ATA study program – week 1

By Sarah Symons Glegorio
Translator | Spanish, Portuguese → English

The first live online session of the OSTI ATA certificate study group kicked off with a round of introductions by all the attendees. In addition to the Spanish-English participants, we also welcomed a couple of French-English participants and it seems as though the group may be growing throughout our 25 weeks together. Helen Eby, the OSTI president and study group organizer and moderator, explained that “As an association, we thought we should help colleagues cross the certificate finish line.” Last year study meetings were attempted but they weren’t structured enough so she developed this syllabus to provide just that. Disclaimer: This course is an experiment and is not a guarantee to pass the ATA certification test!

Speaking vs. Writing
As many of the participants currently work as interpreters, we next delved into the differences between oral and written communication. With speaking, there are pauses, gestures, and expressions which lend to the context. In writing, the reader doesn’t have the luxury of those extra communication cues, nor can they ask questions. Therefore, as writers we must be extremely careful with our words.

Another huge difference between the spoken and written word is that once something is spoken, it is gone with the wind (unless of course it was recorded). However, the written word is permanent. It can be taken out of context and judged as we see in advertisements and other propaganda. Many people have lost their jobs over this type of thing. In conversations, we can say “that was a joke.” In writing, that doesn’t matter. The main idea is we need to realize that there is a huge difference between translating and interpreting.

When we write, we need to ask ourselves “What is not clear to the reader?” The best writers are also good readers, so we need to read voraciously and constantly. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, language books, newspaper articles, or typical documents from your specialty area, just keep reading, in both your source and target languages.

ATA Exam Registration Requirements
Next went over the ATA exam requirements which can be accessed here. In essence, you need to prove you have some sort of background or experience in Translation or Interpreting to be eligible to take the exam, such as a bachelor’s degree and/or proof of work in the field. Another less-used way to be eligible is obtaining proficiency test scores for reading and writing through the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL). According to ATA, only 65 candidates in the past 3 years have used ACTFL as an exam requirement, and only 1 of those people has passed the ATA exam.
requirements for ATA certification exam

ATA’s Tips for Candidates
Following that, we delved into ATA’s Tips for Candidates, available here. As participants in this study group, we need to be very familiar with these tips. They are good practices for any translation as the guidelines are what a client would expect. When translating, unless otherwise specified, write for a universal audience. When translating into English, use standard US English style. A good editing technique for any piece of writing is to read it aloud. This can be one of the best ways to catch errors and the American Copy Editors Society also do that when they correct tests. In the end, your target text should sound like it was originally written in that language. However, we don’t need to bother with measurement conversions on the exam. For clients, you can discuss what they want.

ATA’s Error List
We then moved to the ATA’s Error List located here. These are the different categories that errors are classified in for grading the exam. Some are worse than others. When translating, use the capitalization rules for the target language. For example, capitalize the months in English, but not in Spanish, no matter how it’s written in the source text. A good style guide for punctuation differences is available here:

Error Seriousness Evaluation
ATA has a flowchart to evaluate the severity of errors located here. We will be using both the ATA Error List and the Flow Chart when evaluating our partners’ translations for course assignments.

Sample Passage
After reviewing the ATA exam information, we all translated the following sample passage from one of the ATA Certification practice exams into Spanish:
Since Bernie Madoff’s name became synonymous with investment fraud, the press has reported on hundreds of illegal investment scams. And because story after story has documented how easy it is to rip off investors, there’s a good chance that all those reports will spawn thousands of new and improved scams.
A group discussion ensued and we discussed two points regarding this passage:
1. Would sofisticado be an apt translation for “new and improved” at the end of the last sentence?
2. Would fraude a inversionistas be an acceptable translation for “investment fraud” in the first sentence? Or would it be better to keep it more directly translated as inversiones fraudulentas?

Workflow Expectations
We wrapped up the first session setting the expectation for the workflow with our partners; before the next session on Wednesday, March 23rd, we need to translate sample passage A from Spanish to English and edit our partner’s translation. By day 3 (Saturday, March 19th) or thereabouts, send our first draft to our partner. By day 6, edit our partner’s translation using Track Changes, according to the ATA error list and flowchart and send it back to them. When editing, be sure to make both good and bad comments, i.e., “I learned from you here.” This will then provide for discussion during the session on March 23rd.

Helen will assign the partners, with the intention that each set of partners will have one whose stronger language is English and another whose stronger language is Spanish. This way we can develop a deeper understanding of both languages and help each other understand better. The partners will remain the same for two weeks, so each person will get a chance to review the other’s work both into English and into Spanish. Then the partners will rotate so that hopefully by the time the ATA exam and the OSTI conference occur at the end of September, we will have had a chance to work with almost everyone. Should you have any issues with a partner being unavailable, email the listserv to see about teaming up with someone else.