Continued from Part 1.
Question from the floor:
Lillian Clementi: Im confident that the treatment of interpreters in the political arena isnt personal. I have an idea that a lot of people get shoved out of the way for politicians. The question is, how do we get ourselves moved up the chain? Because were getting shoved aside with everybody else.
Dee Dee Myers: The truth is that Press Secretaries get shoved out of the way too, so it is not personal. But one of the things that you have to accept when you are around the President or the Secretary of State is that history and diplomatic necessity require that at least for that moment in the photo nobody else be in it. And theres no bigger sin than somebody like me walking into a shot where the President is doing something presidential. So theres not much you can do about that particular aspect of it.
Im thinking of a couple of problems; one, as I mentioned before, is that the American public doesnt understand the relationship between interpreters and translators and their own prosperity, well-being, security. One of the ways to deal with thatand I think in the context of the government, its possible, working with the public relations people in the governmentis to tell the stories of the translators.
The most seasoned diplomat at [the Vancouver summit] was the interpreter, Peter [Afanasenko].
Theres an interpreter, for example, who does RussianPeter Afanasenko. Now, Peter has been there for more than twenty years. He is an expert on everything from Russian language, to history, to culture, to the history of diplomatic relations with the United States. The first big international summit that President Clinton attended was with President Yeltsin in Vancouver in the spring of 1993. The most seasoned diplomat at that event was the interpreter, Peterby a long shot. Obviously there were some permanent staff from the State Department, but at the Presidents side and in the room, Peter was the one person with the most experience. He bonded with the President. Hes got a mustache; Im sure those of you who dont know him have seen him on TV or will see him occasionally, in the backgroundyes, running out of the shot! He has a fascinating story and he plays a much bigger role than telling President Clinton what Boris Yeltsin just said and how sober he is at the moment. I think that there is a market for stories like that about translators, whether its at the Olympics or at a trade summit, or as part of some private business deal. When Daimler and Chrysler merged, Im sure that translators and interpreters played an important role. There ought to be a way for the associations that you people are involved in to promote the roles of some of those people and start to put human faces on the individuals who do so much work. I think that would be a really important thing. You need to connect it to the lives of the American public in terms of their well-being, and put a human face on the individuals who are out there doing the hard work. That would be a good place to start.
(Text continues after box.)
When the press/radio/TV mentions translation, speak upto commend journalists for their understanding of this complex process, or to correct misconceptions for them and readers.
Letters to the editor are a timely way to keep translation in the news.
- Move quickly. There is generally a fairly short window for responses to a given article.
- Be brief and focused: address one, maximum two points in your letter. No rambling.
- Be constructive. No ranting and raving, no stridency.
- Be witty. Often humor is the best possible way to bring a point home.
- Keep your eyes open: translation issues can be introduced even when the main focus of an article (doing business overseas, refugees in Kosovo) is not language per se.
- Join forces: a campaign to remind your local newspaper/TV channel of (say) the distinction between translation and interpreter will have more impact if all members of your regional group participate.
- Be international: newspapers are often pleased to print letters from distant readers, so be sure to solicit contributions from translator colleagues in other states and countries.
Translation stories are by definition good copyonce they are written up in a form that monolingual readers can understand. All too often they remain at the level of informal gossip among translators.
- Make articles punchy and quotable. Be sure to draw non-linguists attention to the big picture/best practice at some point.
- For faxes or print vehicles, a professional layout will win more readers.
- Disseminate articles as widely as possible, either directly to the general or business press, or to columnists or other high-profile writers who may quote content as examples in their own work.
- Contact publications overseas: translation is by definition exotic and of interest to readers in both the source and target languages.
Professional journalists can often make your case better than you. And PR professionals will almost always be infinitely more effective in placing commissioned articles in a timely way. Use both to recycle translation basics/tips on best practice out into the general & business public.
- Be prepared to work closely with whoever you hire, especially at the beginning.
- Target specific professional groups faced with specific translation needs.
- Plan to recycle your article across a range of magazines/readers, fine-tuning it for each.
- Consider targeting smaller publications for a start; they are often easier to pitch to, and are read by many translation service buyers/decision-makers.
- Prepare a short version and a long version of each article to increase your chances of publications.
- Establish a structure for fielding queries generated by your article before publishing it.
- Reach out: invite non-translators to speak at your meetings. Youll learn about their specialty, while they discover translationand spread the word among their colleagues.
- Speak up: identify professional groups that use translation and offer to make a presentation at their events. Highlight best practicehow they can make best use of your services.
- Recycle success stories to create a virtuous circle: write them up in your newsletter to encourage fellow translators to get proactive.
- Adopt-a-site: team up with other translators to translate a brochure or other short document for a local tourist site or public servicefor free. Invite the local press and dignitaries to the handover ceremonythe press gets a good local story, while you get a platform for your message and free publicity.
- Make PR a regular item on meeting agendas for local translator groups/networks. Report back on initiatives and draw up action points.
- Talk up your expertise: use every occasion to remind the outside world that translation is a complex and highly skilled activity.
Question from the floor:
Laura Wolfson: I have two comments. Through this discussion weve been coming to the collective notion that the fact that interpreters arent in the photograph is not a sign of our low status. They dont push you out of the waythe interpreter knows that he or she is not supposed to be in the picture. Its a question of professionalism.
My second comment is about what you just said about getting stories of translators and interpreters into the press. Somebody else said that we used to be listed under secretaries, and the root word of secretary is secret. Theres so much of what we do that were not allowed to talk about that Im not sure how we can do that in an effective way. It would be interesting to hear some of the panelists comment on that.
Dee Dee Myers: Well, theres a lot that you can say about what interpreters do without getting into the subject matter of what they have discussed. Because thats one of the things that I was struck by when I went to work at the White House: the security clearance that the translators and particularly the interpreters have to have. Sometimes there are just the two Heads of State in a room and the only other people with them are the interpretersthis when the most sensitive discussions are going on. But you can certainly tell a story about what its like to be in that environment without getting into the specific subject matter. And I would echo what you said: the professionalism of the people who deal in the arena that Ive dealt indiplomacy and politicsis extraordinary. And they dont have to be pushed out of the way, although I always felt it was my responsibility to push anybody who didnt voluntarily go!
Chris Durban: Another quick response: One of the posters in this room is a comment from the Figaro management section on the euro. Just before the euro came in on financial markets in France, journalists were casting about for any possible article that had to do with it. They had interviewed bankers, scientists, students, housewives, everyoneand at one level I wondered if by the time they phoned to ask me How is the switch to the euro affecting translators? they werent getting desperate. That said, I was able to use their question as a hook to point out good practice in translation, commenting on the fact that, yes, my colleague and I do translate texts that have to do with the euro, we do vast amounts of background reading to be able to do so well, and by the way translation is a writing skill, we work better in this way and that way. In the end, the journalist was able to write quite a good article about what translators do, changing the feature into a report on the translation profession, not just the euro.
I mention this because I think were often very slow to seize such opportunities. The journalist who rang had phoned five or six people before she reached me, and according to her they had all mumbled vaguely and appeared eager to head back into their cavesagencies, companies and freelance translators alike. They had not been forthcoming with informationalmost as if they felt too insignificant to provide details about what they did.
Neil Inglis: Manouche, your first initiatives as PR chair was to get together a press kit that ATA HQ can send out on request. This afternoon, ATA representatives handed over translations into Spanish, French, German and Japanese of two brochures (about 950 words total) for St. Louiss Scott Joplin Museum in a public outreach initiative.
Could you summarize ATAs current public relations activities? What are ATAs most recent success stories? Where do you feel ATA is sufficiently active? Where could the association use improvement? What could every ATA member contribute to this cause?
Manouche Ragsdale: To cover the Scott Joplin museum story, yes indeed: at the initiative of Chris Durban, who gave us the idea following an example set in France where translators donated their time to translate the brochure for a local museum, we thought it might be a nice gesture and a fun thing to do to adopt a site. So we looked up two or three possibilities in the St. Louis area and we chose the Scott Joplin museum. I coordinated the translation effort, and three ATA colleagues and myself translated the brochure into four languagesSpanish, German, French, and Japanese. This afternoon we had a very informal and friendly ceremony in which we handed over to the director of the museum the brochure in these languages. And she very graciously accepted; it was a nice gesture of goodwill. Hopefully we could do that in the future with other sites, at other locations.
But to go back to the PR activities for ATA: I think ATA has recorded a large number of success stories in this area. My own favorite, certainly, is the reclassification of the name of translation and interpretation with the Bureau of Labor statistics. Thats a big thing for all of us. Ten years ago I tried to import a translator from Belgium, and tried to get her a work permit in this country. I paid a lawyer; this young lady paid for a lawyer. He tried and tried. Our petition was denied three times in a row because they said translation is not a profession, its clerical. This is a true story. So I was very gratified and happy and grateful for the efforts of ATA at the government level, that now we are professionals. I think that we should applaud that.
Other than that, I know that ATA has been very active and proactive in giving interviews to magazines, to publications, periodicals. I will mention in passing The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Portland Oregonian, The Los Angeles Times. We have had feature stories in Ink, in Interpreter I was interviewed in Interpreter myselfExport Today, Business Startup. Our publication The Chronicle recently received the award of Best Association Publication at the FIT Congress it Belgium. That also is nice, very good. Muriel Jérôme OKeeffe has spoken at various important meetingsLISA (Localization Industry Standards Association) for example, and ASAE, the American Society of Association Executives. Another good sign is that last month we had a retreat in Virginia and we brought in experts from the outside to try to help us with our strategy for the next few years and focus on what needs to be done. These outside consultants and experts analyzed our PR policies and strategies and said, You are on the right track guys, you are doing good work. And that again is a confirmation that what we are doing is fine; we are on the right track. Now there is one thing: as the new chair of the PR committee, I am committing to produce an Educating the Translation User something. I have an idea that it might be a video, and through that medium we are going to launch a very intensive and exhaustive campaign aimed at educating the translation user.
Neil Inglis: Kevin, several translators on this panel have been active in promoting the profession individually through media consulting, letters to the editor campaigns, commissioning articles, consulting with journalists etc. Is this a worthwhile effort, or is it better to leave PR to the associations themselves? Is it realistic to expect individual translators and interpreters to tackle this job?
Kevin Hendzel: Youll notice the press items around the room herehalf of them are from the activities that ATA has done. When they call us and let us know whats going on, I let out a whoop of approval, and tell Manouche how wonderful what theyre doing is. But one of the reasons we wanted to put these posters out here tonight is to show you that we are trying to pull on every level for this.
That said, Manouche mentioned earlier what happens when somebody calls up and says I want the magic headset that translates into French and Spanish. What really happens when they find out it costs a few thousand dollars? Well, sometimes theyll pony up a few thousand dollars. But what happens if its fifty thousand, or one-hundred thousand? Or two-hundred and fifty thousand? What if theyre going into a new market, theyve got fifty large users manuals, and they need to translate them. They havent budgeted for it, they dont know about it, they havent thought about it. A week or two before the end of that project, when it needs to go abroad, they call us. We, too, hear a thud at the end of the phone. Two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars to do the translation?!
Now heres what concerns me. There are three likely outcomes. One, they wont stand up again, and weve lost a client before we had one. Two, well somehow convince them to spend a quarter of a million dollars to promote their business, that it will produce more revenue for them in the long run, and that its intelligent, strategic decision-making. Thats our job.
But do you know what happens a lot of times? Click. I was going to put a black telephone up here, and say, Here is the cost of not investing in client educationyour phone doesnt ring. Potential clients opt not to translate it, they send it in English, they decide that their cousin who took a semester of French in his junior year can translate after all. They buy an MT program, and they run it all the way through. Thats a cost, a serious cost to the profession. Right now, translation companies spend a great deal of time in client educationand ASET certainly isnt the only one that does this. This is a critical bread-and-butter issue to everybody in this room. When youre looking at your phone and it doesnt ring, thats why. So one of the reasons that ASET has promoted tonights event, and one of the reasons we think this forum is important, is to bring home to you that your non-ringing telephone is something that we all need to fix. We are all pulling for that, and its something every individual in this room who wants to remedy the situation must take responsibility for.
Question from the floor:
Besides being translators, were being called on to be self-promoters, marketersand now were taking on the responsibility of actually promoting the profession as well. As a large translation company, you might have a budget. But the grass-roots side is also very important tooindividual participationand brain-storming just now. You can start promoting the translation business to business organizations by being a speaker. It will lead you to business, so it serves two things: you market yourself as a translator also. How can we, perhaps as an organization, compile the history of translation, to have that kind of information on hand to inform the public with? Those bookish monks were very prepared to do that. Perhaps you can help us on how we can brainstorm together, and get educational materials for us, so we can go and educate on the outside.
Kevin Hendzel: Well, Im going to snap my fingers and solve your problem. Take your handouts: these identify things that you can do. They discuss articles you can write, articles you can commission, courses you can teach, places you can go. These are all different things that can be done. It is not something that only needs to be thought about at the organizational levelalthough professional PR is certainly important, and well discuss it in a minute: it is absolutely critical. But it isnt the only thing. We do need to spend money on the national level, and develop a strategy. In the meantie, the ideas in your handouts will show you how each individual can proceed. And if you look around the room, youll see that a lot of these examples were done by individuals. The Wall Street Journal was ATA, but the one next to it back there in the right corner was Chris appearing at a museum, and she got press coverage of translation for a group of translators who agreed to translate brochures for a museum in a small town in France. Thats just one of many different examples.
Neil Inglis: It will begin to become apparent that the various topics weve addressed this evening are beginning to come together in a tapestry or mosaic. But I would like to make a slight lateral leap into another area which has to do with the way people are perceived as individuals based on their appearance, and their accents and other issues. I have a friendwho has quit translation in disgustwho believes that the translation profession has historically acted as a magnet for losers. He says that he wishes translators would act more like J.R. Ewing and less like George Costanza. And its certainly true that in dealings with corporate end users if you have the word loser or victim emblazoned on your forehead in bright blue letters you will be treated accordingly.
But let us accentuate the positive and talk a little bit about how people are perceived based on their appearance and their agenda.
(To Myers): You represented a southern governor with a noticeable southern accent who rose to the Presidency. How do you assess the importance of accents to public image? You were also the first female Presidential Press Secretary in history. How important was gender identity in your job?
Dee Dee Myers: I think accents, both regional American accents and foreign or international accents, do clearly shape perceptions, and I think Bill Clinton suffered quite a bitin some circles more than othersfrom his Arkansas accent. That was particularly true at the beginning of the campaign in 1992, where people wondered if he was going to show up in shoes. And Im only slightly kidding; it was really difficult. In April of 1992, New England and New York were having primaries, and there was no way that this part of the country was going to welcome some guy from Arkansas who sounded like Bill Clinton with open arms. In fact, he lost Connecticut and went on to win New York largely because Jerry Brown was our only opponent at that point. When Bill Clinton became President, the Washington establishment still treated him like he was somewhat of a hillbilly. Sometimes he acts in ways that make the Washington establishment suspicious, but... [laughter]. You can take the boy out of Arkansas, I guess.. Even before he sealed his own fate in some respects, he had to overcome that barrier.
This country is becoming increasingly diverse. Im from California, and its particularly true there. Changing demographics are having an effect, but people who have an accent have barriers and obstacles to overcome in employment and in public perception, while people who speak standard English dont. Hopefully that will change as we go forward, but were a long way from there, particularly in certain parts of the country. I dont necessarily think it means that people dont think youre smart; it depends. On a lot of college campuses in California the best performing students are Asian, and a lot of engineers in high tech companies are from the Asian sub-continent. But I do think theres a little bit of a suspicion that theyre not quite like us, and that is an obstacle. And I also think it affects the perception of translators and interpretersbecause, you know, shouldnt the whole world speak English? I mean, dont we all agree on that, at least? So theres that.
In the world that we move in gender is also something that affects the way people are perceived. I had three strikes against me when I became White House Press Secretary: I was female, I was 31 years old, and I was from California. And I think the press half expected me to roller-blade to my first briefing in a bikini! All of those were obstacles. The gender one was the first and most obvious; the first thing that people noticed about me was that I was a woman, and I was the first woman to serve in that job. And I had a lot of credibility issues to overcome, particularly in areas of international relations, foreign policy, defense policy, and even economics. I wonder if translators and interpreters dont face the same thing. Well, its okay to have women translate novels, but when it comes to highly technical denuclearization agreements, can we get someone who knows what theyre doing in here? I think were making progress on that; things like having a female Secretary of State who happens to be fluent in five languagesand I side with Madeleine, the Czech interpreter was wrong! (Im only kidding). That helps, things are getting better all the time. You know, four Fortune 500 companies now have female CEOs, even Avon finally appointed a woman as CEO of the companyafter they hired a man who drove the stock down about twenty-five percent! But I think were on the right path, every day things get better, but we still have a lot of work to do so we have to hang in there.
Question from the floor:
Robin Bonthrone: I have a question which is linked to the image of our profession, of our industry. Sometimes it drives me to serious depths of depression. University College in Dublin does an excellent undergraduate BA course in Applied Languages. There were 24 students in the class that graduated in 1997, all very very good. Yet only three of them went into translationand we happen to employ all three of them. I have been asking my young employees: Why is this so? And they say, your image. The image that our industry gives to these young people who are the future of translation is so bad, is so...without prospects, that these talented kids are not following us into the business. What can we do to change it, and change it fast?
Janet Fraser: Its something that exercises me, as a teacher. I think we have every reason to have a very positive profile, but we have tended to see ourselves as victimsas losers, as Neil just suggestedbut really quite wrongly. I was very interested in one of the surveys I did in which I asked how many translators felt they were victims of their own clients and how many actually had control over their clients, in the form of dropping clients. I was astonished that over ninety percent of translators had dropped clients, over things like rates, prompt payment, deadlines. Also, in one third of cases, over issues that I could broadly summarize as professionalism. They simply werent willing to put up with being treated in an unprofessional manner. Everything ranging from ringing the translator up at 3:30 in the morning to ask if they could do a job, to asking to do jobs for free, not supplying them with information, not paying them. A whole range. These translators were being very assertive, and its something that we need to take on boardthat we can have control over our conditions. And we do need to get it across to the up-and-coming generation that it is a profession not only to take pleasure in and be proud of, but one that we actually do control; it does not control us.
Just one other sound-bite that came from one of the translators, and Ive had this translated into US English, not British English. She said that you need to go out and educate the client, but in quality terms theres no point in trying to sell your client a Cadillac if all hes willing to pay for is a Yugo!
Question from the floor:
John Glenn: I think this might be an important issue politically, so Id like to address this to Dee Dee. In San Francisco, some of the new start-up Internet companies are refusing to translate their Internet sites into a foreign language because theyre afraid that means that they are now marketing in the target country, and are therefore bound by the laws of that country. So if they translate it into French they now have to meet all the norms and requirements in Canada, France, whatever. Can you comment on that?
Dee Dee Myers: I dont really dont know what the laws are. My assumption is that that is incorrect. I cant imagine that you couldnt have an American company or Internet company dedicated to doing business in the United States that wanted to accommodate people who speak different languages and who happen to reside in the United States; I just dont happen to know enough about the way that works.
But I think the core of your question is that obviously you have to educate clients that branching out into different languages is a great business opportunity. I know that your resources are limited to do thatand I dont know what the ramifications are for setting up businesses overseas, or even to non-English speaking residents of the United Statesbut by doing it youre going to expand your ability to market your products. So it makes good business sense, and I think thats obviously a key area to exploit as you go forward. But I would point out that San Francisco is not always the best example. They recently passed an ordinance providing for all the signs in the city to be taken in to replace the term pet owner with pet caregiver, so...
Neil Inglis: Im sad to say we are running out of time. Could I ask each of our panel members to sum up, very briefly, the key message or messages they would like our audience to take home from this event?
Manouche Ragsdale: Regarding your role, all of you, as PR representatives and members of ATA, what you can do is simply uphold the highest professional standards. Thats the best PR. You are creating the reputation of our profession through your behavior, your work, how you respond to your clients, how you work. So the best PR is to be very professional, and also communicate well with your clients. This is what you can do at any level, whether you are a first-year beginner or a thirty-year veteran in translation. Thats my recommendation.
Janet Fraser: A group of my colleagues and I recently went to see our principal about something that was concerning us. I was number three, and he said, now this is very interesting. One person mentioning this is interesting, twos a striking coincidence, three is beginning to be a syndrome. Id like to see an outbreak of syndromes with lots of people individually making the same point to clients, to local newspapers, to local bodies, such that that message begins to lodge as a syndrome in their minds.
Chris Durban: Much on the same line, I would like to see a virtuous circle get under way. You have handouts, you have concrete tips, things that you can go out and do to raise awareness of our profession. I would like you to go out and do just that. And above all report back, so that the energy you bring back, the momentum we achieve through your successes in these areas, will encourage other people to do the same thing. Thats how the message gets out.
Kevin Hendzel: One thing we havent talked about is regional groups. This needs to be done on every level, on the national level, on the regional level, on the local level. Remember to make yourself available to the media, make yourself available for interviews, to stockbrokers, to anybody. Designate somebodyanybody who wants to write about translation, anybody who wants to interview about the market, wants to discuss your job, make yourself available to discuss it with them. At the local level, either through the local affiliated groups or ATA groups, appoint one person responsible for this. Every person should be available to speak out in favor of translation, to back up the industry, to provide statistics, and provide it in a way that is useful for the person youre providing it to. You need to provide real data that they can use in a story; you need to be a source for them.
Dee Dee Myers: I think there have been many good suggestions. As an outsider to this industry I would say I dont think you have a negative image; you just dont have an image. Its two-dimensional. Its simply people who speak two languages and will be willing to tell you what somebody speaking at you in something you dont understand is saying. Whereas its obviously much more complex than that, and I know from my own experience that the more Ive learned about what you do and how difficult it is, the more respect I have gained. I think thats true across the country. And I would just remind you to connect it to the lives of the American people. Were in a global economy, whether American citizens like it or notand I keep referring to America because thats my only frame of reference in this business. But there are tremendous advantages to be gained from what you do, and I think you have to go out and fill out the profile of an industry that has so much to offer to the country and to the world. Even if Pat Buchanan is trying to shut down the country, its not going to happenso I think you need to go out there and blow your own horns a little bit. And dont be afraid to do that, because people dont think poorly of you, they just dont know what to think.
Neil Inglis: Id like to conclude tonights session with a few thoughts of my own. The time has come for us to draw the session to a close, and I think you will agree with me that our panels deliberations have been exceptionally well-considered and illuminating. Tonight we have been greatly honored and privileged to have Dee Dee Myers with us. However, in reaching beyond our rank-and-file to bring in a distinguished guest speaker to illuminate global issues, we have had an important and, I believe, thoroughly honorable motive. Translation and interpretation, we believe, cannot and must not be viewed in isolation from world events and global developments.
The days when translators could afford to languish in obscurity, moldering away, ignored and unloved in forgotten attic rooms, are long gone and we should cheerfully dispatch them to oblivion where they belong. But we must guard against any resurgent bad habits and self-destructive behaviors.
I end as I began, with a reference to the translators curse and badge of dishonor, the poverty cult. For, my friends, the poverty cult is not dead. It continues to stalk our ranks. To this day, I encounter colleagues, good friends, who bafflingly embrace the label of impostor, rather than specialist, dilettante instead of expert. I encounter colleagues, good friends, who do not really believe that one can be good, do good, and make money all at the same time. Why do we persist in making life so needlessly difficult for ourselves? Let us cast aside these shackles and turn our backs on self-deprecation and self-pity. Let us make poverty cult attitudes unacceptable. Let us stigmatize them. A world of rich rewards, both spiritual and financial, awaits those who are equal to the supreme challenge.
And one last remark: we should not forget that tonights event would have been considered unthinkableand now I really do mean unthinkableonly a few years ago. In the future, instead of thinking of reasons why we cannot do something like this, let us think of reasons why we can. That we should tackle these issues and challenges so openly and so forthrightly represents a major step forward for us all.
But none of this has happened by chance, and that tonights events should have materialized at all is attributable in great measure to the diligent efforts of our sponsors, who interpreted our wishes and helped to translate great ideas into action. ASET International Services Corporation was there. Rencontres Traduction Financière was there. VO Paris was there. The WordLink Forum was there. The ATA was instrumental in providing support, advertising and copying services, for which the panelists are grateful. These kinds of events do not organize themselves spontaneously. A great deal of work and effort is involved. Please recognize and support our sponsors, and a big round of applause for our panelists. Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.