What we learned as interpreters in 2018.

December 27, 2018 § 16 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Now that 2018 is ending and we are working towards a fruitful and meaningful 2019, it is time to assess what we learned during the past 12 months. As interpreters we are constantly learning, and from talking to many of my colleagues, this year was packed with learning opportunities. In 2018 I worked with magnificent interpreters and many of my dearest colleagues.

Our profession had positive developments this year: The Spanish Division of the American Translators Association held a very successful conference in Miami, Florida, where those of us in attendance could see many friends and colleagues doing great things for our professions. It was an eye-opener to experience first hand how a professional conference organized by one of the divisions of the American Translators Association, working together with the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF) and Florida International University (FIU), put together a conference we can unequivocally call professional, full of content, at an excellent venue, and attended by true professional interpreters and translators who could freely exchange opinions, attend workshops and presentations, and enjoy an environment free of predatory agencies, product pushers, and colleagues chasing after newcomers to convince them to work for insultingly low fees. Unlike the better-known ATA conference, this event truly felt like a professional conference, not a trade show. In fact, I invite all those Spanish language interpreters and translators who are ATA members, and think that the Fall conference is way too expensive, to attend this conference instead. In my opinion, if you have to decide between the ATA conference and the Spanish Division conference, it is a no-brainer: pick the smaller, more professional Spanish Division event.

Once again, the interpreting profession continues to advance in Mexico, as evidenced by the Organización Mexicana de Traductores’ (Mexican Translators Association, OMT) very successful conference in Guadalajara, The Autonomous University of Hidalgo’s University Book Fair and content-packed conference in Pachuca; and the every-year bigger and more successful court interpreter workshop and conference for Mexican Sign Language (LSM) that took place in Mexico City once again. The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) took its world congress to Valencia, Spain for its best attended conference in history. Workshops and presentations were first-class, and as it is traditional with IAPTI, colleagues attending the conference had the opportunity to interact with their peers from around the world. The largest U.S. contingent attending a IAPTI conference to date, enjoyed the benefits of interacting with colleagues who literally live all over the world. They noticed the difference between attending a conference in the United States with interpreters and translators from many countries, all of them living in the U.S., and IAPTI where all of them live in their respective countries. The benefit you gain from talking to a Polish interpreter who lives in Poland enriches your personal knowledge of the profession more than speaking with a Polish interpreter who lives in New York City. Besides the characteristic IAPTI’s philosophy and agency-free conference, I was happy to see a well-balanced program full of Interpreting workshops and presentations. Finally, like every five years, the Asociación Española de Traductores, Intérpretes y Correctores (Spanish Association of Translators, Interpreters and Editors, ASETRAD) held its conference in Zaragoza, Spain. This congress was by far the best all-Spanish language conference of the year, and just as I do every five years, I invite all my Spanish speaking colleagues to save the time and money to attend the next gathering five years from now. I was involved in other professional conferences and seminars of tremendous level where I was honored to share experiences and exchange ideas with many professional colleagues. Thank you to all my colleagues who attended my presentations, workshops and seminars. It was a pleasure to spend time with all of you in 2018.

This past year saw big changes in healthcare interpreting in the United States with a major struggle between the two leading certification programs. Fortunately, what looked like the beginning of a big conflict, ultimately subsided, and better-informed interpreters are now deciding what to do with their professional future. The year brought positive developments to the largest court interpreter association in the United States. After a major set back at the end of 2017 when two pillars of the court interpreting profession resigned from the Board of Directors, NAJIT went back to capable, experienced professionals, electing a new Board that fits tradition and expectations. Unlike 12 months ago, the association goes into 2019 with a group of experienced and respected Board members and a promising future.

The year that ends in a few days saw the growth of our profession in the field of Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI). I had the opportunity to work several assignments remotely, and both, technology and work conditions were as they should be. I also heard from many colleagues who continue to struggle and endure abuse from some agencies who push video remote interpreting (VRI) in less than favorable conditions.

Not everything was good. 2018 took from us some of our dear friends and colleagues. I cannot reflect on the year that ends without remembering three dear and admired colleagues who passed away: Juan José Peña, a pioneer in the American Southwest, mostly in New Mexico. For years, Juan José was a trainer and examiner for the New Mexico State Court Interpreter Certification program; he was the first staff interpreter at the federal court in Albuquerque, and he selflessly helped new interpreters in New Mexico and elsewhere. Carlos Wesley, a powerful and gentle presence in the Washington D.C. metro area for many years, and an examiner for the federal court interpreter certification exam. Esther Navarro-Hall, a kind, selfless, talented colleague who impacted our profession and the lives of many interpreters worldwide as a professor at MIIS, regular trainer all over the globe, habitual presenter at professional conferences, Chair of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) in the United States, and humanitarian, promoting help and assistance to those impacted by natural disasters everywhere. Our lives and profession are better because of them.

Unfortunately 2018 will forever be remembered as a low point in the history of the profession in the United States. It was its darkest hour. I am referring to the inexcusable fiasco that impacted hundreds of interpreters, and continues to do so, because of the ineptitude of government officials, their selected contractors, and the cover up, misinformation, and lack of response that followed for many months: The 2017 oral federal court interpreter certification examination. We go into the new year with many unanswered questions, with no accountability, and with uncertainty for many who took the test, and patiently await to this day for an examination date more than a year after taking the exam. 2018 will be known as the year when ineptitude destroyed the credibility and reputation of the until then most trusted interpreter exam in any discipline in the United States.

The biggest shift in American foreign policy in decades and its impact on our profession continued in 2018. Events held in the United States for many straight years left for other countries because of the uncertainty of American immigration and trade policy. It proved very difficult to plan a big conference and invest a lot of money, without the certainty that attendees from certain countries will be admitted to the United States for the event. International government programs that require of interpreting services were at an unprecedented low, and changes of personnel in the administration, at all levels, impacted the work available to interpreters in the diplomatic, international trade and private sectors.

If not for the federal court interpreter certification exam disaster, the biggest stain of 2018 would be the conspiracy by most multinational and domestic interpreting agencies to do whatever necessary to overturn a California Supreme Court decision that protects independent interpreters by giving them certain rights that greedy agencies oppose, as compliance with the court decision would diminish their ever-growing margins. These agencies are actively pursuing the overturn of the decision by lobbying for legislation against interpreters. Apparently these efforts are led by a lobbyist who, ignoring any conflict of interest, and with the blessing of the largest interpreter and translator association in the United States (either by action, omission, or both) is trying to get Congress to exclude interpreters from the groups protected by the California Supreme Court decision.

Said conspiracy took us trough a research path that showed us how some of the Board members of this “translators and interpreters” association actively support agencies’ efforts, including a Board member who stated he would not even excuse himself from a vote in cases of conflict of interest. Statement that we will surely revisit come election time.

Throughout the world, colleagues continue to fight against low pay, deplorable working conditions, favoritism, ignorant government program administrators, and other problems. More European countries are now facing outsourcing of interpreting services for the first time.

Once again, interpreters around the world faced attempts from special interest groups to erode our profession by lowering professional standards creating questionable certification programs, and offering pseudo-conferences and webinars to recruit interpreters for exploitation while hiding behind some big-name presenters, many of whom have agreed to participate in these events without knowledge of these ulterior motives.

Of course, no year can be one hundred percent pariah-safe, so we had our “regulars” just like every single year: 2018 was full of para-interpreters trying to “take over” the market by charging laughable fees under shameful working conditions in exchange for miserable services.

As you can see, dear friends and colleagues, much changed and much stayed the same. I choose to focus on the good things while I guard against the bad ones. I now invite you to share with the rest of us your learned lessons (good and bad) of 2018.

I wish a Happy and Productive New Year to all my friends and colleagues!

El intérprete nunca es el centro de atención.

January 29, 2013 § 8 Comments

Queridos colegas,

En muchas ocasiones he tenido que trabajar con colegas que sienten que nuestro papel  es lo más importante que está sucediendo entre las cuatro paredes en que estamos trabajando y lo demuestran con un comportamiento que en el mejor de los casos entorpece la fluidez del evento a interpretar y desgraciadamente en otras ocasiona la pérdida del cliente.   Todos saben de lo que estoy hablando: El intérprete que llega al juzgado como torero partiendo plaza y atrae para sí toda la atención que no le corresponde como intérprete, o la colega que hace que se detenga el evento y se dirige al técnico de sonido en un frenesí desenfrenado porque uno de cincuenta audífonos en que están escuchando la interpretación aquellos en un auditorio ha dejado de funcionar o tiene estática.

Muchos de estos colegas son buenos intérpretes con muchos años de experiencia trabajando a buenos niveles de calidad, pero desgraciadamente nunca han podido llevar a cabo esa transición tan necesaria entre lo que se aprende en la escuela y lo que se puede hacer en la vida real.  La verdad es que nuestro papel es esencial, nuestra función es indispensable para la comunicación entre dos comerciantes, dos gobiernos, o un juez y un acusado, pero nosotros individualmente no lo somos.  Como en todo, la interpretación es imprescindible, pero el cliente tiene derecho a buscar intérpretes que no distraigan a los participantes en una negociación, no retrasen un juicio, y no generen tensión con los otros participantes en una conferencia.

En algunas escuelas enseñan que el intérprete debe ser invisible y en otras que no debe entrometerse o entorpecer el proceso, pero pocas veces mencionan entre las razones para ello el aspecto de negocios.  Los eventos en que se necesitan servicios de interpretación son por su naturaleza costosos e importantes; el tiempo es dinero y los participantes tienen un tiempo finito y limitado para participar.

Afortunadamente, al menos en mi opinión, yo he tenido oportunidad de estar en la arena de negociación de contratos con clientes y he podido escuchar directamente la opinión del cliente sobre el intérprete que acapara la atención de los presentes: ”…esa intérprete tiene buena interpretación consecutiva, pero se tarda demasiado en rendir su interpretación, se toma mucho tiempo revisando sus notas y eso enfría la negociación. Consíganme a alguien con mejor memoria y más veloz…”   “…Ese intérprete pide muchas repeticiones y pronuncia un discurso cada que quiere que algo se modifique durante el procedimiento.  Por favor no lo vuelvan a traer, queremos a alguien que oiga bien, hable menos, y que haga sugerencias de manera sin llamar la atención…”  “…Los técnicos del equipo piden que no se contrate a esa intérprete porque interfiere con lo que es su trabajo técnico y está interrumpiendo constantemente el flujo de la conferencia…”   Todos estos comentarios son legítimos. Mis clientes me los han expresado, en ocasiones más de una vez.  Claro que esto no es nuevo para ninguno de ustedes, ya que al igual que yo, han tenido que pasar momentos de vergüenza profesional mientras una colega arma una revolución porque un receptor no está funcionando perfectamente. En una ocasión tuve la “fortuna” de trabajar con una colega que interrumpió a un ponente en una conferencia porque el receptor de uno de los presentes en el auditorio necesitó un cambio de pilas y el espectador se había perdido unos noventa segundos de la ponencia. ¡Un espectador en un auditorio donde más de 200 personas estaban usando equipo!  No pueden imaginarse la cara del ponente cuando la intérprete se dirigió al escenario y le pidió “a gritos” que se detuviera y comenzara nuevamente para que esta persona no se perdiera nada; pero sobre todo no se imaginan la expresión del representante de la agencia que nos contrató para ese trabajo.  ¡Qué vergüenza!  El buen intérprete, como ustedes y yo lo hemos hecho muchas veces, sigue interpretando, y de manera natural, poco a poco, incorpora los detalles importantes que no escucharon aquellos cuyo equipo no estaba funcionando, si es que hubo algo importante que no se escuchó, pero no interrumpe, proporciona la información de manera natural y en una manera que nadie se percata, ni quien comenzó a escuchar tarde, ni aquellos que han escuchado todo, y mucho menos el ponente y nuestro cliente.

Creo que ya es hora que nuestros colegas que saltan al primer inconveniente se calmen un poco, adapten a la vida real  lo que aprendieron en la escuela y se comporten como profesionales que saben participar en el mundo de los negocios… Y aquellos que continúen interrumpiendo los eventos o actuaciones judiciales para comenzar a cambiar audífonos, receptores, pilas, o micrófonos con un frenesí patológico, al menos van a saber porqué sus servicios no son atractivos para el cliente.  Me gustaría saber su opinión sobre este comportamiento de algunos por el que todos hemos pasado.

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