Things that can be easily avoided if you want to hire a good interpreter.

December 15, 2015 § 4 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

We all know that the client’s best ticket to a high quality professional interpreting service is a good fee, but it is not necessarily the only factor a top level interpreter weighs in when deciding to accept or reject an assignment. There are times when other considerations are more, or at least as important as the fee:  an interesting subject matter, a well-known speaker, a prestigious conference, a long-term relationship with a client, and even a favor to a colleague, are all factors that can tip the balance in favor of accepting an offer that pays fine but below our usual fee (of course, because of the permanent damage it causes to our career, working for peanuts is always out of the question regardless of the event, speaker, colleague, or anything else). We have all provided our services at a lower fee to government agencies or private companies when we see that volume will compensate for the lesser pay; and invariably, once we accept an assignment, we provide the best possible service regardless of the conditions we agreed to with our client.

The truth is that we would take more of these jobs if we had fun performing our services.  Dear friends and colleagues, I just gave potential clients the key to top-level interpreting services that they usually cannot afford due to their lack of funds:  Call us with interesting or prestigious assignments and we will take them for a little less than our usual fee, as long as we enjoy the job.

Of course enjoying the job can be understood in many ways, we all have different tastes and interests, but the common denominator to all “happy assignments” is respect. If the direct client, event organizer, government entity, or agency treats us as professionals we will likely do the job, and perhaps repeat in the future.  Moreover, even good paying clients should take note of this circumstance because a high fee can lose to lack of respect as well, in other words, even a client that pays good and pays on time can lose the good interpreter when there is no respect.

I know that there are many ways to show respect for the interpreter, and no doubt each one of you has a set of rules and principles that are a must for you to feel comfortable during an assignment. I hope you convey that to your client so they can keep you. I also know that many of us share some of the same basic ideas, and for that reason, I am going to share with you the things that I consider demeaning to the interpreter, and therefore will keep me from taking a job or will motivate me to drop a client as soon as I have a good replacement.  Here we go:

    1. When the client treats you like a laborer, not a professional. There are few things I hate more in life than an ignorant bureaucrat or agency employee who retains you because of your credentials, skill, experience, and reputation, and after you reached an agreement, he sends you an email “instructing you” to arrive thirty minutes before the assignment, to call them “immediately” after the interpretation ends so they see how long you really worked, or a bureaucrat (often a former interpreter) who makes you go to their office for them to physically see you before you immediately leave their office to go to the place where you are going to work. To me this is insulting and inexcusable. How do they think you built a reputation? Because we are not construction workers (although I have nothing but respect for those who do such a physically demanding job) but professional service providers, I will not accept assignments from these individuals, and if the circumstances compel me to do it, be assured that I am only complying with these absurd rules while I find a replacement for that disrespectful client. I understand that some clients ask for such non-sense out of ignorance, in that case I try to educate them, and if successful, I continue to have a professional relationship with them, but if they do not change their policy… there are other decent clients out there in the world.
    2. When the client asks you not to talk to the end-client, or event organizer at the venue, or “forbids you” to have tea or coffee from the conference refreshments offered to the participants during the breaks. Once again, there are not too many things more insulting to a professional than “forbidding you” anything, concretely, to have a civil attitude towards the end-client because the agency thinks that, the crook you are, you will steal the client from them, or even worse: you may learn how much they are charging the end-client and wonder why they cried poverty and paid you so little. My friends, a true professional does not go around stealing clients from the agency! Show us some respect and let us be courteous with your clients and interact with them so we can get whatever necessary to make the event successful, because in case you do not know it, that will make you look good as an agency. As far as the “no-coffee, no-tea, no-pastries” rule, it only happened to me once years ago and I just ignored it and defied it. When the agency owner approached me and asked me why I was having coffee from the conference room, I simply answered: “because it is for the conference participants, and I am one of them. Do you have a problem with that?” I had all the coffee I wanted and never worked for those folks again nor referred anybody to their obtuse-minded business
    3. I avoid those clients who do not provide the basics for the interpreting job such as study materials, presentations, background information, speeches, or even water in the booth. It says a lot about an agency or a government officer when they tell you that no materials will be provided because “they are confidential” or because their client “does not like to share the presentation”. I wonder if they think that we work for some Chinese pirate and we are going to risk going to jail and losing our careers so that we can see a power point on a subject matter we couldn’t care less about. This tells me that the entity trying to retain me has no idea about our job, and when their answer to my request is “we have used other interpreters before and they never asked for any of that”, then I definitely know that it is time to turn down the job offer and move on to more useful things like perhaps watch the grass grow. The same can be said for those bureaucrats in courthouses all over the country who refuse to share the file with the interpreter because it is confidential. Who do they think they are hiring to interpret? Certainly not a professional. Their ignorance keeps them from thinking that the court interpreter is a professional trained to tell privileged and confidential information from public record, and to know what to do with it. Now, it is even worse when a former court interpreter is the one denying the information, because you know they are doing it out of convenience and fear to rub anybody the wrong way in the courthouse. In other words, they couldn’t care less about the interpretation, all the care about is to keep their job.
    4. To me, it is a tremendous sign of disrespect to ask the interpreter to do the agency’s job. All those entities who impose duties on the interpreter different from interpreting, such as endless paperwork, statistics, and so forth, without explaining these “extra chores” when offering the job, and demanding performance without paying for the interpreter’s time (because they only pay you for the time you interpreted, not the time you spend doing their paperwork) do not treat us like professionals, and since I do not have the vocation of a clerk’s assistant, or a Girl-Friday, I refuse the assignment, and if ambushed and cornered a posteriori with this free-work, I will never work for that entity again nor I will refer anyone to them.
    5. I believe that it is insulting that a client do not pay for travel time and travel expenses when the assignment is somewhere else. The interpreter is a professional, and unless the negotiated fee is high enough for the interpreter to include travel expenses as part of it, the client should absorb travel expenses as part of doing business. I have no room in my client file cabinet for agencies or government entities who refuse to pay for transportation (air, train, highway tolls, gas, and parking), lodging, meals, internet, and other basic services. There is no room either for those who pay them at some ridiculously rock-bottom amounts. No bureaucrat or agency clerk will force me to take five airplanes to fly 200 miles, sleep on a bedbug infested bed, or eat at a fast food place so they can save some money.
    6. The list could go on and on, but I will end with something that makes my blood boil because it is insulting, disrespectful, and hurts the interpretation: Those speakers who preface everything they say with: “I don’t know if this will be translated correctly” or “I hope the translator can get at least some of what I am saying because it is very technical” or the variation of this last one: “…because I speak really fast…” Again, I do not know if they know what happens in the booth, obviously they don’t, but they need to realize that on top of insulting, this makes the speaker, and the event organizer, look bad because thanks to that unfortunate remark, they now have an auditorium full of people who are second-guessing the ability of the interpreters. This is so silly that I just leave it out of my rendition.

As you can see, these are all simple things that a smart agency, organization, or government office, could easily avoid, and as a result create a better environment where interpreters would be happy and even willing to work for a little less money than usual when the event, the topic, or the speaker were so attractive that the fee would become, within certain limits, secondary at the time of deciding whether to accept or turn down an interpreting assignment.  I now ask you to share with the rest of us some of your demeaning examples that, when easily fixed or avoided, would make you take an interpreting job for a little less money.

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§ 4 Responses to Things that can be easily avoided if you want to hire a good interpreter.

  • One of my good agency clients is the NCAOC. As far as state court administrations are concerned, the pay is fairly decent, half the travel time is covered, and overnight accomodations and per diem are paid when necessary. From the clerk to the judge to assigned counsel, everyone treats me with respect. That goes for my fellow court interpreters as well. If I have to choose whether to go to NC courts or SC courts to work, most of the time I choose NC. Respect and compensation go a long way in our profession.

  • Kathleen M. Morris says:

    Another good line is, after the attorney sees that his/her client may lose the case, stated during final arguments to the judge or jury: “(Your Honor”) (“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury)”: “Of course, my client was at a significant disadvantage during his testimony, due to the LANGUAGE BARRIER. We can assume that there were problems with good communication, due to the use of an INTERPRETER and to the LANGUAGE BARRIER”.
    Such arguments, or variations thereof, make my blood boil. They are always spurious, and are usually made after interpreted testimony went very smoothly, when NO attorney objected to the interpretation at all. But this can be an effective jury argument to try, when your client’s defense or case has no merit, or when testimony given in the original language is non-responsive, disjointed, or narrative.

    In such instances, I continue interpreting, even when my blood is boiling! Later on, though, I will catch up with the offending attorney (who usually has never met me, but will happily trash my reputation to make up for the weakness of his client’s case). I politely but firmly explain that I take pride in the accuracy and completeness of my interpretation. Blank look. Then I go on to ask him or her to please never use this in future final arguments, unless they actually did detect a real error or mistranslation. And if so, to please put it on the court record then and there, so the matter can be decided/corrected/clarified by the interpreter and bench officer! Usually gets the point across.

  • Leon says:

    Hi Tony, I was searching something about interpretation and found your post. I’m lucky.

    I have been an interpreter for about 5 years (I know it would be much less than your career), and still there are cases that would make me feel just the same as you wrote. Without trust and respect between clients and us, or as the #1 says, treat us like a laborer only, things will go pretty tough.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Leon

  • Roberta Graham de Escobedo says:

    Dear Mr. Rosado,

    I am looking forward to participating in your course this coming weekend in Cancun, Mexico – and will avidly be reading your blog !
    The above topic is true in all professional settings. Respect for a person’s skill-set, humility when you are unfamiliar with how interpretation works, and kindness in the work-setting are characteristics of a healthy work environment and make this intense type of work a pleasure, indeed!
    See you in Cancun, and safe travels!

    Roberta

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