When the interpreter does not know how to work with the tech team.

September 17, 2015 § 5 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Some months ago the event technician approached me during a break and told me a story that made me think of a very important aspect of our practice that is rarely mentioned.  He said that during the prior weekend he had worked a conference with two interpreters he did not know (something extraordinaire for this individual who has worked with just about everybody).

Apparently, the agency had brought them from out of town because they wanted to abate their costs, and from the information the technician gathered, they were court interpreters with very little conference experience. According to him, they were very quiet and not very helpful, and to the dismay of the technician, he even had to decide the location of the booth in the conference room because the interpreters did not make any suggestions or give any input.  He also commented that the quality of the interpretation was poor.

Of course a story like this one frustrates me, as I see once again that there are many in this business with total devotion to the old mighty dollar and total contempt for the quality of the service; but it made me think about the importance of a good relationship with the tech staff.  It is obvious that it does not matter how well-prepared we are for an event if at the time of the rendition we cannot hear the speaker because of a sound system that was not tested, we cannot see the presentation on the screen because of poor location of the booth, or the audience cannot hear a word of what we are saying because of an equipment malfunction. It is essential that we learn how to work with the technician, and this includes not just being nice to the individual, but also our ability to use the equipment, our opinion as to the location of the booth, our willingness to participate in the final run through so that all microphones and consoles are tested and all levels are adjusted.

It is also very helpful to have a communication strategy. Sometimes the technician is next to the booth, but there are times when they are very far away from the interpreters. For this reason, having agreed to some signs and gestures ahead of time will let the technician know that something is bleeding into the system, that a relay button is not working, and many other things.

I have been in situations where the event organizer refuses to pay for a dedicated technician throughout the event, and everybody can tell the difference: When something goes wrong and the technician is there, things get solved and the conference continues. Things can get ugly when there is no technician on the premises, and there are just so many coffee breaks the participants can have while a well-intentioned but unskilled individual tries to fix a problem.

We interpreters should always consider the technician as part of our team. We cannot work without them, so we should include their function when developing our master plan for an event. Besides, having the tech support staff on your side can get you additional benefits: They are often some of the first ones to know of an event, and many times they are asked by agencies and event organizers to suggest interpreters for conferences.  We should recommend the good technicians and in turn they will put out a good word for you.

As you see, this conversation with my technician friend and colleague got me thinking of the importance of their job and how it impacts us professionally as interpreters. It made me pledge that I will never be like the interpreters he worked with the prior weekend who were quiet, had no opinions, and did not know how to work with the technician.  I now invite you to share with the rest of us your comments and stories about your relationship with the technical staff.

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§ 5 Responses to When the interpreter does not know how to work with the tech team.

  • André Csihas, FCCI says:

    Hello again Tony!

    Ironically enough, the technician is the FIRST element in any interpreted or not-interpreted conference, as (s)he ensures that all the audio-visual communications go smoothly.

    I’ve been in conferences where I’ve enjoyed my work tremendously, but I must thank the technicians who’ve made it all possible and made sure that all the participants have a working headset.

    Yes, we all are competent interpreters and translators but if the technicians don’t deliver our knowledge and capabilities to the listeners, we might as well be mute!

    So, I raise my glass in a toast to ALL technicians who’ve made me SOUND GOOD in all the conferences and court appearances in which I’ve had the privilege and participation!

    Keep up not only the good, but also the ESSENTIAL work you’re doing!


  • Franco Gamero says:

    Standard procedure that I go through :
    I introduce myself to the tech team.
    I ask them to show me the system, mute, speak, etc
    I’ll have my partner speak while I go and listen on the receivers. This also helps locate the places where they’ll be seating.
    I ask the person that makes the announcement for the people to take their seats, etc. to let me (us) announce the availability of the earphones. I starting doing this after the announcer announced in English the availability of translation and earphones (!). Or other languages.
    While I’m waiting for the start of the conference I introduce myself and my partner via the microphone. Congratulations for winning the cup; sorry the weather is cold, etc.
    During the conference, and while my partner is speaking, I go to the audience and make sure they’re listening OK.
    I inform the techs all the time.
    At the end I give a good word to the person who hired usabout the techs. Like you say, the favor is returned.
    Plan B,
    If after all the checks and tests there is a failure, at any time, I immediately send my partner to translate in person while I help the tech troubleshoot.
    This because one time somebody tripped on the cables and they came unhooked.
    Another good post.

    • Franco, that’s a really good way! Unfortunatelly, there are many interpreters who do not know this procedure and/or have not enough experience. Anyway, usually it is a problem of the Services Provider (Company) and its staff. Poor management of the project. I’ve seen many situations when really cool interpreters could not do their job well because of poor tech team and equipment. The customer wanted to save the costs from one side and the provider did not want to lose the project. As for me, it is much better to lose a project than the reputation.

      Yuri Beloshapka

      • Franco says:

        Thank you, Yuri.
        You reminded me of another issue when the participants of a conference, say a round table, are all provided with microphones, with the little red light when they are being used by a speaker. Somebody has to tell the participants that “only one at a time”. Same when a participant is participating by speaker phone.

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Hi Tony!

    I neglected to mention that some of my colleagues who’ve been conference interpreters for much longer than I’ll ever imagine, have been able to get some interesting gigs by referral and have extended me the privilege of asking me to participate as interpreter in some of them.

    One of these extremely professional and dear to my heart colleagues, who has been my mentor, teacher and personal friend, and who has had stratospheric confidence in my interpretative skills —has just the right equipment to handle world-class conferences with booths, transmitters and receivers galore and who right after having set-up the booths— had me listening on the receiver to make sure I heard everything she was broadcasting from several locations throughout the venue.

    That’s the way she/we made sure all participants heard every word in that particular conference.

    ¡My greatest reward was to have the ENTIRE audience stand and acknowledge our work as interpreters! It just doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

    ¡You know who you are, Cata querida!


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