The ten worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Part 2

July 8, 2013 § 11 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Last week I posted my first five worst things an interpreter can do to another interpreter. Next, I share the rest of my list in the understanding that there are plenty more examples of these “worst things,” and inviting you to review my top ten, tell us your “war stories” and share your comments and solutions with the rest of us.

Here we go:

  1. To be a bad interpreter.  The individuals who have worked as “interpreters” for many years and even decades, don’t know anything about the profession, don’t care to know anything about it, and are revered by some as “interpreting gurus.”  We all know who they are, where they are, and how they work. They represent a cancer to the profession because they go around providing a deplorable service, often charging good money, and damaging our collective image.  Most of the time they work in a parallel universe and we rarely encounter them, but when we do, our job can be a disaster as we are faced with a situation where we have no partner to consult, no colleague to collaborate with, and no professional to back us up.  A quick remedy when faced with this situation in the booth or the courthouse is to set the rules straight and ask this person to support by doing certain chores that you will assign. When possible, it would be best to postpone the event, even for a short while, in order to find a replacement for the bad interpreter.  There is no solution to the bad interpreter problem described in this paragraph. It is terminal.
  2. To take advantage of your partner.  The interpreters who do not pull their own weight during an assignment and interpret less than the time previously agreed to; do not return to the booth or courtroom on time for the switch, and those who do not help with the preparations: research, development of glossaries, or assignment of tasks.  These are the people nobody wants to work with because there is never a feeling of team interpreting during the event.   A quick on-the-run solution may be next to impossible, but you can at least talk to them before or during the assignment and voice what you expect them to do.  As a long term strategy it is best to avoid them in the future, always declining a job offer by explaining the reasons why you would love to interpret the conference or trial, but with a different partner.
  3. To try to be the “center of attention.”  This is a very real and unfortunate situation that happens more often than you think.  Some colleagues believe that all events: conferences, court proceedings, surgeries, military interrogations, business negotiations, and diplomatic debates, revolve around the interpreter.  They truly believe this to be the case and refuse to understand that we are an important, even essential part to the process, but we are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the “main event.”  Here I am referring to those embarrassing moments when your partner stops everything that is happening and hyperventilating informs those present that the event cannot go forward at this time because one of the three hundred people in the auditorium has a receiver that is malfunctioning, and after the batteries are replaced and everything is “fine” once again, he or she asks the dignitary who is speaking, and on a very tight schedule, to “repeat the last thing you said so that the person with the receiver with the dead batteries doesn’t miss a word” and then goes on explaining what his or her duties are as an interpreter.   I congratulate you if you have never gone through one of this, but surely you have worked with somebody who complains all the time and interrupts the speaker over and over again:   “Excuse me…the interpreter could not hear the statement because the speaker is speaking away from the microphone…”  “…excuse me, the interpreter requests that the speaker move over to the right so it is easier to hear what she is saying…” “…excuse me… the interpreter requests that the speaker slows down so that everything can be interpreted…” A nightmare!  As an instant solution to this problem you should talk to this interpreter and explain that the participants are very important busy people who have very little time to do this; that as interpreters we should try to adapt to the circumstances, and that we are important, but by no means the most important part of the process.  A long term solution depends on the individual interpreter. Your colleagues often mature and grow out of this “self-centered syndrome.”  They will be fine. For those who never change and adapt, the solution will have to be up to you. It depends on how patient you are, how much you value the participation of this particular interpreter, and how well you know your client.  No easy solution, no “one size fits all.”
  4. To publicly correct and criticize other interpreters.  Those know-it-all interpreters with very little social skills and less discretion who vociferously utter vocabulary and terminology from one end of the room to correct what they think was a bad rendition, and sometimes not happy with this, are happy to show even more disrespect to a colleague by loudly stating the reasons why they are right and you are wrong.  It is very difficult to find anything more unprofessional than these actions.  It is true that team interpreting exists so that colleagues can work as a team and cover each other’s back; it is also a fact that we all make mistakes and that sometimes we do not notice them.  A benefit of having a partner in the booth or courtroom is that we can improve our rendition, and in court interpreting even correct the record, by stating our error or omission. However, decency and professionalism, together with a touch of common sense, tell us that there are better ways to correct a colleague or to offer an opinion that have nothing to do with screaming and yelling.  A simple note, sometimes a stare is enough to get your partner’s attention. When faced with this situation the thing to do short-term is to stay quiet, keep your cool. Let it be forgotten by those who witnessed your partner’s crude behavior. Then, at the earliest possible time, always as a professional well-mannered individual, confront him; let him know that this is unacceptable, and that you expect this will never happen again. Do not let him get away with it. A long-term solution would be to avoid this “colleague” like the plague.
  5. To interpret in a way that hurts your partner’s rendition. First we have the colleague who is too loud. So loud that you cannot concentrate. I am talking the kind that makes the booth vibrate when he speaks; the one you can hear better than your booth partner even though he is interpreting two booths away, and second, we have the interpreter who is very slow during relay interpreting to the point that all the booths waiting for the relay start thinking about doing a direct interpretation even if the source language is not their strength.  Short term you need the loud interpreter to concentrate in his volume and long term you need to help him or her find out the reason for this loud rendition. Many times people who speak loud cannot hear very well.  Maybe the long-term solution will be a hearing aid or a special set of headphones. The solution in the relay interpreting case can only be to endure for the day or until adequate replacement can be found. In the future this interpreter should not be used for relay interpreting situations. There are many excellent interpreters who cannot adapt to the pace of relay interpreting. There is plenty of work that does not involve relay interpreting where a good interpreter is needed.

 As you know, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Please review these “ten worst” and if you are up to it, I would love to read your top ten, top five, or even top one.  This should be good…

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