Even more surprises from professional associations

ADÜ Nord, Assoziierte Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland

I was extremely pleased to find out that my impressions of the IAPTI Second International Conference virtually coincide with those of Kevin Lossner (“Surprises from the IAPTI 2014 conference in Athens”). The same goes for my understanding of IAPTI, its role and place among professional organizations and, generally, in the language services industry nowadays. In contrast to my friend Kevin, I wouldn't call it a surprise. Today, IAPTI is probably the only global and most vocal representative of hopes and concerns shared by translators and interpreters worldwide – that has been my conviction ever since I became an IAPTI member and long before the Athens conference.

The element of surprise that I had in mind when titling this blog post refers to another organization. “In the past when some friends asked my advice about joining professional organizations, I consistently advised them to focus on the large, established groups such as the ATA, ITI, IoL, SFT, BDÜ, AdÜ Nord, etc.“, wrote Kevin. Whereas my knowledge of the first four in this list is only from hearsay, my experience with the other two is first-hand. In fact, I have been member of BDÜ and ADÜ Nord in Germany for many years. The organization that gave me a surprise, just a few days ago, is ADÜ Nord.

Here are some basic facts for reference, before I start my account.

ADÜ Nord was set up as a spin-off from BDÜ, Germany’s largest association of language professionals, some twenty-plus years ago. The spin-off was caused by internal strife with BDÜ, a David’s fight against Goliath, and resulted in then Goliath’s, that is BDÜ’s, complete withdrawal from Hamburg, the rebellious city-state. The relationship between both associations has been loaded with tension ever since. In particular, BDÜ’s recent plans to re-establish its regional subsidiary in Hamburg were sharply criticized by ADÜ’s board and even branded as “expansionist ambitions” of André Lindemann, BDÜ’s president. At the moment, ADÜ Nord is clearly positioned as a regional association of translators and interpreters in Hamburg and North Germany and has a membership of about 350. The current chairperson, Georgia Mais, was elected at the 2013 general assembly where 41 members (round 10%) were present for the vote. The annual membership fee is €190.

I have been an ADÜ Nord member for more than 10 years, but the story I am writing about started last summer, when I went to a meet-up of fellow translators in downtown Hamburg. There and then, I had a lengthy talk with Georgia Mais, ADÜ’s chairperson.

My growing concern about ADÜ Nord was the organization’s inability to make its presence felt, even on its home ground. If you google up Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland, what the association's name in German actually stands for, the websites that show up in the first search results will be those of Across (!), BDÜ, etc. Respectable municipal and University websites like “hamburg.de” or “uni-hamburg.de” will be followed by rather dodgy, but obviously SEO-savvy translation agencies. It is highly unlikely, though, that you find ADÜ Nord, the association of translators and interpreters based in North Germany, on top of the list of Google searches.

You won't find ADÜ Nord, the association of translators and interpreters based in North Germany, on top of the list of Google searches for translators.

Although ADÜ has an online directory of translators and interpreters on its website (only in German), you won’t easily come across it when looking for a professional translator or interpreter, even if limiting your search to Hamburg. As an individual professional, you have far better chances to be found by prospects if you are listed in an online directory of BDÜ, but ADÜ… To tell the truth, with quite a decent double digit number of new enquiries monthly, I have yet to meet a direct client who ever heard of ADÜ.

Unfortunately, the issue of visibility – resulting in the marketing opportunities lost – never seemed to be a concern for ADÜ. I remember contacting the association’s board about the database project that we were so thrilled about in late 2012 (“Something A-Changin’?”). At that time, there was no response. All my ruminations about ADÜ’s zero visibility were met with sheer incomprehension of why it matters to be found in Google searches!

Another concern that I tried to address when talking with Georgia Mais a year ago was lack of communication channels for ADÜ members. In fact, ADÜ’s zero visibility to external parties went hand in hand with its inability to communicate within the organization and provide an open communication platform or have a presence in social media. Again, the subject of internal communication is usually brushed off with arguments that indicate a failure to understand the significance or, at worst, sheer ignorance of what today’s networks mean, both for the organization and its individual members. In their email dated October 3, the association’s board plainly states: “We cannot understand that ADÜ lacks communication channels”. Well, “you cannot not communicate”, as Paul Watzlawik once said. But it looks like ADÜ’s leading members with their bold “yes, we can” have set out to refute this statement.

Since our first meeting in summer 2013, I had several telephone conversations with Georgia Mais. I had to explain the difference between an online discussion forum and a Yahoo mail list. I felt compelled to press the case of Facebook users who, contrary to Georgia’s belief, were not necessarily a bunch of teenagers gossiping or being nasty about each other. I felt like I had to dispel fears (that I never suspected to exist) and point out benefits (that would seem too obvious for most fellow translators and interpreters who I am personally familiar with). I even sent Ms Mais an email with a link to my blog post with a record of the discussion of CAT tools that took place in one of the popular Facebook groups.

Again, there was no response. In fact, the conversations that I had with Georgia Mais (and several other ADÜ members) made me increasingly feel like an O’Henry-esque character promoting the railroad as a revolutionary means of transportation. “Well, you can board a train in Chicago in the evening and arrive in Cincinnati at 5 a.m. next morning, what d'you say to that?”, argues the preacher of the steam-powered age. The reply leaves no room for further argumentation: “But what the hell are you supposed to do in Cincinnati at 5 a.m.?!” It would have been funny if it were not so sad. I am no preacher nor a motivational speaker. I simply have no answers to such questions. The conversation ends.

An overnight trip might be not a good simile when talking about an organization with a history of twenty-plus years. Nevertheless, ADÜ’s history is also a journey of some kind. Whereas the point of departure still remains a memorable event, the further route becomes fuzzier and slower, the destination unclear. The days when the journey started are bygone, but the move into a new age is never made. More and more travellers get off the train.

There is something charming about the stubborn refusal to move with the times, but this charm is better suited to fiction, not the reality of a globalized industry and the challenges that a professional association has to tackle today. Yet, being stuck in the glorious past of a David’s fight against a Goliath and confining itself to the narrow, provincial and rather irrelevant, scope of a “regional identity” seem to be the two only noticeable core assets of ADÜ. You cannot add zero visibility and the lack of a discussion culture (or opportunities for an open discussion) to the list of benefits to the association’s members nowadays, can you?

Having failed to make my points clear in our first conversation more than a year ago, I promised Georgia Mais – if I make up my mind to resign from ADÜ – to write an article about my experience and reasons for Infoblatt, ADÜ’s bimonthly magazine. And so I did. That is to say, I both resigned and wrote my article explaining the reasons for my resignation. On September 1, I submitted my article to the editorial board of Infoblatt, which, as it turned out, is now headed also by Georgia Mais as editor-in-chief.

Übersetzer in Hamburg, Zeitschrift ADÜ

Well, any editor is free to accept or decline a publication offer. ADÜ’s board didn’t care to inform me of their decision to publish (or not) my article, titled “Why I Resign – Open Letter to ADÜ Nord”, in Infoblatt. Instead, they used it as a PDF attachment to their mass email with the invitation to a “strategy workshop” and the board’s official reply to my “open letter”.

I am not going to fret over the fact that this mass emailing of my article was done without my consent, though this may be quite shocking for any author and journalist, especially in Germany, a country with an obsession about proper handling, use and dissemination of digital data and intellectual property. I probably spend 90 percent of my working time as a German to Russian translator, but when I write a magazine article, I do feel as an author and journalist. Considering the thinning out of meaningful content in Infoblatt, anyone who volunteers deserves to be treated as such, in the very least.

Imagine someone submitting an article for publication in a magazine that the magazine’s editor decides to email to everyone on her email list.
Imagine a magazine editor who refuses to see the difference between a publication in her magazine and mass emailing of the submitted content.

My apologies for my lack of imagination. In my case, that turned out to be a surprise!

But enough of that…

I am seriously convinced that the future our profession lies in effective communication. As translators and interpreters, we don’t merely replace words and idioms of one language with those of another. We help our clients communicate with their audience, get the message across and achieve the desired results. An organization that fails to embrace the value of communication or the organization’s board who openly admit to have “no time” for that (as they did in their reply to my article) cannot lay claim to represent their members, professionals in language communication.

Luckily, ADÜ seems to be an exception among professional organizations that I have first-hand experience with. I started this post with a reference to IAPTI, but BDÜ in Germany, too, made decent headway toward more openness and professionalization. Like Kevin, if asked about professional associations, I would recommend “to focus on the large, established groups”. I just think Kevin’s list needs a bit of an adjustment. And I think this list would become shorter over time.

  1. Beatrice Goutfer’s avatar

    Well, ADÜ-Nord are still trying to make inroads into the organisations of other North-German Translators communities. A colleague organised a two-monthly translator pub night here in the world capital of petty bourgeoisie (Lüneburg, 40 km from Hamburg). The first session of the "Übersetzerstammtisch" saw the appearence of not less than 4 representatives from ADÜ, armed with loads of leaflets and application forms to join their organisation.

    Then we never saw them again. This shows not only how much they care about the "province" outside Hamburg, but how they don't really mind using the platforms offered by other organisations. 

    Also, every two years they send their catalogue called the Green List, "Grüne Liste" to all high-ranking people or organisations (like professors). These catalogues lists the names of their members, the languages offered, as well as their specialty.

    Anyway, thanks for the warning, I was gonna apply for membership, now I am not really sure if I want to join them. If only I knew how many jobs one can get from having one's name in the "Grüne Liste". Maybe YOU know?

    Thanks again for this interesting article.


    1. ValerijTomarenko’s avatar

      Thank you for your feedback, Beatrice.

      As Judith Fazekas, 2. Vorsitzende, wrote only two months ago: “Es gibt so viel zu tun und zu bewirken. Exemplarisch seien die Öffentlichkeitsarbeit und Mitgliederakquise”.

      To acquire new members, you have to offer something more than flyers, forms to be filled and the Green List. The association lacks vision and a sense for differentiation (what makes it different from other language professionals associations, apart from being a negative outlier in terms of PR, transparency, external and internal communication, let alone the lack of any differentiated attitude towards debate topics like commoditization, MT, agencies vs. direct clients, standardization, etc.).

      The Green List is an outdated means of similarly undifferentiated communication that goes back to the time of directories of suppliers (like Wer liefert was in print form, also from days bygone). I certainly don’t think it is effective for promoting members’ services today.

      If you’re going to apply for membership in a professional association, I think you are far better off considering BDÜ or DVÜD.


      1. Tanya Quintieri’s avatar

        Thank you for mentioning us, Valerij! Highly appreciated. 🙂 


      2. Chani Demuijlder’s avatar

        Thank you for this informative article!


      3. Jacqueline Breuer’s avatar

        Hi Valerij, many thanks for the detailed description. Pls. excuse my bad English (it is not my working language) I'm really sad about the standing still/retro-development AdÜ Nord has gone through the past years up today, worsening considerably in particular the past two years. It seems all the freshness and power in the early years after its foundation, belongs to the past. Meanwhile a new generation has taken the "crown" at other associations such as BDÜ which are improving and modernizing at high speed and I feel somewhat the AdÜ Nord decline. Your arguments are true and meet the cosnent of numerous AdÜ members thinking about leaving it.


      4. Sally Loren’s avatar

        I also found the article interesting – and the replies. I understand the frustrations with the ADUE. However, I took part in their Zukunftswerkstatt (strategy workshop) and found them actually very responsive to change. If the regular meet-up in Hanover (BDUE organised) is anything to go by, my experience is (unfortunately) that a lot of translators complain but are rarely willing to give up their free time to do anything voluntarily.

        Equally it's also important to realise that both in the BDUE and ADUE the team primarily operates voluntarily. There's a limit to what you can achieve if you have a full-time job to do. Translators want to pay a low annual fee but expect a huge amount in return. If people feel they have something to offer, then there's always the opportunity to stand for office themselves. But as I said before, it's hard to find anyone who's prepared to do so.

        As to visibility: most of my customers haven't heard of the BDUE either. In contrast to the BDUE I like the fact that ADUE allows you to write something about yourself in the database. I find the BDUE's data base deadly dull with no real way of differentiating between the list of translators. It produces a static list and nothing more. At least 20% of my customers have found me in the ADUE database, so the ADUE is doing something right. And these customers are direct customers too.

        There's a culture of poverty in our profession which makes me feel very sad. I'm sure we'd all welcome positive change. I guess the motto of this story is that you can't please all of the people all of the time…



        1. ValerijTomarenko’s avatar

          Thank you, Sally! Very insightful. As far as I dislike the culture of poverty (and silence) among our colleagues, it’s the culture of sweeping-under-the-rug and a fear of change that get me going in this particular case. I agree on the subject of BDÜ database format. I, too, was very frustrated about BDÜ’s directories (Fachlisten): http://anmerkungen-des-uebersetzers.com/2012/07/06/room-for-improvement/


        2. AURORA HUMARAN’s avatar

          Thank you for your words about IAPTI, Valerij.

          I agree with Sally: it's not easy to find colleagues willing to devote their time to the associations that represent us. However, if only a few push, we will not travel very far. We need a more committed community of professionals.

          I'd like to clarify that all IAPTI officers serve ad honorem.  https://www.iapti.org/authorities/

          Have a great week!





        3. Sabine Lockner-Schadek’s avatar

          Lieber Herr Kollege Tomarenko,
          nur kurz eine Anmerkung zu Ihrem eigentlichen Vorhaben, den Brief im Infoblatt veröffentlichen zu lassen:
          Das Infoblatt ist für jedermann – also auch für potenzielle Kunden – auf der Website des ADÜ Nord abrufbar. Ich sehe in diesen Publikationen auch eine Art Werbeträger für den Verband und somit für uns als Verbandsmitglieder.  Von daher hätte ich pesönlich es nicht gerne gesehen, wenn der Verband, mit dessen Zugehörigkeit man ja – wie Sie auch selbst schreiben – gewissermaßen seine Professionalität unterstreichen kann – in einem offenen Brief von einem ausscheidenden Mitglied so zu sagen als unprofessioneller Verband kritisiert wird.
          Was das Kommunikationsproblem anbelangt, so scheint auch in diesem Fall nicht richtig bzw. ausreichend kommuniziert worden zu sein. Es wäre sicher angezeigt gewesen, Sie vorab zu fragen, ob Sie mit einer Weiterleitung per E-Mail einverstanden sind. Andererseits hätte bei Ihrer Nachfrage ("Und wann?") auch ein kurzes "das möchte ich aber auf keinen Fall" Klarheit bringen können.
          Die weitere Entwicklung des ADÜ Nord beobachte ich auch mit Sorge. Ich bin noch nicht lange Mitglied dieses Verbandes und habe mir für meinen Beitritt offensichtlich nicht gerade den besten Zeitpunkt ausgesucht.
          Beste Grüße und nichts für ungut


          1. ValerijTomarenko’s avatar

            Liebe Frau Lockner-Schadek,

            vielen Dank für Ihre Email.

            Ich fand es nur fair, meinen Artikel zunächst dem Infoblatt vom ADÜ Nord und nicht einem anderen, vom Verband unabhängigen Medium anzubieten. Allerdings bin ich immer für eine offene und (für alle) transparente Kommunikation. Die Frage, ob der Verband, insbesondere in letzter Zeit, professionell oder weniger professionell geführt wird, sei dahin gestellt. Auf jeden Fall unprofessionell finde ich aber, wenn keine Kritik in einer offenen, wie Sie schreiben, „für jedermann… abrufbaren“ Publikation zugelassen wird.

            Mit einem kurzen “das möchte ich aber auf keinen Fall” Klarheit zu bringen, hatte ich keine Zeit. Der Vorstand hat seine E-Mail mit meinem Artikel in der Anlage vorbereitet, ohne mich nach meinem Einverständnis zu fragen und auch ohne mich um die Publikation bzw. Nicht-Publikation des Artikels im Infoblatt zu informieren (auf das Letztere bezog sich auch meine Frage „Und wann“). Zeit für eine ausdrückliche Erklärung wurde mir nicht eingeräumt: die kurze Antwort lautete „Heute oder morgen“. Das erfuhr ich aber erst nachdem der Versand bereits stattfand.

            Viele Grüße



          2. Catherine Stumpp’s avatar

            Valerij, I agree with you. There's still a lot more to do to make the professions of interpreters and translators estimated by those who hopefully (will) choose to engage us and our services.

            I, personally, sense it to be pure sarkasm of the ADÜ Nord board to always blaim "the others" or "the members" that nothing is about to change – or to improve. And always repeating that nobody would sacrifice their free time to support the association is not making it any better. It is just not true. True is that when I tried to show responsibility and applied as a board member of ADÜ Nord in 2013, I experienced a witch hunt beyond description at the yearly assembly. So the resume for me is that you may only show your interest and engagement for ADÜ Nord, if you are a convenient person – well-known to the "founders", manipulable and especially being "against" BDÜ. Which I am – let's face it – definitely not. What happened between BDÜ and ADÜ Nord was long before my membership – it's of no interest for me whatsoever. I tend to think of my own and to talk to people directly. And how could I be against BDÜ? Being a member there myself. All translators and interpreters, be it BDÜ, ADÜ Nord, SFT or other are my colleagues and I am convinced that we can only be better renowned if we cooperate and communicate with and not against each other.

            My interest in intensifying cooperation between those two associations was obviously regarded as highly "blasphemic" and never had I expected my so-called colleagues to attack me personally in the way it actually happened. I felt harassed like never in my life.

            Let's see what's going to happen next. I am willing to take my part. And I am not "against" ADÜ Nord, I rather feel sorry that there is so few realism left there in their board. What a pity, they don't want to see their own decline.


            1. ValerijTomarenko’s avatar

              Thanks, Catherine. The word “sarcasm” is justified, IMO. In their reply to my article, the ADÜ’s board emphasize multiple times that they simply don’t have time for anything (“Die Betreuung der Seiten und Profile in Netzwerken etc. ist zeitintensiv und kann nicht auch noch zusätzlich von den Vorstandsmitgliedern geleistet werden”… “Der Vorstand besteht aus fünf ehrenamtlich arbeitenden Mitgliedern, die nicht jeweils 24 Stunden am Tag für die Vorstandsarbeit zur Verfügung stehen”… “Uns Vorstandsmitgliedern neben unserer eigentlichen beruflichen Tätigkeit [fehlt] schlicht die Zeit”…).

              The question is simple: if you don’t have time, why run for office?

              I find it particularly cynical to write: “Instead of stating that ADÜ Nord, in your opinion, lacks vision and a distinct profile, we would have liked you to ask yourself a question – what can I specifically do for ADÜ Nord, so that it would obtain vision and the desired profile?” The reason I wrote my article is exactly the board’s unwillingness to respond to any proposals and suggestions as resulting from this question.

              Many thanks for your honest opinion!


            2. Natascha Dalügge-Momme’s avatar

              Dear Valerij,

              I also deeply regret the development ADÜ Nord took the last year. I agree with my colleagues, but I am, for the moment, not ready to give it up and will assist at the "Strategiewerkstatt". We'll see…



              Natascha Dalügge-Momme


            3. Leon Hunter’s avatar

              I am unaware of the policies of the associations you are talking about but my two cents on translation associations (or any other organisations) is that there are two fundamental things to look for in the bylaws:

              1. Is there a provision in the bylaws to limit the terms of Board Members and/or the Chairman or Chairwoman of the organisation?

              2. Is there a procurement procedure with a set of rules and – preferably – a handbook or manual to award contracts, services and supplies?

              Before getting seriously involved in the organisation (for instance, being elected to a Board or a committee) I would always look out for those two rules and whether there is a stance or regulation because 9 times out of 10 (-at least in Mediterranean countries-) there is no such rule and 90% of the problems we have in all sorts of organisations, political parties, associations and non-profits of any kind in Spain, Italy, Latin America (not just translators' organisations) arise out of the fact that:

              They are on the boards forever, never resign and don't want to give up power (and – with that – come all the scapegoat theories, mobbing and harassment, making up lies and stories about people, etc., etc.)

              They give stuff to their friends and arguments will arise.

              The most reputable associations will always be the ones that can guarantee renewal of offices and prevent harassment or maligning from happening as a result of Gollum-type characters clinging on to "my precious" and also prevent contracts (paid by everyone) from being awarded to their friends, relatives and family members.

              As I see it, insofar as you don't sort out those basic principles, the situation is always going to be bad however much they seek to place the blame on existing on non-existent "threats".

              It is really very sad that in 2014 we still have to talk about what should otherwise be basic principles of fairness and democracy. Most of the time, however, anyone who intends to be on a board of directors until their dying last breath and give stuff to their friends will tell you that they are heroes, martyrs and saviours and that anyone speaking out against them are "threats" and "evil".


              So before I join any other associations of any description I want to be assured that Board Members get booted out after a certain period of time and they are not there forever, and I further want to be pointed to the copy of the procurement / tendering procedure document on their website.

              The social media and Twitter account is just a gloss of paint and a superficial change and does not really mean anything if the underlying rules are not changing… Dictators and corrupt officials can have Twitter accounts and post nice photos on Facebook too. What we want to see is real democracy, real values and real changes.

              Leon Hunter



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