Ten things I learned from METM14
METM14, held over the weekend at El Escorial, not far from Madrid, was my first proper translators’ conference. I was delighted to be able to go this year, after missing last year’s event because it clashed with family commitments, and I certainly learned a lot. Here are my most important lessons:
1. Going to a conference is a very worthwhile exercise; by turns, inspiring, exciting, humbling… and lots of fun.
2. If you’re going to work en route to the event, as I did very comfortably on a three-hour high-speed train journey, make sure that when you “send” your translation to your customer you actually attach the file. Failure to do this will adversely affect your customer’s mental health. Thank you, Aina Cartagena and Automàtic Trans for your patience.
3. I can massively speed up my Internet searches using Michael Farrell’s IntelliWebSearch tool. For those who don’t know it, it allows you to launch Internet searches, using multiple search engines if you wish, from inside other programs, like Word or your favourite CAT tool, and all with the minimum number of clicks. You can find out more about it here.
4. I can take text corrections to another level by applying John Bates’ simple, logical techniques to untangle difficult sentences. Particular useful was his advice to find the “characters” in the text to be corrected (the people or things the text is actually about) and focus on them.
5. There are some levels, though, I can never aspire to reach. The presentation by the German expert Christiane Nord about her methods for translating examples in a book on translation theory she’d been working on brought it home to me, and to far better translators than me I’m sure, that some people are simply on another planet when it comes to impressive scholarship.
6. Machine translation is not for me for the moment. For some time I’ve been wondering whether machine translation had improved enough to be worth using in some form or another, but after the triple presentation I went to on the subject, I’m absolutely convinced that it has not, at least for the moment.
7. Staying concentrated on conference matters for more than two days solid is simply impossible. Almost everyone bunks off at some point, and it’s even more tempting to do so if there’s something as interesting to see down the road as the Monastery of El Escorial. As a history graduate who once wrote essays imagining the impossibly overworked Philip II of Spain sitting in his office trying to run a worldwide empire single-handed (he was the last Spanish monarch to try, and some say the effort killed him), it was thrilling to actually see the small office where he actually did all that paperwork, right next to his bedroom. And I only missed a couple of hours of the conference, honestly.
8. I’m not the only one who’s spent a working life between journalism and translation. Martin Roberts, though, is on the other side of the divide, remaining a successful freelance journalist while translating the odd novel in his spare time. His presentation about the difficulties presented by translation in news items rounded off the conference, and was a big highlight for me.
9. You can never tell what’s going to make a good presentation. For example, I have to confess I wasn’t particularly looking forward to hearing about interpreting in the harrowing area gender violence. But María Magdalena Fernández’s enthusiastic presentation made it a compelling talk, highlighting the efforts to improve conditions for interpreters working in this difficult area. And Melanie Rockenhaus’s presentation on “Translating in under-documented niche areas” seemed as if it might be a little esoteric, but that was before she engaged her audience by revealing the role of the cicisbeo in 18th- and 19th-century Italian society. All is revealed here.
10. Meeting people is enough on its own to make an event like this worthwhile. Networking, of course, is a useful exercise in itself, but I’m fascinated by the personal stories I’ve heard from intelligent, interesting people making their careers in the world of languages, from the American legal expert bringing up a young family in the unlikeliest part of Barcelona to the Australian translator and fellow blogger who turns out to live a ten-minute train ride from my home; or from the woman who told me she’s been in Berlin five years longer than I’ve been in Catalonia but simply didn’t look old enough to have lived there 20 years, to the girl from Bristol trying to pluck up the courage to take the plunge as a freelancer in Madrid. And that’s not forgetting the Englishman from Guadalajara, the Irishman from Zaragoza or the fiery Scottish nationalist now throwing herself heart and soul into the cause of Catalan independence. I deliberately use no names here but I’m sure if they read this they will know who they are, and perhaps my description will also raise a smile of recognition from others who also enjoyed meeting them. Because, as I remember saying to one of them on the train heading away from El Escorial to Madrid, “When it comes down to it, the thing about translators is that so many of them are such good company.”