ITA Conference 2020 - Yes, it was worth it!

Yep, the bottom line is that it was good.
Why was it so good?
- Ah, I'm glad you asked.

I was nearly late for the first session, having forgotten what public transport is like during morning rush hour. So I barely had time to hug and/or wave at colleagues before settling in. From the corner of my eye I glimpsed the very-colorful round buns (=sandwiches) on the bar next to the entrance to Marlen Hall, but had to forgo them. (Temporarily.)  The event took place at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, like in 2017 and 2018. The interior design has undergone noticeable refurbishing, or redecorating, without major changes that could have altered the venue's character and "vibe". The chief annoyance at ZOA remains the lack of a place to hang one's coat!

Day One. The keynote speaker was writer and translator Assaf Gavron. I haven't read anything by him; but I have now added him to my reading "wish list", and fervently intend to actually make that wish come true. Thing is, by now I'm also wondering what the English version of his books sound like... So whichever book I choose, I'm likely to get it in both languages, and end up comparing the two. Which is what I did with Dror Mishani's crime novel, The Missing File, for example, after hearing his talk at the 2016 ITA Conference.

Mind you, I'm not sure I'd be up to translating Gavron's novels and stories -- they seem quite complex (in the good sense of the word) in terms of plot, characters and language. Those of us who've had some experience in translating Israeli novels into English are aware of the many hurdles. And not just because the IDF lingo, slang, missions, atmosphere and so on are nothing like that of the American or British armed forces.  Gavron provided many amusing and edifying examples of the problems and pitfalls involved. Luckily, Gavron's command of English is far better than the average Israeli's, having been brought up by British parents in an English-speaking home and has lived, inter alia, in the U.S., England, and Canada. He himself even translated one of his novels -- the intriguing Tanin Pigu'a (= Almost Dead for the U.S. market and Croc Attack for the British) into English, with the help of British editor/writer James Lever. Gavron said that he thinks the English version ended up being even better than the original. I am not surprised; understanding and collaboration between author and editor or translator can work wonders.

While on this subject, do you remember Amos Oz's talk at the 2017 ITA conference, on translating A Tale of Love and Darkness into English? Oz collaborated with his translator, Nicholas de Lange, and gave him the go-ahead to leave out several sections of the novel, which were either of no interest to the American reader or too difficult or cumbersome to explain. And a propos A Tale of..., Gavron also translated into Hebrew the its English script written by Natalie Portman. As well as the script of one of my fave movies, Pulp Fiction. I don't suppose the script included the "Quarter Pounder with cheese" dialog...

May the god-of-translators forgive me for patting myself on the back, but I believe that I, too, have improved a few books and short stories while translating them from Hebrew to English. In my case it was relatively easy, once I had the consent and collaboration of the author. As we know, much depends on one's client and his/her attitude. I once had a client who hit the ceiling whenever he saw that my [English] sentence was not a 100% match with his [Hebrew] sentence; whereas another client has full confidence in me, is very flexible, open to discussion and appreciative of my suggestions and contributions to his original text.

Gavron translated a good number of books, scripts and short stories into Hebrew, and as far as I know had very good editors, such as Aliza Ziegler. I could go on and on, but I recommend that you  simply go to Gavron's website. Have fun!

As usual, the plenary was followed by a break. The colorful buns were a bit weird-looking but tasty, the cookies were very moreish, the coffee was bleh, but for 12 shekels you could get a half-decent latte. Then came the usual difficulty of choosing which track to attend. Briefly, here's what I listened to:

Nathalie Haddad, managing director of Transtitles, spoke about -- surprise, surprise -- translating subtitles. I think she did a good job of explaining the challenges involved. Most of the TV series I watch are in English, with no subtitles. But when I do watch TV with Hebrew subtitles, I am always acutely aware of both brilliant solutions and amusing or ghastly failures.

Next was Yael Valier, an experienced and talented speaker, as I discovered during her presentation on translating children's poetry at last year's conference. The emphasis this time was on translating texts designed to be heard -- an aspect most of us don't deal with on a regular basis.

Lunch break. Baby-bourekas instead of confectionery. But for those who wanted something more substantial, there are plenty of good cafes and eateries within easy walking distance. As stated, the main inconvenience was having to schlep one's coat and bag while simultaneously balancing a small, recyclable plate of food & drink and trying to find a temporary resting place. Meileh -- lo nora! (= Oh, forget it, no harm done; we survived to tell the tale...)

Break over. Back to Marlen Hall:
Avi Stainman basically told his audience what his company, Academic Language Experts, does, and why it's important. I totally agree that Israel's academics are, for the most part, in need of the services offered. Translating, editing, and formatting academic papers can be a huge headache which I for one was glad to stop doing. IMHO, most of what Avi said was plain common sense. But a little common sense can go a long way ;-)

Yael Cahane-Shadmi, a versatile translator and experienced lecturer, gave a short talk about an important aspect of our work: What do you do when a text you are asked to translate revolves around a subject, or promotes an issue, that is morally or ethically contrary to your principles. Obviously, if you can afford to pick and choose, you simply turn down any texts you dislike for whatever reason. But when the issue at hand is more serious, and you need the money, where do you draw the line?
Yael's presentation is available on her blog; but note that it is only in Hebrew. You can also enjoy an earlier presentation of hers, on assertiveness, which comes in handy when you want to turn a client down. :-)  This presentation, too, is in Hebrew.

Ruth Ludlam's presentation was about the process of publishing an academic book. This is something I would dread, and have done my best to avoid. But if you must do it, it's good to know what you're getting yourself into. For example: every publishing house has its own guidelines and demands, so if you get turned down by one publisher, you don't give up in disgust -- you try a different one, or two, or three... And even once you've established an understanding with a certain publisher, your contact person might suddenly be replaced by someone else, kicking you out of your comfort zone. You can read more about it on Ruth's blog.

Liath Noy spoke about the state of translation studies in Israel. A touchy subject, it seems. Once upon a time, like fifty years ago, there were no "Translation Studies" in Israel. I studied English Literature, Linguistics, some French and Spanish; and later a few courses in Comparative Literature, and a two-semester workshop in play-writing -- all interesting and fun, but not exactly geared towards translation. At present, my alma mater, Tel Aviv University, no longer has a translation department.
Translators' work often calls for an acquaintance with (or education in) a wide field of knowledge --  linguistics, modern language studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, philosophy, creative language, and more. But in day-to-day reality, that's not enough. The late Prof. Miriam Schlesinger believed in translation studies that prepared its students for the real world. (Which is why she invited me to give a guest-presentation in 2005. More about that in a separate post, I hope.) Today's academic programs are trying to adapt to the 21st century, with more emphasis on hands-on practice, technological aspects and business aspects. Among other things, Liath teaches how to use MemoQ - a successful translation software. If I were still working full-time, I'd definitely try it.

Last coffee-break for the day, followed by two brief talks:

Haddar Perry spoke about excess words in translation. I've been following Haddar's blog (in Hebrew, duh!) for years; her knowledge of the Hebrew language, past and present, is amazing in its breadth and depth. Her talk was a short version of the blog post mentioned above. The blog post contains no less than 47 examples of the way Hebrew-speakers use lengthy, often superfluous phrases when translating from other languages, including English. As we know, Hebrew is, by nature, a succinct language. In many cases the translator or editor looks at the tiny Hebrew (translated) sentence, which seems to him/her somehow insufficient, not respectable or impressive enough... and immediately pads and plumps it up with a few unnecessary words.

Micaela Ziv's two most important projects for the ITA over the past few years have been the Recognition project, and representing the ITA at Lahav - "the NPO whose goal is to lobby for and protect the rights of freelance and self-employed workers". Many of us have been asked by a prospective client to provide proof of our expertise, a professional certificate. And no, a university degree is not enough; it says nothing about your experience. But I can attest that my Certificate of Recognition does the trick.
- Anyone here up to being our new representative at Lahav?
- Anyone here willing to become a mentor for translators into Hebrew? If so, contact Micaela.

That's all for now. I can hear you sighing with relief... One day, I'll report about Day 2.
To see photos from the conference:


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