The ten worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Part 2

July 8, 2013 § 11 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Last week I posted my first five worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Next, I share the rest of my list in the understanding that there are plenty more examples of these “worst things,” and inviting you to review my top ten, tell us your “war stories” and share your comments and solutions with the rest of us.

Here we go:

  1. To be a bad interpreter.  The individuals who have worked as “interpreters” for many years and even decades, don’t know anything about the profession, don’t care to know anything about it, and are revered by some as “interpreting gurus.”  We all know who they are, where they are, and how they work. They represent a cancer to the profession because they go around providing a deplorable service, often charging good money, and damaging our collective image.  Most of the time they work in a parallel universe and we rarely encounter them, but when we do, our job can be a disaster as we are faced with a situation where we have no partner to consult, no colleague to collaborate with, and no professional to back us up.  A quick remedy when faced with this situation in the booth or the courthouse is to set the rules straight and ask this person to support by doing certain chores that you will assign. When possible, it would be best to postpone the event, even for a short while, in order to find a replacement for the bad interpreter.  There is no solution to the bad interpreter problem described in this paragraph. It is terminal.
  2. To take advantage of your partner.  The interpreters who do not pull their own weight during an assignment and interpret less than the time previously agreed to; do not return to the booth or courtroom on time for the switch, and those who do not help with the preparations: research, development of glossaries, or assignment of tasks.  These are the people nobody wants to work with because there is never a feeling of team interpreting during the event.   A quick on-the-run solution may be next to impossible, but you can at least talk to them before or during the assignment and voice what you expect them to do.  As a long term strategy it is best to avoid them in the future, always declining a job offer by explaining the reasons why you would love to interpret the conference or trial, but with a different partner.
  3. To try to be the “center of attention.”  This is a very real and unfortunate situation that happens more often than you think.  Some colleagues believe that all events: conferences, court proceedings, surgeries, military interrogations, business negotiations, and diplomatic debates, revolve around the interpreter.  They truly believe this to be the case and refuse to understand that we are an important, even essential part to the process, but we are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the “main event.”  Here I am referring to those embarrassing moments when your partner stops everything that is happening and hyperventilating informs those present that the event cannot go forward at this time because one of the three hundred people in the auditorium has a receiver that is malfunctioning, and after the batteries are replaced and everything is “fine” once again, he or she asks the dignitary who is speaking, and on a very tight schedule, to “repeat the last thing you said so that the person with the receiver with the dead batteries doesn’t miss a word” and then goes on explaining what his or her duties are as an interpreter.   I congratulate you if you have never gone through one of this, but surely you have worked with somebody who complains all the time and interrupts the speaker over and over again:   “Excuse me…the interpreter could not hear the statement because the speaker is speaking away from the microphone…”  “…excuse me, the interpreter requests that the speaker move over to the right so it is easier to hear what she is saying…” “…excuse me… the interpreter requests that the speaker slows down so that everything can be interpreted…” A nightmare!  As an instant solution to this problem you should talk to this interpreter and explain that the participants are very important busy people who have very little time to do this; that as interpreters we should try to adapt to the circumstances, and that we are important, but by no means the most important part of the process.  A long term solution depends on the individual interpreter. Your colleagues often mature and grow out of this “self-centered syndrome.”  They will be fine. For those who never change and adapt, the solution will have to be up to you. It depends on how patient you are, how much you value the participation of this particular interpreter, and how well you know your client.  No easy solution, no “one size fits all.”
  4. To publicly correct and criticize other interpreters.  Those know-it-all interpreters with very little social skills and less discretion who vociferously utter vocabulary and terminology from one end of the room to correct what they think was a bad rendition, and sometimes not happy with this, are happy to show even more disrespect to a colleague by loudly stating the reasons why they are right and you are wrong.  It is very difficult to find anything more unprofessional than these actions.  It is true that team interpreting exists so that colleagues can work as a team and cover each other’s back; it is also a fact that we all make mistakes and that sometimes we do not notice them.  A benefit of having a partner in the booth or courtroom is that we can improve our rendition, and in court interpreting even correct the record, by stating our error or omission. However, decency and professionalism, together with a touch of common sense, tell us that there are better ways to correct a colleague or to offer an opinion that have nothing to do with screaming and yelling.  A simple note, sometimes a stare is enough to get your partner’s attention. When faced with this situation the thing to do short-term is to stay quiet, keep your cool. Let it be forgotten by those who witnessed your partner’s crude behavior. Then, at the earliest possible time, always as a professional well-mannered individual, confront him; let him know that this is unacceptable, and that you expect this will never happen again. Do not let him get away with it. A long-term solution would be to avoid this “colleague” like the plague.
  5. To interpret in a way that hurts your partner’s rendition. First we have the colleague who is too loud. So loud that you cannot concentrate. I am talking the kind that makes the booth vibrate when he speaks; the one you can hear better than your booth partner even though he is interpreting two booths away, and second, we have the interpreter who is very slow during relay interpreting to the point that all the booths waiting for the relay start thinking about doing a direct interpretation even if the source language is not their strength.  Short term you need the loud interpreter to concentrate in his volume and long term you need to help him or her find out the reason for this loud rendition. Many times people who speak loud cannot hear very well.  Maybe the long-term solution will be a hearing aid or a special set of headphones. The solution in the relay interpreting case can only be to endure for the day or until adequate replacement can be found. In the future this interpreter should not be used for relay interpreting situations. There are many excellent interpreters who cannot adapt to the pace of relay interpreting. There is plenty of work that does not involve relay interpreting where a good interpreter is needed.

 As you know, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Please review these “ten worst” and if you are up to it, I would love to read your top ten, top five, or even top one.  This should be good…

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

§ 11 Responses to The ten worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Part 2

  • Lidia Carney says:

    Hi Tony, as usual I enjoy your articles and I enjoyed reading this one and agree with all points but I am just a bit puzzled when you say that the interpreter needs to adapt to circumstances rather than complain that the speaker is speaking away from the microphone and he/she cannot hear him… what is the interpreter supposed to do in cases like this? How can you “adapt” to something like this, rather than speak up and say so?

    • Lidia, I am talking about the interpreter who is constantly complaining about everything. The one who wants perfect conditions or else. Here the point was that sometimes the sound or the speaker may not be ideal, and after a couple of requests, you should turn your volume up and continue to interpret even under tough circumstances. You can talk to the speaker during a break, but you cannot stop the presentation every two minutes because the speaker continues to move away from the microphone.

  • Yilda says:

    Even though I am basically in agreement with the author, I think we should not generalize as it is done in point one. I have been an interpreter for about 25 years, and a translator for about 30 years, and I ALWAYS study the material, always make a vocabulary, always have my materials at the disposal of my booth mate, and so on. So being irresponsible is not like a degenerative disease that you get with age. It is true that some interpreters act like prima donnas, but not all.

    Being irrespecutful with your colleague is one of the worst things that an interpreter can do. I have been a victim of that in a couple of occasions, and not precisely by interpreters that have been in the profession for a long time or study as you are supposed to. I think that should be included as part of the code of ethics of the profession.

  • duangtip says:

    How about interpreters who think it is a matter of life or death when a colleague slips up. Once I had to put up with this person who kept pushing his suggestion on this piece of paper when the speaker had already moved on to other topics.And don’t forget those who actually fell asleep in the booth when not working!!!

    • Consuelo says:

      Yes, I once had to quick my partner. She said she was not sleeping, just her eyers were closed. I had so many examples. Where I live, I am surrounded by many interpreters who are full of themselves, keep critizising other interpreters. There is job for everyone, but it is hard to work with people that lack manners and profesionalism

  • Out there we have to deal with attorneys who are not happy because their non-English speaking client or witness is not saying what they wanted them to say, so the first thing they do is to cast a doubt over the rendition of the interpreter.

  • Sherry says:

    Boy did you hit the nail! I so admire Asian translators and interpreters who respect each other, and help each other. Their humility and intelligence is so refreshing. Why is it that a vast majority of Spanish translators and interpreters cannot do the same, but instead compete against each other, and try to destroy the reputation of those who are actually blessed with the talent?

  • Consuelo says:

    I don´t know where you are based, Sherry, but you have perfectly described the situation of the country where I live in. Most of the interpreters I know are always showing off, they don´t help you at all when I share my booth with them. Having said that, this week I am working with a very nice lady, but she is the exception, not the rule (unfortunately).

  • Christine Thomson Soltero says:

    While I am fascinated with the blog/article ( thank you ! ) as well as with the replies and comments, I cannot relate completely because I am a medical interpreter in individual and group clinic and hospital settings and very rarely have a partner and am never in a booth, etc. I am a native English speaker with Spanish as my target language, and interpret consecutively and simultaneously, depending on the circumstances. Without a microphone, the simultaneous style is often difficult for the parties to deal with, but I have managed it when working with , for example, a group of family members interacting with one doctor. I would be interested to start a discussion with other interpreters who work as I do…not dealing with the ten worst things one interpreter can do to another, but maybe the ten worst things the medical professional can do to make the interpreter’s job more difficult and/or stressful. What do you think? I am remembering one time, just the other day, when I was working in a threesome ( patient, doctor and patient ) and it was decided that a procedure would be done that would require local anesthesia as well as the assistance of the M. A. She came in ( she’s a native Portuguese speaker who also had some Spanish along with her English ) and began to override me, breaking in to my interpreting, adding, editing, etc. And not speaking Spanish at all well! The patient, who was already frightened of the upcoming mini-surgery, was confused and upset by all this. The doc just wanted one interpreter, of course…not two! I asked the provider what she wanted to do; that if the M.A. was going to also interpret, I would leave the room. Phe patient understood enough to grab my hand and indicate to the doc and M.A. that she wanted me to continue. But it was awkward and , in my opinion, quite unprofessional of the medical assistant. She didn’t realize it, I am sure.
    These are the kinds of things I am thinking about when I think of listing my Ten Worst!

  • Veronica says:

    I don’t think that degrading the other interpreter would help though. Assigning the other interpreter certain tasks? I think we are all responsible for keeping our ego on check. Remember that the worst interpreters believe that they are the best, and somehow feel the same sense of entitlement that you are describing above. I prefer being discreet and respectful and not badmouthing my colleagues.

  • […] for freelance translators Tip for Growing your Language Business: Have a networking wingman The ten worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Part 2 What do Translation Buyers and Fourth Graders Have in Common? Exporting from an SDL Trados Studio […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

What’s this?

You are currently reading The ten worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Part 2 at The Professional Interpreter.


%d bloggers like this: