Petrotran: looking forward. Key areas of our work and trends of translation industry development.
Once there was such a case in my interpreting practice. I was invited to an oil and gas company for interpretation. In the department where I was going to work on that day they suddenly started a move to a different office, and when I came in, all employees were moving furniture and office equipment. My first natural wish was to help the people, also because I had known many of them for a long time. However a Canadian Team Leader stopped me: "No, Vlad, you are not going to move the furniture". Having seen my surprise he added: "When I invite a specialist to render services, which are not available in our department, it is normal, but when that specialist starts to move furniture - no". Note that by that time I had worked as an interpreter for a respectable number of years, but for the first time a thought came to me that apparently our profession means a specialist.
It is even not worth mentioning that such attitude towards an interpreter is by no means always and everywhere present. In most cases it is quite opposite. Often it is the fault of the very interpreters, who are driven by fear. They understand that actually do not have appropriate industry knowledge to perform interpretation and are afraid to be dismissed (which often happens), and try to compensate lack of competence, seeking to please the customer and turning themselves into servants. I would never agree that the customer is always right. Of course, if the interpreter is a specialist. For example, when your washing machine is broken and you call a technician, that is a specialist, because you do not have skills to repair it, do you understand that he is right and you are not? How can the customer be right, if he just does not know a foreign language and cannot match the terms used by him in Russian? I can provide hundreds of examples from own practice when the customer terminologically is not right at all. I do not think that the interpreter if he/she is a specialist, should behave like a door-keeper: "Whatever can please you Sir".
It is all about the old discussion - does the profession of an interpreter exist at all? I think it depends upon us, our self-confidence based on knowledge. I would like to stress - not excessive overconfidence close to snobbery and based on nothing. I used to know one colleague who always and everywhere repeated the same phrase as a mantra with no shame at all: "I am the best and everybody likes me". At any new project he primarily strived to break through to the management, obviously to deliver such important information to the very top of the company. Eventually they began to expel him from projects by the same token, no matter that he was a good interpreter.
In other words, the interpreter must be a specialist, and his/her activities must be based on knowledge, and first of all knowledge of the industry where he/she works. Following this idea we started our project. In the very beginning we needed to clarify the level of interest or at least loyalty on the side of state structures and industry organizations. We managed to communicate with the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Education from which, as usual, we received polite verbal and written refusals with the recommendation to "manage these issues independently". Strange though it may seem, but that recommendation gave a kick to develop activities and new ideas: "If you want to do something well, do it yourself". Nowadays the government grants wide opportunities in processes of professional self-regulation, which should be used. We talked to sufficient number of oil and gas and translation associations and companies, most of which supported us, unfortunately many of them only rhetorically, however with some organizations we established and continue to develop good partnership. And at the initial stage it is quite normal.
As the first step we created PETROTRAN portal. The main goal of the portal is to provide some common platform for accumulation of resources useful both for oil and gas interpreters and customers - oil and gas companies. This includes training and reference materials, databases and opportunities of interactive communication. Description of key products offered and planned at the portal is provided below.
Our first product was the online training course "Oil and Gas English" as an answer to lack of relevant state programs. Nowadays there are rather many oil and gas English courses and schools for interpreters and translators, however it should be noted that the first such course was developed by us in far back 1999.
Our new training program is a unique and fully automated online course including video lectures in Russian, a block of written exercises, another block of audio exercises in English, numerous tests and exam materials. It is intended for interpreters and translators, oil and gas industry specialists, and also students of oil and gas and linguistic institutes and is built on the basis of over 30-year experience of our work in oil and gas industry and text-books published during that time period. It combines introduction into the specialty and studying English-Russian oil and gas terminology. The training is conducted by "three-steps" methodology described earlier.
Students are not limited by time and location of training. Lack of live communication with the teacher is compensated by numerous tests and a possibility of self-checks practically in all assignments. Currently we are in the process of developing reduced thematic training programs, which will be more accessible in terms of time and price.
When something new comes into existence, the public opinion passes through several stages: Negation, Tolerance, Acceptance, and Obliteration. The same story was with my Tutorial for oil and gas industry translators published in 2009. Publishing houses refused to accept the book for publishing and openly told me: "We have not seen such a book before. On the one hand it is for oil industry specialists. On the other hand it is for translators. But there is no section in the book-shops where we can put it - Foreign languages section or Oil industry section?" And they rejected the book. My request to "put somewhere in the middle" did not work. Eventually I had to take a loan in the bank and publish the book at own account.
Social networks were no so well developed that time as now, therefore people just called me on the phone. They expressed their negative opinions and asked why I invented something like that at all. They said that the idea is wrong and incorrect. However it was a normal process. It showed that they were "involved". This is what Negation stage means. Then they calmed down (Tolerance). Some time later I received some positive responses, and their number continued to grow. People just called me and said: "Thank you" (Acceptance). Up to now all books have been sold, and translators of the new generation in social networks ask me: "Actually who are you at all?" (Obliteration). It is a normal standard process for any new product which it has to pass. Currently we are getting ready to publish my new training package "Oil and gas English". I have no doubt that it will have the same destiny.
The idea to create our own magazine came into being after my unsuccessful attempt to publish an article in already existing magazines for translators. In one of them the article was rejected by the editorial board which considered the topic as "outdated" and insufficiently important, in another magazine the article was accepted, but the requirement was to provide at least 15 references to sources from other, preferably scientific magazines. And where can you get them if just own thoughts and ideas are described in the article? Then I decided not to look further and thought: who are they, those members of the editorial board? Why are there such requirements? And why is there no magazine where any person can publish an article? We started to study the issue and came to the conclusion that rather often editorial boards consist of academicians and professors who also write articles but for a different purpose: seems like for translators but in such a style and using such "psychobabbles" that even I, a translator with 30-year working experience, can hardly understand anything. Maybe they write for themselves and for the purpose of further references to own articles? And why so abstrusely? And who and where writes about translators and for translators? On the other hand they have the right to do what they want. I would not like to criticize, however it is not for me.
Then jointly with my colleagues we decided, that our magazine will be different. First of all it should be democratic so that everybody could express own opinion, if he/she has a wish to do so. In order to raise the profession prestige we will write about the best translators in simple and clear language. We will include training materials to make the magazine not only interesting, but also useful.
We set the main goals of the magazine as assurance of interaction among translation industry players for joint activities, and also a link between the translation industry and oil and gas companies. In the future our magazine will also cover other areas of technical translation in printed and electronic formats. In order to expand the audience we also decided to issue the magazine in English.
In addition, our opinion in many cases does not coincide with opinions of authors of articles or even contradicts them, however that does not mean that we must or going to ignore such points of view, because the truth can be born only in discussion. We are always happy to see new authors in our magazine.
What are the main deficiencies of already existing glossaries? First, most glossaries are offered only in one language. As a rule, only a term and its definition is provided. Often it is insufficient for understanding by a translator. Second, an academic and sometimes very difficult definition of a term is provided, which can be understood by an engineer, but not by each linguist. Third, in most cases there is no graphic image or photo of equipment, which would be very helpful for understanding. Fourth, often such glossaries are very common, applicable to all industries. Sometimes it is very difficult to select the needed definition, particularly if you did not attend a special industry training course.
Taking into account the above-listed aspects, we decided to create an electronic English-Russian and Russian-English illustrated oil and gas glossary with simple description of terms adapted for linguists. Using such glossary, a translator will be able not only to receive correct translation of the term (which in this case is provided under strict censorship opposite to many dictionaries), but also see it in the picture, read adapted and clear description of the term both in Russian and English, and define its possible use in the context.
In other words, it will be a training glossary, free and commonly accessible at the web-site www.petrotran.ru at first stages of its lifecycle. The first batch of 2000 terms will be posted at out portal in the nearest future, and then the work will be continued. It is also planned to transfer the glossary to other language pairs and on its basis create a new tool - "voice glossary" (sound recording of terms and their definitions), which will be particularly useful for simultaneous interpreters in conditions of limited time.
The Union of technical translators
Not long ago I had a telephone conversation with the co-founder of Kazakhstan Association of professional translators and translation companies Anna Loyenko, a person who I respect for contribution into common goal of community of translators and her active life stance. I remember her words which in my opinion are very correct: "The number of professional unions and associations is the indicator of the society development". Actually there are many of them in other countries but just a few in Russia.
Unfortunately, some of already existing unions and associations of translators do not demonstrate high activities in development of translation industry, and many of their events are formal. This results in reduction in the number of members, but the worst of it is development of general negative opinion about such organizations in the community of translators. However that does not mean that unions and associations of translators are not needed and useless. On the contrary, if not for them, there would be full chaos in the translation world. In each specific case everything depends upon goals and objectives of the organization, its clear structure and activity of members.
Association of medical translators was established not long ago. As usual, almost immediately many people, including even well known in the community of translators, began to criticize and blame that organization for mistakes andвЂ¦ I even do not know for what else, probably just for the fact of their existence, because there was no specifics (Negation stage). However if people decided to come together in order to resolve their common issues, it is already good. Their critics did not create something like that at all. Everybody makes mistakes, if you do not have mistakes, than you do nothing. It was interesting for me and I visited the web-site of the Association of medical translators, which, by the way, is of high quality in terms of the form and the contents, and then I called them, congratulated with the establishment of the Association and wished them success. ShouldnвЂ™t the approach of a normal person to something new be like that? ShouldnвЂ™t we, people of the same profession, support each other? First give the people time, and then issue your verdicts.
The very first publication about issue of a new product or establishment of an association of translators always results in an attack from "terminators" (as they call themselves, though I personally call them "termites", because in most cases they are too insignificant to be terminators and are only capable of biting). These are people created to destruct all new. Not long ago I had a telephone conversation with one of such characters, who openly called himself "the main terminator of all associations of translators". I was just interested, what such people are driven by. One would think - a new association was established because people want to do something together and if you do not like it - just do not join them, a new product was created - again you do not like it, then just do not use it. Obviously the problem is deeper. Such person does not want just to ignore. He/she wants to destroy. Why? Maybe because of personal adversarial nature? Or because he/she wants to gain face when slinging muck at others? Partially - yes, but there are also economic and mental reasons. "Termites" are driven by fear, similarly to state officers - fear of all new and fear that something may change in their position, and that their lucrative and warm shelter will suddenly disappear. They are afraid that there will be competitors capable to push them out of the cherished haunt. Therefore they even do not bother to understand what is the essence of something new. The most important for them is not to change anything. However changes will be inevitably taking place.
Our plans also include establishment of a non-commercial organization - the Union of oil and gas translators. It will include only freelancers, but not translation companies. Today it is obvious that interests of freelancers and translation companies are completely different. And it includes not only payment rates, but also attitude to the profession and industry development.
Therefore any attempt to unite translators and translation companies into one union or association (I would like to emphasize, practically acting rather than formal union) is also an utopia, because such union cannon exist in principle, as there can be no union between a rabbit and a boa constrictor. Despite efforts of translation companies to establish own associations in order to represent Russian translation industry at global level, their activities in any case are focused only on gaining profit, and in no way can change something in position of free translators. Often such companies are not capable to see global trends, because now they are in warm and cosy situation, and do not want to change anything.
By the way, briefly about trends. On the one side, for customers, particularly major companies, and in conditions of significant price dumping, it is very beneficial to receive complex translation services in "one-stop-shop" from translation companies. On the other hand, due to many reasons, a translation company cannot assure translation quality at the level of a competent freelancer. And such situation will remain until creation of the mechanism to unite freelancers with an opportunity to render quality services currently not always available for them (mainly information technologies). In this case translation companies will have to close or turn into HR or consulting agencies, because they will start losing freelancers. The main role of translation companies today is intermediate activity, which cannot be considered as a natural phenomenon, because product added value is created by a freelancer who is the actual producer. Economically the situation is unnatural, and in most cases, excluding major providers, it is not a business but just speculative activities.
Due to these reasons non-commercial associations of translators will begin to understand the necessity of self-regulating organizations with no space for intermediaries. By its essence SRO replaces functions of the government, which in any case does not participate in the destiny of translators. Such functions will primarily include development of own standards regulating activities of the organization members. There can be different opinions in relation to the standard for translators already published by the Ministry of Labor; however one thing is clear - it will not bring practical benefits for freelancers. It is a type of document when "it exists - it is good, it does not exist - not bad as well". In reality translators need not a formal but practical document defining working conditions and payment terms, relationship with customers and duration of work in specific industry, and actually protecting their rights.
In addition, SRO can and must deal with such issues as industry training of translators with following certification, raise of translation and interpreting rates for freelancers to the level of incoming rates of translation companies and international level, improvement of reputation of industry translator profession, assistance with employment and protection of rights.
In my opinion, presence of translation companies in such SRO could be justified only after passing of an audit in order to obtain a license to implementation of activities under a standard for specific industry, rather than general quality standard as it is done now. For them it is the only way to assure quality of industry translation and interpreting services. And in general it is a good way to clean the market of unprincipled providers.
Within the limits of self-regulating organization a freelancer can assure own future and break out of financial limitations enforced by intermediaries.
I can only imagine how much negative reaction I incited in some readers, particularly in "termites". But it is normal. Negation stage. And our caravan goes on.
Published - September 2021.
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