By Marion Rhodes
CTA Social Media Director
Colorado translators attending the Annual Conference of the American Translators Association in San Antonio this fall are likely to recognize at least one of the candidates on the ATA election ballot: Jane Maier, one of CTA’s founding members, has been nominated as a director on the ATA Board. Jane has held various positions for the Colorado Translators Association over the years, incl. president, and has served on the ATA Board in the past. We talked to her about her reasons, goals and vision for ATA.
Marion Rhodes: How long have you been a member of the American Translators Association?
Jane Maier: Since 1979, the year I graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies with a master’s degree in translation and interpretation, attended my first ATA conference, and received my first ATA translator certification (Spanish-English).
MR: You previously served on the ATA Board from 1988 until 1994. What made you decide to run again almost 20 years later?
JM: Short answer: I was asked to run by the Nominating Committee! Seriously, I’ve got the time, energy, experience and broader perspective of the industry after all these years. So much progress has been made since I was first on the Board. Back then, we spent so much time putting out fires, it was hard to get anything constructive done. Having an opportunity to do that now is very exciting!
MR: What benefits has your ATA membership brought you over the years?
JM: Wow, lots! The first thing that comes to mind is all the wonderful people I met and beneficial contacts I’ve made. To give you a couple of examples: When I was president of the CTA and organized the first regional conference, the then-president of ATA was from New Mexico and attended that conference in Denver. She was the one who nominated me to run for the ATA Board the first time. Second, I was referred to my very best client by a colleague I originally met on the Board and have been friends with ever since, who introduced me to that client at an ATA conference. I’ve gotten lots of other work from contacts I’ve made in ATA. Referrals generally work out so much better than inquiries that come from translator directories! I’ve learned a ton from attending ATA Conferences (I’ve attended most of them since 1979); one of my specialties, legal translation, is the direct result of having attended just about every workshop given by past ATA President and attorney Tom West. The upshot: I encourage everyone to attend ATA conferences! Finally, I was asked to be a grader through a former grader/colleague I met through ATA, and have met so many new people (in other languages) through my work with the certification program. Bottom line: Getting involved with the CTA and ATA is so worthwhile and definitely pays off!
MR: Where do you see room for improvement within ATA and the services it offers?
JM: ATA has come so far in the 30+ years I’ve been a member, and there are so many great programs and services offered now. I don’t think many people realize just how many. I recently translated a French birth certificate and added my official ATA certified translator stamp, and thought to myself, wow, what a great idea that was! And it is a free service to members to boot! Webinars are another wonderful addition, and give people an easy, inexpensive way to earn CEE points and learn new things. All of the ones I’ve attended have been excellent! Some specific areas for improvement are covered in the next question.
MR: What challenges do you see for ATA in the coming years, and what can be done to overcome them?
JM: The first thing that comes to mind is machine translation, crowdsourced translation, and the downward pressure on prices for both translators and translation companies. I don’t see this situation changing, so about the only thing we can do is adapt and use technology to increase our productivity. One caveat here is that we must remain vigilant about ensuring good quality output. I’ve done a lot of editing of translations over the past 30+ years, and one thing I’ve noticed, even among the best translators, is slightly poorer translation quality in terms of being more literal (offset somewhat, however, by better consistency in terminology). The use of CAT tools helps the translator in many positive ways, but particularly for more novice translators who haven’t had as much experience, it can be very tempting to stay within the same sentence structure and confines of the source language, resulting in a more literal, unnatural-sounding translation. I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent here, but I think the point is that ATA needs to continue to embrace the new technologies and realities of the industry, while continuing to emphasize the importance of quality and basic good translation skills, as well as educating the public about what makes a good translator/translation, and how and where CAT and MT are put to best use, and where human translation (aided by CAT tools) is most appropriate.
MR: You’ve been a grader for the ATA Certification Exam for 18 years. In your candidate statement, you mentioned that this exam is now at a turning point, due to the introduction of the keyboarded exam. What challenges are involved in offering a computerized exam?
JM: From what I understand based on the certification language chair meetings I’ve attended, security is huge: how to keep the passages confidential, how to allow candidates to use online resources without being able to copy the passages or share them with others, or ask questions online about how to translate words or phrases, for example. Another issue is how to enable candidates to use their own laptops, without being able to copy the passage or use email, being able to access only certain parts of the Internet. I know there have been difficulties with non Roman-based languages (keyboards, accents, special characters, etc.). The list goes on and on.
MR: You also mention the expected increase in the need for professional translators and interpreters in the coming years, along with an expected shortage of professionals to fill the gap. Talk about the ways you would like ATA to address this issue, please.
JM: I’d say more emphasis could be placed on the ATA mentoring and high school outreach programs, and working closely with the schools that offer degrees in translation and interpreting. It is worth noting that the same US Bureau of Labor information that provided the statistics on the upcoming shortage also said “job opportunities should be best for those who have professional certification,” so the ATA certification program will continue to be extremely important. And continuing all the great educational sessions and workshops at conferences and online webinars will be essential.
MR: Do you believe ATA is currently doing enough to help beginners gain footing in this profession? What else could ATA do to help new translators and interpreters?
JM: Each year ATA seems to be doing more to help new translators, i.e., the mentoring program, the special efforts taken at ATA conferences such as the orientation session and badges for first timers, categorizing conference sessions by level of experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced, all), the “Buddies Welcomes Newbies” program that pairs first time attendees with seasoned attendees, and the debriefing, follow-up and networking session for these buddies. One thing I’d like to see is more conference sessions and maybe webinars on the actual knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) involved in translation. In both ATA and CTA conferences and workshops I see a lot of emphasis on translation tools, the business aspects of being a translator, specialized language and terminology sessions, etc. all of which is great, but may not be as helpful to newcomers, or may even lead them somewhat astray. I’ve seen many posts by beginners asking about what CAT tools they should buy, for example. But I think they need to find out first if they are truly suited to being a translator and have the requisite skills. Because it really is a very specialized skill that not everyone has, even those who are very fluent in another language. Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean: When I was at the Monterey Institute, one of my fellow students in the T&I Spanish program was completely fluent in three languages, but just couldn’t get the hang of translating and finally dropped out after a year in the program. I do believe that some people just aren’t cut out to be translators, despite being very talented linguistically. ATA is an organization of professional translators and interpreters, so maybe it’s not appropriate to do more to train beginners, but I think there could be more beginning sessions offered at the conferences and in webinars, or at least some more detailed information on what it takes to be a successful translator.
MR: Anything you’d like to add in your closing statement?
JM: Just that I love this profession and have had a very fulfilling career. I’d love to have the opportunity to serve once again on the ATA Board to share some of the experience, perspective, and wisdom I’ve gained over the years. I’ve been told I’m very approachable (when I’m in strange cities that I’ve never been to before I often get stopped in the street and asked for directions!), so I want everyone to know that if I am elected, I’m here to listen to your concerns, ideas, and suggestions, and act as a liaison with the Board. I sincerely appreciate your giving me this opportunity to express some of my thoughts and ideas with the CTA membership.
Jane Maier’s official candidacy statement will be published in the September issue of the ATA Chronicle.