Ten takeaways from the ASTTI Financial Translation Summer Conference in Spiez

I’ve just returned from a wonderful conference in Spiez, on the shores of Lake Thun, organised by ASTTI. The event – in reflection of Switzerland’s multilingual composition – had streams of the programme for German, French, Italian and English. I followed the English and German streams, as well as briefly attending the French into English Translation Slam (or traduell). I’m still digesting the rich programme, but have been posting on LinkedIn about the event. Over my morning coffee on the terrace yesterday, I came up with ten takeaways to communicate to my employer about what I have gained from my participation.

Being the consummate professional

  1. The need to fight the translation profession’s corner. The conference focused on the translation profession, rather than the translation industry. There was also a presentation of a customised AI translation solution by Supertext x Textshuttle. I personally side strongly with the profession rather than the industry. I advocate an “Expert in the Lead” approach, championing professional expertise over Machine in the Loop or Human in the Loop approaches. In December 2023, I expressed my feelings on the matter here. While the conference might have been a “safe space” for the profession, it did remind me about who and what I am fighting for.
  2. All translators – regardless of whether you are in-house or self-employed – need to visit Clientland. Chris Durban’s presentation at Spiez was inspirational in terms of seeing the big picture. This includes also what she calls “Visiting Clientland” – i.e. getting into the world of your clients/customers. This approach is useful for in-housers to make people aware of what a professional translator can do. I need to revise my own “Clientland” roadmap to ensure my newer colleagues know about the value I add. Currently it is the exception rather than the rule that I translate to a brief. I’ll add materials about translating to a brief into my in-house Language Services Handbook (LaSH). I will certainly revise further aspects about the business of translation itself. For freelancers the key takeaway was about running a professional business – and charging premium rather than low rates.

How can professionals steer clients about their added value

  1. Professional translators need to heighten awareness about Barnes’ Iron Triangle regarding translation. One speaker talked about translation as “just translation“, so I engaged with her about its incompatibility with expert professional translation. Another presenter failed to land a point where they had intended to by recounting a personal translation experience. They considered browser-based machine translation coupled with a “language check” through a dumping rate to be a valid approach. Proof of how from another angle, delivering “good enough” translation is apparent all clients need. How does this takeaway apply to in-house translation? I need to ensure that people know about how best to use my services and the value I add. Unlike the stochastic parrot, I understand the figures, and scrutinise their fit – and catch mistakes/typos before a publication goes out. The approaches mentioned by the speakers above illustrate the continuing need for work on educating clients about Barnes’ Iron Triangle.
  2. Specialise – and don’t be afraid to have very precise specialisations – or to say “No!”: From talking to other participants, it was clear that everyone has their own specialised area within financial translation. This is what makes people stand out from the crowd, and also command a premium rate. In this regard, there is also scope to say “I’m not who you need for job XYZ, but when it comes to job ABC – I’m exactly the translator you need“. Positioning yourself and selling yourself properly is far more likely to bring you success rather than “hoovering up” any job that comes your way. Part of the issue of dumping rates has also come about by poor translation – and so this makes it essential for premium translators to set themselves apart from the field by really offering a top notch service.

Build and revise your skills and habits

  1. Reinvent your presentation technique: one presentation that worked particularly well used a Miro tableau rather than PowerPoint. The speaker “flew” around his presentation impressively – he always knew exactly where he needed to be. I’ll certainly look at Miro as a tool for future presentations. I have used it a bit as part of a Data Storytelling in the Public Sector course. I think it offers further possibilities to lift my presentations to the next level. CAMELS have a great seminar in Frankfurt in October that Christof will be speaking at.
  2. Always be reading: receiving confirmation about a belief that you hold dear is always good. Reading about the subject matter is part of my “Always Be Curious” approach. Many presentations at the conference came with reading suggestions. They ranged from reliable websites of authorities and ministries, through to subject-specific book recommendations, and reference works. I also finally met Bettina Stoke-Borchert, the author of the Fachwörterbuch der Rechnungslegung nach IAS/IFRS und HGB, which I use regularly for accounting-related translations.
  3. Mind your own business: while many of us connected over LinkedIn and networking is essential, one thing struck me from many of the participants, was that we “mind our own business” – in the sense that we do not try to be social media influencers. We understand LinkedIn as a tool to connect, share content, but not to the extent of it taking over our actual business: i.e. that of translating. It really shone through that I was among translators who live to translate, and turn out high quality translations – never “just translation”.

Go for the experience

  1. Meet your heroes and heroines: I finally met Bettina Stoke-Borchert and Chris Durban in person. I have heard Chris speak multiple times online at the Translating Europe Forum. She had commented on a couple of my blogposts before now, but hadn’t expected her to remember my blog. During the conference I also got to talk to my counterpart as a German>English translator from the Swiss supervisor (FINMA). It was also pleasing that there were some younger and less experienced translators in attendance too. I also really enjoyed talking to them too – from talking about their posters, through to their starting out in-house. The boat trip and dinner on the Thunersee yielded two particularly interesting conversations.
  2. Listen to bankers, insurers, finance professors: presenters included members of the upper echelons of banks and insurance companies – it is a privilege to be able to listen to speakers from this level of an organisation, and an opportunity that is a rare one. And being able to ask questions to speakers was a definite bonus. In addition, there were some prominent academic experts, who provided digestible overviews of various facets of finance. This was really refreshing – and I felt privileged to have this kind of access to such lectures.
  3. Make your CPD special: The ASTTI Conference in Spiez is an institution and a tradition. The town is a place of beauty. Having been to Spiez privately as a child and an adult, it was still a very special feeling alighting from the training in the evening petrichor and walking down to my hotel. The combination of the lake view, the castle and the alpine backdrop add to it. The conference is a small and intimate one. It has a remarkably broad thematic focus spanning multiple languages for a professional audience. I enjoyed the friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and left feeling happy, tired, and with plenty of food for thought. “Klein, aber oho!” or “Small is beautiful!” could be two ways to describe it.

The wrap-up

Finally a word of thanks – to ASTTI, and its team of conference organisers, for laying on such an intensive, constructive and enjoyable three days, the participants for making this such a special event and Spiez for being a wonderful location for the event. The next edition is due to take place from 1-3 July 20226 in Spiez. I very much hope to be there!

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