MY FIRST TIME: ELIA Together in Barcelona

A translators’ conference by the European Language Industry Association.

There’s a first time for everything. Perhaps it’s a bit late in the day for someone who has been working part and full-time as a translator for the last ten years. But it never occurred to me that a conference for translators might be interesting and, as a rule, I generally try to steer clear of anything boring or tiresome.
For some reason, though, I was attracted to the ELIA event with its ambitious title “Together”, not to mention intrigued by the promised emphasis on collaboration and personal growth and the opportunity to meet like-minded fellow translators, offline and in the flesh.
The two-day get-together, which took place at the visually stunning waterfront World Trade Center in Barcelona, was split helpfully into three categories: Relationships/Growth/Technology.

Although a lot of translators out there find it hard to believe (Yes, looking straight at you Karen Tkaczyk!: “I have heard that they exist, but I’ve never met one”), I enjoy a flourishing career without the use of CAT tools (unless you include Dragon), so the tech talks weren’t really at the top of my must-attend list.

Nevertheless, I did manage to talk to the representatives at a few of the CAT tool stands there, (SDL, MemoQ and Matecat were represented) and not just to swipe the pretty pens!


Is there perhaps a little irony in tech companies handing out free pens while simultaneously suggesting that old-school creative translation will soon be a thing of the past?
Although…after absorbing all of the information and contemplating the options, I am now considering giving the whole tool shebang a go in the spirit of adventure, mainly due to an enthusiastic review from the lovely Claire Cox over a beer in the networking lunch break, I must admit.

The keynote speech was held by Stephen Lank, vice president of translation services at Cesco Linguistic Services, but also a strong advocate for the freelance aspect of business. He gave an upbeat funny and enthusiastic talk, setting the tone for the whole two days. He introduced us to the concept of the BHAG (which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal). If you don’t have one yet, I highly recommend you get one!


The entire premise of the conference was to provide a forum for translation agencies (they are called LSPs now, another thing learnt!) and freelance translators to come together and share the challenges they face in their work with one another, as well as looking for solutions. Basically a bit like marital guidance counselling for struggling couples. Indeed this was a canny parallel that many speakers picked up and elaborated on. To the point that I occasionally felt I was at a matchmaking do called “Find Your Dream Partner” rather than at a conference to deepen my knowledge of the translation industry. Picture slides of cats and primordial landscapes also abounded, which got my BS antennae twitching slightly.


I am somehow not comfortable with the idea that our professional lives and relationships are akin to a loving human relationship, or that our tiger-fighting fight or flight instincts surface every time we enter into negotiations with agencies, but maybe that’s just me.

Not having had much experience with agencies in general I found it interesting to hear what demands are placed on translators working with output-maximising CAT tools or in the realm of post-editing of machine translation. And also what kind of needs and desires agencies have in general.

My personal highlight was the panel talk with women who have run or are running their own translation agencies: Anja Jones, Heidi Kerschl, Anne-Marie Collander Lind and Anna Pietruska. They provided a fascinating insight into how freelance translators can grow their business into a company (or, indeed, shrink it back down), a route that certainly comes with a completely different set of challenges to the ones we freelancers are usually faced with.

speaks for itself
(Mathilde, Jane and Paula at a fun conference workshop)

I have always had the greatest respect for agency owners (having run a totally different kind of business myself for ten years before segueing into translating, I know how much hard work goes into running any company). But I noticed in the subsequent talks and panels (like the LSP X-Factor panel) that the agency reps failed to talk about one crucial thing: what they bring to the table in terms of services for us translators. In all the criticism of agencies about just creaming profits, pushing prices down, etc. it is often completely overlooked that they are actually providing a service.

As a freelance translator you don’t have to go down that route: you can do the legwork yourself to get direct clients, which is what I did, simply by good networking, talking to the people I wanted to work with and by being recommended. But in their defence, the agencies are the ones taking the stress out of the whole process for us, leaving us to do what we do best: translating. They take care of acquisition, marketing, coordination of larger projects and teams, quality control, customer services, pricing and quotes. Anyone who has ever worked with direct clients knows that the actual translation (i.e. billable hours) can sometimes be the least bit of the work. So, a word in the ear of the LSPs at the conference: you guys need to tell us more about what you do. Less defensiveness, more detail. If you do, we might even forget to ask you about rates!

There was also a fun talk by Anna Sanner about Aikido and Zen practice of all things, and how to apply the lessons learnt there in your professional life. I paraphrase: When an attacker rushes at you (i.e. anything negative like a difficult client etc.) it is a powerful force that you can absorb and transform into power for yourself (i.e. learn from it).

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 23.21.55

I scarpered before getting coerced into the “blind drawing” networking activity, diving straight from the break into Karen Tkaczyk’s talk, in which she delivered a highly entertaining and honest-to-goodness roasting of LSPs’ sometimes off-point methodologies, and elaborating on what freelance translators want from their agencies in terms of instructions, format, respect and honesty.

Another highlight was Lloyd Bingham’s and Andrew Morris’ speech entitled: “Mind the Gap: Overcoming Strife in the Translation Industry.” Andrew Morris is the founder of Standing Out®, and Lloyd Bingham is an active member.
I admit I had been blissfully unaware of any “strife in the industry”, beavering away in my tiny little niche, only looking up occasionally to see that the world was moving on quickly toward MT etc. but I never had enough time to worry about it, until I was prodded into joining a few closed Facebook groups for translators by my business partner Paula Hedley, encouraging me to join the party and partake in some online networking. I quickly dismissed most of them, as I had better things to do with my time than read through long threads of people complaining about some client or other, or posting pictures of their cats or hobbies, but Standing Out® was different. It was a breath of cheerfully fresh air. Finally a place where I didn’t have to mutually shake my head about poor rates or crappy jobs. Finally a place where I could actually admit to enjoying my job and living just fine on what I earned.
And, as a bonus, we could share relevant information, get and give great tips, find short and to-the-point reviews on new software, webinars, courses, books, blogs, even endless puns: in short, everything my little translator heart desires.

Lloyd and Andrew outlined their approach and their belief that this kind of a space and outlook is much needed. Along with Standing Out®, ELIA is most certainly another valuable contribution to the trend that is bringing us, as translators, out into the sunlight, with increased transparency, for clients, agencies and everyone else involved in the industry.

Of course the very best thing about the conference was meeting so many colleagues. We are a pretty isolated bunch, living out in the sticks in far-flung corners of the world like Cardiff, Cologne and Czestochowa and not many of us have co-working spaces (or indeed want them) so it was lovely to realise that we are all quite similar in a way, not only in our dry humour and desire to make the world a linguistically more beautiful place, but also in our hunger to learn new things.

The next ELIA Together event will be held in Berlin in February 2017 and I highly recommend it! (And no, I was not paid to say that, although I did have a lovely chat with the director, Arancha Caballero, in the ladies loos, where, as you know, all the best deals are made…)

Oh, and here are some acronyms that kept cropping up during the event and may be useful to any newbies out there:

PEMT = Post-Edited Machine Translation
TMS = Translation Management Software
LSP = Language Service Provider
CPD = Continuing Professional Development
NDA = Non-Disclosure Agreement
MT = Machine Translation
PM = Project Manager
PTM = Post-Translational Modification (please invent your own definition for this one…it is actually something to do with proteins and enzymes!)
PMT = Premenstrual Tension






  1. Lovely off-beat post as usual, Galina – and I’m so glad one of our little chats may just have tempted you to even consider CAT tools – always here if you need any advice, although there are plenty better equipped to offer it than me! Great to meet you and other colleagues I’ve only met virtually before – the networking is always one of the best aspects of any conference, even for a self-confessed introvert like me. Oh, and you beat me to it by the way! I’ll have to see if I can find anything different to say when I finally get a minute 😉

    1. Thanks Claire and Claire! ; ) Yes, I agree…meeting everyone was the highlight. Well, I am sure you will have some valuable stuff to say especially on the tech aspects! And on the food! I didn’t even get round to mentioning the food! (which I thought was great, but I was too busy gabbing to eat enough)

  2. Ha, ha! Great blog on the translation conference although (as an outsider) the acronym CAT got me scratching my head as did some of the abbreviations, but you have a list at the end.

  3. Thanks for the interesting report! I had thought of going, but I have already scheduled too many conferences this year (yes, you can get addicted to those… watch out!). Followed the Twitter stream a bit and got a bit envious, but now I see that the next ELIA is coming right to my door step, so woo-hoo!

    (Love your blog, by the way!)

  4. I haven’t been to a translation conference yet. I just quit my full time job in another field recently and and getting more and more engulfed in the world of translating. I’m in the US, and have heard very mixed reviews of the ATA conference. That it’s really fun and all, but it doesn’t give you anything concrete to benefit your career (that you can’t get from purchasing the digital copy of the sessions). Also because I think the US, most of us are into English translators, while most US based translation agencies are primarily out of English work. So there’s a disconnect of real networking opportunities here. At least, that’s how I see it.

    1. Thanks for your interesting comments Amanda! My impression (based on this one conference!) is that translator conferences are places to deepen knowledge, get information on software or other language-related skills and to network. But more in the sense of exchanging experiences and sharing advice. Not places to acquire clients. That’s not to say that contacts might pass you work at a later date, but if that is your priority, your time is probably best spent at conferences/trade fairs etc. where your potential clients hang out. I agree that in the US you are kind of stranded in terms of direct clients who need texts translating into English. Time to move to your source language country for a while perhaps?! ; )

    2. I disagree, Amanda – I think that conferences are all about the networking – with colleagues as well as clients. By getting out there and chatting to people in the flesh (for once!), you create a much more lasting impression and those colleagues are much more likely to remember you and pass work your way in turn! I don’t think I’ve ever attended a conference that hasn’t, in the fullness of time, led to work-related leads in one way or another. Or to tips about work-related issues, or a like-minded colleague to call up if you have a query. Do give them a go!

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