A few things that should be compulsory in PhD training in Translation and Interpreting Studies

Through my PhD studies (four years done, 18 months to go) I have been blessed with very good supervisors, solid training, interesting conferences and great networking opportunities. But I have not followed a PhD training in Translation Studies and many of the great things I’ve been able to do has been thanks to particular people and to my supervisors’ great flexibility. And therefore I would like to list a few things that I think should be compulsory in PhD training in Interpreting (and Translation) Studies.

Supervisors. At least two who are not competitors. I have three, and I consider myself very lucky. They are not competing for funding or project plans so they are all very positive and supporting to my project. I have one extremely devoted main supervisor, the other two act as supporters to her. They cover different fields and can give feedback from different angles. At least one of your supervisors must be working in the same field as your PhD project

Summer school. Possibility to participate in at least one longer summer school in your field. It gives great opportunities to meet peers in your field and hopefully also to meet good and inspiring professors in your own or neighbouring fields.

Methodological training. Whichever field you are in or whatever methodologies you use you need to get hands on training in different theories and methodologies. How are you otherwise supposed to know which approach, analysis or methods you are going to use with your material. The risk if you do not get this training is that you end up either blindly following your supervisor or making it up as you go along and thereby risking a new invention of the wheel or something similar. The program I follow has a great training unit, unfortunately it’s in bilingual studies and not in translation studies.

A conference a year. At least! Start going to conferences as early as possible. Again, great networking. You also get to test your material and your results on a bigger audience than your supervisor, and most researchers in Translation Studies are both kind, interested and curious of what other people are doing.

Publish. If you would like to continue as a researcher, you have everything to gain from publishing early. Make sure you pick good publishing channels though, with good I mean serious. They don’t have to be THE journal in your field, but having published in peer-reviewed, scientific publications usually weighs more heavily in your CV than your local news letter.

Organize a conference. Not the whole conference of course, but being part of an orginizing committee for a bigger conference or workshop or seminar is also extremely good for learning how these things work, how you apply for money, how administration works at your university and so forth. And lastly, again, great networking opportunity.

Edit a book. Provided you get help, e.g. being one of two or several editors, this is probably one of the greatest learning processes there is in academia. You get to read draft papers from other scholars, you get to see feed back from their peers, you have ample possibility to discuss the contributions with your co-editors. You get an understanding of the whole editing process. You work with publishers and proof readers. Takes alot of time of course, but well worth it for your future academic career.

Make a study and write an article with your supervisor. Really work together with your supervisor, not just him or her co-signing something you did. A very good learning process and a hands on exercise in how your supervisor works and thinks. Will most likely develop your own research skills alot.

Teach. The best way to really learn your topic is to teach it. So if you can get teaching hours that are in Translation Studies and not in English linguistics. Take them!

Now you probably understand why my PhD studies take a little longer than usual. The other reason for this is that I started without funding and worked parallell to my PhD project. Finally, two things that I have not been able to do, but that I also find important.

Get pedagogical training for teaching at University. Different from teaching at secondary school. Good for future job seeking, and also makes you see your own learning process from a different perspective.

Learn how to apply for funding. Yep, that’s the sad current state of at least humanities today. You have to be very good at looking for funding, and make your projects look sexy for funders…

Read the posts tagged “Sorcerer’s apprentice” at the Cogtrans blog for more tips on PhD in Translation Studies.

Thanks to Maria Cristina de la Vega’s good comment I have to add one more thing:

Teaching interpreting workshops in conjunction with local language/interpreting associations. They are likely to be more accessible and probably thrilled to have you. That could also serve as a training ground for the conferences you might submit your papers to, and help you to refine your focus.

As you can se it’s a verbatim of her comment I can only agree. It is a very good experience, more easily accessible and usually a very positive audience, but with tricky and intelligent questions.

Interpret everything – or not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading tips

So many good and interesting blog posts to read this week that I just have to pass them on. First of all read Bootheando’s post on Sibel Edmonds. If you don’t read Spanish scroll down and watch the video.

Then Rainy London Translations has a really interesting and above all funny post on Interpreting Wars, survival tips for the booth.

The Interpreter Diaries continues her postings on becoming an interpeter and interpreting training. Now the time has come to deal with “The aptitude test.”

The Liaison Interpreter has a post on fees (it’s form last week but still worth reading) that largely inspired my own post on the same topic.

Unprofessional Translations turns 82 (years! not blogposts) this week and celebrates with a post on translation and aging. Many happy returns, and thank you for all the interesting posts.

And finally, in Swedish and a few weeks old, the Swedish community interpreter Tolken (just as me), who writes about the Assange court proceedings and the critical comments that the interpreting has gotten there. One of the reasons that Assange can claim that the Swedish rule of law is toothless, is that he has not gotten proper access to translated documents and qualified interpreters.

Isn’t the script changing?

The Liaison Interpreter in Japan has a blogpost on “Isn’t it time to change the Script?”. His idea is that instead of being offended by people who don’t see our job as a real job, interpreters should change their script themselves. By not accepting the “non-job” implication we change the script and ultimately (I suppose) others perception of our job. Lionel ends by saying:

Let’s shift back to the script issue. I suggest to change the script, to stop the offended therefore defensive, sly (= trying to heal the wound suffered) innuendo at those (bastards) who know NOTHING! about my JOB! Let’s try and do this, starting with the following proposition.

“My job is allowing two people who don’t speak the same language to communicate. I am a communication enabler.”

Create your own short sentence.

Now can (we) you deliver a speech, impromptu, around this not-defensive affirmation, explanatory speech of five minutes to a crowd, just explaining what your job is about, while totally avoiding the script that “contrary to what (some f…..g!) people think, not everybody can do it at the snap of the fingers”?

Probably, the best scenario would be to imagine that you have 5 minutes to explain to a class of 10 years old or less what you do for a living (and keep smiling). That would be the first step to change the script.

Not a bad suggestion. In my comment to his post I said that I believe we are already changing the script. The text that inspired his post is my translation of a Swedish colleague’s blogpost. This colleague is an active blogger, interpreters’ union worker and also the creator of a register for community interpreters in Sweden. (There is of course the official register of certified interpreters, but her idea with this register is that there is no official register of active interpreters who are not certified, and since for some languages there is no certification or the certification exam is given only on rare occasions, such a register is needed). I have another interprepreting colleague who has started an organisation for certified court interpreters in Sweden. Their aim is to make the courts use certified court interpreters as a first choice, somethting that courts don’t necessarily do since the certified interpreters are more expensive.

So based on the fact that there are interpreters out there who are blogging, organising themselves and militating for more visibility, I believe that the script is slowly changing. I also said in the comment that I thought he was a bit negative when he said that as interpreters we don’t belong to organisations and we will never meet.

Lionel did not (perhaps not surprisingly) really agree with me in his answer to my comment. And when I wanted to reply again, blogger’s comment function went down. Hence my blogpost reply. Since Lionel wanted pointers to people who militated I have provided links to the colleagues I mention above. I’m sorry that I found the tone in the article negative, I agree that a bit of sceptisism is necessary and maybe I mistook sceptisism for negativism. But positivism is not only a drug prescribed by marketing bureaus, it is a forceful power too.

It’s true that we are not running webminars yet, but Lionel I have sent you a message on Skype and why not a podcast of our discussions in this matter? This may be our first step towards a webminar. But first I have to finish proof reading this volume.

Interpreters make mistakes

Kovács and Kováts have a blogpost on an interpreter making a mistake in the European Parliament Plenary session. Painful of course and possibly not very professional (I say possibly, because I don’t know the reasons behind it).

Many things influence interpreting quality, technology (sound quality, other technology, the speaker and the speaker’s delivery, and of course the interpreters proficiency, language knowledge, health and so forth). Still, needless to say interpreters make mistakes. One of the more infamous mistakes were made by the Japanese-English interpreter in the negotiations between President Nixon and Primeminister Sato in the textile conflict in 1970. Sato apparently replied to Nixon’s demand by saying in Japanese “Senshu Itasimashu”, literally meaning “I will do my best”, but with the more figurative meaning “I will look into it”. What the interpreter actually said is apparently not known, but Nixon went hope believing that he had a promise from Sato and when things didn’t happen as expected, Nixon got extremely upset and it sent Japan out in the cold for years to come.

As one of the bloggers in the meeting with the Hungarian Presidency said: “Interpreting is stressful because so much can be at stake”. Your interpreting may be the reason for somebody believing that he or she is dying when in fact it’s only a routine examination. Your interpreting may be the reason for deep misunderstandings between heads of states.

On the other hand it is also stressful because people used to interpreting will use the interpreter as a good excuse for not upsetting the counter party. If the other party’s reaction showed that he or she did not appreciate your comment you will immediately rephrase and add “I’m sure the interpretation got it wrong” – very handy excuse which most interperters will faithfully translate without comment.

But what can you do as a speaker to avoid mistakes?

1) Use your mother tongue more, i.e use interpreters more: If there is a constant demand for interpreting to and from a certain language the interpreters will get very skilled and more skilled people will train to become interpreters. On top of that you are probably a better speaker in your mother tongue.

2) Provide the interpreters with plenty of documentation and briefings: Rule of thumb: the more prepared the interpreter, the better the interpretation.

3) Pay your interpreters: Just as for any service or product, you pay for quality.

4) Demand trained interperters with good credentials: Interpreting is not something language students do for fun. Most professional interpreters have degrees or have passed certification or ackreditation tests. If an interpreter cannot show such professional credentials chances are you’re not dealing with a professional interpreters.

5) Complain: If you have done all the above and you are still not satisfied – complain. If you complain you have a chance to improve the interpreters preformance or understand the reason for why it did not work as expected.

And what do the interpreters do to avoid mistakes?

1) We prepare: Interpreters spend a lot of time preparing, reading up on back ground information, keeping generally informed, making word lists and so forth.

2) We help each other: At least if we are working in a team (unfortunately not very often for court, medical or social interpreters), colleagues help each other with terminology, figures and misunderstandings.

3) We are always honest with our mistakes: If we discover that we have made a mistake it is our duty to inform our customers. In simultaneous interpretation you will hear either “sorry, it should be…” or “the interpreters corrects…”. In court or social it is easier to interrupt and explain that a mistake was made.

4) We don’t take assignments that we are not trained for: In the interpreting Code of Ethichs it is very clearly stated that we should not accept an assignment that we are not trained for either linguistically or thematically. Of course we do not have to be trained lawyers to do court interpreting, but without basic knowledge of court we should not accept court interpreting for instance. The European Union spend much effort to train their interpreters in EU-matters.

Of course interpreters still make mistakes, but the lesson to be learned is to be attentive to it, and immediately correct it.

Alexia Sloane – budding interpreter!

Have you seen the sweet story of Alexia Sloane who lost her sight at the age of two but who has been developing a strong gift for languages? Thanks to MEP Sturdy she was allowed into the European Parliament to try interpreting. Here she is on a video when she is reading from one of her own texts that won her an award. And here is a little longer article about her.

Now how’s that for an unprofessional or natural interpreter?

Bloggers discuss interpreting with the Hungarian EU presidency

I stumbled over a link to the Hungarian EU-bloggers Kovács and Kováts. In their blog they link to a recorded meeting between the Hungarian presidency and some EU-blogger. Listening to the part on the interpreting and language regimes is sort of depressing for an interpreter. There seem to be more than one misunderstanding or prejudice regarding interpreting in the discussion, here I would like to adress a few of them.

Interpreters cost alot of money and you need a huge amount of interpreters for every meeting: Well, providing interpretation in booths with all the technology needed costs money. A free lance interpreter personally get just over 1/3 of the sum mentionned in the clip for one working day. The rest I would guess is technology, booths and so forth. You cannot hire a conference interpreter per hour. If you require that they produce high quality interpreting product in a wide variety of areas they need to prepare. So logically interpreters are hired per day. If you are a free lance conference interpreter based in Brussels you probably interpret 10-15 days a month, the rest of the time you spend preparing and training.

In a full regime (all 22 languages listened to and spoken) meeting in the EU you need 66 interpreters. You need them because interpreting is a highly complex cognitive task that you cannot keep doing beyond 40 minutes without becoming a really bad interpreter. So for a 3,5 hours meeting interpreters take turns, and they do so to deliver good interpreting.

Yes it’s alot of money but still a tiny amount of the administrative budget of the EU.

Interpreters are paid even if nobody uses them. Yes, luckily! Can you imagine how many skilled interpreters would like to take on assignments where you were only paid if your delegate was talking or listening to you? As if a journalist was only paid if somebody read the article. I book a day, prepare for it, mabye decline other missions and… don’t get a salary because the person who would use me was ill that day or decided not to say anything.

Ministers could say they do not want interpreting and reduce costs by using English: They could, but politicians are not elected for their language skills, they are elected for their political conviction and skill. Furthermore, they wouldn’t reach their own voters directly. Many meetings are webstreamed and they can be listened to by the greater public in every person’s mother tongue.

Outsource the interpreting and use interpreting via internet to reduce costs. Technology is not there yet. Tests have been made and meetings exist with distance interpreting (although not in the EU-institutions), the number of meetings is low however since the experience is not always positive. Interpreting via a telephone line is difficult enough, you don’t have access to the non-linguistic features of the speakers and the listening range is limited. If you want to do it on distance you take the interpreter completely out of the communicative event and the listening range is much worse. So you will not get that high interpreting quality you’re (hopefully)aiming for.

There are alot of rules for interpreting that meeting organisers have to follow. Well again, what type of interpreting quality are you aiming for? If you have one interpreter working for a whole day without breaks and food and sitting so that he or she cannot follow the meeting, you will get the interpreting you pay for. For a general overview of rules see AIICs professional standards

Which language do you work to and from. If you start to work for the European institutions you have a university degree, you must present at least three languages (mother tongue +2) and you have pass an ackreditation test. You work FROM your foreign laguages INTO your mother tongue.

What if your bilingual? Only a negligible group of people are bilinguals in the meaning that you have full mastery of all the domains in two languages without foreign accent (if you think that you are a true bilingual, just think about a word like colanderin your other languages, and if you can cope with colander, try picket line), and can interpret to them from all the other languages they work with(A-language in interpreting lingo). A slightly larger group is very near native and can work between two languages: the mother tongue and the B-language (very near native)

And what is a C-lanugage? A language you work from into your mother tongue only, a language that you know well (at least C2 in the Common European Framework, but that you cannot interpret into. Again simultaneous interpreting creates a huge cognitive load, knowing a language is not enough if you want to interpret into it. You NEVER work INTO your C-language.

Do interpreters use an interpreting software? I have blogged about it earlier – machine interpreting is not here yet. Interpreters get background information from the speakers (if we’re lucky), we use word lists, dictionnaries and (if we have internet access) the webb. But the only thing that provides the actual interpreting is the software contained in the human brain. There are no shortcuts.

Is English used as a medium language? If me and my colleagues in the booth don’t have for instance Slovak as working lanugage, do we use English as medium language then and interpret from English? Well, it depends – If we don’t have Slovak we have to find a booth that interprets from Slovak, a relay, but it doesn’t have to be English. Big relay booths are French, German, English and Spanish, but I regularly work on relay from the Danish booth as well, I have colleagues who prefer the Dutch booth as relay booth. Clearly, if only the German booth interprets from Slovak you have to use the German relay, but mostly it depends on your own language preferences.

If there is anything more I can clarify, please let me know.

Interpreting – a real job?

Today I have a guest blogger, Victoria or Tolken. Victoria works as a community interpreter and this is actually my tranlation of her fabulous blogpost in Swedish on how she is percieved as an interpreter. She has kindly let me translate it at publish it here, any strange English expressions are 100 % mine. If you want to read the original it’s here.

I have not worked as an interpreter that long, but despite this I have several times been asked by the interpreter user (clerk or other official) “And what do you do for a living?”

Well, what do I do for I living? What do you mean for a living? I work as an interpreter!?

Now, I have my research paper to write (it is currently not going very well), I have the Law course I take for interpreters and translators, and I also take a unit in Lusophone African culture and reality. So I guess I have other things to do. But what bothers me tremendously is that people believe that in addition to interpretation, I have to have another job, as if interpreting did not qualify as a full-time profession? When I say that I am also studying, people ask what I will become? Teacher, perhaps?
I wonder how some people think, is interpreting not a real profession?

– No, I clarify, I am a trained interpreter, and it is my job.
– But where did you learn Portuguese, then?
– Well, my father is from Portugal so …
– Oh, so you were born with it.
– Well, there are quite a few terms that you have to study in order to become an interpreter.
– Oh, is it? But language is so much fun. Very much so. Indeed. So nice to be able to speak several languages. What did you say you do for a living?

So being an interpreter is not a real job? It’s a make-belive job that anyone can have. Well, if you know more than one language, that is. And if you were “born” with two languages it’s even better, then you know everything, don’t you? Personally, I remember how my dad always used to talked about things like “enter into foce”, “temporary asylum accommodation”, “tarsus”, “fenced pasture”, “percutaneous coronary intervention”, “the Administrative Procedure Act” and similar words, when I was a little girl. The languages ​​just came flying at me, of course it was completely effortless. Is that what people think?

And then it is sooo much fun with language, but it is of course nothing you can have as a job. As a real job, that is. Well at least not spoken languages.

Yes, the spoken language, the language form we use the most, perhaps the most underrated form of language. It is still a bit surprising that people think like this. That an interpreted conversation would not require preparation and knowledge for the interpreter. It takes a lot more to interpret than you can imagine, and not even all interpreters have mastered it or even understand what it takes. Of course, it requires preparation to interpret a conversation. Especially in the form of realia knowledge, if you do not know the topic it is almost impossible to deliver a good interpretation.

You have to understand what you interpret otherwise the risk is very high that you do misinterpretations. Add to that the whole issue of terminology. Very few, if any, functions as some sort of living dictionaries. We are humans, we forget. It is your responsibility to bring accurate dictionaries and definitions of terms and concepts. This is a task you are constantly engaged in. You should also know most of these words by heart and that requires a lot of training and a good memory.

In addition to the linguistic part, the interpreter should also know how to behave in social contexts, in interaction with other people. You becomee a kind of actor of reality. Simply put, the interpreter must master certain skills in order to be successful. To be a professional interpreter is not a make-believe profession.

It is strange that there are people in Sweden today who do not think that interpreting is a real professional. However, it seems to be quite allright to be a coach of all different kinds. Life coach, fitness coach, mental coach, job coach, school coach, nutrition coach and whatever more definitions there are available. But interpreting is not considered a real profession.
I guess I have to get a real job soon. Maybe language coach?