Monday, September 11, 2023

Lettre Israelienne – the SFT RTI2023 Congrés in Angers

[Chateau d'Angers*]

I enjoy attending translator conferences abroad. They represent not only an opportunity to learn, network and travel but also learn about other cultures. By the nature of their participants and subject matter, they have both an international and national character to one degree to another. The RTI2023 Congress organized by la Société française des traducteurs (SFT) in Angers, France at the end of the August was truly a French affair. Its content illuminated and reflected the reality of translators in France, which is quite different from those working in less structured countries. I came to understand that this formalization comes at a price but clearly provides benefits for the translators and interpreters working in France.

The nature of this Congrés, with some 260 participants, was almost entirely French, not nearly as international as in most translation conferences. First, aside from a few outliers, all of the participants were French or living in Europe working in the French market. Correspondingly, all lectures were French without a single presentation in English. The video presentation by the head of the Quebec Translation Association, the OTTIAQ, was about as foreign as it got. The audience was extremely polite, sitting through all the lectures even if they contained  an entire alphabet soup of acronyms, even applauding at the end. I did not hear a word of complaint about any aspect of the conference, grantedly well organized. The participants were well dressed, not a given at many translator conferences. The lectures began and ended on time with proper breaks for elegant food and good coffee, also not to be taken for granted. In terms of social interaction, the participants networked in a more subtle way than in conferences in countries with more direct cultures, such as the US or Israel. In short, this was a French conference.

As such, the content discussed and exposed the reality of translator living in France. Unlike more unregulated countries, translation, especially legal and other specializations, is a liberal profession recognized by the government. As such, certificates and official recognition of status are the key for professional success. The government has statutes specifying the requirements and obligations for attaining any status, including “expert”. As an official liberal profession, the government supported translators during the Covid period as it did many other independent business people. On the other hand, the bureaucratic nature of the government creates long, complicated processes. For example, opening a freelance business can take a week while an application to become an “expert” in a given legal jurisdiction can take a year with the relevant authority not having to explain a rejection. French translators seem to work within in a relatively structured set of rules.

In my opinion, this framework both limits development and creates security. On the one hand, the specialized sessions I attended, however well organized,  notably on quality control and ChatGPT, were highly theoretical on the verge of ideological. I felt that a newcomer to the field would not have gained much practical knowledge. Due to their more immediate urgency in other countries, conferences in which I have participated approached the matters more practically. On the other hand, the existence of an established path to financial success as a translator seems to create more emotional security. Translators and interpreters in France may have to play by the rules but they seem to have confidence in their ability to make a living. For purposes of comparison, the most common question in most translator/interpreter conferences is “How can I make a living in this profession” but not here. Thus, the structured nature of translation and interpretation in France creates a comfortable but insular world.

In 1721, the French writer Montesquieu wrote Lettres Persanes, a description of France at the time as if written by a Persian visitor, i.e., France as seen by a foreigner. Being only half French, I admit to experiencing this conference as a foreigner. I enjoyed it very much in all its Frenchness. It clearly expanded my horizons. I met many pleasant and interesting colleagues with whom I hope to keep in contact. I consider the SFT RTI2023 conference a success both in terms of organization and meeting its goals, i.e., knowledge and networking. The French do have style.

* Captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet

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