Good tidings

Summer 2013

Regular readers of the blog will know that summer is a less active period for me when it comes to blogging. Other activities, also known as family life,tend to take over. With three darlings out of school, and two extra darlings who join us for the summer, and an additional four ponies, three dogs, a cat, in-laws, and lots of friends around the house, academic life, writing, or just time in front of the computer is very limited. This year the usual summer silence has dragged out well into the new term. Rest assured that the silence is not final though 🙂

New home, new job and


There are however lots of changes in my life and hence the reason for the silence. I am happy to share these news with you now, as things are clearing up (and darlings are back in school). First of all we have relocated back to Sweden this summer. After another summer in boxes, I’m now back home ready to start flying (not really looking forward to Swedish autumn, but there we are).

Second big news; I have taken up a part-time position as lecturer at the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies at Stockholm University. This means that I have the privilege of teaching interpreting both in Norway and Sweden. My course TOLKHF continues as usual at the University of Bergen, and this term I will teach part of the introductory course to Interpreting and Translation. I have a few lectures and a few seminars to plan so I hope to share some ideas with you and also hopefully get some feedback. I’m slowly getting used to leaving freelance life after almost 20 years of freelancing. I will not completely stop interpreting – it’s too fun, and I need to stay in touch with the business both for my students and for my research.

And finally, my thesis is submitted! I handed it in just before summer and just before our move. Now I have firm indications that I will defend end of November. I’m extremely happy to be done, but naturally, when something as important is no longer part of your life it’s a little bit empty too. In case you’re in Bergen end of November, let me know and I’ll give you all the details.

7th EST Congress

Apart from these more important changes in life I have also participated in two great events. This week I attended the 7th congress of the European Society for Translation Studies where I held a presentation on the results of my thesis, I got good feed back and it was a really nice conference. I met @jonathanddownie in person, very nice experience, an amazing amount of energy, and an interesting thesis in the making. Jonathan co-organized a panel on religious interpreting a very under-researched area that professor Harris has written about on several occasions on his blog Unprofessional translation. My friend Adelina Hild was there too and gave some impressions from her ongoing research on religious interpreters.

I also had a chance to chat with Pekka KuijamĂ€ki who is behind the project of translation and interpreting in WWII Finland (blog here). Very interesting project that I think professor Harris has blogged about too. I was also happy to meet CĂ©deric again. First time we met was this spring in Mons at the conference “Le Nord en Français” and he gave me the inspiration to a previous post. This time I got to listen to a presentation of CĂ©deric’s research project on how intonation affects the understanding in interpreting, very interesting project and an extremely ambitious data collection.

The EST congress is an exhausting exercise with more than 400 participants (record for Germersheim, the organizing university) and over 20 parallel panels. The best thing about EST though is that ”everyone” is there, so you get to socialize with most people in Translation Studies i Europe and beyond, very nice setup. Congratulations to the organizing committee at the FTSK at Germersheim too, who managed this huge event.

InterpretAmerica

This spring I submitted a proposal for InterpretAmerica and was accepted to their Interpret-Ed sessions, a ten-minute-talk that was be web-streamed and recorded for publication on their home page. Splendid opportunity to talk about one of my findings that I still cannot get to grips with. And absolutely daunting!

InterpretAmerica was a great opportunity to meet and network with colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic (and a few from this side too). Brandon Arthur is just as nice in real life as he seems on Street leverage, and imagine I had to cross the Atlantic to meet Ian Andersen from SCIC interpreters :-). It was also great to meet Stephanie Jo Kent again, and to get to know Cris Silva, and finally meeting Andrew Clifford @GlendonTransl8 in person, and many, many others.  And yes, I got to meet and talk to the Babelverse guys Joseph and Mayel, we had a good discussion, I’m not totally convinced yet, but I’ll admit they want to listen to the profession, their FAQ page is new, and they seem to have listened to a lot of the questions that came up in Reston and are looking to answer them.

The whole event was extremely well-organized (great work Katharine and Barry!) and with a nice open atmosphere. Apart from the keynotes and panels (the program is available here) there were also thematic workshops. Although the workshop on social media was extremely tempting, I decided to go to the workshop on vicarious trauma, separate post will follow on that. At the speaker dinner I got to sit next to the charming Saima Wahab, author of “In my father’s country”, she was supposed to be the second keynote, but could not make it last-minute. I was very happy I got to talk to her at dinner, I’m reading her book now.

If you want to listen to my topic that I cannot really come to grip with, you can watch it here:

I can also recommend that you listen to the other Interpret-Ed talks. It was very interesting to hear both Cris, Victor, Michelle and Stephanie. Victor’s approach to managing medical interpreting is absolutely amazing.

Now I’m looking forward to an intensive autumn with students to teach, courses to plan, articles to write and of course a thesis to defend. And some interpreting, what about you?

 

Interpret America, here I come!

Plaza at Lake Anne in Reston Virginia

Plaza at Lake Anne in Reston Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m extremely excited! My proposal for Interpret America was accepted. I’ve been wanting and aiming to attend InterpretAmerica since it started in 2010, but other things have gotten in the way. I admit I don’t work on the American continent, but their program is always very interesting and this year is no exception.

But there are two reasons in particular that makes this extra special. First I’m one of five speakers in their new Interpret-ED format, so I had to submit a video proposal, and the talk will be recorded and broadcasted – cool! Second, I get to talk about things I found in my research about interpreting and practice. I will not spill the beans already, but I’m very much looking forward to hear your reactions on my findings. I was very surprised myself and have spent a lot of time thinking about it.

I’m also very much looking forward to meet other colleagues in Reston, both new faces and old friends. There are also a few tweeps I hope to meet in person. And, as I have called for a discussion between inventors of new technologies and interpreters I’ll be in the front row for the plenary on new technologies (don’t worry I neither bark nor bite).

This year’s program follows up on previous years discussions of creating a professional identity and how to form the profession. There’s also a key-not on creating presence in social media and a whole panel on social media with Nataly Kelly (our own Interprenaut and of course Found in Translation, CSA and now Smartling), Brandon Arthur (from Street Leverage)  and Ian Andersen (who is behind the European Commission’s interpreting unit’s popular Facebook page  among other things). I’ll be in the front row there too 🙂

And then, there’s the book talk and book signing – Saima Wahab, Pashto interpreter, will talk about and sign her book “In my Father’s country”, and Nataly Kelly will sign her book “Found in translation”. I’ve already read Nataly’s and Jost’s book (maybe I should bring it and get it signed or will that seem too eager?), but I’m very much looking forward to read Saima’s.

So, on the 14 and 15 of June I’ll be spending 48 intensive hours in Reston, Virginia. Come join me there or be sure to watch the video afterwards and tell me if you agree or not.

How to assess interpreting

Use new evidence of learning to replace old

Use new evidence of learning to replace old (Photo credit: dkuropatwa)

This is not my first and surely not my last post on assessment. If you’re looking for the other posts just type “assessment” in the search box to the right. Last Friday (March 15, 2013) I gave a talk on process and expertise research in the Nordic countries at the conference “Le Nord en français” at the University of Mons (one of my alma maters, actually). I also presented the results of my PhD project. All this in 20 minutes, so you can imagine I didn’t have the time to be very thorough.

One of the questions that came up was how I actually went about doing my assessment, and why I choose this particular methodology and not others. As I didn’t really get round to go through my assessments thoroughly, I thought I’d try to do it here. Thanks for the discussion CĂ©dĂ©ric, if you stop by and read the post, don’t hesitate to comment or ask more questions.

When I set out to investigate interpreters at different levels of experience I understood quite early that I had to evaluate or assess their product one way or the other. I did not want to assess them based only on my own judgment. I preferred to have “independent/objective” judges, as I was afraid I would be biased both as an interpreter myself and as a colleague to several of my informants. So, fairly early on I decided to use groups of assessors rather than asses myself.

1. Choosing an instrument

Next, I had to choose the instrument for assessment. A popular method for assessing interpreting both in research and otherwise is to use a componential approach. Components typically cover fluency, correctness (terminology, grammar, syntax), sense consistency (with original), logical cohesion, intonation, accent, style and more (or less). Assessors evaluate each component in order to get a complete evaluation of the interpreting. There were several reasons why I did not want to use this componential approach. First, different researchers had pointed out potential problems when using this type of assessment. Heike Lamberger-Felber found in her PhD that it was very difficult to get consistent results from a componential assessment. But, while the rating of the different components varied a lot, the assessors’ rankings of the different interpreters were almost in agreement. Angela Collados-AĂ­s and her ECIS research team have published several reports on assessment, pointing out that although the assessors in their different studies all agree on the level of importance of different components (e.g. fidelity to the original is the most important), other components (e.g. native accent) affect how the most important ones are rated. So a foreign accent would give a lower score for fidelity, although the interpretings word wise were identical. Another important aspect for me was that I wanted to use people without personal experience as an interpreter to be assessors. The reason behind it was that the Swedish interpreting community is so little that it would be almost inevitable for interpreter-assessors to recognize interpreter-informants.

2. Carroll’s scales

So, I started looking at other types of assessment and soon found a type of Lickert-scale used by Linda Anderson already in the late 1970’s. She used two scales created by John Carroll in 1966 to assess machine translation. John Carroll LINK specialized in language testing and he was a big critic of the discreet point theory. The discrete point theory claims that from certain features in a language learner’s production you can predict the learner’s proficiency in that language (rings a bell? if not – reread the paragraph above). When Carroll developed his instrument for translation he said that a translation can be perfectly true to the original but incomprehensible or perfectly comprehensible but completely untrue to the original. Therefore he developed two scales one for intelligibility (comprehensible or not) and the other for informativeness (different from the original or not). The translations were assessed using both scales. Linda Anderson then applied them as they were to her data collected from conference interpreters. She did not dwell much on using the scales, but seemed to fear that they were too blunt.

The scales had not really been used since then, but I found them appealing and wanted to test. One issue was that the scales had served as basis for creating the scales for the US court interpreter accreditation test (FCICE) and this test had been very criticized for its accuracy (or lack thereof). Andrew Clifford has investigated those tests and argues that there may not be any significant difference between the different test constructs. I do not argue against Clifford’s conclusions, on the contrary, but I think the problem lies in how the court accreditation test was developed and is used, rather than a problem with the original scales.

More than one researcher (but far from all) have sniggered at me for using scales that old, which clearly did not create a spin-off in the interpreting research world. If they weren’t used again it must be because they weren’t good, right? But since I’m a stubborn risk-taker I decided to go ahead. What more fun than to dance with the devil? (Yes, I am being ironic in case you wonder…)

3. Tiselius’ adaptation (sounds grand talking about myself in third person right?!)

The scales had to be adapted of course. They were created for translation and I was going to use them for interpreting. Furthermore, there were nine scale steps, some of them difficult to discern from one another. I wanted clear differences between the scale steps, and no middle step, no number five where everything generally OK could be put. Therefore I changed the definitions from written to spoken language and from English to Swedish. I also reduced the steps from nine to six, merging a few that were very similar.

Now only using the scales remained 
  When it came to using the scales I had to decide whether to use sound files or transcripts. After all, interpreting is the spoken word, and should it be assessed on the basis of written words? And if I wanted to use non-interpreters as assessors then I would have to justify that. Presumably, interpreters, especially those who have jury training, would be better than non-interpreters at evaluating interpreting.

4. Interpreters or non-interpreters?

I had both interpreters and non-interpreters rate the first batch of interpretings (on transcripts as I did not want the interpreters to recognize their peers). It turned out that in raw figures the interpreters were slightly more severe, but the scores from the two groups correlated and the difference was not significant. These results indicated that I could use either interpreters or non-interpreters.

5. Sound-files or transcripts?

I designed a study where the intelligibility part of the interpretings was assessed by non-interpreters from both sound-files and transcripts. One group assessed transcripts (with normalized orthography and punctuation) and the other sound files. The sound files got slightly worse scores than the transcripts, but again the difference was not significant and all the scores correlated. So from this respect I could use either sound-files or transcripts.

I ended up going for transcripts. This decision mostly came from the insight that Collados AĂ­s provided on how deceitful the voice is when it comes to assessment of product. Pitch, intonation, accent, security and so forth affects the impression of the quality of the product. Clearly, this aspect is important for the assessment of the interpreting, but with the aim in this study to assess only the skill to transfer an entire message in one language into another it seemed wise to exclude it, too many confounding variables.

6. The assessment

The assessment units ended up looking like this:

Intelligibility

First the raters saw only the interpretation and they rated that according to the scale from completely unintelligible to completely intelligible, from 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest). They also had a sheet with the full explanation of each step of the scale next to them when rating. If you’re curious I left a copy of the sheet in English here.

Informativeness

Then the raters unfolded the sheet of paper and the European parliament’s official translation showed up at the bottom. Then they rated the informativeness of the interpreting, i.e. the difference between the original and the interpretation. This time from no difference compared to the original to completely different compared to the original. Now the scale is inverted so 1 is the best score and 6 the worst. You may wonder why the scale is inverted this time; I decided to stick with Carroll’s original proposal where a low score is equal to little difference. The zero on the scale means that the interpreters added information not present in the original. This typically happens when something implicit is explicitated or when an additional information or hedge is given.

7. Did it work?

The results I got in my cross-sectional material were very promising, clear differences where I would expect them, i.e. between non-interpreter subjects and interpreter subjects, and between novice interpreters and experienced interpreters. The inter-rater variability, that is the variability of the scores between the different raters, was also low. So far, I’m not sure about the results for my longitudinal material. I did not see differences where I expected them. This may be due to a failing instrument (i.e. my scales) or less difference of the interpreting products than what I expected. To be continued


Now, there are a few more things to try out with my scales. Obviously, an interpreter trainer would not start transcribing their students’ interpretings and divide them into assessment files before assessing or grading them. But, presumably, the scales could work in a live evaluation as well. I have not yet had an opportunity to test them, but I’m looking forward to that, and I will of course keep you posted.

References

Anderson, L. 1979. Simultaneous Interpretation: Contextual and Translation Aspects. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Department of Psychology, ConcordiaUniversity, Montreal, Canada

Carroll, John, B. 1966. “An Experiment in Evaluating the Quality of Translations.” Mechanical Translations and Computational Linguistics 9 (3-4): 55-66.

Collados AĂ­s, Á., Iglesias FernĂĄndez, E. P. M. E. M., & StĂ©vaux, E. 2011. QualitĂ€tsparameter beim Simultandolmetschen: InterdisziplinĂ€re Perspektiven. TĂŒbingen: Narr Verlag.

Clifford, Andrew. 2005. “Putting the Exam to the Test: Psychometric Validation and Interpreter Certification.” Interpreting 7 (1): 97-131.

Lamberger-Felber, H. 1997. Zur SubjektivitĂ€t der Evaluierung von Ausgangstexten beim Simultandolmetschen. In N. Grbic & M. Wolf (Eds.), Text – Kultur – Kommunikation. Translation als Forshungsaufgabe (pp. 231–248). TĂŒbingen: Stauffenburg Verlag.

Tiselius, E. 2009. “Revisiting Carroll’s Scales.” In Testing and Assessment in Translation and Interpreting Studies. C. Angelelli and H. Jacobson (eds.). 95-121. ATA Monograph Series. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Day 19 Something I regret

English: Hemulen in Muumimaailma, Naantali.

English: Hemulen (the reseracher in the Moomin world) in Muumimaailma, Naantali. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I don’t regret much actually. I have a positive mind and I don’t like to dwell too much on “if only”. My basic philosophy is that everything that happens adds experience (good or bad) to your backpack, and that experience makes up the person you are. I don’t consider myself fatalistic, but believe things that happen shape who you are which in turn shapes your future.

But if I try hard I can probably come up with a few things I regret. Not staying in Finland where I was an Au Pair girl a thousand years ago. I left after only three months because of a boy, and my knowledge of Finnish is still non-existent. How great it would have been to have Finnish in my combination. Not too late you may argue, true, it’s never too late, but I don’t think I’ll take up Finnish now.

A few assignments when I did not prepare enough. Rule number one, you can never prepare too much! But yes, I too went into the trap and thought that I knew enough, which ended up in some rather embarrassing situations. There’s actually a difference between not knowing because you didn’t prepare, and not knowing because something completely unknown came up that you could not have prepared for.

That time when I, for some incredible reason, did not ask for my colleague’s name. Needless, to say there was a reason that I did not get it. I ended up working with somebody who was not an interpreter. Never again! It was such an utterly unpleasant situation. The person was so sweet, but completely incompetent and it was just awkward.

No, I don’t have too many regrets, luckily. How about you?

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. The whole list is here.

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.

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.