American Translators Association Annual Conference 2023 Spotlights Tech, Education

American Translators Association Annual Conference 2023

From October 25-28, 2023, hundreds of attendees gathered in Miami for the 64th Annual Conference held by the American Translators Association (ATA).

The buzzy, collegial atmosphere was buoyed by a full schedule, with up to 10 presentations held simultaneously during session windows each day. Attendance for individual presentations varied by topic, but also by presentation language and knowledge or experience prerequisites (i.e., content appropriate for “all levels” versus beginner, intermediate, or advanced).

As the organization’s name implies, ATA’s main focus is on translators. Acknowledging the overlap between the services and skills, however, the conference did see several interpreting-centered presentations; topics included interpreting in the educational sphere; court interpreting; and, more broadly, efforts to improve public understanding of interpreting as a profession. (One attendee remarked that she has seen a “huge maturation” of advocacy in the profession, particularly with regard to fighting detrimental legislation, such as AB 5 in California.)

Similarly, several sessions centered on bridging the gap between educational or training programs and the current needs — and demands — of the language industry. Representatives from the Association of Language Companies (ALC) discussed the organization’s efforts to prepare students for the workplace, while another speaker pointed to Hispanic-serving institutions as potential pools for promising young translators and interpreters. 

Technology may not be new to the conference schedule, but the specifics evolve constantly, in response to new developments. Beyond the well-known machine translation (MT), several speakers devoted their presentations to artificial intelligence (AI), large language models (LLMs), and ChatGPT. 

Enthusiastic participation in these sessions points to growing interest from language professionals — many of whom operate their own small businesses — which was also mirrored in a lively off-site evening event for the Language Technology Division. 

At the intersection of these trends might be NYU Professor Elizabeth Lowe’s session on “Teaching Translation in the Digital Age.” Lowe shared that her own experience translating experimental Brazilian poetry inspired the creation of her interactive courses. Assignments often include a reflective portion in which students can share their own processes. 

How does Lowe evaluate the quality of the translations, if the students translate from a number of languages into English? While Lowe said she has a sense of how the end product should sound in English, her two best options for checking accuracy are, perhaps a bit ironically, running the piece through a “mechanical translator,” such as DeepL, or consulting a human colleague. 

Beyond the sessions and division events, ATA64 also featured a job fair, where language service providers and other potential employers or clients could meet attendees, as well as a full exhibitor hall, whose booths included a table for Portland, Oregon — the site of ATA’s upcoming conference, ATA65, in 2024.