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The Circle celebrated its fortieth anniversary on September 28, 2019 with a gala event held at the beautiful Grand Street Settlement building on Delancey Street.  The President of the Circle, Milena Savova, introduced the meeting with a brief history of the Circle and its founding by translators Eva Berry, Charles Stern and Alex Gross.  She thanked the co-sponsors of the event: The Mencius Society for the Arts, EriksenTranslations Inc., Certified Interpreters United and Craney Interpreting Services.

The audience was then treated to a captivating performance of solo and ensemble music by the Youth Orchestra of the Mencius Society for the Arts. Julie Tay, Executive Director, gave a brief overview of the Society, a not-for-profit 501c3 which serves the Chinese community of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.   The performance, which was entitled “Translating Silk and Bamboo: A New York Heritage in the Making,” was rooted in the traditional music of the city of Shanghai. One of the goals of the Society is to pass on the social and historical context of this music to the second generation of Chinese immigrants from Shanghai now living in NYC.  The term “silk” is a reference to the string instruments in the orchestra while ”bamboo” refers to wind instruments.

Alexia Klein, Secretary of the Circle, then introduced our keynote speaker, Renato Beninatto. A former executive in some of the leading companies in the industry, he is the CEO of Nimdzi Insights, a think tank and consulting company. He is also the author of the book “Selling in America” and co-author of “The General Theory of the Translation Company.” Renato is also the co-host of the Globally Speaking podcast.

Renato’s topic at our event was “The Future-Ready Professional.” He discussed how machine translation is already a “done deal” which does not mean that translators should be negative about the future of the profession. There are certain markets in which translation prices have actually increased and where demand is continuing to grow, among which are subtitling, patents, engineering, software and videos. Translation has been growing 7% annually on a worldwide basis.

According to Renato, the most important question for individual translators is how to get themselves “on the map” so that they can be easily found by potential employers. He had three key recommendations:

1. Be Discoverable: build your personal brand and market yourself. This includes having a high quality LinkedIn profile and knowing your SSI score.

2. Networking: use referrals and social media to market your brand.  Renato pointed out the absence of young people in the audience; by not participating in events like this, they are losing valuable potential contacts.

3. Be Relevant: be a lifelong learner; stress your ability to project manage and provide high quality customer service to your clients as a way to build repeat business.      

Following Renato’s dynamic presentation, we enjoyed a panel discussion by long-time members of the Circle Laurie Treuhaft, Marguerite (Meg) Shore, Eileen Brockbank, Vigdis Eriksen, Elizabeth Scott Andrews, and Leonard Morin. Current Circle President Milena Savova was moderator.

Several of the panelists were former board members. Liz, a retired United Nations editor, was the panel’s longest-standing Circle member, having joined in the early 1980s.  Laurie, a retired United Nations translator, became a member in 1982, served as newsletter editor in 1983 and 1984, and was President during the 1985-1986 term.  Vigdis, founder and CEO of Eriksen Translations Inc., joined in 1984 and served as Treasurer for two years in the mid-90s. In 1994, she worked with a friend to develop the Circle’s logo, which is still used today. Eriksen has been a corporate member since its establishment in 1986. Meg, a freelance translator of art catalogs and publications, joined in 1993 and served as both Program Director and President. Eileen, a freelance translator specializing in finance and law, joined the Circle in1995 and was secretary for two years in 1997 and 1998. Leonard, a court interpreter, joined in the 1990s, rejoined in 2004 and was President for three years beginning in 2012.      

Laurie described the conviviality of the Circle’s early days, when monthly meetings were held in restaurants offering various ethnic cuisines around NYC. After several years of Circle members “eating their way through New York”, monthly meetings started to be organized around presentations by prominent speakers in the field. During Laurie’s term as President, “glamorous” guest speakers like “Queen of Subtitlers” Helen Eisenman and NY Times literary critic Herbert Mitgang, who often wrote about translated works, were balanced by speakers on industry and practical issues and the Circle’s efforts to build relationships with the business community, including by joining the NY Chamber of Commerce. However, the Circle’s restaurant meetings continued to play an important social role in the lives of the members. Laurie mentioned in particular a wonderful Christmas party in 1986 and a Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. In 1985 an important milestone was reached when the Circle became a permanent chapter of the ATA.

In the pre-internet, pre-computer era of the Circle’s infancy, the newsletter was strictly paper-based; it was typewritten, photocopied and mailed to the Circle members, which to today’s ears certainly sounds like a time-consuming labor of love.  Laurie was kind enough to bring copies of some early newsletters with her for the perusal of the attendees. Eileen also mentioned that in earlier years the Circle published a hard copy membership directory once a year, another time-consuming project. She held up a directory which had been designed under her watch after much discussion over the Circle logo and how many language pairs could be attributed to each member.

The name of our newsletter, The Gotham Translator, was the brainchild of member Leon Jacolev, responding to a 1986 call for suggestions.  He was inspired by the nickname “Gotham” that Washington Irving had bestowed upon the city of New York in the 1807 edition of his periodical Salmagundi. Other “star” members of the Circle’s early days who were fondly remembered during the discussion were Circle founder Eva Berry, Charles Stern, Bill Bertsche, Joanne Engelbert, Susana Greiss, Henry Fischbach – (Liz told a charming story about his insistence on replacing “in light of” by the more British “in the light of” in a job she did for him), Bernie Bierman, Tom Snow and Alex Gross. We were fortunate enough to have Alex Gross in the audience for the anniversary celebration.

Over and over, panelists talked about the Circle’s importance to their lives and careers.  Liz was grateful to be with fellow translators at a time when translation companies filled only one page of the NYC telephone book.  Laurie recalled the closeness of Circle members, who knew each other’s special strengths and talents (a real boon for meeting planning) and felt like family.  Vigdis said she might not have made it had it not been for the Circle and the American Translators Association (ATA).  Vigdis had come to NYC in the ‘70s from Norway and launched her career as a translator on an IBM Selectric typewriter she purchased on layaway. 

Meg said that when she joined the Circle, she realized for the first time that she was part of a community.  She later withdrew from that community when the Circle and the ATA failed to speak out against the imprisonment of Mohamed Yousry, translator and interpreter for the attorney of convicted terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.  She rejoined after deciding that it was better to stay in and fight.  A meeting she had organized around that issue had drawn record attendance.

Eileen said that upon joining the Circle, she saw that her fellow members were not so much competitors as friends who referred extra work to each other and bonded over language-based issues. Leonard became President at a moment when the  Circle was struggling with communication problems, declining membership and low meeting attendance.  By improving the Circle’s communication strategy and website, and pitching its economic relevance, he brought it back to life.

The panelists then opined on how the Circle could stay relevant in today’s translation environment and offered some parting words of wisdom to newer translators. Laurie said she hoped the very human need to be with peers at meetings could prevail over the convenience of doing everything at home online. Her advice to the younger generation:  in embracing new technology, it is important not to lose sight of the love of languages and thirst for knowledge that are at the core of translation and drew them to the profession in the first place.  Leonard mentioned the possibility of the creation of a union for translators and the need to continue to educate the public on the work we do. He cautioned that it took time to master translation and interpretation skills, and that those starting out in the profession would need to be in it for the long haul.

Meg pointed out that the translation world has now evolved significantly beyond its original core of European languages to include many other languages such as Arabic and Swahili. Vigdis emphasized the importance of adapting to change and the need to be open to technology.  Eriksen Translations Inc. had had a decade-long partnership with Skype, and had recently changed with the changing times yet again by deciding to specialize in the arts.  Liz emphasized the importance of extensive reading in order to maintain good writing skills – something  for which artificial intelligence could probably never be relied upon.

The panel discussion was followed by a wonderful buffet of Chinese specialties which was certainly a gala ending to this anniversary celebration.

Our Panelists

Renato Beninatto

Mencius Society Youth Orchestra


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