Interpreting in an unwarranted hostile environment.
February 4, 2014 § 20 Comments
I am usually welcomed and nicely greeted when I get to the place where I am going to work. People are willing to help by showing me where I need to go, asking me if I need anything, and so on. I used to take this for granted until an assignment a few months ago made me realize how lucky and fortunate I am. Not long ago I was hired by a very big international corporation to interpret for a lecture that one of their speakers was going to give to a group of middle school and high school teachers and parents. Although I was supposed to work alone, the lecture was going to be about 45 minutes long and the deal was sweet. I was told by the corporate representative who hired me that the booth and equipment would be provided by the town public schools. I got the materials for the lecture, I even got paid before the event, so I entered the assignment on my schedule.
A few weeks later when it was time for the job, I arrived at the public schools auditorium in this town. The corporate representative who hired me was already waiting for me and she introduced me to the speaker. We talked logistics and asked to see the booth and equipment. The public schools staff directed me to a woman who was sitting on stage doing nothing. I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her about the equipment. Without even saying a word she gave me this very angry look and asked me: “who are you?” I repeated that I was the interpreter for the lecture. She got up and walking away from me she said: “you can go. We have our own interpreter.”
Because of the way she had addressed me I decided not to continue the conversation. I went back to the people who hired me instead. After I told them what had happened the lady who hired me asked me to have a seat while she got everything cleared. I sat down and looked at the clock on the wall. We were about 20 minutes away from the event and I had not seen any booth in the auditorium. Actually, I had not even seen any interpretation equipment.
After some ten minutes the corporate representative came to me and told me that everything was fine, that she had talked to the public schools superintendent and had explained that their practice as a business is to bring their own interpreters because the lecture is very technical. She told me that the superintendent had agreed, but there was a requirement that we did not know before: Because this was a public schools facility, they had to use a public schools staff interpreter, not for our lecture but for the rest of the event (greetings, opening remarks by the host presenter, announcements and so on) Moreover, I was informed that there would be no booth, not even a desk top half booth, that I was going to interpret using a portable unit like the ones used in court. I am a professional and I was not about to leave my client hanging, so I agreed to the new terms.
At this time the same rude woman from earlier headed towards me and told me: “My boss says that our interpreter will do everything except for the part that your people insisted you had to do.” I asked to see the equipment and she told me that the equipment wasn’t there yet, that their interpreter was bringing it to the auditorium and that she had not arrived yet. This was five minutes before we had to start the event. Parents and teachers were taking their seats, and it was clear to me that many of them were looking for interpretation headsets. It was at that time that another public schools official approached us to tell us that we had to start because they had other things to do after the event and therefore this could not be delayed. My speaker looked at me and said: “what do we do?” I looked at her and told her not to worry, that we would start the lecture on the consecutive mode and that as soon as the equipment arrived we would switch to simultaneous interpretation. I got up from my improvised work station where I had my iPad and a microphone on a table I had to beg for because at first they did not want to let me have it. They told me that their interpreters did not use a table and did not sit down to interpret.
We started the lecture and about 15 minutes later the public schools interpreter arrived with the portable equipment. After she tested it and distributed it to the Spanish speakers in the audience she handed me the transmitter and I was able to do the rest of the lecture simultaneously. Towards the end of the lecture the staff interpreter approached me and began to talk really loud. Because I was still interpreting I was not able to understand or respond to what she said; in fact, she was so loud that I had a hard time maintaining my concentration to hear what the lecturer was saying. After I finished she just took the transmitter away from me without saying a word.
The audience had an interesting lecture that they all understood. The non-English speakers were able to follow the entire presentation because I interpreted the event, but the speaker and I felt very unwelcomed by the public schools staff. We both thought that there had been some unwarranted rudeness towards the two of us (she also had an episode because at the beginning they didn’t want her to use their projector for the Power Point presentation)
After I got home that night I reflected on my work and how fortunate I am, and I also thought of all of my colleagues who have to work with poor acoustics, without a booth, and put up with this type of hostility on a daily basis. It requires a true professional to make an event like this a success. I ask all of you who presently or in the past have faced such working conditions to please share your stories with the rest of us.