Interview With Annette Schiller, FIT Europe
In 1991 the International Federation of Translators (FIT, Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs) launched the idea of an officially recognized International Translation Day, to be celebrated on September 30th. The celebration coincides with the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators.
With this annual International Translation Day, FIT wants to draw attention to the translation community in an effort to promote the work of translators and interpreters worldwide. It is also an opportunity to display pride in a profession that is becoming increasingly essential in this era of globalization.
WB: You have a rather privileged position. In addition to being FIT Europe Chairperson, you are a university lecturer and a translation practitioner. From this point of view, what do you think are the main aspects of the translation industry that are obsolete? And what are those on which we should focus for the development of the translation profession and of the translation industry in general?
AS: I prefer to refer to our profession as constantly evolving, like most things in life, rather than in terms of what has become obsolete!
As we all know, there is huge diversity within the translation industry, where the stakeholders can be very large players or small and medium-sized language service providers or independent, freelance translators.
FIT Europe is the Regional Centre Europe of the International Federation of Translators (FIT). As such, it represents 56 professional translator and interpreter associations across Europe and their approx. 40,000 individual members. My comments therefore are made against the backdrop of this group of professionals.
There are a number of developments and issues we are currently dealing with in the profession, some of which are certainly not so new. The following are the most pressing, in my opinion:
First of all we have to deal with the ongoing narrative around machine translation (MT) and post editing (PE) which some insist is sounding the death knell for human translation (HT). We disagree. I hope our discussion gives me the chance to explain why, because there are many, complex reasons for this.
The second issue involves the working situation of professionals. Never before has there been such a demand for translated text, never before has technology developed at such a rate, some of it good, some of it not so good, but always impacting the speed with which practitioners are expected to adapt, and never before has it been so imperative for us to support independent translators in being prepared for the market place in which they operate. They require support in the drive towards professionalism, skills acquisition, good business acumen, ensuring the ability to work closely and successfully with their direct clients/LSPs/project managers as partners. Most importantly, it is vital that these professionals realize the value of their work and how important it is for the success of their clients.
Thirdly, given the cross-border and multilingual nature of our profession, it is not sufficient for professional associations to be represented merely at national level. They must be represented and heard at European level too, for example, at the European Directorate-General for Translation, the largest translation service in the world.
Finally, it is vital that we move beyond our comfort zone within the narrow confines of the translation industry to address the general lack of awareness and understanding externally of our profession; in fact, to address what is too frequently our downright invisibility. We need to show that our work impacts absolutely every aspect of life – public, private and corporate –- and in addition we need to highlight the value and benefits we bring to society as a whole.
WB: What can and should an organization like FIT Europe do to promote this development?
AS: Since the 1950s we have been listening to the mantra that translators would soon be obsolete, replaced by machines. This hasn’t happened yet and, if MT experts are to be believed, it is unlikely to happen for a very long time. In addition, far from being dinosaurs that take to the hills at the sight of technology, translators have for the most part embraced technology where it has been of benefit for our work.
At FIT Europe, we counteract this constant negative narrative regarding MT/HT by shedding a light on the facts and by consulting experts in the field, in order to go past the loud, confident and too often incorrect hype and get a realistic idea of the actual situation with MT. Reality and the experts suggest that human parity is a long way off.
We use every opportunity at conferences and at meetings with clients and other stakeholders to underline the fact that technology can be hugely useful but needs to be properly managed and that we should not become complacent about it.
We do, however, believe that the translation market is at a crossroads of sorts, the two main emerging pathways being: on the one hand, a translation market where MT is required for the translation of millions of words (volumes that simply cannot be translated by human translators), where PE replaces translation.
The second pathway is the more conventional, intellectually-demanding type of translation where the human understanding of nuance, context and linguistic and cultural reference play a vital role in helping clients to tear down perceived barriers to international trade and commerce, to place their products, defend their interests or make sound investment decisions relating to different markets. Such translation cannot be done by machines to the same quality and level of success. This is, of course, not to say that we do not use technology for this type of work, we do: CAT tools, quality assured MT or whatever terminology or other tools that can be useful.
One of the most important ways a professional association provides support for individual translators is by way of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). CPD is fundamental to life as a professional, as it shows that one is committed to the profession, to lifelong learning and to clients too. CPD events can be in the form of face-to-face seminars, workshops, webinars or longer courses. A CPD event can be about anything that will have an impact on the life of the professional: in our case, events relating to translation/interpreting (voice training for interpreters, financial translation, revision) or to running a business (tax returns, invoicing, marketing), or relating to work-life balance (keeping fit, emotional intelligence) and so on.
FIT Europe is currently running a CPD project which began in 2017. The aim is to encourage association members to become lifelong learners, to provide information about the current CPD situation and needs of all associations, to find common ground between the associations and to help them to come together and combine events and learn from each other. FIT Europe is examining whether it is feasible and desirable to introduce a common “seal of approval” or “certification” for CPD courses across Europe.
At FIT Europe, we address the third issue of having our voice heard internationally through contact with other representatives within the industry and on the client side. Isolation is no longer de rigueur. For example, I was asked to join a panel at the Elia Together2019 conference for freelancers last February, following which I agreed to join the organizing committee for the 2020 Elia Together event. This means that, apart from becoming aware of how “the other side” operates, I have had input into the theme and the topics for the 2020 event and have also suggested speakers who are experts in their subject areas and who I believe will be of great interest to professionals and LSPs alike.
FIT Europe is one of the partners involved in the annual European Language Survey.
FIT Europe, together with a small number of the main stakeholders in the translation industry, is involved in a pilot initiative, a roundtable, hosted by DGT, the aim of which is to address the many and wide-ranging issues facing the industry both at European and global level today. This initiative is in the very early stages but we are optimistic that it will be continued.
FIT Europe makes submissions on various consultations published by the EU Commission that are relevant to our members, e.g. on multilingualism in the EU and on access to social protection within the EU.
With regard to the fourth issue, visibility, FIT Europe is currently developing a promotional/advertising campaign with external advertising experts which will go a long way to improving the visibility of our profession and its members across Europe. Further details to follow.
WB: How can the academic world contribute?
AS: Many universities, particularly those within the European Masters in Translation network, are already responding by offering practical modules such as “professional development” and “the simulated translation bureau”, in addition to translation technology modules. Some courses offer the opportunity of a three-month internship with a good translation company at the end of a course of postgraduate studies.
In addition, many universities use professional translators to teach translation-related modules. So, not only are the students being tutored in a quasi-real-life translation context, they are also benefiting from the practical experience of translators and with regard to all aspects of running a business as a sole trader.
However, the universities cannot possibly provide the practical experience that can only come with working on the job.
I believe that, apart from academia, in this instance, industry in general, the translation profession and the public sector could play a greater role by providing good internship opportunities and mentoring for a certain period post-qualification, and by offering translators/interpreters the opportunity to shadow people in non-translation companies so that they will come to understand how the corporate world works and how our work fits into the supply chain.
What is the position of FIT Europe regarding translation/interpreting technology and new developments (neural machine translation, Speech-to-Speech Translation Technology, voice assistants, etc…)?
Generally speaking, FIT supports technology and the benefits it brings to professionals and their clients and acknowledges that it is part and parcel of life as a professional translator and interpreter today.
However, it does caution against becoming complacent when using technology. For example, a Neural Machine Translation (NMT) system will always generate a text that is entirely fluent but it may nonetheless be inaccurate. It is important to be aware of this. And all the more so, to be aware that it takes someone highly skilled and proficient in both languages, with years of translation and editing experience to spot such mistakes and accurately correct them. Confidentiality is also a major issue with MT. Translators need to be aware, for example, that any text put into Google translate will afterwards be forever available to anyone else using the system. This is particularly problematic if a translator has signed an NDA in relation to the text. Compliance is also an issue. A text that is subject to the GDPR may not be in compliance if it is translated using only MT and without the intervention of a human
FIT expects the professional associations to keep their members up to date about developments in the use of technology both from a legal and a technical point of view.
WB: According to FIT Europe, what impact will technology have on our profession in the immediate future? And how can this impact be managed?
AS: Technology is already here and is widely used mainly by translators but increasingly by interpreters and is already impacting our lives.
In my opinion, the input of people who will be using a tool or system should be sought right from the start of development. This is seldom if ever the case with translation/interpreting/terminology technology.
There is also a perception today that just because people have “grown up with technology” that they know everything about all systems and programs. This is unfortunately not the case. There are often huge gaps in knowledge and therefore missed opportunities when using technology. We need improved training in the available technology, be it for CAT tools, Word/Excel or terminology management systems. I know of a 30-minute webinar that was an introduction to a specific CAT tool. The 30 minutes included 10 minutes of advertising about the tool that was the subject of the webinar – a nonsense. I would also like to see improved customer support post-purchase.
WB: What relationship would FIT Europe like to establish with translation technology providers?
AS: Many of the problems in the translation industry today stem from the fact that individual stakeholder groups have little or no conception of, and therefore little respect for, the work of others in the supply chain.
I would like to see overall improved cooperation and collaboration between LSPs, translation technology companies and professional associations and their individual translators. This would go a long way towards creating a more satisfactory and productive relationship.
As mentioned above, I would like to see more involvement by professional translators and interpreters at the development stage of tools and technology in addition to any feedback they might provide being taken into consideration.
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