Translation for Conferences

Due to the exercises that inspired this Toolkit, we will call all conference community translation whispering.

Whispering, the community’s version of live translation, can take many forms according to the particular circumstance of a presentation and whether it is the talk that is being whispered to the audience, or it is the questions and comments from the audience that are being whispered to the speaker.

Ideally whispering should be previously agreed and coordinated at the beginning of a session but it can be done spontaneously if attendants wish to live tweet and share notes in a language different to the one used in a presentation.

In any case, we strongly recommend to make any whispering efforts known to maximize its impact. The particular whispering strategy (tools to be used, languages being translated, volunteers) should, preferably, be agreed upon and announced at the beginning of a session or, at least, right before the presentation begins. Again, this will maximize the impact of the exercise and invite further participation.

Hashtags and Links

Two things are the basis for conference translation and multilingual practices to be impactful and take root: you, the volunteers, and clear, previously-agreed channels of communication. In DH and many other fields, Twitter hashtags have been incredibly useful channels of communication. Live tweeting and setting up hasthags are already part of the culture of the field. In this way, part of the work of translating during conferences is also already en sync with widely adopted workflows and practices.

In order to share information and coordinate efforts of on site community translation of talk or session on Twitter, we recommend agreeing on a secondary hashtag used together with the main conference one.

[Main conference hashtag] + [tr] + [session]

[Main conference hashtag] + [ISO codes of the languages being translated] + [session number]

Examples (given a request to translate from French to English at session 314 of the DH2016 Conference):

If translation efforts are taking place outside of twitter, descriptive links will also help interested volunteers keep track of the activities.

Examples (given a request to translate from French to English at session 314 of the DH2016 Conference):

Conference Whispering Tools

An important part of making translation and multilingual practices a community effort is the ready availability of the tools used to support it. With this in mind, the following is a short but versatile set of tools that most DHers might be familiar with, have minimum technical requirements, and are freely and readily available online.

Live Tweeting Whispering. Twitter–an important dissemination, and note-taking tool that’s already being widely used in DH–can easily be repurposed to whisper a presentation’s most important points. In the past, Twitter also served as the channel through which whispering requests and offers were broadcast.

Note Taking Whispering. Several note taking softwares can be used to whisper translated notes during a presentation.

In all cases where translated notes are taken during a talk, we recommend creating short links such as that can be shared at the beginning of the session to interested attendants, as well as with the conference back channel. Ideally, short links can be crafted following a recognizable pattern

Automated Translation. In the cases where papers have been shared in advance, utilizing online translation software is also a good way to prepare ourselves before attending a presentation. Though problematic in many ways, automated translation can help broaden audiences with minimum effort. If you are doing an automated translation of your work and would like to share it, let the session chair know so attendants can be informed.

If you are interested in someone’s work in a language you know, volunteer to help out ironing out the automated translation. If it’s your talk’s translation that needs polishing, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Helping everyone understand your work better

Share in advance. Where and whenever possible, long and short papers in any language should be shared in advance of the conference presentation. Even with little anticipation, this will help attendants whose reading skills of a language are stronger than their listening and speaking ones. Additionally, advance sharing is likely to increase exchanges and comments at the end of a presentation. Resorting to the usual channels of communication many can find out about presentations available in advance.

My talk is being whispered. How can I help?

If you know your talk is being whispered there are several ways in which you can help volunteer whisperers.

Most of these practices will also help those with weaker listening skills follow your talk more easily.

What you can do as part of the audience

Don’t leave the room! We should make every effort to ensure that a particular language choice is not the reason why attendants lose interest in a given presenter’s work. There is surely someone who can help you follow the talk! Speakers may request aid translating questions and comments from the audience and whispering during their talks.

We all understand that being around a language you don’t understand can be unnerving. We see this as an advantage, not a loss. With a little patience we can train ourselves to be patient and open to content we cannot follow immediately, and if all goes well, we learn how to live and work with each other beyond the lingua franca.

The crucial role of a session’s chair

Since all of the practices outlined here require a bit of coordination and especially accommodation, the role of the chair is, more than ever, crucial to ensure that they can be carried out successfully. To that end, chairs should facilitate whispering in any form it might take in a way that is does not hinder the proceedings.

Chairs should encourage attendees to tweet and share notes in various languages at the beginning of their sessions.

When possible, chairs should be fluent in, or at least somewhat familiar with, the languages of the presentations so that they can intervene if necessary. Nonetheless, being a good facilitator is equally crucial.

For conference organizers

Live interpreting is resource expensive and hard to implement for a varied audience like the one seen at Digital Humanities conferences. Nevertheless, on the side of our organizations, this might be a powerful arena to actively foster multilingualism. Acknowledging the fact that not all “costs” of multilingualism should fall on non-English speakers.

One possible way to encourage multilingualism in your conference is by inviting Keynotes Speakers whose first language isn’t English to deliver their addresses in their own language and live interpreting them into English. This will send a powerful message to other conference attendants wishing to present in languages other than English, as well as make them feel comfortable asking for help when having difficulties following a particular presentation.