Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Pink-Ribbon Perspective: The ATA Conference from the Viewpoint of a First-Time Attendee

A Pink-Ribbon Perspective: The ATA Conference from the Viewpoint of a First-Time Attendee - by Amy Lesiewicz
Last month I attended my first ATA Conference at the urgings of my mentor, a German to English translator named Amanda Ennis. She assured me that it would change my life, and she wasn’t wrong.
I opted to come a day early and take advantage of two of the pre-conference seminars. My first stop after picking up my name badge with my pink “first-time attendee” ribbon and color-coded language dot was Corinne McKay’s seminar entitled Beyond the Basics of Freelancing. In just three hours, Corinne taught us about marketing, specialization, pricing, negotiating, working with direct clients and agencies, invoicing, scheduling, and more. At once, I felt that this was the best three-hour investment I’d ever made in my career, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not reading her book years ago. During the seminar, I met a Japanese to English translator who shares my specialization (chemistry) and an internet acquaintance who shares my language pair (Russian to English).
My next seminar was all about negotiation. Although I didn’t find everything in that session to be immediately applicable for me, I did have two “light bulb moments,” one intentional and one quite by accident. The first was the concept that negotiation is not an event, but a process. Although I love translating and hate business, I realize now that I am a businessperson, like it or not, and negotiation is part of the process. Resenting the time “wasted” on negotiation will get me nowhere; instead, I should learn to think of that time as an investment in each project and a learning opportunity for future negotiations.
The second light bulb moment came when the presenter stated that a technical translation could be split between multiple translators without any real impact on the outcome, but a marketing translation cannot. I have read this type of attitude expressed in various online forums, but I didn’t expect to hear it from a presenter at the ATA Conference. Various similar comments throughout the conference made me realize that perhaps I need to become more active in the ATA and other groups to promote scientific and technical translation. I am just as passionate about the art and science of translation as my literary counterparts!
Once the main conference got underway, I found myself drawn to many of the medical and technical sessions, in addition to sessions aimed at helping independent contractors with some non-linguistic aspects of our careers. I was pleased that many of the subject-matter expert presenters, as fellow translators, placed an emphasis in their sessions on terminology as well as the science or medicine they were discussing. For example, I never knew before that the word vaccine comes from the Latin word for cow – because the first vaccine was developed based on the observation that milkmaids were immune to smallpox after exposure to cowpox (thanks to presenter Tapani Ronni). Two of my favorite presentations were in the Science & Technology Division track: DNA Translation: It’s All in the Genes by Leo van Zanten (whose creative use of humor and multimedia kept his presentation interesting and entertaining, as well as very informative) and Basic Concepts of Pharmacology in Drug Development by Bob Lyon (though not a translator, Bob fielded several linguistic questions with great answers and provided very clear and thorough explanations of terminology).
One important point I picked up from Chris Durban’s presentation on The Care and Feeding of Direct Clients was her axiom that as a specialist, I should be able to mingle with professionals in their element and blend in with them for at least two minutes. Could I pass for a research chemist in a room full of PhD scientists and R&D experts? I also enjoyed Judy Jenner’s 10 Habits of Highly Successful Translators and Interpreters and a great presentation on making my own website from Tess M. Whitty.
Unfortunately, the Slavic Languages Division annual meeting fell into the same time slot as Carola Berger’s session on some very cool physics stuff. Since I would never presume to translate anything in the field of theoretical physics and my interest was pure curiosity rather than professional education, I felt I should attend my language division meeting, but I still wish I could have been in two places at once. The Slavic Languages Division Banquet also conflicted with the S&TD dinner, and I opted for the Russian and Georgian food, which brought back memories of my favorite restaurants in Moscow.
My flight out of San Diego was delayed, so I missed my connection in Dallas. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I was quickly rebooked and ended up sitting next to a fascinating medical doctor and researcher who is also bilingual. He received his medical education in Spanish and his scientific education in English, and I found it interesting that this affected the way he understands and approaches medicine and research. We had a wonderful conversation about the intersection of science and language, and the advantages it has brought us both professionally and personally. He told me that people who are monolingual as children and study a foreign language as an adult have one language center in the brain, which they use for both languages. People who are raised bilingual from birth or early childhood develop two language centers, one for each language, in opposite hemispheres of the brain, so when they translate or transition between languages, impulses have to travel across the narrow bridge between the hemispheres called the corpus callosum. (I immediately wondered if that is why the translation field is dominated by women: there are gender differences in the structure and activity of the corpus callosum, though these differences are still a matter of dispute.) This chance meeting was the perfect capstone for the conference; I got to meet someone outside the translation profession and practice some of my new skills, and we exchanged ideas and business cards. We’ve already connected via e-mail and I hope we’ll stay in touch.
Amy Lesiewicz is a Russian to English translator who specializes in scientific translation. As a chemistry student, her academic advisor suggested that she take French, German, or Russian so that she could read important chemistry journals in a second language. The Russian class fit into her course schedule the best, so she enrolled, expecting to take no more than a few semesters. She earned her BS in chemistry and went on to earn an MA in Russian and a Certificate of Advanced Study in translation. After three years at an engineering company translating for Russian oil and gas projects, Amy is now a freelance translator.

1 comment:

  1. Amy,
    It was so great to meet you. Your point about the worth of technical translation and other people's attitudes to it deserves a post all of its own. Many of us have felt this 'vibe' if not experienced it handled as directly as you did!


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