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Journey to America: Movie life and the future of translations

November 10, 2023

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You will never forget your first trip to America. From the moment you step onto the plane until you land, your heart beats faster and faster and you can’t wait to see the famous skyscrapers of the city you’re landing in through the window. In New York, most flights from Europe land at J.F. Kennedy Airport. And the view before landing? It simply, literally, takes your breath away.

People travel to the US mostly to live like the characters in their favorite movies or TV shows, even if it’s just for a few days. You go there to feel like the main characters in your top films or TV series. Walking the streets of New York, Los Angeles, or other American cities, you can hardly believe that you are there, living your Hollywood story alongside millions of other people.

In October, our colleague Mirela traveled to America to discover the country’s most important cities and attractions. She visited New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and a few other cities and landmarks she had dreamed of her whole life. In addition to her recreational trip, Mirela also agreed to participate in two translation conferences, much to our delight.

Translations in Silicon Valley

The first conference she attended was LocWorld50, the most important event dedicated to localization in the entire industry. The event took place in San Jose, a city in California that hosts the famous Silicon Valley, where Apple, Google, Facebook, Instagram, and many other inventions that shape our daily lives originated. Whether we like it or not, that is!

“What I noticed from the start is that there are no barriers; people there are not closed off, so to speak. Everyone expresses themselves and speaks freely, with a huge emphasis on communication, a theme I experienced at both events. Even though those people represented companies like Apple or Meta, as well as smaller ones, everyone spoke to everyone, and the relationships you can build face-to-face, thanks to everyone’s openness, are truly invaluable. They were friendly, straightforward, open, and surprisingly knowledgeable about Romania, Europe, the state of translations in our country, and so on,” Mirela Domuța, Country Manager at our agency, told us.

In every city, contrary to expectations and what she had read online, Mirela encountered the respect Americans have for the rest of the people around them. From the bus driver who was celebrated for his service to older people who were invited to sit down on public transportation without having to ask younger passengers for a seat, Americans proved to be much less “mean” as they are sometimes portrayed in action movies.

Free Communication in Miami

The second conference Mirela attended took place in Miami, Florida, one of the most important and diverse cities in all the United States of America. Her experience? “Tremendous experience!” was our colleague’s reaction. A vibrant city with perfect weather, Miami is much more appealing compared to San Jose, which, although important in the global technology equation, is a more “ordinary” city.

“Although at LocWorld we may have had more memorable and productive discussions, at the ATA conference (acr. American Translators Association), the city was much… cooler! The weather was perfect in October! Miami is a city with a large Spanish-speaking population. From the UBER driver to the receptionist, to the person serving you in a restaurant or at the food truck in front of the business center, Spanish, and only Spanish, is spoken in most of the metropolis. This took me by surprise, but you adapt quickly even if you’re not a Spanish speaker, all thanks to the openness of the people,” our colleague told us.

At the ATA conference, the 64th edition of the event, hundreds of people attended, most of them freelancers and representatives from translation companies. Keynotes took the lead, with up to six talks and presentations happening simultaneously in the huge events center. The vibe was the greatest in Miami out of all the places Mirela visited before arriving in the “Magic City.”

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Fear of AI is Embraced Across the Ocean

As expected, there was a lot of talk about artificial intelligence at both events. However, across the big pond from Europe, the speakers had a positive and open attitude toward this new world of computer magic. The issue at hand was approached differently there: How, given our openness to progress so far, can we adapt to this new AI from now on without fearing it?

“The embrace of AI as an aid, as an advantage to be used, not as a threat, was the basis of most discussions at the conferences. The topic was seen in a positive way, with a focus on speeding the process. Even so, half of the translators admitted they had never used ChatGPT. Everyone encourages the idea of using AI, with practical examples. For instance, given a random document, as a translator, you might not understand much from it. But if you run it through ChatGPT and see what it’s about more precisely, even if you do a human translation, you’ll handle the request easier knowing what you’re supposed to do” Mirela explained.

Another topic discussed was related to interpreters for Ukrainian and Russian, for whom the last 600-something days have been the most difficult of their lives. It’s hard not to get emotionally involved when bridging the verbal gap between two countries at war, to remain impartial and honest. The extremely challenging situations some interpreters were put through show just how diverse and complicated the world of translations can become.

Why Americans Can and Others Can’t

“To be honest, Americans seem to be able to do more. At first, I didn’t know where this feeling was coming from. Why are they seen as leaders, or just better than the rest of the world? Then I thought I would have liked to get a master’s degree there, for example, but… why? Then, it hit me: Without barriers and without feeling confined or categorized, you are encouraged to do more, to give everything for your dream. At least that’s how I felt. You are treated equally, and you are given credit for who you are. You can dream for the better, for more, for fulfillment, at least more often and with more support from those around you than it happens in Europe,” Mirela explained.

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Going out one night with members of the Romanian community in Miami, the most important aspect our colleague noticed was the emphasis locals put on relationships and communication among one another. Even though people from all corners of the world live in America, they help each other as if they were part of one family. Regardless of where you come from, you have an equal chance as everyone else does to become what you dream of becoming.

If you do your homework right, the only one who can ever stop you from living your American dream is yourself.