Are professional associations still relevant?
March 20, 2023 § 6 Comments
The internet, and in particular social media, are making many professionals in all fields wonder if these 21st. century resources can replace professional associations as the place for professionals to meet their peers, support each other, and continue learning about all subjects relevant to their profession.
We must start by distinguishing between mandatory and voluntary professional associations. Mandatory professional associations are public entities, created by legislation, that group individuals who practice the same profession. Its main purpose is to regulate the practice of a profession, to establish the requirements to be admitted to the practice of such activity, and to aide on the enforcement of such professional obligations together with government authorities. Every person who wishes to practice that profession must meet these requirements and belong to the association. These associations represent and protect the interests of their members and the profession. Because mandatory professional associations are created by legislation, they can only exist within a jurisdiction, which means they cannot exist beyond their borders. A clear example of this associations in the United States and all common law system countries are the attorney bars.
Voluntary professional associations are private entities; they are not created by legislation, but by a group of private individuals in the same profession. Their main purpose is to establish professional and ethical cannons to be observed by their membership, to oversee the compliance with the rules, and to offer continuing professional development opportunities to its members. Unlike the first group, participation in these associations is voluntary, and membership is unnecessary to practice a profession. Sometimes, they participate in development of academic standards for the profession, and actively protect the profession by issuing opinions, position papers, and lobbying. Some are reminiscent of the guilds and unions of the past, and on occasion help negotiate fair contracts for their members (and non-members). Unlike mandatory associations, voluntary professional associations are not exclusive associations in a profession, which means there could be several associations in the same jurisdiction or country. Good examples of these entities are the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Voluntary professional associations can recommend a college degree to work in their professional field, but they cannot demand a professional college degree to practice a profession; Mandatory associations can.
Sometimes it is easier to tell these two entities apart in other legal systems and languages. In Spanish, voluntary professional associations are usually (not exclusively because there are many countries and systems in the Spanish-speaking world) called “asociaciones profesionales” and mandatory professional associations are called “colegios”.
Because interpreting is an unregulated profession in most countries, voluntary professional associations outnumber mandatory entities. This is an important (not exclusive) reason for the abundance of interpreters with an education below a college degree; and because membership is not needed to practice, many interpreters ignore them.
Many interpreters erroneously believe that the non-mandatory nature of these associations justify their decision not to belong to one of them. Unfortunately, the fact that our profession lacks regulation in many places, and it has been left to the market, where non- interpreters influence commercial and professional practices, to decide what goes. This “wild west” scenario makes it even more important to have a body of our peers setting professional and ethical standards for the practice of the profession, providing a space for interpreters to network, and offering continuing education to all who ethically practice the profession. Since these associations are not mandatory, or created by any government, they can easily turn international, thus guaranteeing the same ethical standards and quality control across the planet.
For all these reasons, the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is a resounding yes! To elevate their practice, and protect the quality of the profession, interpreters need to belong to local or national associations where their immediate needs will be met and resources will be provided; to international associations, because in the age of globalization and high technology, we are constantly working, collaborating, and competing with clients and colleagues everywhere on earth; and associations that specialize in that interpreter’s field so they can keep up with the latest developments and get continuing education in their discipline. I will mention no organizations because I do not want to leave anyone out, but I am convinced we have such associations throughout the world, I belong to some wonderful associations, and I encourage you to join them now that a new year is beginning.
The client wants a term interpreted in a certain way, but the native speaker is saying something else.
March 6, 2023 § 2 Comments
Most of us have been in a situation where the client indicates their preferred translation, sometimes their only acceptable translation, of a term, title, name, or expression. Usually, we get these requests as “official” glossaries by a company, government agency, or international organization; occasionally, we get a letter or a memo from the client specifically asking for that desired translation. Interpreters usually use the requested terminology, unless the translation is inaccurate, outdated, or offensive to the target audience. In these cases, we contact the client, make our case for a better translation, and then we go with whatever the client decided: the translation they suggested originally, or our recommendation. There is nothing unusual on the scenarios above.
Unfortunately, sometimes lack of communication by the client, or by the interpreter, emotions, stubbornness, or negligence, put us where the interpreters’ rendition is not what the client wanted it to be. This is not an easy situation, and sometimes it gets more complicated when the foreign language speaker is using names, expressions, or terms different from those expected by the client. In this case, using the client’s preferred terms while interpreting a foreign speaker would not be “interpreting”. We cannot do that, even if we think it would make our client happy.
I can recall two instances during my career when I faced this dilemma and I took two very different approaches, one more fortunate than the other:
Providing my services as a court interpreter decades ago, when I had been an interpreter for just a few years, I found myself interpreting a criminal case hearing; this court procedure is called “Change of Plea Hearing”, and it is the opportunity a defendant has to waive trial, admit responsibility for the commission of a crime, and hope for a lighter penalty than the one they could have received if found guilty by the court. These hearings result from a negotiation between the defendant’s attorneys and the prosecution, and they involve an agreement where the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges, or to dismiss some of the charges on the indictment in exchange for an admission of guilt to a lesser offense.
Here, the defendant, a Spanish speaker, was going to plead guilty to a crime that carried a shorter term in prison than the charges originally charged. For the plea of guilty to be accepted, the judge had to be convinced that the defendant was acting free of coercion. As always, the judge went through a series of questions that the defendant had to answer through the interpreter (me). Everything was going fine until the judge asked the defendant if they were entering the guilty plea because in fact, they had committed the crime. The defendant responded (in Spanish) by sharing their version of what happened, and repeating time and again that they were innocent; that the person who committed the crime was somebody else. The hearing was interpreted consecutively, so I started my rendition. After I finished, the defense attorney, quite upset, addressed the judge and ask for me, the interpreter, to be removed from the hearing, for the defendant’s statement declaring his innocence to be taken off the record of the hearing, and for a replacement interpreter to be brought in. The complaint was that I was not interpreting what the defendant was saying, because, the defendant’s attorney said, they “were there to plead guilty to the lesser included charge.”
I immediately understood what was happening. The attorney was not happy with the defendant’s answers to the judge’s questions, and was looking for a way to fix the situation; the first thing that came to mind was to blame the interpreter. The judge hesitated for a moment, turned and asked me if I had anything to say in response to what the defense attorney had argued. I knew I was right. I had no doubt I had interpreted everything the defendant said as it was said in Spanish, so I respectfully stood by my interpretation. The defense attorney then argued that I was not telling the truth, because, although the defense lawyer did not speak Spanish, they had gone over the hearing and the plea with the defendant many times, so they knew what to say in court. This went on for a few minutes that felt like hours, and when the judge allowed me to reply, I answered in what I now understand was an emotional way. I told the court that “…I was interpreting what the defendant was saying, and I (was) very sorry the defendant was not saying what (their) attorney wanted (them) to say, but I could not change the statement so that the defense attorney (was) happy…” Eventually, the defendant continued to maintain their innocence, so it was clear that I had made no mistake.
My actions drove the point home, protected the rendition, kept the court record accurate, and showed the judge and others in the courtroom I made no mistake. I was proud of myself. However, as the years and decades went by, I realized that at the beginning of my career I sometimes was too emotional, and that subtracted from my image as a professional.
Let’s fast forward a few decades. This time, as a conference interpreter, I faced a similar situation in a diplomatic setting:
About a week before an assignment, the client contacted me in writing to let me know there were certain terms in the foreign language they liked to be interpreted into English in a certain way because these were the terms found in legislation, doctrine, contracts. I had no problem with that, so I acknowledged receiving the memo and assured the client their preferred terminology would be used during the assignment.
On the day of the event, my client was the first one to address the conference and we translated all terms into Spanish as requested. Next a delegate from a Spanish-speaking country addressed the attendees on the same topic, but they did not use the terms given to the interpreters as “preferred” by our English-speaking client. In fact, the Spanish speaker was using very different terms that could mean the same, but were equivocal. I made a split-second decision during my simultaneous rendition, to translate the terms used by the Spanish speaker as they translate into English, not as the English-speaking client expected us to translate the terms previously provided. I did this intentionally because the terms used by the Spanish presenter were equivocal and I was in no position to decide whether or not this person was referring to the same issues as the first speaker did when they spoke in English. I decided to let the two speakers, experts in the topic, determine if they were referring to the same or not.
Nothing happened and the conference continued. Some forty-five minutes later, the Spanish speaker intervened, and once again, they used the same terms as they had used earlier that day. I interpreted as I had previously done. This time, the English speaker client interrupted the Spanish speaker in their speech and said: “…I am sorry to interrupt, but I have to correct the interpreter, because he is not using the correct terminology for these issues. Instead of using ˂X˃ and ˂Y˃, he is saying ˂A˃ and ˂B˃.”
This is what I wanted to see happening from the start of the session, and it was finally happening. Unfortunately, the client blamed it on me, the interpreter, instead of asking the Spanish speaker if they were referring to the same issues, in which case, they would rather have them use the preferred terminology for legal, technical, and practical purposes. Fortunately, the Spanish speaking diplomat remarked that it had not been an interpretation issue, that they indeed were using different terms, that they had used these terms for a long time, but if the English speaker wanted them to use their ”preferred” terms for all the reasons already stated, they had no problem changing the wording of their documents, and thus using the terminology the English-speaking delegation felt more comfortable with. From that point on, everyone in the interpreting team used the “preferred” terminology and things went smoother. I was pleased the situation was clarified without me having to actively intervene, as I was ready to bring this up to my English-speaking client during the first break. Fortunately, it was unnecessary.
A few days later, I took this situation as an opportunity to explain the client why we cannot change things said during an interpretation just to make the client happy, and I asked them to use this experience as a lesson, so next time a similar situation arises, they ask the other party instead of assuming the interpreter made a mistake. The client wrote me back, thanking me for the note and apologizing for throwing the interpreter under the bus.
As a professional interpreter, I compared the two situations I describe here, and saw how although they were both resolved favorably, I acted emotionally the first time, and now, many years later, I acted professionally, set the conditions for the issue to be worked out by the parties involved, and sending a note to the client, telling them, respectfully that interpreters cannot change what is said in a foreign language, just to please a client.
The “must attend” conferences of 2023.
February 22, 2023 § 1 Comment
2022 marked the year when we finally got back to in-person professional conferences. Some of you stayed home and attended virtually, but most colleagues went back into the real world and nourished their need for human contact. These reunions with old and new friends and colleagues made professional conferences in 2022 a significant moment in our professional (and personal) lives. Of course, reestablishing human relations was a highlight of the year, but we cannot ignore the fact that 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, platforms acting like agencies, or direct corporations) will pay for what they need but they are always looking for the best service at the best price. The way we stay competitive in a market where multinational interests have blurred the line between ethical and professional behavior and questionable practices is multifaceted, and one of the main components is continuing education and networking.
After a 2-year break due to the confinement, at this time of the year when we are all planning our professional activities, and programming our agendas, I will address one of the key components of our annual plan: Professional development.
It is practically impossible to beat the competition, command a high professional fee, and have satisfied clients who pick you over all other interpreters, unless you can deliver quality interpreting and state-of-the-art technology that meets the needs of the post-pandemic market. That is your competitive advantage.
We need to be better interpreters. We must study, we must 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 must attend professional conferences.
I find immense value in professional conferences because you learn from the workshops and presentations, you network with colleagues and friends, and you discover what is happening out there in the very competitive world of post-pandemic interpreting. Fortunately, after two years of virtual events, there are many professional conferences all year long and all over the world. Many of us attending a professional conference are lucky to live in countries where professional development is tax deductible. Unfortunately, we have a “good problem”: There are so many attractive conferences and we must choose where to go.
I understand some of you may attend one conference per year, or maybe your policy is to go to conferences offered near your home base. I have heard from colleagues who will continue to attend virtually; 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 make a conference possible, and I wish I could attend them all.
Because this is impossible, I decided to share with all of you the 2023 conferences I would love to attend, and sadly, some I will not due to professional engagements. In other years I have attended more conferences than the ones on my list; last-minute changing circumstances and personal commitments let me go to events I had not planned to attend at the beginning of the year, and virtual conferences make this possibility even more accessible in 2023.
As of today, the conferences I would like to attend this year are:
The Third Africa International Translation Conference (AITCO) in Mombasa, Kenya (February 10-11). This conference was held before this article was posted. It was the third edition of a newcomer to the conference world that has become a classic. The program lets me see that once again, AITCO showcased some of the best presenters from Africa and around the world, speaking on interesting, relevant topics to interpreters and translators. I congratulate the organizing committee for putting together such a valuable learning opportunity in such magnificent surroundings, and I look forward to the fourth edition.
VII Congreso Latinoamericano de Traducción e Interpretación in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (April 20-23). This congress will be held as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Colegio de Traductores Públicos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (CTPCBA) and its main topic will be “The professional foundation for a better future.” This congress does not happen every year, but when it does, the quality of the presentations and speakers during that week in April at the Palais Rouge in Buenos Aires will be second to none. This event is for you if you are looking for a conference with well-researched, carefully structured sessions, and knowledgeable attendees that give you a golden opportunity to network. Also, remember that the event is in Buenos Aires, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I hope to see you in Argentina in April.
Congreso XX Aniversario Asetrad in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, (May 11-12). Asetrad’s congress is not every year, but every five years this association puts together a two-day program with some of the best presenters from a country with such rich tradition on interpreting and translating as Spain. Those of us who live in the Americas should take advantage of these events where we get to see and hear presenters who do not travel to the events in the Americas. I also enjoy the invaluable experience of learning about the problems my colleagues are facing across the Atlantic, and hopefully learn from the strategy they resorted to solve a problem that could be similar (sometimes identical) to a situation we may fight in the United States. Because of its location, the conference will have some non-professional activities that will help us enjoy the beauty of this island. I hope that my Spanish speaking colleagues from the Americas travel to Gran Canaria for this exciting event.
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) 44st. Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada (June 2-4). This year legal interpreters and translators from the United States, and a few from abroad, will meet in Sin City for the annual conference of the only judiciary interpreters and translators’ association in the United States. At this time, NAJIT has not published its program, but based on previous years, you can count on a variety of topics and presenters that will no doubt cover all fields of interest to our colleagues in the legal field. This is a two-day conference (June 3-4) with pre-conference workshops on June 2. In the past, conferences have offered all-day and half-day pre-conference workshops. Because of some professional commitments, I attended the 2022 conference in Florida virtually, and this will be my first time in person with my legal colleagues after the confinement. I look forward to meeting many friends at this conference.
Noveno Encuentro Internacional de Traductores dentro de la Feria Universitaria del Libro (FUL) in Pachuca, Mexico (Early September). I have attended this conference from its inception and it is bigger and better every year. The conference is held at the Autonomous University of Hidalgo State’s Poliforum at Carlos Martínez Balmori Campus. For the last two years it was held virtually. This event is a great opportunity for Spanish speaking interpreters and translators because of the many students who go to the conference from many Mexican colleges and universities. Most conferences are attended by professional colleagues with years of experience, but this “encuentro” is attended by bus loads of students of translation, interpreting, and other-language related fields. The conference takes place within the International University Book Fair (FUL) and its organization by my friends Mireya Ocadiz (the conference), and Marco Antonio Alfaro (FUL) gives it a unique atmosphere. If you live in Mexico, or if you want to experience a conference in Mexico, I encourage you to attend this event.
American Translators Association (ATA) 64th Conference in Miami, Florida (October 25-28). Every year, the American Translators Association puts the biggest show on earth. More presentations to choose from, more attendees, more opportunities to network, and this time, Latino-flavored Miami! I enjoy attending ATA conferences because of the variety, and the many friends and colleagues I get to see every year. However, to avoid annoying sales pitch efforts from agencies and others looking for interpreters willing to work for little pay, I pick my activities carefully and never losing sight of the obvious presence of those who want to harm our profession and turn it into an industry of commodities. It does not escape me that this conference is by far the most expensive interpreting and translation conference in the world, that it is always held at expensive hotels. I think it is worth spending my hard-earned money (even if when you check in, they do not even give you a bag to keep your stuff). If you can afford it, go to Miami and enjoy the conference.
The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) International Conference in Timisoara, Romania (November 11 & 12). I like this conference because it is IAPTI, an association of, for, and by interpreters and translators. This conference, scheduled for Banat University in Timisoara, presents a unique viewpoint of our profession 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 results of this innovative approach are that the conference attracts an important group of colleagues that stay away from other events because they are bothered by the corporate presence. This is the conference to attend if you want to learn how to work with direct clients, deal with agencies from a position of power, negotiate with corporate clients and governments, and improve your skills. The absence of agencies, corporate members, interpretation platforms recruiting students to work for free, and merchants soliciting your businesses lifts the heaviness of other conferences, and fosters dialogue without having to look over your shoulder. You can attend the presentations and workshops knowing that no presenter is there to sell you anything, and it is fun to have a space like this. IAPTI is also famous for its extracurricular activities like the traditional “Sweets from your country” and the post-conference sightseeing. If you have never been to Timisoara, stay after the conference and join some of your colleagues for a city tour, a visit to the beautiful Danube, and a trip to Vlad (the impaler) Dracula’s castle.
XXVII Translation and Interpreting Congress San Jerónimo (OMT) in Guadalajara, Mexico (November) Every year the Mexican Translators Association (OMT) puts together a magnificent program featuring well-known presenters from all over the world. Coming from a very successful XXVI Congress, with solid presentations and workshops geared to interpreters, the 2023 edition will have a varied, useful, and trending content. This is the activity to attend this year for those colleagues who work with the Spanish language. Extra added bonus: The Congress is held in Guadalajara where an International Book Fair takes place simultaneously at the Expo Guadalajara. As an added bonus, attendees can also stroll up and down the immense fairgrounds, purchase books, listen to some or the most renowned authors in the world, or just window shop between sessions. I have been attending this event for many years, and I will continue to do so. I hope to see you in beautiful Guadalajara.
I know the choice is difficult, and some of you may have reservations about professional gatherings like the ones I covered above. I also know of other very good conferences all over the world, some of the best are local, regional, and national events; others are specialized conferences tailored to a certain field of our profession. I would love to attend many but I cannot. There are other excellent conferences all over the world, closer to your residence, that you may want to check out. I know I will be going to some. Depending on the schedule, I always look forward to some of the regional conferences in the United States like the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (MATI) in the Wisconsin-Illinois-Indiana region, and the Arizona Translators and Interpreters Association (ATI) in the Grand Canyon State. Some of you will read this post in a group or website of an association whose conference I will not attend this year; you will probably see me at other conferences not even mentioned here; that is likely. To those I cannot attend this year: I wish you success and productive conferences.
This posting would not be complete unless I mention our duty to also attend conferences not related to interpretation, translation, or language in general. We all need direct clients to thrive as interpreters, and we will not find them at any of the conferences above. Networking is as important as professional development, and for this reason I invite you to look for the best conferences in the field you interpret, and carefully select the ones that will benefit you the most. Consider subject matter, who is attending, dates, location, and cost; even if you are in a country where this expense is tax-deductible. Meet your future clients where they are. The best conference is the one where you are the only interpreter in the building. Look for conferences with medical, legal, technology, scientific, financial or any other content you specialize in. This is crucial. Remember, the world of interpreting is more competitive every day and you will need an edge to beat the competition. That advantage might be what you learned at one conference, 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 2023.
New reality calls for creative planning and flexibility in conference and community interpreting.
January 25, 2023 § 2 Comments
In the past months, many of us saw our workload back to similar levels than before the Covid pandemic. As the population was vaccinated, travel restrictions were lifted, and people became less afraid of crowds, conferences, face-to-face business negotiations, diplomatic encounters, court trials, and many other events reconvened in many countries, the United States included. At first sight, it looked as if the pandemic was behind us and we were about to embark in business as usual. We were wrong.
Events in need of interpreting popped up all over the place, but clients and organizers were not asking for the same service we were offering before Covid. We soon learned that in many cases, the request was for us to interpret hybrid events with some speakers, and many attendees, joining from different locations. Many conferences went back to in-person only, and others kept the virtual, distance interpreting model.
Hybrid events generate situations consultant interpreters must consider: The length of a conference day must be carefully evaluated to find the right balance between an in-person audience wanting longer days, and virtual attendees’ expectations for shorter sessions at somewhat convenient times of the day in the part of the world they are located. These variations, non-existent in pre-pandemic events, mean more interpreters in the same language combinations must be added to the roster. Some for in-person work, others for remote interpreting, and hours in the booth must be adjusted depending on the type of interpretation (not to mention fee calculation depending on what would be considered a full day in each case). Technical support also became an issue. Unlike traditional events, the new formats required of technicians physically at the venue, technicians dedicated to the distance interpreting service, and technicians on call for irregular, or after hours (in that part of the world) sessions.
Because the pandemic is still with us, essential planning now includes a roster of on call and back up interpreters to substitute in-person and remote interpreters who may contract covid right before, or during the event. I saw this first hand three times last year. In one of them we called nine substitute interpreters. I am sure court interpreters and other community-based work face the same problem. You cannot afford to stop a jury trial in progress when one or more interpreters get Covid. Even though we are back to a workload similar to what we were used to in 2019, our clients’ expectations and demands are now different. Many times, we will deal with events where a hybrid format will need of in-person and remote interpreters working under the appropriate conditions to their work, which are different; and regardless of the format, interpreters will get sick, and immediate substitutions will be needed. Creativity, adapting to the ever-changing circumstances, and tons of patience will be needed when planning a post-pandemic assignment. We need to be aware of it, share it with the client, and our fees must reflect it. We will continue to enjoy our work; it will just be done a little differently.
Recorded Renditions, Intellectual Property, Some Interpreters’ Great Contributions, and Some Unfortunate Ones.
December 22, 2022 § 3 Comments
When it was announced that Zoom had added a function to automatically record the interpreter’s rendition without prior notice, consent, or agreement on royalties, I originally decided not to write on this issue as it seemed in good and able hands who understand the implications, have the “know how” to address the needed changes, and can clearly communicate our professional needs to the platforms and others. My view has not changed, but I jumped in due to some remarks I have seen in social media and elsewhere. To contribute to the better understanding of the problem by many of our colleagues, I decided to encapsule the current situation in three main points: (1) What is happening; (2) What is protected; and (3) What needs to happen (and in fact is already happening).
- What is Happening. A couple of months ago Zoom introduced a new function that allows the recording of everything said during a meeting (or conference) including the interpretation of the original speech. This is done automatically, and lets the host of a recorded event go back to the video and toggle between the original sound and its interpretations into other languages. These recorded renditions remain available as a separate audio, leaving the host with the option to widely share the interpreters’ rendition without them even knowing. Notice, consent, and a royalty agreement are not needed to “benefit” from this function, leaving the interpreters, real owners of the interpretation, in a vulnerable position.
- What is protected. An interpretation is the product of an intellectual task protected by International Law as a property right. Human progress and evolution need the intellectual contribution of scientists, engineers, artists, and other individuals who create something of value. Such creations are considered intellectual property and include patents, trademarks, and copyrights, which include the work product of interpreters and translators. These rights are protected by (A) International Conventions, such as the Universal Copyright Convention, adopted in Geneva in 1952, and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works of 1886 (amended in 1979); (B) Bilateral Agreements between sovereign nations, such as trade agreements which often include provisions, and even entire sections dedicated to the protection of Intellectual Property Rights; and (C) Domestic Legislation applicable to all activities within a country, as it is the case of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution which gives Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” And its secondary law: The Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17 USC). Therefore, in most countries in the world, a rendition by an interpreter is considered their property and protected as copyright. This means that a rendition cannot be legally reproduced or shared by anybody, unless the interpreter, who owns the interpretation, agrees and consents to it; and even in this case, it can only be reproduced according to the limitations set by the interpreter (how many times, in what market, by what means, and for what compensation). The agreement to record and replay a rendition must include a compensation provision establishing amount to be paid and form of payment to the interpreter: a percentage as royalties, a lump sum before recording, or a donation of the royalties by the interpreter when they consider it appropriate (charity work, research, education, religious, etc.)
- What needs to happen. It is clear that Zoom (and perhaps other platforms when catching up) incorporated this function to its platform to make it more attractive to its users and consumers. The idea was to solve a problem: How to reach those individuals watching a recorded event, after its original broadcast, who do not share the speaker’s language. Zoom learned in the past that the platform was more competitive when it reached a worldwide audience, regardless of language limitations. They tried to remove the language barrier by launching their original interpretation function. Later, the listened to their customer’s needs and to the interpreters’ expert feedback and improved the functionality several times. No doubt the results pleased them. They noticed how their competitors also made those changes to remain viable in the market. Unless Zoom acted out of character, or there is an anomaly I am not aware of, it is obvious to me that they never considered breaking the intellectual property laws. They meant no harm to their clients or to the interpreter community.
From the interpreters’ perspective the solution does not seem complicated. A toggle button permitting activate and deactivate the recording function would bring them in compliance with the law, but changes to a platform are not cheap and they require of more than a simple patch in the software. Everything I have heard to this point is encouraging. Some of the most serious professional associations that protect service quality and working conditions of conference interpreters, and some very able, capable, and knowledgeable colleagues have initiated an ongoing dialogue with the platform, and if the past is any indication of the future, in time this problem will be resolved.
What to do meanwhile? The answer is simple, we must continue to include in our contracts the same recording provision we have inserted for years, even when our concerns had to do with being recorded in the booth. Those who have never included such protection clause, and I must confess I find it amazing that interpreters agree to sign contracts lacking any agreement on recording their rendition, start now; insert a clause that clearly states that no recording shall be possible without all interpreters’ consent in writing, detailing all negotiated conditions, including the payment of royalties. There are model contracts you can use as a starting point, and I suggest you talk to an attorney. As for negotiating with the client or event organizer, read and learn about intellectual property, and use AIIC’s memorandum concerning the use of recordings of interpretations at conferences of 2016. It will give you plenty of arguments to negotiate with your clients. Litigation is expensive and lengthy, and should be kept as a last option, but these negotiations and a good contract will also act as a deterrent.
As a practical matter, I also suggest you do what I do: Take advantage of the dry run session to bring up the subject with all present; briefly explain what you need (that no recordings be shared without your consent and compensation) the risk of breaking Intellectual Property Law, and the message you are part of their team, and are trying to protect them by pointing out these scenarios before it is too late. Then, on the day of the event, let the host know that at the beginning, as they are explaining how to use the simultaneous interpretation function, you will post a message to all those attending, reminding them that sharing the recording of an interpretation violates the law, even if the platform technically lets you do it. It has always worked for me.
I cannot end this posting without mentioning that despite all great letters and conversations our professional associations and some of our distinguished colleagues have held with Zoom, directly and on social media, there are some unfortunate comments and postings by others that hurt our efforts because they perpetuate the stereotype that we are not really professionals. I am referring to some comments on line about the “damage to us as interpreters” the “burden it creates” or the threats to “bring a class action lawsuit” against Zoom.
I say to all of you, even though these platform changes can impact all interpreters who use Zoom as a tool, it is really conference interpreters who could see a quantifiable effect in their professional practice. Court interpreters’ rendition is part of a public record, and healthcare, school meetings, client-attorney virtual meetings, and other community interpreting services, could have a confidentiality/privilege problem, an unrelated issue to recording an interpretation in a conference, but their interpretation do not face the problem these posting deals with.
Professional communications, as the ones required in this case, should focus on the task and show the perspective of all involved. Complaining about how a recording will hurt you, and asking the platform to solve your problems and protect you because of “poor me” do not help one beat. Fighting words directed to the platform because now you “have to write a contract to protect you” do a disservice to the profession; Talking about class action lawsuits without knowing what is required, how complex, expensive and lengthy they are is just another way to show you are not acting like a professional well-informed in the business world. In conclusion, I am fine, I believe there has been progress that will eventually solve this issue, and the involvement of those participating in the dialogue has been very good.
The Uncomfortable Situation When the Client Disrespects Interpreters and Foreign Language Speakers.
August 9, 2022 § 2 Comments
The best part of having a well-established professional practice is that your client portfolio is already developed. After years of collaboration, you come to know your clients and they know you. Tensions, concerns and uncertainties about policy, practices, and the relationship, are no more. My preference is to keep my clients and rarely work with somebody I do not know.
Unfortunately, sometimes a project is so interesting, or the conditions are so attractive that you take a chance and try a new client. As you all freelancers know, sometimes this strategy works, sometimes it does not.
A collaboration on a multi-day assignment that was both, interesting and well remunerated came along; it was with someone I did not know and I moved forward. At the time of the preliminary, planning stages of the event things seem fine, although there were some revealing clues I missed, but things did not get truly uncomfortable until the start of the assignment.
On the first day of the event, this person I had never worked with before, a monolingual individual in a position of power who apparently has traveled little, quickly assessed the foreign language speakers and made an instantaneous judgement call that would affect everybody participating in the event, including the interpreting team.
Before 6 in the morning of the second day of the assignment I received a message on my phone informing me, and the rest of the team, that our interpreting services would be needed no longer because everybody in attendance seemed to have an acceptable level of fluency in English. Shortly after, I received an email with my plane ticket to go back home.
Because of a good contract, our fees were not a problem; there was no financial damage derived from this decision, but the process was unprofessional and the way it was handled was disrespectful.
I find it difficult to believe that an individual with no knowledge of foreign languages can conclude that everyone in the audience is fluent in a language that is not their first, and this can be done after observing about two hours of a conference where the audience is mostly listening, and the few questions asked during such a period of time come from people who are confident enough on their foreign language skills to ask them directly, without interpretation, even if they fumble with the words, apply grammar incorrectly, and use false cognates.
The interpreters learned the decision was made to save money (we got paid because of a good contract, but other expenses as lodging, per diem, transportation, etc. would be saved) but no one was ever consulted. Not the interpreters, who know the working languages in the event, and also know, from experience, that as peer-pressure shrinks, attendees use their native languages, especially to ask questions. The audience was never polled to see if they needed interpretation. The decision was based on a single opinion from a monolingual individual whose only goal was to save (little) money, apparently a priority as it became clear when I analyzed all circumstances surrounding the job. Things that seemed irrelevant at the planning stages now made sense: Booking plane tickets on an airplane grounded for 24 months after 2 fatal accidents in one year, because they were cheap; offering a welcome reception with sub-par food and even worse service at a place no-doubt chosen because of the price.
The contract terms protected the interpreters, and even freed our time to work on other assignments on the cancelled dates, but that we were never approached in person to tell us face to face of this decision to dismiss the team, that there was not even a greeting other than a message early in the morning when you are still in bed, and to leave the attendees without the benefit of interpreting services, without even polling them to discover their needs, is inappropriate, unprofessional, and frankly disrespectful. The lesson learned was that you can try new clients when protected by a good, solid contract, and the benefit from this situation was that I did not have to continue my collaboration with such a difficult, one-track mind individual. I now invite you to share with the rest of us your stories about good contracts that protected you from difficult clients, or bad experiences where you lacked said protection.
Many Interpreters Don’t Understand the Value of the Service They Provide.
July 18, 2022 § 9 Comments
When interpreters you never heard of take to social media, even LinkedIn, to talk about their many RSI assignments, bragging about how they work long hours at odd times of the night, just to be “congratulated” by others doing the same thing, and by people known for hiring interpreters for little pay and poor working conditions, and next you look at what our European Parliament colleagues are doing, you must conclude it is admirable, and worthy of our full support.
These brave interpreters are fighting to protect their health and to work under the conditions previously agreed to, but they are also fighting for the profession. If an institution like the Parliament gets away with violating a collective agreement, and resorts to hiring cheap interpreters, even from places outside the Union, all other interpreters will be next. Those of us who mainly work in the private sector, and as individual contractors with some institutions, must understand that the rules broken somewhere else, and the disregarded agreements, will happen in our market not long from now. These are some of the reasons why we should all support our EP colleagues; but there is another reason we should admire them, respect them, and use them as an inspiration and role model: They understand the value of the service they provide, and they use it as a tool to protect the profession.
It is funny how at the same time these colleagues are fighting this battle, many others have quit, decided not to act, or chose a strategy that does not let them negotiate as equals with those who impact their interpreting practice.
Recently, the court interpreters of an American State, who have been paid one of the lowest professional fees in America, and have not seen a fee raise or cost of living adjustment for years, asked for a $10 USD per hour fee increase, set a deadline for the authorities to respond, and threatened with a walk off if those dates were not observed and their demand for a raise was not honored. First, the action had a lot of support, it got precious media coverage locally and nationwide, but a few days later, after the State gave them questionable reasons, basically denying the raise and telling them they would “consider” their petition for the 2024 budget, despite the determination of some interpreters to go ahead with the walk off, most interpreters gave in and continued to work. They feared not being scheduled to work (for peanuts) anymore.
A few weeks ago, a nationwide association of judicial interpreters held a conference in the United States. Among the guests to speak about their successes on language access to the courts, an individual who has repeatedly lowered court interpreters’ work conditions in one of the States in America was scheduled to participate and praise the accomplishments of the program he is responsible for. I learned of this situation when an interpreter who works in that State reached me in Europe to share the news and to ask me why in my opinion that person had been invited to speak, despite his actions as an administrator which have resulted in leaving approximately 20 or so state-certified court interpreters (a considerable number in a small State like this one) out of work, because of his practice of hiring interpreters without a court certification, and interpreters from other States who work for a pay lower than the one State court interpreters must get paid.
I immediately suggested all interpreters in the State take this opportunity, when the interpreting universe of the United States is paying attention to this conference, to publicly denounce these practices for the world to know. In other words: to bombard the conference Twitter account with stories of how the practice of these government officials is not to observe court interpreter state policy, and to deny court work to those who complain. Even though this was a unique chance to pressure the State, except for a few colleagues, who I salute, the rest of the interpreters decided not to go to war with the State government to protect their profession. They feared retaliation and not being “called to interpret anymore”.
Finally, a few days ago I was asked to sign a petition to the authorities asking for a fee raise for a group of specialty interpreters in the United States. These are the only interpreters authorized to practice at this level; they are an elite group, and considered among the best in their field. Unfortunately, they are also known as the interpreter group that has not seen a raise, or cost of living adjustment in over 6 years. Even though I knew from the start I would sign the letter in solidarity with my colleagues (I rarely work in that system because they pay very little), I read the letter and was sad to see it was a very timid letter applying no leverage. My first reaction was: Why is a government agency that has not cared enough about its interpreters for so many years going to change policy after reading a letter with no teeth? Unlike the interpreters’ letter in the first case above, which at least had a deadline and a threat of strike, these federal court interpreters exercised no leverage. They put no pressure on the authorities.
The European Parliament interpreters showed us the value of our work. If the interpreters in other organizations or public service agencies stopped working, the system would be crippled. The authorities know this and know they would need to avoid such labor stoppage no matter what. All government agencies in the world operate within a budget and it takes time to modify it, but all government agencies in the world have additional emergency funds to be used to keep the government running. Had these interpreters exercised their leverage, their raises would be coming right now.
Interpreters everywhere must understand that communication among those who don’t share a common language is impossible without their services. They need to see there is a great demand for what we do elsewhere; that during the time of a stoppage they can interpret in other fields and venues, especially in these days of distance interpreting. The day most interpreters shake off their fears, doubts, and lack of confidence, and do as our European Parliament colleagues did, their fees and work conditions will finally be as they should. It is a matter of understanding they need us more than we need them.
Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “The only thing to fear is fear itself”.
How to handle an assignment cancelation.
July 5, 2022 § Leave a comment
Interpreting is subject to many external factors that can affect the event to be interpreted. Rescheduling and cancelations are not uncommon. Natural disasters, political crises, financial problems, participants’ illness, transportation issues, and even a pandemic can postpone or scratch a conference, a filed motion, a plea agreement, or a dismissal can continue or cancel a court hearing, and technical issues can interrupt, postpone, or cancel any remote event or RSI interpretation.
Most interpreters, and many clients, understand that interpreters sell their time, and the professional-personal nature of the service makes it impossible for an interpreter to work two assignments at the same time. Because postponements and cancelations are common, and this understanding of how interpreters work and generate income is widely known, practically all interpretation agreements have a cancelation clause.
Unfortunately, there is no cancelation policy uniformity. Most interpreters, and their clients, understand that interpreters must be compensated for a last-minute cancelation, fewer agree this compensation should cover more than last-minute changes.
Because interpreters need to prepare for an assignment, a cancelation impacts interpreters beyond missing a day of work; an interpretation quoted fee represents more than the 3 days of interpreting during the conference or trial, it includes the compensation for the time an interpreter devotes to research, study, planning, and practice for the event. The compensation amount must be linked to the time already spent on the assignment. Complex cases require more preparation, so the compensation must reflect it. Let’s see: A three-day technical, scientific, or specialized conference canceled four weeks before the scheduled start should command higher compensation than a routinary three-day conference, on the same topic, held every year. On the first case a fair compensation could be eighty percent of the agreed fee. Compensation for the second conference, with the same advanced notice, could be fifty percent of the originally agreed fee. Cancelation of a scheduled interpretation received by the interpreter over eight weeks before the event should carry no monetary compensation unless the subject of the conference caused interpreters to begin preparations before that date.
In all cases, the client needs to reimburse the interpreter for all disbursed expenses to the notice of cancelation. This includes airplane or train tickets, hotels, car rentals. Immunizations, Covid tests, photocopies, printing of materials, long distance phone calls, etc.
The situation is more complicated when clients, in good faith, because they want to keep the professional relationship with the interpreter, send a notice of cancelation of the event, and send notice of another assignment for the same dates of the now cancelled event. Under this scenario, clients expect interpreters to cover assignment two on the same terms they were originally retained to interpret assignment one. Clients believe they have protected the interpreter because no work day was eliminated. Many interpreters think the same way.
That is not the case: Although the interpreter will work on the same dates and will make the same money he was expecting from interpreting assignment one, the interpreter needs to prepare for assignment two, a different conference requiring research, study, planning, and practice. The originally quoted fee included preparation for that assignment. Using the same fee for assignment two would mean that the interpreter will now research, study, plan, and practice with no compensation. This is unacceptable.
Interpreters need to understand that the original agreement, the meeting of the minds on services and fees, ended with the notice of cancelation. Even though the client has proposed a different job for the same dates, the interpreters are entitled to compensation for their preparation for the original conference and to reimbursement of expenses. The client has now made a new offer for a different assignment, and fees must be negotiated from the beginning. Once the interpreters assess the complexity of assignment number two, they can quote a fee for that interpretation. The fee should factor in there were no vacated dates from the first assignment, but it has to include preparation tasks for the new event. Once the parties agree, there will be a new interpreting services contract for the second assignment. If the interpreter is hired for the second conference, an adjustment to the cancelation fee for the original contract reflecting there were no vacated dates is appropriate. The goal is to be compensated for all work performed inside and outside of the booth (or virtual booth) and to respect the client by negotiating in good faith and only charging for professional services rendered.
In Our Unregulated Profession: Educate the Client Every Time You Can.
June 14, 2022 § Leave a comment
I was recently retained to work on an RSI assignment by an official organization. This was not a private market job, but it was a multi-day project that provided the opportunity, even at a distance, to converse with those in charge of the event.
On the last day of this job, I learned from one organizer that they were very happy with the interpreters’ work. I was told they were very impressed by the level of the interpretation and technical support. This person congratulated us for the smooth hand overs, quality of the interpreters’ sound, our preparation for the assignment, justifying our request for so many documents; I heard they were “impressed” by the fact we never stumbled with any of the specialized terms, and we never asked for the speakers to slow down. They also commended our tech support team for “protecting the interpretation” every time they asked for the speakers to mute their microphones to prevent echo, asked the participants not to speak over each other during their exchanges, and when during the dry run they explained the headsets and microphones acceptable for the event.
This person mentioned they will have other similar events soon, and they were under pressure to look for other interpreter services in the private market because our services came at a high price compared to the fees others ask for in the private market.
I let them know that they will likely get a different quality of service at those lower prices because interpreting is an unregulated profession where anyone can claim to be a conference interpreter. I explained that our cost was justified by our services because the organization that brought us to the event only offers interpreters who regularly work with governments and international organizations, with years of experience, who are members of the most prestigious conference interpreters’ association in the world. I took the opportunity to emphasize that all things he congratulated us for, come from such quality level, and that even in the private market, the interpreters I was talking about would not be less expensive, as they charge the same, or higher fees, when working for a private corporation.
The organizer thanked me for sharing this information; told me nobody in the private sector had ever explained that to them, and they now understood the higher cost was justified. This was a brief exchange, but that evening I reflected on the importance of doing a good job, always understanding the client’s needs and thoughts, and never wasting an opportunity to talk to the person in charge of making the decisions when a window opens organically as it happened here.
I Applaud the Professionalism and Humanity Many Interpreters Have Displayed under Terrible Circumstances. ￼
March 9, 2022 § 9 Comments
For some weeks we have witnessed the professional job our colleagues in Ukraine and elsewhere have done under extremely difficult circumstances. We have seen them in action interpreting for journalists throughout the country, even in very dangerous situations; we have seen their stellar performance in the international organizations, bilateral and multilateral government summits, refugee camps, TV networks, and non-governmental organizations. Some of us may have been directly or indirectly involved in some of these services, and many of us have been in touch, at a more personal level, with interpreter friends and their family members in Ukraine, in a neighboring country’s refugee shelter, or living abroad in Ukrainian communities, sometimes for many years.
To many, when we think of our colleagues in these extraordinary circumstances, the first images that come to mind are of Victor Shevchenko’s moving, emotional rendition of President Zelensky’s speech to the European Parliament, and Die Welt Übersetzerin‘s interpretation of Zelensky’s words for the German WELT television channel, truncated by emotion. To these two colleagues, and all others: You are doing an amazing job, and as evidenced in social media and interpreter associations’ websites worldwide, we support you, respect you, and admire you.
These sad times have shown the public that interpreters are not automated beings that take information in a source language, convert it, and then render it in a different target language. Interpreters are human beings, they are world citizens who, to do their job correctly, need to have a bast knowledge acquired by reading, studying, traveling, and life experiences. Interpreting is a human profession, and this is one reason why a machine full of algorithms will never convey the same emotional message our colleagues are transmitting to the world at this terrible time. My motivation to write this post came from the examples above, also from the inappropriate comments by some in social media, sadly including some interpreters, who criticized the emotional renditions with empty arguments too bizarre to even mention. All I will say is I am glad AIIC issued the very valuable resolution against bullying, and I invite those who criticized these interpreters to read this document and learn about professionalism in our craft. I wish all interpreters providing their services during this horrible invasion: physical and mental health, freedom, and a safe return to your loved ones. I now invite you to share your comments, and please abstain from sending political comments justifying the invasion. They will not be posted.