Ants, gurus, fish and bicycles

Ants, gurus, fish and bicycles

A heady combination

If the Internet and social media are to be believed, there are translators who spend half their time at conferences. Personally, I don’t know how they do it. And that’s certainly not because I dislike attending, quite the reverse. It’s just that in my still fairly limited experience, enjoyable though it is, the intense combination of educational sessions, socialising and networking is a heady and exhausting cocktail probably best not repeated too often during a year.

I’m told by many people that the MET (Mediterranean Editors and Translators) meeting is the best conference to go to because, probably due to the varied membership of the association, it offers a selection of sessions different to other similar events. It also so happens that MET is the only one of the three organisations I belong to to hold an annual conference, so, after two years, it is now an important date on my calendar.

This year’s event, in the lovely Portuguese city of Coimbra, promised a great deal and certainly did not disappoint, even though, at times, the university venue and technical problems that afflicted some sessions did have some of us wondering if we’d been transported back to the 1950s. In fact, the conference has provided me with material for three or four posts, so I’m likely to be returning to some of the topics mentioned in passing here in more detail at a future date.

LaurenceOne of the highlights of this year’s MET meeting was the presence of Laurence Anthony, the developer of, among other things, a clever little tool called AntConc. This is capable of working with language corpora to help translators and editors answer all kinds of questions about the way certain words and expressions are used in particular types of text. This can be invaluable in finding exactly the right word to use. Laurence gave two fascinating presentations at METM15, the first a masterclass on the use of AntConc and his related software (all identified with the “Ant” prefix) and the second an explanation of how a boy from Huddersfield with a fascination for science ended up working with languages at university in Japan.

Another star of the event was the well-known and sometimes controversial figure of Andrew Morris, a man whose Standing Out initiative to encourage a positive outlook among translators has made him enemies as well as many friends and loyal followers. I have to say, he divides my own opinion, often talking a lot of sense, but also sometimes, for me, going so far in his attempt to bring spirituality and psychology into the world of translation that he begins to appear as some kind of guru. I decided not to go to his presentation, preferring the alternative on the history of grammar myths offered by the excellent John Bates (about which more in a subsequent post), but by all accounts it was the best attended of the whole conference, with literally standing room only. Various people who did attend shared my mixed opinions of his approach, although personally he proved to be absolutely charming, appearing from nowhere to shake my hand during a coffee break having recognised me from my Facebook picture.

FarrellOne of my highlights of the event was a presentation by Michael Farrell entitled “A translator needs a CV like a fish needs a bicycle”. As its title suggests, his argument was that a CV is not a useful tool for a freelance translator. In fact, he went further, maintaining that it could actually be harmful, putting us in the position of begging for work rather than offering services that could help a customer who needs them. Instead, he suggested that a brochure would be much more effective in most if not all circumstances, even when marketing to agencies. It’s a conclusion I’ve been moving towards myself over the past few years and, although I still have a CV, I will only send one out if asked. Instead, I refer customers to my website for any additional information they need about me. Now, following Michael’s talk, I plan to make more use of my “brochure”, in the shape of the leaflet I produced earlier this year to visit the Barcelona tourism fair.

Michael’s talk could quite easily have taken up double the alloted time, and this was the case with one or two of the presentations, including the one I chaired, by Mary Savage, on her study of translators’ working methods. She showed that most of us produce three drafts of a translation before delivering it to a customer, although there are great variations even in the work of the same translator depending on the circumstances. Watching the clock speed by as Mary spoke, it occurred to me that perhaps a little more time than the 25 or 30 minutes available ought to be allowed for at least some of these talks.

Other fascinating and very useful presentations were also on offer. I shall certainly be adopting Rob Lunn’s advice next time I translate a contract, trying to focus on the important parts of the document and starting to look for English models as a basis for the less critical sections, full of legal verbiage. Also providing a great deal of food for thought was Graham Cross with his approach to “churn” or loss of customers. I’ll have more to say about this in a future post too. I also enjoyed the presentation by Emma Goldsmith and Jane Marshall on mentoring, something I would like to become involved in under the right conditions.

Another future post will be devoted to the social and networking side of an event which, once again, was as enjoyable as it was informative. Congratulations to the organisers and the MET council who made it all possible. I hope to see you all again (much closer to home) in Tarragona next year!



  1. Thanks for filling us in, Simon! I was curious. 🙂 It’s always interesting to hear what goes on at these conferences that don’t relate to my language combination.

    Shame I missed another good talk from Michael. I heard good things about his talk at IAPTI, too.

  2. Thanks Simon! A heady experience indeed and you still had the energy to write the blog when you got back. Admirable! I don’t think Andrew Morris’ talk was the best attended event of the conference, it was just that it had been scheduled in a small classroom (despite efforts to change this), hence the impression of being packed (well, it was in absolute terms due to the space).

  3. Thank you for the post, Simon. Some very useful feedback there!

  4. Nicely summarised post Simon and sorry to mix up my OFFMETM lunch table with you all that day. See you next year!


Submit Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *