Why join professional translators’ associations?

A recent comment on LinkedIn mentioned the demise of ATICOM, a professional translators’ and interpreters’ association in Germany. It had been active for 20 years. Late November is the time of year when membership renewals drop onto doormats, into postboxes or into inboxes. When times are hard, memberships of organisations are top of the list for cutting outgoings.

Having worked for a membership-based association, I understand the impact of losing members. After all, it was always a struggle to attract new members, and membership retention was sometimes exhausting. Personal relationships and contacts always helped to convince them to extend their membership. In the corporate world, people move on increasingly frequently. Often with it they leave memberships behind, and don’t convince their previous employer to remain a corporate member.

I’m a member of numerous associations – from an economics association, a cricket club and a football supporters’ club. I have also starting joining translators’ and interpreters’ associations as my commitment to the profession. Most countries may have one or more translators’ associations. They might also have regional or sub-regional chapters, depending on the pool size in a city, region or country.

Translation associations can come across as the reserve of the self-employed. This is unsurprising given market dynamic and the paucity of in-house translation jobs. So why have I only started joining them since going in house?

Why didn’t I join when I was a freelancer?

There were a number of reasons (or maybe excuses). My biggest issue was that my profile didn’t really fit (possibly latent imposter syndrome?). Many members seemed to cover multiple language combinations or pairs, whereas I only offered German-English. Another issue were my very specialist niches. Frequently the membership of such organisations generally had broader area of specialisation, or members were translators and interpreters.

Other associations set the bar very high in terms of the entry procedure. Some require peer references and a durable professional relationship to the referee. For newcomers who are still studying or lack the required experience, there are reduced membership fees, or probationary period. Some stipulated postgraduate studies as a co-requisite, whereas my experience is more practical. One exuded an air of being a glorified alumni association. I prefer a mastery-based approach – I attained mastery via the “10,000 hours route”.

I might have joined associations sooner had agencies demanded membership as a commitment towards CPD. But many agencies don’t and prefer to “keep you mean”. A lot are not members of associations themselves – and in some cases were dismissive. Possibly another case why many translators “love the profession, but hate the industry“. From some translators I follow on LinkedIn, an MITI is held in high esteem with UK-based agencies. Over here I get the impression that agencies seem uninterested in memberships.

Speaking at a BDÜ Conference in Bonn in November 2019 was a pivotal experience – with so much to take on board – not least speaking in the former Bundestag to a auditorium full of hundreds of people. I’ll admit that conference was inspirational and gave me a taste of what translators’ association events can be. And there were so many new contacts made at the event.

Why spend money if you don’t need to?

Since going in-house, and after nearly ten years as a SPLSU translators’ associations have taken on another importance. I value the opportunity to connect with other translators outside working groups and networks I am in through my job. When I outsource, I do ask translators whether they are members. I look through directories of members to find professional translators. I tell them this is how I found them (tip to freelancers: ensure you have an up-to-date website).

Expense can be a factor of course – more often than not, the member is around EUR 150-200 a year. There are often discounts for events (typically counting as CPD). For work, I often struggle to find translation-related CPD that is reasonably priced. Two such examples are:

Membership is also a commitment to the purpose of an association. Last winter, I attended numerous meetings about the transformation of one association. I have committed to remaining a member despite the substantial increase in membership fees. In times gone by, I would have actively volunteered, but I have learned gradually to say no.

So many choices, so little time!

It makes sense to weigh up the options you need for yourself. Currently, I can’t commit sufficient time to the ITI, which has excellent networking possibilities. For this reason, I have applied to join the CIOL, based on their offering of webinars, which I can use for CPD. Many offer CPD for resilience and wellbeing – we can all do with some self-love. I also look at associations that accept submissions from non-members for conferences – I am very keen to present in person. Naturally, you don’t get accepted to speak everywhere: as we say in German “Man kann nicht auf alle Hochzeiten tanzen!

There is also another cerebral reason for joining associations: even their newsletters are an interesting read. They provoke you to also think about the profession, rather than just the act of translation, new working practices, and of course technology. The human element can be a great way to make new acquaintances – particularly if you work alone as a translator.

Remember, if cost is the deterrent, many may let you attend an event as a guest. Give it a go – you have nothing to lose!

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