How COVID-19 affected interpreting.

February 18, 2021 § 6 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

This is an article I wrote for the ITI. It was published several months ago, and I now reproduce it on my blog:

The pandemic has been an eye-opener on the future of the profession, and an opportunity to assess everything I was doing right before this crisis. During the last couple of months, I have strengthened my professional bond with my direct clients. Because of the uncertain future, and complicated present, I saw the need to contact my best clients with three objectives: To reassured them I am here to assist them at this time; to show them empathy and remind them I am going through the same difficulties they are facing to remain viable; and to advise them on their best options to deal with urgent matters using RSI until they meet in person again. COVID-19 showed me I did the right thing years ago when I looked for direct clients instead of waiting for the agencies to contact me. I validate this decision every time I hear how agencies are trying to lower interpreting fees; or how they are taking advantage by recruiting desperate or inexperienced interpreters willing to be paid by the minute. I see there is an RSI hype that, from the platform’s perspective is a total success. You can hardly spend a minute on social media without running into an interpreter bragging about their newly acquired skill. Unfortunately, I see how many of these colleagues believe that learning the platform translates into assignments and income. I feel sorry for them because nobody reminded them interpreters get hired based on the quality of their work and their professional experience. It breaks my heart to see how many are spending the limited money they have on expensive microphones, headsets, and even soundproof rooms. Isolation made me appreciate things I never considered before: genuine solidarity among professional colleagues, human contact, my time in the booth, talking to the client face to face, touring a venue before the event, crowded airports, hotel bars after the event, shaking the hand of a good technician in appreciation for making me sound good. Interpreters are social beings and there are many cultures in the world that will demand in-person conferences and meetings when it is safe to do it. Before the virus, RSI was a small business; now tech giants are pouring in their resources. It may be a matter of time before the RSI platforms interpreters are talking about are Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Finally, I learned two lessons: Some professional associations are helping us through these ugly days while others prioritized money over humans and are forging ahead with expensive conferences no one will attend. I learned RSI will get better every day and it will remain the choice for small and preliminary meetings. It will also be used by companies that could not afford in-person events before. We must decide the professional fees and work conditions we need and want. It must be the interpreter who gets the client, not the platform. If we do our job, there will be a bigger pie for all interpreters.

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§ 6 Responses to How COVID-19 affected interpreting.

  • Jean Bellego says:

    Well said, paisano!

  • Susana Gee says:

    Tony,
    This is such a powerful article. Thank you for writing it.

  • Sylvia J. Andrade says:

    Before the pandemic, I was doing a lot of work in Court. Now there are fewer cases and that is back to being in-person. I am presently doing a lot of Zoom interpretation for depositions. I am waiting until I get the second vaccination to pick up on the in-person interpretation and go back to some QME, IME and AME medical examinations for Worker’s Comp. Sometimes the Zoom interpretation works well and other times there are problems with the connection. This can affect the quality of the interpretation. The connection is affected when cell phone and internet providers cut down on our speed. I think they do this to force us to change to a more expensive bundle. I miss the in-person and also the work I was doing for a non-profit. Also, there is a person out here in California who is trying to tie up the entire interpreting market, he says. I wish him luck! I am pretty much happy with both the other agencies we work for and the individual clients. I don’t think that what he is doing will work out. The cell and computer connection situation does concern me. They are taking advantage of us!

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