Translation Days Cracow 2013 in Tyniec [tihnyets], a non-inclusive report

Opactwo Benedyktynów w Tyńcu          
“It is nice to put a face to a name.” Those who attend today's professional conferences might find this saying useful, when aligning names of their friends on Facebook or LinkedIn with real persons in real life. One of the first persons I met in the courtyard of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the international Cracow Translation Days conference took place (September 6-8, 2013), happened to be Siegfried Armbruster, who I have virtually, that is online, known for ages.

It is equally nice to be able to put a name to a face. In case with Steven Sklar it was not a problem, but a nice surprise. I first met Steven, a French to English financial translator, at the TM Europe conference in Warsaw last year. We agreed that Cracow would be the ideal venue for a next TM Europe conference to be held in Poland and that we certainly would like to visit this city, if the occasion arises. So nice that the wish came true, even if TM Europe 2013, unexpectedly, didn’t pan out.

Steven Sklar

Last year in Warsaw, I realized that translators need to become more visible. Anonymity kills. Putting a name to your translation (please click here if you never read this interview) is the message that Chris Durban, the famous author of “The Prosperous Translator”, never fails to spread.

Chris enjoys a star status not only as one of the top-notch translators but also as a strong opinion leader and a highly respected business consultant in our global community. Needless to say, every event where Chris Durban is present, is destined to become special indeed.

This time Chris started her keynote address with the opposite of “the Prosperous”, that is “the Frugal”. The word “frugal” used as an antonym to “prosperous” may come as a surprise, but the reasoning behind it, as regards certain (quite a few, I am afraid) language professionals, is convincing. Why do so many "frugally" undercharging translators fail to recognize the true value of their work? My own guess is, if there is some rationale behind this self-sabotage, that they think of their work always as of something secondary to the source. The original already produced by the client, a translator can only try to copy and reproduce what is already there.

However, translators' inferiority has certainly to do more with psychology rather than rational thought. Listening to Chris Durban’s description of “literate, but not numerate“ translators, I was asking myself what came first: the specific, negative mindset which “helps“ to choose the career of a (certain type of) translator or the experience of working as a translator that forwards the development of certain traits.

However, Chris doesn’t stop at observing behaviours ("The Seven Deadly Sins") and merely stating facts. She is best known for her practical advice. The next day, Chris Durban presented a great workshop (“Working the Room”) with plenty of tips and tricks for finding and working with premium clients.

Chris Durban

As we all know, those Luddites who still have doubts about the universal applicability of machine translation will have to take a vow of silence as of tomorrow or a few minutes later. The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec agreed to consider what other limited means of communication could be granted to the poor souls. I am not in a position to disclose any details of late night clandestine meetings that took place behind this door and confine myself to stating that the discussion was held in a friendly, constructive atmosphere:

Translation Conference in Poland

Unaware of the ongoing talks, a few participants still preferred to think outloud and even openly speak about MT rather than to preventively engage themselves in monastic works. Others took the middle road. Jerzy Czopik, in particular, demonstrated through hard physical work how the age-old, underground machine translation technology can still be used in the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Granted, the fine English distinction between "translation" and "transmission" might get lost in translation, if an inadequately trained machine would try to process the German "Übersetzung", but Jerzy, a native of Kraków and a professional motive power engineer, must know better, right?

Wieliczka Salt Mine

All jokes aside, language technology and machine translation certainly had a prominent place on the conference agenda. Siegfried “Siggi” Armbruster, whose GxP medical translation company is now busily organising the coming TriKonf conference in Freiburg, told about how he “aligned the Internet” to build up huge TMs and AutoSuggest dictionaries in order to improve productivity. His claim that “machine translation belongs in the hands of professional translators” certainly runs contrary to the general expectations. It is a noble call, though. Those who look to benefit from MT systems are MT system vendors themselves, in the first place. But, as another speaker at the conference, John Moran, mentioned, ask yourself why MT vendors never provide demo versions of their wonder working tools.


John Moran, who I have a tremendous respect for, presented some facts and figures about machine translation and post-editing. Most research of this kind focuses on speed and productivity, taking quality out of the equation. However, one result is worth quoting: “One could intuitively expect that fast translators make fewer changes than slow translators. In our test, however, the post-editor who made the highest number of changes was also the fastest. The graphs indicate no clear correlation between edit distance and throughput” (Productivity Test of Statistical Machine Translation Post-Editing in a Typical Localisation Content, by Mirko Plitt and François Masselot, 2010).

The reason I called this reportnon-inclusive” is not only my skipping other interesting sessions and inspiring, talented speakers – there were so many of them, and the genre of a rather impressionist blog post like this is not the most appropriate medium for a more comprehensive report. The other reason I decided to use "non-inclusive" in the title of this blog post was the Sunday morning session. Sabine Dievenkorn from Chile spoke about “non-excluding” translation and the “Inclusive Bible”.

My decision to attend a talk called “Translating a Religion” was very spontaneous, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting subjects of the Cracow Conference. I never realized the role that translators play in shaping our perception of history, religion and humankind. Since no human translator can work unideologically, machine translation could provide, theoretically, a more objective means for the interpretation of the Bible’s Urtext. However, remembering John Moran’s definition of MT output being only a visualization of matches from a corpora compiled by human translators, I don’t think it would be a good idea.

Sabine Dievenkorn Chile

The Translation Days Cracow 2013 was a very exclusive event at a spectacular and secluded venue, excellently organised by Lisa Rüth, Jerzy Czopik:


Christof Kocher and Ralf Lemster (Ralf Lemster Financial Translations GmbH):

Ralf Lemster and Christof Kocher

THANK YOU all very much for this memorable, truly unique event!

It's a pity I didn't have much time to enjoy Cracow. I realized what I missed when I was leafing the inflight magazine on board the plane back to Germany. I flew RyanAir, the company that used Blue Ocean strategies (mostly reduce/eliminate) to create another Red Ocean market (attendees of Marta Stelmaszak’s workshop “Blue Ocean Strategy – Can Translators Make Competition Irrelevant?” will hopefully know what I mean). I never realized RyanAir had an inflight magazine. It’s rather good. Mine had a very informative and entertaining article about Cracow.

Recapitulating the Cracow conference on board the plane, I was wondering if RyanAir would ever use MT for this stuff (you would think this low-fare company is candidate no. 1 to do so and they certainly know how to cut cost of all things). I don’t think it would happen though, neither for journalism, nor advertising. There is still pretty much content written by humans for humans, where MT simply fails and post-editing is rather a hindrance, not a help. Cracow definitely was not the site of one of the the Last Suppers for these Human Translators, but this astounding image by Stefan Gentz (very smart, Stefan!) gives me a chance to get back to my initial saying about aligning names and faces:

Stefan Gentz - Translators' Last Supper in Cracow

The Last Supper of the Translation Days Cracow 2013, courtesy of Stefan Gentz.


Jessica Schulz, Spanish to German translator, recommendable for simultaneous interpretation of Cracow guided tours and for translation of highly specialised, technical and scientific content in the field of transport and logistics (using the latest language technology, e.g. special CAT tools for mobile phones)


Financial translation, especially in the language combination English and French, seems to be in good hands: Chris Durban, Steven Sklar, and now Jon Olds.


Katarzyna Slobodzian-Taylor aka Kasia aka MasterMindTranslations, English to Polish (via Indonesian), from Glouster, Gloustershire, GB


The lovely Anne Diamantidis is so busy these days with the TriKonf conference in Freiburg. And I grew so accustomed to the fact that she is French, not Greek, that I felt more and more the urge to call her Marianne.



View from the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the Translation Days Cracow 2013 conference took place.

  1. John Moran’s avatar

    It was really wonderful to have some unhurried time to discuss the topics of the day with such consumate professionals from the translation industry. After LocWorld in London it was an oasis of calm!


  2. Shai Nave’s avatar

    Thank you Valerij for a wonderful report and recount of events.
    I truly hope to be able to attemt the next conference(s).

    One reason that I think contributes to the many number of frugaile translators is the lack of any barriers getting into this business. This alone might not be such a big deal, but in reality it means that many people who know or think they now more than one language come into the profession out of a survival necessity or an otherwise unplanned circumstances. As a result many of them don't respect their own work (this is not my first choice for a profession, I was forced into this because this was the easiset option for me to make some money, etc.) and treat it that way. Armed with this mentality, these people usually work with (or for, as they like to call it) agencies, usually the big abusive ones or their minions down the (non-)value chain, and develop and even more skewed view of the translation marketplace.

    I agree that confrences are indeed very important, essential even.


  3. Steven Sklar’s avatar

    What an uplifting, entertaining article! I was already aware of your photographic talents after last year's Warsaw event; now I have discovered your journalistic ones. Thank you Valerij!



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