I think most translators would agree that our world is changing faster than we’d like it to and not always in the ways we’d prefer. And a good idea of the effect this is having on the translation community could be gleaned from last week’s BP23 conference in Utrecht.
Judging by the questions to the “Brainy Panel” that rounded off proceedings in the Dutch city, faced with these shifting certainties translators find themselves plagued by fear and doubt. References abounded to the negative impact of falling rates, bad client behaviour and artificial intelligence. Translators, it seems, feel under threat. And yet on that panel were three of the most inspiring speakers from the conference, and their quiet common sense, stripped of any need for self-promotion, told a rather different story.
There was Branco van der Werf, for example, a Dutch translator and copywriter, whose most memorable contribution to the panel was rebutting the ChatGPT scare as hype: “a story from three months ago”. The previous day, he had given a presentation I didn’t see, but which by all accounts was worth the conference ticket price alone, giving practical advice on how to get and keep transcreation clients.
Beside him on the panel was Gloria Rivera, whose presentation on the “art of training your client” had been a supreme exercise in down-to-earth good sense, as she spoke about setting boundaries, achieving good working conditions and building happy working relationships. Any early-career translator could and should learn from Gloria. Also up there on the panel was Elina Nocera, whose talk had shown the way for translators to stay ahead of the chatbots and MT by truly mastering our craft. Her insights into using figures of speech, with multilingual examples, were fascinating.
Others, too, were keen to show that the translation glass may, in fact, be half full. Lloyd Bingham talked about price (baby), picking up ’90s musical metaphors to make useful points about pricing translations, backed up with examples from his own experience. Jakub Res raised the issue of negotiation, and, although his talk did tend to veer off-topic, his main conclusion – that we should know our own value and stand up for ourselves against over-demanding clients – was definitely on the right track. And Tiina Kinnunen, in an entertaining presentation, dealt with the all-important triangle of income, rates and productivity, without ever quite coming to a clear conclusion.
There was another interesting talk from the Hungarian translator Anikó Petö-Mordovski, who had spent a year following all the advice from LinkedIn gurus about using the platform to see if the theory actually worked in practice. As I had suspected, despite all the time she spent on posting every working day, her income from clients found from that source increased only marginally, proving once again that LinkedIn may appear to have endless potential, but it is very difficult to turn that into tangible results. I can only agree with Anikó’s conclusion that networking with the colleagues you meet on the platform is probably the best thing about it.
Of course, this is also true of in-person conferences, which are only now once again becoming the norm after the nightmare of COVID. In Utrecht as always, it was great to socialise with colleagues and swap ideas and tales of our business. I think for anyone who went through those dismal times, personal interaction will always be especially highly valued.
There was plenty of value to take home from many of the speakers too. Because despite the threats and the scares, by remembering our own value and working hard to demonstrate it to carefully selected clients, polishing our craft and avoiding timewasting distractions, hype and fear, it seems that we can still hope to maintain successful translation businesses for a good few years yet.