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Languages for Tourism Workshop on the Bonnie Banks

by Hary Fuller, 18th November, 2004

In the summer of 2004 a group of translators attended a workshop on tourist-related translation in a highly appropriate setting on the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland.

We were tucked—some thirty linguists and the conference organizers—in the Keep of a newly promoted resort, the Drumkinnon Tower on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland, for a workshop about languages for the tourist industry.

The event was run jointly by two entities from the ITI (Institute of Translation & Interpreting, UK): the Media, Arts & Tourism Network and the Scottish Network.

The program, spread over 4 pages, provided every possible useful detail about the venue, including a map, directions, accommodation information, costs, links to websites and of course, it described the activities offered to the participants. We were invited to stay there over the week-end, at the start of summer.

At first glance, it seemed that the serious part would last only one day whereas Saturday evening and Sunday until early afternoon would be dedicated to an actual tourist trip: a Mexican-style restaurant, a cruise on the Loch, a lunch on a former paddle steamer were certainly appealing incentives to take part in a training session!

Still, I wondered…you know how we translators and affiliates behave.

What can we get out of an initiative which sounds nearly parochial, in a place a bit off the beaten track , with a bunch of people focused, basically, on three languages—German, English and French, in not even a full day of work?

Let’s wait and see…

The path to the meeting room shows no frills-no nonsense: all concrete walls, not even painted, only that room on our floor with a red door. I open it and just behind, I find myself overlooking a small crowd, some devices such as visors, laptops, and on my left, a table covered with badges, brochures and papers. I’m given my badge and a receipt. Tea/coffee and cookies look inviting on the opposite table. Then, after the usual awkward preparation of the slides and material, everybody takes their place in this snail-shaped place—narrower and distorted at one end with a remote ceiling and windows above any human height—no excuse for distraction here.

The 5 panellists are seated along a table, at a diagonal towards the overwhelmingly female audience.


The first speaker speaks on behalf of the main Scottish economic development agency and addresses their primary concerns regarding Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: how to retain tourists for more than 3 days, how to achieve a balance between environmental and social issues, how to define their target customers.

All right…but what has that to do with my profession? (says the absence of questions from the respectfully quiet listeners.)

The next guest comes from the Tourist Board, also from the neighbouring area. It’s marketing time—figures on visitors, areas visited, expenditure—but she also sums up their requirements for their staff: good geographic knowledge prevails over correct grammar.

Er…we swallow that slowly but, at least, now, we’ve heard the term “language” mentioned.

“Why do they use agencies in England instead of us, here in Scotland, for their documentation?”, “I’ve had a hard time trying to speak with someone at the Tourist Board…”, the typical questions raised. The feedback is prompt and immediately jotted down: they have an Approved Agency list as they prefer agencies, but, here we get 2 contacts and the kind of documentation that needs translation (brochures, direct mail, advertisements, Web sites).

Next, we are shown a documentary on a famous historic place—the Rosslyn Chapel—by a representative of a local television production company. We all stumble a little around some architectural details—what’s the point?—on slides which refuse to go ahead smoothly but, at the end, the soft-spoken presenter confesses her difficulties in finding a translator. Her quest had brought her to the University, the Yellow Pages with no luck; besides, they had to meet some specific needs such as a translator on the spot to be able to come into the television studios and to visit the place, etc. The bottom line was financial, though.

Well, of course, we have to be paid, don’t we? (means the flickering expression on some faces in the audience.)

Finally, the owner of a Dutch translation agency buzzes up to the stage.

Here we go! Should be the core of the matter, shouldn’t it? She was even a translator once upon a time. Therefore, she knows what we are hungry for, right?

Indeed, she displays her résumé and describes how the amount of work drew her to the business side to run an agency. Targets are listed:

* hotel and catering industry,
* export companies,
* museums,
* tourist organizations,
* library organizations.

Advantages of an agency for the client/translator are highlighted:

* advertising,
* holiday cover,
* reliable invoicing,
* network,
* buffer.

Moreover, she spells out a key to be considered when marketing your services as a potential translator for hire: a single-page (A4) CV including what you are able to perform and a brief portfolio, plus your price range.

We’re actively scribbling now, asking for more details, whispering some comments to each other, mentally locating our business cards.

But it’s time for lunch…and stretching.

The second session kicks in at 13.45pm and is given by a coordinator of the ITI Media, Arts and Tourism Network. She leads us through the tourism translation work from its material and themes to its pitfalls.

The pace of her development seems somewhat slow. She lists the various types of brochures related to tourism, as they promote:

* a country, a region, a city, a nature reserve,
* a particular event (concert, agricultural fair, sports,…),
* some festivals (music, literary…),
* hotels and others.

But she adds that the supporting documentation can also be:

* Websites,
* tourist guides,
* other publications,
* audio guides, and so on.

She moves then to the identification of the main clients:

* tourist information centres (whether regional, national, tourist boards, or something else),
* organizers of special events (conferences, fairs, festivals…),
* publishers,
* advertising agencies.

While she is indicating the terminology sources available to the translators, some “Duh!” reactions can be perceived amongst us. I even hear an indignant muffled remark “This is supposed to be a hands-on workshop?” whispered by one participant to another one with her head down as if she has given up on her alleged peers.

But you know how we linguists sometimes behave.

The speaker is now giving instances of various mistakes where the translator can slip up: spelling, historical names, titles, (e.g. Louis XIV becomes Louis the Fourteenth in English, remember that Mona Lisa is known as La Joconde in France), updating names of countries, cities…And of course, register and style have to suit the type of document.

A tea break punctuates the end of her presentation, before we break into small groups sorted by language to tackle a sample of tourism documentation. The very first sentence makes all of us fidget: “…the springtime sun kisses away the winter blues”! Er…at home, it will surely be easier to find the appropriate terms…

The last part of the workshop allows two people from the audience to share their own experience in the tourism field. They both have had a fling at being a guide and they tell us about the difficulties of the job: maintaining the attention of their flock, always having to be responsive to the various questions of the various people, finding the right word.

It’s closing time, about 5 p.m. and we are tired and ready to have an oxygen intake. Some of us have come with our husbands and before joining them, we briefly exchange our assessments of the day: “Nothing really new, is it?”, “That one from the translation agency was interesting” and so on.

The next day, I review my notes. Hang on a minute!

We have had first-hand contact with potential clients, who delivered in just 2 hours their precise requirements and the areas where they expect us to play our part.

We have learned (or recalled) the ins and outs of the tourism sector and, implicitly, of the profession. We have had a glance at a broad spectrum of a linguist’s jobs—a tourist site employee, a translator, a travel guide, a language teacher, an interpreter.

All this in less than a day, for exactly 35 GBP with the opportunity to discover Loch Lomond (yes, it’s the one from the song and the golfer’s paradise!) and to enjoy, at our leisure, a choice of entertainments. Besides, this could be the introduction to a series developing the other issues and opportunities of this coveted niche.

Also, of course, the last but not the least benefit of the workshop was…to meet colleagues; which means to improve acquaintance with our own world and, therefore to… see how we behave when we are not alone in our rooms.

© Translation Journal – October 2004


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