Getting the best from a conference
When I went to my first MET meeting four years ago in El Escorial, it was like walking into a mine full of shining gold. Although I’d been translating for a good many years, much of that time I’d been working in almost complete isolation. So, when I started attending workshops and presentations, new ideas glittered in every corner. Every session opened up a new seam. It undoubtedly changed my professional life.
Just over a week ago in Girona, I attended my fifth METM, and, as a more experienced conference-goer, things are no longer the same. I love MET, and probably always will. I’ve made so many good friends there and I’ve learned so much, but it seems there may only be so much to learn. That’s not to say that I know it all, just that it’s more difficult to find anything that’s really new. Nowadays, instead of whole seams of precious new ideas, it’s more like panning for nuggets.
A lot of the gold dust can be found, not in the conference hall itself, but in the corridors, at the dinner table and in the coffee queue. Virtually everyone attending MET has something to interesting to say and there’s plenty to pick up by chatting with colleagues. This year, too, was special because it was the first time I had physically met my RevClub colleague Victoria Patience and the first time both of us had been together in the same room with the third club member Tim Gutteridge (you can find out about RevClub here). We were there to give our own workshop, about which more in a forthcoming post.
Here I want to talk about some of the nuggets I sifted out of the scheduled programme:
Laura Bennett‘s well-designed workshop explained a lot of the difficulties involved in translating texts for the art world. This was particularly timely for me, as I am currently in the middle of co-translating a sizeable art book.
The Translation Slam, bringing together two translators I know well: Tim Gutteridge and Maeva Cifuentes, who organises the regular Barcelona coworking sessions I try to attend. With an excellent, challenging text, it made the entire audience think and talk more about translation-related issues.
David Cullen, with his translator’s “decalogue” of at least 17 items, made some interesting points. One I had never thought of was the idea of showing some of your translations to people who are not translators. The logic behind this is how kind and understanding we can be to colleagues, whereas an outsider is likely to come straight out with it, if something isn’t as clear as it should be.
Rose Newell talked about a vital issue for translators – those times when we are required to go beyond mere translation and tell a client: “That just won’t work in your target country”. It would have been even better if her short slot hadn’t led her to cut the interactive elements I know she had planned to include.
I was greatly heartened by a presentation from Sue Leschen, which provided a legal expert’s confirmation of my suspicion, mentioned in a previous blog here, that many of the Non-Disclosure Agreements we are being asked to sign these days are utterly unacceptable.
Allison Wright‘s talk on how easy it is to infringe copyright – or to have your copyright infringed – in these internet days was one of the most entertaining and probably the most elegantly structured of the whole conference.
Well-known literary translator Daniel Hahn gave an entertaining keynote talk on the role of editors in translation. I would only take him up on one point: I could hardly believe my ears when he said that literary translations do not need to be compared with the source text because mistranslations aren’t important. That surely can’t be right. Because how do you know whether a particular mistranslation is important or not unless you’ve checked the translation against the source? It may, as you say, Mr. Hahn, be inconsequential but it could just be absolutely vital.
Maeva Cifuentes and Richard Lackey presented some research showing some translators have rather odd ideas about what the use of plain language in legal translation actually means, while, in his talk about the civil law notary system, Rob Lunn once again made it quite plain that the closer you look into legal terminology, the more complicated things become. That term you rejected ten years ago as too literal, might just actually be the one you need.
And Thomas O’Boyle rounded it all off by extolling the virtues of the translator as businessperson and salesperson in a particularly well-presented talk with startlingly simple slides.
It’s interesting, I think, that the two highlights I’ve put at the top of this list involved hands-on work and slamming. Many of the best talks I saw would also have made excellent workshops and some speakers simply did not have enough time to do their subject justice. By contrast, poorer talks would not have been any better even if they had been shorter. Maybe the supposedly ever-shortening modern attention span is not the issue here.
I was part of this year’s content team, so I know the problems involved in selecting – and rejecting – proposals to speak at the conference, and a peer-to-peer event like MET depends on the content the association’s members and other conference-goers are able and prepared to offer. But maybe it’s the actual structure of the traditional presentation that needs to change. Should we be moving to more hands-on, more interactive conferences? Perhaps it’s time to open this up for debate.
Next year’s METM will be in Split, Croatia, from 26-28 September 2019