As an ATA (American Translators Association) member of many years who recently applied for and was approved by ATA for voting member status, I feel that I should say a few words about the thoughts running through the head of this ATA member (and probably many other members) as I read the Statements of Candidates for the elections to be held in early October at this year’s ATA Conference in Miami.
I won’t be going to the conference, although I am thinking of going to next year’s conference in San Francisco, a city that I love dearly because I lived there for 10 years, followed by nine years in Sonoma Wine Country, a short drive north of San Francisco. And if I don’t make it to San Francisco next year, I will probably make it to the next ATA conference in Washington D.C., which is within driving distance from where I live now. That is, assuming that I am still alive at that point. We all seem to take certain things for granted, things that may not necessarily be granted to us.
To make sure that my vote will not be wasted as I will not be at the conference, I gave my proxy to another ATA member who shares my view of the many present and future challenges that the translating profession is facing and will probably be facing in the future. (Transferring your vote to another voting member is a very simple online procedure and I urge voting members who will not be able to go this year to do so.)
One reason I won’t be going to Miami is that my conference budget for this year was pretty much exhausted by my attendance as one of more than 20 speakers at the Third IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux 6 weeks ago. Although my journey to Bordeaux was harrowing, as you can read in my post here, I am so glad I did go to France. The Third IAPTI Conference, or the part of it that I still managed to witness after my misadventure in Atlanta, was very enjoyable and it gave me a lot of food for thought as you can read in this post.
The nine statements of nine candidates on the ATA website are very similar to statements of candidates for ATA elections from last year, the year before that, and maybe they will not be very different, mutatis mutandis, next year and the year after that.
Powerful forces usually protect the status quo of existing physical structures as well as of social and other constructs of human design—including associations of translators—forces that have a lot to lose should the balance of power be suddenly shifted in the case of structures created by humans. Plus, as a really smart person put it a long time ago, inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. This isn’t just a sarcastic quip, (although it may be that too) but Newton’s First Law, which states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
Will an unbalanced force suddenly emerge in Miami to put the American Translators Association into some kind of motion? It’s possible, although based on the statements of most of the candidates, somewhat unlikely.
How long has ATA been trying to figure out a way to make it possible for translators to use a computer keyboard while taking a translation test? By my counting, about two decades. This is just ridiculous. The last time I used a pen and paper for a translation was when I was taking a translation test in college, which would make it 1980, or 35 years ago, when many of my blog readers were babies or not even born yet.
But, as I was able to read the ATA Chronicle online last week in a format that was actually legible, ATA may now be approaching the 21st century, slowly, timidly and diffidently, or at least the tail end of the last one. That would be a very good thing. It could be an indication that perhaps the venerable association, like most physical bodies and constructs of human design, is exposed also to other forces and not just inertia.
But to come back to the subject of today’s post, having read the candidates’ statements, inertia, the most powerful force in the universe, still seems be the prevailing force in the association, as most candidates simply repeat the usual talking points from last year and the years before that.
Only one candidate mentions that translators are now facing urgent problems that must be dealt with, instead of repeating the same pearls of wisdom about how ATA needs to increase membership, or the number of attendees at conferences, and so on, etc.
Which one is it? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Just click on the link to candidates’ statements and then let me know which one you think it is.
I for one hope that somebody will raise real issues at the ATA conference in Miami this year.
Issues such as attempts by some corporate members of ATA to make post-processing of machine translation detritus by human slaves (formerly known as translators) into a common, legitimate and laudable “professional” activity.
Or attempts to turn human translators into slaves from another direction: illegal clauses in “Non-Disclosure Agreements” forcing translators to allow translation agencies to spy on independent, self-employed translators through their own computers, ostensibly “to verify whether security software has been installed correctly”.
Or attempts to force translators to accept as a normal condition of working life the possibility of unannounced raids on private homes of self-employed, independent translators by a translation agency that wants to know everything about the slaves working for it (which would be perfectly legal in North Korea).
Or the downward pressure on translation rates that is due to competition from countries where most people eke out a living on two dollars a day – countries that are very popular as suppliers of “vendors” for some “corporate members” of an association of translators, although these corporate members are translation brokers and not translators.
If these issues are not raised and discussed in an association that calls itself an association of translators, such associations will be less and less relevant to actual translators as they will serve mostly as an incubator for “newbies” who are ready and eager to be exploited by translation brokers, because that is what they are being trained for by their association, which, as far as I can tell, is not really theirs.
These are real issues that translators need to address. If a translators’ association is unwilling to even discuss these issues, it’s no longer an association of, for and by translators, and it can be best described by a paragraph from a recent exchange of opinion in a discussion group of translators that sums up the status quo quite beautifully:
“Today, unfortunately, most gateways to the profession are controlled by that industry and serve as re-education camps. The associations, which are the first place for budding and even more experienced translators to turn to for help and guidance, spew corporate propaganda and depict a reality in which there is no market outside of agencies. There are courses that under the moniker of “CPD” and the pretense of professional advice are all about preparing the “students” to start a fleeting career as modern agency slaves – including advice to be positive and accept everything with a smile, even when you can barely pay the bills.
By doing all of this that “industry”, with its multiple arms and angles, is all about enabling the corporate agency model, which is all about mediocrity at best, and in the process enables “translators” who have no business entering this business in the first place (while, quite cynically, profiting from the sense of desperation and ceaselessness of these translators in the process).”