Let me introduce myself – the interpreter’s introduction

Vector handshake

Vector handshake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When you arrive at a meeting where you will interpret, you will have to introduce yourself. Well, maybe not if you’re part of the staff at an international institution, then you’ll just slip into your booth and do your job. But in all other contexts you will have to tell somebody who you are and what you’re doing there. So how do you go about it?

 

When I arrive at a more conference-like meeting I will just see the person responsible for the interpreters and a short: “I’m Elisabet Tiselius, Swedish booth”, will do. The only thing they’re interested in is that we are there and ready to start working. If there’s a particular tricky terminology or concept you may go and see your delegate and ask for clarification or explanation, but otherwise you sit tight and wait for the meeting to start. Continue reading

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My questions for the hangout with Babelverse

Television in Question Marks.

Television in Question Marks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello again,

I hope you have had a good week. As I said in my last post I’m happy you plan a Google hangout, and I eagerly wait for it to happen. Meanwhile, I have posted these questions in your form. I hope there will be time to answer them. I can understand if you don’t have the time in the hangout (I will not pout about that), but please feel free to answer them in another context.

  1. Have you been in touch with professional organizations for interpreters? If you have, could you let us know which ones? I do not want to cross-examine them :-), but I wouldn’t mind seeking their advice.
  2. If I were to take a conference interpreting assignment for you, how far in advance could I expect to be confirmed for the assignment? I realize it depends on when you get the assignment, but let’s assume that you get an assignment on April 15 for May 15. Would you immediately give the available interpreters with the right language combination a firm option for May 15? That way they would block that day for you and begin to prepare, but on the other hand you would have to pay them if the assignment got cancelled. If you wait with the confirmation (the assignment may be called off), you risk not having interpreters available, but you would not have to pay the interpreters for an interpreting not done.
  3. For conferences: How do you assign booth mates? Ideally in a meeting with many languages you would want to have as many languages as possible covered directly. With your tech solution that would be easy peasy as theoretically you could have as many interpreters as you wish assigned to one booth. But then again, how would you remunerate them in that case? Stand by time, mike time or both? Also, how would the interpreter working in one booth know who else is working there and with which languages?
  4. Would it be possible to post a video on what both your booth and the work would look like from the interpreters’ side?
  5. Would it be possible for a few of the professional interpreters who have worked for you to either write a blog post about it or make themselves available for questions, (no I will not tear them to pieces)?
  6. What happens if you’re in the middle of a conference interpreting and there is a technical interruption? I guess it could be 1) on the customer’s side, 2) on my side (either computer or internet connection) or 3) somewhere in between. Would you have interpreters on stand-by? A techie on site at the customer’s? And how would that affect my assignment both time and money wise?
  7. And finally, how do you plan to screen you interpreters? Based on credentials? Customer satisfaction? Peer-evaluation? Combination or something else?

Thanks a lot!

Babel precarity – more questions

Electronic red megaphone on stand.

Electronic red megaphone on stand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi Babel guys!

You said in the e-mails you sent after my last post that we should talk so that I don’t continue to mis-inform my fellow interpreters. I agree, we should talk, but I think we should discuss it openly, not in private mails or over Skype. As I see it, I’m not mis-informing my colleagues. I’m in doubt, and I say so, if you don’t agree then it’s your job to prove me wrong.

You see, I am, just as many interpreters rather suspicious. We are suspicious because we have had bad experiences. We’re used to agencies who do not deliver what they promise; or deliver something completely different from their promise. People who wants to earn money and where interpreters are commodities. Interpreters often end up being some sort of hostage because agencies calculate that we will not let the client down once we’re there. And this does not only go for conference interpreting – for PSI interpreting it’s usually even worse. Reluctance over the tech bit is only the top of the iceberg. Over the years, there are more times than I would like to remember where I have been completely duped when it comes to working conditions. So let’s keep the discussion in the public space. Feel free to answer through blog posts, comments or other public means.

You said you want me to sing up as an interpreter for you, but you see I’m not ready to do that before I fully understand what conditions you are offering and how it works, and I’m sorry, but your homepage does not provide that yet. I’m also afraid that I will end up in a hostage situation. There are agencies who innocently ask you to sign up or provide your CV. Once you do that, they will give you working conditions, or a pay you cannot work for. But then you’re enrolled, so they will use your name and CV in different bids, in order to prove that they use professional, high-profile interpreters, but in fact they don’t, they give the job to other, less expensive interpreters. You’re just there as the lady in the window in the red-light district. This happens everywhere in the industry both in PSI and conference interpreting.

I guess I should not be surprised that my last post received quite a bit of attention. I see you have already written a new blog post treating some of the topics I brought up, and although I doubt that I’m such an important power, I suppose the timing of InterpretAmerica’s recent blog post may have something to do with this as well.

I find it surprising though that so far there has been very little open debate and discussions about Babelverse. Having doubts about a particular solution or player does not mean being tech or development hostile. This is a possible paradigm shift, or disruption, as Kathy Allen over at InterpretAmerica calls it. Then it should be justified to air questions and opinions publicly. Yes, I saw that there will be a Google hangout and that the topic will be discussed in a panel at InterpretAmerica (I must have magic timing). It’s very good that it’s happening now, but before this, as far as I know, the only serious attempt to debate it has been an #IntJC some 5 months ago, and quite frankly, it did not dissolve my doubts. I was also wondering about the participants in the Google hangout – are any of your panelists critical of your idea?

Yes, Josef and Mayel, I know you have attempted to have a Skype conversation with me, the first time I aired some doubts. I did not follow-up on that in the end, because I felt that these are questions I’m sure I’m not the only one to ask, and the discussion needed a greater audience, just as you did with #IntJC. No hard feelings, but the sort of secrecy around the set up does not make me less suspicious.

In your mail to me after the last post you say that I’m incorrect in assuming that interpreters are paid per minute. I’d be more than happy to correct that, after all, what I want you to do, is to develop your platform so that it does not create precarity. I have a follow-up question though, you say that “Professional interpreters working on conference or event jobs are highly respected on our platform and are not paid per minute”. Great, but how do you pay these interpreters, and, more importantly, how do you pay the other interpreters? I have read on your homepage several times that pay are counted on the basis on many factors, and in you latest blog post you say that your rates are lower than for instance EU or any larger institutions, but you want interpreters to receive a fair income. Fair enough, I’ll wait for the examples, you say you will provide. Just curious, what is a fair income? And without wanting to sound like a whiner, just on the information sharing platform, EU is actually not a very good payer when it comes to freelance per day remuneration – they play with the fact that they (usually) give many days and that they pay taxes and pension funds.

About the State of the Union, since that is also something you took up in your mail. You said it was purely experimental, and that you product should not be judged on that. I agree, and I did not judge your product on that, I merely stated that there is a huge difference between the type of interpreting in a State of the Union-type situation and an ad hoc relief situation. And that if you sell them as equal products (which honestly one was easily led to believe reading what you wrote at that time) you have me worried.

As I read from your blog you realize that high level interpreting have different requirement and strive to create an appropriate working environment for the SoU- type of interpretings, I’m curious to know; Have you been in touch with any professional organizations such as AIIC, IAPTI, ATA when you developed the working environment? Can you show any examples of how the technical solution works? I see that Nataly Kelly mentions you, and that you will come to InterpretAmerica, but have you actually discussed working conditions, pay and working environment with them? You say that you co-operate with professional interpreters (those who are not as tech hostile and sour as I am, I suppose), that is very good, I’m happy about that. Do you have any references? You are not new to marketing, and you know that direct referral is one of the best things to recruit people. How about adding some references to high-profile interpreters, with their credentials, that would be happy to tell the rest of us more about Babelverse and possibly calm my worry?

If we look at other industries we see that outsourcing or relocation to cheaper countries are a reality for many professions and that it has not necessarily been good for either the professionals or the quality of the product. Patentranslator has a recent post about it. It goes without saying that it is a real fear in our business too. This is not about being tech hostile (although there are tech solutions around that will make you hostile like the one described here) or reluctant to change, as said earlier, I love technology that makes my job easier (and hey, I’m a Swede, we’re the people most open to change in the world according to recent research). But this is about being able to trust new players to not deteriorate working conditions or selling interpreters as commodities, we want to keep our jobs and get a fair pay. I’m sorry guys, but you still have some work to do in order to convince me. There’s also the issue of how you screen your interpreters, but this post is already being too long.

And just to set one last thing straight, in case I sound as a spoilt, luxury interpreter on my high horses who wants my booth and my first class flights all over the world, and who will whine if I’m not given the same food as the delegates – there’s nothing of that in the world I live in. I’m a freelance,  I work both as PSI and conference interpreter, I’m a proud AIIC member and a certified PS-interpreter.  I work for private market, in court, at hospitals as well as for institutions. My home market, and my language combination, is a tiny one. Fighting for decent working conditions for ALL interpreters on my market is a Sisyphean labour, but no one will do it for me, so I’ll take the risk of sounding like an old, sour granny. You need to prove yourself in order to earn trust.

Your turn.

Update: Your should also read the Interpreter Diaries’ open letter to Babelverse, and Dolmetschblog’s take on the issue. Both Michelle and Alexander have been (contrary to me) in direct contact with them. Babelverse’s blogpost that I refer to above is here. There is also an Interpreting.info thread on Babelverse here. Do read the comments in this post, since I asked for a debate it’s fair that everyone is heard or read. And a special credit to Lionel – The Liaison interpreter – who started debating this long before I had even started to think about what it would mean to me.

Booth confessions

Interpretation Booths

Interpretation Booths (Photo credit: TEDxMonterey)

As I just finished a week in Strasbourg, I also finished several hours of booth time. The confined space of a booth is a very interesting microcosm. How the interpreters arrange themselves in the booth, who sits where and who sits next to whom, and so forth. Most booths on the private market only have two consoles, so your choice is basically just left or right. But do you prefer to sit near the door or in the corner? Which of the places have the best view? And where are you close to a socket? And do you have a colleague with an extremely strong preference (you really don’t want to spoil someone’s day). At the European institutions there are three pulpits (and interpreters) which means that someone has to be in the middle. I know that I share the aversion of the middle seat with many colleagues, make sure to be on time if you want to avoid it. If I’m first in the booth and have the privilege to choose I look at three things: socket, view, side. I don’t have any colleague I dislike or have had an argument with, but it has happened that I decided to sit in the middle because I knew the two colleagues I was about to worked with were not best of friends, to put it mildly.

How much and what you spread is also important. The booth is our work place so obviously we bring stuff to the booth, but that does not mean that your colleagues would like to share your lip-stick smeared, half-drunken, cold coffee, or that they appreciate having half of the Guardian rustle over their console (actually, the client may not appreciate that either). I had one colleague who was absolutely obsessed about eating in the booth. “This is a booth” she used to say, “not a train compartment”. And I don’t believe she’s entirely wrong either (although I admit to eating, discretely, in the booth), I don’t think your listeners will appreciate slurping over the microphone, neither from you nor your colleague.

I have another bad, although silent, habit in the booth – I put my lipstick on. I’m not really sure the listener really likes sharing my make-up routine. I try to combat this more tic-like behavior.

But it wasn’t really booth manners I wanted to share, but rather booth talk. When we’re on air there’s not much conversation going on between colleagues, and admittedly during some meetings there is not one spoken word exchanged between the interpreters, the meeting is just too dense. But when we’re not interpreting a lot is going on. I have touched upon the topic already here, but I wanted to reiterate it, because, this week,  I really felt how important it is. First and foremost there’s background and terminology check of course. But when working with colleagues you like, it’s amazing how quickly the conversation gets deep and intimate. It is as if the very intense work, the secluded space, and the short moment of time spark important discussions. I don’t mean that every time I meet somebody new I give or get long revealing confidences. But over the years I’ve heard all types of life stories, been part of important decisions, shared deep sorrow, great joy and much more. I’m amazed how many interesting jobs, travels, families and hobbies interpreters have. Provided you like other people and take an interest in others’ life this is really an upside of the job. And interestingly this does hardly ever happen outside the booth, it’s as if the booth is a perfect mix of space and time.

Oh, and a final word. Don’t forget to take your trash with you when you leave the booth. Leaving trash is disrespect for colleagues and technicians.

My free-lance office(s) or the benefit of wifi

Andy Bell, the cycling translator has shown his workplace on at least one occasion. As an interpreter my obvious work space is in the booth or at somebody else’s office. But as you know, interpreters prepare a lot, and with my PhD writing on top of that, I clearly have an office too. Or several rather… The truth is that although I’m well aware of how important it is with a room of one’s own (right, Virginia ;-)), I don’t live as I preach. I’ll give you a short walk through my different workplaces:

Bedroom i.e. morning and evening office as well as printing area (printer to the right).

Dining table i.e. shared office space when working with colleagues. (Yes it does happen!)

Guestroom i.e. my PhD library with small workstation.

Kitchen table: Puppy watch/Working lunch

Sofa corner, also scanner corner. Good for an afternoon coffee while scanning. Also perfect for reading assignments (background articles and books, prep reading for assignments etc.).

And for the occasions when I need a standing work position (and cook dinner).

I think you get the picture by now. I move around a lot during paper work and writing. This is due to space constraints, time constraints, but probably also to my restless soul. To my dear supervisor I would like to say – in case she worries – occasionally, I do manage to get some uninterrupted time to read and write…

Why I keep paying my insurance

In Want Word’s eminent business school for translators Marta Stelmaszak gives a number of good reasons for paying your insurance. Although the comments reveal that there are examples of translators being sued, it still is a rare thing.

I would like to share an experience with you that I had early in my career. It was only an incident and I was never sued, but since then I have always happily paid my insurance. When I first got my insurance, I was mostly worried about breaking something during an assignment (I am extremely clumsy). I had never heard about someone being sued for misinterpreting or something similar.

I did have a problem with one of the agencies though. It was one of those wheelin’-n-dealin’ agencies, I’m sure you have all come across them. This was for conference interpreting assignments and quotes were ALWAYS negotiated, strange fees showed up, contracts never showed up, language directions were rarely respected – “But you know English, right? Then you can interpret into English as well”. The agency recruited young, inexperienced interpreters and put them in situations where a lot was left to wish for, but where they expected interpreters to deliver in loyalty to the client.

I had thought they would respect my conditions, if I was only clear about what I expected. I was proven wrong time after other. By now, I had reached the point where I had more than enough, and was looking for a way to end our relationship, and had started to be very busy on dates they were looking to hire me. I did, however, have a few more assignments booked with them. Luckily, I had demanded and gotten contracts for those.

The day before one of my last assignments the agency called me to make a few last minutes arrangements and just before hanging up they told me: “So, since you’re working with X, and their English is not a 100 %, we thought you’d do the English retour”.

In the contract, I had demanded and gotten, I was scheduled to work with Y, another colleague who had an English retour and who, according to the contract would work into English while I worked into Swedish. At this point I’d had it. I calmly told the agency that in case I would not work according to my contract, I would not work at all.

When the information had sunken in, the person from the agency shouted: “You realise what this will lead to, don’t you? I’ll see you in court”, and hung up.

A couple of months went by, and I was very worried I would get sued. But nothing happened. Other than that I never heard of that agency again.

Since that day I have never doubted the usefulness of paying my liability insurance.

Part 2: Professional organizations- what are they good for

As said in the previous blog post, I felt an extreme urge to explain and elaborate on professional organizations and my involvement in them after last #IntJC. In the first tweet where I expressed an opinion I said:

“I miss the discussion about the trade in the organizations.” Here’s what I meant – there are far too few discussion platforms within the professional organizations. Things are slowly starting to change ATA has great webminars and a lively discussion platform on LinkedIn (not to mention their conferences). AIIC is tweeting @aiiconline and has a great Facebook page as well as a group on LinkedIn. EST is on Facebook and also tweet at @estrans. But you can always improve – right? When I was a new comer to AIIC (I think I was just pre-candidate) I dared mention at a meeting that it would be nice with mentors. The idea did not catch on – to say the least. One wonderful colleague approached me after the meeting and said: “I’ll be happy to be your mentor, if you want to”. This was different times, and outreach is better now, but I think that we could still use mentors, I think that we could organize regular meetings with people in the professions, both in the real world and on the Internet. #IntJC is a great initiative for this purpose, but I’m sure there are more possibilities.

Second tweet: “Assn are expensive and you want value (i.e. jobs) for money”. Yes most associations are expensive and if you cannot directly see the benefit of joining – why should you? I mean if the organizations does not yield any paid jobs or even limit your negotiating space (like demanding you work under decent working conditions). Then there is no value for money – or is there? Well, let me take a few examples that I have experienced personally. And which also takes me to my next tweet:
“In hard times you act and negotiate as one big body which can be totally vital (sic. in the hurry I wrote vital, but I meant crucial)”. Here’s my experience of that. At one point government bodies in my country decided that the use of English should be the only policy promoted in international context. This meant that a lot of big clients stopped hiring interpreters completely, a very hard blow on the interpreter market. My regional AIIC immediately set up a contact group who visited all involved parties and presented AIIC and interpreting. It raised awareness of professional conference interpreting, and it also helped changing government policy. It demanded a lot of work, and it was not AIIC alone who could change it, but the fact that we were representing an international, professional organization with some 3000 members was a door-opener in this case. It did not mean that individual interpreters were hired immediately, but it probably saved a market in the long-term. My second example is about the ranking of academic journals that I’ve written about here. When the Norwegian Science Board were reviewing their ranking of academic journals (very influential in at least the Nordic Countries), we were many Translation Scholars lobbying for them to upgrade the Translation Journals they had downgraded a few years earlier. The down grading was not due to lack of academic quality, but merely reflecting the fact of an organizational restructuring in Norway. In that case we got support from the EST. The EST president wrote a letter to the Science Board explaining the status of Translation Studies and how the previous change in ranking was groundless. That battle is not over yet. Many publications fight for the higher ranking and Translation Studies does not have its own field in Norway. But our words carry more weight with important international scholars in our ranks. And these battles are usually long and tough unfortunately, you have to show stamina. And that’s easier to do as an organization than as an individual.
So, in my opinion, what are the most important areas for professional organizations? First of all outreach. If you’re not seen you have no impact. So, contact building with other organizations, institutions, practitioners and so forth. And it has to be done on the local level (bad news guys, more unpaid work :-)), the local chapter needs to promote their organization. We are so much stronger if we work in bigger networks with other organizations and people that have the same interests. Secondly, keeping the discussion, professional development and training going within the organization, we are added value! We should be something or members look forward to. Again in big international organizations the work on the international level must be combined with work on the local level. And I know of a lot of good examples as I mentioned in the last post, but I also think there is room for more.