The New England Translators Association’s 20th Annual Conference: Successful Collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Boston

For professional translator and interpreter organizations, collaborating with local educational institutions can be both challenging and rewarding.

Photos by Lesley Andrews (NETA vice-president)

Opportunities for partnerships between professional translator and interpreter organizations and institutions of higher learning abound. The U.S. alone has over 40 professional organizations that co-exist with over 60 university-level translation and interpreting programs.

This past May, the New England Translators Association (NETA) took advantage of such an opportunity when it co-sponsored its 20th annual conference with the University of Massachusetts Boston. The conference was held in cooperation with the university’s Latin American and Iberian Studies Department and the College of Advancing and Professional Studies Translation Program. The event was a rousing success. The only disappointment was the realization that this type of partnership could have begun sooner!

Here is an overview of how this event came together. NETA hopes to inspire other professional organizations to plan similar events in collaboration with educational institutions.

Planning Stages

The initial idea was the result of a conversation between Ken Kronenberg, one of NETA’s most seasoned and influential members, with one of the association’s newest members, graduate student Adel Fauzetdinova. The conversation went something like this: “Why don’t we reach out to translation and interpreting students in the area and offer them a space within NETA’s traditional conference schedule to share their research and interact with professionals?”

After that initial meeting, NETA’s conference committee decided to investigate the feasibility of using university facilities as the venue for the conference. This possibility had been explored years ago, but the idea was abandoned because of the high rent the university charges. When we researched the idea again, however, we learned that UMass Boston applies different rates if the buildings are rented for university versus non-university events. The solution was clear: make it a collaborative event.

Using a college or university as a conference venue offers some significant advantages. Here are a few examples:

  • Location: Many colleges and universities offer beautifully landscaped, convenient locations. Thanks to the continued growth of the student body, modern facilities are being constructed, and one of these new buildings was used for the conference. The great venue made the conference even more enjoyable.
  • Access to Volunteers: Students were invited to the conference and were eager to attend. We also enlisted many of these students as volunteers during the conference. Volunteers are always needed for this type of event, and the students were happy to assist.
  • Increased Promotion: The university helped promote the event, placing posters on campus and running ads on the closed-circuit TV network and on its website.
  • Possibility of Reduced Fees for Facility Rental: In our case, the university was able to offer a discounted fee for renting the facilities.
  • Onsite Technical Support: A college or university usually has a team of experienced technical personnel on site who can help with the logistics during the conference.
  • Increased Visibility: Our conference was visible to the university community. In fact, some students joined the conference because they just happened to be there at the right time and saw the signs.
  • Upbeat Atmosphere: In comparison to other venues, a larger, learning-oriented space promotes an upbeat atmosphere and positive interactions among attendees.
Approaching University Administrators

conference3_MansillaOnce it became clear that we wanted to bring industry and education—working language professionals and members of the academic community—together under the same roof, NETA’s conference committee had to approach university administrators with a concrete proposal.

It always helps to have a direct relationship with someone who works at the university. One or more participants with close ties to both organizations is ideal. In our case, one of the members of the planning committee both teaches at the university and is a member of NETA’s board of directors. Knowing each side’s aspirations, values, and needs is instrumental when setting common goals and designing a roadmap to achieve them.

We presented the administrators with a clear idea of the objectives for the conference. The committee worked in advance to generate a list of possible benefits to the university (see the list in the sidebar). This helped academic and administrative personnel to quickly grasp that the proposal was good for both parties. The spirit of collaboration was beginning to materialize.

Benefits of Collaboration

Whatever the specific theme of a conference or event, all participants stand to benefit from a collaborative approach.

For professional organizations:

  • An opportunity to review the organization’s goals
  • Potential broadening of the organization’s membership base through the inclusion of academic translators and students
  • Opportunities to connect with other area organizations that are already connected to the university
  • The possibility of using the institution’s facilities at a reduced cost
  • Receiving assistance in conference preparation and organization from members of the university community
  • Increased publicity for the event as a result of website and e-mail blast advertising by both the organization and the university
  • Potential growth of the organization’s prestige as a result of hosting a larger and more inclusive event

For individual professional translators and interpreters:

  • A venue for sharing expertise with students and active professionals
  • Opportunities for new collaborative projects
  • A chance to influence the development of the field of translation at its roots
  • Exposure to innovative approaches to technology and translation techniques
  • Learning about teaching technologies that can also be useful to professionals
  • Opportunities for mentorships and internships
  • Gaining a broader perspective on new developments in the fields of translation and interpreting

For college professors:

  • Opportunities to align instruction and adjust teaching methodologies to practical problems
  • Opportunities to learn about students’ needs and preferences
  • Opportunities to elevate an individual’s professional academic profile as a result of taking part in conference organization or speaking at a successful event

For students:

  • Exposure to the real-world practical aspects of paid translation and interpreting work
  • Concrete application of the broad theoretical concepts learned in class
  • Opportunities to present one’s work and receive high-quality feedback
  • Opportunities to explore future job possibilities
  • A place to meet other students, which is something that may be especially appealing to students enrolled in online study programs
  • Opportunities to meet with and learn from experienced professionals
  • Possible academic credit for attendance and for volunteer work at the conference

For the college or university:

  • Greater exposure to current and future translation/interpreting students
  • Increased prestige of the institution and the departments involved
  • Possible collaboration with other schools, companies, and institutions
  • Opportunities for the cross-promotion of related programs
Collaboration: Means and Ends

conference5_MansillaThe organizing committee concluded that a collaboration between NETA and UMass Boston would not only be a good way to organize this conference, but that the idea of collaboration itself would provide a wonderful central theme for the entire conference. We wanted to explore this topic from both practical and theoretical points of view, using the various perspectives of professionals, students, and professors. The goal was to provide a place in which opportunities for reflection and mutual understanding could emerge.

A call for papers was issued, which was posted on NETA’s website and sent directly to several colleges and universities in and near New England. The selection committee included both professional translators and translation instructors. Many students submitted session proposals, and a vetting process resulted in the selection of five excellent student panels. Each panel was chaired by either a translation studies professor or an experienced professional translator. After their sessions, the students received valuable feedback from peers, professors, and professional translators.

Praise for the Outcome

Comments from students were very positive and detailed. Here is one quote that summarizes many others:

I wanted to formally thank you for the opportunity that you presented the class and myself yesterday. I spoke to many different people and thoroughly enjoyed every workshop I attended. I learned so many new things and new techniques. Translation is a field where it definitely benefits all parties to work together and collaborate. I’m so happy that you allowed us to work in groups in class because it taught me that there could be alternative ways to translate a text, and it allowed me to learn from fellow colleagues. It was fascinating to see how everyone collaborated and networked with each other.

Many of the post-conference survey comments from professional translators and interpreters emphasized the enthusiasm generated by the degree of interaction between industry professionals and academia.

Selecting a Keynote Speaker

One important decision was the selection of the keynote speaker. (For example, should the speaker be an academic or a professional?) For this year’s conference, NETA decided to invite a scholar as the keynote speaker and a professional interpreter as the endnote speaker. Both speakers were asked to address issues that would be of interest to everyone involved.

The keynote address—entitled “Collaborative and Situated Translator Training: Moving Towards the Profession”—was given by María González Davies. María is a translator who teaches at the University Ramon Lull in Barcelona, Spain. Her professional interests include translator training, the role of translation in language acquisition, and children’s and young adult literature.

María, an internationally recognized expert in translator training, used the example of Spain to show how collaborative and situated learning can enhance the field of translation, both academically and professionally. Her talk included:

  • A history of the development of the translation industry and translation training in Spain and the European Union.
  • Proposals on how industry and academia might better come together through collaborative and situated learning. María explained that these educational styles could benefit not only students in training, but also the industry itself, by providing hands-on experience. As she put it, such experience enhances “the capacity of learners to think and act like professionals” and fosters communities of practice.
  • Background information on current trends in translation training programs within the framework of collaborative and situated learning. High simulation learning involves bringing real-world materials into the classroom. Including examples of actual translation/interpreting work exposes students to current professional practices. Inviting professionals to participate in classes is a way to combine both approaches.

The endnote speaker was Cristiano Mazzei. His presentation was entitled “Interpreters, Identity, and Performance.” Cristiano is the director of the Translating and Interpreting Program at Century College in Minnesota. The presentation highlighted the following:

  • The difference between interpreting and translation, with an emphasis on the immediacy of the former.
  • Two types of interpreters: 1) invisible, the so-called angel interpreters, and 2) the licensed practitioner, who is more easily able to establish distance between himself (e.g., has his own ideas and beliefs) and the client.
  • Cristiano explained that interpreters used to be trained to be invisible, but today the profession is moving toward recovering the visibility of interpreters. This promotes understanding of the complexity of the profession and the psychological imprint its practice may leave on an interpreter.
  • Even among event planners in an established professional organization like NETA, everyone experienced a learning curve in terms of adjusting to a new venue, broader participation in the various planning committees, and navigating a variety of points of view and working styles.
  • Some professional translators worried that the level of the conference sessions would be lower due to the involvement of students. It turns out that the high quality and complexity of the student sessions proved this concern to be unwarranted.
  • Increased time was required for scheduling to ensure that sessions appealing to various groups of participants were offered during each time block.
  • Speakers needed to ensure that their sessions would be interesting to a more varied and diverse audience, one composed not just of currently active language professionals.
  • The conference date had to be chosen with the academic calendar in mind, resulting in some limitations.
  • Generally, planning for this conference was more time-consuming than for some previous NETA conferences.
The Human Factor

Important as the sessions are, the quality and usefulness of the information presented in workshops and lectures is secondary to the main reason why most people go to conferences: to interact in person with other professionals. This is why it’s important to schedule enough unstructured time so that people can enjoy each other’s company.

Low-stress activities, such as coffee breaks, should be organized to facilitate interaction and networking, especially for students who may feel intimidated by the accomplished professionals in the room. ATA conference organizers do a great job presenting the first-time attendee with opportunities to mingle, and some of those activities are easily adapted to a smaller-scale event. Giving students the chance to get involved in the workings of the conference can help break the ice and reinforce a sense of community and respect. For example, student volunteers can help attendees find their way to the rooms, solve minor technical issues, and conduct short interviews with presenters.

Collaboration and Technology

conference2_MansillaInformation technology has greatly increased opportunities for professionals to connect with others in their field. Distance-learning programs in translation and interpreting already take full advantage of electronic tools for communication, group work, and networking. Many of these techniques can be put to excellent use during conference sessions. For instance, we used Poll Everywhere software to survey attendee responses submitted via mobile phones.

Attendees not only received information from the presenter, but also learned interesting facts about each other and the group in general. Everybody was more engaged in the session due to the expectation generated by immediate results and the relevance of the information. Whenever technology is used in a group with widely varying technology skill levels, the opportunity arises for more tech-savvy members of the audience to assist their peers.

Collaboration Can Lead to New-Found Respect for Language Professionals

As a first experience of this type, NETA’s 2016 conference proved to be a success. NETA and UMass Boston have already agreed to collaborate on the 2017 conference.

The 2016 conference brought to light some of the differences between the academic world and the professional world. At the same time, the conference revealed that the two groups have much in common and are dependent on each other. Today’s students are tomorrow’s translators, and today’s theoretical research eventually reaches the world of language professionals. In addition, it’s vital for translation and interpreting instructors to stay in touch with current professional practices and environments.

The academic world, through teaching and research, contributes to the visibility of translators and interpreters and their work. Sometimes this ultimately “translates” into respect for professional translators and interpreters. Therefore, it’s beneficial to both students and professionals in the language industry to create and participate in joint conferences.

Diego Mansilla is the director of the Translation Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he also teaches advanced translation courses. He has served on the board of directors of the New England Translators Association since 2014. His areas of research are translation pedagogy and online education and assessment. Contact:

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