Could You Please Stop Helping, Please?

[Leggetelo in italiano.] On April 14, 2012, the umpteenth workshop on “how to become a translator” will be held in Milan. It’s one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, that are held each year, all over the world, by anyone who feels like offering one. It’s the perpetual Learning Annex, as if becoming a translator were like learning how to raise orchids or prepare your own taxes. Yet this one especially rankles.

There will be the customary talk about how to market one’s services. There’ll be the usual lecture by an accountant about how to prepare invoices and how to resolve “tax issues for translators and interpreters.”

There’ll be a discussion on the “importance of CAT tools,” those software packages that have, perhaps more than anything else, handed agencies an indispensable tool with which to encourage translators to lower their rates, translate into their non-native languages (after all, you’ve got a TM to help you, right?), and sign their names to embarrassing translations in order to stay in line with a glossary handed down from computer to computer like Moses and the Commandments. (On this point, see Kenneth Kronenberg’s outstanding article, “Translation in a Corporate Era of Productivity at All Cost,” from the May 2011 New England Translators Association conference.)

All it costs is the equivalent of $215.00 per person – in other words, around $ 30.71 an  hour, a sum that few translators manage to command – and the workshop proposes to answer such existential questions as: “Who am I? Where do I hope to end up?”

Irony aside, the course will also include a talk by Sandra Bertolini, the President of AITI (the Italian Association of Translators and Interpreters) and by Gianni Davico, “founding partner of Tesi & Testi,” a Turin-based translation agency.

Let the head-scratching begin.

First, though, here’s the complete list of what the course will cover:

1. What is a translator and what does he or she do?
2. How do people become translators?
3. Who am I? Where do I hope to end up?
4. What is a translation agency and how does it work?
5. Accounting: Invoices, receipts, and all the rest.
6. The importance of CAT tools. The difference between TM and MT.
7. How to write and present a résumé.
8. How to market your services: online and offline marketing tools.
9. How to set rates.
10. How to prepare a quote.
11. Colleagues. Professional associations, mailing lists, websites, blogs, social networking, conferences (a talk by Sandra Bertolini, President of AITI)
12. Resources for additional learning and study.

Doesn’t it seem as though that list has a few gaps in it, maybe a few missing items? You know, things like why the words “freelancer” and “professional” are entirely absent? Isn’t that what we’re talking about here?

And why doesn’t the list include such considerations as these:

  • What should I do to train myself to become a truly professional translator that I CAN’T learn by sitting in the grand ballroom of a hotel for seven hours? (For example: learning to write my native language like a genuine artist of the language, expanding my vocabulary on a daily basis, reading widely in both my target and source languages, engaging in the constant renewal and enrichment of my cultural knowledge….)
  • How to stop wasting time with résumés and start writing brochures and effective marketing materials: I’m not trying to land a job; I’m offering a professional service to potential clients.
  • Because the vast majority of translators are actually freelancers and, thus, small business owners: how to establish, maintain, and promote a small business.
  • How to stop writing (and reading) articles about the “bitter life of the translator” (such as the one that appeared a few days ago in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper) and which (pace Hamlet) do nothing more than “lose the name of action….”
  • How to adjust to the reality that what we’re talking about is an extremely difficult job that is often badly paid; a profession in which no one is looking out much for professional ethics or practices; a work place in which untried, would-be translators are laying siege to our jobs by the boatload and in which unfair competition is on the rampage … and all of that in large part because people are still managing to get paid to give seminars and courses in which they NEVER CONFRONT THESE ISSUES HONESTLY.

Now those are what we’d call resources for “additional learning and study….”

But what truly sticks in the craw is the idea of the owner of a translation agency giving lessons to a room full of hopeful translators, including one on “What is a translation agency and how does it work?” It’s as if it were right there, there in the relationship between agency and translator, that the crux of the translation profession and the translator’s one, true hope actually lie. As if agencies were not, instead, a side track where more than a few careers have gone to die.

At best, the seminar represents a conflict of interest for Tesi & Testi. In that case, it’s something with which AITI, for all of the good works the organization does (and which we have no reason whatever to doubt), should never have associated itself and which it ought not to be supporting with the presence of its own president. At worst, we’re dealing with a willful cynicism and a premeditated insistence on the precise model that is slowly strangling the translation profession.

And what will they think of next? Are we going to see Rick Santorum giving civics lessons on the importance of the separation of church and state?

You won’t find the future in Milan on April 14th. The future is here instead: By translators for translators.

As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” The translator’s life threatens to become entirely unsustainable, and up in Milan their answer is to serve us a heaping plate of what we’ve always gotten.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to say, along with Oliver, “Please, Sir, we DON’T want any more”?

Get organized. Get mobilized. Occupy.

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No Peanuts! supports professional translators & interpreters in demanding & receiving a living wage for their work.
This entry was posted in Resistance, Respect, The Sustainable Translator and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Could You Please Stop Helping, Please?

  1. Interprete Traducteur says:

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

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