When Work and Pleasure Coincide, and Brussels Happens to You

When work and pleasure (a.k.a. a fabulous learning and networking opportunity) coincide, and Brussels happens to you, it can, truly, feel like a dream come true, on so many levels.

And it makes it all the harder to leave once it is all over, the dream comes to its end, and it is time to wake up again.

Saying good-bye to any city after a good visit is never that easy, and it is even harder if it’s a city as dear to your heart as Brussels, and if this particular visit has been so good, and magical even, in so many ways. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in, quite literally, years, and hug them after what has felt like an eternity… I got to put a face to many new names as well, and make many new connections, and somehow, despite a very busy agenda, have a few genuinely meaningful conversations.

Translating Forum Europe is a one-of-a-kind event. And this year it truly exceeded all expectations.

In his opening speech Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Budget and Administration, turned to Umberto Eco and his striking quote, “the language of Europe is translation”. I happen to like this quote.

It’s so much nicer than the usual jokes along the lines of ‘traduttore, traditore’.

Here’s a quote I enjoyed even more:

“Machines can’t speak to the heart. People can. Machines can’t express solidarity. Human beings can. Machines can’t convey feeling. Translators and interpreters can. That is why we need you… professionals who understand tone and emotions, who can speak to the heart.”

And that is also why we all need events like Translating Europe Forum.

Events that not only bring us content, but also help bring us together.

Speaking to the heart, working together, supporting one another in crisis situations and peaceful times alike seemed to emerge as the unofficial motto of the conference.

That, and the love for this incredible profession we share, that seemed to shine through all presentations and all exchanges.

The overarching topic of the conference this year was “Access for all: Going beyond translating text”, and almost every session seemed to cover it or at least touch upon it in one way or another.

We talked a lot about translating and interpreting in crisis situations, where you and your loved ones are thrown in at the deep end, certainty ceases to exist, and nothing you thought you knew seems to work… and what they mean for us as language professionals, and for us as people.

In her beautifully inspiring keynote address Tetyana Struk talked in great detail about the remarkable resilience that the language industry has shown over the past nine months, with interpreters and translators coming together, organising themselves into groups, working together, helping each other and those around them.

Translation and interpreting work enables solidarity, and, as Tetyana so eloquently put it, it also fosters solidarity between translators and language professionals in general,

“Being a part of this language industry helps you survive, get help, and help others. You are a community, united by a profession.”

And a beautiful profession at that, and one I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to be a part of.

There was an entire session on translation and technology in crisis situations, and I cannot imagine a better panel than that that brought together Stella Hodkin, Lucio Bagnulo, Sharon ‘Brien and Federico Federici.

They all stressed the vital importance of both cultural competency and listening, and being able “to pick up on concerns that are sometimes not even voiced”, and they spoke of translation as “a way to allow the most vulnerable to communicate and to avoid being exploited”.

We talked about how the once seemingly-set-in-stone notions like that of translation quality were changing, evolving to include other concepts, and how new technology and new solutions were emerging and materializing at an ever-higher pace:

“When we think about speech synthesis, we think about C-3PO, but we should be thinking about Val Kilmer in the latest Top Gun.”

You don’t have to be a pioneer, and no one should ever force you to be one against your will, especially if you’re a freelancer, but it might be worth your while to see what’s out there, and what might be applicable to you in your own work. You might be surprised.

And you need to remember to enjoy what it is you’re doing.

“Creativity without motivation is not possible”, was another motto that resonated time and time again throughout the conference, as good as any a note to sign off for the weekend.

We talked about the past, we tried to deal with the present, and we did our best to look to the future. And this conference, and the wonderful set up that brought together some 400 people in Brussels, and more than double that number online, with participants hailing from more than 100 countries, was the perfect place for it, and the best platform imaginable for good and honest exchanges.

A beautiful, deeply moving and profoundly inspiring event, with many moments to cherish.

And, the icing on the cake, we got to see Christmas decorations being put up, and the city transformed. A new holiday vision, new hope, and a great many new ideas.

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