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APTRAD conference in Portugal


In June, I attended the first conference organized by the Portuguese translation association APTRAD. They pulled out all the stops and attracted a line-up that included some of the biggest names in translation circles: Marta Stelmaszak (who eventually couldn’t make it, but provided a video talk), Michael Farrell, Andrew Morris, Tess Whitty, and Chris Durban.

As one might expect from an organization’s first conference, there were a few teething issues, especially technical problems. The organizers would do well to make sure they have a sound technician on site at future conferences, as there were various problems with sound, which were not helped by the venue’s atrocious acoustics. I’d also recommend that each session should have a moderator in charge of timekeeping, as a few speakers overran. Finally, they should have more people on the registration desk or allow people to register the day before, as the registration queue shortly before the opening session was far too long.

A packed social programme

On the whole, the organization on the whole was very good. The social programme was particularly impressive. On the Friday (the day before the conference), there were various visits and walks around Porto during the daytime, a visit to a port wine cellar and a performance of fado in the afternoon, and a pre-conference dinner in the evening. The gala dinner took place on the Saturday. On the Sunday there was a post-conference dinner and farewell party. And even on the Monday, when the main event was over (Chris Durban held a separate masterclass on the Monday morning), there was a lunch, followed by a cruise on the River Douro.

Lunch lasted just an hour and a half on both conference days, but since it was at the hotel venue, it did not feel too rushed.

A smorgasbord of sessions

Moving on to the actual conference content, it was due to begin with a welcome speech by Marta Stelmaszak. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend, so she recorded her speech in a video. However, due to technical problems, the organizers were unable to show the video in the allotted slot and had to show it later on the same day.

Susana Váldez gave a presentation entitled A freelancer as a team member: the translation project life cycle. She spoke about the importance of communication with the client and gave examples of when changes had been made either to a source text or to translations into other target languages as a result of questions she had posed. Susana also stressed that it is important to point out mistakes to clients, because it is what our client would want us to do and because it helps us to stand out from other translators.

Susana went on to discuss translation-workflow process and made the rather startling revelation that some agencies request a service called “TPE”, i.e. translation, proofread and editing from a single person! Many people in the room, including myself, were shocked to hear this. A translator should always revise and edit their own translations, irrespective of whether the translation will be passed on to another reviewer or editor. If you are looking to purchase translation services and somebody is offering you TPE by a single person, don’t be fooled into paying extra. The whole point of a translation being reviewed is for a second pair of eyes to see the translation, so you’re only getting an additional service if the review is done by a third party.

Arancha Caballero talked about the Elia Together conference held earlier in the year in Barcelona, an event I was unable to attend because it clashed with my wedding day. She spoke very highly of the event, underlining that it was an excellent opportunity for agencies and translators to meet and talk. After her presentation, several freelancers from the floor who had attended Elia Together said that it was the best opportunity they’d had to meet good, serious translation agencies. The next edition will be held in Berlin in February 2017.

Tess Whitty, famous for her podcast on “Marketing Tips for Translators”, gave out a number of tips on Future-proofing your translation business. These included:

  • Checking whether we’ve achieved our income goals at monthly, six-monthly and yearly intervals
  • Attending writing courses in the target language
  • Producing a brochure
  • Focusing on specific targets.

A brochure is still on my to-do list, so this was a helpful reminder to get it done!

She said we should avoid vague goals and set very specific ones, such as “I will join groups X, Y and Z on LinkedIn to reach 50 new people and acquire 5 new clients”. This sounds great, but how do you come up with those figures? Is there not a danger that we could focus too much effort on achieving a certain goal that is actually misguided or unrealistic?

Lloyd Bingham spoke on The path to professionalization. He said that translators do not get the same respect as doctors or lawyers, and he recommended that we present ourselves as a “professional translator” rather than as a “freelance translator” in order to be taken more seriously.

Day 2

The Sunday morning kicked off with a keynote speech by Manuel Sant’Iago Ribeiro. For me, it was disappointing, because he spoke almost exclusively about the different modes of interpreting. New information, perhaps, for a student taking their first interpreting class, but anybody already in the industry, or even at the end of a translation degree, would have learned very little.

It was a shame that Chris Durban was scheduled as a parallel session, rather than as a keynote address, as she was always going to attract a large crowd, such is her reputation among freelance translators. In other circumstances, I’d have attended Nádia Morais’s presentation on The Free Translator: taking the “free” out of freelancer, but I just couldn’t resist going to hear Chris Durban again, as her presentations are always helpful, insightful and motivating. She did not disappoint.

Chris spoke about pricing, and while she insisted that she does not recommend prices, she gave examples of what she had charged for certain, specific jobs in the past. She quoted American author Seth Godin, who wrote that freelancers (of any profession) should charge at least double the hourly rate that they’d want to earn as a salaried worker, and should spend half of their work time on marketing.

One thing Chris emphasized, however, perhaps more so than previous times I’ve heard her speak, was that we need to be good translators if we want to command the kind of fees that she charges. She argued that one of the reasons many translators are unable to earn premium rates is simply because they don’t translate well enough, and that many translators need to raise their quality before they’ll be able to hike their prices.

Chris backed this idea up with examples of translations that, on the face of it, seemed good, but had been done by translators working on auto-pilot, using expressions that a native, monolingual English speaker simply would not have written if they had produced the text in English.

Other pearls of advice included being aware of the cost of failure for the client when we pitch to them, and simply pausing when a potential client tells us that we’re too expensive. She also recommended that when we go to client events we should say that we’re there because of an upcoming job.

Carla Sousa’s presentation, entitled Geek translator? Yes please!, was, for me, a little disappointing, as many of the tools she presented, such as voice-recognition software, are already very well known. When the Mediterranean Editors and Translators conferences have a session on tools, the session is presented by a panel, and there is always time for recommendations from the floor. APTRAD would do well to do the same at future events to ensure that a wider variety of tools is presented.

Sue Lesche’s presentation, entitled The Translator/Interpreter as Entrepreneur – how to be enterprising, discussed the characteristics of entrepreneurs and the need to take calculated risks. She left me with several take-homes:

After two long days  not to mention the long journey to get to the conference  it was tempting to skip the final session. But I’d have missed out big-time had I done so!

Inga Michaeli’s Rough Guide to Translating Guide Books was both fascinating and insightful. Inga translates Lonely Planet books into Hebrew. She gave countless examples of how she has had to adapt guide books to her target audience, i.e. Hebrew-speaking Israelis.

One guide book, for instance, mentioned a “kosher” shop. An English-speaking person would understand that the shop sells kosher products. However, to a Jew from Israel it could not be described as kosher because it opened on Saturdays. If memory serves me correctly, she said that she changed it to say that the store sold traditional Jewish food.

Another example she gave was that the guide book on Georgia (that’s the country, not the American state) included a section about visiting Iran. Since Israeli nationals are prohibited from entering Iran, she removed the section from the Hebrew version of the guide book.

She gave many more curious examples, which I wish I could remember. But the important thing to take home was that we must adapt our translations to suit the target audience. I would strongly recommend her to any conference organizer, as she is an excellent, stimulating speaker who uses very clear examples to present her message.

To sum up, the conference was well attended, generally well organized, and had an excellent line-up of speakers. They have decided that they will not be holding a conference in 2017, but will instead wait until 2018. The 2016 conference was a great success and I look forward to attending again in two years’ time.


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