After almost three years of staying relatively close to home (as a result of the pandemic, plus a generally cautious attitude), I decided that 2022 was the year to spread my wings and embark on some foreign travel once more. My previous trip abroad had been in September 2019, when I attended the annual gathering of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) – the so-called MET Meeting (METM, pronounced ‘met-um’) – in Split, Croatia. Ever since I heard the plans for a meeting in San Sebastián, I’d been thinking about attending. It sounded such a wonderful location.
I decided to combine METM with my main holiday, as I had done in Split. But in a break with tradition, I chose to travel there entirely by rail, with stopovers in Paris on both the outward and return journeys, rather than by air, as I would normally have done. I’d visited Spain before, but never the Basque country, so I was keen to experience the delights of San Sebastián.
On my first full day in the city I took a bus to another centre of Basque culture, Bilbao. The main attraction there was the Guggenheim Museum, a fascinating structure designed by Frank Gehry and containing some interesting exhibitions. It was well worth the visit, and I enjoyed exploring other parts of Bilbao too.
The following day it was time for METM. My first activity was an ‘Off-METM’ lunch hosted by Jenny Zonneveld. These lunches are small groups focused loosely on a theme (ours was ‘Make the most of your network’, a vital topic for freelancers), aimed at helping delegates to get to know a few others before the conference itself. There were also various optional workshops that delegates could pre-book.
To give you a flavour of the conference itself, I’ve summarised the various sessions and presentations that I attended. Because MET is an organisation for both editors and translators, the programme featured some sessions that were relevant to one or other of these different professions, and some that were relevant to everyone.
Mentoring: human support in a digital world
Translator Louise Normandière, who mentors other translators, described the different elements of a mentoring arrangement. All such arrangements are unique and can take different forms, some more formal than others. What they all have in common is that they involve a mentor who is more experienced supporting someone with less experience (and crucially, not necessarily an older person mentoring a younger one). Louise described the qualities of a good mentor: approachability, objectivity, diplomacy and honesty, among others. The mentor must also be willing to listen and learn, because the mentee could well have knowledge to pass on. She also described some of the pitfalls of mentoring and suggested ways in which these could be avoided, as well as characteristics of a successful mentoring relationship.
All in all, this was a very useful session on the practicalities of mentoring, encouraging those interested in becoming either a mentor or mentee to take the plunge.
Please translate this into five African languages!
Timothy Barton, a translator based in Namibia, gave a fascinating insight into minority/minoritised languages and the difficulties of finding suitable translators for them. He described the process he had followed to find translators for different languages when bidding for a UNDP project. Forced to look outside established translation circles, Timothy had found suitable individuals who were employed as journalists and university lecturers, for example. For one language – Kwedam – he had managed to recruit people who were working on a translation of the Bible into that language.
Another project, which involved providing subtitles for alcohol-awareness videos, highlighted the issues involved in checking the length of each line of speech in all languages to make sure there weren’t any huge discrepancies.
Timothy feels that with his training in translation and his project management skills, he is able to give clients a better all-round service than some agencies can. The projects he mentioned certainly tested his resourcefulness!
KEYNOTE: A look inside the multilingual mind
Cognitive scientist Jon Andoni Duñabeitia – whose work focuses on multilingualism and reading – gave a fascinating account of various aspects of the multilingual/bilingual brain. He used the metaphor of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ to characterise how such a brain operates:
Far from simply summarising research in this field, Jon gave insights into the impact of these issues in a wider context. The fact that decisions made in a foreign language can be different to those made in the native language has obvious implications for high-level decision making, for example at European Commission level. In marketing, research has shown that individuals are more likely to accept an unpleasant product (such as insect cookies) if it is described in their ‘foreign’ language. And public health messages – such as calls for people to be vaccinated – can have different effects in terms of acceptance depending on whether they are presented in the ‘native’ or ‘foreign’ language, with evidence to suggest that the foreign language can increase trust and reduce vaccine hesitancy.
Even to someone like me who has an essentially monolingual brain, this was all really interesting, and I’m sure the overwhelmingly bilingual/multilingual audience could relate many of Jon’s examples to their own experiences.
Friday drew to a close with delegates gathering at Palacio Miramar, an imposing 19th-century house set in its own gardens on a promontory overlooking the city’s La Concha Bay. We gathered outside for drinks and nibbles, entertained by Ugarte Anaiak (the Ugarte Brothers) who demonstrated the ‘Txalaparta’, a Basque percussion instrument that developed from the tradition of crushing apples to make cider.
Realising that a fair few of us hail from Yorkshire, we took the opportunity to snap a couple of group photos. They're a lovely memory of the evening.
Tech, fantasy and the human factor in the time of Covid
When Courtney Greenlaw took on a translation project and Elizabeth Garrison came on board as editor/reviser, they probably had little idea of how their relationship with each other, and with the author, would develop. Courtney had an initial meeting with the author of the fantasy trilogy, but no further face-to-face discussions were possible because of Covid restrictions. With a range of digital tools at their disposal, Courtney, Elizabeth and the author developed an efficient system of communication that worked for them. They used WhatsApp for ongoing discussions and queries, with in-depth Zoom sessions to explore issues further. This included clarification on characters’ appearances, place names, and descriptions of tools and weapons that don’t exist in the ‘real’ world.
This project sounded fascinating, involving as it did the translation of poetry and songs as well as narrative text. There was even a voice-over artist for the multi-media elements of the trilogy!
It was a great reminder that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to client communication. A flexible (and often imaginative) approach enabled Courtney and Elizabeth to bring this project to fruition under very difficult circumstances.
Fathoming Friulian and the unexpected gains in my work as a translator
Translator Haley Smith first encountered Friulian – a minority language (not a dialect) spoken in parts of northeast Italy – during the year abroad she undertook as part of her undergraduate degree, and she admitted that it came as quite a shock. She now lives in the area where Friulian is spoken and has made significant efforts to get to grips with it, taking evening classes and trying to absorb it in informal contexts.
Haley described some of the features of Friulian that are closer to English than they are to Italian, for example in the addition of ‘s’ for plurals. She talked about road signs in the area, which often give place names in Italian and Friulian, as well as the local variant spelling.
While Haley doesn’t translate from Friulian, she has found that a working knowledge of the language has helped in her translation business. She’s aware of certain linguistic features and vocabulary that might be problematic when texts are going to be translated to/from Friulian. Her background knowledge helps her to build relationships with clients. Translation specialisms such as tourism and wine often have a local Friulian dimension, and an awareness of the language can be a USP. And last but not least, the Friulian concept of ‘cumbinin’ (meaning ‘we’ll sort it out together’) is surely a valuable basis for any freelance business.
Spit and polish: interactive editing
Linda Jayne Turner led this session, in which participants split into small groups and chose one of a number of texts to edit together. This was probably the session that was most directly relevant to my own work and I enjoyed tackling the academic text my group selected. For a start, it was interesting to note that we differed in what we saw as points in the text that must be corrected. And when we did reach a consensus that a particular word, phrase or sentence required attention, our approaches sometimes varied. This was also the case when the different groups fed back to the room, prompting some really interesting discussions.
We could have spent much longer discussing these texts, both in our smaller groups and in the room as a whole. It was good to get stuck in and edit some real-life material, and it was particularly useful for those of us who usually work alone to have a chance to collaborate with others in this way.
2022 MET General Assembly
As well as a review of MET’s activities over the year, the General Assembly included an announcement of the venue for METM23: Mantua in northern Italy.
Delegates voted on a number of resolutions, and there was an open discussion in which members could raise questions. At the end of the meeting, the raffle was drawn, with a range of editing- and translation-related products and subscriptions up for grabs. Congratulations to the lucky winners!
Choppy waters: an editor/translator’s foray into peer review as a submitting author
It can be a useful experience – though not necessarily a comfortable one – to go through a familiar process from the ‘other’ side. In this presentation, Oliver Shaw described his attempts to have an article published in an academic journal, having previously edited other authors’ papers. Having completed his thesis and presented at academic conferences, he was pleased to be asked to submit a paper to a journal.
However, this led to the first of Oliver’s (mistaken) assumptions about the process: he assumed that being asked to submit a paper meant that the journal was keen to publish it, which turned out not to be the case. Another assumption was that he was completely on his own when drafting, submitting and revising his article, whereas he subsequently realised that the journal editor could have provided some support. Perhaps Oliver’s most disappointing assumption was that if he ‘did as he was told’ and followed all instructions and suggestions to the letter, his article would be published. His paper was rejected following resubmission, including on the basis of some points that weren’t raised by the reviewers on initial submission.
Oliver became disillusioned with the submission process, although he felt that it gave him a valuable insight into what his author clients had to go through to have their work published. And the good news is that Oliver had a different paper published in June 2022!
Sino-Fennish English: minorities working in a third language
As a native Chinese speaker who lives and works in Finland, Kenneth Quek is well placed to offer an insight into the interplay between Chinese, Finnish and English. To set the scene, Kenneth mentioned a few relevant factors. First, there are increasing numbers of native Chinese speakers in academia and businesses around the world. Second, many Chinese universities require postgrads in STEM fields to publish at least one paper in English in an international journal. And third, a significant number of Chinese researchers collaborate with or work in Finnish institutions, particularly in medicine, forestry and the humanities.
In the Finnish context, a number of issues arise when it comes to communicating in English. Most Finnish and Chinese researchers are non-native users of English, so errors are common. Other researchers reading their work are therefore exposed to text containing errors. As a result, these errors become normalised.
Interestingly, both Finnish and Chinese are ‘topic-prominent’ languages, with sentences providing a lot of context rather than focusing on the subject (as in English). As a result, pronouns and subjects are often omitted completely: both Finnish and Chinese are ‘pronoun-drop’ languages.
As someone who is familiar only with English, I enjoyed this insight into two very different languages, their similarities, the interplay between them and their relationship with English in the context of research. It reinforced the respect and admiration I already feel for authors who are working in one or more different languages (including English).
Building an online community – thinking inside the box
Kit Cree’s presentation on the different elements of MET’s online community was both interesting and inspiring. Like many other organisations, MET was forced to adapt its activities when the pandemic hit in 2020. This included holding two online conferences, a ‘retrospective’ in 2020 and a virtual event in 2021.
MET now has a number of online activities designed to build a supportive members’ community. These include MET Conversations, which focus on specific topics, and a monthly Book Club. During the winter months, members meet online every week for an hour of silent reading, and there’s a private Facebook group where members can discuss books and put forward recommendations.
Kit described the ‘7Ps’ of online communities: participants, purpose, platform, profile, procedures, key players and promotion. In explaining each of these, she gave relevant examples from MET’s activities.
This session was a really interesting overview of what makes a successful online community. Like many organisations, MET has found new ways to provide support and professional development for its members. Its online activities are a fantastic member benefit.
KEYNOTE: In conversation with Sally Orson-Jones
Book doctor extraordinaire Sally Orson-Jones works with a number of well-known authors – Sarah Waters and Viv Albertine, to name but two – to help them to get their manuscripts into shape. In this fascinating conversation with Helen Oclee-Brown, Sally described how she ‘accidentally’ fell into this career, and what her process involves.
Sally previously worked in the music industry and for the BBC. A friend of hers, Sarah Waters, asked her to look at the manuscript of her first novel, Tipping the Velvet – and the rest is history! Through this and subsequent projects, Sally was delighted to discover that she had a skill for working with authors to improve their writing. Realising that natural talent was not quite enough, she then embarked on a programme of self-development, educating herself on various approaches and on the terminology used in the industry.
Working with an author starts with a Zoom conversation to find out whether the author is a good fit for Sally, and vice versa. If both want to go ahead, Sally puts the author in a ‘queue’, as she is usually booked for months in advance. When the time comes, Sally reads the whole manuscript and adds her comments, before writing a report summarising her advice and suggestions. Another Zoom conversation takes place, during which Sally and the author go through the report.
A key part of Sally’s work is managing expectations. Her role for authors is to ‘hold their hand’ and get the book as good as it can be, but that’s no guarantee that it will be published. It’s important that authors understand this, but also know that they can trust Sally to help and support them. This includes working out the approach that is going to be best for each author. For example, one requested that Sally set aside a whole week to go through the manuscript online by sharing her screen.
Three of Sally’s books have been published so far in 2022, with more in the pipeline. But the book Sally is most proud of was published in 2018: it’s To Throw Away Unopened, by Viv Albertine, former guitarist for the punk band The Slits (a group that Sally had worked with many years ago).
Having read and enjoyed books by Sarah and Viv, I found this conversation particularly interesting. It was good to gain an appreciation of the meticulous work that goes into creating a novel or memoir and to hear how Sally acts as a fresh pair of eyes to shape an author’s material.
Goodbye for another year...
The closing dinner was, as usual, a chance for delegates to dress up a bit, enjoy a meal together and let their hair down at the after-dinner disco. And the following morning, many of them came together for another Off-METM activity – a trip up the funicular railway and a short walk along part of the Camino de Santiago. I chose to have a lie in…
I enjoyed my third METM, particularly as I was able to combine it with a holiday again. As I’ve mentioned, some of the sessions weren’t directly relevant to my work, but I found them interesting all the same. Events like METM always give me plenty to think about, and this time I also gained a new perspective by taking the train rather than flying. Oh, and I loved San Sebastián...
Here's to METM23!