The Super Bowl: Interpreters, American football, and a big day in the United States.
February 6, 2023 § 2 Comments
Because Americans love to bring up sports in a conference, and due to the acquired taste needed to enjoy a sport popular in the United States and few other places in the world, every year I write a post on the biggest sporting event: The Super Bowl.
On February 12 the United States will hold the most watched TV event in our country, a game played on an unofficial holiday, more popular than most holidays on the official calendar. The Super Bowl is the national professional football championship game in the United States of America; and it is not football… at least not THAT football played in the rest of the world. This popular sport in the United States is known abroad as “American football,” and even this designation seems troublesome to many who have watched a little American football and do not understand it well. Although it is mainly played holding a ball, the sport is known in the United States as football for two reasons: (1) Because this American-born sport comes from “rugby football” (now rugby) that came from soccer (football outside the United States) and (2) Because it is football, but it is not British organized football, which when American football invented was called “association football” and was later known by the second syllable of the word “association”: “socc” which mutated into “soccer.” You now understand where the name came from, but is it really football? For Americans it is. Remember that all other popular team sports in the United States are played with your hands or a stick (baseball, basketball and ice hockey). The only sport in the United States where points can be scored by kicking the ball is (American) football. So, even though most of the time the ball is carried by hand or caught with your hands, sometimes, a team scores or defends field position by kicking or punting the football. Now, why is all this relevant to us as interpreters? Because if you interpret from American English you are likely to run into speakers who will talk about the Super Bowl, football, or will use examples taken from this very popular sport in the U.S.
On Sunday, most Americans will gather in front of the TV set to watch the National Football Conference champion Philadelphia Eagles battle the American Football Conference champion Kansas City Chiefs for the Vince Lombardi Trophy (official name of the trophy given to the team that wins the Super Bowl) which incidentally is a trophy in the shape of a football, not a bowl. It is because the game was not named after a trophy, it was named after a tradition. There are two football levels in the United States: college football played by amateur students, and professional football. College football is older than pro-football and for many decades the different college champions were determined by playing invitational football games at the end of the college football season on New Year’s Day. These games were called (and still are) “Bowls.” You may have heard of the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and many others. When a professional football game was created to determine the over-all champion between the champions of the American and National Conferences, it was just natural (and profitable) to call it the “Super Bowl.”
The game, which involves two teams representing two regions of the country, will be played in Glendale, Arizona, near Phoenix. Every year the Super Bowl is played in a venue where the weather at this time of the year is more welcoming. There will be millions watching the match from home, and there will be hundreds of millions spent on TV commercials during the game.
As I do every year on these dates, I have included a basic glossary of English<>Spanish football terms that may be useful to you, particularly those of you who do escort, diplomatic, and conference interpreting from American English to Mexican Spanish. “American” football is very popular in Mexico (where they have college football) Eventually, many of you will face situations where two people will discuss the Super Bowl; as you are interpreting somebody will tell a football story during a presentation; or you may end up at a TV or radio studio simultaneously interpreting a football game for your own or another foreign market.
The following glossary does not cover every term in football; it includes terms very common, and where there were several translations of a football term, I selected the term used in Mexico by the Mexican media that covers the sport.
|National Football League||Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano|
|American Football Conference||Conferencia Americana|
|National Football Conference||Conferencia Nacional|
|Regular season||Temporada regular|
|Standings||Tabla de posiciones|
|Field||Terreno de juego|
|End zone||Zona de anotación/ diagonales|
|Super Bowl||Súper Tazón|
|Pro Bowl||Tazón Profesional/ Juego de estrellas|
|Uniform & Equipment||Uniforme y Equipo|
|Special teams||Equipos especiales|
|Fair catch||Recepción libre|
|Possession||Posesión del balón|
|First and ten||Primero y diez|
|First and goal||Primero y gol|
|Line of scrimmage||Línea de golpeo|
|Neutral zone||Zona neutral|
|Long snap||Centro largo/ centro al pateador|
|Turnover||Pérdida de balón|
|Pass rush||Presión al mariscal de campo|
|“I” Formation||Formación “I”|
|Shotgun Formation||Formación escopeta|
|“T” Formation||Formación “T”|
|Wishbone Formation||Formación wishbone|
|Sidelines||Líneas laterales/ banca|
|Out-of-bounds||Fuera del terreno|
|Head Coach||Entrenador en jefe|
|Offensive Tackle||Tacleador ofensivo|
|Offensive line||Línea ofensiva|
|Wide Receiver||Receptor abierto|
|Tight end||Ala cerrada|
|Fullback||Corredor de poder|
|Quarterback||Mariscal de campo|
|Defensive end||Ala defensiva|
|Defensive tackle||Tacleador defensivo|
|Nose guard||Guardia nariz|
|Free safety||Profundo libre|
|Strong safety||Profundo fuerte|
|Punter||Pateador de despeje|
Even if you are not a football fan, and even if you are not watching the big game on Sunday, I hope you find this glossary useful. Now I invite you to comment on football, sports interpreting, or maybe you would like to share a “sports interpreting anecdote” with all of us.
What we learned as Interpreters in 2022.
December 30, 2022 § 4 Comments
Now that 2022 ended and we finally got back some normalcy in our lives after the long confinement, 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, 2022 was better than the previous two years. It was a year of some change and many adjustments to a new professional lifestyle.
Last year was the year when we were boosted to continue the fight against Covid. Sadly, some of our colleagues, among them great interpreters, continued to leave the profession overwhelmed by technological changes, market uncertainty, and aggressive, ethically questionable practices by some language service providers.
2022 was the year when our profession finally settled in our new professional model of hybrid and in-person events with a constant and steady presence of distance interpreting assignments. It also became evident that remote interpreting from a hub will stick around as a popular choice in some parts of the world, but the home interpreting practice without colocation will reign supreme in many regions, especially where interpreters are scarce, technological infrastructure is poor, or market conditions have rejected the hub model. In the year that ends, most working interpreters became knowledgeable and technologically savvy, and incorporated technology to their continuing professional development permanently. Because learning and adapting is always good, these were the brightest highlights of the year.
Unfortunately, not everything was good. Change continued to bring along unfairness, abuse, and deception. The same changes that helped us adapt to the post-Covid world, provided the right circumstances to harm our profession.
As it has happened throughout history, today’s changes have brought a wave of bad practices that financially benefit some of those with the loudest voice while hurting conference interpreters and the users of their service. Some distance interpreting providers have ignored ethical and professional rules by welcoming inexperienced, unqualified individuals, often from other fields of interpreting, whose main credential is to provide interpreting services for a ridiculously low fee and to do it under very poor conditions. By recruiting these interpreters and diverting the clients’ attention to technology instead of service quality, the post-pandemic market continued to offer conference interpreting on-demand: interpreters on standby, willing to start an assignment with a couple of hours’ notice, without time to prepare, often working alone from their home thousands of miles away, and doing it during the night. Some unscrupulous providers continued to offer insulting fees paid by the minute or by the hour. It is now common practice to attend a professional conference and find remote interpreting platform representatives luring university students and recently graduated interpreters to work for the platform for free or for a scarce pay, with the excuse they are helping them by letting them “practice” with their platform. I have now seen this practice in three continents.
2022 continued to change the way we use professional social media. It still is a self-promoting infomercial by the big service providers where unsuspecting colleagues harm their image and reputation daily by bragging about working for these low-paying, ethically questionable, providers.
Going back to the positive, I congratulate those professional associations that held their conferences in-person or as hybrid events. This will be the new normal for professional conferences. A special mention to ITI for its spectacular conference in Brighton. This live event in the U.K. was my first in-person conference since 2019. OMT in Guadalajara, and NAJIT in Florida held big, high-quality conferences using creativity, technology, and thinking of their members’ health. FIT and ATA also gathered in big conferences in Varadero, Cuba, and Los Angeles respectively, and they welcomed colleagues from all over the world. My recognition also goes to all smaller associations with conferences in-person. Regardless of the conference you attended in 2022, they were all special, as they were filled with the human warmth that seeing, hugging, and talking to friends and colleagues after all this time generate. They will all be unforgettable.
Another wonderful gesture that showed professional solidarity was the decision by many professional associations and individual interpreters to volunteer their services to assist the people from Ukraine, both inside their country and abroad. Once again, interpreters showed their humanity and solidarity in the face of this terrible and unfair invasion of a peaceful nation. We proved to ourselves once again that interpreters are resilient, able to adapt to adversity to survive, and good humans.
We now face a year with less uncertainty, full of adjustments and plenty of changes and opportunities. Our resiliency, adaptability, courage, and recognizing that even after the worst days of the pandemic, many things have changed, but many others stayed the same. Let’s all focus on the good things to come while we guard against the bad ones. I wish you all a prosperous and healthy 2023!
The History of Conference Interpreting: The Other WWII Trials.
November 23, 2022 § 4 Comments
We commemorated International Conference Interpreters Day on November 20. The date was selected because on that date in 1945 the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg started the trial of those charged with war crimes in Europe, using simultaneous interpretation for a matter relevant worldwide for the first time. Much has been written and researched about the trial, the interpreters, and the birth of simultaneous rendition as we now know it. For years I observed the date remembering these important circumstances that gave birth to the modern version of our profession, but I always wondered about the trials against the war criminals in the Pacific theatre of operations; there seemed to be little information available about the interpretation, the interpreters, and what really happened in Tokyo after World War II. As November 20 was approaching, I decided to find out what happened in Japan, and why these trials were left out as part of the birth of modern conference interpreting. This is what I learned:
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) was convened on April 29, 1946, over five months after the Nuremberg tribunal was established, to try Japanese political and military leaders for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Twenty-eight Japanese citizens were tried, the tribunal had broader jurisdiction than its counterpart in Germany, as it covered the invasion of Manchuria and World War II, and the proceedings ended on November 12, 1948, making these Tokyo trials almost twice as long as the process in Nuremberg. No defendant was acquitted, but charges were dismissed against one of them because he was found mentally incompetent. Seven defendants were sentenced to death and executed.
Judges represented ten countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, India, The Netherlands, New Zealand, The Philippines, United Kingdom, and United States) with Sir. William Webb, Justice of the High Court of Australia presiding. Most of the prosecution was presented by American prosecutors, but prosecutors from the other nations represented intervened for certain witnesses, defendants, and charges. The defendants were represented by more than one hundred attorneys from Japan and the United States, and the official languages of the trial were English and Japanese.
Trying monolingual Japanese defendants who committed the atrocities on trial under a culture, and using a language so foreign to the members of the tribunal, presented challenges not found in Nuremberg where all languages involved were European, and all crimes had been committed by individuals who shared culture with the judges and attorneys.
There were no English-Japanese interpreters in the West and there were no interpreters in Japan, period.
To solve this problem, the Tribunal hired twenty-seven Japanese citizens fluent in English who knew Japanese culture, history, and traditions, but they were not interpreters; they had no formal training, they had no experience as empiric interpreters either, and unlike the situation in Nuremberg where the interpreters were citizens of the allied countries, these individuals were from the same country as the defendants. It was decided to hold some “auditions” as mock trials to select the interpreters. Legal knowledge or aptitude to learn and understand legal proceedings was an important consideration also. Those selected were hired by the Language Division of the IMTFE. Because these ad-hoc interpreters were Japanese, the Tribunal established the position of Monitor. These individuals were American citizens children of Japanese (Kibei Nisei) who were proficient in both languages. There were four of them. Their job was to supervise the rendition by the Japanese interpreters, and amend the record when needed, due to the lack of experience and technique of the Japanese interpreters. During the War, these monitors: David Akira Itami, Sho Onodera, Hidekazu Hayashi, and Lanny Miyamoto, worked for the Allied Powers’ Translation and Interpretation Section (ATIS) and as children they all attended school in the United States.
The interpreters, and their monitors, worked in a booth; they worked in teams of two or three; they had a rotation according to an established schedule, and they used the same IBM simultaneous interpreting equipment used in Nuremberg,
There was no simultaneous interpretation during the Tokyo trials. Interpretation was rendered as follows:
All written opening statements, closing statements, charging documents, etc. were translated, and when attorneys or judges read them for the record, the translations were read simultaneously by one of the four monitors;
All witness examinations, cross-examinations, and re-direct examinations were interpreted consecutively by the Japanese interpreters. Attorneys and witnesses were instructed to speak clearly, slowly, and to pause frequently to give the interpreters a chance to catch up. Whenever an interpreter fell behind a speaker, the monitor would signal the court so the speaker stop and even repeat what was said. Monitors also assisted interpreters with note taking of names, addresses, figures, etc. Preserving an accurate record was a priority.
When a witness or a prosecutor spoke in a language other than English or Japanese (all defense attorneys spoke English or Japanese) other interpreters would participate. Beside the twenty-seven English-Japanese interpreters, there were seven Chinese, six Russian, six French, and one Dutch interpreters. Relay interpreting was used when one of these languages was spoken in the courtroom.
Because Japanese was not widely known in the West at that time, and because knowledge of Japanese culture was practically non-existing, there was the possibility of conflicting interpretation of terms or concepts. To prevent this from happening, the IMTFE created a system of checks and balances by establishing a Language Arbitration Board to settle matters of disputed interpretation. Once the dispute was resolved by the Board, the arbitrated rendition had to be used for the rest of the trial. This process was used both ways: To solve interpreting issues into Japanese and into English.
After the trial all Japanese who worked as interpreters went back to their prior occupations. None pursued a career as a professional interpreter; however, two of the monitors continued to work (at least occasionally) as interpreters, one for the Japanese diplomatic service, and another one for the emperor.
The trials did not give birth to our profession in Japan; there were no simultaneous interpreters yet, and the equipment had been used for other purposes (synchronized reading of translated texts, and consecutive interpretation from the booth). After learning these facts, it became clear to me why the International Military Tribunal for the Far East is not considered as the birth of modern simultaneous conference interpreting. The Tribunal did all it could to ensure the administration of justice and to preserve the record, but it did not have professional interpreting services, the IBM equipment was not used as it was in Nuremberg, and the trials did not contribute to the development of simultaneous interpreting in Japan.
The Best Horror Movie Musical Themes.
October 31, 2022 § 2 Comments
During Halloween season we may interpret in events, usually in the private sector, where well-known horror movie themes are played during the breaks, and even to introduce some speakers. One of such events motivated me to dedicate my annual Halloween post to the music that makes the hair stand up on the back of one’s neck. I know there are many great scores and theme songs, but these are the ones I immediately associate with horror films:
The Thing (1982). John Carpenter reached out to Ennio Morricone to score this tale of frozen fear with pulsing and terrifying sounds.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953). This 3-D Universal movie announces the arrival of the creature with the chilling Bah, bah, bahhhh, three-note-motif by Henry Stein, part of the score by Henri Mancini, making this cult-classic beauty and the beast tale directed by Jack Arnold unforgettable.
The Shining (1980). The synthetic sounds created by electronic music innovators Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s makes this Stanley Kubrick’s movie a true horror classic, enhanced by all these avante garde sounds.
Jaws (1975). This John Williams’ master piece is one of the most recognizable movie themes of all times. People immediately associate it with sharks, and danger in general. Even today, after almost 50 years, you can still hear somebody humming the theme at the beach. It is also one of the most popular cellular phone rings of all time.
The Omen (1976). Jerry Goldsmith turns Gregorian chants into some of the scariest music ever heard. The opening song, “Ave Satani” will keep you awake in a lonely night.
Dracula (1931). The grandfather of all horror films and pioneer of sound films, produced by Tod Browning, starring Bela Lugosi, has no movie score, and there are silent moments throughout the movie as a reminder that this was not a silent film and for that reason it did not need music throughout; However, this Universal classic, starts with a rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and elevates the tension and anxiety in an audience waiting for Bram Stoker’s creature.
The Exorcist (1973). Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells contributed to the hysteria and popularity that surrounded the opening of this scary movie that ushered the era of demonic possession and rogue priests’ stories.
Ringu (1998). “The Ring”. Original Japanese version. This classic Japanese horror movie, copied and remade in the west more than once, became a sensation worldwide because of the story, the main character, and Kenji Kawai’s mysterious music.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The music of this horror favorite was composed by Franz Waxman. It includes dramatic music, followed by sweet music, as this is a love story in a horror movie that evokes the loneliness of Mary Shelley’s creature, the fears of Dr. Frankenstein, and the evilness of Dr. Pretorius.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Perhaps the most unsettling opening theme in history. Krzysztof Komeda’s score is not really creepy, but it scares the listener, creating the perfect background for this Roman Polanski’s film.
El Vampiro (1957). “The Vampire” a horror black and white Mexican movie with a great music score by Gustavo César Carrion transports us to the horrors of the hacienda where the vampire lives.
Halloween (1978). John Carpenter directed, produced, and co-wrote Halloween, but he also wrote the world-famous score that immortalized those piano and synthesizer notes that scare the willies out of millions. Because of its simplicity, this score is memorable, easy to reproduce with any piano anywhere, and it stays in your head forever.
Psycho (1960). Arguably, Alfred Hitchcock’s master piece, with the most famous scene of all time, needed a score that projected all the fear and suspense of the story. It got it in the screeching, high-pitch notes composed by Bernard Herrmann. The score starts somewhat unassuming, but it all changes with the stabbing during the shower scene. The strings stab right along with the knife, and sends this movie score to the top of the list, creating a style and genre that others have tried to imitate ever since. I know there are many other great horror movie scores, but these always come to mind when I am in the booth during Halloween season, and the lights are dimmed while one them plays in the room. I now invite you to share with the rest of us some of your favorite scare movie theme songs.
Quality Interpreting is disappearing, and it is all the hiring entity’s fault.
October 5, 2022 § 8 Comments
Court interpreting in the United States, and probably elsewhere, is facing its biggest crisis since the courts worked with professional, certified and accredited interpreters half a century ago. Ignorance and lack of empathy in the court system has created a group of professional, highly specialized interpreters expected to work for subpar fees in both, State and Federal Courts.
Interpreters have been ignored and disrespected in several State systems where court interpreter pay is close to an unskilled worker’s, and has remained unchanged at such levels for years. Answers such as lack of resources, having to wait several budget cycles for the issue to be considered, have no credibility when wages of other officers of the court such as judges, State attorneys, and court reporters are raised and adjusted to inflation.
Spanish language federal court interpreters, arguably the most qualified group of court interpreters in the United States, have not seen a raise for many years, and have been ignored by the Judiciary when two letters signed by most interpreters were answered by the courts sending new contracts to these independent contractors at the same pay as every year for some time; not a word on a raise, or even an inflation cost of living adjustment. Many interpreters did not return the signed contract, others, changed the fees before signing it, and some signed and sent it back with the idea of not accepting any work as long as the fees issue remains unattended. We have learned that Washington, D.C., instead of contacting the various States, took the easy way, and it has been contacting several interpreters to discover what States pay for interpretation, instead of researching what the private sector pays.
This is important because for years, many of the most qualified, sought after, certified court interpreters have been ignoring the call of the courts, choosing instead the more profitable practice of interpreting for private attorneys, arbitrations, and depositions where they can make twice as much as what Federal Court pays. Sometimes even more.
The judiciary expects top-tier interpreters to work under abusive conditions, such as the federal cancelation policy. A few weeks ago, a federal judicial district issued a communication looking for federally certified court interpreters for a trial, the pay would be the same one interpreters are refusing to work for already. The communication stated the following as the court’s cancellation policy: “Because of the nature of the proceedings, in the federal courts, early terminations may occur. An interpreter is not entitled to a cancellation fee or additional compensation if the court gives the interpreter 24-hour notice that a trial will end early…” No compensation if notified 24 hours ahead of time! The court expects interpreters in high demand to set aside one or more weeks for a trial, and then leave them out in the cold if the parties settle, there is a plea agreement, the trial is continued, or the defendant pleads guilty. What individual in their right mind would agree to such terms? Only those who have to take the offer because they can get no work elsewhere. These will be rarely the best interpreters around.
This tendency is growing nationwide, and it is leaving the court system with a limited number of certified interpreters, some who stayed and work for little money because of the service they believe needs to be provided to a vulnerable population nobody in the system seems to care about, and those who cannot get work in the more competitive private sector because of their skill or lack of flexibility to travel or work long hours.
Many hearings, especially the short ones, and other interpreter services usually provided by certified interpreters, will continue to go to untrained, unskilled non-certified interpreters and paraprofessional bilinguals who will put non-English speakers at a disadvantage in their court proceedings. Sometimes, some courts, especially at the State level, may even use interpreters from another State, or those living in a foreign country who provide their services remotely, without a certification, and who gladly accept the low fees because their home country’s economy differs from the United States’.
Some certified court interpreters are even entering the conference interpreting field with no preparation, under the wrong assumption that certified court interpreters can interpret a conference. This complicates the landscape as interpretations in these conferences is deficient, and gives unscrupulous platforms and agencies some resemblance of legitimacy when they advertise the quality of their interpreters.
The constitutional mandate to have court interpreters may be at increasing risk every time judicial authorities remain inactive when interpreters, with justice and equity on their side, demand long overdue work conditions commensurate to the specialized service they provide, including fees that reflect this, and cost of living adjustments every year. Unless something is done to remedy this embarrassing issue, the administration of justice will be unequal, and the victims will all be humans: the litigants and others who appear in court, and the long ignored, and disrespected court interpreters.
Is RSI better when we share the same space? …not really.
May 17, 2022 § 2 Comments
From the beginning of the pandemic, and the spread of distance interpreting, interpreters have questioned the modality, and more specifically remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) when interpreters are “non co-located” because they are working from home or in the same building but in individual booths. Critics say this physical separation eliminates, or greatly diminishes, the role of the passive interpreter as it precludes teamwork, opens the door to terminological inconsistencies, not having a boothmate next to you affects the quality of the rendition, and it contributes to anxiety and stress because of the handover and the sensation of lack of support from our boothmate. To many, the solution is clear: If you are working remotely, do it from a hub. Interpreters will have “co-location”, there will be technical support, and working conditions, at least in the booth, will be similar to in-person interpreting.
I must confess I endorsed this belief and defended it for months, until reality, market conditions, the pandemic, and my fellow-interpreters showed me what I now believe is a more accurate description of our reality, and a better solution to the “non co-location” matter.
We must begin our analysis by looking at the map of the world. We soon realize that geographically, continents, and the countries within the continents are very different. While countries in Europe are small (most of them smaller than a state in Australia, the U.S., or a Canadian province) and close to each other, distances in the Americas, Africa, and Asia are longer. This important difference has two relevant consequences: most people, interpreters included, will live and work farther away from the big cities; and the distance between countries that speak a different language will be greater. Because of geography, fewer languages will be needed to communicate in a region, reducing the number of interpreters working in many language combinations, including widely used languages in Europe, to almost non-existent, and hubs will be very far from most interpreters.
Most of the world has no hubs and, in many countries, there are a few hubs, but they all are in big cities. Let’s take the United States: The largest economy in the world, the home of most Fortune 500 companies, and the site of many International Organizations. There are only a handful of hubs in the country, all in 5 or 6 cities in a country that spans 8 time zones from Guam to Puerto Rico. Unless they live in one of these cities, an interpreter in the United States would need to fly 6 hours or drive a day and a half to get to a hub. That is impractical, and undoable.
Interpreters living in many of these cities outside or Europe, and even in some European cities, will need an additional two to four hours to go from home to the hub and back, often to interpret for two hours. Mexico City’s traffic could keep a hub-going interpreter inside a car for five hours any day. Many colleagues throughout the planet turn down assignments from a hub. That is impractical, and undoable.
We could fly for hours over a huge chunk of continent in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and never fly over a city with a hub. Even interpreters with one hub in their city and willing to put up with the commute cannot use it because the hub can be used only when using a specific platform and nothing else. Temporary hubs are also impractical because there is no equipment, technical support, or enough local interpreters to meet the requirements of an event in all needed language combinations.
There are cities in Asia with hubs, but without interpreters in the language combination needed for an assignment; or there is one interpreter with the required language combination for the event, but the closest boothmate lives 8 hours away by plane in a different country and even continent. Sure, there will be many interpreters with English in their repertoire, but they lack the second language needed for the conference.
Distance interpreting services from home is the right strategy, the appropriate solution, and at this time, “non co-location” is no longer an issue. Let me explain:
As long as there is technical support, and the right infrastructure, RSI from an interpreter’s home provides quality, reliable interpretation at the same level as a hub.
After years of pandemic and distance interpreting, conference interpreters worldwide had time to learn, practice, familiarize, and work many RSI events. Professional conference interpreters have acquired the knowledge to interpret from their home with no one sitting next to them, and have set aside a space with the appropriate equipment to do it.
By now interpreters have used a variety of platforms and have realized that they all function similarly. In 2022 an interpreter can see a platform for the first time and figure out how to use it in a matter of minutes. Everywhere in the world, our colleagues are multitasking and handling 2, 3, and even 4 screens simultaneously to use the RSI or conventional remote platform, to communicate with their virtual boothmate 5 time zones away, handover the microphone at the end of their shift, and perform the duties of a passive interpreter such as writing notes, assisting with term search, communicate with tech support, monitor the active interpreter’s rendition to support them, and see each other on the virtual booth or through a back channel when using a conventional or dedicated RSI platform. These tasks scared many interpreters in 2020. Today they perform them regularly and by doing so, they reproduce the in-person booth in their home-based virtual booth just as a hub would. Of course, RSI from hub or home will never be the same as in-person interpreting for many reasons, but with the same limitations, risks, and potential problems, there is no difference between interpreting from home with a virtual boothmate somewhere else and “co-location” in a hub. I concluded that professional interpreters should do RSI from the place they feel more comfortable, and according to the available infrastructure. Our colleagues who live in a place where hubs are accessible, and prefer to work “co-located” should do it, and interpreters who do not, should work from their home studio with no feelings of guilt or inferiority because there are no hubs in their part of the world. Interpreter performance and the quality of the rendition are the same, except that working from home will eliminate travel and commute stress to the interpreter.
Official Government Interpreting is a Serious Matter.
April 19, 2022 § Leave a comment
In our modern world international relations are crucial. Globalization, free trade, security issues, international cooperation are an important part of all nations’ life. When countries without a common language need to communicate, they use the services of highly qualified professional interpreters. Whether a nation calls them diplomatic, official, or conference, interpreters, these individuals facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between government official representatives and leaders. They interpret within international organizations, multilateral summits, and bilateral encounters where trust, skill, precision, professionalism, and ethical conduct are always needed.
In recent times we have all witnessed the magnificent work of these interpreters, sometimes in dangerous or emotional situations, working in war zones, at sites of natural disasters, and pleas for solidarity and help. We have also witnessed less fortunate situations where interpreters have been at the center of an unwanted controversy. I will criticize no interpreter in this post. Those who read me regularly know I defend our colleagues and the profession from unfair attacks from within and without. I will just talk about the practices followed by those who take this work seriously and strive to avoid mistakes and embarrassing situations.
International organizations know of the need for excellency and they all have very rigorous methods to select their interpreters.
Governments are aware of the importance of good, clear, and honest interpretation, and most take extraordinary measures to make sure these elements are always present.
Although not all governments follow the same system to select these interpreters, they all try, within their own resources, to find and use the services of the best interpreters in their respective countries.
Some countries, usually wealthy nations, follow what I consider the best practice to decide who will officially interpret their government officials: They have a dedicated agency or office within their ministry of foreign relations that provides all interpreters for official events. These interpreters are tested on their skills, their qualifications are reviewed, and they are vetted for trustworthiness. According to that country’s needs, these professionals are hired as staff interpreters, and are supplemented by contract interpreters who meet the same requirements as staff, but either work on less frequently used language combinations, or provide their services in language combinations in high demand when there are not enough staff interpreters to meet all needs. All government agencies go through this office to get interpreting services, leaving the assignment of interpreters to those who best know and understand the linguistic needs of an event, and for this reason, minimizing the risk of a poor interpretation. These interpreters provide the official foreign language version of a government position expressed by a government official. Besides members of the executive branch of that government, individuals of the legislative branch often go to this specialized agency to find the interpreters best equipped for this work.
Some countries cannot afford staff interpreters but follow the same system above with a roster of all-contractors. Others cannot afford to cover travel expenses for these interpreters, so they ask their embassies and consulates, and sometimes the dedicated language services office of the host country, for a list of experienced interpreters, within that country, who can do the work.
There are nations who resort to agencies to obtain the interpreters who will officially work an assignment. These are not your workers’ compensation neighborhood agency; they usually are well-known agencies with many years of experience in diplomatic work. Here, these interpreters are also vetted and tested before they are selected for a job. Unfortunately, this system carries risks the options above do not: To select an agency, almost everywhere, governments must follow a bidding process where agencies will try to outbid their competitors, and often this translates into less-experienced and less-qualified interpreters who will work for a lower fee. It could also open the door to favoritism in hiring a certain interpreter the agency is trying to promote. I can see a conflict of interest in this system that could never happen in a system where the language experts of the government hire and pay interpreters directly with no third party (who needs to make money) involved.
The worst situation only happens when government authorities neglect to cover interpreting needs with the professionalism and importance such a vital aspect of a nation’s foreign policy requires. Human errors are that: human, and when that is the interpreter’s mistake, no one is really at fault. Interpreting is a very demanding occupation performed by humans. When the problem is caused by a technical failure, that is somebody’s fault, but not the interpreters’. If interpreters interpret an event they are not capable to interpret, because of lack of experience, poor skills, lack of emotional strength, or any other circumstance that would jeopardize the rendition, like being a translator instead of an interpreter, that individual is guilty of accepting a job they should have rejected the moment they learned what it was about. It is an ethical and professional violation.
However, the real culprit of a failed official interpretation is the government system that permits that someone with no knowledge and little life experience, decide who will be interpreting. When a poorly qualified individual hires someone to interpret a speech by a foreign president, especially when a state of war significantly cripples that foreign president’s options as to finding and retaining an interpreter in a language combination that nation seldomly uses in official events, you will get a poor result. It is an amateur hiring an amateur, and the responsibility of the event is with the one who hires. These are the situations where an irresponsible person hires someone they saw on TV, a person who translates for living, and an individual willing to work solo. Only this level of incompetence will disclose the name of the interpreter who worked in the event when they should have protected this person’s identity and contact information so journalists do not ask for comments from the interpreter who obviously did not even consider abstaining from speaking with the press as all professional interpreters at that level do. Even when a country has in place a system to hire qualified interpreters for official acts, if it is not enforced, and anybody can decide who interprets in the nation’s legislative chamber, then there is no system. I hope the unfortunate reality of war we are living at this time will help us all to understand and value the magnificent job our interpreter colleagues do every day all over the world.
Conference Interpreting Cannot Be Charged by The Hour.
March 22, 2022 § 15 Comments
We are constantly showered with comments and opinions on the way conference interpreters should charge for their services. Even though this is an issue settled long ago, some newcomers to the world of conference interpreting, mainly distance interpreting platforms and language agencies, are attempting to drop our professional business model and replace it with something that works for them, not the client or the interpreter.
Freelance professional conference interpreters have always charged by the day, but in the last two years, agencies and others who come from the world of community interpreting are trying to impose their system and offer to pay by the hour.
Court interpreters, healthcare interpreters, social services interpreters, and all other community interpreters are paid by the hour. That is a different business model that does not work for conference interpreting because the interpreting service is very different.
All community interpreters do a very important and difficult job; they work under conditions no conference interpreter would ever agree to, like noisy courtrooms, small confined areas in hospitals, and some clients who do not know, understand, or appreciate their work.
These is all true and admirable; however, community interpreters do the same type of work every day, often they even do the same repeatedly. Because of the repetitious nature of the task, and the similarities of all the assignments, they usually need little preparation. Court and healthcare interpreters often show up to courthouses and hospitals without even knowing what they will interpret that day. You arrive to court and then you know if your first assignment of the day is a divorce hearing, a felony arraignment, or a sentencing hearing. You do the job, and then you are assigned to another interpretation task. Yes, there are complicated cases and situations, and responsible interpreters try to learn the details of the assignment; yes, there is specialized terminology and procedures, but once you know them, by study or by repetition, all new cases will be an opportunity to apply what you already know.
But conference interpreter is different every day. Interpreters study, research, and practice for every assignment. Yesterday’s assignment was on mining, tomorrow’s will be on agriculture, and next week it will involve international trade. In average, conference interpreters prepare for two to two and a half days for each day they spend in the booth. Unlike community interpreting assignments, they face a very knowledgeable audience in a room where, even after all their study and preparation, they know the topic the least.
Community interpreting assignments that require little or no preparation can be paid by the hour with a minimum fee system. Often interpreters do not even work because court cases get dismissed, continued or settled, and patients do not show up for a doctor’s appointment. A guaranteed two-to-four-hour minimum fee seems like a fair agreement when interpreters set aside their time for an assignment that required no advanced preparation and did not happen.
Conference interpreters always work. Their conferences do not get canceled or postponed. Conference interpreters save a day for a client knowing they must prepare and work, even for distance interpreted events.
The community interpreting business model of charging by the hour with a minimum guaranteed works for court, healthcare and other similar assignments, but it is not a valid business model for conference interpreting.
With the arrival of Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) many language agencies around for many years making their living in court and healthcare interpreting saw an opportunity to expand into a field new to them. Even those who claim they were always offering conference interpreting services, in reality were providing community interpreting with portable equipment or a table top. They imposed their community interpreting business model to conference interpreting and that did not work.
RSI also brought many court and healthcare interpreters to conference interpreting. These interpreters, used to charge by the hour, saw nothing abnormal when their known business model was offered to them in the world of conference interpreting. Some platforms saw this and followed by applying this impossible model to conference work performed by these community interpreters.
It must be understood that conference interpreting cannot be paid by the hour as determined by a business model that does not consider the reality of conference work. Veteran conference interpreters, and new colleagues who know and understand the profession, reject this model as it fosters complacency and lack of preparation to make a living on such unrealistic terms. Some will tell you that conference and community interpreting are not that different. The ones making that argument are usually community interpreters or agencies/platforms seeking a higher profit in conference interpreting, not the best human talent.
We often hear interpreters need to adapt to the changing times. That is true and expected; however, adapting to the new reality means mastering distance and hybrid conference interpreting instead of demanding in-person interpreting for all events. It does not mean accepting a new business model that does not consider the services rendered by a conference interpreter, imposed by business entities who want to expand beyond the world of community interpreting.
What we learned as Interpreters in 2021.
January 31, 2022 § 4 Comments
Now that 2021 ended and we are working towards a better, “vaccinated”, and safer 2022, 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, last year was peculiar, but better than 2020. It was a year of change in all imaginable ways, and those changes included the interpreting world. Some were good, others were terrible; some are permanent, and others…well, the jury is still out.
Last year was the year of science and public health. It was the year when we were vaccinated, and in some countries, we were even boosted. Unfortunately, it was also the year of economic disparities, where rich countries protected their citizens, and poor nations still struggled to get public health policy in place and control the pandemic. It was the year of ignorance by science deniers and political zealots who refused to live up to the social contract and protect others even when choosing not to comply for their own benefit. In 2021 millions of people died of Covid; Delta and Omicron became household names; and just like the year before, millions got sick with long-term consequences, lost their jobs, or their business went under with no fault of their own. Some of our colleagues, many of them great interpreters, continued to leave the profession overwhelmed by technological changes, market uncertainty, and aggressive, ethically questionable practices by some of the language service providers.
2021 was the year when our profession finally came to terms and universally accepted distance interpreting as a permanent, new way to deliver our professional services, from now, depending on the circumstances and characteristics of the event, interpreting is to be delivered in person, remotely, or as a hybrid of both. The consolidation of these changes probably produced the largest adaptation efforts by professional interpreters in history. By the end of 2021 the norm was that conference and community interpreters had the infrastructure and basic technological skills to deliver their service from a place other than the venue of the event, whether it was from home, a hub, or someone else’s place of business. Because learning and adapting is always good, these were the brightest highlights of the year.
Unfortunately, not everything was good. Change brought along unfairness, abuse, and deception. The same changes that helped our professional market, provided the right circumstances to harm our profession.
Just like during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th. Century, today’s changes have brought a wave of bad practices that financially benefit some of those with the loudest voice while hurting conference interpreters and the users of their service. Some of those distance interpreting providers have ignored ethical and professional rules by opening the door to inexperienced, unqualified individuals, often from other fields of interpreting, whose main credential is to provide interpreting services for a ridiculously low fee and to do it under very poor conditions. By recruiting these interpreters and diverting the clients’ attention to technology instead of service quality, the post-pandemic market offers conference interpreting on-demand: interpreters on standby, willing to start an assignment with a couple of hours’ notice, without time to prepare, often working alone from their home thousands of miles away, and doing it during the night. Last year made it popular to sell conference interpreting as over-the-phone interpreting companies have always sold their services, with interpreters on-call getting paid by the minute or by the hour. The line got blurry, the message now is there is no difference between a business, diplomatic, or scientific conference and a phone call to say hi to a mail-order groom or bride half way across the world.
2021 changed the way we use professional social media. It turned it into a self-promoting infomercial by the big service providers, and a place where this new post-pandemic self-proclaimed RSI interpreters go to brag about the work they do, post their photos of the venue, and publicly opine about the event they just interpreted with no regard to the professional rules and canons of ethics they never heard about before becoming “RSI conference interpreters”.
Going back to the positive, I congratulate those professional associations that held their conferences online or had hybrid events. A special mention to ITI, OMT and NAJIT for holding big, high-quality conferences using creativity, technology, and thinking of their members’ health. My thanks to all smaller associations that had conferences remotely, and a tip of the hat to FIT and IAPTI for postponing their events until 2022. Unfortunately, an association had a hybrid conference, but, unlike all other associations above, did not allow speakers to present remotely, cancelling their participation unless they physically presented from the venue. There were many disappointed conference attendees who booked the event thinking they would hear certain speakers just to learn later these speakers would not present. There were no explanations, just a cancellation notice, leaving these presenters, who had agreed to present, in a bad situation as the association members were not told about the inflexible “present in-person or else” rule, even where speakers could not travel for medical reasons or due to the country they would be traveling from.
Another wonderful gesture that showed professional solidarity was the decision by most professional associations to freeze membership renewal fees, reduce them as it was the case of IAPTI, and even offer a solidarity fund to help those members who wanted to keep their membership but could not afford to cover these fees due to the pandemic. Here again, the largest, and one of the most expensive, professional association in the world, went the opposite way and decided to substantially raise its membership fees for 2022.
We proved to ourselves once again that interpreters are resilient, able to adapt to adversity to survive, and good humans. We saw how the professional unity with our colleagues found in 2020 continued last year. We now face an uncertain year, but we have a road map and a strategy that will help us thrive in these new circumstances. Fortunately, we are resilient, adaptable, courageous, and now we know that even though many things have changed, many others stayed the same. Let’s all focus on the good things to come while we guard against the bad ones. I wish you all a prosperous and healthy 2022!
The new reality of interpreter traveling.
December 27, 2021 § 2 Comments
The world has changed and it will never get back to where we were at the beginning of 2020. Even when the pandemic turns endemic, immunizations are widespread, and science learns how to treat and cure this disease, some aspects of life will forever change. Just after September 11, 2021, traveling will be one of those things.
After staying home mainly working remotely for twenty one months, I finally traveled by plane to a foreign country. I previously took two domestic trips during the pandemic: one by car and one by train, but this was my first time going abroad and getting back to what for many years was my regular routine: airports, airplanes, and hotels. During this December, I traveled once and booked other three trips by air. As an individual who used to travel about 300 days a year and fly two or three times a week in the pre-Covid world, these were the changes I found:
Before accepting an assignment abroad, find out the health department requirements for the country of destination to see if you are eligible, and even if you are, determine if it is feasible to meet them all.
You need to know if the country you are traveling to:
- Currently admits people from your country of origin;
- Requires proof of full vaccination (2 doses) or needs evidence you received a booster;
- Accepts the shots you received as proof of immunization. Many countries will only accept those vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO);
- Needs recent negative Covid test results before you leave your country of origin (The test must be performed within 72, 48, or 24 hours before boarding a plane to the country of the assignment);
- Will accept a rapid test result or will ask you to show a negative PCR;
- Do not admit individuals, regardless of their country of habitual residence, who have traveled to certain third countries within a given period of time before embarking to the country of destination (presence in a third country within 5 days, 10 days, etc. before traveling to destination);
- Requires you test for Covid immediately after arriving to the country of destination, or needs you to test multiple times during your stay in their country (3 days after arrival and then 7 days after arrival for example);
- Will ask you to quarantine upon arrival (10 fays, 14 days, 20 days, etc.)
- Needs you to register with their National Public Health System before entering their country or immediately after arrival;
- Needs you to get a special application or immunization card to prove your vaccination status before you can enter the Country, or if you need to carry your original vaccination card at all times while visiting their Country;
- Requires you get a local government immunization card that must be scanned at all restaurants, bars, and other public places before you may enter;
- Demands proof of Covid insurance covering medical expenses and quarantine stay at a hotel if you test positive during the trip;
- Will the Country of destination treat third-Country stays differently depending if you:
- Just changed flights at that Country and stayed in a designated area;
- Remain inside the airport between flights;
- Left the airport just to go to another airport in the same city to catch the plane that took you to the Country of destination;
- Left the airport for a few hours, observing health department protocol and did not stay overnight in the Country;
- Spend several days in the third-Country;
- The Covid levels in the third-Country at the time of your visit, or the reliability of that Country’s official statistics and reports;
- Needs a letter by a physician clearing you for international travel after recovering from Covid before your trip to the Country where you will work as an interpreter.
You need to know if your country of residence:
- Will ask for a negative Covid test performed within a certain period of time before reentering the Country (24, 48, 72 hrs.);
- Will accept a rapid test result or will ask you to show a negative PCR;
- Requires you test for Covid immediately after arriving home, or needs you to test multiple times after arrival (3 days after arrival and then 7 days after arrival for example);
- Will ask you to quarantine upon arrival (10 fays, 14 days, 20 days, etc.);
- Needs a letter by a physician clearing you after recovering from Covid abroad before your return trip.
Researching these rules is imperative before accepting any assignment. Sometimes you may be precluded from doing a job you do every year because the immunization shots you received are not on the WHO list. Consider how burdensome the requirements to enter a country are before you commit yourself to the assignment: testing and compilation of required documents could take too long or the process may be too expensive to justify such a short assignment. Before saying yes to more than one event, consider if you have enough time between 2 assignments in different locations. What will happen if you test positive at the first destination and you have to quarantine? What of you test positive at your last assignment and now you cannot go back home in time for another local assignment you already booked. We need to be very careful with our professional schedule as we must consider factors we never needed to ponder before the pandemic.
Once you clear the above, and before you take the assignment, make sure you check the following:
- Will the airline reimburse me or credit the cost of the ticket to my account if the trip gets cancelled or postponed due to the cancellation of the event, change on the foreign Country’s visitors’ admission policy, or if you tested positive for Covid before or during the trip? If so, how long will you have to use that credit before you lose the money, and how many times will the airline honor a cancellation of the same ticket for Covid-related reasons;
- Does your health insurance policy cover emergency medical and hospitalization expenses above if Covid occurs? If it does, will the terms of coverage differ from those that apply at home, such as deductible, copayments, maximum amount covered, etc.?
- Will you need a Covid insurance travel policy that covers medical and quarantine hotel stays while traveling abroad? Make sure it covers the countries you visit, there are no preexisting condition exclusions, it covers transportation by ambulance, and gives you enough coverage to pay for a hotel during your quarantine. Some countries are way more expensive than others. Shopping for Covid insurance coverage is difficult, many plans cover medical but not hotel stay; others offer little coverage for quarantine-related expenses, and others are more expensive because they cover things you will probably won’t need, like evacuation coverage, unlike the assignment is in a volcanic area or a small island;
- Does the country of destination offer medical services and quarantine stay free of charge? Some Countries do.
It is only after you consider all of these elements that you can truly decide to accept or turn down an in-person assignment abroad.
If you are taking the assignment, you will be doing the right thing if you:
- Book a plane ticket that is fully refundable if cancellation due to Covid-19 occurs;
- Book a first-class or business seat on the plane. This will keep you away from other passengers who may be unmasked, cough, sneeze, or spit. If your client does not want to cover the ticket, and you want to do the assignment, use frequent flyer miles to upgrade to one of the more desirable seats;
- If short flights occur (3-4 hours) abstain from eating or drinking anything on the plane. That way you will not need to remove the mask. In longer flights, make arrangements with the airline ahead of time so your meals are served before or after other passengers eat. First and business class seats give you enough privacy on wide-body airplanes for this to go unnoticed by others;
- Have disposable wet towels and hand sanitizer handy to clean your immediate area and to use before and after meals if applicable.
- Become a TSA Pre-check, Clear, or a Global Entry member so you can clear airport security through expedited lines, avoiding close and prolonged contact with other passengers;
- At the airport, stay at the airline club if possible; there are fewer people and there is a better chance to keep your distance from others. Because first-class and business seats let you board the plane before others, the time spent at general areas of the airport is brief.
- To keep socially distanced, get to the airport by car (your own, rental, taxi, Uber, or other single-passenger company) and avoid public transportation like train, subway or bus.
- Wear a N95 or KN95 mask at all times: From the moment you leave home until the time you close the door of your hotel room;
- Reserve a room at a contactless hotel so you can use your phone to check in, check out, and open your room. If your stay will be a week or shorter, ask the hotel not to clean your room so nobody but you enter. They can deliver fresh towels and toiletries daily upon request.
- If possible, ask for a room with a refrigerator and microwave so you have the option to have your meals in the room. Have food delivered to your hotel room;
- Ask for a hotel room with ethernet connection. By now you already know why we need this. Take your own ethernet cable and adapter in case you need them. Take your own headset so you do not use the ones in the booth.
- Obviously, request individual interpreting booths or large booths where you can stay distanced from your boothmate.
Before you sign a contract with your client, make sure it covers cancellations due to Covid-19 and a clause where the client assumes the risk of not having your interpreter services if you have to quarantine in that or other country or an authority denies you entry due to a pandemic-related issue. You must consult with already booked clients before accepting other travel assignments that could affect the service because of a Covid-19 related issue.
Finally, you have to prepare yourself for the emotional aspect of traveling to interpret in times of a pandemic. Airport clubs will be quiet and scarcely populated; if you are a frequent flyer, be prepared to learn some of the staff you knew for years may have died in the last 2 years, and be ready for the reunion with airport/airline/club staffers and flight attendants you have not seen for almost two years.
Be careful when you travel, but do not stay home unless public health policy dictates so. We need to reclaim our jobs as conference interpreters. Our clients need it, our markets need it, the profession need it, and for our own sanity: we need it.
Please leave comments or suggestions about this new travel adventure we are just starting in many parts of the world, and please, if you plan to comment against masking, public health, or science, please save your time as we will not post those comments.