Monday, 23 May 2011

ITI Conference 2011 (continued): Insularity, an incomprehensible dialect, T-shirts, and lots more stimulation

Before I expand on the aspects in the title of my second conference blog post, a few words on the venue would be in order. The original, chosen venue in Birmingham due to be provided by Conference Aston was, as it turned out, too close to two student accommodation tower blocks that were to be blown up on the conference Sunday! In response to the demolition plans, ITI had managed to secure exclusive use of the Gallery conference suite on the first floor of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) instead. Exclusive use meant it allowed for staging multiple parallel sessions. (By the way, the conference also included a number of sessions relevant to interpreters only. Because I exclusively translate and never interpret, I did not attend any of them, and they are therefore not covered in my blog posts.) The Gallery offered excellent facilities and was overall, as everyone agreed, a first-class venue. The NEC as a whole, on the other hand, to me seemed a slightly weird place. I was having a little wander around to get my bearings on the pre-conference evening, only to find out that the NEC was a huge, sprawling, and seemingly deserted complex. In fact, the only places where I could find a bit of bustle in the area surrounding the venue was Birmingham Airport nearby and the various hotels. One of the nice sides of having a little wander around: I bumped into, made friends with and walked back to the hotel with another translator who had had the same idea of having a dry run!

This leads me to another popular part of the weekend: the conference fringe with plenty of opportunities for socialising and networking. Like a lot of other conference attendees, I was staying at the Ramada NEC. The Ramada also was the setting for a relaxed and friendly dinner as part of an informal pre-conference get-together on the Friday evening.

I am now going to provide a round-up of two particularly stimulating conference sessions:

Betti Moser and Isabel Hurtado de Mendoza’s practical workshop aimed at the bottom line that working alone does not mean that we can develop an insular mentality. No freelance translator is an island. Human interaction plays an important part in our lives as well, especially in our relationships with our TC or direct clients, project managers, colleagues, revisers, accountants, family members, childminders or others. The following metaphor had been chosen for the conference programme: We cannot just raise the drawbridge and lower the portcullis when the odd bit of interaction looms! The workshop also addressed a number of awkward or difficult-to-handle situations that can come up in a freelance translator’s work life, including: ways of approaching group translation projects; criticism management; handling dubious job offers; midway cancellations of projects; being asked to carry out free test translations; etc. Betti and Isabel had put a lot of thought and preparation into the workshop. Being practising translators themselves, they were well placed to offer knowledgeable input.

Jonathan Downie’s presentation was about the extraordinary story of his recruitment as the world’s first interpreter of Glaswegian to assist business clients baffled by the local dialect. It sparked an avalanche of media attention and put him high up Google rankings. The title "Maw, Ah’m Oan the Telly!" in Glaswegian, incomprehensible to me and probably a few others as well, was without doubt an excellent hook for the presentation. Have I whetted your appetite? To read the full story see the relevant BBC article at or simply google "Glaswegian interpreter". (By the way, it would not surprise me at all if one day a similar story hit the headlines in the region in Germany where I come from. Readers of this article who are familiar with the Central Franconian dialect will know what I am talking about.) Jonathan went on to share his lessons learnt from the experience: Opportunities can come from anywhere. This means you can make yourself known without having to spend thousands. Jonathan also probably posed the biggest challenge of the whole conference for anyone to take away and have a good think about: What is it that makes YOU special so that it would fit on a T-shirt? What is your USP? Jonathan recommended presenting this USP in the best possible way.

To conclude, I totally agree with Mike Hanson, a French to English translator, who says: “I found it a very sociable and stimulating conference. I really enjoy going to ITI conferences and other events − it gets you out of the office and reminds you that you are a professional doing a real job, and there are plenty of colleagues out there doing exactly the same. You also catch up with colleagues who you may not have seen for years, as well as meeting new ones!”