EVENT REPORT: SWET Zoom Workshops Experiment 2020

By Richard Medhurst

Talking to other translators and wordsmiths at events and workshops inspires new discoveries and ways of thinking about what we do, as well as providing the chance to get to know people in the business. We used to do this in person until the pandemic made real-world meetings impossible, and led us to reconsider online spaces. One benefit of gatherings via Zoom and other such apps is the ease of participation from scattered locations. SWET has had a series of well-attended seminars since April 2020, involving members from across Japan and further afield.

I enjoyed this format, but felt there was room for trying something different. When there are 40 or 50 people online, almost all will naturally fall into the role of audience members (or in some cases a kind of chorus commenting on the action in the chatbox). I wanted to see how an event might work that limited members to allow for an easier flow of back-and-forth discussion among all involved. After floating the idea to get reactions, I decided to try a workshop with eight participants, in which I would act as moderator.

The first workshop took place in October and the second in December of last year. The first text was an extract from a newspaper report on the influenza pandemic of 1918, while the second came from a business book on becoming a better reader. In both cases, I aimed to pick texts that were relatively easy to understand, but not straightforward to translate. Participants received the texts over a week before the workshop, so that they could ideally translate the whole thing, or at least have plenty of time to consider it.

Each workshop was set at 40 minutes, and I did not want them to greatly run over time. Even with short texts (around 500 characters each), this meant a frenetic pace, with only around 5 or 10 minutes spent on each sentence. As moderator, I put the emphasis on having participants share possible translations and approaches during the workshop, with the idea that they could consider the merits of these at length by themselves later.

Indeed, while I had prepared some items of vocabulary as talking points, I did not feel comfortable making snap judgements on some of the other questions that arose. However, I do not necessarily think this is a flaw—perhaps there is a case for sometimes provoking introspection rather than forcing resolution. One aspect I thought was certainly successful was that the small number of participants allowed for more of a feel of getting to know each other a little.

I suggested an email discussion after each of the workshops. The first time it did not get off the ground at all, and while there was more talk the second time, it was a little patchy. This might suggest some fine-tuning of this aspect is required, although it might indicate another advantage of the Zoom format. In our busy lives, there could be some appeal in focusing for just 40 minutes or so with the easy back-and-forth of speaking directly.

I had thought of moderating at least one more workshop, but with a new family member on the way, I have decided to step back from SWET commitments. While I feel this was a fun experiment, it does require a fair amount of organization, in terms of confirming participants and the technical arrangements for the meeting, so it remains to be seen whether it will reappear in some form.