METM22 Chronicles: Louise Normandière and Séverine Watson

The French to English Snippet Slam: a fast and fun way to up your game

Of all the panels, presentations and workshops on offer at translation conferences, it is often the hands-on sessions that generate the greatest buzz. If the noise levels at Louise Normandière and Séverine Watson’s contribution to METM22 in Donostia were anything to go by, their French to English Snippet Slam was no exception. As useful as talks on work-life balance, growing your business and the latest linguistic research can be, there’s nothing quite like getting down to the nitty gritty of translation with fellow professionals.

After a brief introduction to this “informal session designed to be accessible to all”, Louise and Séverine put up the first snippet and gave us five minutes, working individually, to jot down thoughts, ideas and – the muse permitting – a finished translation. Then came another five minutes comparing drafts in small groups and stitching together a “best effort”. We did this three times before our hosts wrapped up the activity, asking each group to read out a final translation. Impressive and enlightening, the results provided confirmation, if any were needed, that two (or more) heads are better than one!

I was particularly taken with the inventiveness inspired by a short excerpt from an article on French linen production. An endless stream of images and metaphors worthy of any marketing copywriter flew from the assembled pens as the sector “raised its standard”, “battle colours flying” and prepared to “return to the fray”, confident that despite its previous “faded presence”, “washed-out for several decades”, the future looked “rosy for the French linen industry”.

METM22 also offered three other hands-on sessions this year: one from Italian to English, one from Spanish to English, and one for English-language editors. Some followed the “snippet” format, others used longer passages provided in advance. All shared similar aims and offered comparable benefits. They were designed to create a supportive, entertaining setting; to boost confidence; to lure us out of our solitary translator and editor roles and into the collaborative process; to share knowledge and experience; and to foster networking. It was telling, I thought, that they all avoided the competitive “slam” format, preferring to encourage teamwork.

The benefits were crystal clear. Aided by Louise and Séverine’s contagious enthusiasm, the feel of the session was comfortable and confidence-building. We worked with translators we had not previously met, from different countries and with different subject specialisations. We shared within our groups, then more widely in the concluding part of the workshop. The insight into how other translators work was particularly interesting for me: some syntactically led, starting with structure and transforming verbs into nouns, others semantically driven, latching onto an image or item of vocabulary and running with it. And unlike most of our everyday work, the snippet slam was more about process than result: a change I found liberating.

I hope that others found the session as enjoyable as I did. I also hope it gave them pause for thought. Working alone may still be the norm for many translators, but with the array of communication tools at our disposal today perhaps we should be asking ourselves why. Working in partnership with a trusted colleague in the role of editor/proofreader ensures quality control, offers holiday cover and makes us look more professional. Less formal exchanges like the snippet slam group to which Louise and Séverine belong – itself born of a previous off-METM activity – may be less visible but are simpler to organise and equally nourishing. That was surely their message. Were we listening?

This METM22 talk was chronicled by Terri White

Featured photo by METM22 photographer Jone Karres.

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