Oct 5, 2010

7th ProZ.com Conference - Prague 2010

The Czech contribition to world culture is unmistakeable: what would we all do without Semtex and the uplifting contributions of Franz Kafka, who was inspired by the perpetually sunny dispositions of the residents of his home town, Prague? Indeed, my visit to Prague took me back to an earlier, better time, when you could be sure that your товарищ was looking out for you. Or at least watching you.

Another visitor to the Prague conference from Vienna also remarked on the nostalgic impression made by the chosen venue. The last time she had visited Prague was 35 years ago, and she commented that the service had remained at the same level as in the good old days when the land was ruled by the people (albeit the people of another country).

Indeed, outside the Olde Towne, with its tourist-friendly cobblestones, crystal sellers and "special" tobacco shops, it was often made it abundantly clear that we are all created equal in our misery. It was in this zone of reality rather than the fairytale setting of historic Prague that the venue for the 7th ProZ international conference was chosen, and it was rightly so: at an event with the theme of increasing one's prestige and visibility, the hotel staff took care to see that the translators did not forget their place and make off with the flatware or a cup of coffee between breaks. A very useful reminder that we must fight our own battles for recognition, success and caffeinated rewards, and whining on the sidelines probably won't get the káva.

On the first morning of the regular program, a Serbian English professor who professed to know English took her class through a bizarre and ungrammatical exercise in analyzing English texts which somehow would set us on the Golden Path to Prestige. A good number in the audience walked out; probably the same twenty percent that Oleg Rudavin, in his talk at the end of the last day, estimated would have a chance of a prosperous life in the Brave New Global Market.

After my confused retreat from the English lesson, the program improved: presentations by Hynek Palatin (who spoke on tools for added productivity), Sameh Rageb (who gave a fine overview of MultiTerm and Babylon applications) and others gave me good technical bones with lots of meat to chew on. I was a bit disappointed that sponsor SDL failed to take the conference seriously enough to offer more than a timid standard overview from a frightened new cog in the corporate gears, but the rep from Moravia made up for that with a detailed presentation of corporate everything and a lovely tap dance as we shot at his feet for suggesting that his company can produce top quality German to English translations paying the translators half to a third of the going rate that good linguists typically get in that language pair. Although he could not provide a clear answer on why one should go to the Czech Republic for quality FR<>EN, DE<>EN work & the like, he did mention a need for Inuit translators. I suppose he pays them in seal blubber. I wouldn't mind branching out and offering services in that language and doing on-site quality inspections of my service providers' translation offices provided that the social customs I heard about in elementary school have not "progressed".

I'll admit to playing hookey for about half the lecture program, not because the topics didn't interest me, but because the people attending did very much. It was a great pleasure to see old colleagues and acquaintances again and meet new, interesting people from around the world and talk about other stuff. I also suffer a bit from information overload with too many talks and need even more breaks that the generous number provided in the conference schedule.

The logistics of the event worked better than any similar ProZ event I have attended in the past. It seems that ProZ.com made the right decision in hiring a staff member to work full time on organizing conferences, and I was favorably impressed by Anne Diamantis when I chatted with her about the 18 she has done so far. That's a lot of experience in a short time, and what I saw on the whole is moving in the right direction. The teamwork between her and the local organizer, Pavel Janoušek, appeared to be very good. In any case, there were no more causes for complaint than I have experienced at most professional conferences of various kinds in the past 30 years. However, ProZ has a looong way to go before they can live up to the standard of the events for eye surgeons that I used to attend. The sponsors and exhibitors there really knew how to bribe those doctors, and I still have fond memories of all the food and loot. The talks were often worse, however.

My main reason for travelling to Prague beside retracing part of the historic route of others who felt the need to escape from a Germany into the arms of Helmut Kohl was to talk a little about my reasons for using online translation business management tools and how these have help to solve or improve serious problems I faced. I spoke mostly from the perspective of a busy individual or small team, while Ralf Lemster shared his experience as the owner of a small agency with a demanding clientele and the need for careful coordination of complex projects. We also spent a lot of time in breaks and out of sessions providing individual consultation to translators, project managers and agency principles looking to reduce their risks and improve their business processes.

For me, the conference was wrapped up with the talk by Oleg Rudavin at the end. There were closing remarks and ceremonies afterward, but I think Oleg provided a good summary and ended on an appropriately confusing note as he spoke about the future of translation and translators. I was tired – very tired – by the time he spoke, so his clear, strong speaking style and presence kept me awake and interested when I was sure I would melt into a pool of snore in my chair. He talked about changes and trends in the market and gave me a view of the recent economic crisis from an experienced, competent colleague living in very different circumstances. But regardless of whether or not we are affected economically by the global tides, at some point a crisis wave of some kind will wash over most of us, and the reflections on goals and lifestyle he shared at the end should at some point engage all of us. The sooner the better. Often, those most bothered by issues of prestige, recognition and career seem to be those who are least clear about their goals and the steps to reach them. Or who lack the courage to take those steps.


  1. My favorite part of this was the description of the hotel. My husband and I attended a conference in Budapest probably 10 years ago and experienced a similar Ostblock charm. The venue was the Hotel Agro, a concrete monstrosity way outside the center up in the hills above the city. I hope the conference got it cheap, because it was the most surreal trip of my life.

  2. Fantastic, honest, review - as usual. Hilarious, too. We didn't have a chance to go to this one (we are both going to the ATA in a few weeks), but thanks to your description, we feel like we were there!

  3. Great review Kevin: funny, well-written, educational. Goes to show that online content can still be about quality journalism/writing.
    Andy Bell

  4. Great article and elegant style Kevin. I did enjoy your company Kevin and I must say I learnt a lot from your thoughts and ideas.

    On the other hand, I saw a comment done by Mr. Andy Bell! Was that Andy of M2LTD? If so then I am so glad because I have known Andy of M2LTD in the past and we had such a lovely work relationship, so please correct me if I am wrong.


    Here is a link to a lot of photos taken during the conference.

  5. Hi Sameh,
    Thanks for the good words. Like any such event, the conference had its rough moments, but the organization was good, and I see definite positive trends in the way these have developed in the past 5 years or so. But the best part of most conferences is the people who attend, and sometimes I'm really torn between spending time with someone in an impromptu break when I know I probably won't see that person for another year or three and going to a session I would probably enjoy. But I would have had to have been kidnapped to miss your MultiTerm talk - that's a favorite tool of mine for many purposes and you presented the uses for it and Babylon very well! That was one of those sessions Hynek mentioned which are packed full of little productivity tips that can add up in value rather quickly to return the investment on conference fees.

    The Andy Bell in this case is a medical translator for Scandanavian languages who lives in Australia. He's the founder of Watercooler, a social network site I've reviewed here. It has undergone a lot of changes since my review, but my workload and some other matters have kept me from looking in to the current state of things, though I do intend to do so. It was a very different environment with a lot of positive things to offer, though the underlying Ning structure sometimes got in the way.

  6. Hi Kevin, Watercooler since September 13th is a pay site (USD 49,99 per year). Though I fully understand Andy, this is sad. I myself have not subscribed nor made a decision, at least yet. There are about 20 pay sites out there to which I would like to subscribe- but obviously I cannot subscribe to all and have to choose.

    No offence to Andy, but if I were in his shoes (where sure I am not ;)), I would have tried voluntary donations first- because I think that quality site as Watercooler is, with the larger base and smaller sums might had generated even more money. Of course, this is only my assumption:)


    1. Hi Uldis, My shoes probably wouldn't fit - I take a US 16 :) Joking apart, the Ning changes became untenable for me, alongside a general shift away from paid networks. So, I currently run a revised version of Watercooler on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/Watercoolernetwork/. I guess one day Facebook may fold, in which case options like Ning might be valid alternatives, but not for me at the present. I miss a lot of the members though.

  7. Just an explanation to add to my previous message- say, I use tenths of freeware softs ("donations welcome"). Just to mention a few- Cobian Backup, Karen's Directory printer and many more. I would never pay 50 bucks for any of them (not because they are not worth it, but because on the Net there are hundreds of other equal free softwares available). When I'm very satisfied with some such freeware soft, I donate some 10-15 EUR via MB or PayPal and feel it right. Of course, I do not know if I'm the only one acting that way or there are many people like me- I hope the later is the case. Sometimes I receive thanks, sometimes not, but actually all the times the "thanks" are from my end- as I have found that soft useful and good enough to use it and relay on it.

    Of course, I cannot judge how such policies would work on the website, as we (yet) have no anything to go by.


    Uldis Liepkalns


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