At the end of the last month I had the good fortune to travel to Germersheim in Germany for the 7th EST (European Society for Translation Studies) Congress and, as my first time both in Germany and at an academic conference, it was a wonderful, new experience for me.
I got to spend my days listening to a renowned cast of scholars discussing an incredible range of topics within translation studies, (briefly) experience a new culture, and enjoy some late summer sun before returning to rainy England – not bad at all.
Germersheim itself is a tiny town with a population of about 20,000. To put this into perspective, we were told early on that the arrival of all the conference-goers had increased the town’s population by around 2.5%! A strange venue for such a big conference perhaps, with the international nature of proceedings seemingly suited to a venue with better travel connections, but it certainly worked well enough.
While I began writing this post immediately upon my return, with all of the experiences fresh in my mind, a busy schedule has ensured that I’ve had to keep my ideas bottled up for a few weeks. But anyway – better late than never – here are my 7 most enduring impressions from the event:
1) Translation studies is huge
Ok, perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise to me or anyone else in the industry, but attending a conference such as this exemplifies how far-reaching translation studies and the act of translation really are. Being in a country with little knowledge of the language (my German was pathetic) and relying on translations to get by was a potent reminder of the importance of the profession. Beyond that though, listening to the first keynote speech (given in German) being instantly relayed into English by two interpreters – with concepts that I could barely understand in my own language translated with ease – really stood as a reminder of the skill and sheer excellence of members of our community. Furthermore, listening to talks on topics as diverse as patent translation and translation in the Gulag emphasise the fact that translation is everywhere.
2) Conferences offer unparalleled opportunities to network
While this is another point perhaps stating the obvious, it is certainly something that can’t go unmentioned. While wandering around the university campus I was able to discuss my own ideas on translation in some detail with the EST president – and one of the world’s leading translation studies scholar’s – Anthony Pym (a fully fledged translation celebrity in my head) as well as mixing with colleagues, translators and academics of all backgrounds and nationalities as the venue came to resemble a kind of real-life Twitter.
My personal highlight, however, was undoubtedly being able to meet the only published translator into English of work by the French philosopher I had painstakingly studied for my MA dissertation. Being able to discuss the challenges such a translation posed with one of the only other people in the world to have attempted the same feat is quite a triumph of networking.
3) Poster sessions are a great idea
The use of a poster as a means of allowing lots of up-and-coming authors to display a succinct summary of their work is a great idea. Amidst a packed schedule, this allowed many more participants beyond the set panels and only served to further highlight the diversity of the discipline. The walls were lined with enough posters to attract the interest of any translation enthusiast and I found myself drawn to one poster detailing a study on the typical features of a professional translator; apparently, being young, male and university educated in translation, I am about as far from the norm as possible. (One other poster that really caught my eye was one about the translation of film titles in Greece and I really wish I had taken a picture…)
4) The divide between practice and theory is still too great
Yet, among the excellent talks, posters and networking opportunities, one pressing question kept nagging at me: where is the link to the actual profession of translation? Being a freelance translator with a huge interest in translation theory, I feel a part of both the academic and professional sides of translation and, while it is perhaps easier to justify the professional’s tendency to deal only with issues relating to their work as a translator given the obvious importance of their livelihood, it is harder to find an excuse for translation scholarship to neglect such an area – surely the point of all this talk about translation is to directly benefit the actual translation task?
Aside from the poster mentioned above there were very few direct references to the translation profession (I believe there was just one panel dedicated to scientific and technical translation) and ultimately, the divide between translation as a profession and translation studies as a discipline remains too prominent, with neither side really looking towards the other and no easy answers available. For me, the responsibility to reconcile this difference lies within translation scholarship, where researchers should perhaps take a look at the work that they are doing and question what it really offers to translation.
5) Sitting and listening is hard work
This is something I thought I was prepared for as I headed off for the conference after everyone in the know had told me that conferences are tiring, but I still went back to the hotel every evening ready to collapse! Actively engaging with talks on a huge range of challenging topics for the best part of three hours in the morning and then again in the afternoon is hard work, not to mention the discussions that go on in between. Put simply, if it wasn’t for the copious amounts of tea and coffee on offer throughout the days, I don’t think I would’ve made it!
6) I can’t wait to go to another conference
The title is self-explanatory but this is exactly the kind of lasting impression that one should have when heading home from a conference. As I took to the road, my enthusiasm for the subject was given a boost, I was looking forward to emailing new contacts about exciting projects and my desire to attend another academic or professional conference at the first available opportunity far outweighed the exhaustion that was slowly catching up with me.
7) German stereotypes aren’t always true
Finally, and as a bit of fun, I have to say that while I did enjoy some lovely traditional German dishes during my time there, one of the other, most enduring German stereotypes wasn’t at all fully reflected during my few days in the country. Upon landing at Frankfurt airport, I was greeted with a rail system in utter chaos. With trains arriving and departing late, or not at all, carriages packed tighter than you can imagine and signs bearing the wrong information, it was all very far from the ultra-efficient Germany I’d come to imagine. Ultimately, it was all good fun and with the return journey running perfectly smoothly, I’m still left wondering whether I just managed to catch Germany on a bad day..? Ciao!