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The Ego Deals With the Realities of Life


Continuation of “Freudian Tales” posted on October 24, 2013

Unknown-2

Miami:

Arriving at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, to Judge Rubin’s courtroom promptly at 8:15 a.m. Friday morning, Harry introduced himself to Lia, the new interpreter, originally from Madrid,  more recently from Salt Lake City, with whom he would be working the weeklong Santeria trial.  In a gesture of  bonhomie calculated to put her off guard, he offered to go first, knowing full well that the thorny terminology would not crop up until after the voir dire and opening statement, when they started taking testimony from the Olorisha priest and his Cuban clients. Harry was basically going to throw her under the  truck. He intuited she definitely  had not had time to review any of the prior proceedings in the case to create a glossary. He was just going to subtly but relentlessly point out flaws,  offering the least assistance  he could get away with, without getting called out for it. He felt all new interpreters in his court needed to undergo their trial by fire, and it was his self-designated job to preside over that event, having been there over 30 years. The torture started on schedule when the black, exotically robed cleric started to intone in thickly accented Spanish that the defendant aleyo had been advised to undergo una rogación de cabeza and given an achó to take to the bembé where it would be performed, only a day before the homicide took place. Lia, did what she could with this, translating as above, without having the slightest clue as to whether these words actually had a translation or what they even meant. Preening like a peacock, Harry shook his head ominously and whispered in a very audible tone, “aleyo means outsider, bembé is a ceremony, etc.”  Of course this only served to make her  more nervous as the proper protocol was that he write these terms down for her and she could correct the record, if needed, subsequently.  You could see that the judge, the members of the jury and some of the santeros sitting in the audience were beginning to be concerned that they might not be  fully understanding what was being said. And so the morning dragged on.  In reality things were not as bad as they seemed to Lia, but to be faced with this challenge and an adversarial colleague on her first day at work in a new city was enough to unsettle anyone. The lunch break did not make things any better, to the contrary.  When she slinked into her office, she found a rubber chicken lying on top of her computer.  She had no idea of the significance or provenance of the item  and suspected it was a joke, until the janitor stopped by to empty her wastebasket.  When he saw the chicken, his eyes widened, his gaze went from the chicken, to her and then towards the direction of the courtroom where she had been working.  He quickly blessed himself and looked at her intently, unsure as to whether he should say anything or not. This was not lost on Lia who quickly asked him what was going on, and was told that in voodoo, when someone wants to do a number on you, they grace you with a dead chicken or pigeon. It was 1:45 and she had to be back in the courtroom and in her seat,  ready to go at 2:00, so there was no time to ruminate about this latest  incident. As she slipped into her seat, the judge came out of chambers and announced that the trial would be postponed until the following work day because he had an emergency to attend to. Keeping a straight face, Lia breathed an inner sigh of relief, while Harry was chagrined that his plan for the first day had gone awry. He had been sadistically looking forward to upping the ante in the afternoon before she had a chance to regain her composure over the weekend. Shaking inside, Lia did not say anything to anyone about the chicken episode so as not to draw attention to herself. She used the rest of the afternoon to read whatever scanty information was available on her work computer about the case, then  went home to get the guest bedroom ready for her old friend that was flying in that evening, while she started tossing possibilities around in her head.

Unknown-1Madrid:

Antonio Garrido, the ex-boyfriend of Ana, the conference interpreter we met last time, is boarding a flight at Barajas, to go visit his friend Lia Quesada, who has just moved to Miami. Antonio is an ex-federal agent from the US, who moved to Madrid upon retirement and is doing odd-jobs as a detective and security guard.  He has recently learned that his old girlfriend, whom he is unilaterally trying to get back with, is screwing some German dude.  In order to dampen the affair, he has arranged for some of his underworld contacts to take a hand in the matter and he is getting out of town to put some distance between himself and the events that are planned to transpire. Ana on the other hand is glad she has not heard from Tony again in the last week and is hopeful that he might be giving up his obsession that they hook-up again.  Kirsten has been telling her that she is concerned  about the area she is living in because at times lately, she has felt she is being stalked. She is glad that although Eric is acting strange and picking arguments with her, they are still living together, so she feels “protected”. Otherwise she may have to move from Carabanchel, although the rent is cheap, but she is still not getting a stable volume of interpreting work that will allow her to move elsewhere comfortably.  She has bared her heart to her friend, telling her how much in love she is and how she is doing all that she can to make the relationship flourish in spite of the handwriting on the wall. Although she feels a twinge of remorse over her hitherto unknown role to Kirsten in this “threesome”, Ana has a pragmatic philosophy that “such is life” and if love is not there any longer, you have to be strong enough to admit it and move on. She is ready to sacrifice her long-time friend for her own satisfaction, not realizing that the basis for her own relationship with Eric does not bode well for its outcome. From his perspective, Eric believes in the “survival of the fittest”, or those who successfully adapt to new environments.  He finds Ana’s hot, Latin blood alluring and he loves leading the sophisticated urban life in a big city.  He sees Kirsten as a traditional German girl of hardy, Bavarian peasant stock, whose goal in life is to make a little money using her bilingual talents, get married and move back to Schwangau to live on a farm or to own a bed and breakfast and raise a brood of children. It was good while it lasted because she was a compatriot in a strange land when he arrived, and she took him in  and made him feel at home, but it’s time to break with the past and start a new life with someone more to his present likings.  Nonetheless, he feels guilty because he knows how much in love Kirsten is with him and how she has pinned her hopes on him.  He also knows she is alone, living in a bad neighborhood because of her financial circumstances and is reluctant to leave her in the lurch. He is trying to plan for a yet to be determined date on which he will try to make a more graceful exit and he knows Ana is getting testy. He has not yet made his intentions known to Kirsten or shown any signs, or at least so he thinks,  that he is getting ready to leave, and Ana feels he is using her.  As the Spanish so quaintly say, puede que se quede sin la soga ni la cabra. (Literally, he could “lose both the rope as well as the goat.”) He might end up without one or the other because of his indecision so he has to make his move soon and let the chips fall where they may.  But as far as today is concerned, he is tired after a long day at his clerk’s job at Deutsche Bank. He is ready for  the hearty bohnensuppe Kirsten promised him this morning, which she knows is his favorite, and whatever else the evening might bring.  There’s no sense in depriving himself or poor Kirsten when he can’t make a move yet.  Maybe when they give him a raise at DB and he can help her to move to a better area…

imagesHong Kong:

As Bo walked towards his grandmother’s apartment in Happy Valley, across from the horse track, he gingerly criss-crossed through the street market reflecting on the different culture from what he was accustomed to back in San Francisco.  Vendors were aggressively hawking their colorful wares which varied from fresh produce, to esoteric potions, to live snakes and those bottled in brine, all leaking into the street in jumbled order.  They remind him of his uncontrolled thoughts abruptly spilling into his awareness. The day had gone relatively well for him.  Although a member of the legal team was always present throughout his lengthy interviews with the prospective interpreters, and the latter were obviously bilingual, he was successful in subtly planting doubts as to the loyalty and capabilities of the linguists they were interviewing.  The case they are involved in hinges on proving alleged violations by China of World Trade Organization rules in a greenfield direct investment project by a large American electronics manufacturer.  Bo is focusing on insinuating that they are not going to get a fair shake with these subcontractors because they would not be impartial due to their ties to the government, the chief user of language services in China. Practically all interpreters are government officials who deal with the “non-Chinese world” and perform interpreting duties as a secondary part of their work, although the freelance market is beginning to open.  As a point of comparison, a day’s interpreting fee is double or more than a month’s salary for a government employee, so the interpreters being evaluated are keen on getting this assignment. Although not privy to the conversations among the Americans, the Chinese are beginning to get the impression that their suit is not faring well.  Bo heard them in the restroom, unbeknownst to them, disparagingly referring to him as a “banana”, Hong Kong slang for a Chinese that has been assimilated into Western culture and is yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Bo knows that some of the candidates being considered are members of AIIC as he is, and it has crossed his mind that they might report their suspicions about his handling of this opportunity to their association representatives, not to mention the political implications this could have by undermining his own credibility and that of his client before the WTO tribunal, but it is a calculated risk he wants to take in view of the benefits. Regardless, this does not keep him from fantasizing that he could be prosecuted in China.  He  replays snippets in his head of the recent “show trial” of his namesake, Bo Xilai.  That guy had been sent up for life, even if the transgressions were not the same. In addition, if his U.S. employers catch wind of his self-serving maneuvers, he stands to lose his best  client and ruin his reputation back home. This would be disastrous as the main reason for doing this is  that he is “upside-down” on his mortgage and cannot make ends meet with his normal income. His wife adamantly refuses to consider moving from “Snob Hill”, so he is between a rock and a hard place, which invariably brings on a now-chronic migraine headache. Hopefully, his grandmother will have some traditional Chinese medicine to get him through the next few days, although he suspects that knowing her, the advice will be to eliminate conflict in his physical body by acting ethically. What to do?  What is best for him in the long run? He would probably never be found out, it would all be over in a few months and he would get out of the financial mess he had gotten himself into when he bought that damn apartment at the height of the real-estate boom. To be continued… Be part of the creative process by sharing your opinions as the storyline concludes:

Freudian Interpreting Tales


sigmundA quick refresher for those of us who don’t remember Freud’s tripartite structure of the psyche.

The Id:

Miami

Seconds before the alarm on his i-phone went off, Harry languidly opened one eye,  methodically scratched his parts and peered through the blinds that faced  the Atlantic Ocean and the 395 causeway on South Beach.  Traffic was barely starting to crawl but he knew he had to move fast to not be caught in the crunch when everyone starts to head towards downtown. He had to be at the federal courthouse by 8:00 for a big trial in which he was going to be interpreting with a new hire.  Although he would never admit it, Harry had developed a ritual over the years to haze new interpreters at the courthouse and demonstrate his seniority, or so he thought, because  he technically didn’t have any. Today’s game was particularly exciting because although she was touted to be a very good interpreter, she had almost always worked in conference settings. There was no way she could have hoarded the amount of legal trivia Harry had proudly amassed in his brain over the last twenty years, and he felt certain some of these obscure terms would be showcased in today’s proceedings.  He relished in anticipation the “deer in the headlights” look on his prey’s face when it was her turn to interpret them and craftily planned what his response would be.

Madrid

Halfway around the world, it was 1:00 p.m. Ana was well into her day’s work, interpreting at the Global Forum to Eradicate Child Pornography being held at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid.  She was hoping she would not run into her friend Kirsten during the lunchtime break, who was working the German booth. Understandably so, because although she justified it to herself because her friend had told her their relationship was on the rocks, Ana was having an affair with Kirsten’s boyfriend, Eric. She was afraid that during an argument between the two of them, that uncomfortable truth would come out and she would then have to deal with it. It could hurt her reputation in the circuit as well as affect her output. But in the meantime, he was great in bed and she had had quite a dry spell after her own breakup over a year ago.  Ana was unrealistically hoping that the two Germans would soon come to a cordial or at least  civilized separation, in accord  with their intrinsic nature, so that this detail would never come to light. After all, from her Teutonic experience, scanty as it was, they were not nearly as hysterical as Latinos. And that was something she did know a lot about.

Hong Kong

Lastly, all the way around the world in Hong Kong, it was 7:00 p.m., and Bo had finished his interpreting work held at the posh Kowloon Hotel, at interviews grilling potential translators for the attorneys that had brought him there from San Francisco.  As the image of the scintillating skyline of neon-lit skyscrapers receded on his way   to Happy Valley on the tram, he realized how exhausted he was. It had been a long day and he was shouldering a delicate responsibility in advising his clients on the selection of a linguist for this all-important case. He had hoped he would be asked to do all the work himself which entailed flying regularly to HKG, a lucrative gig with the added benefit that he could also visit his elderly grandmother and mentor, but that did not seem to be in the cards unless he swiftly took matters into his  hands and manipulated the outcome of this trip for his own  benefit. It would be relatively simple to do, as luckily none of the attorneys spoke Mandarin, and after all, the justification was they would be getting himself, the best professional available, who was thoroughly familiar with the case.

                                                            Continued here

There Is More Than One Way to Skin a Cat; a Personal Story


images-2What do a Brazilian Butt-Lift and a Kindle book have in common?

They are two examples of our society’s penchant for instant gratification. Language proficiency  and by extension interpreting, nonetheless, are not abilities you acquire overnight. They improve exponentially as you practice, and reflect consciously or not, the experiences of a lifetime.

I came to the U.S., as a Cuban exile with my family, at the age of nine, speaking almost no English.  We arrived to a completely new environment, and to what my four brothers and I naively classified as Davy Crockett country from our limited exposure to American folklore. Life in a wooded enclave where we largely fended for ourselves after school and learned to adapt to the Spartan life of New England.  While my brothers were out trapping and hunting for fun, I devoted myself to self development through reading, favoring fairy tales as a form of escapism from the inevitable household chores there was no one else to do. One of my fondest memories as a kid, is of creating a tepee in bed with my covers, after “lights out”, when I would read, flashlight in hand, so as not to wake my siblings. Above all else, I wanted to speak English well to fit in, get good grades and make my parents proud of me.  Imagine my discouragement when learned that the “F” grades I was so proud of did not stand for “Fine.”

After initially cutting my ties to Spanish, as many first generation exiles do, I went back to my native language by reading an eclectic mix of periodicals. They included magazines my parents’s Cuban friends would give us when they were finished reading them, some of which contained what were for me,  riveting excepts of unbridled sexual passion.  These came via the  stories of Corín Tellado,  a prolific writer of romantic novels that were very popular in Spanish-speaking countries and were definitely not permissible reading for an eleven year old at my house. Fortunately, my parents had no time to read magazines so they were unaware of this content. I remember that “tepee-time” required a dictionary to figure out what she was even writing about. That input was thankfully balanced by  my mother’s classical texts from the M.A. in Spanish Literature that she went on to get in this country, which she would eagerly share with me. Another favorite, secret childhood activity that fed my avid love for reading in English, was one that I could not share with my parents either because  they would have never allowed it.    There was  a semi-abandoned paper mill a few blocks from my house. It consisted of a warehouse dotted with mysterious, boiling, gurgling vats filled with chemicals, where printed materials were dumped and melted for recycling. Looking back, the place was an accident waiting to happen, without any type of security, but that was the least of my worries.  The allure it had for me was is that it was a clandestine, eerie, half lit treasure trove of all kinds of books with adult content I would never have access to  otherwise, and comic books, which became a great source of information on American pop culture for me. I would sneak in after school when the workers had left and have a field day going through the musty piles of publications messily stacked in the aisles, beckoning half-heartedly to see if I would spring them from death row.

Ka-ching in more ways than one

While in college, studying plastic arts, I had a revelation. The puritanical work ethic I had eased into in New England had a silver lining, work could be fun!  My husband-to-be was writing the dissertation for his PhD. In French Lit, and to supplement his income as an Assistant Professor, he used to do conference interpreting. To me as a twenty-year-old, that simply meant he was paid to talk and seemed infinitely easier to accomplish than my career path at the time.

Fast forward thirty years. Unfortunately it was not as simple as I thought then. However, if you are able to consciously align your values, activities that you enjoy and output that is of worth to a paying segment of society, you will usually end up in the right place. I am fortunate that over the years I was able to harness my desire to work “speaking” in another language (which had never occurred to me), my interest in studying and the discipline to work hard. The universe opened the right doors for me. I audited what conferences I could, signed up for whatever workshops were available and trained hard with generous professionals who shared their time with me.  As many before and after me, I  did not have the option to go away to school, nor where there many programs offered back then, but I made it a point to secure the mentors and the practice needed to pursue my dream of becoming a professional interpreter.

If interpreting/translating is a field that interests you, rest assured that “where there is a will, there is a way” and opportunities have expanded nowadays that will make this career choice not be as daunting as it may have been in the past because of a lack of standardized resources. Today, we even have our own section in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

A Stimulating Conversation With Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche


I have just finished reading Found in Translation, the new book  which has just come out by Nataly and Jost, and is already lined up for a third printing!  I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the T&I sector. Having worked in the industry for so many years and always striving to keep up with new developments, I now realize that until I read the book, I only had a miniscule idea of all the ways our profession affects global events ranging from personal issues,  to business, to governmental affairs and everything in between. It is a “must read”, a very enjoyable read and it will broaden your horizons and allow you to speak authoritatively to promote what we do. Read on to learn what we discussed:

1. What new fields do you see opening up for our profession with the advent of the digital age? Have you noticed any type of interpreting that has become obsolete over the years?

NK: The digital age is helping the fields of translation and interpreting both evolve, although it’s also making things more complex. For the last few years, I’ve been interested in real-time online translation, which is somewhat of a hybrid between interpreting and translation. It occurs in real time, but is in written form.

Market data from Common Sense Advisory indicates that all types of interpreting are growing, but especially on-site interpreting. There is always a lot of buzz about video and telephone interpreting, but they are not growing as swiftly as one might expect. On-site interpreting has not become obsolete. Quite the contrary – it’s one of the fastest-growing services in the market.

As for types of interpreting that may become obsolete, some people believe that consecutive interpreting eventually will, since simultaneous is so much faster, even though some studies show that the quality of simultaneous is often inferior to, mostly due to the speed.  Most of our studies show that when it comes to language services, speed trumps everything else for most applications and settings.

2. What is on your “wish list” for technological advances/devices for the profession?  How close are we to any of them?

JZ: In general I think we’re on the right path with how translation technology is developing. For a long time we were stuck in the same old paradigms of translation memory and termbases, but in the last couple of years development has started to move in more interesting areas.

One area that I think is particularly interesting is a more intelligent analysis of the data in databases such as translation memories. This results in many more possible matches, also called subsegment matching. The other area that I expect great things from is a close integration of machine translation into the more traditional technology. I don’t mean the typical “pretranslation” by machine translation that is post-edited by a translator, but processes by which the data that the translator has collected can “communicate” with external machine translation data to achieve more helpful results.

On the project management side of operations, I think we will see more efficient models to allow for direct contact between the translation buyer and the translator. This in turn will challenge LSPs, or language service providers, to find creative ways to bring added value to the table.

3. How can we bring together language associations  around the world to help their members leapfrog the learning curve in those places where the profession is very young or has not developed significantly?

JZ: This is an interesting question. First, we can learn what went wrong when translation technology initially entered the market 15 or 20 years ago. It was a painful experience to convince all the different stakeholders—translation buyers, language service providers, translators, and educators—of the value of those technologies. Those stakeholders who adopted the technology at the beginning—primarily translation buyers and larger language service providers—found that their needs were naturally accommodated more in the ensuing development process.

How could clearer communication have made this process go more smoothly? That’s an essential question to answer and then apply so we can do a better job at introducing new technology and helping other industries get over similar humps (for instance, perhaps some of the more technology-skeptical interpreters could learn from the translators’ experience).

Our profession is actually still underdeveloped in some ways in the U.S., where many members of the translation and interpreting industries have a non-industry-specific educational background. Many places in Europe and South America are ahead of game. I believe our emphasis should be on more accessible tertiary education in the U.S. that prepares for the actual work in the real world.

Associations can play an important role in helping to build and promote such programs.

4. After reading your book and the successful instances of translation crowdsourcing for well-known publications such as The Economist, do you think it can  spread to traditional sources of income for translators?

NK:  Crowdsourced translation has been a source of income for freelancers and agencies for many years now. Already, many companies pay for professional editing services and volunteer translator community management. It just isn’t a very big area, which is why so few people ever see those projects. We published a report that reviewed more than 100 different crowdsourced translation platforms, but many of those were not with name-recognizable companies. Many start-ups in the high-tech space use this method.

However, it’s important to remember that crowdsourced translation is not free. Also, saving money is not the primary motivation for using this model. Many high-tech companies do this just because their online communities begin to request it. In some cases, their users simply begin translating content without them even asking to do so. As a result, some of this activity springs up without the company’s permission or even their awareness at first, as it did in the case of the Economist.

5. Have you noticed any pronounced differences in work categories between the U.S. and other parts of the world , for interpreters and translators?

JZ:  In many parts of the world outside the U.S., translators and interpreters have a stronger standing because they are seen as “real” professions. In the U.S., with its generally low level of language learning, anyone with a smattering of any second language is perceived as capable of engaging in translation and interpretation. We hope that our book can serve to change that.

6. How can we increase the number of potential interpreters in the feeder, in view of the large number of retiring baby-boomer interpreters around the world?

NK:  Some educational programs for interpreters report to me that their graduates cannot find work. Other sources are telling me that there is a shortage of interpreters. Much of it depends on geography, setting, and language combinations.

For example, the U.S. has a shortage of interpreters for languages of national security. Locations that receive large refugee populations also typically struggle to find enough medical, community, and court interpreters for new arrivals. The challenge is not unique to the U.S., of course. Countries around the world face similar challenges.

The fastest way to attract more young people to the field is to improve remuneration, but that alone is not enough. The profession as a whole needs to become more developed and mature. Education and training programs are lacking for many areas of the field, especially in the United States, but we’re seeing more and more emerge each year.

7. From your experience, what advice would you give to those considering becoming interpreters and translators, who want to make it to the top as quickly as possible?

NK & JZ:  We can answer this one in unison – don’t be afraid of technology!  It really is your friend.  Technology, training, and passion for languages are really the three key ingredients for success.

Readers, please join the conversation and tell us if you have read the book and what you think of it.  We would love to share your experience!

In addition, take note to login to http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1493052/xl8book, on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 12:00 (PST), 15:00 (EDT), when our colleague, Barry Olsen, will be interviewing Nataly Kelly from Irvine Auditorium at MIIS.

Interview with Barry S. Olsen and Katharine Allen of InterpretAmerica


The interpreting  profession has really advanced into the limelight this year, to the degree that we  were  the subject of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Taniguchi vs. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. Thus I thought it would be apropos to interview two visionary entrepreneurs in the field about their insights into the industry.

Barry Slaughter Olsen and Katharine Allen founded InterpretAmerica in 2009 with the express purpose of raising the profile of interpreting. Since 2010, InterpretAmerica has organized a yearly Summit on Interpreting, which brings together leaders from across the interpreting industry, individual interpreters, and end users of interpreting services. The 4th Summit on Interpreting will take place just outside Washington, D.C., in Reston, Virginia, on June 14-15, 2013.

1.              What trends have you identified in the interpreting industry after the first three summits?

[InterpretAmerica] More than anything else, we have seen a growing desire for information about the interpreting industry from all of its players—interpreters, professional associations, technology providers, agency owners and end users. We think this is why the research and white papers we have commissioned and published as a service to interpreting over the last three years continue to be downloaded, studied and cited.

This desire for information has dovetailed with increased awareness and acceptance amongst the diverse stakeholders in our industry. The 1st Summit marked the first time that leaders from many sectors sat in the same room and got acquainted with each other and with the complexities each interpreting sector faces. At that time, the lack of mutual awareness across sectors, and even an element of suspicion and skepticism as to the validity of the challenges other sectors face, were notable. As a profession, interpreters have been careful to qualify the kind of interpreting they do and where they do it, leading to an often incorrect assumption that interpreters never cross over from one environment to another.

At the recently-concluded 3rd Summit, that atmosphere had completely changed. There is now a marked and growing interest in improving communication and collaboration among the various sectors of the interpreting profession (e.g. conference, medical, legal, signed language, etc.). Research, including the Interpreting Marketplace Study commissioned by InterpretAmerica for the 1st Summit, has clearly proven that there is a desire to collaborate. Professional associations have realized this. In fact, The ATA recently initiated a monthly conference call with interpreting association leaders in an effort to increase communication among professional leadership.

The rapid integration of technology into most interpreting sectors is also very evident, and something that we have tried to highlight and educate about at the Summits on Interpreting. In particular, the increasing adoption of social media tools by the profession at all levels, from individual bloggers and LinkedIn accounts, to companies embracing Twitter and Facebook as powerful marketing tools and professional associations moving heavily into online options for education and networking, such as webinar training sessions. We have observed a growing awareness that as an industry, we must embrace and attempt to channel technology to our own best interests, rather than shy away from it in fear.

2.              Do you see an interest/willingness among stakeholders and the different vertical industries related to our profession to work with our sector, and are the leaders of our sector willing to work with one another and the former?

[InterpretAmerica] Absolutely! One of the most gratifying aspects of the Summits on Interpreting process has been the response of diverse stakeholders in our field. The willingness and interest are there. The 21st century so far has been marked by a trend toward collaboration. Interpreting as a whole stands to benefit greatly from the collaborative efforts of all the players in the profession and industry. One excellent example of this is the workgroups that have convened at the Summits on Interpreting for the last two years. Competition and rivalries will always exist in a free market, but the need for language services continues to expand. We believe the work undertaken by these workgroups is serving as a foundation that that entire profession and industry can build upon.

That said, one of the realizations that has come from the Summits is how much work we still have to do to educate the rest of the world about interpreting and how it fits into related industries. For example, how do we, as an industry, successfully interact with the big technology companies that provide global communication solutions to encourage them to integrate features that make simultaneous interpretation possible when using their products and do so before they go to market? The professional workgroups on advocacy and public relations held at the last two Summits have helped to define that process. We are very much looking forward to the publication of the White Paper on this year’s workgroup, One Profession, One Voice: Selling the Interpreting Profession to the Public, led by PR expert Spencer Critchley.

3.              Can we overcome the much touted fragmentation in our industry?

[InterpretAmerica] We are optimists. So, our answer is a definite “yes!” InterpretAmerica was born out of a deep frustration of how our industry’s fragmentation was holding the entire profession back. The success of the Summits on Interpreting comes from the fact that we were not alone. There is a great desire for a stronger, more cohesive frame knitting the profession together, so that each specialized sector can continue to provide the unique expertise required for the settings they tend to – be it medical, legal, conference, etc. – but from within a broader context where interpreting in general is better recognized, better paid, and has the resources necessary to produce capable and competent professionals across the board.  At each successive Summit, we see less fragmentation and more collaboration and synergy.

Furthermore, the growing trend for individual interpreters to practice across sectors is helping to bring an end to this fragmentation, as are the technological breakthroughs of the last 10 years, which have given us access to more information about interpreting than ever before. Twenty years ago, it was difficult to even find out much about the profession, much less meet actual interpreters outside of your own workplace. Web 2.0 and social media have changed all that. Specialization will always exist, and interpreters will always have their preferred work environments and areas of expertise. However, that does not mean that we cannot work together to address issues that affect us all.

4.              Interpreter training is such an important requirement to ensure competent services. Are there new viable training options for those who cannot afford the time and money that a formal degree program requires? Are there any vetted online courses being offered that you know of?

[InterpretAmerica] The development of interpreter training and education has been a focus of the Summits from the very beginning. Numerous institutions with interpreter training programs have participated in the Summits, from on-line course providers to accredited institutions of higher learning with undergraduate and graduate degrees in interpreting. We can say with certainty that the number of offerings is growing, particularly on-line training courses. We expect these only to increase in number and variety, given existing continuing education requirements set by certification schemes and professional association rules. There is currently no single organization or process for vetting these courses.

Traditional academe does not move quickly, and the creation and approval of new interpreting degrees at accredited universities and colleges take a great deal of time and effort. Even so, several new programs have been launched and there are several more in the works in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Clear paths into interpreting that pass through institutions of higher learning are one of the best ways to “professionalize” what we do, but higher education is going through radical change brought on by technological change and the new learning models it has enabled. Even so, these degree programs, particularly at the MA level, continue to be the “gold standard” for employers in many areas of interpreting. One thing is for certain, interpreting needs clear standards for training and education. It is our hope that the workgroup on the creation of a national consortium of interpreter trainers that met at this year’s Summit will provide a roadmap forward. It was facilitated by two well-recognized trainers of interpreters of both signed and spoken languages.

5.              There has been much talk about technology from OPI and VRI to devices used by individuals on the job, such as the iPad, iPhone, MP3 recorders, the Smart Pen, etc.  Have you seen any of them break out of the ranks and dominate a particular field?

[InterpretAmerica] Any technology that makes it easier and more cost effective to deliver quality interpreting services will find a solid foothold in the market. This is why over-the-phone interpreting and video relay interpreting have grown into a billion-dollar industry.

It’s interesting to note that all of the technologies you mention were designed for mass markets, not specifically for interpreters. Individual interpreters (usually the technophiles) find these new tools and then figure out how to apply them to their professional activity to increase quality, performance or productivity. Interpreting is a comparatively small industry and few if any technologies have been developed specifically with an interpreter’s needs in mind. But when you couple new platforms like the tablet computer and smart phone with the relatively low cost of developing customized “apps” there is an amazing window of opportunity for enterprising interpreters and computer programmers to finally focus on designing and producing programs that can be created to meet interpreters’ specific needs.

Tablet computers—like the iPad— have already given interpreters access to information and resources that were previously unavailable in many work environments. In conference interpreting, these devices will probably be the gateway toward a “paperless booth” for interpreters. This shift won’t come without difficulty and will require adjustments, but the interpreters that adapt to this new technology-enabled environment will remain relevant, while those who require printed documents only to do their work will see their opportunities diminish.

However, the real technology to keep an eye on as the 21st century progresses is cloud computing. Although not possible yet, “the cloud” has the potential to deliver high-quality video and multiple channel audio across multiple platforms, making simultaneously interpreted videoconferences widely available around the world. Once this becomes a reality, it will have a dramatic effect on the interpreting industry across all sectors.

6.              What topics are you considering for the 2013 InterpretAmerica Summit in Washington D.C.?

[InterpretAmerica] Anyone who has attended the Summits on Interpreting knows that we take a unique approach to programming. Each Summit allows us to take the pulse of the profession and present the most relevant and up-to-date information to a broad cross section of stakeholders. Based on feedback from this year’s Summit, it is safe to say that the various workgroups will be back and that technology and innovation will be an important component of the 4th Summit.

Attendees have made it clear that the unique mix of representatives from across the interpreting profession and industry make the Summits a valuable place for networking. So we are planning on increasing the time and opportunities provided during the Summit to network.

We will be shaking things up for the 4th Summit as well, with new presentation formats and activities.

Be sure to visit the InterpretAmerica website in the coming weeks. A sneak peak at next year’s programming includes:

  • A new forum for those most effectively promoting our profession via social media forums, including bloggers and those highly active on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • A continued focus on specific technologies impacting the field.
  • A follow up look at interpreting in conflict zones
  • Interpret-Talks – A new segment for individuals to present big ideas for the field in 10-15 minute presentations.
  • Bringing end users into the fold – from business clients to immigrant communities to the deaf
  • Heeding our history – gleaning lessons to be learned from the development of translation and interpreting field  

7.              What would you like to see five years from now as positive outcomes initiated at InterpretAmerica?

[InterpretAmerica] A more unified profession with a stronger framework for practitioners and stakeholders, and which is better recognized by the general public.

We would also like to see a much higher degree of technology literacy and advocacy among interpreters so that we can be leveraging these critical tools to best promote our profession.

Tell us how you feel about these insights and what you would like to see on the agenda at future Summits!

Four Issues Interpreters Are Talking About


In my review of social media and conversations I have had with interpreters in the U.S. and abroad, I find the following topics are being followed closely and I would like to submit them to your consideration for feedback

The Capita/Applied Language Solutions Situation in the UK

The latest developments are that, instigated  by Margaret Hodge, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the powerful  National Audit Office (NAO) will be investigating the matter.  A six week deadline for the investigation has been set which will come due at the end of July.  The scope of same is significant.

On Wednesday, July 18, the Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons which scrutinizes the policy, administration, and spending of the Ministry of Justice also launched a call for written evidence to examine the service provided by Applied Language Solutions and the process by which it was selected.  See an article in the Law Society Gazette dated 18 July 2012 for greater detail.

Furthermore, Gavin Wheeldon, the CEO of Applied Language Solutions, at a time of utmost upheaval during the implementation of the Interpreting Framework Agreement, has suddenly quit his position. Read the circumstances at The Manchester Evening News, Business Section.

What repercussions can this have on the rest of the industry?

The Need for Education/Standardization/Certification In the Interpreting Profession

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Translating and Interpreting sector in the U.S. is expected to grow 42% from 2010 to 2020, much faster than for all occupations, and job opportunities should be best for those who have a professional certificate.

The Glendon College at York University in Canada is one of two institutions in North America whose interpreting curriculums have been vetted by AIIC.  I contacted them to see how their programs were doing. Andrew Clifford, the coordinator for the Master of Conference Interpreting tells me they are expecting the first cohort for  interpreting in September  and although they have experienced some volatility in the existing translation programs, the trend is mostly positive as students seek out second careers during the global economic crisis because the translation industry seems to be somewhat recession-proof.

Karen Borgenheimer, a certified interpreter who teaches at the Professional Translation and Interpreting Program at Florida International University (F.I.U.) confirms that  their program has grown about 56% in the last 2 years. Most of their students are professionals who have either lost their jobs or are looking for an additional source of income given salary cuts and inflation.

F.I.U. also get many women who have left the job force to raise families and either can’t get back into their previous professions due to budget cuts or are looking for more flexible work schedules, with very few “college” age students.  This is consistent with the findings of Common Sense Advisory’s 2010 Review of the Language Services Market, indicating that this profession is not typically embarked upon by high school or college students.  It is of concern because 18.24% percent of interpreters are between the ages of 58-67, or retirement age. Only 5.29% is younger than 28[i], which is why it is very important that we reach out to high schools with programs designed to attract young people to the profession.

Michelle Hoff, a freelance conference interpreter at the European Court of Justice and an interpreter trainer at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain, reports that their interpreting programs are relatively stable, which may be a trade-off between those who have no money to attend during the economic downturn and those who want to take advantage of the hiatus to improve their skills.

It is interesting to note that ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards, has initiated the creation of a standard practice instead of a policy, to accredit an organization to give credentials to individual interpreters.  Visit their website at http://www.astm.org/ and become involved.3.

Interconnectivity Through Social Media; Especially YouTube, Blogs, Twitter and FB

There has been a veritable explosion of valuable national/international connections created, far too lengthy to detail, in the last two years.  Just browse for Interpreting and Translating in these forums and you will be amazed at the sheer number of colleagues participating, from which we can all learn.

Major Players Driving Change

In the U.S., in my estimation, the main forums  seeking to lead positive changes in our profession are The American Translators Association, The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators,  AIIC, InterpretAmerica, LLC, The International Federation of Translators, and  Common Sense Advisory.  If you want to make a difference, learn what these organizations do, avail yourself of their expertise and give input on how to shape our future. Only then can we be satisfied with outcomes.

What do you think?  What would you add?


 

[i]. Kelly, Nataly, Stewart, Robert G., Hegde, Vijayalaxmi, (2010) A Study of Interpreting in North America Commissioned by InterpretAmerica, pp. 9, © 2010 Commonsense Advisory, Inc.

Three Exotic Assignments at Venues With Different Ethnic Cultures

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


I was recently interviewing to hire freelance interpreters, thankful that I was able to participate in a miniscule way to lower the high and static U.S. unemployment rate. One of the applicants took the initiative to tell me she was regularly employed as a freelancer, interpreting insurance claims for a well-known carrier that pays her an exorbitant amount of money to work throughout the state.  I was happy to hear that because I thought she might be good, if she commanded those prices, and we would be able to use her services for a normal fee during her down times.  That was before I read an article in the Economist that put this in perspective. Apparently, institutions and companies with very deep pockets do not always behave rationally.

Much to my surprise, when I tested her with a simulation of consecutive discourse similar to that used in the work she allegedly does, her performance was very poor. And I keep these tests simple to get a general idea of breadth of vocabulary, types of assignments one can do and what training candidates may benefit from.  There was no saving this baby. I tactfully informed her that she needed to improve her performance to work for us.  I did not expound, but unfortunately for her, I don’t think she will keep her current  job long. Sooner or later, someone who can tell the difference will inform the powers that be of her incompetence.

My pronouncement did not faze her. She didn’t skip a beat and blithely offered herself as a conference interpreter no less, which she deemed was more her style as in that mode, she doesn’t have to rely on memory because she  interprets simultaneously. I was mesmerized by the woman’s cheek as that skill is much more demanding than consecutive. I couldn’t resist asking her what experience she had in that field. She gamely answered that she had only done one conference, three months before—her trial by fire.  Undaunted, I asked her about payment and how it had gone. She informed me that she had been recruited by phone, sight unseen, by an agency from another state, to work in Florida.  She was only informed at the last minute that the end client was a well-known company that sells health/weight-loss products and the extent of her preparation was to visit their website the night before.  The day in question, lo and behold, her booth partner, because simultaneous interpreting is done in pairs, never showed and she ended up actually doing the conference by herself the full day. She did admit that by the afternoon her brain was fried.  I cannot but wonder about her audience’s, as interpreters, albeit experienced ones, switch off between one another every half hour to be able to maintain the integrity of the interpretation.

Our intrepid candidate went on to say that she had not yet been paid—some incredibly substandard wage—and that her employer had recently contacted her to do another conference two weeks hence.  She must have seen the incredulous look in my eyes and hastened to say she would not do it unless she was paid for the prior work by the day before the new assignment I only nodded, and asked her if she knew the subject matter for the new conference and what colleague she would be working with. She did not know and could not have cared less. Her only concern was being paid for the first assignment.

That, dear readers, is the seamy side of the current economy. It’s myopically penny-wise and pound-foolish. In one case, the insurance company is paying this  “interpreter” more than trained certified interpreters for something she cannot do properly. I assume her employer does not know either the cost for said service nor the quality he is getting. In the other, this same “interpreter” is paid peanuts to do something she most definitely cannot do. The language company that hired her is getting cheap labor to secure the bid, and the final user is wasting his money, not to mention the time of the attendees, but in this second scenario everybody thinks  he is nominally “saving” money.

This is one little example I happened to witness in my field, of  the type of practices that are keeping us in a vicious circle and that will not help us come out of our economic doldrums. And it seems to not be an isolated instance. I have been told by several familiar with this situation in our state, that many end users are foregoing their historical language providers in search of bilinguals who may be able to do the job for less. The only way to grow the economy is by adding value to our offerings doing whatever is needed to improve our skills and in tandem, encouraging the entrepreneurs in our midst to create jobs for us, which role is more important than that  of the often touted innovators according to Gallup research.  All of us working together will lead the way out of this lost decade.

Commentary on 2nd Session of #IntJC


Our second discussion over Twitter took place yesterday at 10pm Tokyo time.  This time we had nine participants from Spain, Slovenia, Venezuela, Japan, U.S., and Belgium. The topic at issue was Stress and Interpreting.  For a full transcript of the 1.5 hr. discussion, click here.

The reason this topic was chosen is because interpreting is acknowledged by most in our ranks to be a stressful occupation due to the fact that you only have one shot at getting it right and many times there are significant stakes involved. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), 90% of visits to the doctor are caused by stress and stress is linked to 6 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide. Furthermore the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that mental diseases including disorders caused by stress will be one of the leading causes of disabilities by 2020.

Some quick findings from our chat were that there is a thin line between positive excitement and stress.  Stress being when one has difficulties in coping with a situation.  And stress is not caused by an event that is imposed on you but rather by the way that you react to it. Interpreters stated that the majority of the symptoms experienced were cognitive ( poor concentration and forgetfulness), subjective (moodiness, anxiety), and psychological (increased blood pressure).

Outside stressors were reported in some parts of the world where disturbances of the peace and protests actually impact performance.  Some reported forgetting personal life stresses when working in the booth, although I think that that is a conscious decision we make to refuse to entertain these matters in order to be able to do the job.  However, our emotions are always present if only subliminally and they affect us 24X7. I was surprised to hear that last minute calls for work were experienced everywhere, although most of those on the call tended to turn down those offers.  I had thought it was predominantly a U.S. phenomenon  for some reason.

Some of the favorite techniques to combat stress among the group were time management, other interests outside of work (a/k/a having a life), salsa dancing, cooking, playing an instrument and yoga.

What I like most about our meetings/chats is not so much our conclusions, as nothing is rigorously substantiated, but the fact that we are creating a valuable network of interpreter friends around the world.  We are a sounding board for one another and we have begun to share common concerns, experiences and responses in a simple and fun environment. Our next meeting is scheduled for October 8, same time as before.  The subject matter has not yet been determined.  Please come hang out and opine, we all want this to be an inclusive group and the more diverse we are, the more we will all learn from it.  What would you like to be discussed?  Leave suggestions here or on Twitter under #IntJC.  See ya!

Comedy Central Interpreting Experiences – Part I


I occasionally see requests from our language forums for contributions of funny instances that have occurred at work.  I am never able to remember them off the cuff so I made a special effort to create an ad hoc list to share with you.  I recalled several stories, although I am generally of a serious nature, because they have taken place over a period of + 30 years.

In retrospect, I realize that  the anecdotes mentioned here could have been avoided if I had been more mindful and not on automatic pilot when they took place.  I have duly learned my lesson.

Once upon a time when I was a young housewife, I had a dinner party planned for a Friday evening, when a good client called with a last minute request for an interpreter late that afternoon.  We were not able to find someone else to cover due to the short notice so I went.  It was a very sad case of a young woman who had gone on her honeymoon to Mexico. Her husband, who had a cardiac condition, had suffered a heart attack and died.  There must have been a good eight attorneys asking questions.  It was late in the day, there were no signs that the depo was winding down and my guests were scheduled to arrive at home for dinner at 7:00.  While I was interpreting I was wondering to myself what I was going to do (fatal misstep!). My client proceeded to ask the witness what they were doing when he had the heart attack and she answered that they were making love.  The next question was “Were you engaged in foreplay?”  I thought about how to interpret that into Spanish in an elegant/efficient way and I was successful.  The woman answered after pausing to think. Still on automatic pilot thinking about the dinner, I blurted  out, “We were kicking”.  I only realized my error when the attorney turned around quizzically and said to me “Mrs. de la Vega,  that’s a strange way to go about it, don’t you think?”  The witness had used the verb for “kissing” in Spanish but I inadvertently turned into “kicking”.

Another time, in that same vein, I was interpreting for a plaintiff who was suing a doctor for malpractice. She testified about a number of terrible mistakes that had been made by the physician that resulted in the death of her child.  She was then asked when she had decided to sue Dr. Padrón.  When I interpreted the question to her, I committed a Freudian slip and unwittingly changed the doctor’s name to “Cabrón”, which means sonofabitch in Spanish. None of the attorneys spoke Spanish and the words sound so alike that they never noticed.  I only realized what I had said when she stared at me incredulously and the little “tape recorder” in my brain played back my answer. Without batting an eyelid, I simply repeated the question to her, substituting the correct name.  She visibly relaxed and answered, probably thinking she had heard wrong.

One of my all-time favorite war stories happened when I was interpreting at a meeting of the World Boxing Association.  Roberto “Manos de Piedra” (Hands of Stone) Durán,  considered by many to be the greatest lightweight of all time, was reading a tortuous, flowery speech sprinkled with all kinds of obscure boxing terms about his achievements in the ring.  I asked my male booth partner to speak to him during a break and get a copy of the text that he was speed-reading out loud.  My partner came back and told me that Durán had insulted him and said he didn’t need to be giving the interpreters anything, that it was  up to us to do the job right without any help. I immediately got up to try my luck with him and the guy fell all over himself to get me the copy, hitting on me in the meantime.  When I came back to the booth with the papers, my colleague asked how I had gotten them, and not realizing the mics were on, I answered, “because Manos de Piedra is a dirty old man”.  There was a lightning-like response as all the press and the attendees wearing headsets roared with laughter, while the honoree looked at them nonplussed. Needless to say, as soon as we were done, I exited the building through the emergency stairs so as not to run into anyone.

I will save the rest of my treasure trove for another day so that we can savor an additional chuckle and trust that you will all be inspired to take a walk down memory lane and share your comical tales with me.

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