Does "closed" now mean "open"?


In social media, some groups are closed. In other words, they are not visible to the world at large and you must apply to become a member and access the content; others are open and discussions are visible to anyone. The platforms vary but could be a dedicated website, a Facebook group, Yahoo or Google e-group or a blog.

The closed groups I have belonged to have tended to apply either the Chatham House Rule, in which content can be shared outside the group but cannot be attributed to a particular individual, or the Vegas Rule (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas), where nothing is allowed to leave the group.

In a profession where so many of us are self-employed, I believe it is critical to have a forum where ideas can be exchanged. The past 10 or 15 years have also seen an alarming rise in rogue translation agencies and businesses marketing dubious training to translators. Closed groups can offer a vital means of communicating with colleagues on these subjects. There are publicly accessible directories containing feedback or reviews of agencies but these do not always provide the whole picture. In a closed environment, much more is revealed and for translators who work with agencies their colleagues can prove to be an invaluable source of information.

I once belonged to a professional association’s e-group that I had understood applied the Chatham House Rule. Members varied in experience from a few months to several decades and one of the most common questions to be posted were requests for opinions on particular agencies. One day, a query was posted about an agency with which I had had a poor experience, so I recounted the facts as tactfully and briefly as I could. Alarmingly, within half an hour, I received a voicemail from the agency owner swiftly followed by an e-mail referencing comments I had made about them on “a website”.

I cannot say I was best pleased since I didn’t know how my observations had been reported. I replied explaining that my comments had been made on a closed list and that they were not off-the-cuff but in response to another member’s specific request for feedback on them, as indeed happened in this group several times a week. Nobody came forward to explain why they had felt a need to report back to the agency or name the source of the comments and the moderator’s response was simply that we should not post anything we would not wish to have repeated elsewhere. Since this was not my understanding of the group’s rules on confidentiality I decided to move on, as did a few others.

I had almost forgotten about this incident until a disagreement recently took place in a closed group belonging to another professional association, one that actually has the words “CONFIDENTIAL” plastered in huge letters across the top of the page. Content was leaked along with the names of the individuals involved and when confronted about it, the person in question denied this had happened, yet proceeded to list the only four people she had shared the information with along with what she felt were her legitimate reasons for doing so. Another definite violation on both counts. This was promptly followed a few weeks later by a further hoo-ha about confidentiality being breached in another translators’ closed group, one I don’t belong to but in which a member, feeling it was quite acceptable to quote his colleagues’ venting and cussing (albeit anonymously), curiously made it the subject of a conference presentation!

One has to wonder about the motivation and who would win “Chief Dobber” award in these three instances. It also set me thinking that in this age of social media where many are willing to share their most intimate details in public spaces, the lines between closed and open, public and private, have become awfully blurred. I find it worrying that in a profession where we are often party to a substantial amount of sensitive information, some translators don’t appear to understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential’ – especially in a professional context. Some favour transparency and wonder why any professional forum should be closed, but there’s the rub; we work in an unregulated profession, one in which rules either don’t exist or are ignored and in which vast numbers of unqualified individuals and businesses are selling low-grade services. If anything, greater scrutiny is called for and this cannot realistically take place on an open forum.

The lesson for all of us is that now that many groups have found homes on Facebook – a platform which encourages us to share every aspect of our lives and a philosophy that some translators have chosen to apply to the professional closed groups – we must be prepared to relinquish our own right to privacy and expect our contributions to be shared. As a consequence, I have opted for the more straightforward route and chosen to steer clear of the majority of these groups, in the hope that the professional lists I do frequent will resolutely enforce confidentiality where it is so desperately needed and which is so clearly missing from the social media platforms.

When CPD becomes Compulsory Passive Diversion


Continuing Professional Development or CPD is commonly defined as “the means by which people maintain their knowledge and skills related to their professional lives.” That sounds reasonable enough – you acquire your skills and then make sure they don’t go rusty by regularly brushing up on them.

But what constitutes CPD? For a responsible professional, it would be nigh on impossible to avoid CPD. As a translator, I do a lot more than “maintain” my knowledge; with every job I improve it, often by conducting thorough research or through exchanges with other colleagues or contacts working in areas I have specialised in. Professional translators are a little like doctors or lawyers, most of us can translate any fairly general document, but anything more specialised requires in-depth knowledge, research and/or further training. A translator's understanding of a subject should ideally be commensurate with that of its author. Simultaneously, we must ensure that we do a lot more than simply “maintain” our language skills which generally, by the very nature of our work, are also constantly being improved.

In the past, CPD was something that translators engaged in privately; thanks to generous volunteers, some novices also had the benefit of being on mentoring schemes. For many professions, from the British Medical Council to The Worshipful Company of Farriers, CPD is now a recommendation or requirement. However, some professional associations have revoked the mandatory requirement, viewing it as a box-ticking exercise.

In recent years, the translation profession has seen a dramatic proliferation in courses, talks, books, conferences and webinars – a whole industry has mushroomed around the provision of CPD. There is arguably more freely available information out there than ever before, yet packaged-up and paid-for CPD still keeps coming. As yet, none of the professional associations I belong to stipulates that CPD is obligatory, although one is a little contradictory by stating in its Code of Professional Conduct that I am “required” to undertake CPD, while almost in the same breath (on its website) telling me that it is not mandatory. For years there has been talk of CPD becoming compulsory and some translation associations already award points for “accredited” courses, others stipulate a set number of hours instead. I’m not certain if hours have a direct correlation to points or if there is a more complex yet logical mathematical formula for calculating the intrinsic value of one piece of CPD over another. 

Another professional association I belong to encourages CPD and has an optional scheme whereby members are required to “engage in relevant CPD”, and once a year review what they have learned over the previous 12 months then set their development objectives for the coming year. The system aims to be methodical and measurable – an annual self-appraisal. They do not award points, but does this make the process any less relevant than some of the ‘courses’ on offer? In my opinion, it is when you introduce a system of accreditation and logging of points that questions need to be raised.

To be clear, I am not arguing that CPD is not highly desirable; we have a responsibility to our clients to expand our knowledge and ensure our skills are razor-sharp. I am also confident that many CPD courses are robust and provide immeasurable benefits to those attending them. I like the idea that my doctor or lawyer is attending conferences and is au fait with the latest medical innovations and research or changes in legislation. Equally, as a buyer of translation, I think I’d probably quite like to know that the person doing my medical translation had progressed beyond flash cards and “la plume de ma tante” and knew the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But would I be more comforted to know that this knowledge had been acquired through years of experience or learned by sitting through a one-hour conference talk or webinar delivered by another translator, with no further evaluation that anything had been absorbed? This barrister makes an excellent point about what can happen when a nominal value is ascribed to CPD and it is simply being purchased to satisfy a body’s regulatory requirement.

Aside from trying to evaluate what each CPD unit or course should be worth, is it not also important for the association accrediting the courses to question who is delivering the CPD? In my profession, these courses are still largely delivered by other translators, which can result in the blind leading the blind. Can these individuals point to their peer-reviewed publications to support their position on a particular subject? Is there any academic rigour to what they are delivering? Has their course been accredited by a reputable outside body or academic institution or are any offering courses leading to regulated qualifications? Without this, the whole process risks becoming the target of commercial interests and dragging down professional standards by providing spurious courses delivered by unqualified individuals.

Furthermore, what topics constitute CPD? I can understand that anything which improves my subject knowledge and linguistic skills or that enhances my duty of care to my client has a legitimate case for being considered as CPD. However, why is working regularly and full-time in one’s field exempt from accreditation, whereas business, marketing and even “well-being” courses are currently classified as CPD and earn you points? I presume yoga will be next. I’ve been practising yoga for over 30 years and while I can certainly vouch for its many benefits, I would not expect a client to accept that as hard evidence of my ability to produce a high-quality translation.

Not only have some bodies failed to define what constitutes formal or informal CPD, but CPD requirements for someone entering the profession and aiming to specialise in medical translations will be vastly different to those of a translator with 40 years’ experience in literary translation. You cannot have one-size-fits-all CPD requirements. Moreover, I have not yet seen any CPD offering that focuses exclusively on language aptitude. Judging by some of the terminology queries I see cropping up on translators’ e-groups, I fear that subject knowledge is overtaking language or indeed translation skills as an inherent requirement for a competent translator. If there is one form of CPD that I would consider essential for any translator, it is frequent visits or preferably extended periods of residence in one’s source and target language countries. Curiously, at present neither seem to qualify for any CPD points at all, yet for some associations balancing your inner yin and yang does.

What does the ITI mean by "ITI-Assessed"?


Below is a letter written to my professional association, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), which regrettably they chose not to publish in their magazine "The Bulletin":

What does the ITI mean by "ITI-Assessed"?

In late 2013, I decided to sit the Institute of ITI membership exam in Portuguese to English; little did I know that my decision to state a preference for Brazilian Portuguese would open a can of worms.

Having passed the exam, I was asked to complete a form for my directory listing and was surprised to be told that I could be listed as assessed for Brazilian Portuguese but not for Portuguese. These, I was told, were viewed by the ITI as separate languages not variants, with the same criteria being applied to Belgian French, Austrian German etc. This made no sense to me so I decided to investigate further. After exchanging some e-mails and speaking to a number of colleagues, it transpired that the issue went deeper, to the very core of the ITI’s assessment procedure and its various changes over the years.

I understand that when the Institute was first set up, there was no formal examination procedure in place. The founder members, most of whom had already sat translation exams elsewhere, therefore essentially vouched for one another; one or two had to wait longer to qualify for full membership. New applicants were asked to submit samples of work for assessment and, these having been approved, became an MITI enabling them to offer services as a Qualified Member in any number of languages they wished. Several members have confirmed that there were no rules regarding the number of languages one was able to offer, nor was there any requirement to submit work for assessment or sit an exam for additional languages. It does not appear that there was today’s distinction between “ITI-assessed” and “Not ITI-assessed”.

Moving on a few years to when the directory was set up, I am told that variants began to appear, but members were still free to tick as many languages or variants they wished, despite not having formally been evaluated in them – a system that some might argue amounted to self-assessment. The net result of these organic changes over the years is that we now have a two-tier system, in which members who joined some years ago have multiple directory entries for language combinations in which they have apparently been “ITI-assessed”, while newer members have one, and in some instances only in a variant of a language.

The issue of variants is separate but part of the same problem. The way they are dealt with at present seems illogical. Portuguese, for example, has Portuguese, Portuguese (African), Portuguese (Brazilian) – as an aside, “Portuguese (African)” is a rather odd variant to include at all. I have tried to explain to the ITI office and the Board that in my experience a potential client might not know which variant they were dealing with and, presented with this choice, would probably pick “Portuguese” assuming it to be some generic or “official” version of the language. I suggested simply adding “(Portugal)” to the generic option for clarification but that wasn’t accepted.

Instead, I was offered a free exam in “Portuguese” as a way of rectifying matters. I should add that I have been a translator for over twenty years so the directory is not a vital source of work for me, not enough to warrant putting aside a few days to sit yet another exam. However, a directory listing could be a more important consideration to others and is often the only reason someone will apply to become an MITI. I decided not to take up the offer as I felt it would not resolve issues for other members in the same situation. I believe the status quo is misleading to potential clients who are in all likelihood opting for a translator who appears as “ITI-assessed”, assuming this to be a mark of quality and/or competence, but who may quite possibly be selecting someone who was never assessed in that language combination. It calls into question the value of ITI assessment.

If we are to differentiate between “assessed” and “not assessed” then it has to mean something, otherwise why have an exclusive directory at all? We could list everyone including associates – an idea I would support. Ultimately, the existing system is unfair to newer members who were assessed in a particular combination and currently rank alongside those who were not assessed in that same combination; it is unfair to affiliates and associates who cannot be listed because they haven’t been assessed, and it is unfair to anyone considering applying for membership and paying for an exam that they believe will distinguish them from colleagues who haven’t been assessed.

Various possible solutions have been mooted, including doing away with variants, specifying all variants, doing away with the distinction between ITI-assessed and not assessed and/or requiring members to be listed as assessed only in the language and variant combination(s) they have genuinely been evaluated in. Whatever is finally decided, it is time to look into this and address the issue, ensuring an outcome that is fair, ethical and treats all members equally.

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