Moving beyond “Members’ Day”, the Chartered Institute of Linguists held its first 2-day conference on 6th and 7th March. Presentations offered aimed to develop our business skills, writing and working with technology. The challenges for linguists, particularly for those in a post-Brexit Britain along with the rise of the machines, are bad omens – but we have the tools to counteract them.
With the coronavirus on everyone’s minds, the UK-based institution’s choice of BMA House, home of the British Medical Association, was an apt venue. Ellie Kemp of Translators without Borders, which engages linguists to help tackle emergency situations, showcased what happens when an ebola epidemic strikes. Linguists have to learn cultural and linguistic sensitivity to communicate as clearly as possible to prevent further cases and heal those affected – a matter of life and death!
BMA House, London [photo courtesy of CIOL]
Other sessions I attended also stressed the importance of communication, reflection and the need to adapt. For example, your career profile can change over time to fit a market need, as described by Anna Ostrovsky, a linguist and digital product manager. We are here to solve problems.
Dr Binghan Zheng, an associate professor at Durham University, concluded the first day with his lecture on how the brain functions when translating. Various experiments reveal how your eyes and brain track a text in many ways, far beyond reading.
On day 2, translator Oliver Lawrence showed with fun examples how we can engage our readers. We’ve got rhythm, we’ve got music, but some clients do ask for something more. We can offer that too. Know your text and know your audience. Keep it snappy or mellifluous depending on your client and their product or service.
CIOL’s Chair of Council, Judith Gabler, proposed embracing its support and, most importantly, achieving Chartered Linguist status to future-proof our profession. A final panel discussion was chaired by experienced linguist Michael Wells. The discussion emphasised that, whilst businesses recognise the importance of learning and working with languages, professional linguists have low status and poor pay. This, combined with work mostly being outsourced, provides a hostile environment for translators and interpreters in particular.
However, by enhancing our skills of writing and communication with our clients, we can and should assert ourselves. Asking for feedback and thanking your clients are simple, but effective ways both of making you stand out and of realising your own value. After all, we are here to help and improve business, justice and life itself.