Technology, modernity, and globalization are great for interpreters, it’s just that…

April 19, 2015 § 10 Comments

Dear colleagues:

We are very fortunate to live at a time when there are so many developments that make our lives more comfortable; this includes our profession. Most interpreters realize that there are many positive changes: From the way we now research our assignments, to the social media we use to get more clients, to the places where we work, to the things we now take to the booth. All improvements to the way we used to work just a few years ago.

Nobody wants to go back to the days when you had to go to the library to research and study for an assignment, we now google the subject matter, the speaker, and the venue where we are going to render our services, and we do it from our office, our home, an airplane, and even the beach. Our research library went from the nearby branch of the local library system to all of the Ivy League libraries combined. We now keep up with all developments in the profession, and with current affairs in general, by using the web, and particularly social media. We find out about conferences, online courses, webinars, and business trends with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many others that we also use for getting new clients and keeping the good ones we already have.

Many interpreters who did not have access to important assignments in the past, because of the place where they live, can now interpret remotely using a virtual booth without having to go to the big city or travel half way across the world. This has helped them become better interpreters and broaden their perception of the profession.

I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the days when we used to drag heavy suitcases full of dictionaries, glossaries, and textbooks to the booth. Now, if we have an I-Pad or a tablet in the booth, we have all the libraries in the world, everything the speaker ever said or wrote on a particular topic, and all the information on the subject matter of the presentation updated to the very last minute. Nobody wants to give this up.

You see my friends, interpreters want technology, and they want globalization, but we need to be very careful. I think that sometimes people get confused and mix two separate concepts: (1) Technology and those who create, develop, and improve it, and (2) The big language service providers who are in a race to get all possible benefits out of these developments and are ready to leave nothing behind for the human asset in this equation: the interpreter.

The creators, call them researchers, developers, scientists, or engineers who are constantly giving us new tools to make our lives and careers easier and more comfortable are not the enemy. They spend most of their time trying to find ways to deliver a quality product (or service) to those who are and could be our clients.  They are the ones who brought us all of the positive changes I mentioned above, and many more. This is a crowd we want to be with, we need to.

We must engage these entrepreneurs because they know the science and the engineering, not because they are acquainted with the interpreting profession. We are the experts in this field, the ones they need to hear from, the ones they must listen to, the ones who will tell them what is needed and how. We cannot afford to ignore them, attack them, or dismiss them; we have to sit down and talk to them.

We also have to come to terms with globalization, and I believe that most interpreters have done so. Everybody understands that globalization is here to stay, we cannot (and should not) wish it away. We know that globalization broadens the pool of interpreters that can have access to an assignment, it opens all world markets to the profession. This translates into more opportunities for the good quality interpreter to have more and better work, and it gives the client the possibility to get the most knowledgeable interpreters in a particular field or subject matter, regardless of where they might be physically located.  Obviously, a clear effect of globalization is the ever increasing need to communicate with others who will often speak a different language, thus emphasizing the need for interpreters and translators. The verdict is in: Globalization is great for interpreters because it gives the client access to more and better professionals, and it allows us to get more complex, interesting, and profitable assignments. My friends, we face no threat from new technology or from globalization. Let’s not buy into this argument. We need to stop wasting our time fighting against windmills.  We must concentrate our efforts somewhere else:

We already know what many interpreting agencies are doing under the banner of globalization and technology: They want us to spend our energy fighting against them, they want us to look obsolete and reluctant to change, that is the image they are selling to their clients.  Why would they do that? Because it helps them. By silencing the interpreters’ voice, they get the clients’ undivided attention, and once they have the client in their pocket, they can convince them to do as they recommend. Their goals are different from ours. There is nothing wrong with that, as they owe their loyalty to their shareholders, and we cannot lose sight of it.  The large (sometimes publicly traded) language service agencies’ goal is to generate a big profit by minimizing their expenses as much as possible. They will spend huge amounts of money acquiring this new technology in order to lower their cost of operation. Once the new system is in place, technology will allow them to control the market and offer interpreters a very sad choice: “take very little money for your services, or get out of the way”.  They are banking on their clients’ trust (remember, they have their undivided attention) and they rely on new technology that will let them work with mediocre interpreters as these new technologies will do much of the work that interpreters used to do.  The result will be a very low quality service, but because of this strategy, the clients will never know, or at least it will take them a while to discover the poor choices they made.   Now, the agencies I usually work for do not fall into this category. In this article I am not talking about some big companies who work big conferences and events; I am not including some small agencies who do a great job and pay interpreters very well either. They all understand the importance and value of a quality interpretation.  Here I am referring to those enormous agencies that control a big chunk of the market, and hire thousands of interpreters for laughable rock-bottom fees every day. These are the agencies many of you reading this post work with on a regular basis.

I also want to make it clear that I am not calling them evil. They do what they are supposed to do, and do it very well. The important point for us, as interpreters, is to understand that we do have opposing interests in the profession, and with this realization, we must deal with them not as criminals or monsters, but as antagonistic forces in our professional market, who, in my opinion, bring in less value than the interpreter, as the profession can exist without them, but it cannot without us.

This is what major multinational language agencies are doing at this time. We should not take the bait. Instead of arguing against globalization and technology, we must change the debate and take it to the human talent: The interpreter.

You see, we need to have a two-front approach:

(1) We have to talk directly to those developing the technology, and we need to do it now before the agencies take ownership of the whole issue. The scientists and engineers will talk to us: We are the equipment users. We have to create forums where we can discuss interpreting technology with those developing it; we have to talk costs, service, preferred platforms, software, and many other things. We need to do it as soon as possible, and we need to do it in an environment free of the interests of the major language agencies. In other words, this will never happen if we believe that results can be achieved within an environment controlled by these language service providers. We cannot bring these issues to the table and speak directly to the scientists and engineers in events sponsored by the agencies. There cannot be real progress in a discussion panel where the moderator is the CEO of one of these huge agencies who clearly, and logically, have goals that are different from ours.  Does this mean that we will not sit down and talk to the agencies? Absolutely not. It is just that before we do that, we have to be in a better position to be able to negotiate from strength. The last thing we need right now is to hear fantastic stories from some of these agencies trying to convince interpreters that the technology they now use is great for us because “instead of having to drive downtown to do your work, and instead of having to sit down and wait for a couple of hours before interpreting, you can now devote forty five minutes to the interpreting task from your own home, and then do something else with the rest of your life like mowing the lawn or playing with your kids”.  Of course, this means that instead of paying the interpreter for a full day of work, their intention is to pay for forty five minutes of work. On top of being insulting to the professional interpreter, nobody can make a living that way. They are offering a salary lower than a fast food restaurant and they are doing it with a big smile on their face.

(2) We need to educate the client by speaking directly to them.  Most clients rely on the agency’s knowledge and expertise as far as selecting the interpreters for an assignment. They never really stop to think what it is needed to properly interpret, and the agencies do not want them to spend much time doing that, as it would provoke uncomfortable questions about the quality, training, education, and experience of so many of the interpreters they presently offer to their clients, as these agencies make their decision to hire based on one issue alone: Who is willing to work for less money.

The client needs to know that a good interpreter has years of education and experience, and only after that, interpreters can deliver an impeccable, accurate, clear, and pleasant rendition; they need to be made aware of the fact that real professional interpreters do a comprehensive research of the subject matter, and do not take assignments two hours before the job when the agency representative calls them desperate because they cannot get anybody to cover the event. The client needs to hear how a really good interpreter goes beyond the rendition, works on problem prevention and solving during the event. Once the client understands that a good interpreter sells peace of mind, and especially after they realize that working with the interpreter directly, instead of through an agency, will be more cost-effective, as agencies pay rock bottom fees to the interpreter, while at the same time they charge their clients handsomely, they will become more knowledgeable and will demand good interpreters from the agencies. This is where you, my dear colleagues, need to hold your ground and demand top professional fees from these agencies. I suggest that as part of this education you target the legal department and insurance office of the client, and share with them some of the tragic results of hiring poor quality interpreters. We all know about these unfortunate incidents. I am convinced that these individuals will advise their clients to retain quality interpreters, as they will understand that good professionals are like an insurance policy: More expensive in the short run, but money savers at the end of the day.

Do not be shy about explaining to the client how it does not make sense to spend a lot of money hiring an expensive speaker for a keynote address, a top-notch caterer, and a beautiful venue, if at the end of the day the people who paid to listen to the speaker will not get much out of the presentation because they could not understand the foreign language speaking presenter due to poor quality interpreting.  Your job is to convince them that an expensive interpreter is not an expense, it is an investment.

Never forget that as the human talent in this operation, interpreters are indispensable to deliver the service, just like you cannot benefit from an MRI without a physician’s reading of the results, you cannot have quality interpreting without good interpreters. We can join forces with the technology provider and do a magnificent job. Agencies cannot do the same without good interpreters, unless we let them change the subject so that their client does not see the importance of our service. At this point we will have many options: we will be able to decide if we want to work with large agencies, smaller ones, directly with the client, and even as a professional group, association, or cooperative where we may be able to acquire the needed technology and offer our services bypassing the low-paying agencies.

At this time we will be ready to sit down and negotiate as equals with these gigantic agencies. They are doing a good job at what they are supposed to do; now it is our time to do the same.  Please share your thoughts on this extremely important issue, and when doing so, please abstain from mentioning all the things that agencies can do that we cannot, because we know the things they do, and we understand that although difficult, we could ultimately do them all.  I invite you to contribute to this discussion without defending the agencies. We all know there are already plenty of forums where they can defend themselves.

Turning into a better and more successful interpreter in the new year.

January 6, 2014 § 5 Comments

Dear colleagues:

2013 was a great year for many of us. Quite a few of you developed professionally and became better at what you do. I congratulate you for that important achievement; unfortunately, competitors are still out there, languages are still changing, technology continues to improve, and clients (agencies or direct corporations) are willing to pay for what they need but are looking for the best service at the best possible price.  The question is: How do we adapt to reality, keep up with technology, and improve our service?  The answer is complex and it includes many different issues that have to be addressed.  Today we will concentrate on one of them: Professional development.

It is practically impossible to beat the competition, command a high professional fee, and have a satisfied client who does not want to have anything to do with any other interpreter but you, unless you can deliver quality interpretation and state-of-the-art technology.  In other words we need to be better interpreters.  We need to study, we have to practice our craft, we should have a peer support network (those colleagues you call when in doubt about a term, a client or grammar) and we need to attend professional conferences.

I personally find immense value in professional conferences because you learn from the workshops and presentations, you network with colleagues and friends, and you find out what is happening out there in the very tough world of interpretation.  Fortunately there are many professional conferences all year long and all over the world.  Fortunately (for many of us) attending a professional conference is tax deductible in our respective countries.  Unfortunately there are so many attractive conferences and we have to pick and choose where to go.   I understand that some of you may decide to attend one conference per year or maybe your policy is to go to conferences that are offered near your home base. I also know that many of you have professional agendas that may keep you from attending a particular event even if you wanted to be there.  I applaud all organizations and individuals who put together a conference. I salute all presenters and support staff that makes a conference possible, and I wish I could attend them all.

Because this is impossible, I decided to share with all of you the 2014 conferences that I am determined to attend:

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada (May 16-18) Although I am still undecided about going to Istanbul Turkey in March with InterpretAmerica because of scheduling reasons, I am determined to be in Las Vegas in May for the largest judiciary and legal interpreter and translator gathering anywhere in the world.  This conference lets me have an accurate idea of the changes in this area that is so important for our profession in the United States.  It is a unique event because everybody shares the same field and you get to see and network with colleagues that do not attend other non-court interpreting conferences.

The International Federation of Translators (FIT) Conference in Berlin, Germany (August 4-6). This is an event that cannot be missed because it does not happen every year, because it attracts a different set of colleagues, and because it has a more European flavor than the other huge event in our profession: The ATA conference.  Presentations are usually different from other conferences because of the topics that are discussed and the presenters’ style, and in my opinion it gives you a better picture of the European and Asian market than any other event.

The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) Annual Conference in Athens, Greece (September 20-21).  I go to this conference because it is IAPTI. Because it is about us, the interpreters and translators! This conference, and this organization for that matter, presents a unique point of view of our profession that I consider priceless.  It is the only international conference of this size where there are no corporate sponsors. All you see is translators and interpreters like you.  Some of the results of this innovative approach are that the conference attracts a very important group of colleagues that stay away from other conferences because they are bothered by the corporate presence.  This is the conference to attend if you want to learn how to deal with agencies, corporate clients and governments because the absence of all those other players fosters this dialogue.  You can attend the presentations and workshops knowing that no presenter is there to sell you anything and that is fun to have at least once a year.

American Translators Association (ATA) Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois (November 5-8).  This is the “mother” of all conferences. If you have attended one you know what I am talking about; if you have not, be prepared to be among an overwhelming number of colleagues from all over the world who gather once a year to share experiences, attend workshops and presentations, do networking, buy books, dictionaries, software, hardware, and even apply for a job as an interpreter or translator with one of the many government and private sector agencies and corporations that also attend the event.  This is the conference that all language professionals have to attend at least once during their lifetime.  As an added bonus, the conference will be held in beautiful breath-taking Chicago with all of its architecture and big city life.

I know the choice is difficult, and some of you may have reservations about professional gatherings like the ones I covered above.  Remember, the world of interpretation is more competitive every day and you will need an edge to beat the competition.  That advantage might be what you learned at one of these conferences, or whom you met while at the convention.  Please kindly share your thoughts and let us know what local, national or international conference or conferences you plan to attend in 2014.

Note taking with iPad: Making our life easier.

May 28, 2013 § 25 Comments

Dear colleagues:

A few months ago while on break during an event I was working with several colleagues from different language combinations, we had one of those not-so-common moments when we all gather outside the booths and talked about the industry.  As we were having this conversation I brought up the note taking topic saying that I had noticed that some of the interpreters were using a tablet while others were working “old-school” with pen and paper.

I have been taking advantage of the benefits of the iPad for quite some time.  I love showing up for work with nothing but my tablet. No more heavy briefcases with multiple dictionaries. I now have my glossaries, dictionaries, and textbooks in my iPad; and if for some reason I need to consult other sources, I just go online with Safari.  It is great to have my calendar, invoices, and even my travel apps handy at all times.  Note taking for both, simultaneous and consecutive interpretation are another good reason to go to work with an iPad as well.  Although I now use the Livescribe Echo Smartpen for consecutive renditions during press conferences and other non-judicial settings, because of the issue of recording in-court statements that has been raised in some courthouses, I am taking advantage of my iPad with a different application when interpreting in a courthouse, and many times when working in the booth.

1 Notes app on screen

There are many good efficient note taking applications for your iPad and other tablets: Paper Desk Lite, Idea Sketch, ABC Notes, Penultimate, Note Taker HD, Notes Plus, and others specific to Android or Microsoft are a good option, but in my case, I have been using TopNotes for about a year.  This app has
everything I need to have in the booth and in the courtroom. It is a friendly application that takes you to your bookcase as soon as you open it. Once you
are at the book case you can either retrieve the notes of a conference or case you have been using, or you can simply create a new notepad for a brand new
event.  To make it easier to identify your notepads, the program lets you name them, and then it allows you to pick a color for the cover and a paper style for the notepad. Finally, you can link or unlink your notepad to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and Evernote, you can copy from Dropbox, Google Drive and Box, and you can protect your notes by setting a 4-digit passcode.

Once you have a notepad you can write in  different ink colors: blue, purple, grey, black, red, orange, yellow and green;  you can select the width of your handwriting making the lines and letters  bolder or finer, and you can highlight, erase, copy, and paste your notes.

You can also choose your paper, turn on the read-only mode, change fonts, and turn on a wrist protection that allows you to write without having to worry about any marks or alterations by your hand and wrist pressing against the screen.

This app lets you switch the screen so you can see all of your notes at the same time making it easier to go back and forth without having to shuffle papers at the speed of light.  Finally, with TopNotes you can email your notes, upload them to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or Evernote, open the notes in other apps installed in your iPad, print your notes via air-print, and copy pdf files from your Dropbox and elsewhere so you can underline the text of a presentation or court file without ever touching the original documents.

I just want to end by saying that my choice of stylus for the iPad are:

Bamboo for fine handwriting. It is beautiful, its shaft is a little girthier than a Bic pen, and it is strong and durable but light enough to carry it in the shirt pocket like a regular pen; and

Boxwave from Amazon for bolder writing. It is heavier than Bamboo, its tip will not write with the fine precision of a Kensington, but it is far less expensive than Bamboo and you would not be very sad if you lose it.  In my experience I found it better to have them both by my iPad and use the Bamboo stylus to write and the Boxwave to underline or to write big bold messages to my colleague in the booth.

Technology has changed the way we take notes as interpreters, and I invite those of you who have not switched to a tablet to give it a try. You will discover freedom and speed thanks to your new tool. Please tell me what apps you prefer and what stylus are more compatible with your handwriting.

Translation/Interpretation online groups: Should they censor the language used by those posting?

May 9, 2013 § 4 Comments

Dear colleagues:

It is happening again: another translation/interpretation online group is giving notice that from now on there will be a “preferred language” (in this case English) and therefore one of the new group administrators is asking all those interested on posting an article or sharing information to: “…please only post your contributions in English…”  Online groups have the right to set and change their rules and if a group censors its content based on the language used by the individual writing the posting, those who participate in the group have two choices: either to abide by the new rules, even if they don’t like them, or to leave the group. In this particular case, because of the quality of the organization that backs the group, if this “English only” rule stands, I will honor it and post exclusively in English (as I am doing with this piece) even if it means that some of my articles will be excluded from these pages because when writing the article I determined that the message was better presented in another language.  Because of this new policy’s similarities to the situation we went through with the online group of ATA’s Spanish Division last year, I have decided to reproduce here the relevant parts of that posting that I believe apply to this case. The “preferred language” is different, but the policy decision was the same.  Fortunately ATA’s Spanish Division understood the consequences of such censorship and reversed its policy. There is also the possibility that I misunderstood the communication we received today, and that this online group will “dislike” a non-English posting but will not censor it.  Not the best option but certainly better that a ban from the group.  As language professionals we are used to the coexistence of many languages, and we should always keep this in mind. I just looked at the current postings on this online group and I really liked the variety of languages represented. Following are the relevant parts of my original article posted January 7, 2013. I have not inserted the entire posting because part of it dealt with the issue of online groups that limit their content based on subject matter, not language.  My dear colleagues, let’s see what you think:

“…In this modern world where we practice our profession we often encounter resources that help us answer a question, confirm a suspicion, ask for a suggestion, share information, and offer a point of view.  Many of us are taking advantage of the web and constantly visit professional websites, blogs, dictionaries, glossaries, professional chat-rooms, list-serves, and many other sites where we can find tools that in the past were difficult to get.  Just like many of you, I have fully taken advantage of these resources and often post articles and opinions on my blog (www.rpstranslations.wordpress.com), offer links on my professional Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/RPS-Rosado-Professional-Solutions), and provide links to information to those who follow me on Twitter (@rpstranslations).  I also participate in many professional groups and chat-rooms…

…I personally find them very useful and interesting. It is fascinating how we can learn from a colleague 14 time zones away by simply writing a comment on a Linked-in professional group.  These practices have helped many of us grow professionally and as business people.  As many of you know, I have posted many times on many groups, chat-rooms, and list-serves that originate all over the world… 

…My experience has always been positive and useful; however, I have recently come across certain opinions that came very close to limiting the access and usefulness to some of these resources.  There was a translators professional group that was trying to limit postings to one language; an interesting policy for a translators professional group where by definition, those interested should be translators and therefore know at least two languages.  This policy risks losing many participants as a good number of translators feel more comfortable writing in the other language pair instead of the one this group wanted.  This would also limit the reach of the ideas circulated in the group as third-language professionals who otherwise may benefit of a business or good practices posting would now be kept away.  Obviously, this would also discourage many others from participating as the group can be perceived as censoring and controlling what members share just by reason of not using the ONLY language allowed.  Some colleagues defended this position stating that the group is for people who use this specific language; that those who disagree should move on to other groups. I disagree, and fortunately most of those visiting the group agreed with me: This restrictive policy was not adopted. Translators and Interpreters use at least two languages and often use them both.  The failure of this movement made me very happy although I have to say that even though the administrators of this group announced that there would be no censorship, even now this is one of the very few groups on line that still “reviews” your posting before publishing it… 

…I believe that professional groups, chat-rooms, blogs and list-serves should be open to all professionals. Of course there should be a moderator to keep us all focused on a specific topic when posting on a blog… and to keep obscenity and useless personal attacks out of the professional discussion; however, limiting access in a linguist group because of the language… can result on the demise of said professional group…”  Please share your thoughts.

Translation/Interpretation online groups: A superlative failure in judgment?

January 7, 2013 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

In this modern world where we practice our profession we often encounter resources that help us answer a question, confirm a suspicion, ask for a suggestion, share information, and offer a point of view.  Many of us are taking advantage of the web and constantly visit professional websites, blogs, dictionaries, glossaries, professional chat-rooms, list-serves, and many other sites where we can find tools that in the past were difficult to get.  Just like many of you, I have fully taken advantage of these resources and often post articles and opinions on my blog (www.rpstranslations.wordpress.com), offer links on my professional Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/RPS-Rosado-Professional-Solutions), and provide links to information to those who follow me on Twitter (@rpstranslations).  I also participate in many professional groups and chat-rooms.

I personally find them very useful and interesting. It is fascinating how we can learn from a colleague 14 time zones away by simply writing a comment on a Linked-in professional group.  These practices have helped many of us grow professionally and as business people.  As many of you know, I have posted many times on many groups, chat-rooms, and list-serves that originate all over the world.

My experience has always been positive and useful, however, I have recently come across certain opinions that came very close to limiting the access and usefulness to some of these resources.  There was a translators professional group that was trying to limit postings to one language; an interesting policy for a translators professional group where by definition, those interested should be translators and therefore know at least two languages.  This policy risks losing many participants as a good number of translators feel more comfortable writing in the other language pair instead of the one this group wanted.  This would also limit the reach of the ideas circulated in the group as third-language professionals who otherwise may benefit of a business or good practices posting would now be kept away.  Obviously, this would also discourage many others from participating as the group can be perceived as censoring and controlling what members share just by reason of not using the ONLY language allowed.  Some colleagues defended this position stating that the group is for people who use this specific language, that those who disagree should move on to other groups. I disagree, and fortunately most of those visiting the group agreed with me: This restrictive policy was not adopted. Translators and Interpreters use at least two languages and often use them both.  The failure of this movement made me very happy although I have to say that even though the administrators of this group announced that there would be no censorship, even now this is one of the very few groups on line that still “reviews” your posting before publishing it.

Another even more extreme example of this trend can be found in a different professional group chat-room where the person that moderates it (and obviously runs it) has decided not to include anything that is not strictly about what this person believes is the subject matter of the group.  Let me explain: A few months ago I entered to this group and posted a few articles about the business and ethical aspects of our profession.  Suddenly, all postings (mine and everybody else’s) went away overnight. They were replaced by a notice that this person proudly re-posts several times a week that reads: “Cleaning up discussions on…(the) group.”  It is interesting to note that this group supposedly has 386 members, and after the “clean-up”  all “surviving” postings, going back one year, are by the person who runs and moderates the group; well, there is actually one exception: another person posted the ONLY other posting that survived, and that entry is dated 10 months ago.

I believe that professional groups, chat-rooms, blogs and list-serves should be open to all professionals. Of course there should be a moderator to keep us all focused on a specific topic when posting on a blog (there is another professional group where one of the members constantly posts adds selling shoes, but don’t get me started on that one) and to keep obscenity and useless personal attacks out of the professional discussion; however, limiting access in a linguist group because of the language, and eliminating all relevant entries because they deal with the professional or ethical aspects of our career can result on the demise of said professional groups.  I would like to hear your opinion, particularly that of those who regularly use these cyber-tools.

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