UETF: Stepping Outside the Bubble

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Talk to any translator and you’ll encounter strong—often conflicting—views about the importance and value of events. Most of us agree that it’s vital to step outside our bubble and meet people face to face. Some prefer events organised by translators, for translators—be it local chapter socials or national association conferences. Others argue that non-billable time is better spent going to industry-specific events to hone our subject expertise and meet potential clients. Both are eminently valuable learning and networking opportunities. But what if there were something that covered all bases—a chance to network with colleagues and get key insights from leading figures in our specialist field? As I discovered this summer, such an event does exist.

In early July this year, around 100 translators descended on the Ministry of Finance in Paris for the Université d’été de la traduction financière (UETF, financial translation summer school). The high-level annual event has a long history, having started life as a series of one-day seminars in the 1990s. It is hosted in alternate years by the French and Swiss translators’ associations—SFT and ASTTI. This year’s SFT-run event featured three full days of intensive lectures, presentations and workshops for translators working both ways between French and English.

The conference programme was a who’s who of leading lights from the worlds of finance, economics, business and journalism. The intention was clear from the outset—we were there to listen to prominent, respected, knowledgeable people talk about the issues that matter to them in their work. To hear about the latest trends in finance, economics and corporate communications. To learn from experts who are masters of their trade. And, of course, to meet colleagues old and new, to network, and to sample French gastronomy at its finest (more on that later). So densely packed was the programme that it would be impossible to cover everything in this short report. But I’m going to pick out a few personal highlights from the conference.

On day one, we were treated to a presentation by eminent Financial Times writer Simon Kuper, entitled “Language, writing and cultural competence”. In his enlightening (and at times, controversial) address, he explained what good writing is, and the strategies and techniques we could employ to become better writers. This is a subject that we, as translators, need to focus on more acutely, and is something that the event’s co-organisers—Chris Durban and Dominique Jonkers—stress time and again in their own work. We also heard the first half of a two-part presentation by respected US-based legal translator Tom West: “Translating legal terms in financial documents—friends false and true”. Tom brought his deep subject knowledge to the table, giving the uninitiated among us (myself included) a clear overview of the common errors that non-specialists make when legal terminology crops up in non-legal texts.

The second day was split into two halves. Before lunch, we had a further series of presentations, including an energetic and engaging contribution from Eric Moeller of Copy Dojo, entitled “Fintech—how to write sizzlin’ sales copy”. We then split into separate language tracks for the afternoon, with Dominique Jonkers delivering an English-to-French workshop. On the French-to-English track, we were spoiled for choice—a workshop on translating financial statements with Rosie Wells from Swiss bank Banque Cantonale Vaudoise, or a hands-on copywriting session with Eric Moeller. I opted for the latter and, some technical issues with the in-room equipment aside, I was not disappointed, coming away with practical tips to make my marketing translations sparkle.

Perhaps the most enriching part of the whole event—from a translator’s point of view—came on the final day. The organisers had asked two contributors to give almost exactly the same presentation before and after our mid-morning break. And no, it wasn’t a scheduling error. As it turned out, it was a stroke of genius. First up was Grace Perez-Navarro from OECD, who talked about base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) and how her organisation was working with authorities to stamp out corporate tax avoidance strategies and loopholes. Then came Edouard Marcus from the Ministry of Finance, who covered almost exactly the same ground, only this time in French. As I looked around the room, I could see dozens of colleagues frantically scribbling down terminology. I was no exception, coming away with a three-page glossary of terms straight from the horse’s mouth. The day concluded with a question-and-answer session with Alain Repaux, head of the Ministry of Finance’s translation centre, who explained how his department works and what he and his team expect from their external suppliers.

Of course, no event would be complete without the obligatory conference dinner. And what a treat we had in store on the Thursday night—a short metro ride over to the Musée du Vin for a meal and wine-tasting in the museum’s 15th-century vaulted cellars, just a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. We were treated to a sumptuous three-course meal, an impassioned presentation of the museum and its wines from the master sommelier, and a thoroughly enjoyable tasting quiz. The underground venue also offered some welcome relief from the sweltering summer heat outside. Getting back to our hotels from the dinner proved a little tricky, with much of Paris’ transport network shut down as France faced off against Germany in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament. But a stunning French victory meant that spirits were high on the city’s streets that night.

The event heads back to the picturesque Swiss town of Spiez for 2017. As is tradition, the ASTTI version will feature French, English, German and Italian tracks. It’s an absolute must for anyone who takes their craft seriously—an intensive, fully immersive learning and networking experience. Personally, I came away with renewed enthusiasm, detailed glossaries, valuable insights, a stack of business cards, plenty of new friends and acquaintances—and a new favourite French red. It was my very first UETF event. It definitely won’t be my last.

Written by Martin Hemmings
Martin Hemmings is a freelance French-to-English translator based in Manchester, England. He has a B.A. in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford and an M.A. in Translation Studies from the University of Salford, and is a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). He specialises in international development and corporate/government communications, and also translates marketing materials for clients in the tourism, events and sport industries.

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