METM15 – networking over natas

Listen to “Tales of Brave Ulysses” first on Cream’s 1967 studio album “Disraeli Gears” then on one of their concert recordings; there’s no comparison. That’s the difference that the live environment makes. Similarly, while you can gain a lot from reading blogs and books, there’s no substitute for the immediacy of “live”. What you learn seems somehow fresher and more vivid – to say nothing of all the networking and socialising.

Which brings me to the 2015 conference of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators, or METM15 for short.

I had heard of MET before, of course, but had erroneously dismissed it as Spanish-centric. Also, as a MITI and (whisper it) MCIL, I hadn’t thought I needed to join another gang. But, having received a glowing recommendation / had my arm twisted by the MET ambassador-at-large, I gave it a go.

The setting – Coimbra, in Portugal – was particularly attractive and atmospheric, even if not strictly Mediterranean. This was a conference in a town, distributed across several locations, not confined to a faceless conference centre (just as well, as the main venue, the university languages department, won’t be winning an interior-design award any time soon).

The METM15 content had a business/marketing strand and a “pracademic” feel (see Sarah Griffin-Mason’s article in the last ITI Bulletin), but the focus was mainly on the craft.

Polishing our translation and editing skills and firming up on English usage was a prime theme, with 6 hours of practical workshops to kick-start the proceedings. I chose sessions on “Singular they” and “Editing non-native English”, which offered a useful reflection on the mistakes that non-native writers typically make. Broadly speaking, these are due to learner errors and interference from the native language or culture (e.g. “deep-seeded” for “deep-seated”, a consequence of writing the way you hear).

I enjoyed John Bates on grammar myths, tackling the case for and against old chestnuts like starting sentences with a conjunction. Presumably, we’re on safe ground with that one, as the Almighty Himself does it in the Lord’s Prayer (“And lead us not into temptation …”).

Rob Lunn provided food for thought on translating contracts, clarifying when to use “shall” (when the meaning is “has a duty to”) and recommending that translators develop their own library of standard translations for the various types of clause.

I came away from sessions on plagiarism checkers, corpus-building and TM management resolving to acquaint myself better with tools such as PlagScan, BootCaT, AntConc and Olifant. And Emma Goldsmith and Jane Marshall’s presentation on translator mentoring left me feeling that that would be a good thing to get involved with in future.

Some of the slots seemed a little short, presumably in an attempt to accommodate more voices and topics that was only a partial success and may, I gather, be reviewed for next year.

My various other gleanings included mental notes to focus more on theme-rheme analysis for coherence when editing, and what I’m sure will become a pet project to create and exploit DIY corpora. That should accelerate the process of deepening my specialist knowledge, provide a useful tool to identify collocations and usage patterns, and help justify my translation choices to clients, should the need arise.

It was also a very sociable few days with ample networking and after-hours white port, facilitated by the event’s relatively “intimate” size (around one third that of the ITI conference). METMers are an unfailingly friendly, knowledgeable bunch, a good blend of youth and experience. A real community of practice. The idea of organising lunch and dinner groups in eateries all over town, where attendees can find a like-minded group to discuss a range of topics, is clearly a winner. Especially when the food goes down so well; the bread and the pastéis de nata (custard tarts) were a real treat.

Having resolved beforehand to prepare properly, I made contact with a few folks and looked up some mugshots in advance, to help recognise faces in the crowd. One thing I’d do differently next time, though, is to actually read the abstracts of the presentations before deciding which to attend, as in hindsight, one or two off-putting titles concealed some fascinating material.

I came away with a clearer idea of where I am in my own career; when climbing a mountain, you think that the peak you’re gazing up at is actually the summit, but when you get there, another looms higher behind it. METM15 was also the first time I’d travelled beyond my source and target countries for a while, so I returned to Italy with a sense of being more at home, that it’s still foreign, but it’s my foreign.

The anticipation for METM16 starts here – see you in Tarragona!

[An abridged version of this article appeared in the Jan-Feb 2016 edition of the ITI Bulletin.]