Posted by: patenttranslator | July 29, 2011

Mad Patent Translator’s Take On the ATA Chronicle

Most mornings when I am done reading my local newspaper (Washington Post), I say something like “there’s nothing again today worth reading in the damn paper ” and my wife usually chimes in by saying “so desu ne” (that’s right). It has become one of our morning rituals. It is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to find journalism in an ocean of spin. If I did not have access to Internet, and to blogs in particular, I would not really know much about what is going on in my backyard, or in Washington or in the world at large. Once in a while I find a really interesting article in the paper, but it is definitely only once in a long while, perhaps once a week. And thanks God for that!

Since I have been a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) since 1987, I must have read about 240 issues of the ATA Chronicle, which is a newsletter that is published by the ATA about 10 times a year. I usually read it the same way that I “read” my paper, namely by scanning it while looking for an interesting article, and I am able to find one such article only once in a long while, perhaps a few times a year.

Let’s take a look at the latest issue, which would be from June 2011. The newsletter always advertises three or four main articles on the cover of the current issue. The three articles advertised on the cover of this issue are SIGNING YOUR WORK, BEYOND SUBTITLING and TACKLING SCIENTIFIC TEXTS.

Signing your work is an idea that Chris Durban, a Paris-based financial translator who is being interviewed in this issue by Catherine Jan (who has a blog at Catherinetranslates), has been obsessed with for several decades. I remember that I discussed it with her on the long-defunct Compuserve around 1994. What is probably a very useful idea for her type of translation is completely irrelevant to most other translators, especially those who work mostly for agencies, which would be the majority of them. I sign my translations a few times a month when a client asks for a certified translation and I charge 35 dollars for that because it takes time to do that. I scanned the article without really reading it. That is all I have to say on the subject of this magic bullet.

Subtitling is really beyond what this patent translator is interested in. I don’t know how many translators would be interested in this subject, perhaps quite a few, although maybe not really that many. I did not even scan the article. I just leafed through the pages of the newsletter to the next article.

Somewhat to my surprise, the June issue of the ATA Chronicle had three articles that this patent translator actually read: TACKLING SCIENTIFIC TEXTS, ARE TRANSLATORS LUDDITES? and TRANSLATION AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE, because all of them were at least to some extent related to the field of technical translation, which is what I am interested in.

And herein, I think, lies the dilemma of a newsletter for “translators”. There is no such thing as “a translator”. A financial translator in London or Paris has almost nothing in common with a technical translator in Berlin or San Francisco. Or with somebody living in Virginia or California who translates French articles from obscure African newspapers for US government (and I know two people like that, one of them sometime leaves comments on my blog, and the other one is a member of our little group of translators who meet in a local restaurant about once a month).

It must be very difficult to put together a newsletter that would have something in it for all kinds of translators because we have such diverse interests. I know that the editor (Jeff Sanfocon) is trying, and I would not want to have his job.

One suggestion that I would have for the editor would be to shake up the structure that has been used in this newsletter for too long in my opinion. With no disrespect to John Decker who edits The Translation Inquirer section, most if not all of the queries published in this section can be solved quite easily by running a Google search or with a search on the WIPO website, etc. And who can wait several months to have a question about a correct technical term answered? Nobody. So what is the purpose of the whole exercise?

On the other hand, I often find the reviews in the dictionary section interesting because dictionaries are not really discussed much on translation blogs. It’s good to know that dictionaries are still being published, and the people who review them always seem to know what they are talking about.

Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had a choice between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, he would choose the latter. I think that a lot of people feel that that newspapers are about as useful to them as the government these days. Namely, almost completely useless.

I could definitely drop my subscription to my newspaper and to the ATA Chronicle without losing much. After all, I can read most of the newspaper articles on the Internet for free and blogs have a lot information relevant to translators, as does the Translation Journal and  various “translation portals” where legions of hapless translators are competing for jobs at incredibly low rates. Unlike the advertised jobs, the discussion forums on these portals are in fact useful to this translator.

But as I said, once in a long while, I do find an interesting article both in the Washington Post and in the ATA Chronicle, which is probably the most that one can hope for.



  1. I agree with you about the Translation Inquirer section. I have mentioned this to several people over the years and was told it was their favorite section. Color me shocked.


  2. Let’s see if somebody disagrees with you and me on this blog.


  3. Thanks for the nice review Steve. I agree with most of the things you said and you’re right about the June issue being full of good stuff. I read it a few days ago (as soon as it came, pretty late because it’s so far? I live in Greece) and really enjoyed it, although I had already read Chris Durban’s interview in Catherine’s blog a few months ago. I also read the subtitling article, even though I’m not into subtitling, it was interesting. I most enjoyed the article about scientific translation, it was very well written and a pleasure to read.
    In general, I haven’t found another magazine focused on translation that I enjoy reading. Most are mainly focused on general language issues and teaching. ATA Chronicle is the only magazine entirely focused on translators and interpreters as far as I know, so it’s nice to have something to read in paper 🙂
    Have a great weekend!


  4. Hi Catherine:

    Thank you for your contribution.

    I did not exactly say that the newsletter was full of good stuff, but you are right, there is nothing else really out there for translators that I am aware of, at least not in English.

    Thanks God for blogs!


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