Every November, the American Translators Association’s annual conference brings together close to 2,000 professional translators from around the world to socialize, exchange ideas, and benefit from some of the best professional development sessions offered in the industry. By far the largest conference for translators and interpreters in the Americas, the ATA conference is always an extremely enriching experience for professionals in our sector, and this year’s conference, which took place last week in Chicago, was certainly no exception.
This year, the ATA’s 55th conference offered some 175 sessions, covering topics ranging from education and training to language technology and tips for independent contractors, as well as sessions addressing issues specific to the fields of literary, legal, medical and financial translation. There were also sessions aimed specifically at translators working in specific languages, with French (8 sessions), German (9 sessions), Japanese (7 sessions), Portuguese (6 sessions) and Spanish (9 sessions) being the best represented. The sheer breadth and depth of the sessions offered made choosing which ones to attend a mind-boggling task, and the sheer volume of information absorbed in those three days will take me some time to assimilate. So keep an eye on the Forum in coming months for articles reflecting on some of the issues dealt with at this year’s conference.
On Friday evening, the ATA Literary Division hosted the After Hours Café, an “open mic” reading giving translators the opportunity to share works they’d translated or written. I myself took advantage of this platform to present some Hispanic Canadian poetry to an international audience, reading my translations of poems by Martín Agonía and Jorge Etcheverry. The quality of the readings at this event was exceptional, the highlight being Juliet Winters Carpenter’s captivating reading from her English translation of A True Novel by Japanese author Minae Musumura, which won the ATA’s Lewis Galantière Award for 2014. Musumura’s novel is a Japanese rewriting of Wuthering Heights, and the elegant beauty of Winters Carpenter’s English translation was made evident in her all-too-brief presentation last Friday night.
One of the hot topics at the ATA’s annual meeting was the question of translator certification, and particularly the issue of the low pass rate of the association’s certification examination. A number of attendees suggested that the 20% pass rate was well below the average for similar professional examinations in other industries, while others pointed out that a paper-based exam with no access to online resources cannot possibly be considered a realistic assessment of a professional translator’s skills in the contemporary context. The promotion of seminars and mentorship programs to help candidates prepare for the exam, and the introduction of keyboard use and even restricted Internet access in the exams themselves are among the initiatives that we can hope to see in the near future to address these issues.
Another question raised repeatedly at the annual meeting concerned the under-representation of interpreters at the organization’s executive levels. A number of interpreters raised concerns that the ATA’s support for the interpreting sector has fallen far short of the support it offers translators, a fact reflected perhaps most obviously by the absence of ATA certification for interpreters. The increased participation of interpreters in the ATA is reflected by the election of medical interpreter Madalina Sánchez Zampaulo to the ATA Board of Directors this year, and her new role will give interpreters a greater voice at the executive level of the association. The addition of a directory of US Federal Court interpreters on the ATA website could also be a productive way of giving interpreters greater visibility within the association, particularly given that there is no such directory currently available from any other source.
Among the issues addressed in the different sessions I attended at the conference that I hope to explore in future forum posts are fiscally responsible calculation of translation rates, leveraging social networks to promote translation services, grammatical precision in legal translation, the translation of Mexican legal terminology, and the increasing stratification in the translation industry between “bulk” and “premium” sectors. For now, I’d simply like to offer a special thank you to the experienced professionals who took the time to share their expertise on these topics with their colleagues, specifically, Jonathan Hine, Tess Whitty, Hadassah Weiner, Tom West, Chris Durban and Kevin Hendzel.
Finally, the ATA conference offers a great opportunity for translators to meet up with old friends and make new ones. The value of this opportunity cannot be overstated, as translation is by its nature a solitary profession, and any chance to engage face-to-face with colleagues is more than welcome. So I’d like to conclude by expressing my gratitude to everybody who works so hard to make this annual event possible. Hope to meet you in Miami next year!