Who among us hasn’t had to listen to such disheartening reactions as “What, you are a translator? So what? Anyone who speaks a foreign language can do that!” or “No, I’m not prepared to pay these rates, Google Translate is good enough for me!”
Translators are usually invisible and, when they are not completely overlooked, they are often underestimated. Most people are neither aware of what we do nor how their daily life would be negatively impacted by the absence of translations. Those who are experts in the field waver between revolt and resignation, between frustration and anger when they discover that translation and language services in general receive so little attention and are seldom appreciated.
What is wrong with our job description? Are we really “only” the more expensive human version of Google Translate and DeepL? Or do our skills and services extend far beyond that?
This gave rise to the idea of doing something concrete to fight against this invisibility and all the prejudices associated with our profession. I was aware that only a concerted action by several stakeholders would reach a broad audience. In my capacity as Senior Lecturer in the University of Vienna Centre for Translation Studies, I activated our network based on the European Master’s in Translation (EMT). The outcome was that the European Commission, DG Translation (Vienna branch), the WKW Professional Group for Language Service Providers, and the Austrian Professional Association of Translators and Interpreters (UNIVERSITAS Austria), all agreed to join my initiative.
During the first Skype discussion with Claudia Kropf, the field officer of the European Commission in Vienna, Claudia Hagendorfer from WKW, and Martina Kichler from UNIVERSITAS, we agreed on whom we wanted to reach, and on the fact that our audience would be mainly based in Austria. Our target group would include:
- language enthusiasts who are about to take their school-leaving exams;
- translation students who are not sure where their professional journey will take them;
- students of other disciplines who are interested in translating and interpreting.
In addition, we would also welcome participants who have often wondered what on earth translators actually do nowadays, given the ever-present, ever-growing machine translation options out there. Of course, beginners and potential customers were also catered for in our planning.
The date of our online event almost suggested itself: the 30th of September, the European Translation Day, which is celebrated shortly after the 26th of September, the European Day of Languages.
So far, so good. But how should we, especially in times of Corona, stand out from the countless online activities? More to the point, what did we actually want to offer our participants? To find the right format was not an easy task – not another online event with sage-on-the-stage-style lectures and no interaction! Suddenly the term speed-dating came up: we wanted to bring people together, give them a quick, friendly insight into our discipline, and also make everything as uncomplicated and interactive as possible. Yes, why not? It was to be a translation speed dating discussing three main topics:
- translation needs of institutions and national/international organisations;
- the future of translation from the perspective of academic training, and
- translating between language service providers and end customers.
After choosing our topics, we did not completely abandon the classic workshop format and we planned for a keynote for each thematic block. Moreover, we envisaged that the interactivity and the short, quick familiarisation with each topic should take place in breakout sessions of 20 to 25 minutes, where a small group of participants should be able to ask an expert questions, get in contact with potential internship providers or translation clients, and share practical experience.
The only “small detail” missing now was that, after all this hard work, we still needed the right experts. So, we had to activate all our networks again and ask the DGT, ECB, UN, OSCE, our partner universities, translation agencies, the AATC (Austrian Association of Translation Companies) and EUATC (European Association of Translation Companies), as well as end customers and many others besides if they would have time to participate in such an online event.
Luckily, all of them were equally enthusiastic about attending our event provided their schedules allowed it, which was a reaction that validated our initiative – if anything, we had actually underestimated our contacts’ enthusiasm. While underestimating our contributors’ willingness to be involved was not an issue, the story was slightly different when it came to our participants. During the pre-registration stage, we expected between 60 and 80 participants. However, we received over 180 registrations! Even though not all of them were actually online on the 30th of September and we lost some participants and even one of our top-class experts due to technical problems during the event, in the end we still reached well over 120 people with our event. What is even more important, we got the ball rolling: many participants and experts are still in contact and exchanging ideas; internship offers were made; prospective students decided to join one of the available Austrian programmes; doubts and worries were eliminated. It also became clear that our profession is multi-faceted, interesting and definitely has a future. The human factor is and will remain irreplaceable despite the advent of machine translation and artificial intelligence. Of course, we cannot deny that the profession is constantly changing, becoming more interdisciplinary and therefore more diversified. It is also clear that flexibility, enthusiasm, willingness towards and commitment to lifelong learning are key assets. But, may we ask, in which profession are they not these days?
I admit that organising the Translation Speed Dating event took a little more time and effort than originally thought, but us four organisers worked together wonderfully – another example of the famous power of women. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation’s help and funding for technical support were also invaluable. Our conclusion was: A wonderful experience that we would like to repeat!
Do you want to know more about our Translation Speed Dating event? You can access the most important sections of Translation Speed Dating here:
If you have any questions, just contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
My thanks go to Dragos Ciobanu and Alina Secara for revising the English version.