FIT 2011 on Interpreting


Lollipops and Candy Canes…

As a kid, did you ever go to a candy store with your mom and feel so overwhelmed by the variety of sweets within your reach that you had a hard time picking? This being my first time at a FIT Congress, I did not know what to expect and I found myself hard-pressed to choose which sessions to attend. Being Ms. Practical, I elected to focus on a few of the presentations touching on what I do, versus what might otherwise interest me in the field of languages.

It was revealing to hear the keynote comments of Olga Cosmidou, the Director General for Interpretation and Conferences in the European Parliament. To see the demanding, crucial work done there,click here. Some of the insights that Ms. Cosmidou offered were that the European Parliament is experiencing a serious shortage of interpreters.  There are not enough young interpreters joining the ranks to fill the shoes of the baby boomers who will be retiring.  Furthermore, even if all the baby boomer interpreters are able to be replaced, the Directorate  stands to lose one half of its potential because the new interpreters will not have all the passive languages acquired by the former. She cited that with 69 interpreters they can presently access 569 language combinations and that for that they use a mix of matrix and retour interpreting. The institution she works for, the Directorate General, is the largest employer of simultaneous interpreters in the world.  There is such a shortage of high quality interpreters that they are working with schools in Europe to supervise and have input into the teaching of languages. Despite that, she mentioned how at a recent meeting in Strasbourg, there were 1000 interpreters present, more than all of the Ministers of the European Parliament (MEPs) assembled there.  During 2010, there were a total of 109,667 interpreter days offered. She quoted Umberto Eco who says “The language of Europe is translation”, and went on to comment that the number of official languages they interpret into is estimated to continue to grow beyond the current 23 languages, which started as only four in the 1950’s.

Franz Poechhacker is an associate professor of international studies in the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Vienna.  He is also a freelance conference interpreter with an MA in that discipline from the University of Vienna and the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Mr. Poechhacker gave a dynamic talk on Quality Criteria for Conference Interpreters.  He drew on the work of other colleagues such as Ingrid Kurz, who before the advent of the Internet, designed a questionnaire that she passed out by hand among her colleagues at AIIC to determine what they thought were the qualities that exemplified good conference interpreting.  She found that the top criteria to measure from their standpoint were: sense consistency (source compared to target language), logical cohesion, reliability, preparation and terminology, the latter being behavioral aspects.  The conference audiences that rated her measures from their perspective, changed the priorities somewhat.  The first measure remained the same but it was followed, in order, by traits such as native accent, pleasant voice, and fluency of delivery.  Surprisingly, logical cohesion was last on their list. Among the media though, expectations vary widely. That industry’s preferences are ranked in the following order:  voice quality, followed by completeness (which is not so important), and lastly the delivery, which must be smooth and fluent.

In 2004, Chiaro and Nocella devised yet another survey where the order was found to be:  sense consistency, logical cohesion, fluency of delivery, terminology, grammar and completeness of rendition.

Mr. Poechhacker, with the help of a graduate student, recently replicated the original Kurz survey using a professional Internet survey platform and sent it to all  then registered AIIC interpreters.  They found that in spite of using a statistically more robust mechanism now, that the results were the same and that audiences/users tend to be less demanding than colleagues. AIIC has based quality on peer assessment since the 1950’s.

Terena Bell has her own language services company, In Every Language. She has an MA in French and has published articles on translating and interpreting in Multilingual and the ATA Chronicle.  At FIT, she offered an engaging presentation about problems in interpretation and how translation theory is a good framework for improving interpretation. As an illustration, Terena discussed the difficulties in interpreting the idiom “drink & drive”.  When interpreting that phrase into other languages, one needs to use the technique of amplification to convey its meaning. (Target language employs more words than the source language to express the same idea). She stressed how important training is to avoid pitfalls for new interpreters, such as false friends, that the uninitiated may not recognize. Terena started out in the field of community interpreting and is very familiar with the challenges facing the standardization of our profession in that subspecialty. Coincidentally, I learned at an AIIC meeting that I attended after FIT, that ISO is developing a standard in community interpreting, which could impact conference interpreting ISO standards.  It is being discussed in Technical Committee #7.

So, What’s in a Gesture?

Carolin Adam seems to think there is a lot.  Especially for conference interpreters.  She holds a degree in that field from the University of Heidelberg and is an assistant professor teaching interpreting and translation at the University of Concepcion, Chile. She started a PhD in linguistics there, focusing on interpreting studies and psycholinguistics.

Her presentation analyzed the gestures produced by interpreters during simultaneous interpreting.  Some of her findings were: gesticulation in the booth aids in word retrieval, tapping on the table allows you to access more words.  Bilinguals use more gestures than monolinguals and interpreters use more metaphorical than iconic gestures while working.  Iconic gestures are used while the words they represent are being spoken, such as when speaking of the EU, interpreters would make an all-encompassing movement with their hands.  When a laundry list of terms was pronounced by a speaker, although the enumeration was not verbally expressed, the interpreter would count them out with her fingers, in order to organize her thoughts and aid in memory recall. Political speeches commonly elicited rhythmic gesturing and interpreters use beats to mark conjunctions in speech, raising a hand halfway during a pause.

I had never stopped to think about gesturing in the booth. I just assumed that those colleagues that I noticed doing it were just more extroverted than I. I never had a chance to ask Carolin, but I have since realized that while working in simultaneous mode, if it is a topic I have a connection to, I will draw my fingers together at the level of the heart chakra and then wistfully unfold them in the direction of the audience as if trying to create a rapport with them, convincing them of the importance of a point being made.

I have gone on to learn that Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are parts of the brain that originally supported the pairing of gesture and meaning and during evolution adapted to aid in the comparable pairing of sound and meaning as spoken language developed. They may be part of a single semiotic system that underlies speech.

Back to Reality

In a more pragmatic vein, because we all need to be able to play together, I also sat in on a panel discussion entitled Bridging Cultures Within the Interpreting Field.  It was moderated by Lola Bendana, president and board member of the International Medical Interpreters Association, and vice-chair of the Language Industry Association of Canada. Other participants were Rob Cruz, the chair of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters, Izabel Arocha, the executive director of the International Medical Interpreters Association,  and Patricia Lessard, an ASL interpreter.

The conversation centered around the fact that we need to pull together to succeed and learn from one another.  Rob Cruz pointed out how NAJIT has been able to improve working conditions and recognition for legal interpreters and that the organization can put together a blueprint on how to achieve that for other specialties, citing the work of the Advocacy Committee and the position papers that have been written to create and enforce standards in legal interpreting. Izabel spoke about the push for training that has manifested in the form of workshops. Although they are not the most ideal form of training, they are far more than the opportunities that have been available to the public in the past to learn about interpreting. In the spirit of inclusion, NAJIT has incorporated ASL tracks to its yearly conference, which have been very well received.  Lola mentioned that it  takes time and diligent effort to get results, as was the case in the standardizing of interpreting criteria in Canada. All agreed that recent talk about creating a new generalist interpreting association, in view of the obvious desire to work together among existing associations, is just that, “talk”.  It is something that not only is not needed, but is also difficult to do because of the financial implications of creating a new group, not to mention the time commitment when we are all so  “overstretched”.

One of the closing speeches was delivered by Benoît Kremer, the president of AIIC, and I will likewise end with his thoughts on our industry. Mr. Kremer vigorously exhorted us to adapt to the changing world, diversifying our skills. He stated that the profession is under siege from the standpoint of costs and informed us that in the EU, if you do not speak 4-5 languages, you are limited.  It will be necessary for interpreters to learn new languages. (I also remember hearing at FIT that in 5-10 years, Mandarin<>English is expected to dominate the field in terms of need). He was conciliatory in saying that translators, terminologists and interpreters, of all types, have a lot in common. But his battle-cry undoubtedly echoed prior presenters in that he stressed that there is “no place in the world, nor justification, for a mediocre interpreter.” His clear message was that we have to go beyond basic training, strive to be as professional as we can to survive, and come together to defend good working conditions. He prophesized that our sector is bound to prosper if we focus on professionalism and quality.

The next FIT Congress will be held in Berlin, three years from now. It will be exciting to see how much progress we achieve in the interim and how many of the predictions made above will be borne out.

Posted on August 9, 2011, in ASL, Interpreting, Interpreting/Translation News, Languages and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for the lovely review! I’m glad you enjoyed my talk.

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