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Conference Report: 1st Africa International Translation Conference

17 February 2019

Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Nearly 100 professional translators, interpreters, language services providers, freelancers, and students from 19 countries all gathered at the Azure Hotel, in Nairobi on February 8th and 9th for the 1st Africa International Translation Conference

About the conference

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Image courtesy of Don Njwe James

One word – unforgettable


We gathered from virtually every corner of the globe – from the United States to Brazil, from the Ivory Coast to Tanzania, and from the Netherlands to Poland, Slovenia, Romania, the Czech Republic and many more.  We assembled, shook hands, connected, and shared resources and expertise. It was an experience of a lifetime.

A vision that became a reality

Meet Alfred Mtawali

Image courtesy of Don Njwe James

After attending several conferences abroad, Alfred Mtawali felt that something was missing – Africa. As the Chairperson of the East Africa Interpreters and Translators Association (EAITA) and the Kenya chapter head of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI), Alfred has attended several events. In 2014, he was in Athens, in 2015, he visited France, in 2016, he was in Prague, and in 2018, he attended two conferences traveling to both Valencia and Vienna. He sat in on engaging presentations and was part of insightful conversations with people all passionate about advancing the global language services industry – the only problem was Africa’s voice wasn’t part of the conversation.

From 2016 to 2018, IAPTI sent Alfred and his esteemed colleague, Obi Udeariry to several conferences within Africa to speak about the importance of connecting translators to the global stage. The title of the conversation was “Eating the Global Cake in the Translation Profession.”  But this time, Alfred noticed a lack of a global presence in the audience. He knew this had to change. And so, being a man of great vision and determination, Alfred set out to do just that. Perhaps the following Giryama proverb sums up his vision:

Mwanemwane ragonya nyoka

Snakes are killed easily because they operate in isolation

In other words, the more connected we become as a global industry, the stronger and more successful we will all become, collectively. In October of 2018, Alfred and his team began the planning stages for the 1st Africa International Translation Conference. They worked long hours, over many weeks which spanned over 3 months, but they still weren’t sure what the final outcome would be. However, when the doors opened up on the first day, they would have their answer – with just under 100 people in attendance who all arrived from 19 different countries, Alfred and his team knew they were about to embark on a special adventure, and they were right.

The EAITA’s secretary, Salome Nduku, opened up the first day with a heartfelt welcome, followed by Alfred who led us in singing “Jambo Bwana”, a beloved welcoming song from the Nairobian group, “Them Mushrooms” – what a fabulous start.

Meet Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

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Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Our keynote speaker was the one and only, Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Where do I even begin? Not only is “Professor” (as he is affectionately called) a prolific writer and speaker, but he has been the voice of social justice, of language access, and of cultural dignity throughout his life. If you have never heard of this man, I urge you to do some research and discover all that he has endured, but more importantly, how he has risen above.

Professor spoke of a great many life lessons which centered around cultures and languages. He spoke of multilingualism as being the oxygen for cultures and of monolingualism as being their carbon dioxide. He spoke of translators as being creative interpreters because part of their soul is contained in the new work, and he spoke of translation as being the language of languages.

But what struck me most was at the core of all of his life lessons  although Professor believes in multilingual cultures, he stresses the importance that no one language should dominate another; there should not be a hierarchy among languages, as this ultimately suppresses the speakers of the language along with their culture. He asked us to place in our minds and hearts, the notion that every language has its unique musicality, and to find the orchestra and the harmony above the discord. Allow languages to be expressed differently while remaining in harmony and this was music to my ears.

Topics of discussion

Day One

On the opening day, there were engaging topics that ranged from conference interpreting and networking, to technology training and the neuro-linguistic perspective of interpretation. Among a sea of experts, were Tony Rosado, Lilliane Oloo, and Marcelo Neves.

Meet Tony Rosado

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Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Tony Rosado works as a freelance contractor conference interpreter for the United States Department of State. He interprets at conferences and events nationwide and also works as a translation, interpretation, and legal terminology instructor at universities and colleges worldwide. Tony has experience interpreting at the highest level of government and within the private sector.

With decades of professional experience, Tony gave us a glimpse into what it is like to interpret on a high profile stage, and stressed the importance of remaining professional at all times regardless of what subject is being discussed.

Meet Lilliane Oloo

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Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Lilliane Oloo works as a freelance translator and interpreter, as well as an editor, writer, and research assistant. With a Masters of Arts Degree in Conference Interpreting, Lilliane also works as an Adjunct Lecturer of Translation Studies at St. Paul’s University in Limuru.

With a passion for preserving and reviving indigenous languages, Lilliane gave a different perspective on globalization. With the growing need to communicate around the world, English has become the language of choice. And while in essence, this allows the world to effectively communicate, it also suffocates other languages. Some African languages are literally on their deathbed and some, as Lilliane states, are “already buried.” Just how many languages have been lost are unknown, and along with those languages, the cultures too, become lost.

However, Lilliane spoke of a new initiative taking place to revitalize and preserve indigenous languages in Kenya. There are more and more radio stations for instance, communicating in mother tongues. Beginning in phases in 2018, the Kenyan government is implementing a new curriculum which will allow students to be taught in their mother tongue for the first 3 years of their formal education. The translator will become a vital component moving forward and will help to standardize these languages. Lilliane firmly believes that translators will play a key role in revitalizing indigenous languages. What better time for this to begin than in 2019, the Year of Indigenous Languages as declared by the United Nations.

Meet Marcelo Neves

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Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Marcelo is a translator, interpreter, and interpreter-trainer living and working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He has a degree in Journalism and an MA in Language Studies. Marcelo also holds a certificate as a life coach and a personal development trainer which very much complements the presentation that he offered his audience.

Marcelo spoke about the importance of public speaking for interpreters, stressing that the interpreter is the voice of the speaker. He spoke of the importance of body and voice awareness in order for interpreters to improve their delivery. The many tips Marcelo offered were insightful, practical, and easy to implement. Marcelo’s jovial personality and ease on stage made him the perfect person to deliver such a message.

Day Two

The second day began in much the same fashion as the first. We met over coffee, discussed the upcoming sessions, and readied ourselves for another day of interesting topics to cover which sprung forth engaging conversations. Among the panel of presenters were Moses Kilolo, Raul Pascalau, Marek Pawelec, and Ellen Singer.

Meet Moses Kilolo

Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Moses is a writer and editor, and the immediate former Managing Editor of Jalada, a Pan-African writers’ collective.

Jalada started in 2013 with writers in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe wishing to publish literature by African authors. In 2015, Jalada embarked on another initiative known as the Jalada Translation Project. African writers and translators were invited to contribute their literary works in fiction, essays, poetry, and even in the spoken word. The Inaugural Translation issue featured a short story entitled, “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright” (originally written in the Gikuyu language as “Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ”) written by Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Through the Jalada Translation Project, the short story has been translated into 78 languages which makes it the single most translated short story in the history of African writing.

Meet Raul Pascalau

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Image courtesy of Marek Pawelec

Raul is a Romanian Translator and Interpreter, speaking English, French, Italian, and Romanian. Raul has translated and interpreted for NASA, the US Navy, DoE, European Council, national and international police departments, as well as for private and public companies. In addition to his translation and interpreting background, Raul also teaches at two universities at USAMVB Timisoara.

As an Erasmus and Institutional Coordinator, Raul writes and implements E+ projects, and also acts as the IAPTI Head in Romania. With a passion for interpreting and translation, Raul gave a very inspiring presentation on how he helps to connect students around the globe within E+ mobility projects. So just what is the Erasmus Programme? It is a very successful European Union student exchange program and has been around for 30 years. Erasmus+ started in 2014, and combines all the EU’s current plans in the fields of education, training, youth, and sports. Raul spoke about the vital role that interpreters and translators play in the Erasmus program.

Meet Marek Pawelec

Image courtesy of Ewa Pawelec

Marek holds a degree in Molecular Biology and has experience working as a researcher at facilities of medicine and chemistry. Nearly 20 years ago, Marek switched gears and began working as a freelance translator. What first began as translation for literature later became technical translations for medical, biochemical, and chemical texts.

Marek has translated over 30 novels as well as millions of words of medical text. As a highly-skilled and experienced computer-aided translation (CAT) software user and trainer, Marek also works as a certified memoQ trainer. Marek’s presentation focused on an introduction to memoQ. With a room filled with enthusiastic beginners, Marek walked us through the basics, from opening and closing files, translating and validating segments, using text within glossaries, and browsing memories, to formatting tags, exporting, and working with more than one file. The presentation allowed even the newest of users to feel at ease with this technology

Meet Ellen Singer

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Image courtesy of Don Njwe James

For more than twenty years, Ellen has worked at AzTech Solutions as a technical translator. Specializing in technical translation, Ellen is also well versed in CAT tools, having worked with this technology since the 1990s. Ellen is an enthusiastic and dynamic speaker who interacts on a personal level with her audience. Over the years, she has spoken at many translation conferences offering her expertise, advice, and collaboration.

For day two’s presentation, Ellen spoke about ethics and integrity in the world of translation. She set up hypothetical scenarios that could pose a serious challenge for translators and asked us to work through what choices we would make. We then discussed various outcomes to arrive at the best solutions. Her presentation was thought-provoking, challenging, and eye-opening, as we examined exactly how we would handle potentially uncomfortable situations with clients.

The closing turned into a celebration

And just as Alfred opened with Jambo Bwana, he closed with this beautiful song, but he went one step further – not only did he, in his own unique and charismatic way, encourage the crowd to sing with him, but he somehow managed to get us all up on our feet and form a conga-line as we moved in a single file around the room, laughing, singing, and dancing.

This was more than a typical conference that challenges the brain. This conference was about the “whole” person – body, mind, and soul. Yes, of course it was about challenging us to think about our given professions and how we can continue to strengthen them and ensure they are treated with the respect they deserve. But it was also about bonding with one another. Students bonded with experienced professionals, translators bonded with interpreters, and organizers bonded with all attendees. In speaking with several colleagues during and after the conference, I knew I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. The entire experience left us in complete awe. We all found a connection to one another. We all left a little different, and a little more humble than when we had arrived. I guess the Giryama saying struck a chord we snakes are learning to bond after all.

See you at the Second Africa International Translation Conference! Stay tuned to Nimdzi as we announce the exciting details for 2020!

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