ATA57: Would you like to lead or follow?

 ATA 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco: random musings, session mentions and more

Although this question was asked at a dance I went to (out of over 1,800 conference attendees only two, including myself, were into lindy hop; I guess that makes it an exotic dance), it could just as easily be a business development question.

Why not?

In my case, a proactive approach to participation in the ATA 57th Annual Conference meant:

  • Going to translation slams (my dream as the current Slavic Languages Division Administrator is to have one in the future)
  • Braving additional exciting French language sessions
  • Taking part in improv exercises at 8:30 in the morning
  • Not making a Stringer Bell and Robert’s Rules of Order reference during the SLD’s Annual Meeting

Quick session recaps

Translation slams are awe-inspiring

I went to both the French to English and the Double Dutch slams. Unfortunately, not knowing Dutch severely undermines my ability to comment on the finer points of the latter. However, both texts seemed to be very tricky, and I will definitely keep in mind the "let each tems choose a text for the other team" strategy.

French to English translation slam: Jenn Mercer and Andie Ho bravely tackled the Pokémon Go! text (and Pikachu potty humor). I am not familiar with the game or with the beasties you're supposed to capture, so this slam was also fairly mind-boggling (and [oddish]).

Anna Karenina Slam

The Translating Anna Karenina: Two Approaches session was in a way like a translation slam, because Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz were not only talking about their approaches to translation as a whole, but also drilled down to the sentence level, talking about some specific terminology challenges and (different) word choices they made.

For a graduate of a Russian school, it was a bit shocking not only to hear that Tolstoy’s style was occasionally “meh”, but to see all the repetitions of the same adjectives highlighted in the same sentence. Never noticed them before; your translator is your most attentive reader, indeed!


Laurence Bogoslaw’s session on textual cohesion, on the other hand, was highlighting the challenged impeding the "flow" of a translation. For some time I felt quite sympathetic towards the students who had to struggle with apparently random word order, compound sentences and general Russian-language messiness in the Russian-to-English example. Interestingly, the English-to-Russian example showed how misunderstanding seemingly small details (such as articles) might result in completely derailing a translation and compounding the error by trying to make it flow (in the opposite direction from the original).

Why not throw away the source text?

Butchering a text because of misunderstanding its flow is one thing, butchering the purpose of a text “because it says so in the original” is a different one.

Fortunately, Angela Benoit’s presentation was describing exactly those types of issues. Several comparisons of marketing copy in French and English for various industries showed just how different (or similar) target audiences might be, and how a slavishly literal translation might undermine a brand's marketing efforts.

Session take-away: research copy in your target industries in your target language. I’ve been trying to be systematic about this kind of research for some time, and the session was extremely helpful in showing how to analyze promotional materials.

Back to lindy

One of the reasons that I like social dancing so much is that you either get it right, or not. Either way, you have to to move on. Apparently this is the case with the improv comedy (without the music).

Past and Future

This was SanFrancisco:

See you in Washington, D.C.?

 Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations. English to Russian and German to Russian website localization, transcreation. Russian copywriting. ATA and CATI member.

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

English to Russian and German to Russian website localization, transcreation. Russian copywriting. ATA and CATI member.