American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Conference 2018 Review

What does a medical translator and interpreter have to learn from medical writers? Especially if you write in Spanish, and the conference is for people who write in English. I went to the AMWA conference curious, and came back changed, having learned so much that I am going back for sure. Oh, and it was so much fun!

As a medical translator and interpreter, I am a member of organizations where people who write medical documents participate. The American Medical Writers Association is one of them. Attending conferences and talking with people who write the documents I translate helps me understand context, and it helps me prepare my translations so they will undergo minimal changes when the medical editors receive them.

Why am I interested in medical interpreting and translation? I just can’t help it. My grandfather founded the first union hospital in Argentina and left some of his tools behind in the attic. When I was a child, I played with them and wanted to be a doctor like him, so I could also help others. Right after graduating from high school, I spent two years in medical school at the University of Buenos Aires. I then moved on to a different field, but never lost my passion for medical and scientific topics. I told that story a few times at this conference, and many people loved it! So after the ATA conference in New Orleans, I just had to go right over to DC, stay with a friend and go to the AMWA conference to hang out with medical geeks. It was irresistible.

Interestingly, the conference actually started two months before the event itself. They sent me homework! I was registered for one of the three-hour workshops, and all the speakers assigned tasks in advance. It was due three weeks ahead of the conference. At the session, they handed out the corrected homework and discussed the assignments. The material was demanding and interesting, and the advance preparation helped us all engage with the session in depth.

About a month ahead of time the conference organizers were sending emails out to see what regional group we would go out to dinner with. They also had “dine-arounds,” an opportunity to try out different culinary options by checking the list of restaurants and leaders and signing up for where you wanted to dine.

For the regional groups, the leaders had the list of those who had registered, and didn’t leave until all were accounted for. They stood in the hotel foyer, held up their sign, and waited to take off. If you didn’t have a group, you just tagged along with someone else, or someone might grab you and say “Hey, come along with us.” For the dine-arounds, there were signup sheets at the registration early in the morning, and the same deal happened in the evening. Knowing they were waiting for you, it was a good idea to check in with the leader if you changed your mind! I loved these dinners.

The attendees were experts in the subjects they were writing about. They were not just writers. They didn’t just organize other people’s notes and research. They knew the subject and knew what questions to ask to make the document shine. Why? Because so many of them had terminal degrees in the field they were writing about. At times, members of the audience answered questions from other members of the audience because the speakers knew that was appropriate. I loved the collegial environment! The conversations continued in the hallways, where the exhibitors were. I made some good friends and expect to see them again.

All comments were welcome. It was totally OK to stand up and say, “This sounds great! If people actually wrote this way, we translators would have fewer questions for you and your translations would be done more quickly! Could you please pass the word along?” They thanked me, because they had not realized plain language would have that cause-and-effect.

The sessions honed in on some issues I had been thinking about for a while. Clear writing (many call it plain language) and connecting with your audience were threads that made their way into every presentation.

Whether discussing how to prepare a proposal for regulators to approve it or how to write a grant, the key points were the same.

  • Write clearly
  • Organize your material well
  • Assume the readers are in a hurry
  • Find out what the reader cares about and focus on that
  • Don’t assume the reader knows your subject
  • Assume that they will be evaluating things that are not on the checklist; they will!

There was a session on empathy—in our writing! Yes, we can be empathetic in our writing by not talking down to people and not trying to erase entire classes of people, but meeting our readers where they are, putting ourselves in their shoes and telling our readers how they would benefit from what we present to them. This, of course, implies knowing our audience. Those of us who do both interpreting and translation have a natural connection with our audience. Readers, how can we all develop this connection so our translations reach our audience better?

Then there’s miscommunication. It is such a problem. One speaker labeled it the “miscommunication epidemic,” and I had to agree. How many times have I had to go back and explain what I meant in an email, a phone call, a look? She dealt with the face-to face aspects of miscommunication, but in writing, our communication is 100% dependent on the printed or electronic material. Some tips that I took note of in this presentation and another one were:

  • Use the BLUF (bottom line up front) strategy
  • Say exactly what we mean
  • Send short emails about only one topic, with a subject line that summarizes the topic
  • Avoid jargon
  • Be explicit instead of assuming our readers will understand what we are assuming
  • Use story-telling techniques to make our points; people like to see how things apply to them, and nothing brings this out like a story

Going to conferences from the allied professions opens my mind to new ideas. In this case, medical writers and translators have a lot in common: we both write texts for our audiences. Knowing what they consider when they address their audience helps me as I try to maintain the register, keep the voice, reach the audience, and transfer the message to my target audience.

Sometimes documents are written directly in Spanish, where the client asks: “Could you please write something about ___________? Here are the basic topics we need you to cover, and here are the specs.” As a translator, I could easily be given that type of assignment. These conferences also prepare me to shine in that environment.

Finally, I often work with communications specialists. Having the experience of being at what is essentially a communications conference gives me the ability to understand their concerns and be able to speak to their needs in a language they understand more clearly.

I will continue to include conferences for writers and copy editors in my mix for a long time! They are fun and incredibly helpful for me as a professional.

Translation Slams: Can You Benefit without Working in the Source Language?

Reflections on the ATA59 Spanish-to-English Translation Slam

Inspired by poetry slams, translation slams are a forum for comparing multiple translations of the same source text. The participants are usually a moderator and at least two translators, or “slammers.” The translations are done in advance of the event, so that each of the translators, the moderator, and the audience can jointly discuss the texts to learn from the experience.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every translation slam I’ve attended. However, I previously thought I would only be able to follow those where I work with both the source and target languages. But the Spanish-to-English translation slam at ATA59 proved me wrong.

It seemed like I was one of only about two or three people who did not have both Spanish and English as working languages in a packed room of around 100 people. But I was determined not to let that stop me from enjoying a translation slam and supporting two of my Savvy teammates.

Three slammers

All of the other translation slams I’ve witnessed or read about had two slammers and one moderator. This one had three slammers, and I thought that added quite an interesting dimension. One thing that fascinated me was that all three translations had their moments. At first, I started to inadvertently form an opinion about which one I liked best, only to realize later that I liked one of the other versions better for certain terms, sentences, and passages. All three translators generally reached a consensus in their discussion on what was most effective. This impressed on me their willingness to seek the best possible translation ahead of their own egos or competitiveness.

A relatively long narrative source text that showcased strengths and weaknesses

The source text was around 700 words in length. This is slightly longer than other translation slams I’ve read about, and sure enough, they did not quite make it to the end. However, one advantage of it being slightly long was that it helped provide a range of opportunities for all three translations to display their strengths and weaknesses. As mentioned, I liked one better initially, whereas another showed its strength closer to the end. A shorter source text may not have allowed for this sort of range.

Complementary skill sets

The slam was moderated by Savvy’s Jamie Hartz. She did a good job of maintaining a constructive tone and balancing commentary from each of the slammers and from the audience. I’d say that is the most important role of a moderator, apart from all the prep work.

The three slammers were Cathy Bahr, Savvy’s Emily Safrin, and Sarah Symons Glegorio. It was fascinating to see how their skill sets and approaches complemented each other. Cathy showed skill in holistically recasting paragraphs and sentences to break free from the source text. On the other hand, Emily’s attention to detail and Sarah’s legal translation background resulted in a stronger focus on mastering individual phrases and words, finding natural English equivalents for tricky Spanish wording. When you put it all together, these macro- and micro-focused approaches make for a winning combination that would lend itself well to a translator-reviser pairing.

My takeaways

I felt that this translation slam did a good job of exemplifying the challenges translators face. Ambiguities in the source text and other wording that was difficult to interpret sometimes resulted in translations that played it safe and stuck too close to the source. On the other hand, there were some translation choices that did get away from the source, but still missed the mark in terms of the intended meaning as best approximated by the collective wisdom of the moderator, the other slammers, and the audience.

It seemed as if the only way to really master some of these passages would be to consult with the author of the source text and combine the writing, research, and reading skills, and unique approaches of all three slammers. In lieu of the source-text author, there were at least native speakers of the source language in the audience who were able to help.

To me, this reaffirms the value of working with a reviser, especially one with a complementary skill set, and of engaging the client in dialogue.

Yes you can!

Although I do have a basic understanding of Spanish (having studied it a long time ago) that helped me understand the source text, I would still assert that I would have been just fine if I hadn’t understood a word of the source language. The comparison of the three translations into my native language was easy to follow. I could judge what read better in the target language and grasp the more straightforward aspects of the source language by comparing the three translations. I was also able to understand the more complex issues, because they came up in discussion.

Another example of a session I attended with a source language I don’t work with is was that of Claudio Cambon, entitled “Being a Faithful Cheat! Betraying Source Texts to Provide Better Legal Translations” about how to get away from the source in Italian-to-English legal translations. My knowledge of Italian is far more limited than my knowledge of Spanish, but that didn’t matter. The presenter shared a word-for-word translation on the screen and then showed how he would completely rewrite it. This made it easy to follow and learn from the step-by-step improvements to the English and enabled me to understand approximately what the source text said.

In conclusion, I would encourage you to look out for future translation slam opportunities. Don’t shy away from participating if you get the chance, because it appears to be very rewarding. And don’t rule out sitting in the audience just because you don’t master the source language. If you at least master the target language, you should be able to get something out of it.

If you’d like to read some fascinating reviews of other translation slams, please see Chris Durban’s “Post #5 — Word geeks in the hot seat” and Tim Gutteridge’s “Ingredients for a perfect translation slam.”

By the way, I’m currently preparing to moderate a translation slam for the first time, with a twist: a text I wrote in English will be translated into Swedish, my source language, and I’ll moderate to provide the author’s perspective and answer questions. Do you have any advice or thoughts for me to consider in this exciting endeavor?

Buddies Welcome Newbies 2018

This year Buddies Welcome Newbies will be celebrating its sixth year of welcoming newcomers to the American Translators Association annual conference!

After its debut in San Antonio in 2013, Buddies Welcome Newbies has grown to become a well-known event right before the Welcome Celebration of the ATA conference. Designed as an icebreaker for those attending the conference for the first – or even the second – time, it is the place to get your gears in motion, in a fun, comfortable way.

Buddies Welcome Newbies (BWN) is a part of The Savvy Newcomer, where we are constantly innovating and putting new ideas to the test. Just as last year, BWN is one of the event choices in the main conference registration form, so that instead of having a separate link, you can just check a box when you sign up for the conference itself. However, if you missed that one question during registration, and are interested in being a part of this event, do not despair! We will be happy to sign you up manually. Just send us an email at atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org and we will get back with you.

This year we will continue with our ATA Conference Newcomer Blog, packed with resources for newbies and buddies alike. We thought waiting until Wednesday the 24th to share the myriad of things we want to tell you was kind of mean, plus, we could not possibly do it in 45 minutes! So, check it out, if you have not done so already, and be sure to leave us a comment to let us know how we are doing.

And as an extra incentive for our certified Buddies is the opportunity to earn 2.0 ATA CEPs by participating as a Buddy!

What is Buddies Welcome Newbies, you ask? The answer is simple:

Newbie is anyone who is new to the American Translators Association, to translation or interpreting in general, or a new conference attendee.

Buddies are the life of this event – experienced conference attendees, many of them seasoned T&I professionals, who donate their time and expertise for the benefit of Newbies. All our planning, ideas, and enthusiasm would mean nothing if we did not have the support of our awesome Buddies to make all this a reality.

During our opening session, Buddies and Newbies are paired up (the final ratio of Buddies to Newbies will depend on the number of participants in attendance), and off they go to enjoy the conference with the following “assignments”:

  • Newbies and their Buddies make their own plans to attend a conference session together, have a meal together, etc. The number of activities and frequency is up to you.
  • Attend the wrap-up session on Saturday October 27, for even more great information on what to do next and to have your questions answered by guest speakers.

Pretty simple, huh? Yet it is very powerful, as this event can make a big difference in the life of new conference attendees, and who knows, maybe you’ll make a friend or two in the process. Be sure to come to both the opening session and the wrap-up to see the magic for yourself!

Buddies Welcome Newbies Introduction: Wednesday, October 24 @ 4:45-5:30pm

Buddies Welcome Newbies Debriefing: Saturday, October 27 @ 12:30-1:30pm

ATA’s First Virtual Conference Has Arrived

Did you miss out on ATA’s 58th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.? Or maybe you attended but weren’t able to make it to as many sessions you would have liked. Don’t fear! The ATA Virtual Conference is here.

What is the Virtual Conference?

The Virtual Conference is a collection of 49 sessions given at ATA58 in Washington, D.C. There are sessions for both translators and interpreters, covering a wide range of topics in finance, law, medicine, science, technology, and more. All 49 sessions are available on-demand, and the recordings are accompanied by the speakers’ original PowerPoint presentations in video format. You can view the full list of sessions offered here https://www.atanet.org/conf/2017/virtual.

How Much Does It Cost?

3-day attendees of ATA58 have free access to the Virtual Conference. To access the sessions, go to https://www.atanet.org/conf/conf_login.php and log in with the same username and password provided to access the ATA58 App and Certificate of Attendance. All 3-day attendees were sent their usernames and passwords in an email with the subject line “ATA58 Virtual Conference is Now Available for Attendees.” If you are able to search your email, you can find your username and password there. If you cannot find your username and password, please contact ATA at webmaster@atanet.org. ATA members can also access the Virtual Conference by simply logging into their account at atanet.org and clicking on “ATA58 – Access Virtual Conference” under “Membership Information.”

If you did not attend the conference and would like to purchase access, go to https://www.atanet.org/conf/2017/virtual/ and click on “Purchase It Now.” The Virtual Conference costs $79 for ATA members and $129 for non-members. You can watch a free sample session from the Virtual Conference on ATA’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyHqh-PBoeE

How Did ATA Decide Which Sessions to Include?

Presenters did not apply to participate in the Virtual Conference. This year, ATA was limited to recording in just 4-5 rooms at a time. Their strategy was to pick the 4-5 rooms that contained session topics with the widest appeal for translators and interpreters. Therefore, the session topic and the room where the session was given were the only two items used to determine what was included in the Virtual Conference. Presenters whose sessions were chosen to be included in the Virtual Conference received no form of compensation.

What Happened to the eConference?

ATA has been selling some form of conference session recordings since 2005 (except in 2016). Below is a list of all recording packages and pricing; they are available for purchase at https://www.atarecordings.com/ under the tab “All.”

  • 2005-2009: ATA Annual Conference DVD-ROM $69.00
  • 2010-2011: ATA eConference $69.00 / ATA eConference + DVD-ROM $99.00
  • 2012-2013: Recordings are no longer available for purchase
  • 2014: ATA eConference $149.00 / ATA eConference + DVD-ROM $179.00
  • 2015: ATA eConference $149.00 / ATA eConference + USB Drive $179.00
  • 2017: ATA Virtual Conference / Free for 3-Day Attendees / ATA Members $79 / Non-Members $129

Please note that ATA plans to discontinue all sales of past recordings in the near future.

What Can We Expect for ATA59?

ATA’s 59th Annual Conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana from October 24-27, 2018. ATA expects to receive approximately 1,800 attendees from more than 60 countries and at this time has not determined whether or not the Virtual Conference will be offered again.

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

Let’s Spring into Action in Miami this March!

From March 16-18, 2018, Miami is hosting what will surely be the must-attend event of the season for professionals of the T&I industry.

Co-organized by the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF), the Spanish Language Division of the American Translators Association (ATA), and Florida International University (FIU),* Spring into Action will be a three-day event featuring the internationally renowned speakers of Palabras Mayores, along with 25 terrific professionals hailing from different parts of the U.S. and abroad, who will be presenting on various topics.

The four speakers of Palabras Mayores—Jorge de Buen Unna, Xosé Castro Roig, Alberto Gómez Font, and Antonio Martín Fernández—will guide us through the intricacies of the Spanish language, help us improve our technical knowledge of the language and brush up on our basic skills, and provide practical tips for writers and translators alike. The content will be relevant not only for translators, but also for interpreters, journalists, and basically anyone whose job is to communicate in Spanish.

Spring into Action was designed to offer something for everyone.

Even though Spanish is at the heart of the event, the conference is not geared exclusively toward practitioners working in the English/Spanish languages. In fact, of the 35 sessions, almost half deal with topics that may be applicable to other language combinations, are language-neutral, or are suited for professionals working into English.

The offerings are extensive, and attendees will have the opportunity to choose from as many as three sessions happening simultaneously in any given time slot.

Interpreters will be delighted to see advanced workshops to hone their skills, while translators—and dare I say writers and journalists?—will be able to delve into the depths of grammar, terminology, and style, and will even have the opportunity to explore the growing (and controversial) field of post-editing. Check out the program to learn more about sessions and presenters to get you all fired up!

ATA Certification Exam Workshop.

Bright and early on Friday March 16, translators working in the EN>ES combination and interested in taking the ATA certification exam will have the rare opportunity to have their practice tests corrected by ATA graders at the ATA Certification Exam Workshop. Participants must sign up ahead of time as space is limited. You will be asked to translate a 275-word passage and your hits and misses will be used anonymously to create the slides that will drive the workshop. Request your passage by writing to TallerEnMiami@gmail.com. They will send out as many passages as are requested, but only the first 20 translations received will be reviewed and used during the workshop. The first 20 people to send in their translations will be allowed to attend the workshop. This is truly a first come, first serve event!

Registration: Open to all and quite reasonable.

Despite the world-class level of this conference, it is extremely affordable and open to both members and non-members of the ATA. Early bird registration ends on January 30 and is priced at $175 for the general public. Interested in becoming a member of ATIF? Join and you will secure a $100 registration fee until January 30, in addition to a full year of benefits from ATIF. After January 30, registration increases to $250 for the general public and $175 for ATIF members.

The Magic City

Spring into Action will take place at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus of FIU, and information about the venue and accommodations can be found on the event’s webpage.

As if sessions and presenters (and affordability!) weren’t enough reasons, the attraction of Miami as a conference destination is undeniable. Tickets to Miami, a major travel hub, are usually very reasonable, whether you’re coming from anywhere in the U.S., South America, or even Europe, as some of our presenters are! Most airlines offer direct flights from major cities, so getting here is a breeze.

Spring is a fabulous time to visit Miami—not too humid, not too hot. It’s perfect for exploring the Magic City and, of course, its beaches!

Speaking of fabulous, in case you’re still reading this article and not over at ATIF’s website registering for the conference, let me casually mention the welcome reception. On Friday, March 16, after our first day of sessions, ATIF is inviting conference attendees to a swanky reception at one of Miami’s historical landmarks: The Biltmore Hotel. It will be the perfect backdrop to a perfect evening of relaxation and mingling with colleagues and friends.

As I said: Let’s Spring into Action, and see you here in Miami!

*DISCLAIMER: Florida International University’s Translation and Interpretation Program is providing space at the FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus as a professional courtesy to the American Translators Association’s Spanish Language Division and the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida for the event “Spring into Action 2018.” FIU/T&I is not responsible for the content, finances, or administration of the event.