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

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.

In Translation – Saskia Holmkvist


Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

Last week I took my students to see a video installation by Saskia Holmkvist, a Swedish artist who has done a series of works on role distribution and power (no it’s not Saskia on the picture). One of her installations, called In Translation, deals with different roles in interpreting. In the installation, Saskia interviews two interpreters with their clients’ present. It is a Norwegian public service interpreter and Latvia’s former president’s interpreter. The interviews are short and deal with interpreting techniques and different issues in interpreting.

The installations are interesting from many different perspectives, though. First of all, the clients’ reactions when they were put outside the conversation. The minority language speaker in the first interview seems to completely disconnect from the communicative event, after a couple of minutes he is more interested in the camera than in the interview. I cannot help to speculate whether it reflects his earlier experiences of different interpreted communicative events, where at different occasions he may very well have been (unintentional or not) disconnected from the communicative event, and if he is used to it, he has also learned to deal with it. Another factor is also of course the asymmetric distribution of power in these types of interpreted events. This client hardly has any comments on his interpreter’s performance either. All this is absolutely not to say that the interpreter is not good, on the contrary, the interpreter comes through as very professional and impartial.

In the second interview the client has a completely different role, but now we’re talking about Latvia’s former president and his personal interpreter. This client is not waiting silently on the side. When he realizes that he is not part of the communicative event he jumps in with comments and statements. He will not silently sit beside the communication, even if his perspective is the users and he does not have any experience as interpreter, he still has many views on interpreting. His most interesting comment is probably the last one – something like; “The interpreter should not reflect on what I say, even if she doesn’t understand she should know I always have a goal with what I’m saying”. The relationship between this interpreter and this client is far from impartial, and she also says it,  when she represents Latvia (through her president) she wants Latvia to look good. Body language and spatial placement also shows that there is a more symmetric relationship between interpreter and client.

If the video installation comes anywhere near you it is definitely worth watching. There is more information here in Norwegian.

Interpreter mediated illusory communication

This is a post that I have translated from Anne-Birgitta’s tolkeblogg and publish with her permission. My apologies in advance to Anne-Birgitta and other Norwegian speakers if I have misunderstood or mistranslated something (in that case please let me know, I need this caveat since neither English nor Norwegian are my mother tongue). I wanted to share it on my blog because I think it’s a very good illustration of what can and do happen in interpreter mediated events. This is an illustration of why we need to train interpreters and work on interpreting ethics and standards.

The term, ‘interpreter mediated illusory communication'(tolkemediert skinnkommunikasjon) is defined here as two parallel dialogues with different contents, and where the interpreter is the only one who understands what is actually being said, as in the example below from an interview with an angry Palestinian who considers himself a victim of racism:

1. Police: So the police is lying about this?
2. Interpreter: Are you saying that the police is lying?
3. Suspect: He is a liar, yes, his mother is a liar, his father is a liar (raises voice)
4. Interpreter: Yes
5. Suspect: Tell him his father is a liar, his mother is a liar, the racist pig
6. Interpreter: (laughing out loud)
7. Suspect: His mother and his father are liars
8. Police: What’s he saying now?
9. Interpreter: Yes, the police is lying and mother and father also lying (laughs so much that the phrase is almost inaudible)
10. Suspect: Tell him that racism is like AIDS, the disease AIDS, racism is in his blood
11. Police: What does he say about AIDS?
12. Interpreter: (laughs)
13. Suspect: Tell him that he has the racist disease, like AIDS
14. Interpreter: They all have it, the police is sick (laughs)

In the example we see that the interpreter does not render what the suspect says, and that the discussion sounds quite different in Arabic and Norwegian. This example is taken from a tape recording of a police interrogation and is described in: Andenæs, Kristian et. al. Of 2000. Kommunikasjon og rettssikkerhet. Utlendingers og språklige minoriteters møte med politi og domstoler. Oslo: Unipub publishers.

Distance teaching from a (not too) distant teacher

Last #IntJC was dedicated to distance teaching. Now it may sound as if I’m only blogging about #IntJC topics, but hey, if the topic is good…

When I took up my PhD post it involved teaching an introductory course in interpreting. I’m commuting to Bergen so I wanted to plan my course in blocks. The idea was to have for instance four blocks of teaching, each one over a couple of days displayed evenly over semester. But there was another problem too, students taking French in this BA program had their Erasmus exchange the same semester as I gave my compulsory course. And those students were supposed to follow my course, although they were in France for seven weeks.

The solution was to teach on a distance platform. I cut down the on site teaching to two times two days, and the rest has been given on internet for the past three years. As said, #IntJC was discussing distance teaching last time and I’ll take this opportunity here to dwell on my experiences from these past three years.

The course has first and foremost been a theoretical course. It’s an introduction to interpreting. We have had a few hours of practice, but it has been done on site. The course schedule included two days in the beginning of the term with lectures and introduction to interpreting and note-taking, then a lecture series over seven weeks on internet, and a last meeting of two days at the end of the term. Parallel to the lecture series students also had practice in dialogue interpreting.

The fact that we do it on distance has many advantages. Obviously, students (and teacher) can participate regardless of location, but since we also record it and put it on our intranet, every lecture, with power points and discussions is available for students afterwards. When they prepare their exam paper or other compulsory tasks, they can access all the lectures they need. This is very powerful compared to only relying on your own notes or hand outs from the teacher.

I have planned my courses fairly traditionally, a text to prepare before the course, sometimes with questions, sometimes without. Then, during the lecture, I started with introduction to the text and after that hopefully a discussion. I say hopefully, because the discussion part has been the most challenging every year. In my experience I usually get a few questions via chat during my presentation, but when we come to the discussion part both chat feed and demands for microphone are troublingly silent.

Obviously, I have thought about what may be the reason behind this. Presumably, the learning experience will be better if we have (preferably animate) discussions about the topic. I have a few ideas, but so far I have not managed to overcome the lack of discussions.

First, the tech problems; although most students of today are labeled digital natives (I’d say average age of the group I teach is 20-25, I must admit that the tech side is challenging. I dedicate one hour at the start up, on site, seminar to introduce the platform. We have used the Adobe Connect platform which I find a fairly easy to use and straight forward platform. We don’t use the video-mode in order to minimize tech problems. And in order for everyone to have easy access to the lectures we keep one of the computer rooms on site open so that all students should have easy access to a computer. Still, we spend at least half an hour of the first class overcoming different tech problems, the most common being problems with sound.

Second, the medium; maybe the fact that we are on the Internet and that the simplest questions will be recorded is intimidating. We record all the sessions, and they are saved in its entirety – chat, audio, power point, notes, and so forth. This is put on an intranet server only accessible to our students, but still… Maybe it’s hard to have the impression that you ask stupid questions, come with “wrong answers” or just speculate when it’s on tape and can, and probably will, be viewed by teacher and fellow students.

Third, the power balance; when we chat over #IntJC we are all equal. Some are seasoned professionals, some are students, but we gather there to discuss a text that one of us chose and everyone is curious to hear everyone’s opinion, no grades are given, there is no right or wrong answers. Whereas, at my online course, I’m the teacher, I grade their papers, and although I don’t want to see it that way, they seem think that I have a final judgement on what is right or wrong and they probably feel they need to produce the “right answer”.

I’m not sure what the course will look like next term, but I have a few things I would like to test from #IntJC;
a) I will systematically produce a couple of discussion questions for every text.
b) I will dedicate part of the class to chat discussion only.
c) I will try to couple my texts with other material (other texts, you tube videos, news articles of films).

When I started teaching this course three years ago, I was desperately seeking the Internet for examples, background, things to deepen my students understanding. I think it’s safe to say that there was not much around. I found some good stuff, but it was by no means evident. Since then I’m happy to say that interpreting discussions on Internet has exploded. Every year I have more stuff to choose from and since #IntJC and #EPT started, together, of course, with a lot of great blogs (by all means go through my blog roll), I can safely say that I will have great material for my background readings and contrastive texts.

So, I’m excited for next version of the course. I’ll keep you posted.

Interpreters: How about getting together and really talk?

Lionel at the Japan interpreter has written at least two a very good posts on the curse of not actually meeting people, but just “liking” or “adding” or “RT:ing” or whatever it is we are doing. You can read more here and here. One of the inconveniences about being an international community like translators or interpreters is of course that many of us are not located in the same country or even the same continent. But communication is also about having honest discussions about important matters and since we are all freelancing this may be threatened by our professional situation. For good and for bad, we are not just colleagues, but competitors too. Lionel took a great initiative to bridge both geographical and professional gorges and started the #IntJC over at Twitter.com where it has been a raving success.

Meanwhile one of the participants in #IntJC, Al Navas @JudiciaryTerp started exploring the Google+ hangouts. He has now teamed up with Gerda Prato-Espejo @Gerdabilingual and Esther Navarro-Hall @MmeInterpreter and they have created the #1nt and #xl8t Endless Possibilities talks at Google+.

They kick off this week-end, Saturday at 12 noon Los Angeles-time. 5 a.m Tokyo time (poor Lionel) and 9 p.m. Central European Time. And what will happen then?
Well, Esther Navarro-Hall will tell us her journey to become an interpreter. She will also answer questions both from the other participants in the hangout (@JuciciaryTerp, @Gerdabilingual, @LionelTokyo, @InterpDiaries, @Blogbootheando and me, @tulkur), and from people who will watch the live stream and interact through chat. We are all crossing our fingers that this new technology will work; it is still young technology, and may not be available during the weekend hours..

I am very excited and happy and proud to be part of this talk and this project. Thank you Al, Esther and Gerda for taking the initiative. So come and watch it live this Saturday, February 11th. #1nt and #xl8 Endless Possibilities is the place to be