need to invest more time in improving their craft rather than simply translating. Many solutions were brought forward: working with a more experienced, specialized reviser, continuous professional development, industry trade shows, copywriting courses – all essential and ongoing.

Moreover, communication is key to reaching ‘good’ clients. The controversial idea of making a simple phone call instead of emailing your clients was repeatedly raised (controversial because translators are afraid of the phone!). As Andrew put it: “there are 3 billion people with e-mail addresses in the world, but only one person with your voice.” Something to consider. Developing SMART goals and a USP were equally important in organizing your marketing framework. Michael Farrell suggested creating a brochure to reach your clients on a B2B level: we should be approaching our clients the same way they approach theirs. All of these ideas, of course, fall under the spectrum of professionalization and raising the industry’s standards.

What did I take away from this conference? For one, a to-do list: create a brochure, invest in a highly specialized reviser to continuously improve my work, develop my SMART goals, USP, portfolio, and write this report, of course. Lastly, as Marta Stelmaszak brought forth in her keynote Skype presentation: focus. Choose your path and develop it well.

By the second day, we noticed the presentations had a lot of overlapping information: it could have been useful for the presenters to exchange topics beforehand to ensure we’d take something original from each. I would have enjoyed a roundtable panel discussion, as there were many questions, inspirations and ideas that had little time to be addressed in the Q&A sessions. More concentrated presentations that built upon the ideas from the first day (instead of reiterating them) would have added value to the content of the conference. Overall, I left feeling once again inspired and directed. Through listening to the presentations, I felt comforted to be in the right profession, that I have ‘it’ and I know I’m going on the right path to success – however I define it.

The biggest lessons I learned were: know your worth, be a professional and act like one, and never stop improving. I’m looking forward to Aptrad’s next conference in 2018. Next stop: MET in Tarragona in October.

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