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Well, it’s Friday already, and it’s taken me the whole week to recover from last week’s ATA conference in San Antonio! Here are some thoughts on this year’s conference, and feel free to add your own in the comments!

    • I love pretty much every ATA conference, and this year was no exception. With about 1,400 attendees it was one of the smaller conferences in recent years (although larger than projected for this year!), and I find that at the smaller conferences, people are more focused on the lessons and less on the tax-deductible vacation.
    • San Antonio is a great conference town: at the French Language Division dinner, we dubbed it “The Venice of Texas,” and the Riverwalk really is a nice feature. Plus the rest of the city is very walkable and felt very safe. The FLD dinner was a lovely barge cruise, catered by an Italian restaurant right by the hotel. Because we were outside, it was quiet enough to actually talk, and for a group thing the food was actually excellent.
    • The lineup of French sessions this year was outstanding. Back in the day (actually, when I was FLD Administrator…) we were lucky if we had 3 or 4 really good French sessions *during the entire conference*. This year, nearly every slot was filled with something interesting, and the range of topics (transcreation, subtitling, legal translation, writing better in French and English, “hidden” French, etc.) was really staggering!
    • Having the conference events all on one floor was great: more opportunities to talk to people during the breaks, less route-finding, and easier to pick places to meet up with people for meals. I thought that the hotel breakfasts were really tasty, and if you were lucky enough to pounce on the Mexican hot chocolate cart during the afternoon break, it was the perfect sugar hit for the mid-afternoon lull!
    • Personally I really enjoyed this year’s focus on newcomers. I agree that it’s also important to offer something for experienced and very experienced translators, but I think that in order to get to that level, newbies have to have a good experience at their first conference. One’s first conference is always overwhelming: I think that any  veteran can recall that clutch-in-the-throat feeling of walking in to the opening reception for the first time. When I was a newbie, that feeling was exacerbated by the fact that I hadn’t done anywhere alone since my daughter was born 2 years before. But I think that the Newbies and Buddies program went a long way toward helping people make a personal connection *before* the opening reception, which is critical. Huge thanks to Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz for putting this program together! Also, although the Newbies and Buddies reception was a bit chaotic, I am in favor of continuing the “grab a partner” method rather than pre-assigning pairs of Newbies and Buddies. One, I think it’s way too much work to assign the pairs in advance; two, I think that if the pairs are pre-assigned, it creates more chaos if half of the pair isn’t there; three, I kind of like the element of surprise, but maybe that’s just me. My newbie, Olga Yuska from the Ukraine, was fabulous! I was really impressed with her ambition and business-savvy (on her first trip to the US, no less!). Here we are having breakfast together:

newbie

  • I did two presentations: assisting with Jill Sommer’s first-time attendees orientation, and co-presenting on time management with David Rumsey. I think that both of these went well, and I really think that presenting at the conference is worthwhile. It’s a huge amount of work, but it also forces you to condense your thoughts on a certain topic and put them into a useful format. I always learn a lot from preparing for my presentations, so I’d encourage you to start thinking about the topic you want to present next year!
  • This conference marked one year since I was elected to the ATA Board. Summary: I love it. Partially, I think that compared to running a local association for 4 years, the ATA Board is actually much less pressure. There’s a lot more decision-making, but a lot less logistical work than a local association, which is a nice change of pace.

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Last week, I attended Translate in Quebec City, a conference for premium-market French<>English translators. It’s the latest in a series of conferences that began with Chris Durban’s Translate in the Catskills back in 2009. This was my third time attending this master class series (I missed last year’s “Translate in the Townships,” but heard it was excellent!); the instructors are some of the most dynamic translators in the industry and it’s always a good chance to talk shop with other French to English translators. Thanks to Grant Hamilton of Anglocom for organizing this edition!

I live-Tweeted during many of the sessions under the hashtag #TIQC, so if you want the whole shebang, you can read the TIQC hashtag stream. In this post, I’ll focus on some of the overall takeaways from this conference: I had to leave before the Saturday sessions, but I attended:

  • Chris Durban and Ros Schwartz’s translation slam (two translations of the same French text)
  • Grant Hamilton‘s “One size doesn’t fit all” (how to avoid knee-jerk translations)
  • Chris Durban’s “Ringing in the New Year in translation” (translating holiday cards and messages)
  • David Jemielity’s “Deixis: the sequel” (using correct expressions for time and space in translations)
  • Grant Hamilton and François Lavallée’s “Two exercises, two languages, twice as much to learn” (translating in the opposite direction)
  • Chris Durban’s “Working with constraints: reconciling words and images” (translating animations and dynamic content)
  • Grant Hamilton’s “Style to the rescue of technical texts” (finding a role for good writing in informational documents)
  • Ros Schwartz’s “Literary translation: a hands-on workshop translating two stories by Quebec author Gilles Pellerin” (literary translation workshop with the author in attendance)

First of all, this conference reminded me that every freelancer should be spending at least 5% of his/her income on professional development. I made that number up, but you get the point: I’m guessing that most freelancers spend much less than that. And if you’re not growing professionally, you’re stagnating. So how about this: by what percentage would you like to increase your income next year? Spend that percentage of *this* year’s income on professional development, and I bet that you’ll reach your goal.

Second, mixing things up is a really valuable exercise. At this conference, I did lots of linguistic exercises (translating into French, translating fiction, thinking about philosophy) that I almost never do in my daily work. And no surprise, it really gets the neurons working in new ways, which can lead to some cognitive breakthroughs.

Third, this conference reinforced Chris Durban’s oft-repeated truth that “the gap between the bulk and the premium markets is growing.” The premium market requires a very different mindset. For example, Chris noted that many bulk-market translators spend a lot of their time ranting about clients (clients are idiots, clients don’t respect or understand translators, clients are out to squeeze every last drop of blood out of a translator and then leave them to die in a gutter, and so on). Two problems: this fosters a negative mindset about clients in general (so that you assume *every* client is an idiot), and this takes time and energy away from finding clients who get it, are willing to pay well or even very well, and value your work. And they’re out there, probably looking for someone like you!

Fourth, conferences are tons of fun, assuming that you pick the right ones. They’re as close as we freelancers get to paid vacation, so take advantage of them. Also, don’t skip the social events. I know, when you’re paying a fair bit of money for the registration fee, plane ticket and hotel, it’s tempting to skip the optional stuff. But that’s where you really get to talk to people, instead of just saying hello and goodbye between sessions.

And on that note, don’t forget that the early bird deadline for this year’s ATA conference (November 6-9 in San Antonio, Texas) is October 1! Here’s the information on that.

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If you’re looking to brush up your translation skills, here are a few upcoming opportunities to take a look at:

  • Right here in Colorado, the annual Colorado Translators Association mid-year conference is coming up on May 4 and 5. As in past years it will be held in the stunning setting of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, and the day is packed with sessions on a variety of topics. I’ll be presenting “Time Management for Freelancers” and also signing copies of my new book!
  • The summer conference for premium-market English<> French translators that Chris Durban launched in 2008 will continue this year at Translate in Quebec City. If you work with English and French and you’re looking to move up in the translation world, this conference is not to be missed: August 29-31 in Quebec City.
  • ASTTI, the Swiss translators association, will be hosting this year’s Financial Translation Summer School in Spiez, Switzerland. Last year’s edition was in Paris and I attended it and was very impressed. Although I do almost no financial translation, it was tremendously educational as the speakers were top-notch experts in their financial and economic fields. July 3-5, on the shores of Lake Thun!
  • And finally, the next session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator starts on May 8 and is open for registration. This is a four-week class for beginning translators who want to launch and run a successful freelance business, and experienced translators who want to improve their businesses are also welcome. Registration is $305, with a $50 discount for ATA members.

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Ahead of last week’s ATA conference, I asked readers what you would like to tell your translation tool vendor. And with 27 comments (although some of those were me!), the post generated a lot of activity and excellent feedback. I then compiled those comments into a three-page document and presented the results at an informal lunch that the ATA Translators and Computers committee held for the software companies who were exhibiting at the conference. After giving the vendors your comments to peruse, I asked them three questions:

  • Do you really not offer these features that people are asking for, or do people not realize what you offer, or both?
  • What are your thoughts on training? (i.e. many translators commenting “I pay for the software, then I have to pay to learn to use it too”)
  • Over to you: what do you want to tell the freelancers who buy and use your software?

So first, let me say that the software company reps who attended this lunch were incredibly, incredibly forthcoming and constructive. Part of the problem is that when we freelancers rant and curse about translation software issues while we’re alone in our offices, the software companies cannot hear us. They cannot hear us unless we tell them what is wrong. So I think that this discussion was a good step in that direction. Second, let me say that in my opinion, the software companies get it. They do not think “Well, we’ve got your money, now leave us alone.” They realize that it is not good for business if people can’t learn to use their programs. And they had lots of good feedback for us. Here it is in a nutshell, from the software vendors’ point of view.

  • There are lots of training materials out there, and most freelancers don’t use them. The SDL rep commented that even when people purchase (yes, pay in advance for) an SDL premium pack that includes training, only about 10% of them follow through with the training.
  • There are training videos out there, and most people don’t watch them. The SDL Trados YouTube channel has over 100 free training videos on it. Wordfast has a YouTube channel also, and memoQ has tons of free training materials on their website. The companies are frustrated that more of their customers don’t make use of what’s already there. A couple of the reps estimated that their marketing teams spend almost half of their time developing training, and that training goes largely unused even if it’s free.
  • People want something that’s cheap, feature-rich and requires no training to learn, and that’s hard to produce. One attendee gave the example that most professional photographers and graphic designers accept that they cannot work without Photoshop and/or InDesign. The list price of those programs is about $700 each and they aren’t programs that you master in 10 minutes. Translation environment tools are the same: if you want all of those features, the software is going to be expensive and it’s going to take time to learn to use.
  • When the software companies try to attract freelancers to in-person training events such as road shows, very few people attend even if the training sessions are free, and most comment that they can’t afford to take the time off work.
  • Interestingly, many of the tools vendors commented that translation agencies put too much of the technological burden on freelancers. They feel that agencies are sending out unprepared files, then expecting the translator to return a TM (sometimes in several different formats), a clean file and bilingual Word files, and generally “expect things that translators shouldn’t have to know how to do; if the agency is earning half the money on the job, it needs to take on some of these tasks.” Interesting!
  • Some tools (like Wordfast Pro) already offer a version that can run natively on Mac. But don’t hold your breath for many of the other big guys to produce a Mac version. They don’t have plans to do this because “the large user base isn’t there and it wouldn’t be profitable.”
  • Many attendees felt that freelancers should consider the option of hiring a “personal trainer” to help them learn the software. For the record, this is what I (Corinne) did when I bought Trados Studio 2011, and I felt it was a great investment. The vendors feel that it’s important to know your own capabilities and limitations; know whether you are someone who learns best from a manual, or from another person.
  • As far as interoperability, the software companies feel that they could use more “real-world perspective,” for example having some translators on the XLIFF committee, because apparently there are none right now.

So there you have it. I found this discussion to be incredibly educational and productive. Feel free to comment further, and hopefully we can find a way to keep the discussion going! Thanks to everyone who commented on my original post as well.

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This afternoon I was driving home from having lunch with a colleague when I turned on Colorado Public Radio. Public Radio International’s The World was on, with a lead-in to a segment on the recent decrease in pay for court interpreters in Nevada. And at that moment I just knew I’d be hearing the voice of my friend and colleague Judy Jenner…and I was right! The piece features very well-done interviews with Judy, her colleague Álvaro Degives-Más and Nataly Kelly of Common Sense Advisory. All three of them sounded great and gave some compelling reasons why saving money on interpreting can end up increasing costs to taxpayers in the end. You can listen to the segment or read a transcript of it here, on The World’s website.

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The translation industry scored a very nice mention on All Things Considered tonight, thanks to the sharp ears of Judy Jenner, who is both a translator and interpreter (this becomes important to the story!). Although I love (OK…worship) nearly all things NPR, their reporters have the somewhat aggravating habit of consistently using the expression, “speaking through a translator.” And as those of us in the industry know, part of what we translators love about our jobs is that we don’t have to talk while we’re working, and we leave the speaking to interpreters.

An All Things Considered segment that aired yesterday featured NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson using the aforementioned “speaking through a translator” in reference to visiting Chinese leader Hu Jintao. Our ever-vigilant colleague Judy had had enough, and fired off an e-mail to NPR, pointing out that translators write and interpreters speak, and noting that she, as both a translator and an interpreter, surely knows the difference between the two. This afternoon my phone rang and it was NPR (not an everyday occasion here in my world headquarters!), looking for a quote on the topic and noting that especially because NPR CEO Vivian Schiller is a former Russian interpreter, they really wanted to get this right. It was exciting to be interviewed and I think it’s a good indication for the industry in general…at least the major media outlets want to keep their translators and interpreters straight! Huge thanks to Judy for alerting NPR to this issue in the first place, and to NPR for following up!

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If you haven’t yet read it, make sure to check out Alexis Grant’s article in US News & World Report, highlighting translation and interpreting as one of the “Best Careers for 2011.” The article is very well-written and the comments are aflutter with questions from new and aspiring translators and advice from experienced ones!

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As Thoughts on Translation wraps up for the holiday week (U.S. Thanksgiving is Thursday), here are some websites and blog posts that you might enjoy looking at:

  • Eve Bodeux is giving away some SmartPlay language-learning products for kids on her blog; see the end of the post for how to enter.
  • Writer Michelle Rafter has a fantastic blog post (applicable to translators too!) called When it comes to writing, economize. As someone who has a tendency to ramble, I printed out Michelle’s tips and posted them above my desk.
  • Is there any German, Spanish, French or Portuguese translator out there who’s not yet using the terminology site Linguee? I’m not quite sure how to pronounce this website’s name (Lingwee? Ling-oo-ee?) but I have come to love its features. Linguee searches huge amounts of bilingual texts on the web, then displays sentences that contain the source term you enter and the target term that other translators have used.
  • There’s an interesting discussion on Jill Sommer’s blog about ATA certification and why so few people vote in the ATA elections .
  • And finally on a non-translation note, here’s a Get Rich Slowly post on inexpensive Christmas gifts and another one on DIY gifts. And here’s my own suggestion: I like the “memory drawing” idea described in the second post, but I am totally (totally; believe me) un-artistic.  I recently stumbled upon the idea of using Wordle word clouds to make gifts for friends. You can type in whatever words remind you of that person, i.e. “runner, mom, Brownie~leader, lawyer, likes~her~coffee~with~a~splash~of~cream” (put the tildas between multiple-word phrases that you want to appear as one “word” in the cloud) and then create a word cloud that you can frame, give as a card, etc.

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I know that this post will show my local bias, but this year’s ATA conference in Denver was just fantastic. I didn’t actually take any photos, but you can see a few on Jill Sommer’s blog and look at the daily conference slide show on the ATA website. Thanks to Jeff Sanfacon of ATA for the great pictures!

Judy Jenner commented in her ATA Chronicle column that the ATA conference is her favorite week of the year from a professional standpoint. I have to agree! Although this year’s conference was a bit more hectic for me than past ones (lots of volunteer roles, plus presentations, plus zipping back and forth from my house to the conference hotel), it was a real thrill to be able to show Denver off to 1,500+ translators. The conference hotel (Denver Hyatt Regency) is spectacular and the ATA team did an outstanding job carrying on positive traditions from past conferences and innovating with some new ones. Huge thanks to ATA President Nick Hartmann, President-Elect Dorothee Racette and the ATA headquarters staff for the draft horse-style work that they did to put all of this together. For all of us locals, it was a huge relief that there was no blizzard during the conference…just that sapphire Colorado sky and warm weather!

Lest you get the impression that the ATA conference is all socializing and no actual learning, I thought that this year’s sessions were particularly worthwhile. I selected a mix of speakers I’ve seen and enjoyed many times (Grant Hamilton‘s “Spot the Gallicism”), subjects I don’t see myself pursuing but about which I need to know more (Bruce Popp‘s “Making sense of French and US patent terminology”) and entirely new horizons (Katharine Allen’s “Notetaking for dialogue interpreting in all settings”). This year’s French Language Division Distinguished Speaker, David Jemielity of the Banque Cantonale Vaudoise in Lausanne, Switzerland, presented two outstanding sessions on financial translations and is one of the best Distinguished Speakers I’ve heard in the six years I’ve been attending the conference. I also had fun catching up on the translation bookosphere (can we call it that to contrast it with the blogosphere?) at Marianne Reiner’s presentation on her translation of David Grann’s Trial by Fire and Chris Durban’s signing of her new book The Prosperous Translator.

Working as a home-based freelancer in 2010, I think it’s easy to discount the value of face-to-face interactions and to assume that all the valuable networking happens online. In my experience, this is a misguided assumption. It’s amazing how lasting an impression one can make during a very short in-person interaction, and how valuable it is to simply have a visual impression of someone you only know via phone and e-mail. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the bloggers’ lunch, but it was lots of fun to talk to other translation bloggers and blog readers during the conference.

Despite Lionbridge’s untimely decision to impose a 5% rate decrease on their translators, I felt that the mood at the conference was generally very positive. Many attendees said that their business has never been stronger, others are branching out with higher paying direct clients, and I think that many translators are also focusing more on producing very high quality translations for very quality-conscious clients.

Thanks to everyone who attended my seminar on Beyond the basics of freelancing, and if you have follow-up questions, feel free to submit them and I’ll try to answer some of them here. I was also honored to present “Blogging 101″ in Riccardo Schiaffino’s place, and you can download that presentation and Riccardo’s notes from his website. See you in Boston in 2011!

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International Translation Day seems like an auspicious time for new translation-related ventures; here are a few to check out:

  • Congratulations to Chris Durban on the launch of her book The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee. If, like me, you eagerly await Chris and Eugene Seidel’s monthly advice column “The Bottom Line” in Translation Journal, you won’t want to miss this compilation of over a decade of stingingly good advice in question and answer form. As the book’s website says, you should take FA&WB’s advice because “…the downward spiral in prices and stressful working conditions decried by Chicken Littles on many continents are not inevitable — far from it! If you are an excellent (or even good) translator, you shouldn’t be there. And if you apply the business advice in this book, you won’t.” And did I mention that many of these questions and answers are downright hilarious? For example, here’s one of The Prosperous Translator’s promotional postcards:
    Prosperous Translator Postcard
    You can purchase your copy now from Lulu, or wait until the ATA conference and purchase a signed copy (or pick up some of those cool postcards!) at the InTrans Books booth. Disclaimer: I provided an advance review of  The Prosperous Translator, but I was not paid for the review nor do I have any financial connection to the book.
  • And more publishing congratulations, this time to English>French translator Marianne Reiner on the publication of her translation of David Grann’s  Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man. That’s a link to the original article, and here is the listing for Marianne’s translation, also entitled Trial by Fire. Kudos to Amazon France for including Marianne’s name alongside the author’s; maybe Amazon US could follow suit? Trial by Fire started out as a New Yorker article about Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for allegedly murdering his three young children by burning down his family’s home. This case has sparked a great deal of discussion in the U.S. because Willingham went to the death chamber insisting upon his innocence, to the point of refusing to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison. Editions Allia has published the French version of Trial by Fire as a small book; it’s 128 pages, fits in the palm of your hand and will set you back all of 3 euros so I highly recommend it. Even as a non-native French speaker I was riveted by Marianne’s translation, and the book has already gotten some nice press in France. Here’s the cover image:
    Trial by Fire cover
  • And finally, although it’s a much smaller publishing achievement than the previous two mentioned here, I launched my newly redesigned professional website. After using the same homegrown website since 2002 I decided it was time to take my own oft-repeated advice and call on a team of professionals, and I’m thrilled with the results. Huge thanks to Brandon Kellogg of Denver-based Superfluent Design for the banner, Michelle Panulla and Beth Hayden of Blogging With Beth for the site design and WordPress theme customization and Cameron Weise of Colorado Photo for my new photograph. It took a village to get this website up but I think it was worth the wait!
  • And with that, Thoughts on Translation wishes you a happy International Translation Day and another year of good health and prosperity!

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