ATA59 Conference Session Review: “Textspeak in the Courtroom,” Parts I and II

It can be a bit intimidating to attend a “Part I” session at conferences, knowing there is a lot of information to be absorbed. That said, “Textspeak in the Courtroom” was a two-part lecture I did not want to miss! As a Spanish translator and transcriber, I come in contact with textspeak and slang on a regular basis—not in the courtroom per se, but in transcripts, interviews, handwritten notes, and more. The speaker for this session was Ellen Wingo, a Spanish court interpreter, and her session abstract describing how slang can seem almost like Egyptian hieroglyphs drew me in. Her fascinating presentation had me captivated for over two hours as we learned about the various challenges linguists often face with slang and possible solutions.

The first half of the “Textspeak” session centered on abbreviations and slang, while the second half was on emojis. Both were very interesting topics that were made even more fascinating by the range of perspectives and experiences in the audience! We covered slang in both English and Spanish (and sometimes Spanglish) that court interpreters and transcribers see not only in text conversations (which may need to be sight-translated by interpreters) but also in handwritten notes, emails, and other forms of written media, since textspeak has permeated so many aspects of written language in today’s culture.

Ms. Wingo provided helpful glossaries of English and Spanish slang and offered ideas for equivalents. Though glossaries of slang, a rapidly evolving form of language, are only useful for so long before they become outdated, I found it really valuable to discuss the current gang, prison, and street slang and to connect with fellow linguists who experience some of the same challenges I do.

The emoji portion of this session was also of great interest to attendees. The speaker discussed how the more modern emojis (images a smartphone user selects and inserts within written text; like the ones in the image below) differ from an earlier iteration of textspeak wherein writers used “emoticons” (representations of objects or facial expressions using the regular keyboard and characters; e.g., “:)”) and addressed how modern emojis can pose challenges to interpreters and sight translation. Whether to even interpret or mention an emoji was discussed, since an interpreter’s understanding of the emoji may differ from the writer’s intention. Differences in smartphone platforms can also introduce confusion to the sight-translation process, since an Android device may portray a slightly different emoji than would an iPhone, leading to different interpretations of the message.

To me, the most enjoyable aspect of this session was the fact that the speaker used real-life examples of slang to demonstrate her points and involve the audience in the practice of decoding emojis and text messages. Several times throughout the two session blocks, she shared an example of either a cartoon with confusing language or an actual (redacted) text message and asked members of the audience to read the Spanish text—which was a challenge in itself since the textspeak was so strongly coded—and then offer a suggestion of how to sight-translate it into English.

These exercises brought out the wide variety of experiences and perspectives in the audience: some were acquainted with textspeak, meme language, and other aspects of pop culture, while others were seeing these new forms of speech and writing for the first time. I found it particularly interesting that some members of the audience were very familiar, for example, with pop culture references to the “I can has cheezburger” image below, while others were flummoxed by the popularity and widespread use of such an odd meme.

As far as audience involvement, attendees were invited to participate to the extent that we wanted to, and this was a perfect opportunity for us to ask questions and share our experiences without taking away from the speaker’s main points. I felt that Ms. Wingo struck an excellent balance of sharing her very useful knowledge and giving others the opportunity to share their own perspectives.

For my work in particular, the “Textspeak in the Courtroom” sessions were helpful in terms of understanding slang terms I’ve heard and read about on UrbanDictionary.com but never interacted with in real life, such as “chavala” (a rival gang member) or “palabrero” (a gang member who calls the shots). The session also provided me with new resources to check when I have questions, as the speaker provided handouts and websites for reference. Overall I really enjoyed attending this session and found the speaker’s wealth of knowledge and presentation style to be great assets to the ATA Conference.

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?

Chapter Conferences: A Great Place to Start

For me, fall means conference season. There’s the American Translators Association (ATA) conference in late October or early November, but even before that is the conference organized by my local ATA chapter, the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (MATI). I started attending MATI’s annual conferences when I was a graduate student, and I’ve been a regular attendee ever since. Over the years, these conferences have been a valuable source of continuing education and networking.They have also provided opportunities for me to get involved with the association.

If you’re new to the world of translation and interpreting, you’re likely eager to meet others in the field. You’re probably also seeking opportunities to improve your translation and/or interpreting skills in addition to general business skills. If so, attending a local conference is an important step in the right direction. Though I encourage translators and interpreters to attend ATA conferences whenever possible, I know that it’s not always feasible at the beginning. Newcomers may be looking for a smaller-scale, local event to dip their toes into the water. That’s where a chapter conference comes in.

So, what are the benefits of a chapter conference for new translators and interpreters? Read on for some inspiration. Hopefully afterwards you’ll be looking up your next local conference!

Learn about hot topics in the field

At all stages of your career, it’s important to keep up with the latest developments in translation and interpreting. Whether you want to know about your colleagues’ experience working with speech recognition software or see demonstrations of the latest CAT tools, this is the place to do it.

At this year’s MATI conference, for example, I particularly enjoyed Allison Bryant’s session on working with flat PDF files using optical character recognition (OCR) software. I always enjoy learning how other translators use various tools in their day-to-day work, and this session was no exception!

Get the best tips for running your business

Maybe you’ve completed a long list of translation and/or interpreting courses as a student in an MA or certificate program. But do you feel fully equipped to manage a business all on your own? Attending a conference can help you put together some of those pieces as you’re building the foundation of your business. At this crucial beginning stage, advice from those who have been there before is extremely valuable.

Daniela Guanipa’s session at this year’s MATI conference, called “How to Bullet-Proof Your Translation Process,” presented many practical tips for translators that can be applied at any career stage. Her presentation featured strategies such as a checklist to manage the entire process based on each project’s specifications. She also shared some questions to ask clients to help determine their specific needs.

Meet other newbies

When you’re getting started, it’s helpful to meet and share experiences with others in a similar situation. Not only is it comforting to connect with a fellow newbie at a conference, but it’s also an opportunity to compare notes on how your early stages are going. Someone else’s success story might be the inspiration you need for your next achievement!

Some of my first connections at MATI conferences were with fellow graduate students. Over the years, we have ended up working on projects together, attending numerous conferences and other events, and getting involved in the association’s many volunteer opportunities.

Find a mentor

In addition to connecting with other newbies, it’s never a bad idea to seek advice from seasoned professionals, or even those who were in your shoes just a few years ago. A chapter conference is a great way to make those connections and chat one-on-one for valuable career advice.

With memories of being a newbie not so long ago, I’m always happy to pay it forward by connecting with and advising newer translators and interpreters. We might first meet at the MATI conference, and later meet up for coffee or a phone call to chat in the weeks that follow.

Start a long-term connection with the association

Without a doubt, the biggest impact MATI conferences have had on my professional experience is that they sparked my involvement with the association itself. By becoming a regular conference attendee, I got to know the association’s long-term members and board. I saw that the chapter’s success with a wide range of educational opportunities and events relies entirely on a team of highly dedicated volunteers, and I knew that I wanted to get involved.

I served on MATI’s Board of Directors for two terms, spanning four years total. During this time I was able to participate in many projects and events to ensure that the association was a constant source of support, education, and networking for translators and interpreters in our area.

By attending your chapter conferences, you’ll see that there are many ways you can get involved. There’s something to fit any level of commitment you’re able to give—whether it’s writing an article in the newsletter, recruiting webinar presenters, or serving a term on the board of directors. I truly feel that the more involved you are in your association, the more rewards you’ll reap in your career as a whole.

Chapter conferences are an excellent way to make connections with fellow newbies and long-time professionals, learn about the latest tools, and get tips for running your translation and/or interpreting business.But it doesn’t stop there. These events are a stepping-stone for you to get involved and make a lasting impact on the association itself.

Ready to attend a chapter conference? Check out ATA’s chapters at http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/chapters.php and ATA affiliate groups at http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/affiliated_groups.php.

Image source: Pixabay

About the author: Meghan (McCallum) Konkol is an ATA-certified French to English freelance translator specializing in corporate communications, human resources, marketing, and financial documents. She holds an MA in Language, Literature, and Translation (concentration in French to English translation) from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Before going freelance, she worked in-house for several years at a global language services provider, serving as a project manager and quality manager. She currently serves on the ATA Board of Directors and is the coordinator of ATA’s School Outreach Program. She served on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (an ATA chapter) from 2013 to 2017.E-mail: meghan@fr-en.com. Website: www.fr-en.com. Twitter: @meghan_transl8.

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