Court interpreting, fees and renumeration

From the tweets of @NFrancoR I learn that courts in Dallas county in the US intend to lower their minimum period of payment from 2 hours minimum and in half an hour increments to 1 hour minimum in 15 minute increments.

In Sweden court interpreters are paid per hour with a decreasing fee; 75 euro for the first hour and then an additonal 20 euro per half hour, for a certified court interpreter; 58 euro for a generally certified interpeter with an additional 17 euro per half hour; and 43 euro for a non-certified interpreter with an additional 10 euro per half hour. Needless to say most proceedings are only an hour and most interpreters working in court rarely work full days.
It’s not a bad pay though, compared to Spain (12 euro/hour) or Canada (18 euro/hour).

When it comes to quality in court interpreting I would like to quote Franz Pöchhacker (interpreting researcher at the University of Vienna) at a round table at the Quality in interpreting Conference who said; “You get the quality you pay for.”

The problem is that court interpreting is a trade that requires highly skilled interpreters. Here I will share a secret of one of my professional failures. I hold a diploma in conference interpreting (supposedly the most difficult type of interpreting), I am accredited to the European institutions (supposedly one of the most difficult types of accreditation tests). And I have failed the Swedish court interpreting certification exam – twice.

I have passed the general certification exam, I have interpreted quite successfully in court, but I have not so far been able to pass the special exam for court interpreting. The exam is both written and oral, you answer general questions about legislation and court proceedings and there are a large glossary test both to and from you own language. The oral test is a role play in a court interpreting situation. You have to have 85 % correct answers in the written test to sit the oral and in the oral you have to hav

But what is the incentive for

Do you really need interpreter training? A few reasons for not closing the Interpreting MA at the University of Westminster, UK

Bilinguals interpret all the time, for friends, family and others in need. Children who have grown up bilingually are used to interpreting. And since everybody is learning English nowadays anyway, why bother to train new generations of interpreters?

I’m not sure whether this was the way the University of Westminster reasoned when they decided to close down their MA in conference interpreting.

This is a course that has a long, and well-founded good reputation. It was established in 1963 (at the Polytechnic of Central London), actually one of my colleagues went there in those early years. Since then the school has produced many more colleagues working for the EU institutions of course, but also for the UN and even Canadian governement. Other than Swedish and English booth they have also trained colleagues for the French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian, Irish, Maltese, Russian and Chinese booths.

In the announcement from the University it says that the interpreting course

is a well-respected course that has been recognised by the EMCI, AIIC, the EU and the UN in various ways for the quality of its graduates. The closure of the course is not a decision that has been taken lightly and it has not been taken because of any quality, teaching, management or recruitment problems.

OK, so a good course, highly reputable. One of the oldest interpreting trainings in Europe. No problem when it comes to applicants, management of quality and yet it has to close down. Why?

Well, it’s not making enough money…

English interpreters are soon a scarcity. The European Union, for instance, fears that it will not be able to cover their need for interpretation into English in 5 to 10 years. Fewer and fewer people with English mother tongue learn foreign languages and therefore the access to people who can even be considered to become interpreters is decreasing. And on top of that, Westminster chooses to close down a good, well-functioning interpreting school.

So, I guess that since the school is not making enough money, we’ll just go back and rely on people who grew up bilingually and who probably learnt the trade when they were in diapers. Or, hey, maybe language students can do it as a student job, that way they can exercise their languages as well. I would like to quote my colleague Victoria who blogs at when she speaks about growing up bilingual:

And if you were “born” with two languages it’s even better, then you know everything, don’t you? Personally, I remember how my dad always used to talked about things like “enter into force”, “temporary asylum accommodation”, “tarsus”, “fenced pasture”, “percutaneous coronary intervention”, “the Administrative Procedure Act” and similar words, when I was a little girl. The languages ??just came flying at me, of course it was completely effortless.

Interpreting is a highly qualified job. Future conference interpreters are screened for interpreting aptitude, they have to pass entrance tests covering both language skills and general culture. It helps to have grown up bilingual, but it’s far from enough. After that they are trained in different interpreting techniques. If you have the language skills and interpreting aptitude it takes at least a year and you’re probably better off with a two-year-course. Despite language skills, aptitude and training there is still a high level of failure at the final exam. Between 50 and 70 % of the canditates make it to a diploma.

Unfortunately, very few community interpreters are screened and trained in the same way, I believe they should be, because their work is just as, if not even more, important.

And in a time where there is a growing lack of interpreters with English mother tongue, an increasing need for upholding standards and every reason to boost and improve our interpreting training programs; The University of Westminster chooses to close down one of the oldest and most well-reputed interpreting schools. It is a shame!

If you want to have your say on the closure of Westminster’s interpreting course you can do it here.

You can also read what other bloggers have to say about this at Bootheando, Interpreting Diaries, Traducción e investigación, Aventuras de una traductora-intérprete en Madrid and Dos Palabras.

Recruitment via interpreting agency – a good example

Dear interpreting agencies,

When you write to me or call, you make my life infinitely much easier if you state:
1) Which languages would you like me to interpret to and from?
2) What type of meeting are we talking about?
3) Who is my colleague (if you know/it’s applicable)?
4) Where and when will the interpreting take place?
5) How much do you regularily pay your interpreters for this type of job (travel fees?/daily allowance?)

If you give me this information, you make it easier for me to determine whether I am the right person for the task. And if I’m not, I may even be able to give you the name of somebody more suitable.

Unfortunately, there is more than one agency who has somebody calling or e-mailing, hardly introducing him/herself and asking: I need an interpreter for Wednesday/next week/June 30th are you free?

If you use this recruiting routine I would strongly encourage you to improve it.

I will give you a good example: Today, I got a very nice e-mail from an agency I have not worked with before saying:

Dear interpreter,
We got your name from so and so.
We need an interpreter with Languages A and B to work in simultaneous mode. You will work with your colleague XY.
The meeting is in CITY, on the following dates.
Your fees will be this much.
The meeting is about THIS and we will send you documentation should you accept.

And the letter ended with a presentation of the company and a more detailed description of how they got my name.

No need to say that since I was available on the dates in question it took me about ten minutes to double check a few things and then accept it. With agencies like this there is a fairly big chance you get the right interpreter at the right place.

So, dear interpreting agencies, please check your recruiting routines and revise them if necessary. It will definitely enhance your business.

Best Regards,

Bloggers discuss interpreting with the Hungarian EU presidency

I stumbled over a link to the Hungarian EU-bloggers Kovács and Kováts. In their blog they link to a recorded meeting between the Hungarian presidency and some EU-blogger. Listening to the part on the interpreting and language regimes is sort of depressing for an interpreter. There seem to be more than one misunderstanding or prejudice regarding interpreting in the discussion, here I would like to adress a few of them.

Interpreters cost alot of money and you need a huge amount of interpreters for every meeting: Well, providing interpretation in booths with all the technology needed costs money. A free lance interpreter personally get just over 1/3 of the sum mentionned in the clip for one working day. The rest I would guess is technology, booths and so forth. You cannot hire a conference interpreter per hour. If you require that they produce high quality interpreting product in a wide variety of areas they need to prepare. So logically interpreters are hired per day. If you are a free lance conference interpreter based in Brussels you probably interpret 10-15 days a month, the rest of the time you spend preparing and training.

In a full regime (all 22 languages listened to and spoken) meeting in the EU you need 66 interpreters. You need them because interpreting is a highly complex cognitive task that you cannot keep doing beyond 40 minutes without becoming a really bad interpreter. So for a 3,5 hours meeting interpreters take turns, and they do so to deliver good interpreting.

Yes it’s alot of money but still a tiny amount of the administrative budget of the EU.

Interpreters are paid even if nobody uses them. Yes, luckily! Can you imagine how many skilled interpreters would like to take on assignments where you were only paid if your delegate was talking or listening to you? As if a journalist was only paid if somebody read the article. I book a day, prepare for it, mabye decline other missions and… don’t get a salary because the person who would use me was ill that day or decided not to say anything.

Ministers could say they do not want interpreting and reduce costs by using English: They could, but politicians are not elected for their language skills, they are elected for their political conviction and skill. Furthermore, they wouldn’t reach their own voters directly. Many meetings are webstreamed and they can be listened to by the greater public in every person’s mother tongue.

Outsource the interpreting and use interpreting via internet to reduce costs. Technology is not there yet. Tests have been made and meetings exist with distance interpreting (although not in the EU-institutions), the number of meetings is low however since the experience is not always positive. Interpreting via a telephone line is difficult enough, you don’t have access to the non-linguistic features of the speakers and the listening range is limited. If you want to do it on distance you take the interpreter completely out of the communicative event and the listening range is much worse. So you will not get that high interpreting quality you’re (hopefully)aiming for.

There are alot of rules for interpreting that meeting organisers have to follow. Well again, what type of interpreting quality are you aiming for? If you have one interpreter working for a whole day without breaks and food and sitting so that he or she cannot follow the meeting, you will get the interpreting you pay for. For a general overview of rules see AIICs professional standards

Which language do you work to and from. If you start to work for the European institutions you have a university degree, you must present at least three languages (mother tongue +2) and you have pass an ackreditation test. You work FROM your foreign laguages INTO your mother tongue.

What if your bilingual? Only a negligible group of people are bilinguals in the meaning that you have full mastery of all the domains in two languages without foreign accent (if you think that you are a true bilingual, just think about a word like colanderin your other languages, and if you can cope with colander, try picket line), and can interpret to them from all the other languages they work with(A-language in interpreting lingo). A slightly larger group is very near native and can work between two languages: the mother tongue and the B-language (very near native)

And what is a C-lanugage? A language you work from into your mother tongue only, a language that you know well (at least C2 in the Common European Framework, but that you cannot interpret into. Again simultaneous interpreting creates a huge cognitive load, knowing a language is not enough if you want to interpret into it. You NEVER work INTO your C-language.

Do interpreters use an interpreting software? I have blogged about it earlier – machine interpreting is not here yet. Interpreters get background information from the speakers (if we’re lucky), we use word lists, dictionnaries and (if we have internet access) the webb. But the only thing that provides the actual interpreting is the software contained in the human brain. There are no shortcuts.

Is English used as a medium language? If me and my colleagues in the booth don’t have for instance Slovak as working lanugage, do we use English as medium language then and interpret from English? Well, it depends – If we don’t have Slovak we have to find a booth that interprets from Slovak, a relay, but it doesn’t have to be English. Big relay booths are French, German, English and Spanish, but I regularly work on relay from the Danish booth as well, I have colleagues who prefer the Dutch booth as relay booth. Clearly, if only the German booth interprets from Slovak you have to use the German relay, but mostly it depends on your own language preferences.

If there is anything more I can clarify, please let me know.