Translators have played an important role in introducing literary styles, and in some cases, forming a literary language, yet we tend to know little of the translators who actually wrote the books in the target language, and they are rarely taken seriously as part of the national literary history. Individual translators remain in obscurity even today.
Hence “the encyclopedia movement”, which seeks to bring individual translators’ contribution to national literature into the light by publishing translators’ biographies. The movement started with the Swedish translators’ encyclopedia launched in 2009, a project undertaken at Södertörns högskola under the leaderships of Lars Kleberg. In recent years similar projects have been started in Germany, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The encyclopedias consist mostly of individual translators’ biographies, in addition to selected thematic articles on topics such as translation from particular languages or cultures, of certains genres or types of literature, or of specific authors or works such as Shakespeare or the Bible.
While both the Swedish and German are established by academic institutions, the Danish and Norwegian ones are run by the translators’ associations. Articles are written by academics, translators, journalists and other free lance writers.
In literary translation mentoring and lifelong learning it is important to distinguish between the teaching of beginners and professional, peer-to-peer mentoring. There should be scientific criteria for the marking of students’ work, such as the use of an assessment grid showing different levels of error and attainment (eg. errors of anachronism, of rhythm etc.).
The PETRA-E Framework of Reference for lifelong education in Literary Translation maps the competences of literary translators and levels in the acquisition of those competences. It is based on the experiences of translators and trainers and has been developed for teaching and learning purposes. I aims to help teachers and institutes to create tools and programs to acquire these competences. For students, the Framework helps to detect ‘gaps’ in their training and education.
The Framework consists of five levels (from breakthrough to expert) and eight competences (translating, linguistic, textual, heuristic, literary-cultural, professional, evaluative and research ones) all of which are described in detail. To each level a certain mastery of each competence is assumed.
The Framework is available in Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Bulgarian.
Peer learning, residential seminars and Stammtisch
British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School – University of East Anglia (UK)
The annual BCLT Summer School brings together writers and translators for an intensive, one-week, residential programme of hands-on translation and creative writing practice.
For most language-specific workshops, groups have the unique opportunity to work on a collaborative translation with both the author in residence and the workshop leader. For translators working from any other languages there are two multilingual workshops, one for prose and one for theatre. These are designed for translators working from any language into English.
All workshops are designed to encourage collaboration and peer learning in a small group setting (maximum of 10-12 translators in a group).
During the week, the workshops are complemented by creative writing workshops for all participants and also plenary sessions, such as publishing panels and lectures.
Warwick Translates – Summer School at the University of Warwick (UK)
Warwick Translates offers the opportunity to translate texts across the literary genres into English, working with leading professional translators. Groups will be limited to a maximum of 20 students. The course is taught in an all-day workshop environment using a variety of texts including non-fiction (essays, journalism, academic) and fiction (poetry, fantasy, children’s literature and crime writing etc.). There are plenty of opportunities for networking with publishers, agents, Warwick staff and one another.
ViceVersa – peer-to-peer residential seminars
ViceVersa is a bilingual, peer-to-peer residential seminar for literary translators, which has been successfully carried out with translators working with several language combinations.
The ViceVersa Programme an international programme for the continuous training of literary translators working to and from German, was set up by Deutscher Übersetzerfonds and Robert Bosch Stiftung in 2011.
In 2015 a similar programme involving translators to and from Italian was established under the name of Laboratorio Italiano by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and Translation House Looren. Such workshops are a unique opportunity for literary translators to meet their colleagues and tackle translation issues together in a constructive and friendly way.
Usually they have from 10 to 12 participants all working with the same couple of languages, half of them in one way and half in the other, meeting for a week. Each participant has the opportunity to present and discuss a three-page extract from one of their current translation projects and ask for inputs from the colleagues to solve translation problems.
The aim of such workshops is not to evaluate a translator’s job, but rather to encourage lively discussion among colleagues based on actual practice.
AITI (Italy) continuing professional development
Continuing professional development is recognised to be essential for translators.
As to art. 7 of AITI Statute and art. 11 of Deontological code, each member has the duty to keep updated, study and learn as part of her/his professional development and growth, no matter the age.
The Association has established a three years programme with a detailed grid of reference to get a minimum number of credits. If an ordinary member failed in getting the minimum number of credits, he or she will be temporarily downgraded to the aggregate category for the following three years.
Members send their documentation to the national Commission for Training and Learning through a simple, automatic form.
Members who have an institutional, active role in the Association will get credits for their work.
Many of CEATL’s member associations hold regular meetings (the third Friday of every month, for example) to discuss matters relating to the profession – working conditions, contracts and so on; to share information about publishers and fees; or to talk about translation matters. The term ‘Stammtisch’ refers to the table reserved for regular customers in German pubs.
Meeting in given place regularly (for example the third Friday of every month) to discuss matters pertaining to profession – working conditions, contracts etc. ; share information on publishers and fees; or talk about translation matters.
Translators meet and discuss different issues concerning the profession, organised per language combinations and topics; participants bring food and drinks. Organised by AITI and Strade at Laboratorio Formentini in Milan, Italy
Translators meet to discuss problems they have encountered in translation from any language
Group therapy for literary translators at the Christmas Book Fair in Catalonia. This is a public event. Participants always start by: “My name is NN., and I am a translator.” They then go on to present a specific translation problem, which is subsequently solved by the other participants – or the audience.
On 3rd April 2016 a groundbreaking document was signed between ODEI (the Italian Observatory of Independent Publishers), STRADE (the Italian Union of Translators working in the publishing industry), and the SLC-CGIL (Italian Union of Communication Workers, which STRADE is joining to represent translators). These associations signed a code of practice for a fair relationship between publishers and translators. The code provides a series of guidelines: ‘Five Points for a Fair, Legal and Transparent Translation Contract’.
It was the first contractual agreement between an association of publishers and an association of literary translators in Italy. By signing it, publishers commit to respect all provisions of Italian copyright law and, in particular, to adopt only contracts of the type established and regulated by the law (‘Contratto di edizione’) in order to fully respect the rights of translators as authors. In addition, the document affirms that contracts must not only be legal but also fair. This is important because, due to the inequality of bargaining power between individual translators and publishers, many translation contracts, even though they formally respect the law, are weighted in favour of the publisher.
Unfair contractual practices not only jeopardize the actual protection of translators’ rights and their social role, but they also put at risk the proper functioning of the publishing system, which relies on collaboration between the various figures involved. This is why ODEI, STRADE and SLC-CGIL, who share the goal of building a pluralistic, ethical and economically sound publishing system, have established good contractual practices as a central pillar in their collaboration.
ODEI was later replaced by ADEI (Association of Independent Publishers), which continued the dialogue with STRADE. The code of practice is to be found in English, French and Portuguese translation on STRADE’s website.
In Norway the translators went on strike in 2006. Or rather it was a work to rule action, seeng that we are free lancers and therefore cannot strike as such. In Norway translators have had a standard contract since 1972, but in the early 2000s it was outdated and the fee was extremely bad. We had been trying for five years to get the publishers to the negotiating table, and when they finally did, we got nowhere. On April 1st 2006 negotiations broke down.
A month later we launched our work to rule campaign, Oversetteraksjonen 2006 (Translators’ campaign 2006). Our point was to take the contract literally: The existing contract, dating back to 1972, stipulated that translators had to hand in “easily readable, typewritten manuscripts which were ready to print”. So this is what we did. We meticulously followed our out-dated contract to go with the out-dated payment agreement. Manuscripts were neatly wrapped up in brown paper tied with string, and delivered to the publishers, who then had to scan the documents in order for them to be edited. Editors who were quick off the mark and used to scrawling in margins and between lines soon found scanning in these comments was not so easy. As the stand-off continued, manuscripts piled up: 60 in May, 200 by August.
The campaign had one overarching motto: No whining. We consistently strove to be funny, good humoured, and nonagressive. We sought to create a colourful, light-hearted, slightly carnivalesque or absurdist atmosphere.
It was launched in the square between the bare imposing façades of the two main publishing houses in Oslo – one shrouded in scaffolding for its multi million hyper cool refurbishment. Translators sat behind wooden tables banging out letters on ancient typewriters to accompany their translations while journalists took photographs and garnered information. The image of a company modernising its premises but assigning its freelance translators to the past needed little comment.
After three months, as the publishers’ book launch season started in August, we started distributing collectable Pokémon-style cards with photos of some of the publishing industry’s main characters’ not so well chosen comments. The cards were displayed on the strike website “Oversetteraksjonen 2006” and constituted part of an internet game.
We picketed publishers’ parties and events, and brandished placards with both silly and serious slogans, such as: “Recent research has revealed that translators need more money NOW”, “Hand us your pin code”, and – outside the most prestigous garden party for the literary elite – “You are drinking the blood, sweat and tears of translators. And what’s on your plate?”, “Have you the heart/wallet to go to this party, too?” (see photo above).
At the end of September, after five months, the publishers gave in, and invited the translators back to the negotiating table. After a month of negotiations, a new contract was signed. The result was better pay, a modernised contract – and a renewed respect for the profession on both sides.
2018 is the 3rd year PLR money is being paid out in Poland. The money (around 4 milion PLN in total) comes from the national lottery or other state-sanctioned gambling which feeds a special cultural fund. PLR money goes to authors (75% of the whole sum) and publishers (25%). Only authors of books written in Polish are remunerated, and they include writers, translators, and illustrators and photographers (in case of comics, picture books, albums etc). So the translator gets the money but not the foreign writer whose book has been translated. Translators receive 30% of what an original author would receive for the same number of book loans. It is an opt-in system, which means that it’s up to the author to sign in and enter all their books into an online system (where each ISBN is considered a different books, so you need to keep track of different editions if you want to make sure all of them are counted). Afterwards, if you’ve added any titles in a given year… you need to print it all out, sign it and send it by regular mail! (Because they need your signature.)
There is a lot of criticism concerning how the book loans are counted. Since there is no one digital library system in Poland, not all libraries feed their loans data to the PLR system. Quite on the contrary, the ministry of culture has drawn up a list of “representative libraries” (updated once in the 3 years, I think), which consists of some… 65 libraries or so. It’s not exactly clear how they were chosen and by whom, but they are supposed to be diverse enough to represent all of the readers: they’re from all around the country (but some regions are not represented at all), from some large cities, some small towns and the countryside. Obviously it’s a flawed system, but probably more so in the case of original authors – whose writing might be strongly connected to their region – rather than translators, whose translations are probably loaned more or less equally on average. Also, as a principle only public libraries are included in the system. No school or university libraries there.
What happens then is they take that “representative” data and use it to divide the money among authors. So there is no per-book-loan rate; rather, it depends on the number of authors participating and their relative share of the pie. The downside being, as PLR becomes better known and more people sign in, they individual payouts go down. The money was best the first time around, when less people knew about it. The overall sum available goes up every year (they currently have the sums planned until 2024), but its not fast enough to make up for the growing number of authors in the system, which was over a 1000 the first time around, and some 2000 afterwards, I think. There is also a top and bottom cap. The bottom cap is around 20 PLN (so if the calculations say you should get less than that, you get nothing, in order to avoid costs of processing it), and the top cap is around 20.000 PLN (so if you’ve translated “50 Shades of Grey” or you’re that one super-popular Polish crime writer who has been churning out about 6 books a year, you get no more that 20k even if the calculations say you should get more – so that there is still money left for everyone else).
AITI (Italy) organised a National Open Doors Day in May 12 2018. This was the first time that this kind of event was held nationally on the same day.
AITI has 12 regional branches and 1220 members among technical translators, interpreters and literary translators.
There was a slide presentation about the association and how to apply for membership and a few testimonies of ordinary members. Silvia Musa presented the Calcolareddito (an instrument to calculate your revenue) and then there was a little party with refreshments. A questionnaire was distributed and on a total of 462 participants, there were 233 replies, which is a pretty good result.
The AITI Open Doors Day in numbers:
Total partecipants 462:
Non members 165
The key words that emerged from the Open Doors Day were: awareness – professional competence – networking – information – sharing – collegiality – competences – knowledge – exchange – syntony – affinity – partecipation.
AITI transmitted the idea of an association with a strong vocation for team working and a friendly and welcoming climate. An association which is coherent and determined to pursue its common goals.
After this kind of event, the follow up is very important : contacting non members and students participants and checking how many candidates applied for membership.
In 2017, the Polish association STL made a series of short YouTube videos, in which members shared why they were part of the association. Even though they all had different reasons, they mostly talked about the social aspect of being part of an organisation of this kind, as well as about the opportunities for help and exchanging information, and being educated on and assisted with the legal aspects of the profession. They shared one video a week on their YouTube channel and their Facebook page, which did result in new memberships.
STL also has secured considerable discount for its members at a very good Warsaw law firm specialised in copyright, affordable health insurance and even a fitness card. Where the health insurance is concerned, STL was invited to join an existing initiative by a fellow association. The whole group consists of members of several different types of authors’ associations, such as translators, journalists, graphic artists, musicians, and photographers, and they have all signed with one of the largest private medical companies in the country at a considerable discount. The initiators of the idea even negotiated a package tailored to the needs of workers in the creative industries.
Translation: Dorota Konwrocka-Sawa, I translate from English. I’ve been a member of the Polish Literary Translators Association for a year. Before, I worked a journalist in a weekly magazine for many years. When I started working exclusively as a literary translator I realized that what I missed the most was my editorial team, a group of friendly people I met every day, who helped me solve different professional problems and who did what I did. I was hoping I would meet such a group of people in the Polish Literary Translators Association – and I was right. I found it. I meet them every day on the literary translators’ forum on Facebook, I meet them once a month, or sometimes more often, at translators’ breakfasts, translators’ dinners, sometimes I manage to simply get them go to the cinema with me. What’s important for me is that I’m in constant contact with a group of people who are friendly towards one another, who aren’t really in competition, even though we all compete for commissions from the same publishers, but who help one another every day, looking for quotations, trying to come up with the best equivalents from idioms, to figure out the full meaning of a sentence; who, just like me, want the translated text to be the best it can be.
Translation: My name is Rafał Lisowski, I’ve been a member of STL for 4 or 5 years. What this membership has given me is the feeling that in our seemingly lonely book translator’s profession we are far from alone, that we are a professional community with similar needs and problems, that we can count on one another, and together, when we are numerous, we can achieve more, get more done, we can learn something. Myself, I’ve learned a lot about law, about negotiating, about the book market, and I also have the feeling I can do something for others in STL and outside of it. I’ve also met a lot of great people, brilliant translators who, when it come to translation itself, can help me out and I can help them out. That’s fantastic and I think it hold a lot of promise for the future.
We started ARTLIT – The Romanian Association of Literary Translators in 2014, from a shared frustration that our fees were very low (the average was about 2,5 euros/2000 characters), the contracts were unfair and sometimes simply disregarded. We felt a need for a new, more proactive association. It took us almost a year to make all the necessary paperwork and get all approvals from the authorities. Our goals are to organize this profession, defend our rights and, most importantly, raise fees.
Admission of members:
The basic requirement is that applicants have at least one literary or scientific translation published or about to be published (having a signed contract with a publisher), literary translation also including plays, screenplays or magazine articles. Applicants must submit an application form and agree to respect the Association’s ethical code. There is no quality review of applicants and no different levels of membership. All members have equal vote rights.
Some of the challenges we faced in the early years:
Making members pay – we send a reminder twice a year and sometimes individual reminders, because one of the most common reasons is that members simply forget to transfer the membership fee.
Too great expectations – it can be difficult for members to understand that progress will be slow and that getting involved in the Association’s activities is vital to its development.
Given that we are all volunteers in the association, it’s hard to maintain a constant energy and good spirit.
What we are good at so far:
Visibility: we managed to organize interesting workshops and events with no expenses at all, relying only on generous people and institutions we know.
Sharing information/ Raising awareness: about fees, negotiations and good/bad practices from various publishers; we discovered it is of great importance to share information.
Patience: We learned that change is very slow and you need to wait so that the message of the association can spread organically.
If we were to start again, I think I would have liked us to be better in fund raising so that we could afford paying at least a part time job for someone to help us with writing content for the site, organising the events and keeping the correspondence with our members or potential members. I know now about how much energy a volunteer translator has and I also know that we need to have constant activity.
One of the achievements is that our members got to know what a fair contract should look like and therefore, have become more daring when they negotiate their contracts. A lot of us have become aware that accepting very low fees and abusive contractual terms is doing damage not only to themselves individually but also to the profession as a whole.
Lavinia Braniște – founding member and former president of ARTLIT
The PETRA-E Framework of Reference for lifelong education in Literary Translation is a tool which has been developed to map the competences of literary translators and levels in the acquisition of those competences. It is based on the pactical experiences of translators and trainers and has been developed for teaching and learning purposes. I aims to help teachers and institutes to create tools and programmes to acquire these competences. For students, the Framework helps to detect ‘gaps’ in their training and education.
The Framework consists of five levels (from breakthrough to expert) and eight competences (translating, linguistic, textual, heuristic, literary-cultural, professional, evaluative and research ones) all of which are described in some detail. To each level a certain mastery of each competence is assumed.
The Framework is available in Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Bulgarian.