Saturday, August 27, 2011

FIT Conference Redux

Last month, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the FIT translation conference in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I must report back that it was probably the worst conference I ever attended. Were any of you there? What did you think?

Here are a few of the reasons why I was disappointed:

--The organization of the conference was very poor. For example, no lunch was provided. Although many attendees had breakfast at their own hotels, the organizers chose to provide a continental breakfast at the conference. Presumably the cost of this is why they did not offer lunch. Instead, we had one and a half hours to find a reasonably priced lunch in the neighborhood, which created a stressful lunch time when we could have been networking and discussing. Considering the cost of the conference ($500), lunch really should have been included. I have never attended a full-day conference that did not include lunch.

--Another organizational issue is in regard to technology. I gave a presentation and was shocked to learn that laptops were not provided. When I complained, I was told that this was because it was “too expensive” to rent laptops and that it was already costly enough for the organizers to rent the screens. Again, given the high price of this conference, I was stunned that such basic amenities were not provided. I was told to borrow a laptop from someone in the audience. Obviously, this is not appropriate, especially given that many attendees brought their computers with the aim of taking notes on them.

--This was also the first conference I attended where there were no chairs for the sessions. Chairs are essential parts of talks, I believe, because they ensure that everything goes smoothly. They introduce the speakers, help run question sessions, and ensure that the audience does not get out of control. I was in talks where speakers never bothered to say who they were or where they were from, where audience members simply shouted out questions or comments in the middle of the presentations, and where questions were posed rudely or in the form of a boastful monologue. All of this could have been avoided by the simple organizational tool of having chairs.

--Similarly, there were a number of talks that had no question sessions at all, including the keynote lectures. We attend conferences to learn and part of the learning process is dialogue. It is very unusual to attend a talk that does not include time for questions. This, too, was an organizational issue that could have been rectified.

--The keynotes were distinctly lacking in import and relevance. I got the impression that the speakers had been invited for reasons other than their expertise in translation, because they did not have much to say about translation. It is unacceptable to attend a major international conference and to feel that attending keynote talks was actually a waste of time.

--Quite a few of the sessions were cancelled, sometimes five or ten minutes after they were due to start. While it is not the fault of the organizers that people were unable or unwilling to attend the conference, it is rather suspect, and it shows poor organization that the audience was not informed of the cancellation until it was too late to slip into another session.

--There were scarcely any exhibitions and there were no poster presentations. Along with all the other lacks, this contributed to an overall feeling of a weak conference with little to offer attendees.

--When I asked for an evaluation form, so I could offer some of this feedback immediately after the conference, I was told that the organizers had “decided [they] didn’t want any feedback”. Again, this is a rather odd decision, and suggests a deep sense of apathy in regard to the conference and no concern about the attendees.

--I emailed some feedback to the organizers and got a response that suggested that they had scarcely read my email and didn’t really care what anyone thought anyway. My impression was that they had gotten their money and that was all that mattered.

So while I really enjoyed the FIT congress in Shanghai in 2008, I was deeply disappointed in the FIT congress in San Francisco in 2011. Given the lack of concern on the part of the organizers, this has made me decide that I won’t attend another FIT event again, and that’s pretty sad, since FIT is supposed to be an umbrella organization that really looks out for translators and promotes our translation work.

Incidentally, I’m not the only one to feel this way – many people I spoke to during the conference expressed these disappointments and a few said they were going to write letters to the organizers too. It’s just too bad that the organizers show no remorse or concern.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2011

You still have time to submit an entry to The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2011. See this website for details about this contest for the translation of Russian poetry into English.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Translator and Writer Piotr Rawicz

Due to my work researching how the Holocaust is written about and translated in children’s literature, I recently read A Thousand Darknesses by Ruth Franklin. I recommend the book to anyone interested in literature about the Holocaust. But for readers of this blog in particular, you might want to learn about Piotr Rawicz.

As Franklin writes, Piotr Rawicz was born in 1919 in Lviv and was imprisoned in Auschwitz (although he was Jewish, he managed to hide that fact, and he was put in Auschwitz as a Ukrainian). He committed suicide in 1982. In between World War 2 and his death, he had a variety of jobs, including as a translator. Franklin writes, “After settling in Paris in 1947, he earned degrees in Sanskrit and Hindi; in addition to those languages, he also spoke Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, German, French, English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.” Besides being a linguist, he was a novelist, and Franklin calls his novel Blood from the Sky “one of the most original works of fiction ever written about the Holocaust.”

I’d never heard of Piotr Rawicz until I read Ms. Franklin’s excellent book. I was fascinated and saddened to read about him and his life.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Point of Rescue

I don’t usually write reviews of fiction on here, but I do want to mention Sophie Hannah’s The Point of Rescue.

But first a little background. Ms. Hannah, who is known as both a poet and crime novelist, has kindly agreed to come talk to my MA students in literary translation in the autumn. There are a couple of reasons why she’ll be an interesting guest lecturer. One is that her work has been widely translated, so she can talk about translation from the perspective of an author who might get contacted by her translators. The class she is coming to speak to spends a few weeks looking at the translation of crime fiction, so it will be exciting for them to meet a talented mystery writer. Also, she has worked on translations herself. Although not a translator, she has had texts literally translated and then she has written versions of them. So Ms. Hannah should have plenty of useful insight for my students. The same day she meets them, I have also co-arranged an evening about the translation of detective fiction at Norwich’s lovely independent bookstore, The Book Hive, and Ms. Hannah will be appearing there to discuss her work being adapting for TV. But I’ll tell you more about that event as it gets closer (in December).

So to prepare for her visit, I wanted to read her work. I thought The Point of Rescue was well written and engaging and it had plenty of surprising twists. One of the most exciting twists even hinged on translation, but I won’t say more about that, so I don’t spoil it for you. I would recommend this novel, especially if you’re looking for a fast, entertaining read with a somewhat poetic style.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Certificate in Localization

I don’t do any work with localization myself, but I know quite a few translators who do deal with that as well as their other translation work. So I was interested to learn about a new certificate program in localization at the University of Washington. We translators often need qualifications to help set us apart from the competition, so this might be a useful program for some of you to attend. Here is the info I received:

The University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education is offering a Certificate program in Localization which provides an overview of and practical experience with this rapidly growing field through a 3-course, 9-month program. The courses are offered in the evening and can be taken in the classroom as well as online. They provide a strong foundation in terms of concepts and tools, engineering practices, and project management. Students gain valuable practical experience, hear from guest speakers working in the industry, research and use current translation & localization tools, as well as delve into both the engineering and the project management side. The classroom section is a traditional offering while the online section uses AdobeConnect to allow online students to hear the instructor live, see the instructor’s presentation, and interact with the class via chat. Online sessions are also recorded.

General program areas include linguistics & translation, business norms & cultural issues, user-interface design, formatting, project workflow & roles and an overview of the technology & tools. In addition, the program includes guest speakers and a panel of practitioners some of whom graduated from the program to talk about their career and what is needed to get a job in the field. Specific consideration is given to topics such as alphabets & scripts, character encoding, text processing, graphical representation of text, spelling variants for different countries where the same language is spoken, cultural appropriateness, language translations, symbols, aesthetics, local content as well as customs considerations.

Past students have come from diverse backgrounds, including foreign language learners, translators, software testers, technical writers, linguistics, software developers, project managers, and localization engineers.

The program has an advisory board which includes UW faculty & staff, as well as industry representatives from Microsoft, Lionbridge, Adobe, Getty Images, Google, MultiLingual Magazine, Adaquest, and several others. Students who complete all three courses receive a Certificate from UW Professional & Continuing Education. From a career perspective we can also attest to the fact that students who enrolled in the program received both internships & jobs soon after completing the program. These positions included companies such as Microsoft, Real Networks,, SDL, Big Fish, Nintendo, √úbermind, and Moravia.

Applications are now being accepted for the program starting October 5, 2011. Additional program details and course descriptions can be found here:

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

No to Peanuts

This is a great site on payment for translators that I’ve recently discovered. The slogan tells you all you need to know: “If you’re NOT a monkey, stop working for peanuts!” Indeed! Payment is a big issue for translators, so check out the site.