7 thoughts from the 7th EST Congress

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:

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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.

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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!

Talking Translation – Reflecting on Reflective Practice

I was going to say that this post will be a little bit different but, as I seem to say that at the start of most of my posts, I guess that this could be entirely expected.

This post is based around the link below (click the Soundcloud image) which heads over to a podcast from ‘Transcast’, a collection of podcasts and recordings relating to different aspects of the field of translation. This particular podcast involves a discussion between Dr. Sarah Maitland, Dr. Fruela Fernandez – Translation Studies professors at the University of Hull – and myself, centring on the importance of reflective practice in translation training and professional work, and I just wanted to quickly run through a few key ideas here before leaving you to listen to the podcast.

Reflective practice, for me, represents one of the best working methods available for the practicing translator as well as providing a rare opportunity to integrate theory and practice, which remains a key issue in the discipline. Reflecting on your own work as you translate forces you to question and to justify your translatorial decisions in relation to an end goal (a translation brief in this case) and this in turn allows a deeper understanding of your own working process and a better grasp of your areas of strength and weakness.

But beyond this added certainty in your choices, the act of questioning and justification also leads to a greater level of replicability in your work: I may be able to unwittingly produce the best translation in the world, but without an understanding of the processes leading to it, chances are that I won’t be able to reach this same high standard on a consistent basis, something of key importance to the practicing translator.

On a different level it also stands as an extremely useful pedagogical tool in the way that it allows assessors to gain a valuable insight into the creative process that a student follows in their work as well as their overall understanding of the discipline.

The reflection does, however, need to be based upon a solid knowledge of the underlying principles involved in translation in order to soundly justify decisions. This knowledge can be drawn from professional experience, translation theory, hermeneutics or many other fields.

Ultimately, if you can amply justify a decision to yourself, then you can be much more certain of the quality of your work and can assuredly justify that same decision to a client. Anyway, listen to the podcast and reflect on considering reflecting in your own work. Ciao for now!

Reading up on translation: 5 mini reviews

There’s something a little different in store for my post today with an attempt to give a little something back: over the course of the last few years, I’ve spent many long hours poring over books of all shapes and sizes to satisfy my need for all things translation and I thought a few mini-reviews of what I consider to be the best introductory texts would be a great way to try to provoke a little bit of interest in the field.

Personally, I find translation theory fascinating and have read much of what translation studies as a discipline has to offer, even to the extent of reading Palumbo’s ‘Key Terms in Translation Studies’ (essentially a glossary of the key terms in the discipline) from cover to cover. If it sounds like a far-fetched claim, it is important to consider that, as a fairly young discipline, the amount of literature on the subject isn’t actually that big and can be covered in a few months of intensive study.

Of course, the list is not comprehensive by any means; despite my constant scouring of the market for new literature, there remain texts that I maybe should have come across and if you can recommend anything I may have overlooked, or anything that you think will be of interest, then please leave a comment or drop me a line on Twitter.

The reviews only scratch the surface of what each of these great books has to offer, but hopefully it is enough to whet the appetite:

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Found in Translation – Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

I thought I would start with one of the more recent additions to my bookshelf, and a book that is currently making waves in translation circles following its release last year and many positive reviews. ‘Found in Translation’ is a collection of anecdotes on the subject which are both accessible and hugely entertaining. Anyone with even a passing interest in languages or translation will find it fascinating and it is the perfect place to start if you want to indulge a potential interest in the area. While the bold claim in the blurb describing it as ‘by far the most meaningful book on the subject of translation that I have ever seen’ may be going a bit far, this book takes steps to put translation on the map and that is exactly what the profession and the discipline need.

Is that a fish in your ear – David Bellos

This book pre-dates ‘Found in Translation’ by a year or two and is written to largely the same end goal: another collection of anecdotes which aim to inspire interest in the field, and it is one that really delivers. Written with a sense of humour that makes it a joy to read, Bellos provides an insight into how translation has shaped the world we live in and how it affects our daily lives. Criticised as being slightly inaccessible for the uninitiated while also lacking adequate substance for more academic tastes, it may not be as suited to testing a tentative curiosity as the previous book, but the author’s style and the content actually make this my (marginal) pick of the two.

In Other Words – Mona Baker

Rather than a collection of anecdotes on the subject, this book is more scholarly in nature and stands as an invaluable companion to the budding translator getting to grips with the subject. There are other introductions to the discipline out there (Susan Bassnett’s ‘Translation Studies’ is the go-to book for many people looking to get into the field and has an excellent, detailed history of the discipline) and other introductory textbooks (Peter Newmark’s ‘Textbook of Translation’ and Jeremy Munday’s ‘Introduction to Translation Studies’ among the best known) out there, but Baker’s coursebook is an amalgamation of the best aspects of each of these and provides a substantial guide to the challenges that translation offers, all coupled with practical examples which serve to help the new student orientate themselves in an alien discipline full of terms and ideas that can otherwise seem overwhelming.

The Scandals of Translation – Lawrence Venuti

The name of Lawrence Venuti has become one that goes hand in hand with translation studies as a discipline, and it is his work that forms the core of the canon. While Baker’s book ventures into more scholarly territory, Venuti’s goes far beyond the outskirts and represents the heart of scholarship. This can make it heavy-going for readers looking for something more accessible but with that said, there are very few authors who have managed to show the extents of translation’s power in the globalised world, and this book is absolutely fascinating for anyone interested in the humanities. ‘The Translator’s Invisibility’ is a similarly absorbing read which further develops his theoretical ideas, but I feel that ‘Scandals’ provides just a little more accessibility to merit its inclusion here.

Can Theory Help Translators? – Chesterman and Wagner

The last of the books on the list is a bit of a departure from the others as it doesn’t represent an introduction to the area at all. However, it addresses a question that causes ongoing debate in the field, and a question which I personally have tried to find answers to. There is a clear vacuum between translation theory and practice; many (maybe even most) freelance translators have very little or no knowledge of theory and still manage to do their job to exceptionally high standards, calling into question the necessity of theory. As such, this book throws a theorist and a professional together in an attempt to ascertain whether or not one can help the other and, while ultimately posing more questions than it answers, it is a must read for anyone curious of the link between the two and the benefits of theoretical knowledge.

As mentioned before, please get in touch with suggestions for books that I may have overlooked or books you have enjoyed, I’m always looking for new reads in the area!