ATA Conference, San Antonio, Texas, November 6-9, 2013 by Carlota Dalziel

So much to see, so much to do and such a short time to do it in! A lot was crammed into four action-packed days. As many as 175 educational sessions were offered to the 1,500 members present. With 72 booths of sponsors offering the latest technology, software, equipment and books, the exhibition hall was definitely a paradise for interpreters and translators.  Booth: 49, presented by Capiche, was one of the ones that especially caught my attention. Mobile Video Interpreting Platform is a remote interpreting ecosystem that unlocks the potential of the industry and empowers the independent interpreter. Interpreters can work from the comfort of their home offices while growing global business. Clients can access vetted professional interpreters through their mobile device or laptop. DVTA plans to offer a webinar by Capiche next year. ATA did a splendid job at setting up the exhibition hall which showcased the sponsors. Everything worked like a well- oiled engine.  The registration went smoothly and the hotel elected as the venue, The Marriot Rivercenter, was very satisfactory, as was the food served throughout; plentiful and tasty.

A special event that took place on Wednesday had been organized for first-time attendees. It was an invitation to team up with a seasoned colleague. Buddies Welcome Newbies was designed to help get the most from the conference experience. Buddies and newbies were paired up, and both took part in some getting-to-know-you activities and networking role-playing.

The welcome reception on Wednesday evening was undoubtedly a success.  Each attendee got two vouchers for drinks, and that really got the ball rolling. It was a bubbly crowd, dynamic and enthusiastic, and plenty of networking took place around tables set up in the ballroom. Interpreters and translators enjoyed an excellent dinner and each other’s company.

One of the pleasures to look forward to at these conferences is meeting old friends and making new ones. I was delighted to see Esther Navarro-Hall at the conference and to catch up with her.  Anne Connor, Maria Weir and I, all DVTA members, enjoyed a meal with her on Friday at one of the elegant San Antonio restaurants on the water front. I had met Esther for the first time a few months ago when she came from California to give our DVTA members a most interesting one-day seminar on the use of the famous digital pen, used widely in California by interpreters but not, as yet, on the East Coast.

In the interest of time and space I will only be mentioning a selection of the sessions I attended, but one in particular stood out for me: the session on the Nuremberg trials by Siegfried Ramler. DVTA, the local ATA chapter I belong to, had actually organized a successful talk at La Salle University on the subject of interpreting at these trials, where simultaneous interpreting was used for the first time.  A Witness to History was the name of the presentation at that event in October this year. The speaker was Dr. George Sakheim, who had been serving in the US army and applied for the job of interpreter at the trials after his discharge in 1945. I was interested in seeing what this speaker, with similar experiences, Siegfried Ramler, had to say on the subject. I purchased the book he wrote: Nuremberg and Beyond, The Memories of Siegfried Ramler, From 20th Century Europe to Hawai’i, a fascinating read, as was his talk. It was an inspiration to see a 90 –year- old gentleman able to keep a crowd of us hanging on his words.

The session with Roda P. Roberts, Enhancing Short Term Memory for Accurate Interpretation, was outstanding. She analyzed how short term memory functions in the two main modes of interpreting and discussed methods for improving short term memory and enhancing accurate interpreting. Roda suggested ten exercises which would enable us to improve our STM. This goes a long way toward avoiding problems such as omissions, approximations, inaccuracies and saturation.

Focus on Words: The Death of Reliable Interpreting, by Harry Obst, was another of my favorites. Last year I read and enjoyed Mr. Obst’s book, The White House Interpreter, and I was therefore eager to attend his session and meet him. He centered his talk on reliable interpreting and the need to avoid a preoccupation with mere words, which can distract and even introduce distortions. Concentrating on the meaning and the message is key to a good interpretation! This reminds me of an interpreting course I took two years ago at the Library of Congress: Conveying the Meaning.  Too much note taking can easily make you miss the real thread of what is being said. Techniques to the rescue!

The Vocabulary of International Affairs by Joseph Mazza, head of the US Department of State translation team proved very interesting and to the point, especially for attendees who might be contemplating a job in the State Department. Top hot topics: democracy, human rights and labor! Attendees were introduced to technical jargon and given material to help them face the challenges of their profession. We were encouraged to study countries and their cultures so we could better understand what makes them unique. Here is a tool that can enable a better grasp of the significance of a situation and help to convey true meaning and to deal efficiently with an assignment, which might otherwise be foreign to us.

Two sessions were offered this year for preparing for taking the ATA exam. The speakers, Geoffrey Koby and Jonathan Mendoza, invited questions and clarified certification policies and procedures. Tips on how to prepare for the exam were also given. A thorough language proficiency in the examinee’s language pair is indispensable for success. Unfortunately, we were reminded that fewer than 20% of those who sit for the exam get through the first time. Sessions like these aim at raising that percentage.

Music and Meaning for Interpreters, by Armando Ezquerra Hasbun, was definitely a session that aroused a lot of interest. DVTA will be offering this talk to its members in 2014. The essence of the talk was on training our brain to expand and to refresh our interpreting skills by using a tool that surrounds us everywhere: music. The session aimed at helping us to decode meaning in order to improve our interpreting ability and to expand our semantic range in order to convey target messages and context in both directions more accurately.

As mentioned at the start of this account the huge number of sessions offered and the variety of topics made choosing which one to listen to a difficult task. To help us do this and keep us organized, ATA’s TripBuilder EventMobile App provided a user friendly access to important event information that included schedules, changes, additions and floor plans, to mention a few. Working as a great time saver, it enabled attendees to quickly locate and reach sessions on time. It also expedited connecting with colleagues, which was a big help in building partnerships for professional development. Meeting members with similar interests and sharing their experiences was most gratifying. As in past years, the social aspect of the ATA conference was very well addressed through the inclusion of networking sessions with business owners, project managers and government representatives.

All in all, the conference impressed with the quality of its sessions and the breadth of its scope.

Dinner with Siegfried, by Carlota Dalziel

Siefried_photoA chance meeting on the streets of San Antonio last month led to a delightful dinner at Mia Maria Restaurant, right next door to the Marriot Rivercenter Hotel, where I was staying for the ATA Conference.  My colleagues, Maria Weir and Tony Guerra, and I had spent a couple of hours visiting The Alamo and brushing up on our history.  Night was falling. We were discussing our dinner plans for the evening as we walked back to our hotel when Tony suddenly exclaimed “Did you notice Siegfried? He just walked past us.”  We considered our next move.  By then our 90- year- old friend was almost a block away. He walks fast.

On the spur of the moment I suggested having him join us for dinner. But would he recognize us from the crowd that attended his riveting talks at the conference? As Tony gallantly ran after him I wondered how Siegfried would react to a stranger chasing him on the dark streets and inviting him to join another two strangers for dinner.  As it happened, Tony’s gracious invitation and our friendly smiles won his acceptance and we had a most enjoyable time together.

Over dinner we engaged Siegfried in conversation about his experiences as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, the subject of his sessions at the conference. This year’s ATA Conference gathered 1,500 attendees from the US and abroad.  Tony, Maria and I were already acquainted with Siegfried’s book, Nuremberg and Beyond, The Memoirs of Siegfried Ramler, which was on sale at the conference Exhibit Hall. It had already given us an insight into the author’s unique experience as a young refugee, just fourteen years old, sent by his parents from Vienna to England through a program called Kindertransport. Set up by the British Jewish Refugee Committee and approved by Parliament after a debate in the House of Commons, its purpose was to rescue children under seventeen and bring them to Great Britain from Germany, Austria and the Czech territories.  They were received by foster families, hostels or farms. In Siegfried’s case, two of his uncles were living in London and willing to receive him there. Kindertransport ended when the war broke out in 1939.  Years later, at age 21, Siegfried Ramler’s fluency in English and German made him the perfect choice as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, where he later stayed on as chief of the interpreting branch from 1947 until 1949. Goring, Bormann, Hess and Speer were just a few of the names that came up in the course of our conversation. An interesting quote of Hermann Goring included in Siegfried’s book was his comment on simultaneous interpreting, a mode used for the first time at the Nuremberg Trials: “This system is very efficient, but it will also shorten my life!” Siegfried had a captive audience that evening. The encounter for us turned out to be a bonus of the ATA conference. We exchanged emails and I made plans for another meeting, perhaps in Hawai’i, where a newlywed Siegfried went to live at the conclusion of the trials. It was at Nuremberg where he met his wife, a very attractive young lady working as a court reporter!