Séminaire d’Anglais Médical 2016: a review

By Claire Harmer

This March I attended my first Séminaire d’Anglais Médical (SAM) held in the beautiful city of Lyon. It was the 11th time the event had been held, which is organised by the Société Française des Traducteurs (SFT) every two years. The séminaire – which I’ll call a conference for the sake of convenience, but was more of a week-long workshop programme – is aimed at medical translators working from and into French. 49 people attended; the perfect size for a specialised conference: not so big that it was overwhelming but big enough to have lots of different people to talk to.

It took place in the Faculté de Médecine Lyon Est in a self-contained Médiathèque building and most of the sessions were held in a raked lecture theatre within the building. The university was in the 8th arrondissement, so not particularly central, but it was only 15-20 minutes away by tram/metro if you were staying in the centre. With fairly packed days at the conference I didn’t get to explore the city as much as I would have liked, but I’m hoping to go back for a trip later this year.

The days were well-structured, with half-hour coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon (which proved to be good networking opportunities), and a one and a half hour lunch break in the middle. At first I thought the lunch break was unnecessarily long but while I was there I realised you needed that time to disconnect and have a rest! Sitting and listening to lectures for five days straight made me realise that I am out of the habit of sitting and absorbing information for long periods of time like we did at university – so having those breaks was crucial! Even more so, considering that most of the workshops were given in French, so I had to concentrate even harder to absorb and process the information.

The programme was a mix of lectures, terminology sessions and travaux dirigés, all of which I’m going to give a bit more information on below – I hope this gives readers an insight in case anyone is interested in attending SAM 2018!

Lectures

We were fortunate to have a wide variety of speakers present at the conference, from medical translators to doctors, medical researchers and founders of companies within the medical and pharmaceutical sectors.

Below are a few of the highlights from the conference:

  • Amy Whereat’s presentation on writing practices in the field of cosmetic dermatology
  • Dr David Cox’s presentation on the medical epidemiology of breast cancer
  • Sylvie Chabaud’s talk on the statistical aspects of a clinical trial
  • Dr Bernard Croisile’s presentation on Alzheimer’s disease.

Another firm favourite was Pippa Sandford’s presentation on cross-cultural differences and pitfalls in medical translation. I’m hoping to do a blog post on Pippa’s talk at some point soon, as I found it really useful and think other medical translators will too.

Terminology sessions

We had four terminology sessions where medical translator and terminologist Nathalie Renevier went over terms that had come up in the workshops. These were great for exploring tricky terms and their corresponding equivalents in the other language. It also meant we revisited topics spoken about earlier in the day or week, which served as a reminder of what we had learnt.

Travaux dirigés

The source texts for the travaux dirigés were sent out via email in advance for those who had time to read them and on Monday we were split up into groups of five to seven people, each of which was given one source text. We had two sessions on Monday where we had time to work on the text as a group and typed up our final translation to present to the rest of the attendees later in the week. The texts included a study on patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, a fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease for the general public, an article on premenstrual flares in adult women, as well as texts on chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, H5N1 influenza virus and the digestive system.

When the final translations were presented, a supervisor who had done a presentation on the same or a similar topic during the week, gave suggestions and advice to the translation team where needed. To be honest, I think the travaux dirigés were the only part of the conference where I felt I missed out a little by being an English native speaker. Of the 49 attendees only seven were English native speakers, with almost all of the remaining attendees being French native speakers – only to be expected as the course was held in France! This meant that only one out of the seven translations presented was a FR>EN translation (which was presented by our group). It was still useful to see how the English texts had been rendered in French, but obviously I didn’t take as much away from them as I did the FR>EN translation.

Traduel

To end the conference with a bit of fun, Stephen Schwanbeck organised a translation duel, which proved to be very entertaining! Two people volunteered to translate each text (one was FR>EN and the other was EN>FR) in advance and then each translator presented their version, moving in turn and presenting a couple of sentences at a time. The rest of the attendees joined in with suggestions on how to improve the translations, as well as highlighting what they liked about each of them.

Both pieces were satirical, so were quite a departure from the texts we had been working on during the week. They were full of cultural references, plays on words, and tricky phrasing. The English text for translation into French, entitled ‘Doctors say average heart attack victim doesn’t clutch at chest nearly dramatically enough’ can be found here. It’s well worth watching the video as well as reading the article! The French text for translation into English, ‘La téléphonie mobile, nouveau vecteur de la democratisation du cancer’, can be found here.

In addition to the 9am – 5pm programme, the organisers also arranged a pre-conference meet-up on the Sunday evening, a tour of Lyon on the Monday night and a three course meal at a lovely restaurant during the week, all of which were thoroughly enjoyed.

In conclusion, I learnt a great deal about a wide range of medical and pharmaceutical subjects at SAM, met lots of interesting people, learnt about others’ experiences of translating for the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, experiences of working with agencies and direct clients (a conversation that seemed to come up a lot!) and how to cope with various terminological issues that often come up in medical and pharmaceutical translation.

The conference was a huge success and I’ll definitely be going back in 2018, if not before, as I’d like to visit Lyon again! A huge thank you to all the organisers!

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Lyon at night!

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The FR>EN team presenting their translation