A TOWER OF BABEL IN LISBON

International Technical Translation Conference stimulating for specialized scientific translators. BY  KAREN TKACZYK

Thirty-six nationalities were represented by the 200 translators present at this two-day conference held in Lisbon on 28-29 May 2010. That alone made it a stimulating environment for any member of the T&I community, even before we consider the technical sessions. English was the language of almost all of the sessions, but there was great linguistic diversity in the hallways and meeting areas. Apart from regional European attendees, there were people from most of the Portuguese speaking countries, many English dialects from both southern and northern hemispheres, and there was a delegation from China.

A sold-out conference

Tradulinguas is developing a reputation for putting on excellent conferences. Organizers João Roque Dias and Lina Gameiro had been very responsive and the event ran very smoothly, so they and their team are to be congratulated. It is worth mentioning that the coffee breaks, on-campus lunches, and conference dinner improved the overall experience in giving us a flavor of Portugal. Delicious pastéis, Portuguese pastries, were served during the breaks, and a lively, (dare I say loud, perhaps even boisterous as the evening wore on!) conference dinner was held at a location within easy walking distance of our hotels.

I had chosen to attend because of the specialized technical content. I am a highly-specialized technical translator and I crave good training in the area. It is not easy to find such training, even if you are willing to travel. Medical translation, legal translation, even financial translation, are commonly catered for. Technical translation is not often the focus of conferences. Since this one sold out and had a waiting list, it suggests to me that there is a market for other similar events.

The program was two-track apart from keynote speakers. There were sessions that were of direct relevance to my work, and several that were not directly relevant but left me with a sense of satisfaction afterwards. I felt ‘well-fed’ intellectually after the two days.

Much food for thought

My conference began with a member of the in-house translation department at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Mathilde Fontanet, talking on the common difficulties of translating technical English. Oh, those noun pairs! As well as the huge value to the obvious ‘out of English’ audience, there was a lot of food for thought for those of us who work into English.

UN translator Prof. Marie-Josée de Saint Robert gave an excellent session on how terminology must be defined within the UN, in her case for work into French.  A French phrase had to be defined for a new automotive technology standard, so the phrases in common use were studied. It was then important to consider whether those phrases were used exclusively by one auto-maker. Selecting that phrase would not do!  So not only was the meaning of the terms important, but the accepted phrasing in the industry and the degree to which a phrase was accepted by only a part of the industry, before selecting an ‘official’ French translation.

I was looking forward to a session on translation for technical journalism, as it is an area in which I wish to develop my skills. This is difficult work, as the translator must have both the technical skill set and be able to write excellent marketing copy. Presenter Steve Dyson met my expectations and may be the only translator I have ever met who is more narrowly specialized than me! His narrow area is translation of naval defense-related subject matter for that industry’s professionals, and his discussion of the issues involved in marketing technical subject matter was the highlight of the conference for me.

A Belgian professor from University of Mons, Viviane Grisez, gave us a great session on how French scientists usually write English papers, giving insight into what to look out for in the area of revising English texts written by non-native speakers, which is a reasonably large field for scientific translators like me. Major areas of consideration were modal verbs and tense use, then other smaller issues that we all recognize were mentioned, such as hyphenation, or the difference between ‘make’ and ‘do’, and the dreaded ‘realize’.

There were a number of sessions on specific technical areas including high speed rail, bearings, my own session on the chemical industry, and a very popular session on translating manuals. There were also a number of more general sessions on tools, terminology and building a business and the state of the T&I industry. The conference ended with sessions from the head of the Portuguese team at the European Commission, and the last Q&A was a lively one that scratched the surface of the current ferocious debate on the potential reform of the Portuguese language.

This was a stimulating, well-run conference where I met many interesting people. It left me enthusiastic about my chosen niche in the profession, and eager to return to work. There was even an added bonus! When I returned home and looked at the CD-Rom I saw it was chock-full of solid reference material in addition to the presentations. This was a superb professional development event. KT

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