Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

“Together” or apart

There’s a big translation conference being held in Barcelona at the beginning of next year, literally just down the road from where I live. Organised by the European Language Industry Association (ELIA), the two-day event on 11 and 12 February is already attracting considerable interest and registration is already open. “Haven’t you signed up already?” you’re probably wondering. Well, no…

The thing is, this conference raises as many questions as it looks likely to answer. To begin with, a quick look at its website makes it absolutely clear that this is an organisation of and for translation agencies. So the question has to be asked, what is it doing organising a conference which seems to be aimed at freelance translators? Perhaps talking about a hidden agenda would be taking things too far, but it must at very least think its members have something to gain.

Then there’s the name of the conference. Call me an old cynic, but using a title like “Together” smacks of some fairly hard sell just beneath the surface. Could it possibly be part of a concerted attempt to persuade us to smilingly accept lower standard, lower rates and higher levels of automation? The tone of the publicity material is reminiscent of that used by the agency I waved goodbye to in last week’s blog after it tried to make me swallow a big reduction in rates. So if I do decide to go and eat the canapĂ©s down at the Barcelona World Trade Center, I won’t be able to help the feeling of being a turkey being fattened up ready to vote for Christmas.


But maybe I’m being churlish. Among the speakers are well-known names in the languge industry not necessarily on the side of the big agencies, such as Lloyd Bingham, Andrew Morris and Sarah Griffin-Mason. There is even a talk by a neighbour of mine, Marco Cevoli, an Italian translator I know well, on the OmegaT tool (the entire programme can be found here). There are almost certainly things to be learned. There are also bound to be plenty of opportunities for chatting, networking, meeting new people and everything else that goes with a big conference. And, of course, it’s not often that such a big translation event takes place on my doorstep, so perhaps the sensible, open-minded thing to do is forget my misgivings and go along.

It’s a genuine dilemma and I really need to decide over the next couple of weeks. Do I stay at home working or do I go to the show? I’d really like this blog post to be the start of a debate on this conference because I’m just not sure what to make of it or what to do. So whether you’re going along to “Together” or whether the mere thought makes you shudder I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts and advice. Please leave your comments below.


  1. Hi Simon, I just happened upon this interesting post of yours. I also recently had a look at the website presenting this event and also had mixed feelings, the ones you describe above. If I were you, I’d maybe go to just attend the training events and interesting talks if you think it’s worth it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Petra. I’m glad someone else shares my feeling of suspicion about the event and that it isn’t just my own paranoia. I’ll have to take another look at the programme and see if I think there’s enough there to justify the cost.

  2. Hi Simon.

    Interesting that you got that impression from the website. The current chair of ITI – Iwan Davies – was involved in the organising and I do get the impression it is a genuine attempt to build a bridge between freelancers and LSPs. I can’t be I00% sure but it may have come about after a panel discussion at the ITI Conference where the panel included Iwan and a representative from an ITI corporate member.

    I know a lot of well-established translators who are going and would join them if I wasn’t going to Prague in April.

    Having said that, I haven’t looked into the programme in great detail.

    • Thanks very much, Alison. It’s good to get another point of view. This is why I’m so unsure, really. There are elements that make me suspicious but others that make me think I probably ought to be there getting something out of it, especially as I won’t even have to fork out for travel or a hotel room. The programme is like all the programmes for these things: there are talks that look interesting and others that don’t look so appealing.

  3. Please, Simon, save your money. First of all, there will be a few serial presenters there and I’ve recently decided to avoid them all at all costs. I’ve stopped listening to them – just how many times can we listen to the same thing over and over? Second of all, ”Certification and training for freelancers based on the ISO standards” is not what I consider to be an honest attempt to bridge the so-called communication gap between freelancers and agencies. ISO standards are useless and I really wish they’d stop pushing them on us, independent professionals. Oh, and the cherry on the cake: ”Overcoming strife in the translation industry”. I guess it will be all about how whining is ugly and how any criticism is simply not allowed anymore as it is now considered an ad hominem attack. What an excellent array of topics, don’t you think? 😉

    Congratulations on your blog, I’ve been following it for a while but this was the first time I felt compelled to comment.

    • Thank you for you comment, Diana, and your kind words about my blog. I absolutely agree with you on ISO, by the way – an utterly pointless exercise in box-ticking. My heart always sinks if one of my customers proudly announces "We’re going for ISO whatever number it is" because I know for sure it’s going to be followed by all sorts of demands for form-filling and jumping through hoops. But it might be fun to go and argue against it.

  4. It’s a valid point you raise, Simon. It’s understandable to initially approach an event like this with caution. As far as I’m concerned, this conference is a breath of fresh air. It will do our industry good to bring translators and LSPs together in one room and bash out some of the big issues that plague us.

    As Alison quite rightly points out, Iwan Davies is one of the organisers. The fact that the chair of a professional association as highly regarded as ITI is involved is an indicator that translators’ interests are to be represented.

    I chose this event to submit my paper to for the primary reason that it’s not another one of those conferences that brings translators together to have a good old moan about how hard done by we are and how all the evil clients are out to get us. This goes against the professional image that we strive for.

    I’d very much welcome Diana to attend this conference to correct her misconception that "Overcoming strife in the translation industry" is about silencing criticism. On the contrary, it is about challenging the victim mentality that sets in under challenging circumstances and instead encouraging constructive critical debate, with a focus on finding solutions. My talk will explain how, when faced with an issue involving our clients or colleagues, a collected and professional approach will go along way towards resolving the issue for the benefit of the translator, rather than the knee-jerk reaction of ranting online, which is not only a regressive step for translators themselves but it paints our industry in the most appalling light, at a time when great efforts are being undertaken to professionalise it. In a nutshell, let’s be business people, not employees.

    I agree on the point about ISO. Being a conference for LSPs and translators, there are of course going to be discussions that not everyone agrees with. I’d argue it is useful nonetheless to be better informed by hearing views on bones of contention from the horse’s mouth and challenge them there and then.

    If I weren’t speaking here, I’d be attending anyway for the networking benefit, the advantage over translator-conferences being that LSPs will be attending themselves. Whether the majority will comprise low-end or high-end agencies, it’s too soon to tell but my perception is inclining towards the latter. Bottom-feeders don’t tend to waste their time on conferences. Plus, a seasoned translator can tell a wolf in sheep’s clothing

    I do hope you decide to attend, Simon, and would look forward to meeting you again there.

    • Thanks for taking the trouble to comment in such detail, Lloyd. I’m really glad my post has stirred up this kind of debate because I think it’s very helpful. You make some interesting points, and if I do go the networking will be a major factor in making up my mind. As you say, I just hope the right kind of LSP turns up.

  5. Interesting post, Simon, and it’s always as well to be wary about attending conferences willy-nilly. Like Lloyd, I’d seen the ITI’s involvement in this particular conference as an encouraging development, and anything that addresses the "them and us" mentality in the translation profession surely has to be a good thing? I’ve registered – it wasn’t expensive to attend as a freelance translator, especially if you join as one of a group – and shall certainly be listening to Lloyd and Andrew’s presentation with interest. There is so much ranting and not enough doing and collaborating in the industry my book, yet the success of certain new translator groups suggests that by working together we can not only raise the profile of translators but increase our own self-esteem and earning power too. I’m also very much looking forward to the networking aspects, often one of the major benefits of such events and one which shouldn’t be underestimated – I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a translation conference without making new contacts that have led to excellent work opportunities further down the line. If it’s on your doorstep, I think you’d be mad not to sign up for that at the very least! I hope I’ll see you there!

    • Thank you for your comment, Claire. One of the things that made me uncertain about the conference were some posts I read on the mailing list of a translators’ organisation I belong to here in Catalonia which were very suspicious of the event. I read the details and I thought "Yes, they’ve definitely got a point". But you and Lloyd and Alison and Nikki Graham (who’s commented on my Facebook page) are convincing me that I really ought to attend, even just for the networking, so it’s quite likely I’ll be seeing you there in February.

  6. Hi Simon,

    I’ve been hesitating for quite some time. Since I don’t really work with LSPs, I can see little benefit for me, since the idea is to bring translators and LSPs together. For me working "together" goes beyond LSPs and I’m a little disappointed in the programme, which definitely seems geared towards inter-LSP-Freelance relations.

    There is nothing on the programme to do with team-work, which is a big area of working together.

    However, I expect that there will be plenty to learn and if its only a stone’s throw from where you are, why miss out? Any networking event is worth going to, if only to be aware of what’s happening in the industry.

    I probably won’t come in the end, even if Barcelon itself is really tempting. There will be other more interesting conferences in 2016 IMO, and I will probably put them first.

    • Thanks for your comment, Miranda. I think if I had to travel, like you I would probably find other priorities but, as you say, it would probably be silly to miss out as it’s on my doorstep.

  7. Hi Simon,

    I don’t see any reason to thank professional associations who believe that a rapprochement between independent translators and agencies is the way forward. Equally, I don’t support the idea of agencies being corporate members of what were originally our associations. Isn’t that what the ATC is for? Ignoring for one moment my slight aversion to the current rash of translators’ conferences I wouldn’t attend this one, even if it were held on my doorstep. Work aside, I would rather spend my precious time contacting potential clients or catching up with my MOOCs.

    Whether you go or not, well done for at least questioning the value and wondering about a possible hidden agenda.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa. You make some good points. I think I have now more or less made up my mind to go, but I shall definitely be blogging about the event and if I find the suspicion of a hidden agenda to be borne out I won’t hesitate to say so.

  8. Thank you for posting this though-provoking post, Simon.

    Personally, I don’t see what is so special, or even different, in this conference compared to others — and there seems to be on every week.

    All these conferences are attended by both translators/interpreters and agencies/other stakeholders who make a living from working with or selling to translators — and all cover pretty much the same subjects and topics, and in a very similar way.
    But like parties, you can sell the exact same thing only so much, so why not make the conferences thematic as a way to create the illusion they are different.

    I would also argue that thinking that a conference is the right platform to discuss any existing gap and make any progress is a very naĂŻve way of looking at things, and exactly the type of naivety being, and will continue to be, abused by some commercial interests in their favor.

    I don’t know if you noticed, but the so-called professional community, at least as reflected on common social media fora and the major commoditizing associations are cynically focused on selling to translators, while dragging our so-called profession through all sorts of gutters in the process. The translators/interpreters are the product in this arrangement, not the ones being served.
    No conference, thematically creative as it my be, can magically replace real and constant effort in promoting the profession and the best interests of its members. The effort, however, should be done outside, not within, the boundaries of the "professional" community. Enough of translators and stakeholders speaking and "educating" translators (on many things unrelated to translation; while some stakeholders are talking to translation buyers and telling them different stories than the ones they are telling to translators), and more speaking to the general public.

    Also, who exactly has authorized the alleged representatives of the translators/interpreters to speak on behalf of the profession?
    I argue that our profession is not a standalone profession but a specialty within other professions/industries, but even if one considers translation to be a standalone profession, the profile of its members varies significantly: From complete amateurs, through those working only part time, to those who made it their career. If you peel the superficial label of "translators/Intersperses", those group has very little in common, yet the aforementioned translation community group them all together as peers. This is as misguided and misleading as it could get.

    I can only echo the advice some others have already gave: If you see this as a career, one would be advised to focus more on attending industry-specific conferences than on translation conferences (nor conferences specifically for "freelancers"), and focus on developing a sustainable career — or get out while still ahead.
    We are not "freelancers", we are developing a career, and this includes running our own business (even if it is slightly different from the textbook definition of a business). Any attempt to speak at us as if translators are desperate, clueless, and incompetent, is patronizing, or worse.
    Sure, there are some who fit that description, in part or in full, and there is a place for everybody, but when this is the profile the so-called professional community claims to be the face of the profession, something is wrong, and it is more deeper and troubling than the poor excuseof a "strife" as the obstacle of progress (which is usually just a cheap way to silence criticism of questionable practices).

    And just to be clear: I’m not criticizing anyone who decide to attend that conference, not at all. I only mean to present a broader perspective so people could make better educated decisions for themselves.

    • Thanks for taking the trouble to comment at such length, Shai. Your argument is interesting. I agree with it up to a point concerning some of the talks being given, but what has convinced me to go along is the fact that a conference is more than the sum of the talks given there. Whenever I’ve been to one (and I haven’t been to many) the most useful and important thing has always been the human contact and networking. And that leads me to believe that there is actually a translation community. You’re right, it’s not homogeneous but then what professional community is? There are always people at different stages of their careers and with different levels of knowledge, ideas and interest. I agree with you there are those who are perhaps trying to impose their own view of the profession or even to mould it for their own ends, but I think there is also a real community out there who have certain things in common even if they don’t share everything and it’s that translation community I’m happy to connect with. The other thing I plan to do when I go in February is to loudly and vigorously challenge the "corporate attitude" and any attempt to extend it to freelancers. I don’t mind working with companies, I don’t mind listening to their ideas, but I will not have them imposing their way of doing things on me or my colleagues because it’s simply not my way.

  9. Well taken topic! I have decided to go to the conference for a couple of pragmatic reasons.

    1) Being af freelancer working exclusively for agencies (my choice) this is an opportunity where there is at least a theoretical possibility to exchange opinons and listen to their voice. Not many chanches to meet personally with your clients.
    2) A conference is always, independently of the programme, a chance to meet new colleagues, network and learn. You always bring something home if you search for it. Might be new technical skills, new insight, new friends or simply inspiration. Skip the conferences that doesn’t appeal and hang out in the corridores. Listen, absorp, small talk.
    3) As there seem to a certain recurrence of people travelling from one conference to another with more or less the same speeches I chose Barcellona rather than other options because it is easy and cheap for me to go there, I love Barcellona, and I will combine with a day or two on my own.

    Having said this, I fully agree with other posts here that if you really want to build op and strenghten you professional development, translator conferences in general are not the right place. Subjects are more or less always the same: marketing, how to be happy with your job, sell yourself, some CAT-tool presentation and a light and seducing introduction to the heaven of MT. And, as I said, a certain recycling of speechers can be observed too. But one conference a year of this type doesn’t hurt.

    Hope to see your there! 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment, Birgit. I have definitely decided to go to the conference, so I hope to see you there.

  10. Hi Simon, good post and good debate. I won’t be going, partly as I’m already planning on attending a conference in Spain later in the year (METM16 in Tarragona) – along with one or two non-translation conferences – and partly because I’m not really targetting translation agencies with my marketing at present. Why would I, given how little even the best Italian agencies seem prepared to pay, blue-chip end clients and all?

    I agree to a certain extent about the problem of some over-familiar faces at conferences, although if more people to volunteered to speak, there would be more new voices. But I very much agree that the best thing about a conference is often the serendipity – the informal discussions over coffee, the contacts made, the tips picked up, etc.

    • Thanks for your comment, Oliver. I completely understand you not attending. I’m sure I wouldn’t be going if I had to travel any distance. My indecision was really because it was so close at hand. As you say, the real value of these things is in the contacts you make so I’m sure it will be worthwhile in that respect.


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