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Conferences are a true professional’s wonderland

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

I just attended the Arizona Translators and Interpreters (ATI) conference last weekend and am about to attend the Texas Judiciary Interpreters and Translators Association (TAJIT) conference this weekend. I had almost forgotten what a wonderland these conferences are for us! I know a few interpreters attend because they need to fulfill some continuing education requirements, but even when that’s what gets them through the figurative door, it is so worth it. These are all virtual conferences, but there seems to be a whole new industry of virtual conference platforms that are making them so much easier to navigate and network with colleagues. I was thrilled to meet colleagues I had never met before; we could see each other’s profiles and photos if they added one, and we could exchange messages. It was almost… almost as good as being there in person.

Last weekend’s theme was “We’re all in this together,” and I was so happy to see that leitmotif come up over and over throughout the two days of presentations. Conferences are that magical place where we can stop everything else we normally do to reaffirm our very personal commitment to excellence through continuous learning. It is that unique space where everyone else thinks like you, so you never feel like the odd man out—or woman. Conferences plant seeds for new ideas, present new challenges and, even though you may be tired after two days of sitting through lectures, you still feel energized.

Conferences are also fertile ground to renew our commitment to the profession, like when you renew your marriage vows. Yes, your commitment to excellence as a professional interpreter or translator is very much like your commitment to your partner in life. Every once in a while, you may forget why you are doing this. You may feel like you don’t want to put in the effort anymore. Maybe you have been doing this for way too long and it just doesn’t seem worth it, you don’t see the reward for your efforts. So let’s explore what that professional commitment looks like for just a bit here.

An article in Psychology Today mentions that commitment is characterized by “a strong sense of intention and focus. It typically is accompanied by a statement of purpose or a plan of action.” So when you started out, you surely had all that. You were focused, and I am fairly sure you wanted to be an excellent interpreter or translator. Who wants to be lousy or mediocre at anything they set out to do in life?

But in these professions, the plan of action has to include constant learning. We cannot maintain a level of excellence in our performance unless we are constantly refreshing our knowledge, because languages are in constant evolution. So if you are just getting started, I must ask: are you willing to make a lifetime commitment to the profession? Interpreting is not a hobby you can pick up to make some money on the side or to fill in a couple of free hours you have between other jobs. Neither is translation. These are professions that require your full attention, and the people who depend on you have a right to expect no less.

So, then, for your commitment to be successful, you have to engage in the process, not just a single goal or purpose, like getting certified or getting a full-time job. If you stop there, you will have crossed over to the province of mediocrity and abandoned the commitment to excellence altogether. Plus, if you do that, you will have failed yourself and everyone else that relies on the quality of your performance.

On the other hand, if you do push forward, if you do engage, the process will need “Tools, Strategies and Ideas,” which is the theme of the TAJIT Conference. All of us need to talk to each other and learn from each other, share more than work-related anecdotes, read more than just legal or technical documents. Read the research that is coming out about interpreting and translating in your specialty field. Get a solid footing on the theories that justify your lexical choices and other linguistic decisions. Be the expert! This may be the reward awaiting you for all your efforts, for your commitment.

Next time there is a conference near you, maybe you will be the one contributing to this place full of wonder and marvels, and the rest of us will be there to support you, while all together we build up our stockpile of knowledge. Because conferences are our own special kind of wonderland.

- Janis Palma

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