Monday, 18 May 2009

ITI International Conference 2009: Sustainability in Translation

Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) Conference
16 – 17 May 2009, 1 Birdcage Walk, London

With this my first ever ITI conference, expectations were already running high. Dubbed 'the must attend event of 2009,' the conference had an extremely broad remit: 'Sustainability in Translation' in all its guises. Some talks had an environmental focus (Forest Stewardship Council, Friends of the Earth), while others looked at the sustainability of the industry and work-life balance.

Here's a snapshot of my personal highlights from the event:

Many of us had already heard of the translator/interpreter recruitment crisis at EU Institutions, but the session entitled 'Where have the translators gone' really brought this into sharp focus. No doubt about it: the shortage of linguists with English as a mother tongue is severe. Reasons cited were numerous and varied. A retirement wave, a career perception problem and the requirement for native English speakers to have two foreign languages (preferably including French or German) were just a few of them. The latter is a particular issue since the vast majority of English school pupils only study one foreign language for their GCSE exams. View more startling facts on this issue here:

Interestingly, my first job as a freelance translator involved translating texts for a gaming website (not an area I ever returned to). As well as chess and blackjack, one game involved food items flying across the screen. No background material or screenshots were available, so I was able to sympathise with some of Silvia Ferrero's experiences during her talk on video game localisation. This proved a fascinating window onto another translation world. Gaming has moved on a lot since the days of 'computer geeks' and I was surprised to learn that the average age of a gamer is 35 and women now make up 40% of the market. Computer game localisation poses a real translation challenge, not least due to the lack of consideration given to languages other than English at the design stage. Small dialogue boxes, inflexible word order and lack of context were among the difficulties commonly encountered. Oh, and did I forget to mention that translators never actually see the game?!

Spencer Allman's paper on 'The notion of translational specialisation' was particularly poignant. As the speaker pointed out, there is often a gap in the degree of specialisation between the original author of a text who may be, for example, an expert in contract law, family law or employment law, and a 'legal' translator who covers all these areas. The extent to which a translator is able to specialise does depend on the language pair. Due to different levels of demand and availability, an English-Icelandic translator will need to cover a broader range of specialisms than, say, an English-Spanish translator in order to get a sustainable flow of work. For me, the topic of subject specialisation touches on a broader issue of career development for translators who, as demonstrated by a straw poll of attendees, come largely from a language background and therefore may not originally have had formal education in a specialist area such as law. As freelancers in a profession with no set career paths, we are all responsible for investing in our own training – a point that was picked up by translator Chris Durban at the close of the conference.

You can find information about the rest of the topics covered on the conference website:

A bit of background: For those unfamiliar with the United Kingdom translation market, the Institute of Translation & Interpreting or ITI (of which I am an Associate) is an independent professional association based in the UK and is one of the primary sources of information on translation and interpreting to government, industry, the media and the general public. Members include translators, interpreters and translation companies (for more info: