Too Late

BalanceBack in 2002, during a general assembly in Bologna, Gruppo L10N was born as an offshoot of AITI, the Italian association of translators and interpreters, with a mission: to help localization professionals to improve their skills and knowledge, localization service providers to expand and develop their businesses, and localization clients to find efficient and reliable business partners.

In fact, since its inception, Gruppo L10N was drawing attention to a fundamental issue. Despite the many translation programs in undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate courses offered in schools and universities, the shortage in skills and competences due to the chronical lack of interest from other vertical markets and, as a consequence, the total absence of factual training opportunities from both universities and industry players.

To accomplish its mission, Gruppo L10N’s first endeavor was to develop an educational project.

With the hesitant but decisive support of an autonomous, privately owned university, the former LUSPIO (now UNINT) in Rome, in 2003 Gruppo L10N launched its post-graduate course in localization, the first in Italy and in continental Europe.

The teaching was practice-oriented, with most educational activities run by working on a real localization project and all teachers entering the university from industry. The structure was flexible and dynamic, and soon it allowed for research in the field too.

Gruppo L10N was a self-convened no-profit working group of professionals operating for the benefit of industry. However, modern education requires constant investment, while industry players have always been averse to invest in spite of the many and repeated proclamations and their stated interest in training, quality, and so on and so forth.

Hence, in 2008, after two years of agony, Gruppo L10N’s troubled life eventually ended.

The practice-oriented teaching was no news and, although none of Gruppo L10N’s members was a translation scholar, or strictly an academic, most of them knew about PBL, and just before termination, the two remaining L10Ns brought the team’s seven-year experience to the attention of an international academic audience in a conference at the University of Macerata.

The presentation was published a year later in a book, which Patricia Rodríguez-Inés, of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reviewed for JoSTrans. A year later, the same experience appeared also in another book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Gruppo L10N’s experience remained quite ignored, maybe because the L10Ns were no pompous academics.

It did not come as a real surprise that only more than a decade after Gruppo L10N’s experience, seven years after the Macerata conference, and five years after the launch of the European Master’s in Translation, from one of the smithies of EMT, one of the sancta sanctorum of translation studies, PBL found its renaissance in translation.

Well, maybe renaissance is too much a big word, but the OPTIMALE umbrella is certainly a prestigious framework for PBL, also with “contributions from practicing professionals.” At least for the academics involved.

Anyway, the great news will consist in student-run virtual companies applying the EN 15038 quality standard. Yes, the monument to futility, soon to be replaced by the even more useless and antiquated ISO 17100.

An international network of simulated translation agencies is about to see the light, too. The Vertaalacademie Maastricht van Zuyd Hogeschool (Translation Academy of the Maastricht Zuyd University, sorry, no English site available) will host the launch site.

The network’s declared goal is to bridge the gap between education and professional practice. Will a simulated translation agency be enough? The (very bad) feeling is that many simulated translation agencies will spring as mushrooms allowing their promoters to exploit their students and to profit from substandard rates offered to standard customers.

Another question arises too: Who will teach students to run these agencies? Who will introduce students to basic business administration practices? The very same teachers who have not been practicing translation for years, who have not been dealing with actual translation projects, possibly of present-day kind?

Even a cursory glance at the programs of the academic institutions boasting their membership in the European Masters in Translation (EMT) network should be enough to be at least skeptical.

Despite globalization, translation will mostly remain a local matter. Like beer. And translation buyers are like beer buyers. Most of them will keep going for the same insipid kind, with each of them representing the lowest common dominator.

This does not mean that customers are stupid, though. On the contrary, it means that they should be treated respectfully anyway, that an aggressive generalized approach could become insulting and counterproductive, in spite of any boasted/supposed marketing expertise. This could also mean that insisting on all-season, one-fits-all recipes to find direct customers, half-an-hour lectures on developing negotiation skills, and sermons on how to thrive on a low-tech, artful stellar-rate translation business are all hoaxes. At least in 2015 and for a newly graduate from a classic, old-fashioned, typical EMT translation school.

Author: Luigi Muzii

Luigi Muzii