METM21 Online Chronicles: Holly Hibbert and Aleksandra Chlon

Together in style – from snippet slam to professional support bubble

Most of us join a community of practice as a means to craft-specific ends: expansion of our skills and knowledge base, exposure to new ways of approaching our work, novel solutions to the daily torrent of linguistic knots, collegial expertise in our hour of need, the camaraderie of flocking together. In our mostly casualized workaday lives as freelancers, we often overlook just how central the social aspect of our otherwise solitary craft really is. By thinking together with colleagues through diverse forms of social learning, we accompany one another through shared understandings of linguistic problems and develop collective knowledge about how to solve them. In matters of craft, collegial interdependence is unescapable.

The professional support-bubble model illustrated at METM21 Online by translators Holly Hibbert and Aleksandra Chlon makes our practice of thinking together about matters of craft explicit. Begun in October 2020 (well into the COVID-19 pandemic) as an outgrowth of the METM Revisited FR>EN Language breakout, the microgroup of six FR>EN translators began meeting once a month to conduct 40-minute online snippet slams – live group translations of interesting or tricky sentences. Billed by Holly and Aleksandra as “brainstorming sessions, interactive style guides, and eye-openers to new solutions all rolled up in one”, the monthly slams were followed by a lively WhatsApp group in which members picked each other’s brains daily on thorny linguistic dilemmas involving source comprehension, target-language solutions, stylistic improvements, subject expertise, and other matters of craft. Did équipe à taille humaine translate best as a small, close-knit, approachable, or responsive team? Should it be “women” or “females”? Is évaluation a typo?

Members also exchanged tips on tools of the trade, offering up know-how on everything from transcription tools and obscure Word features to craft-related books and professional development opportunities. And because for freelancers it’s “you against the world”, business matters were also a hot topic. “There’s no IT department to fix your technical issues, no legal department to write your contracts and draft your T&Cs, no human resources department to resolve tensions with your client”. Rates, working hours, subscription fees, referrals, team projects, subcontracting, short-notice rush jobs – no professional challenge was off the table.

What distinguishes Holly and Aleksandra’s professional support-bubble model from other craft-related peer-to-peer microgroups, though, are its built-in practices of care and support. While they sold these aspects in a trop court minute and a half as a “connection beyond our desks” made necessary by the pandemic, I would bill them more unabashedly as unique selling points that foreground important human matters. With a dedicated space in which to ask for help, vent, exchange life hacks, and leverage support from colleagues with similar working lives who can relate to shared challenges, the group reported huge mental health benefits. “Often our WhatsApp group feels like going downstairs to the staff room and chatting with a co-worker over a cup of tea”.

If a shared interest in craft was the initial hook, was mutual care the glue that knit them closely together for the long haul? Surely it was these matters of care, which crept in gradually over time and gained salience as they thought and practiced together, that led to the name “support bubble”. Holly and Aleksandra broadcast live from an in-person support-bubble retreat and the two seemed enviably thick as thieves. Having seen what their model can do, perhaps it’s time we began consciously building the sensibilities of care into our professional development activities. In matters of craft, Holly and Aleksandra show us, care can be a good place to think from.

This METM21 presentation was chronicled by Theresa Truax-Gischler.

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