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Last year, for various reasons, the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association was not held. Consequently, this year’s event, which was held in Herzliya at the beginning of February, was eagerly awaited. The three-day programme comprised around fifty lectures and workshops, some of them held concurrently, interwoven with coffee and lunch breaks, as well as a cocktail party and gala dinner on the first evening. Since not every day of the event contained lectures that interested me, and also because of the rather high cost of the event, I elected to participate (at a reduced rate) on the last day only.

By coincidence or design (probably the latter), The Marker, the financial section of the Haaretz daily newspaper, ran an extensive article about translators and the Translators Association to coincide with the conference. The main theme of the article, as far as the reporter seemed to be able to gather from the individuals he interviewed, was the difficult life of the free-lance translator, who is underpaid and overworked, this being particularly acute if a translation agency is involved as intermediary. Free-lancers account for some 95 percent of all translators, while only a fortunate few – about 5 percent – are in salaried positions. One of the side-effects of this situation is that upon reaching retirement age many free-lancers find themselves obliged to continue working as their pensions are either non-existent or woefully inadequate.

Incidentally, translators of subtitles for movies and the TV screen are paid even more abysmally. Things have in fact reached such an abysmal state that these translators, who are no less skilled and expert than any other translator, are currently on strike. Whether this will achieve the desired result remains to be seen, but they are certainly supported by every self-respecting professional translator.

Another point raised in relation to the difficulties of being a translator was the widespread undermining of professionalism by amateurs, or as the headline to the article in The Marker phrased it, quoting one of the people interviewed: ‘Anyone Who’s Ever Set Foot Abroad Can Get up in the Morning and Decide That He’s a Translator.’

When I mentioned the translators’ apparent paucity of funds to one of the other translators at the conference he pointed out that a goodly number of them had nonetheless registered for the full-board three-day conference in a decent hotel, which would seem to undermine the poverty thesis put forward by the Association’s spokespersons.

Be that as it may, the one day of the conference that I attended provided a veritable smörgasbord of interesting lectures, to such an extent that I was obliged to forgo such fascinating subjects as the issue of filling lexical voids and the intricacies of translating electronic books in order to be able to attend the sessions on aspects of translating text allied with illustrations in the Wizard of Oz, tackling the niceties of translating financial statements, and the potential minefield that results in translation bloopers in the booklets that come with pieces of electrical or electronic equipment.

Deadlines are also a sore point for translators, many of whom frequently find themselves working at all hours of the day and night in order to meet the – often totally unrealistic – time-frame demanded by importunate agencies or project managers.

As well as opening one’s mind to new fields of interest and providing additional insights into familiar ones, the Translators Conference provides the lone translator with the opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. The conferences are attended by translators from all over Israel, and it is heartening to see the many happy reunions between old friends and colleagues.

After all, the life of the translator is on the whole a lonely one. It may be interrupted from time to time by the occasional interesting phone call but consists primarily of interaction with the computer screen, thereby involving little face-to-face contact with other human beings. This probably suits most translators, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to remain in the profession, but even ‘lone wolves’ need human contact from time to time.