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SLAMconf2016: Promoting Professionalism in a Changing Market

This was the first ever SLAM! conference, in other words Scandinavian Language Associations’ Meeting, participated by circa 250 professional translators and interpreters from and outside the Nordic countries. Although most of the participants speak or understand at least one Scandinavian language, the program was in English, which makes it easier to share content and conclusions. The meeting was held in Malmö, Sweden, where it is still summer, and as an extra bonus, we got a sunny channel tour of nearby Copenhagen and traveled across The Bridge now so famous thanks to Danish-Swedish television series Broen.

Channel tour of Copenhagen

Channel tour of Copenhagen. Click image to see more.

Currently many professional translators feel as if the barbarians are at the gate, noted first speaker Chris Durban. The market is being dominated by global agencies, invaded by amateurs and crowd-sourcing systems, and dulled by machine translations. It is considered a huge risk to establish one’s own translation business. Translators also feel that clients mostly do not understand the work or the processes involved and it is difficult to justify decent compensation. Well, fear no more, as digitalization affects every single section of the society, and there are ways to succeed even among the techno-euphoria that attracts media value and money and thus also impacts the translation market. Chris reminded us how important it is to connect with the people above the middle managers and become part of client’s strategic narrative. To combat “the big fish taking over your pond” you must redefine your pond i.e. specialize to cover an area of expertise where there is no competition. First of all, you need to ”get dressed and get out of the house”. That may sound obvious, but if you’re a freelance translator, you’ll know what she means.

After breaking free from agency and single-client control, sole entrepreneurs and freelancers can greatly benefit from treating peers as colleagues rather than competitors. Lund Translation Team explained how collaboration works as a business model and a service to the customers, for whom it is a toilsome task to find a suitable trustworthy specialist by, for example, googling. Recommending an organized member of a translator community is a very valid way to find and pass around desirable assignments and support established professionals. Another benefit is that by networking and creating teams we can provide professional support and quality control by consulting each other. Four eyes are better than two, and two heads are nearly always better than one. Yet by owning our businesses we maintain the power to make our own career and specialty decisions.

Translation slam

Translation slam material. Click image to see more.

The second translation slam I’ve witnessed was hosted by Ian Hinchliffe and delightfully demonstrated the research and decision-making process involved in translating marketing copy from a specific culture to a more global audience. The versions to compare were produced by David Jones (British English) and Shawn Thane (American English). The “slammed” text sample addressed crafted pottery products of Skåne, and as we know from transcreating advertising, culture-specific details and names of objects and places cannot be conveyed as such but may need explaining and replacing by target-culture equivalents. Slammers also mentioned compensation, “a translation procedure whereby the translator solves the problem of aspects of the source text that cannot take the same form in the target language by replacing these aspects with other elements or forms in the source text” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untranslatability).

Towards the end of the convention day, Ian Hinchliffe, Tess Whitty and Ros Schwarz all emphasized the importance of self-confidence in thriving at translation as a business of the future. To convince our clients that we are the best persons for the job, we must first convince ourselves and take ownership of our work. We are obliged to communicate to the client why a certain way of saying or writing works or does not work in the target culture or context. However, after establishing ourselves as the best specialist in our specialty field, we may notice that we have become unemployable, in the sense that we do not want to be employed anymore but to be our own bosses. But that is a good thing.

Many thanks to the organizers and speakers of #SLAMconf2016 for the valuable content and information.

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