Neutral to the matter, impartial to the parties

These are a series of tweets on neutrality and impartiality of interpreters. Sparked by an episode of Troublesome Terps.

Latest @troubleterps episode was indeed troublesome. Fascinating, but I have to stand up for neutrality & impartiality. I often hear @Colombias’ views from students or colleagues. Yet, it’s a serious misunderstanding of professional ethics. Let me explain in this thread. #1nt

A popular stance is neutrality & impartiality in #1nt is passé since interpreters are human beings and thus cannot be neutral. Well, exactly because we are human beings, we need to keep neutrality and impartiality. How would we otherwise like our interpreters? Partial and biased?

Neutrality & impartiality are concepts of professional ethics. We need professional ethics as personal ethics may vary. Professional ethics are common agreements on how to behave in varied contexts, e.g. even a murder suspect caught red handed gets a defense lawyer. #1nt

Neutrality is your handling of the case. When interpreting, your professional evaluation of the situation must not be colored by personal convictions. One is allowed personal convictions, but not to express them or let them influence while interpreting. Down to word level. #1nt

If you know that your personal convictions overshadow your professional evaluation you have all rights NOT to take, or withdraw, from an assignment. You will not be paid of course, but no one will force you to interpret. I have turned assignments down for that reason. #1nt

In fact, if I, as dependent on an interpreter, was going to discuss an abortion with my gynecologist, I think I would prefer having an interpreter showing no strong convictions to either side. It’s difficult enough. #1nt

Neutrality does not mean void of empathy. Empathy is a good personal trait of an interpreter, a socio- or psychopath interpreter personality sounds like a really bad idea. #1nt

Being empathic does not mean advocating. @NaomiSheneman’s tale of four interpreters is a wonderful description about how an interpreter can make a user feel (I note that #1 does not advocate, but show empathy and attentiveness) <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I was in the ER from 3 pm til 145 am. I had four different interpreters. Interesting to see how they were all different bringing up thoughts of characteristics of an ideal healthcare interpreter. Bedside manners and clear masks are a must. See my comments for a profile of each /1</p>&mdash; Naomi Sheneman (@NaomiSheneman) <a href=”https://twitter.com/NaomiSheneman/status/1313469819820404737?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>October 6, 2020</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

You can hand your client a handkerchief and still be neutral. You can show with your voice that there is sadness or anger in the account you’re interpreting. It does not serve your client well if you are overcome by the situation and cry or hit a desk in anger while #1nt.

What if you witness misconduct by a civil servant, or overhear that the person you are interpreting is planning a crime? In the countries where I interpret, there are legislation about this, and boards where you can report authorities’ abuse. #1nt

Neutrality does not mean you are a machine only that you are dealing with matters at hand in a non-biased way. Every situation is individual, yet there is a predetermined format that you adapt to, just like any civil servant. #1nt

Sometimes, deciding whether someone is or can be neutral is hard (just look at the discussions about the nominations to the US supreme court). Imagine a political activist in a local community for a political party with very immigrant restrictive policies. #1nt

The name and face are all over town because there is an election for an office in that community. Can that person work as a neutral interpreter in an immigration hearing? #1nt

Well presumably they can, as we have concluded that one is are to believe whatever one likes as long as you can be neutral to the case at hand. The question is perhaps whether the individual in the immigrant hearing will trust you, and trust is another crux of the matter. #1nt

So visibility may be an issue, but who on earth came up with the idea that neutral and invisible were linked together? Take the example of a judge: I would expect a judge in a court case to be neutral, but absolutely not invisible. #1nt

Users of interpreting can say, “that interpreter was so good, as if they were not there”. That’s not invisibility, that’s an #1nt who neither renounced the task nor took over the event event. Interpreters cannot be invisible, although though sometimes not seen. #1nt

I certainly want my kids’ football referee to be neutral, but an invisible referee would be completely useless. I don’t expect the football referee not to have opinions on football, but I would be very upset if it looked like he was partial towards one of the teams. #1nt

So, what about impartiality? Can an #1nt really be impartial? As individuals we belong to different groups, different nationalities, different organisations. We have different ethical backgrounds, different faith and different convictions. Isn’t impartiality only an illusion?

Well, the demand and the challenge here are to not take sides in the case at hand. And, to be aware of your own ideas and convictions so as not let them influence you. You are loyal to both sides (be bi-partial), (unless you’re a military interpreter, I’ll come to that). #1nt

If you very strongly believe that a person is guilty and decide to “help” the court by twisting the defendants statement a little, well then you are not the right person for the job. When taking sides one advocates and that is another profession. #1nt

Remember you only see the side of the story presented in that meeting, you have no idea of the mechanisms behind, are you sure that your understanding of the situation is the best one for all parties. See illustration from Skaaden 2019. #1nt

On advocacy: if I wore a hijab, I would prefer an interpreter who let me explain when I’m comfortable taking off my hijab rather than having an interpreter “helping me” by telling the other people in my meeting when I can take it off or not. #1nt

About hijab btw. Can you wear it and be neutral? In France (so I’m told), it would be absolutely impossible for an interpreter to wear a hijab (or a cross for that matter). In Sweden, I have many #1nt colleagues wearing a hijab, nobody bats a lash.

More on advocacy: When I lecture for MDs and show them this photo (Skaaden 2019), they say this interpreter did not do a good job “helping to get an answer”. Their reactions are: I wouldn’t know a thing about that lady’s pain! #1nt

There are #1nt we expect to be partial. A military interpreter would not be trusted, it they do not belong to our side. This is often a big issue in military interpreting and also put interpreters at high risk.

A president often brings their personal interpreter to different meetings, I assume it has to do with trust and expecting the interpreter to be loyal to one side. This also often goes for business #1nt

Impartiality, pay and trust is a final issue. A court interpreter is paid by the court, so is that person impartial? I’d argue that this is exactly where the professional ethics and regulations comes into play. #1nt

For more on neutrality, impartiality, bi-partiality, professional ethics and the interpreters’ discretionary power read this book. Valid for all types of #1nt despite the title.

Why do I train interpreters?

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I live in a tiny conference interpreting market. The number of Swedish members of AIIC is under 30, the number of Swedish A-language conference interpreters in total, worldwide, is under 100. Our biggest client are the European institutions and any change in meeting or language policy has immediate and dramatic impact on the market. On top of this Swedish people also have a long and strong tradition of learning and using foreign languages so interpreters are often deemed unnecessary.

I would like to stress that this is not a list of complaints, only a realistic description of the market. Not very surprisingly I often get feedback from conference interpreting colleagues on why I train new interpreting colleagues when they see their job threatened. These colleagues argue that interpreting training should only run when there is a need for new colleagues, and, from their point of view, there’s no need now. I don’t agree. Continue reading

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

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.

A new term begins

 

 

The Old Round Church (1813) – pulpit

The Old Round Church (1813) – pulpit (Photo credit: origamidon)

 

Today I’m excited to meet my new students, as a new edition of TOLKHF starts at University of Bergen. I’m ready to start teaching, preaching and sharing all the secrets of interpreting.

 

This year the course has been updated with much more interpreting exercises and new units. In case you’re interested in the course program you’ll find it here.

 

So – a very warm welcome to my new students, I’m looking forward to this term with you!

 

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.

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.

Part 2: Professional organizations- what are they good for

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

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

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

Organisations in the profession – Professional organisations – Part one

It’s time to move on after two weeks of holiday and another two weeks of paper writing and catching up. So, time to catch up on the blog too. And what would be better than take a few lines from the last #IntJC on professional organisations. You can read the archive here. #IntJC is not a forum for long, elaborate and eloquent lines. But that is the strength of it, too. However, after an #IntJC I often feel the urge to complement and summarize, but this time even more so. This time I really felt that I just blurted out strange things. So these two posts are aimed at going back to my tweets and elaborate.

Before I start elaborating I’ll go through the translator/interpreter organisations I’m a member of and explain why. I thought I would be able to do both the run through and elaborate on my statements in one post, but I realize it will be too long. So, here’s first my list of organizations where I’m a member and in the next post I’ll continue to discuss professional organizations.

1) AIIC – The longing to be a part of this exclusive club started as soon as I started working. Why exclusive? Well, that’s how it felt when I started working and had maybe 4 conference interpreting days/month, and realized that I had to have 300 days (it’s been cut down to 150 now) in order to become a member, on top of that I had to ask my daunting, experienced colleagues for signatures. But why long for it then? Well to be quite honest, my first reason was selfish – that’s where the interesting jobs lied. On a small market with a strong AIIC community, I had two choices; going grey (i.e. accepting sub-standard pay and conditions) or stick to AIIC standards and colleagues and secure a stable market in the long-term. I didn’t think twice. I’ve been a member for 12 years now, and have probably become one of those daunting colleagues. I have also served on different functions in the organization and I really appreciate what it does for the profession. We can do more – but we are first and foremost the closest conference interpreters get to a trade union. As I also work as community/social interpreter I really understand what a strong professional organization mean to the profession.

2) EST – This is an organization for translation and interpreting studies. Again, joining was of rather selfish nature. I wanted access to their newsflashes and their list of members. But EST is doing a lot of work to defend translation studies in academia, e.g. journal-ranking which is a hot topic that I’ve discussed earlier. They also have an absolutely outstanding scholarship for young researchers in translation studies. And their congress is a vibrant and active TS event, usually resulting in one of the most interesting conference proceedings in the field. The website is loaded with resources both for members and others.

2) ATA – Why on earth would a European interpreter join a US translator organization? Well, first of all, they work for interpreters too, with an active interpreting division. I joined when I went to their conference four years ago, but I have remained a member since I like their newsletter, their journal and the different discussion forums. I have not learnt the profession, but I’ve learnt so much about the profession from them.

3) CATS – Again an organisation for Translation Studies. And no surprise that I joined when I went to a conference there. They support young scholars, they have a good journal and they organize interesting conferences. Good reasons for continue to renew my membership.

4) ATISA – One of my newer memberships. The American Translation and Interpreting studies association. I’m too new to ATISA to have experienced all they do, and unfortunately I will not go to their conference this year. They publish a journal – Translation and Interpreting Studies that I’m looking forward to.

5) Conference of Interpreter Trainers – Also a new addition. Focus on sign language interpreter trainers, but not only. And their journal is online for members!

So much for the professional organizations I’m a member of. I’m not a member of IAPTI,but maybe it’s time to join. None of my memberships are with organizations focusing more on community/social interpreters. So maybe it’s time to add a few more.

Why so many organizations? Couldn’t I use the money better? Maybe, but for all of the above organizations I feel that I’m getting something out of it for me personally , and that I also contribute to the community. But more about that in the second post.

Do you recommend any other organizations? How many organizations are you member of?