Thinking about the future: My impressions of CIOL 2020

BMA House, London

On 6 and 7 March 2020, I attended the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ first two-day conference at BMA House in London. It was a very fruitful couple of days with a wide range of subjects: some very topical, such as Brexit and Interpreting at the Olympic Games, and some more practical, such as digital marketing and specialising in fields like public service interpreting.

I found that, whether intentionally or not, there were a few common themes running throughout the conference, and one of the main messages was about having passion for your work.
In Anita van Adelsbergen’s talk about being an equine and canine translator, she shared how she turned her hobby into a specialisation by being deeply involved in the equine scene, and was eventually invited to interpret at an international horse show.
Likewise, Michelle Deeter, a Chinese-English literary translator, talked about translating fiction vs. non-fiction, how to get started in book translation, and suggested some on- and offline places, such as book fairs and magazines, that could help translators get a foot in the door of this interesting but often challenging career path.
One of the keynote speakers, Doug Lawrence, also underlined the importance of working on what you love, and especially on not conducting your business in a way that feels unnatural or uncomfortable to you. He prefaced this with an interesting question: “Do you like your job?” (to which we all said: yes!) Then: “Would you recommend it to your children?” (Which actually made at least half of the room hesitate…).

While we’re on the subject of future generations, another big theme at the conference was the future of translation and language-related careers. There were talks on how translation technology is polarising the industry, how EU translation services may change after Brexit, and a panel discussion on the future of professional linguists. The general consensus was that the way that we translate or interpret may change, but translators are not obsolete just yet.
Hayley Harris gave a very interesting talk in which she pointed out the ways that translation gets devalued, thanks to people outside of the profession viewing it as a “mechanical process” of putting word A into language B. She believes that translators should be considered as stakeholders in a business since they are invested in its success, and proposed that in order to underline the human contribution to translation, we start referring to translation as a “business” rather than an “industry” and talk about the “practice” of translation rather than the “process”. Let’s see if it catches on!

The human aspect of translating was also deftly illustrated in Oliver Lawrence’s enjoyable session on “righting your writing” – focusing on the art of translation rather than the science. He looked into the rhythm, sound and structure of our writing, and showed how a couple of tweaks to a clunky sentence can vastly improve it and make it clearer and more engaging to read. (I can’t promise that I’ve employed these techniques in this particular post.)
Martina Eco’s talk on digital marketing gave an overview on how to pinpoint the type of clients you want, and further highlighted the importance of being in the same “digital space” as your clients so that you can make a real connection with them.
Likewise, Vasiliki Prestridge touched on how to maintain relationships with clients to get repeat work and better feedback. She also showed some ways to gain more insights into our workloads in order to anticipate ‘feast or famine’ periods and get a clearer idea of the next steps for our businesses.

IMG_2315(1) IMG_2320(1)

There was certainly an abundance of insights in the Day 1 keynotes, which both discussed the power of humans, albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Dr Binghan Zheng’s keynote was a fascinating insight into the neuroscience of translation, showing us that through eye-tracking technology and MRI scans, we can start to see what actually happens in our brains while we translate.
Ellie Kemp’s very pertinent talk discussed the role that translation has played in the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The non-profit organisation Translators Without Borders has faced challenges in quickly disseminating accurate information to the relevant people in local communities, while also taking into account any cultural sensitivities and the fact that many English medical terms do not have equivalent words in local dialects. It’s incredible to think that the small synapses firing off in our brains can lead to such huge, real-world consequences.

In all, this was a successful first conference for CIOL, with a mixture of food for thought and practical advice (and the actual food wasn’t half bad, either). There were many more talks that I just wasn’t able to attend, but the information I absorbed over the two days was certainly extensive.

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