InterpretAmerica succeeded in sustaining the momentum of their first summit last year, at their second just ended in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The conference was well attended by just under 200 active, well known interpreters from many fields including medical, ASL, conference and legal. NAJIT had a strong showing with Rob Cruz, Chair, Robin Lanier, Executive Director, and myself from the board present. In addition, we ran into many NAJIT colleagues that were also present: Jaime de Castellvi, Giovanna Lester, Tony Rosado, Melinda Gonzalez Hibner, Cristina Helmerichs, Rosa Wallach, Marjory Bancroft and Lisset Samananiego, to name a few. Moreover, there were many OTS (Other Than Spanish) interpreters there whose language combination included Turkish, Mandarin Chinese, Romanian, Ukranian, Korean, Farsi, Portuguese and others. The audience was attentive and involved as current topics having a bearing on our profession such as technology and professional identity were discussed. The keynote speaker was Nataly Kelly, the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense Advisory whose basic message is that technology is influencing our work and that we must embrace it or be left behind. In keeping with the topic at hand, many of the attendees swiftly tweeted snippets from her discourse and that of other speakers throughout the conference. If you look soon at Twitter.com, you may still find them under the hash tag #InterpAmSummit. Nataly stated that the main drivers behind technology were speed, access and availability followed by quality, and not lower prices, as we might think. Innovation has been partly driven by need in times of catastrophes and many solutions are coming in from outside of our field. You can read about her interview of Ray Kursweil on the subject here. Other recent mentions of technology which I found, that dovetail these discussions are a new API we can download to Skype in other languages and an invention that sounds a little fishy!
The other overarching topic that was debated was that of the interpreter’s professional identity. After a moderated exchange regarding independent contractor status vs. employee status in the OPI industry, which was not relevant to many of the attendees, the forum was divided into several groups that discussed different angles of our work. This session was very relevant. The groups talked about Legal interpreting and Advocacy roles, which session was ably moderated by Robin Lanier, Education/Training, Professional Associations, Technology, and Certification/Credentialing. Our own Marjorie Bancroft will be writing a white paper based on the results of these discussions which were provided to her by a scribe from each group and which will be posted on the InterpretAmerica site at the end of the summer. Some of the findings were made known briefly at the end of the hour and a half exchange of ideas. There was one finding in particular I thought very interesting and it is that interpreters from all fields want to have one organization to represent them and that meets all their needs. That issue has been top-of-mind for the new NAJIT board as we start our mandate and we will be rolling out our suggestions to both members and prospective members in the near future. As the premier organization for interpreters, and one that has built a solid brand after an effort spanning many years, we feel that that is our role to do so and we want to frame our mission to encompass that need. In order to do this properly, we need the input and assistance of our members so that this is considered professionally, efficiently and democratically.
There were several technology vendors who brought their wares to the Summit in D.C. It was a good opportunity for our colleagues that are not familiar with conference interpreting to test drive the experience of interpreting in a booth with all the latest bells and whistles. There is also a revolutionary new product called the Digi-Wave by Williams Sound to deliver simultaneous interpreting without need of a booth that all should look into. It’s a big improvement over the old Whisper Sound guide system. NAJIT is having conversations with a dealer to get preferred pricing for our members. Similarly, we were able to see how OPI (Over the Phone Interpreting) software and VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) works. We were gently warned that technology is here to stay so we cannot postpone familiarizing ourselves with it so as to influence its development. Technology will not replace interpreters. The interpreters who embrace it will displace those who don’t. As Barry Olsen reminded us, Wayne Gretsky, the hockey star, says “a good hockey player plays where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”.
Lastly we heard from Dr. Kayoko Takeda, an associate professor at the MIIS Graduate School who is an author as well as a conference and legal interpreter. She talked about her research interests in interpretation and her own experience with the evolution of technology in the corporate workplace as distinct from criminal court proceedings. An attendee asked her whom we could turn to, to conduct research in our field. She informed us that the possibilities are very limited due to the lack of doctoral programs in Translation and Interpretation, which are the natural venues for this work. I was heartened to hear from a colleague at the conference, Andrew Clifford, from the School of Translation at Glendon College in Toronto, Canada, that they are planning on offering an MA in T & I by 2013. Dr. Takeda went on to say that when a profession is tied to degrees and research, its status grows. I couldn’t agree more and I am curious to see what the findings of the group that discussed Certification and Education were.
Next year, the summit will be held in Monterey CA. June 15-16. The organizers emphasized the value of the feedback from attendees in the evaluation form collected at the end of the conference as that is what will determine the issues to be discussed next year. Everyone was very conscientious in complying with the request to be specific so I look forward to continuing the lively debate next year with one more year of experience under our belt in this time of flux for our profession.