What is a translation slam and should you attend one?

March 14, 2018
What is a translation slam and should you attend one?

The poetry slam phenomenon, which began in Chicago in 1984, sees poets go head to head to battle it out with poetry of their own composition. It has done much to bring poetry to life around the world, giving it a modern, urban twist that has engaged young people in a new way. Could translation slams now be about to do the same for the professional translation sector?

What is a translation slam?

The idea of a translation slam has its roots in the poetry slam movement. Two translators battle to see who can produce the best translation under pressure. Translation slams can focus on a range of translation specialisms. One of the most popular is literary translation, with contestants duelling to see who can best embody the author’s original voice. 

Why attend a translation slam?

Attending a translation slam is a fascinating experience for anyone who translates for a living. It’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy translation in a new way, as well as to network with like-minded colleagues. Translation slams also offer the chance to see those at the top of their craft, which can be an extremely inspiring and motivating experience. Just as a keen cyclist might revel in the opportunity to watch part of the Tour de France live, translators can enjoy witnessing their peers apply their craft. 

The subtle differences that different translators can apply to the same paragraph of text can result in a notably different end result. While the essence of the document will be the same, each translator will deliver the voice of the author in their own unique way. Such is the beauty of translation, and this linguistic complexity is at the heart of what makes translation slams so interesting for anyone related to the industry. 

Thinking it through

With any job, it is easy to get bogged down in the daily grind and to lose sight of the bigger picture. This is as true of translation as it is of any other role. Attending a translation slam provides the opportunity to step away from the daily routine and think about the art of translation from another angle. It’s a way of looking at translation through another lens and using the experience as re-inspiration – a way to think about translation rather than just doing it. 

Building bridges

As mentioned above, translation slams are also great networking opportunities. Those attending tend to share a delight in translation as a craft. As such, translation slams provide the perfect forum for meeting with like-minded individuals. What you take away from this is up to you – it can be a purely social occasion, or a chance to make new contacts within the industry as a way to build up potential future business opportunities. 

Finding a local translation slam

A quick Google search should be sufficient to find your nearest upcoming translation slam. These are often cheap to attend, if not free, so can often by far more cost effective than attending a translation conference. Of course, the nature of a translation slam is very different from that of a conference. Both offer an excellent opportunity to engage with translation in a new way and to break away from the humdrum of the daily routine of ongoing translation work. If you’ve not attended a translation slam yet, perhaps it’s about time you did!

Final thoughts

Have you attended a translation slam, or perhaps even taken part in one? We would love to hear what you thought of it and how it helped you to view your craft in a new light. Please leave a comment to let us know about your translation slam experiences. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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