Panel – Quality in the interpreter’s profession and training

This is a short summary of a round table discussion held at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Participants in the round table discussion were:

Susanne Altenberg, DG for Interpretation and Conferences, European Parliament
Jesús Baigorri Jalón, Universidad de Salamanca, España
Ann D’haen-Bertier, DG Interpretation (SCIC), European Commission
Ingrid Kurz, Universität Wien, Österreich | Research Committee of AIIC
Heike Lamberger-Felber (Coord.), Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Österreich
Franz Pöchhacker, Universität Wien, Österreich
Robin Setton, Shanghai International Studies University, China | Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France

Moderator Heike Lamberger-Felber kicked off the discussion by asking about the professional practice. The factors that influcence interperting quality, how have they changed over the years. How does UN, EU and OECD intepreters perceive external factors that influence their interpreting today.

Jesus Baigorri Jalón said that in order to answer truthfully to this question he did a survey among his former UN colleagues and the reality as perceived by interpreters today when they are rendering a speech is that they are speaking more UNese, they are often flooded in acronyms and they daily deal with many non-native language varieties. Today they also see new actors in the meetings that are unfamiliar with interpreters’ needs and who often lack training of communication skills. Other challenges today comprise new information technologies, read speeches and increasing speed.

Robin Settion hedged with the question: are things really getting harder or are our views changing? He reported that interpreters at OECD struggle with the same problems viz. read texts, increased density, lack of documentation and non-native accents. He also said that a particular challenge for free lancers were not enough exposure to the current situation. He advocated a working practice to improve the situation. First try to avoid problems by getting as much information as possible (from speakers, users, clients and so forth) and of course by preparing duly. But when the problem strikes, you have to learn to adapt to the situation by applying different strategies (norms, judgement, priorities, coping) and we should learn respond it according to the required stimuli.

Heike Lamberger-Felber summarized Susanne Altenbergs comments since Susanne unfortunately had fallen ill. But she reported that at the European Parliament the meetings are being web streamed which means a redefinition of the expectation of the interpreter. Interpreting becomes more public and therefore interpreting quality and pressure on interpreters increase. European Parliament works on issues such as for what purpose does the quality need to be produced and does quality meet costumer satisfaction.

Anne D’haen-Bertier stressed that the focus on quality is justified when you think about the fact that in a meeting in Commission or Council with full language regime 66 interpreters works to and from 22 languages and the quality of the interpretation is only as good as the weakest link. Interpreters’ quality is being monitored regularly by SCIC both individual interpreters’ performance and the technical aspects on quality. Commission who is also responsible for the interpretation at the European Council, CoR and EcoSoc has 120 000 interpreting days per year.

Ingrid Kurz as member of the AIIC research committee represented AIIC and presented the organisation’s admission rules (briefly 150 days of interpreting practice, sponsoring from three members who has been members for three years and has worked with the colleague in that language combination). She said that the admissions procedure was developed as an insurance for aiic members’ professionalism. She said that the work to ensure quality went via: 1) self imposed requirements (cf. aiic rules), 2) technical requirements, and
3) measurements of service performed by asking the users.

Anne D’haen-Bertier added on that topic that SCIC does regular customer satisfactory surveys. Clients are asked for their satisfaction on different indicators such as presentation, language and so forth. Clients are satisfied up to 80 and 90 percent depending on the indicator, and the lowest score was correct terminology with 75 %, interestingly enough the lowest figure for terminology satisfaction was given by non-native speakers of English listening to the English booth.

Franz Pöchhacker representetd the public service interpreting field and said that when it comes to quality in community settings expectations are fairly clear but a problems lie in the focus on quality in conference interpreting. There are no big institutional employers that have a natural reason to focus on the quality in the community interpreting. The European institutions should be a more active actor here. Another major driving force for the low quality is the ridiculously low pay (for instance 12 euros in Spain) and low incentive to get training, professionalization and so forth. Not a level playing field when it comes to quality in interpreting.

Anne D’haen-Bertier responded that Commission was involved in setting standards for legal interpreting. They participate in a forum that focused on setting standards for training, certification and registration. Then Anne D’haen-Bertier went on to discuss the problem with the fact that students are usually not at the level to pass the accreditation test of the European Instiutions when they finish interpreting school. There are many valid reasons for this, one being that the fact that the student has to be operational the day after accreditation make the tests have extremely high standard. SCIC tries to tackle this with introduction programmes, key training schemes and so forth.

In the comments from the audience a representative from the sign language interpreting community invited the participants to a closer co-operation on accreditation (since several countries have accreditation tests instead of sponsoring) and possibly also training.


One thought on “Panel – Quality in the interpreter’s profession and training

  1. Pingback: Weekly favorites (May 21-27) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

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