Of course I am science, too

Have you seen the twitter hashtag #IamScience? An initiative started by Kevin Zelnio and with the aim to share stories of how scientists became what they are. Kevin published his post end of January, and since then researchers have shared their, in most cases, less than straight path to science. Kevin Storified #IamScience here and stories are also shared on Tumblr. And Mindy Weisberger’s collected quotes in a video.

Although, my path to science was by no means as rough as some of the stories that have been shared, it was far from straight either. I have touched upon parts of my background in earlier blog posts, but here I will share my way from high school to PhD scholarship a short story of some 20 years. This post is mostly for my students, who usually believe I had a career as straight as a highway in the US :-).
My senior year in high school was very tough. I completely lost my drive, and just couldn’t force myself to go to school. Unfortunately, I had moved out from my parents’ that year, so not much of parental control either. My grades started declining, and by the time I reached graduation my grades were mediocre. Luckily for me since I came from being a good student, at least I got my diploma. Today, my children laugh so hard at the fact that their mother had an (equivalent to) E in English. They also laugh hard at pictures from this period since I was experimenting a lot and my hair changed between colours such as blue, red, Bordeaux and black.

I did graduate after all, but I swore I would never go back into a classroom ever again. I started working, first various unskilled jobs, and eventually with horses. The only thing I wanted to do at that time was working with horses, and I took a job as a groom. My horse career was not brilliant, but I was happy doing what I did. Personal life was worse though, my father passed away, and I ended up in an abusive relationship which cost me most of my friends and almost the relationship with my mother. On top of that, I wasted the savings my parents had entrusted me and ended up indebted.

After four rather dark years, I took a course in logging with horses. I spent a year learning horse carriage driving and logging, and I finally left the guy. But horses is a tough business there are thousands of talented and skilled young people (girls) around, who will work for nothing. Although, I had managed to get a few really nice (though short-term) jobs, the truth started to dawn on me – since I was neither rich enough nor talented enough – I would most likely spend the better part of my youth working very hard with other people’s horses without ever being able to own one myself. And I still had my debts to pay.

Usually, in everybody’s life there is always someone special, a person that really made a difference. In my case, I’m happy to still have him by my side. When I met my husband, I was as deep down as somebody can be without using drugs or being locked up. I still have no idea what he found in the selfish, shallow, big mouthed surface I exposed in order to protect my empty, hurt soul. Luckily he saw behind that. When I met him I was between horse jobs, but worked double shifts to pay my debts, nights as a security guard, days as an office hand. He would listen for hours, but also challenge me: “Was this really how I wanted to spend the rest of my life?” With him I figured out that I loved teaching and he reminded me that despite my E in English, I was actually fluent in both English and French, wouldn’t teaching be a good idea? It was really hard to swallow. I had sworn I would never set foot in a classroom, and here I was discussing a career that would put me in a classroom for the rest of my life! I’m not sure I would have done it hadn’t it been for an extended dead line to apply for the teacher training program. Vite fait, bien fait.

I’m not sure when the change took place, probably somewhere in my first, fairly chaotic, year. I was still working two jobs on top of school, and it was not easy to adapt to academia. But somehow I realized I could not get enough of learning. I loved learning new stuff. As I approached the end of the 4-and-a-half years of study, one of my big concerns was to leave university life and look for a job, I was not, as many of my friends (and quite opposite my high school experience) tired of studying. But then another opportunity opened up, I could go on to interpreting school and do a master in conference interpreting. I jumped to that, not that I didn’t want to become a teacher, but because it seemed fun to try something different. After a year of interpreting school and with a Master’s in Interpreting, I had to start working. I started working as an interpreter, but went back to university part time, immediately. At first because my teacher training degree was a Bachelor of Education and I wanted a Bachelor of Arts, and I thought it could be fun to write papers in French and English (yes, I’m serious), later because I wanted to write a Master’s thesis.

Both teacher training and interpreting school went fairly smoothly, but my papers and theses have been another laughing stock in the family. English – two terms instead of one, French – three terms instead of one. Master’s – six (!) terms instead of two. But hey, I have worked and had three children at the same time.

When I met the director of studies to discuss a possible Master’s thesis, she asked me: “Would you be interested in doing a PhD?” I couldn’t even imagine myself doing a PhD, PhD students were those nerds who didn’t have a life and were digging themselves down in something as uninteresting as “The use of “so” in newspaper texts”. I, for my part, was just pursuing something I thought was fun at the moment, but of course the director of studies sow a seed.

And here I am, I’m hopefully soon done with my PhD thesis, I would love to continue researching, I love teaching. I’m not particularly young anymore, but when I look back, I don’t think I would have been as happy and as confident with what I’m doing had I chosen a shorter or more direct path. And of course, I am science too.

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.

Day 17 My best interpreting memory

This is one of the hardest questions to answer. What is my best interpreting memory? And by that I don’t mean that I need to have a good memory in order to interpret. But was there one really special occasion when I interpreted? Something that I will always remember.

The problem is that there are so many fantastic times. First of all purely physically, the adrenaline rush, the flow, the feeling of complete control. But then all the fantastic people that you get to interpret for, and the great colleagues you work with. Sorry if I sound a bit pathetic, and I know not all days are like that, but those are the moments you live for.

When I started working for the European Institutions, I spent quite a lot of time in Luxemburg. It’s sort of their plant school. Interpreting for the meetings in Luxemburg is usually very technical and can be extremely difficult, but I remember how much fun I had with my colleagues there, and what a team we were.

Some speakers I have interpreted for have been magic. Maybe not because they were very famous, or very important, but because they were such wonderful speakers. You get dragged into their way of speaking, and if it clicks with your way of interpreting, nothing is more rewarding.

Then there are also the situations where you feel that you really made a difference for somebody. The fact that you were there at the doctor’s appointment, or in court that day actually made a difference for the person you interpreted for. I don’t mean to say that interpreters don’t usually make a difference, but I’m sure you understand too that there are days where you are more important than other days.

So I’m not sure I can pick out my best memory. Or, yes, of course I can – it’s the day when I passed my final exams at interpreting school. Otherwise, I would not be here.

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

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.

Day 13 An interpreting week

A week of interpreting is usually very varied, since I did not interpret this week (I try to finish a presentation for a conference, and don’t succeed very well), this is probably an average week for a free-lance interpreter:

Monday: No interpreting assingment – preparing for a conference Thursday and Friday.
Tuesday: Continued preparation in the morning. Last minute court interpreting assignment, 2 hours in the afternoon.
Wedenesday: Community interpreting at a local health care center. The afternoon continued preparation for the conference on Thursday and Friday.
Thursday and Friday: Two day conference for a European Works Council. To get a glimpse of a conference interpreting day have a look at aiic:s article on that. I think it has a self-righteous tone but it also gives a certain idea of what it’s like.

Any free-lance interpreter will tell you that no week is the same, certain weeks are desperately calm and if you have a rare language you will probably have to work with other things as well. Ohter weeks you could have gotten three assignments for each day. There is simply no way to forecast.

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

Interpreters: How about getting together and really talk?

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

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

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

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

Update in 2019: This now sounds like eons ago. Esther passed away in the late autumn of 2018, both Al and Lionel has left the interpreter blogging sphere. But if you would like to watch that first hangout it’s still on YouTube here. Lionel does not blog about interpreting anymore, but if you would like organize a trip to Japan you should contact him here.

Day 16 Don’t you ever make mistakes?

Do you remember the list of 30 days? I’m only through half of it, and it’s well over a month, but since I designed it to cover topics that I wanted to share with my readers – here we go. I will continue down the list as soon as I have an opportunity to do so.
And to answer the question in the headline: Of course I do! It has almost become my mantra “interpreters make mistakes”, and I also treat it in a blog post here.
The question is not whether you make mistakes or not, it’s about how you deal with mistakes. Take a court or medical interpreter for instance – if you are unsure, or spot a mistake you may have made it is your duty to report it to the parties immediately. It is your absolute responsibility that you get everything right. Your domain knowledge as a court or medical is extremely important since you have less opportunity to prepare (i.e. you can get called in with just an hour or less of warning).
I don’t mean to say that your responsibility is less when you work in a booth, or at a conference. But usually you have more time to prepare AND you have colleagues that are usually willing to help you. This means that mistakes usually are spotted and corrected fairly quickly. If terminology went wrong, the correct term will probably follow in the next sentence (a colleague wrote a note), or if a line of reasoning was misunderstood it will most surely be sorted out. How does the interpreter indicate whether it’s the speaker or the interpreter who corrects him or herself in simultaneous? Well, if it’s the speaker you’ll hear “the speaker corrects him/herself” and if it’s the interpreter “the interpreter means X or Y”.
The situation I personally like the least is in court where my language knowledge has been challenged several times just as a trick (often) from the “other” party’s lawyer, in order to discredit the counter party through the interpreter. I have had to correct myself in court too, but luckily it has not happened on the same occasions where I have been challenged. I cannot imagine the courage you would have to show in order to first defend your word choice and then stop the proceedings in order to correct yourself.
I have written earlier about my embarrassing mistake when interpreting the word piracy, in this case it was easily corrected by saying “the interpreter excuses herself in this case it should be XXX.” It is also fair to say that even if I hadn’t spotted and corrected the mistake it would hardly had been the end of the world. But I cannot stress enough how these incidents can really be dangerous. It can be absolutely crucial for an individual, but also for states as I wrote about in this post.
So, as said above, the question is not whether you make mistakes or not. The question is how you deal with it. The worst thing you can do is to not be attentive, or not care about your mistakes. A good interpreter knows about damage control. A careless, or maybe inexperienced interpreter, does not care about correcting mistakes or worse, does not admit to or realise a mistake was made.

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

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?

Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate that. To all of you I would like to wish the best for the new year. I hope this will be a year filled with continued discussions via blogs, facebook, twitter and all the other platforms. I am looking forward to more #IntJC and other interesting discussions. I also hope that it will be a year of many occasions to connect outside the virtual world. Personally, I will work hard on my thesis, try to be a little bit more regular with my posts and commitments. Right now though, I will disconnect and spend well deserved time with my loved ones. See you next year.