Friday, August 20, 2010

Review of the International Technical Translation Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, by Karen Tkaczyk

Tower of Babel
Thirty-six nationalities were represented by the 200 translators present at this two-day conference held in Lisbon on 28-29 May 2010. That alone made it a stimulating environment for any member of the T&I community, even before we consider the technical sessions. English was the language of almost all of the sessions, but the hallways and meeting areas exhibited great diversity. Conversations were sometimes held in several languages at once, it seemed. Many English dialects were represented, from both southern and northern hemispheres. There were people from many European countries and from most of the Portuguese speaking countries. There was also a delegation from China.
TradulÍnguas is developing a reputation for putting on excellent conferences. Organizers João Roque Dias and Lina Gameiro had been very responsive and well-organized in the run up to the event, and it ran very smoothly, so they and their team are to be congratulated. It is worth mentioning that the coffee breaks, on-campus lunches, and conference dinner improved the overall experience in giving us a flavor of Portugal. Delicious ‘pastéis’, Portuguese pastries, were served during the breaks, and a lively, (dare I say loud, perhaps even boisterous as the evening wore on!) conference dinner was held at a location within easy walking distance of our hotels. I would highly recommend future TradulÍnguas events.
So what did I learn?
I had chosen to attend because of the specialized technical content, and combined it with a visit to my parents in the UK. I am a highly-specialized technical translator, and I crave good training in the area. It is not easy to find such training, even if you are willing to travel. Medical translation, legal translation, even financial translation, are commonly catered for. Technical translation is not often the focus of conferences. Since this one sold out and had a waiting list, it suggests to me that there is a market for other similar events.
I arrived with decisions to make, as the program was two-track apart from keynote speakers. We had good choices available, as each time slot had a session on a technical subject, then there were other options on building your business and terminology management, for example, for those who wanted a more general program. There were sessions that were of direct relevance to my work, and several that were not directly relevant but left me with a sense of satisfaction afterwards. I felt ‘well-fed’ intellectually after the two days.
My conference began with a member of the in-house translation department at CERN in Geneva, Mathilde Fontanet, speaking on the common difficulties of translating technical English. Oh, those noun pairs! As well as the huge value to the obvious ‘out of English’ audience, there was a lot of food for thought for those of us who work into English.
UN translator Prof. Marie-Josée de Saint Robert gave an excellent session on how terminology must be defined within the UN, in her case for work into French. It was an eye-opener to see how decisions must be made. I think it is best explained by an example, which I hope I relate faithfully. In one area of automotive technology (as I recall the context was anti-lock brakes) manufacturers were using a variety of phrases to describe a new technological concept in English. The equivalent French phrase had to be defined for a new standard, and a study was made of the French phrases in common use. It was then important to consider whether those phrases were used exclusively by one auto-maker. Selecting that phrase would not do! So not only was the meaning of the terms important, but the accepted phrasing in the industry and the degree to which a phrase was accepted by only a part of the industry, before selecting an ‘official’ French translation.
I was looking forward to a session on translation for technical journalism, as it is an area in which I wish to develop my skills. This is difficult work, as the translator must have both the technical skill set and be able to write excellent marketing copy. Presenter Steve Dyson met my expectations and may be the only translator I have ever met who is more narrowly specialized than me! His narrow area is translation of naval defense related subject matter for that industry’s professionals, and his discussion of the issues involved in marketing technical subject matter was the highlight of the conference for me. His technique is emulation, and he immerses himself in that industry’s publications to build up his expertise.
A Belgian professor from University of Mons, Viviane Grisez, gave us a great session on how French scientists usually write English papers, giving insight into what to look out for in the area of revising English texts written by non-native speakers, which is a reasonably large field for scientific translators like me. Major areas of consideration were modal verbs and tense use, then other smaller issues that we all recognize were mentioned, such as hyphenation, or the difference between ‘make’ and ‘do’, and the dreaded ‘realize’.
There were a number of sessions on specific technical areas including high speed rail, bearings, my own session on the chemical industry, and a very popular session on translating manuals. There were also a number of more general sessions on tools, terminology and building a business. Renato Beninatto gave a lively presentation on the state of the translation industry and how old we all were – literally, but more importantly figuratively, in how we think about the business and they way it may change in the near future. The conference ended with sessions from the head of the Portuguese team at the European Commission, and the last Q&A was a lively one that scratched the surface of the current ferocious debate on the potential reform of the Portuguese language.
And back to work
This was a stimulating, well-run conference where I met many interesting people. It left me enthusiastic about my chosen niche in the profession, and eager to return to work. There was even an added bonus! When I returned home and looked at the CD-Rom I saw it was chock-full of solid reference material in addition to the presentations. This was a superb professional development event.

The author is an ATA-certified French to English translator working in chemistry and its industrial applications and IP. She is the current Acting-Administrator of the Science and Technology Division.

1 comment:

  1. The importance of a technical translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

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