Why do I train interpreters?


I live in a tiny conference interpreting market. The number of Swedish members of AIIC is under 30, the number of Swedish A-language conference interpreters in total, worldwide, is under 100. Our biggest client are the European institutions and any change in meeting or language policy has immediate and dramatic impact on the market. On top of this Swedish people also have a long and strong tradition of learning and using foreign languages so interpreters are often deemed unnecessary.

I would like to stress that this is not a list of complaints, only a realistic description of the market. Not very surprisingly I often get feedback from conference interpreting colleagues on why I train new interpreting colleagues when they see their job threatened. These colleagues argue that interpreting training should only run when there is a need for new colleagues, and, from their point of view, there’s no need now. I don’t agree.

Other colleagues think that if we train interpreters, they shouldn’t be trained at university. They argue that interpreting is a practical trade and should not be part of academization. I don’t agree.

Community interpreting colleagues, on the other hand, don’t think we can train enough interpreters at university, and therefore it should be done elsewhere. I don’t agree.

Community interpreting colleagues also have a hard time understanding why they should train at all when remuneration is so low, and the practitioners tend to pass through without taking responsibility on their way to more lucrative business. Well, I agree on the low remuneration, but, you’ve guessed it, when it comes to the analysis of the needs of training – I don’t agree

Since the debates often get heated, I will try to explain why I think it’s important to train both conference and community interpreters on a regular basis, and why it should be part of university training.

  • Who decides when and how many interpreters the market needs? The interpreter, who for some reason don’t get hired? The institution, who wants interpreters with a particular profile? The agency, who would like to have a variety of low-cost interpreters available at all times?

In Sweden we don’t have a state agency responsible for interpreting business and therefore the market and the market’s needs are difficult to overview. Some claim thousands and thousands of community interpreters are needed, others say that there is no future for interpreting and conference interpreters are first in line to get automatized.

The arguments for how many interpreters are needed is not, in my opinion, the same as the argument for the need for qualified interpreter. And if we want qualified interpreters (which I argue we do), we need to continue to train interpreters. Interpreters, just as anybody else, take parental leave, are injured, decide to change careers, and when they do, other qualified colleagues should take the relay.

  • Does a profession lose its authenticity or credibility if it’s part of an academization? Do we get worse interpreters if we do research on interpreting or teach future interpreters about what research has found out about interpreting or how to do research themselves? Apparently, some colleagues seem to believe that. Or, at least, that if you’re going to be good at doing it then at least you should only do it. The only split attention should go into interpreting not into theory.

Interpreting is a highly complex activity. Believing that future interpreters are not capable of studying both the theory and the practice of interpreting is very demeaning (let alone believing that interpreting students are not capable of university studies). Of course you cannot learn to interpret by only reading a book, but you will probably become a better interpreter by reading a few books while you practice in a monitored environment. Furthermore, I think that it’s relevant for students to not only learn the trade, but also learn to be able to evaluate and talk intelligently about what you do. Otherwise, what is the difference between an interpreter and Skype translator? (Jonathan Downie has a great post about that, by the way)

So, to conclude, I train interpreters because I believe that by giving people an appropriate education I empower them to get a decent job, and good pay for what they do, be it in interpreting or in any other business. And although I agree that training should be balanced against a certain level of demand, I do think training and education needs to be stable. Your call!


3 thoughts on “Why do I train interpreters?

  1. Very interesting take on the profession, but as a community interpreter in Western Sweden, I wonder why the university training must be located in Stockholm and only on a full time basis. Only young “newbies” without families have the mobility/freedom to take on full time studies there, leaving areas outside of Stockholm at a disadvantage.

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