Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 1

One of the main agenda items of the two Translation Studies Days held in Brussels on 20 & 21 September 2012, was the presentation of five studies recently published by the Directorate-General Translation of the European Commission.

PDF versions of the studies can be downloaded by clicking on the titles below:

In his introductory remarks, Rytis Martikonis, the Director-General at DG Translation, highlighted the fact that the above studies look beyond translation theory to practice. He also stated that it was essential to pool knowledge, to achieve synergies, and to further the idea of a “circle of knowledge”.

Starting today and in the next week, I’d like to give you an overview of the study presentations made and the expert panel debates discussing them, and in the last part of the series I will describe a selection of Masters’ and PhD projects presented by members of the European Masters in Translation network. Insofar as the event was public, I have not requested permission to report on the presentations. However, if any speaker would like to make a correction to my posts, please feel free to contact me.

The status of the translation profession in the European Union

The first study to be presented was written by Anthony Pym, Professor of Translation and Intercultural Studies, Rovira i Virgili University; François Grin, Professor in Economics at the University of Geneva; and Andy Chan, Lecturer at the Community College of City University of Hong Kong. The authors stressed that this study concerned signals on status sent out to the market, and not the quality of translators’ work.

The first remark made was that the translation profession is a dynamic, moving object. The authors examined the profession from a point of view of economics and sociology. In looking at status, their initial comment was that “translators have an interest in over-evaluating their capacity to produce a quality text”. Indeed a parallel was drawn between translators and used car dealers 🙂 whereby such systems involving asymmetric information (“I know more than you”) fail to operate when “everybody lies about what is under the bonnet”.

The 9-month study involved contacting 102 experts and informants, and analyzed surveys carried out by professional translators’ associations. Data was obtained from 137 translators’ associations*, 103 of which were in European Union Member States. Attention was drawn to the large number of associations, varying considerably in size as well as in longevity, and also in aims. The map on page 38 of the report is particularly interesting, showing membership of professional associations as a percentage of potential translators and interpreters in each EU country – in Scandinavia between 75 and 100%, whilst in Italy, Turkey and Ireland, for example, this figure is only 8-20%.

In terms of official (or “sworn” or “certified”) legal translation and interpreting (see pages 23-32 of the report), the wide range of schemes was noted – sometimes translations may be certified but not translators, and in some countries certification is through academic institutions, while in others texts are certified by a notary or legal professional.

Other key points noted by the speakers included a high rate of part-time employment of translators (60%), shared with teaching, editing, writing, and interpreting activities. Freelance work was predominant (74%) and women made up 70% of the sample. It was suggested that these factors might explain a relative lack of professionalisation.

A section of the study which attracted my interest was a comparison between translators and computer engineers as emerging professions (pp. 93-98 of the report). Andy Chan, the leader of this part of the project, highlighted the similarities and differences – the two groups are very different in size, expert image and gender (less than 25% of IT professionals are female, versus 70% plus for translation), but both are new professions seeking better status and “recognition through the introduction or further development of certification programs”. Of course I would also have enjoyed a comparison between translators and lawyers 😉

A mathematical model was then outlined, that was used to run simulations and examine how market variables affect one another. In particular these tests concerned quality levels and rates of pay, and other variables included, for example, language pair, gender, education and experience (to read more see pages 99-116 of the report).

The last part of the report includes policy options to improve signals on translators’ status to the market, and recommendations for intervention by authorities. Of particular interest to legal translators and interpreters might be the following proposed measures for authorized/sworn professionals: a “European Professional Card”, a “Common Platform”, and an apostille.

The authors summed up their presentation by stating that there was market disorder, and that some intervention was needed, that certification mechanisms should be enhanced, and drew parallels with research from the USA and Canada. Indeed they held that this should be a “global discussion” and said that their one regret was that discussions with those countries had not been a part of this project.

* All of the associations involved are listed on pages 130-136 of the report, with links to websites, number of members, and year founded.


Here I will just give you a selection of key points made by the panellists concerning this report:

  • “Is certification the best place to start?”
  • The authors warned against certification based on academic qualifications alone
  • it is difficult to imagine a system combining staff translators (e.g. EU) and para-professionals
  • levels of certification should be separated
  • a fully regulated profession would not award certification to low-level professionals
  • the “total failure” of the Chartered Linguist scheme in the UK – this should be taken into account
  • it is also good to resort to other activities – can combat isolation and be intellectually stimulating
  • what about the ‘grey’ market – a large number of employers are willing to pay for below par services – price-driven
  • it is difficult for customers to evaluate translations
  • translators signing their translations as a quality assertion
  • credibility of training
  • real problems in limited/immigrant languages – 1000 trials suspended in Madrid for lack of interpreters
  • academia must teach translators what to do when the telephone rings and a client is on the other end

You might also be interested in the other parts of this report: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

9 thoughts on “Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 1

  1. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 2 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  2. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 3 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  3. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 4 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  4. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Oct 15-21) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  5. Pingback: Most read posts 2012 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  6. Pingback: Translating Europe Days 2013, Brussels | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  7. Pingback: Debate on certification for language professionals, Sacramento, CA, USA | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  8. Pingback: Report – Translation & IP rights | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.