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

Theory and theory

I guess that autumn has been a lot about CPD (continuing professional development) for me. I took a course in working into English B in August (held by Zoë Hewetson and Christine Adams, I can really recommend it) and then the SCIC (interpreting services of the European Commission) training for trainers course in September (it’s offered by SCIC to trainers at its partner universities, and it is definitely worth the effort). And since August I am also taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on “Surviving your PhD” by the famous @ThesisWhisperer Inger Mewburn of Australian National University. Now, I have already survived my PhD, but the course was also pitched at future and present supervisors, so I thought it might be a good idea, that plus the fact that I really like the Thesis Whisperer and I would get the possibility of taking my first MOOC. Continue reading

What about B?

I got a question from a reader (thank you for asking, made me very happy and inspired a new post!)
Do you think that if you make a few mistakes during an entrance exam in your B language you will be turned away? 
My reader writes: I’m confused because I was under the impression that a B language is something you already have “perfect command” of, according to AIIC. Yet language enhancement classes is something that is often talked about in interpreting circles? That indicates to me that schools do accept students with B languages that are “less than perfect.” 

Continue reading

Happy New Year!

FIRE WORKS in curacao

(Photo credit: Jessica Bee)

We were out walking today and talked about what was the best thing about 2013. For my part it was easy to answer – finishing and defending my PhD! Yes on November 26 I finally defended my PhD, proof here. But 2013 has been a particular eventful year for me. Most of which I have touched upon in my previous post so I won’t dwell anymore on that, suffice to say that I really wish I had had some more time for blogging (no new posts and 500+ unread posts in my feedly…) and twittering these past months. When I met with Michelle (@InterpDiaries), in April I think it was, we both agreed that it isn’t ideas that lack when it comes to blogging, if only there were some more hours in a day.

During autumn I’ve been busy teaching two introductory courses on interpreting, one in Bergen (TOLKHF) and one in Stockholm (ToÖ I). At TÖI (the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies), I’ve also been busy launching our Facebook page and our Twitter account (@TOI_SU). On the course developing side I’ve been busy revamping the course Interpreting II, and I’m very excited to see how it turns out as it will start on January 20th. Traditionally we have always given Interpreting II only with Swedish and one other language. This time it will be Swedish and four other languages which means a completely new approach to both teaching and learning interpreting. I have integrated Lionel’s (@Lioneltokyo) approach to start teaching consecutive, when you have students interpret from notes before they actually start to learn note taking. Next term for Interpreting III we will also take on simultaneous interpreting for public service interpreters. I’m still thinking about this since the techniques in public service settings are not the same as in conference settings. There is also very little course literature on simultaneous interpreting for PSI so we’ll see where that takes me. If you have any suggestions, please comment!

As my PhD project drew to an end this year I have also thought about what to do next of course and I have one or two threads I would like to pursue. My most recent research interest has been young children and interpreting or child language brokering as it has been coined (professor Harris writes a lot about it on his blog). I applied for money for a series of workshops on children and interpreting in the Nordic Countries, we did not get it this time but I will apply again, and hope to be successful eventually. I will also try to get project money for a project on just mapping the practice and the ethics around it in the Nordic Countries.  I would, of course, also like to continue to follow and interview my fellow interpreters. I hope they will let me continue to record them and investigate them. I have such a wonderful material that I would like to build on. And finally, I hope to start up a project with my friend Emilia Iglesias Fernández of Granada. We have been in touch again and I hope it will lead to something. All of this will of course not come to an end (or maybe not even to a start) during next year, but I’m positive some things will.

This autumn I have also been the extremely proud guest blogger at Rainy London’s blog. I get tired just reading about my own week, but that was a very fun culmination of an extremely busy spring. An I was very flattered to be mentioned by Jonathan Downie (@jonathandownie) in Ligua Grecas blog.

When I write this I sit in front of my bedroom window at our house in the country side, it is pitch black outside and in the distance I can see the lights from our neighbours’. My projects now are like the lights out there gleaming in the distance. I hope I will find my way there and catch up with them. Any new years resolutions? No, not really, they only give me bad conscience as I’m really not good at following them, but if any – being better to stay in touch.

I wish you all the best for the New Year and I hope that you have plenty of projects that you will be able to carry through too. Thank you all my friends, (both in and outside Internet) for staying in touch and being so supportive this year. I hope we will continue our discussions in 2014.

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 Kuijamäki 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 Céderic 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 Céderic’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?

 

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.

 

Booth confessions

Interpretation Booths

Interpretation Booths (Photo credit: TEDxMonterey)

As I just finished a week in Strasbourg, I also finished several hours of booth time. The confined space of a booth is a very interesting microcosm. How the interpreters arrange themselves in the booth, who sits where and who sits next to whom, and so forth. Most booths on the private market only have two consoles, so your choice is basically just left or right. But do you prefer to sit near the door or in the corner? Which of the places have the best view? And where are you close to a socket? And do you have a colleague with an extremely strong preference (you really don’t want to spoil someone’s day). At the European institutions there are three pulpits (and interpreters) which means that someone has to be in the middle. I know that I share the aversion of the middle seat with many colleagues, make sure to be on time if you want to avoid it. If I’m first in the booth and have the privilege to choose I look at three things: socket, view, side. I don’t have any colleague I dislike or have had an argument with, but it has happened that I decided to sit in the middle because I knew the two colleagues I was about to worked with were not best of friends, to put it mildly.

How much and what you spread is also important. The booth is our work place so obviously we bring stuff to the booth, but that does not mean that your colleagues would like to share your lip-stick smeared, half-drunken, cold coffee, or that they appreciate having half of the Guardian rustle over their console (actually, the client may not appreciate that either). I had one colleague who was absolutely obsessed about eating in the booth. “This is a booth” she used to say, “not a train compartment”. And I don’t believe she’s entirely wrong either (although I admit to eating, discretely, in the booth), I don’t think your listeners will appreciate slurping over the microphone, neither from you nor your colleague.

I have another bad, although silent, habit in the booth – I put my lipstick on. I’m not really sure the listener really likes sharing my make-up routine. I try to combat this more tic-like behavior.

But it wasn’t really booth manners I wanted to share, but rather booth talk. When we’re on air there’s not much conversation going on between colleagues, and admittedly during some meetings there is not one spoken word exchanged between the interpreters, the meeting is just too dense. But when we’re not interpreting a lot is going on. I have touched upon the topic already here, but I wanted to reiterate it, because, this week,  I really felt how important it is. First and foremost there’s background and terminology check of course. But when working with colleagues you like, it’s amazing how quickly the conversation gets deep and intimate. It is as if the very intense work, the secluded space, and the short moment of time spark important discussions. I don’t mean that every time I meet somebody new I give or get long revealing confidences. But over the years I’ve heard all types of life stories, been part of important decisions, shared deep sorrow, great joy and much more. I’m amazed how many interesting jobs, travels, families and hobbies interpreters have. Provided you like other people and take an interest in others’ life this is really an upside of the job. And interestingly this does hardly ever happen outside the booth, it’s as if the booth is a perfect mix of space and time.

Oh, and a final word. Don’t forget to take your trash with you when you leave the booth. Leaving trash is disrespect for colleagues and technicians.