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?

Member at the State of the Union address

Member at the State of the Union address (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

 

 

This is a blog post I have been reluctant to write. I have reflected about the topic for a long time and I have not been sure it’s necessarily a good idea to be strongly for or against, actually I would prefer to silence it. But the more I see it and the more I hear about it I have decided that I must take a stance. Thank you Lionel, for helping me make up my mind.

 

I like technology, love technology really. I’m an early adopter of most things. My friends laugh at me, calling me a tech freak. I was an early adopter on social media, at least for ladies my age. I have new gadgets all the time. If something just has a remote practical application, I’ll be the first in line to get it. I also really like things that can make my job easier, computer in the booth (check), Facebook group for students (check), mp3 memory (check), dictionaries on computer and on the net (check). Well you get the picture…

 

There’s one thing I don’t like with new technology though, when or if technology  comes with deterioration of working conditions. I believe technology should help, not hamper. Screen interpreting should not mean appalling sound, non-synchronized picture and sound, or only one fixed camera showing half of the room and the rest of the speakers are only heard, not seen. Machine translation should not mean that I spend more time correcting work, than the time it would have taken translating it manually in the first place. Machine interpreting can develop into a great tool but should not replace real interpreters in complex or crucial meetings (off the cuff I can think of medical interpreting, court interpreting and legislative meetings for instance). Web streaming or web cast of my interpreting should not be taken for an original, and so forth.

 

One of the most worrying tendencies right now consists of the Babelverse project. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a project that aims to connect interpreters in real-time with potential clients via the Internet. When I first read about it, it sounded like a great idea – imagine how much easier it would have been to instantly get hold of say Haitian Creole interpreters in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. But such great technology should not go hand in hand with creating interpreter precarity or exclusion, right?

 

These guys do not want to help just out of their good heart, and I wouldn’t expect them to either. Of course you should earn money on new inventions. But when the service they sell is based on paying interpreters per minute, I get worried. Personally, I like to both plan my day, and prepare my work. This is not about being spoiled. I chose free lancing because I like the freedom and I’m used to having a long-term planning that can be anything between a year and a day. The length of my assignments range from one hour to one week usually. It does not give the same safety as being on a payroll, and I don’t expect it to, but being able to plan ahead, just a little, means that it allows me to plan things as baby sitter or picking up after school, and on the professional level I have the time to prepare.

 

One of the occasions when this new project was going to be demonstrated was the US President’s State of the Union speech. Now, there’s quite a difference between ad hoc relief or language brokering, and advanced conference interpreting. If I am to interpret the President’s State of the Union speech, I prepare days before. I listen to other speeches the President made, earlier State of the Union speeches, read up on different political analysts’ predictions, and also hopefully at one point I would get some sort of background notes. This is a really difficult interpreting context. A prepared speech where every word has been weighed to convey exactly the right nuance, not promise too much, not too little. It is also prepared and therefore much faster in its enunciation. American English can be extremely fast and information dense, a prepared speech is even denser and faster.

 

So knowing all this, would I be happy to sit at home in front of my computer (3 am in the morning my time) to wait for a possible client who would like to hear the speech translated into my language and then be paid per minute for my performance and preparation? No, I would not! I think that such a business plan is outright disrespectful of people. It takes a life time to master a foreign language far from every bi- or multilingual person makes a good interpreter. On top of that, most professional interpreters have spent years at university, and spend countless hours every year on professional development, preparation and other performance enhancing activities. Such a business plan is p-ing on these professionals.

 

So Babelverse guys, if this business plan is going to deliver viable, high quality interpreting you need to rethink how you hire your interpreters. I’m amazed that none of the risk capital investors have pointed this out to you. Who do they think interpreters are? Babelfish or C3POwho runs on electricity and can be turned off when not needed? Well, not just yet.

 

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.

Interpret everything – or not…

Mary from AIB Interpreters guest blogged at The Interpreter Diaries about Franz Pöchhackers presentation at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. A line in her post inspired me to write about what it is to interpret everything.

a relative interpreting for a patient and leaving things out is not altogether unrelated to the situation in which an intended off-mic utterance by a politician is not interpreted even thoug the mic is actually on.

In most guidelines or professional codes for interpreters, there is a paragraph or article on interpreting “everything”. In the Swedish one‘s it says: Under tolkningen skall en auktoriserad tolk återge all information så exakt som möjligt (a certified interpreter shall, when interpreting, render all information as exactly as possible), and in the Norwegian one: Tolken skal tolke innholdet i alt som sies, intet fortie, intet tillegge, intet endre. (the interpreter shall interpret the content of everything that is said, conceal nothing, add nothing, change nothing).

In her Sense Theory, Dancia Seleskovitch says roughly that the interpreter grasps the sense beyond words in one lanugage and clads that sense in the words or the other lanugage. Thereby she elegantly tackles both the problem of word-for-word translation and also what exactly “everything” is. But “everything” is so much more than just the meaning or the sense of the utterance. If you take “everything” beyond utterances that are directed to the interlocutors, for instance.

There is of course no answer to the question “what is everything?” and “should you interpret everything?”. But there are a few interesting reflections one can make. Firstly – when conference interpreting, do you interpret everything you hear through the microphone even if the comments were not made to the audience. Everyone who understands the language in question will also understand that private comment, is it therefore my duty to interpret that in order to put all the listeners on equal footing? Or should I understand it as private an not interpret it?

In a social setting, let’s say a medical appointment, the doctor’s telephone rings or a nurse enters the room. Should you interpret what you can hear of the telephone conversation or the exchange between the nurse and the doctor? A person with the same language as the doctor would have understood it. It’s not polite to eavesdrop of course, but fairly impossible not to hear if you’re sitting right next to a person engaged in another conversation.

Another thing about “everything” is innuendos or what you read between the lines. Sometimes interpreters and translators “explicitate” to explain something to their readers or listeners that isn’t immediately understandable from the interpretation or the translated text, but which was understandable for native speakers of the source language. But how much should you explicitate? Are you sure you read correctly between the lines? Would the speaker prefer it not to be spelled out directly?

Do you interpret “everything” and how much do you explicitate?

More about Sense Theory (Interpretive Theory) from Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Translation Studies here.
And more about Explicitation also from Routledge here.

Day 14 – One thing you didn’t know about interpreting

Well, a couple of things actually…
What do interpreters talk about when they meet? You may think (at least if you suffer from a slight persecution mania) that we discuss our clients alot. We do talk about our clients of course, but probably not what you think and most likely not as much as you think.
If we discuss our clients it’s usually their performance as a speaker. We comment on speaking speed because speed is important to our own performance. We love good speakers and comment on that. But very few interpreters I know make personal comments about their clients, they are our clients and all interpreters I know are very consiencious about the professional secrecy.
When we debrief over a coffee or beer it is usually our own failings we discuss. When did I not live up to my own standards, what did I miss in that presentation, when did I have to stop my client/rely on my colleague to check a word? Why couldn’t I render exactly what s/he said?
We also talk a lot about terminology. Terminology is probably our pet subject. What do you use for this? I think it’s so hard to find an equivalent to that.
Sometimes we also talk about ethical problems – what would you have done in a similar situation?
And last, a personal confession, at smaller conferences or in a social setting I sometimes get the impression that my clients think that I am just as interested and engaged in their topic/area/problem as they are. I’m sorry to disappoint you here, but I’m rarely as engaged in my clients’ problem as they are. I usually find it interesting, sometimes fascinating as an interpreted situation, I may enjoy interpreting it and I will always be faithful. But I will not go home at night and continue to solve their problems.
This is of course my personal list. The things I experience with my colleagues. If you don’t agree or if you would like to add something. Please comment.

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can view the whole list here.

Interpreting in Japan in the aftermath of natural (a human created) catastrophe

Unprofessional translation recommends the Liaison interpreter in Japan, right now he is blogging about his experiences from interpreting after earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. After coming back from Sendai he has two very good posts on interpreting in a crisis zone. How do you go about interpreting when you cannot rely on any of your learned modes or strategies? Read about fingers as note taking tools in consecutive here, and read about how to visualize interpreters just as doctors, firemen and other rescue workers here. I know that AIIC has a committee on interpreters in conflict zones, supporting them, awareness raising and so forth. This is definitely something for them.

Professional responsibility, Camayd-Freixas

We’ve just discussed Eric Camayd-Freixas in class and his brave act after the Postville raid. You can go back to what I wrote in 2008 about Interpreter’s responsibility here. Back then, it was a hot topic among interpreters. There are also several clips on You Tube featuring interviews with Professor Camayd. I find this one very interesting, and this is the second part of it.

The interpreter’s role in the participation framework

Erving Goffman was an anthropologist and sociologist who studied social interaction. Among other things, he proposed a model to analyse the distribution of responsibility between interlocutors. Cecilia Wadensjö (1998) uses this model to analyse the role of the interpreter in an interpreter mediated event. An interlocutor has a given role in a communicative context. The roles can be symmetric or assymmetric depending on the situation. Participants can either be assigned different roles depending on the context or they can take up different roles. The participation framework (Goffman, 1981) gives different participants different status. Anyone who hears an utterance can take on a participant status, but depending on the situation you can have different production formats. The formats can be those of the animator (the person who conveys either his or her own words or of somebody else’s) or the author (somebody who compiles fact or information and makes an utterance but without necessarily being the one who guarantees the correctness of the information in that utterance) and finally the principal (the actor who is fully responsible for an utterance [the fact, the information behind and so forth], you can be the principal both of an utterance regarding your own feelings or something very formal such as the application of a particular law). In order to fully understand the interpreter’s role in the communication Wadensjö adds three reception formats: the reporter (who just reports verbatim what has been said), the recapitulator (who recapitulates what has been said but in an active listening and understanding act, not just verbatim repeating) and the respondent (who listens in order to respond, to take the communication further). The interpreter’s role in the communicative context vary, but has to be seen in the light of the reception formats. The interpreter is an animator and sometimes a principal, but the interpreter is first and foremost a recapitulator (hopefully, since we all agree by know that a word-for-word translation is rarely successful) who sometimes step into the role of responder. The interpreter responds and becomes the principal in utterances such as ”Could you please repeat that” or ”The interpreter would like to ask a question”, i.e. situations when the interpreter goes out of his/her role of conveying somebody else’s message and goes into the role of transmitting a message of his or her own.

Interpreters’ responsibility

On May 12, 2008 Eric Camayd-Freixas interpreted at hearings of almost 400 illegal immigrants who were arrested in a raid at a meatplant in Potsville. After the hearings he decided to breach his professional secrecy and circulated a 14-page long account of the hearings in which he points out all the irregularities that were committed by the authorities. You can read more about this here. I have always admired so called whistle blowers. It is a very delicate and difficult task to stand up and point out irregularities if you are part of an organisation or system which the interpreter in this case definitely was. However, an interpreter’s professional secrecy is absolutely crucial to the profession. In an ideal world we would have debriefing sessions for interpreters. That would create a possibility for interpreters to share their experiences without breaking the professional secrecy and in extreme cases like the one of Mr. Camayd-Freixas he would not be left alone with the very important decision he had to take, i.e. denouncing authorities. Sometimes we end up in difficult situation due to agencies, I have for instance interpreted a paedophilia case eight-months-pregnant, sometimes missions that seemed totally straight forward end up in a very complicated situation, like when the defence lawyer decided to make the interpreter look like an ignorant in order to make the witness less credible (the defence lawyer actually apologized at the end of the day). We carry all sorts of similar experiences that we cannot share in order not to breach our professional secrecy.

In South Africa after apartheid a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established. The aim of the TRC was that everyone who had committed a crime during apartheid was free to witness in front of the TRC and ask for pardon. The witness was recorded and the person then granted pardon. People who were directly or indirectly victims were often present at the hearings and everything was interpreted simultaneously into the 13 official South African languages. This process was very fruitful for the restarting of South Africa, but the ones who suffered very much during this process were the interpreters. It became so difficult for them to bear all these dreadful stories that a special debriefing program had to be organised. “I am the filter that all pain is sifted through” said one of the interpreters in for the TRC. Their work has become a theatre performance that has been touring world wide. Should you come across it I strongly recommend that you see it. You can explore all this at The Truth in Translation Project.