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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (May 2006)

Building a Translation Community: A Practical Step-by-Step Approach

Sarah Yarkoni

Over the past three years, the Israel Translators Association (ITA) has grown from a sleepy organization of 90 members to almost 500 members at the end of 2005. How did it get there? Through very practical and universal strategies, the organization has instilled a sense of community and professional pride. The steps taken to get the ITA where it is today are applicable to any organization looking to enhance its appeal and membership base.

Although the ITA has been in existence for over 25 years, it was somehow never able to gain and sustain any real momentum. The executive committee, elected in 2003, was committed to taking the battle-weary and scarred organization to a new place. To do this, we strove to avoid conflict and give people an organization they could feel good about. We made a strategic decision to work quietly on long-term projects while providing many other beneficial activities to members.

We instituted monthly lecture evenings, held at a small hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv (the center of the country). These evenings always include two featured speakers and a dinner, giving people a chance to meet, network, and socialize, not to mention going away having learned something. The subjects of the lectures vary from the very practical to theoretical-from business management issues and selected aspects of translation to linguistics and translation theory. As a result of the positive energy generated from these meetings, members began telling their friends about the events, and many participants have joined the ITA after attending. The most recent meeting was a "sellout," with more than 100 people attending (over 20% of our membership!) and a long waiting list.

The next strategic step we took was to make as much noise as possible regarding our growing organization. Using true guerilla marketing techniques, we started to spread the word about the ITA and establish a presence. Members of the executive committee made sure to take an active part on all the translation forums and discussion groups in the country, posting information about the ITA on all of them. Members began forwarding notices to other lists. As people asked to be kept informed, we began compiling a mailing list of nonmembers. We sent e-mail notices to members, past members, and the people on our "unofficial" mailing list. Our direct mail campaigns also proved to be highly effective: past members began renewing and others started joining in large numbers. We began to hear people talk about how active and vibrant the organization had become and the value members were getting for their money.

As part of the same effort, we proactively sought cooperation with other organizations. One of the best examples of this is the relationship we have developed with the Israeli chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC, www.stcisrael.org.il). Announcements of our events are posted to their discussion list, and we post information on their events to ours. What's more, each organization offers members of the other discounts on all events.

When Beit Berl College, which has a well-established translation department, wanted to offer translation-related extension courses through its Unit for External Studies but was unable to reach a critical mass on its own, the staff contacted the ITA. They were somewhat skeptical about the ITA's ability to deliver the goods. Recognizing that cooperation with Beit Berl College could enhance our professional development efforts, we conducted a survey designed specifically to gather information about the professional and educational background of our members as well as what types of enrichment programs most interest them. The response rate to the survey was staggering-close to 35%. Management of the college sat up and took notice when they realized the potential that working with the ITA could have for them. The enrichment program was launched in

January 2005 with an eight-week session on literary translation. The course was divided into Hebrew-to-English and English-to-Hebrew tracks. It proved so successful that a follow-up course has just gotten underway.

For those interested in less highbrow matters, a course on localization began in April and will run through June. Designed as an overview, the goal of the course is to provide a fundamental explanation of the concepts involved in localization, the necessary skills and tools, as well as a complete methodology of the management process. Additional enrichment courses are in the works. All participants receive joint ITA-Beit Berl College certificates, which are signed by representatives of both.

The translation departments at Beit Berl College and Bar-Ilan University have been extremely supportive of the "revamped" ITA, posting notices of all events on department bulletin boards and encouraging students to attend. The result: many more young people, for whom translation is their first career choice, have started joining and becoming active in the organization. To facilitate their participation, we offer special student rates on membership and admission to most events.

Taking guerilla marketing a step further, members of the executive committee have maximized the ITA's shoestring public relations budget by leveraging all speaking opportunities that come our way to publicize the association. Committee members have lectured at STC meetings and the STC annual conference, at a meeting of the Hebrew Writers Association, and at the Congress of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs/International Federation of Translators (FIT, www.fit-ift.org). Members have also appeared as guest lectures at Bar-Ilan University and Beit Berl College, where four of the nine members of the executive committee have either taught or are currently teaching.

We also reintroduced the ITA journal Targima , which had been on hiatus for several years. (Targima is derived from the Greek tragema, meaning all good things, such as sweet foods, desserts, and special fruits. It also sounds very much like the Hebrew word targum-translation.) Targima was given an up-to-date sleek design and issued as an e-journal in PDF format that can be downloaded from our website. We actively solicit submissions on relevant issues from people in Israel and outside the country. This gives us a unique opportunity to introduce prospective writers to the ITA and its activities. As a result, we have started receiving inquiries from people who want us to publish their material.

Without a doubt, the biggest morale booster of them all is the annual ITA conference. While there had been a successful conference in 2002, those of us on the executive committee were unsure if we would be able to build on its success in 2004-our first year in office. We took an extremely conservative and cautious approach, thinking that we would be more than satisfied if 100 people attended. You can imagine our elation when registrations exceeded 200. In 2005, we upgraded the conference again by adding an additional parallel session, more speakers, and more workshops. We made it a point to have almost none of the same speakers, ensuring that repeat attendees would have a completely new experience. Over 300 people attended the 2005 conference.

At this year's conference (held in February), we decided the time was right to raise the bar again and go international. We sent notices of the event to numerous translation associations around the world, many of whom published the information. As

a result, we not only exceeded 350 conference participants, we had speakers and participants from countries as diverse as the U.S. (ATA President Marian S. Greenfield was the keynote speaker and ATA President-Elect Jiri Stejskal also spoke), Canada, the U.K., Japan, Croatia, France, Peru, and even Ethiopia!

Three action-packed days in a single venue has generated incredible esprit de corps. Members take great pride in belonging to an organization that puts on a "real" conference, not to mention having the opportunity to get away from their computers, meet up with old friends, and make new acquaintances.

As the organization has grown, something very interesting has been happening. Members have begun to feel part of a community, and more and more of them are adding the ITA logo or indicating that they are members in the signature lines of their e-mails.

Many have begun to work on large projects together and to refer assignments they cannot take on to others via the association's online discussion list. Perhaps most importantly in a solitary profession such as translation, members no longer feel alone. They consult each other, share knowledge, and provide assistance. When they face a problem, they know where to look for help.

While the ITA has come a very long way over the past three years, there is still much more to be done. We believe that the organization is strong enough now to take on more controversial issues, such as certification, without exploding. Beyond all else, we hope that three years of stability, harmony, growth, and activity will inspire people to step up to bat and proactively face the challenges ahead.

Sarah Yarkoni, chair of the Israel Translators Association, has been involved in translation since 1988. She translates from Hebrew and German into English, specializing in high-tech, marketing, and business materials. She has a B.A. in German literature from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is a graduate of the translation and interpreting program at Bar-Ilan University, and is currently working toward an M.A. in translation theory. Contact: sarahy@netvision.net.il.