Thoughts from the Territories of Understanding Conference

Hello everyone, I trust all is well out there in translation land! As some of you may have spotted, last week marked the occasion of the second international postgraduate conference in translation and interpreting studies at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Entitled Territories of Understanding: Conflict & Encounter, the organisers put on a thoroughly enjoyable event and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts that emerged during my stay in Northern Ireland.

The Present and Future of Translation Studies

Spread out over the course of two days, the conference’s twenty or so papers were slotted around keynote talks from leading translation studies scholars Susan Bassnett, Michael Cronin and Samia Bazzi.

While these big-name talks all provided ample food for thought (as you’d expect), reflecting the breadth of research in contemporary translation studies and showcasing what the (inter)discipline’s well-established scholars have to offer, there was much more to the conference than the chance to hear from a few translation heavyweights.

This was the first time I’d attended a specifically postgraduate conference and I was blown away as translation’s emerging scholars were provided with the leading voice. Talks were consistently excellent throughout, tackling a vast array of topics while centring around the notion of conflict and encounter, and the whole event was characterised by a universal willingness to share and discuss ideas.

Indeed, beyond enjoying two intense days of translation talk (what’s not to like about that, right?!), it was this postgraduate basis that really set the event apart. Having seen first-hand what this new generation has to offer, I left Belfast with no doubt that there is a bright future in store for translation studies.


Moving beyond translation studies

Back in the present, one of the most pressing general issues facing current and future translation scholars alike (and something that is also a real concern in the translation profession) is the need to move beyond our own borders and demonstrate the complexity and relevance of translation to a wider audience.

As our ongoing preoccupation with expanding understandings of translation continues to take the area beyond traditional notions of a specifically linguistic activity, translation studies’ interdisciplinary appeal is becoming increasingly evident.

While such tightly focused conferences can often represent a case of preaching to the converted, talking up the merits of a subject to an audience of fully fledged enthusiasts, the range of high quality talks on offer from people based outside of translation studies demonstrated that this push beyond our borders is gathering increasing pace and garnering tangible results within the academic world.

Talks centring around discussions of politics, tourism and art seamlessly blended in alongside more traditional discussions of corpus linguistics and rhetoric and the conference gave a strong sense of the progress that has been made over the last few years.

But this expansion must also be accompanied by a note of caution. While these widening understandings of what translation can entail undoubtedly allow us greater scope in engaging with other fields, it seems that an already limited focus on using theory to inform the core practice of translation may be slipping further from our attention.

Aside from a few papers that did explore concrete examples of translation issues, direct concerns from translation and interpreting professionals were only briefly discussed during a round table discussion at the very end of the conference – a clear indication of the way in which such concerns are all too often relegated to the sidelines.

Our core focus (which, for me at least, is that of translation as an interlingual transfer operation going from a source text to a target text) is becoming increasingly diluted and the acceptance of more abstract notions of translation, which are so powerful in extending a welcoming hand to neighboring disciplines, perhaps sees us running the risk of becoming disconnected with an important element of our discipline’s goal. That all-important sense of real-world applicability remains in danger of drifting out of sight – a concern that is not new but is well-worth reiterating.

Ultimately, however, my enduring impression of the conference is undoubtedly that of the considerable quality and the strong sense of direction within the young translation studies community. As the only translation studies PhD student at my university, it was great to get a real sense of what is happening in the wider community. What’s more, my enjoyment of the talks and the discussions that followed really confirmed that, one year into my translation research, I’m definitely working in the right area!

BONUS ODDITY: A poster for ‘Rough on Rats’ poison found during a flying visit to the Ulster museum. Enjoy…

Trust me, I’m a translator

Before getting started with today’s blog post, I just wanted to quickly mention a recent post I was featured in. Over at the Balance Your Words blog, Sara has started a great new series entitled ‘What’s on your desk?’ that gives translators out there a little insight into their fellow professionals’ quirks and working habits and I was lucky enough to be the first translator featured. Be sure to check out the upcoming posts.

But now it’s time for today’s main course and I want to look at something that has a part to play in every single translation project out there – the issue of trust (I guess the title and the huge flashing image to the right give it away somewhat).

Traditionally, there is a widespread air of mistrust surrounding the translator – this wily, shadowy character who lies between cultures, hides behind their computer screen and turns one language into another in a terrifying act of textual alchemy… It’s not natural, surely!

And in some ways, this sense of unease is quite justified. We are taught to mistrust that which we do not fully understand and the fact that the translator possesses a means of doing something completely alien to the end client will instantly raise their guard. In either turning their beloved text into a strange foreign tongue or producing flowing prose from something that previously made no sense, the client is forced to trust that what they are receiving is the genuine article, so to speak.

This video from the hugely popular series Game of Thrones sums up the dilemma entirely: how do you know that the words you are receiving actually represent those that they should when you do not speak the source language..? In the video, the interpreter (Missandei) is put in the unenviable position of trying to mask her master’s obscene language in order to maintain diplomatic negotiations. Requiring a sharp mind able to produce a complete reinterpretation of the source words in an instant, the role sees her rendering phrases such as ‘because I like the curve of her ass’ as ‘because Master Kraznys is generous’ (1:05).

And this particular conception of trust is something that has been considered by leading translation scholar Anthony Pym. In his 2009 ‘On the ethics of translator’s interventions’ (an intriguing talk that is available in its entirety on Youtube and is well worth a watch!), Pym focuses on the issue of trust and trustworthiness – albeit in a different context to the one explored here – and suggests that as one party is always out of control they must always maintain trust in the intermediary.

Ultimately, that is why professional translators charge what they do: they understand the importance of your message and have spent countless hours learning how to transfer that message as fully as possible to a new culture and audience.

However, I choose to look at trust as a two-way relationship rather than just a single level of faith on the part of the client and this is something alluded to by another leading translation scholar in Andrew Chesterman. While considering the development of a professional code of conduct for translators (his ‘Proposal for a hieronymic oath’), Chesterman highlights trust as one of the key categories involved along with truth, loyalty and understanding.

In labelling his notion of trust as equal and something to be subscribed to by all parties involved, my conclusion coming from his ideas is that, just as the client must trust in the translator, the translator must also trust in the client. Issues such as timely payment, the resolution of problems outside of the translator’s control (source text errors, for instance) and setting reasonable deadlines that are subsequently respected are all examples of occasions when the translator must place their faith in an equally unknown client and this shifts the initial representation of trust that we explored above.

With this taken into account, the notion of trust becomes a reciprocal relationship and should be respected as such: the key to successful collaboration lies in interacting with professionals that share the same standards and expectations as you. My belief is that ultimately, if you can trust yourself to handle a project well, then you can trust your like-minded professional translator to do the best job possible. Trust me, I’m a translator.

Where to go when lost for words?

Everyone involved in translation knows that terminology plays a key role in the profession: it seems fairly obvious really – finding the right word for the right situation is at the very heart of the translation process – but just how important is terminology mining?

Although figures can vary depending upon where you look – according to Arntz & Picht (1989), searching for terminology can take up to 75% of a translator’s time while Montalt & Gonzalez Davis (2007) go for around 50% – the generally accepted idea that over half of the translator’s time is spent digging for terms indicates that it is an area of huge importance, and one that merits an investment of time and effort to get right.

Coupled with the fact that conceptual and terminological accuracy is one of the key elements in many areas of professional translation (e.g. medical or legal translation) since the very value of the text often lies in its factual content, I thought it would be worthwhile dedicating this post to sharing a few pointers from my personal experience that will hopefully be of use to new and established translators alike.

While I am least partly bound by my language pairs (French & Italian to English) and my specialist areas, many of the points are of a more general nature and can be applied to the wider context.

Although translators usually specialize in a narrow field, it is rightly said that a key skill is to be an expert in finding the information you lack quickly. In a world of tight deadlines and information overload, finding the right information in the most timely manner has to be among the translator’s ultimate aims.

While both monolingual and bilingual print dictionaries and specialised glossaries remain a valuable tool for the working translator as they offer accurate results (my big French dictionary is never far from reach when it comes to quickly checking a general term), the constant improvement of online dictionaries and glossaries and the many benefits that they offer, such as portability, regular updates for terms in ever-changing disciplines (print versions can be out of date by the time they make it to market), or comprehensive searching in seconds, make then a valuable working tool.

Problems remain in finding online content that is reliable and, ultimately, it remains important that online resources are approached with a certain level of caution and results must often be critically examined by cross-referencing multiple sources and making use of native-speaker contacts.

That said, the links below (click on the sub-headings) are all resources that I have used extensively in my work with great success and each entry also includes notes on language pairs available and any other important information.


Starting with possibly the most obvious, and most frequently used resource beyond Google, WordReference simply has to be mentioned. This online multilingual dictionary has improved no-end in recent years and, while the quality still varies greatly between language pairs (French is excellent with multiple entries for most terms and a deep forum, while Italian is still only adequate), it can be counted on as a reliable source to be used for non-specialist terminology if your language pair is included. Terminology

Here is another resource that will be extremely familiar to most translators as the ProZ community represents an integral part of the modern profession. The terminology section is actively updated by the community and has millions of terms in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and other languages from medical, legal and other specialist areas. Another terminology forum similar to this exists at and, although I have not used it myself, I know that many translators use it and regard it very highly.


Working between English, Spanish, German, French and Portuguese (at the time of writing – others are expected to follow), Linguee provides a dictionary and also searches 100 million bilingual texts from translated sites and other reliable documents to give results along with their context, making it a very powerful tool if your language pair is catered for.

Le grand dictionnaire terminologique (GDT)

In my experience, the GDT quite simply provides one of the best resources for specialised terminology available online. Terms can be filtered by domain, language (of which there are 9 available, including Latin…) among other parameters.

IATE – The EU’s multilingual term base

Due to the multilingual nature of the EU, where every document must be produced in all 23 official languages, and thanks to the organisation’s ever-increasing online presence, the IATE term base is quite staggering. Made up of over 8 million terms – many of which are of a specialist nature – and updated on a daily basis, any translator working with an official EU language should have this page bookmarked!

Euro Term Bank (ETB)

While the ETB’s 2.6 million terms seems meagre in comparison to the entry above, the availability of 33 languages and an undeniably user-friendly layout compared to many of these resources make it an attractive alternative worth considering.

There are many, many more excellent online glossaries and dictionaries out there (the UN’s UNTERM is just one extremely reliable resource that I have not included) so please don’t hesitate to send me recommendations. Hopefully, however, the links and the pointers given above will all be of use. Ciao!