Peer training, peerless value?

Translators need continuous professional development (CPD), and the best people to provide it are often other translators. You might look to a wine expert to add zest to your oenology specialism or turn to an accountant to learn about your tax system. For many other topics, though, peer training can be your best bet, especially if you need help applying the knowledge to your translation business, or simply if the subject is purely translation- or language-related.

e-learning is one of the latest big things, and more and more professionals are getting in on the act. Increasing numbers of translators are providing teaching, training and learning opportunities for other translators, from webinars to workshops and from blog posts and courses to conference speeches. Which is great, right?

Kind of.

Except for two hairy great problems – first, that some of the content simply isn’t that good. I’ve had some excellent learning experiences, but I’ve also sat through webinars with very basic content, speeches that meandered slowly along without saying anything, and presentations with crowded, ram-packed slides or no slides at all. I’ve read many insightful articles but too many vacuous, poorly written trickles of consciousness that would have been better consigned to the recycle bin. Many inexperienced translators are encouraged to put themselves out there on social media, to blog, to show what they know. Too often, though, they end up revealing just the opposite: how much they don’t know and how they can’t write yet. Might as well wait till you’ve got something to say and you can say it properly.



Quality, then. High-value content. Your customers deserve it, all the more so when they’re your colleagues. For there’s a crucial difference in the relationship: they’re not like your translation clients. They’re your peers. Your fellow professionals. Members of the same community. People you could be running into online and at conferences for years to come. Some of them might be your friends. There’s less distance between you and them than there is with a translation client. They deserve special care and respect. Best get it right.

A translation community is a great environment for peer-to-peer training. A true community lives from the contributions of its members: like one of Bernard’s favourite irregular verbs in Yes Minister (that was on the telly in the ’80s, kids): I contribute, you contribute, he or she contributes, we benefit. A sharing economy, if you like. Two examples of excellent, thriving communities of practice spring to my mind. MET, or the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (as Emma Goldsmith neatly explains), is one you might be familiar with; the other you won’t have experienced. Tough luck, guys, because it’s the translation team I’m fortunate enough to be part of with two estimable colleagues. A community is a great thing, but the relationships within it are special, so it can’t really be used as a tribe of prospects to hard-sell paid services to. It’s about giving, and it’s about respect (for them and for yourself).

The price is right?

Which brings me on to Hairy Great Problem No. 2. The vexed question of money. Whether to charge and, if so, how much.

Nowadays, we’ve come to expect many things for free: to read the news online without paying, to download software like picking an apple from a tree, to read experts’ content (even if it’s content marketing) without spending a bean. Should peer training be given away, too? Some colleagues at the top of the tree do just that, nobly sharing their considerable expertise for no charge or for a fee that is then re-invested in the profession, as a way of giving something back to a world that has provided them with an enviable, albeit hard-earned, career. A laudable choice.

But not the only valid one. For what is important, when translators provide CPD for their colleagues, is to deliver excellent content and excellent value. Value for money, in particular – and why not? While communities are sacrosanct, and monetising your community is a bit dubious, I think it’s fine to put a price tag on training aimed at the profession in general. As long as the material is very high quality and pitched at the right level (e.g. don’t serve up beginner content to mid-career or premium translators). As long as the trainer is an actual expert in the field, not just a dabbler or fly-by-night. And as long as the price is right. That may be quite high, as with the Translate In … training events, where the sheer excellence of the content, I’m reliably informed, makes you forget the sharp intake of breath that precedes that click on the “pay” button. Indeed, the cost can focus the mind and help you get more from the training than you might from a free course.

Translators often stand accused, with good cause, of undervaluing our services, of charging fees that fail to reflect the value we offer. We can respond by setting – and paying – prices for translator CPD that reflect its true value, sending the message that quality is an important investment worth paying for, the same message we want to convey to clients about our own services.

So let’s walk the walk. Let’s give CPD the value it deserves.