June 25, 2013 § 20 Comments
The “ten worst” series is back again. This time I will talk about those actions, omissions, and attitudes of other interpreters that not only annoy us, which they do, but that also affect our professional performance and the image we project to the client and the professional community. Obviously, and very sadly, a “ten worst” list is not enough to include all the things we see and hear out there when we are in the booth, the courtroom, the hospital, the battlefield, or anywhere else that interpreters are doing their job. As always, I am writing this with a therapeutic perspective, trying to add some possible solutions to these problems while at the same time creating empathy and inviting a good healthy laugh when relating to these horror stories. Because of the length of this posting, I have decided to publish it in two parts. This is part one. Part two will be posted next week.
Here we go:
- “Well, that’s what I charged because that is all they wanted to pay and I didn’t want to lose the client.” Nothing really bothers me more than an interpreter that doesn’t know how to charge for his or her services. This is a business where we provide a professional service and those in the field who don’t understand it and don’t want to understand it are not only working towards a life of misery for themselves and their loved ones; they are hurting us all. The only reason why some of your clients are always trying to get you to work for less than you deserve is because of this group of interpreters who are willing to do anything for practically nothing. This practice influences your local market because there is a cheap alternative competing against you who is ready to take your client away even if they will make very little money. Let me be really clear, I am not saying that we should constantly overprice what we do, although there is nothing wrong with charging any amount a client is willing to pay: it is a contractual relationship, the meeting of the minds. A quick solution would be to sell your services better than those individuals who charge below the market so the client sees the added value you bring to the job. Long term solution: Educate your market. Make sure all potential clients know the difference between a good interpreter and a person who will charge little and deliver even less. These paraprofessionals will always exist; in most instances just ignore them. They are not in your league. I don’t know about you all, but I am in the business of working little and making a lot of money. I am not interested in working for peanuts every single day. I can think of many other things I can do with my time.
- To snatch the microphone away from you or not to let go of the microphone. It is very annoying and very distracting to work with somebody who is just watching the clock and the moment the big hand gets to half past or to the top of the hour they grab the microphone or turn off your output on the console. Some of them even stick their wrist between your eyes so you can see that it is time for them to interpret totally disregarding the rendition. They just cannot wait until the natural pause happens and the switch can be seamless. And then you have those in love with their voice and their rendition who never let go. They simply turn their head away or avoid your stare and continue talking. Of course I know that I will get paid regardless of who did most of the work, but I am also aware of the fatigue factor and I do not want the audience to suffer through a diminished rendition just because of the ego of my colleague in the booth. In these two scenarios a quick, but many times useless, solution would be to wait for the next break and talk it over with your partner, or in the event that you already know that this will happen because you have worked together in the past, politely and professionally set the “rules of the game” even before you start interpreting. The long term solution to these very disturbing working conditions would be to refuse to work with that colleague in the future and to explain to the client your reasons for the refusal.
- To leave the booth as soon as you take the microphone. To me it is very difficult to understand how some colleagues perceive team interpreting when they leave the booth or exit the courtroom as soon as they are not actively interpreting. I understand restroom brakes and important phone calls and e-mails; we are a team and I gladly stay alone when my partner needs to take care of one of these situations. Is it because they do not know that the supporting interpreter is as important as the one actively interpreting? I have a hard time buying this justification when they have been around for some time and have experienced first-hand the benefits of having a second interpreter sitting next to them. To me it is very simple: They erroneously understand team interpreting as “tag-team interpreting” which is what wrestlers do when they work in teams. I believe the short-term and long-term solutions I suggested for number 2 apply to this scenario as well. I have a word of caution for my new colleagues and friends who just started in this profession and may feel intimidated or uncomfortable when it is the veteran interpreter who abandons the station: Treat them as equals. You are doing the assignment because somebody thought you were good at this. Even the “big ones” have to do their job as part of the team.
- To cancel at the last minute. This is another one of those practices that hurt you as a professional who has been scheduled to work with this individual, and also hurts the image of the profession. Of course I am not talking about an emergency when a colleague has to cancel due to a health issue, a family crisis, or an accident. I am not referring either to the interpreters who cancel because after accepting the assignments they realized that it was way over their head, unless they cancel the day before instead of two months ahead of time. I am talking about those who were offered another job on the eve of your event, and those who are simply irresponsible and unreliable. This is a very serious problem that can be worse when you are also the organizer of the event or the interpreter coordinator. A quick solution could be to talk to the interpreter and see why he or she is quitting at the last minute. Sometimes the reasons can be addressed and corrected (a hotel they dislike, a flight at an inconvenient time, etc.) occasionally a good pep talk can fix it (a last-minute panic attack because of the importance of the event or the fame of the speaker at the conference) and sometimes the cancelling interpreter may agree to start the event while you get a replacement. A long term solution in this case is a no-brainer: Never work with this person again. Black-list this individual, and if necessary and if the contract allows it: sue him. It is not wrong to cancel an assignment because you got a better offer to do another job. What is wrong is to cancel at the very last minute.
- To refuse to help the new interpreters. Our job is a personal service. I am hired to interpret because the client wants me to do it; not just anybody to do it. They want me. I understand and value the fact that getting to the top takes a lot of work, many years of dedication, a devotion to what you do. I applaud those who got to the summit and use it as a marketing tool. I also love to work with them. It is a pleasure. Unfortunately, some of these great interpreters do not like to share their knowledge and experience with the new generation. I have seen, and heard, of instances where the masters of the profession ignore and mistreat the newcomers. They keep the secrets of their trade close to their chest as if afraid that once known, they could be turned against them. This very real situation creates a nightmare for those scheduling the interpreters for an event and could result on the loss of a client. As a short-term solution you can talk to the veterans and explain that you need them for the quality of the rendition, and for the same reason, you need them to teach the new interpreters how to work like a superstar, and you need them to help the often nervous newcomers to feel at home in the booth or the courtroom so they can also learn and perform. Because most veterans are wise and love the profession, the same strategy, at a larger scale, can be part of the long-term solution, together with a campaign to educate and empower the new interpreters so they feel that they also belong in the booth.
These are my first five. Next week I will post the other five. In the meantime, I invite you to share your stories, anecdotes and opinions regarding this part of our professional practice.