January 23, 2013 § 5 Comments
When I recently wrote about the difference between hiring a less expensive interpreter instead of paying for a good seasoned experienced one, some colleagues raised the scenario where a new interpreter could be good but newer to the profession. The issue was that this new colleague could be as good as an experienced interpreter minus the years in the booth. If a client can retain the services of such a professional for less money, why bother with a more expensive interpreter who would be charging more just because of the years of professional work.
It seems to me that this is a very valid point and worth of analysis. It is a well-known fact that there are many extremely good interpreters entering the market every year. I know it because I have worked with some of them. They are good, professional, reliable, and they charge less than a well established top-level interpreter. The perfect answer to a client’s need!
However, and there is always a “however,” the business of interpretation is much more than booth performance and professional attitude. It is my personal experience that the client wants a one-stop all-inclusive service that frees him to do everything else needed to have a successful event. When a client is paying top money for an experienced interpreter he or she expects a professional who knows about booth location, interpretation equipment, and much more. They want an interpreter who is able to suggest equipment, technician, protocol, and many other things. My clients hire me because of my booth performance, but they also know that they can count on me for all dealings with the rest of the interpreters, tech support, booth location, speaker orientation, and the intangibles like the best coffee shop near the convention center, the closest Ipad charging station at the airport, a good restaurant suggestion at the conference site, and tons of other things that they expect the good interpreter to know. I know that many of my colleagues have seen the sign of relief on a client’s face when you tell them that you know the technician, that you have worked with him; or when you arrive at the hotel or convention center and the local staff greets you as an old friend. They love it when you can get the extra wireless microphones, or the additional thirty minutes of conference room after they were told it was impossible to do it. Well, this is why the client is paying the experienced interpreters’ fees. If a short-sighted client wants excellent work in the booth and nothing else, a new good and inexpensive interpreter is an attractive option, but if the client was to forget about interpretation and concentrate on everything else, she or he will happily pay for the services of a one-stop high-quality seasoned well-known interpreter.
I personally believe that a good solution is a mix of several top-notch interpreters and an all-star team of newcomers. I have always loved to teach everything I know to the new generation, and I know I am not alone; many of you do the same. Therefore, my answer to those who contacted me after my previous posting is: There is a difference between great new interpreters and great experienced interpreters that goes beyond the fee we charge. Let’s build the next generation of interpreters by working together, teaching them the many nuances of the profession, and showing them that a good interpreter should never charge little money. I would love to hear your comments.
August 27, 2012 § 15 Comments
Yesterday I received a phone call from a client asking me to interpret a high-profile conference for their organization. Several months earlier this same client had discarded me as a potential interpreter stating that I wanted too much money to do my job.
This is how it all started: When this client, who I will refer to as “Client A”, first won a contract to provide interpretation services for a big company, they contacted those interpreters who had previously worked interpreting for the same big corporation under the agency who had the interpretation contract before “Client A” ousted them during the bidding process for a new contract. I still remember the first time “Client A” called me. After telling me how they had looked into my professional background and how happy they would be if I were to agree to work for them under this new contract, the person from the agency told me: “…but you are not one of those interpreters who want to charge $600 per day, right?…” Of course I immediately replied: “Of course not. I used to charge that, but it was many years ago when I was not well-known in the industry. Now I charge plenty more.”
Needless to say, after a few months of a little song and dance, I learned through another colleague that they had already retained the services of other interpreters, relatively new to the field, and definitely new to the company the interpretation services were to be provided for. That was it. I did not dwell on it, and I frankly forgot about the incident.
Now, back to the present, the client started the phone conversation telling me how sorry they were that they had not hired me for these assignments. He explained their reasons, all of them financial, and then briefed me on the events the less-expensive retained interpreters had done so far. I learned how the quality of the service was not at the level this big company was used to; I heard how the big company executives had complained about the interpreters, and how they had asked for me by name. Finally, the client told me that they really wanted me on board; he asked me to name my “price” (fee) and asked me to have lunch with them.
Of course, this was music to my ears! Yes I was happy to get the contract under favorable terms, but the thing that really made my day was to see the clients’ realization that as a general rule, quality costs money. I took advantage of this great opportunity to educate the client about our profession, and I was very pleased to see how this client had finally “seen the light”. I know this issue is a constant struggle for most of my colleagues. For this reason, it is important to hear your comments and stories about other clients who may have learned their lesson as well.
August 17, 2012 § 9 Comments
The other day one of my colleagues asked my opinion about the quality of the Spanish a police officer was using during a recorded interview. This colleague had been retained by the defense to analyze and transcribe the video of a police interview by a police woman in a very small town in the Midwest. As I sat there and listened to the nonsensical utterances that were emanating from this officer’s mouth, I went down memory lane and lived through them all again. I will never forget the police department that used a monolingual (in English) Hispanic woman as an interpreter for all of their investigations because “she grew up 20 miles from the Texas-Mexico border…(and that)…was enough to assume she spoke enough Spanish to communicate with the suspects…” and how could I forget the police station that hired as interpreters all those who had failed the court interpreter certification test because “…they were cheaper and knew about the same…” Never mind the disastrous results like the time when a little girl who had been the alleged victim of sexual abuse was considered to be a liar because the police interpreter did not know how to say “Christmas tree” in Spanish. And the time when the “interpreter” referred to the pedestrian charges as the “pedophile charges”. And yes! There was the man who interpreted the polygraph tests into Spanish and explained how to wear the wires by lifting, holding, bending, and stretching the suspects. Hulk Hogan would have been proud of his technique.
During all my years as an interpreter, and specifically through my work as a court interpreter, I have learned that the common denominator among most police forces in the country seems to be their desire to save money on interpretation. Apparently the fact that the investigation is jeopardized by using the services of unqualified or under-qualified linguists is not a concern. Even in those towns where cases are systematically dismissed by the prosecution, or dismissed by the judges, because of violations to the rights of the defendant, or where indictments are based on faulty testimony, all due to a lack of communication between the English speaking authority and the non-English speaker defendant, victim, or witness, because of poor interpretation, chiefs of police, budget analysts, and city administrators are choosing the cheaper service provider over the sound and accurate legal investigation.
We all know that a dollar saved on a bad interpreter will translate on thousands of dollars spent on a new trial, an appeal process, or a brand new investigation. Every time I have a chance, I talk to law enforcement administrators and try to explain how a real interpreter costs more, but at the same time she saves you money. A $100.00 per hour interpreter will do her job correctly in two hours, while a mediocre $40.00 per hour individual will take longer, as he struggles to understand the language, comprehend the process, and communicate the concepts to both, police officer and non-English speaker. After 8 long hours with a bad “interpreter”, the investigation moved very little, the legal process was violated several times, the cheap interpreter cost $320.00, and he has to come back the next day to finish the interview. There were no savings.
So, as I sat there watching this video, looking at my colleague working so hard, writing down the mistakes of the interpreter doing the interview, making footnotes of her omissions, charting the additions she volunteered into the interview, and listening to my interpreter friend telling me how this police woman, part-time “interpreter” had already caused the dismissal of many cases because of her lack of skill and knowledge, I came to a strange realization: The good interpreters are losing these police assignments to the bad ones, but because of this policy by the police departments, these good interpreters are now working as expert witnesses and linguistic advisors to the parties. Therefore, at the end, the good interpreter wins because it is more lucrative to be the expert witness or advisor. But wait; what about the defendant, the victim, and society at large? They may all get their justice in the long run after a lengthy legal process of appeals and re-tried cases, but in the meantime the victim will not feel safe, the innocent defendant will sit in a cell, and society will pay a hefty legal bill. All because the police department wants to save by hiring the bad interpreter. I would like to read your comments and experiences about this topic.