The ten worst things that interpreters can do to themselves.
April 1, 2014 § 12 Comments
In the past we have used this series to underline some of the problems that we face when practicing our profession; we have vented a little, laughed a little, but most importantly, we have discussed short-term and long-term solutions to all of these problems. It is now time to look in the mirror and list those things that we do to ourselves, sometimes without even realizing it, that can personally harm us and sometimes even hurt the profession as a whole. Let’s take a peek:
- Lower your fee to keep the client. This is the worst of the worst of the worst thing any professional can ever do. Interpreters are professionals and their service commands a professional fee. We are not talking about general labor, this is specialized complex work. Sadly, many of our colleagues are afraid of losing the client and in order to keep the cheap client happy they are all too-ready to drop their fees to the basement. Dear colleagues, I don’t know about you, but I am in the business of working less and making more. I rather work two days a week and make the same money that other interpreter makes in five days. I can find plenty of things to do on those other three days, including looking for more business and having availability for those well-paying last minute assignments. I know some staff interpreters argue that this does not apply to them because they have a fixed income, but it does apply to them because they also interpret on weekends, after hours and during their vacation time. Others may say that sometimes we have to lower our fee because the client truly cannot pay what we ask. For those situations you need to remember that our services are expensive. This is not something for people to pay with their left over income. We provide a service that is paid with saved or even loaned money. That is just how it is. As far as “feeling guilty” in a particular situation, my suggestion is to donate your work for free in those cases. It has worked better for me, and when you ask for a receipt, in many places it is tax deductible as a charitable contribution. Never lower your fee because that harms you and it also hurts the profession. The client has to get used to the fact that interpreters are professionals providing a professional service, but we can only achieve this goal when it is us, the interpreters, who believe that we are professionals and provide a professional service.
- Be unprepared. The best way to make sure that a client will never call you again is to show up unprepared. Interpreting is a very difficult profession because we are one of the very few professions where we are required to know our craft and to have a very detailed knowledge of the client’s occupation. It is never enough to go to work as a good simultaneous or consecutive interpreter; it is never acceptable to go to work as a true bilingual individual. We need to be those things and we also need to know the subject matter to be interpreted, the work and background of the presenters, the educational level of the audience, and the basic technology needed to operate the interpretation equipment in the booth. Those colleagues who are afraid to ask for presentations and other materials ahead of time are killing themselves. Unless they already know the topic, those who choose not to study or at least read about the issues to be covered by the presenter are simply committing malpractice.
- A nightmare in the booth. Among interpreters there are very few things more detrimental to an interpreter’s reputation than bad behavior in the booth (or the courtroom, the hospital, the gala dinner, or any other place where we render our services) Always remember: Interpreting is a team sport. We need to have the support of our colleague in the booth as much as they need to have ours. Always be courteous to your teammate, because we practice a team and not a tag-team profession, be alert and ready to help when you are not interpreting, do not leave the booth or abandon your interpreting station unless it is an emergency, before you start an assignment talk with your booth-mate about little things such as shifts, where to sit, having the lights on or off in the booth, uniform terminology, and all other details necessary to have a successful rendition. The nicer you are to the other person in the booth the more people will want to work with you, and more people translates into more work.
- Stay away from social media. This is a relatively new addition to my top ten but it is becoming more important every year. In a global economy where technology allows for fast travel, remote interpreting, and instant communication, your name needs to be out there for all to see. The least expensive and a very effective way to stay competitive is to get involved in all kinds of social media. It is easier to develop networks when you do Twitter, you establish connections through Linked-in, you create and maintain a professional page on Facebook, Google+, and so on. At least try to keep up with some of them. Write a blog or at least comment on other colleagues’ blogs to stay visible. It is essential to have a website for clients to find you, learn about your background and experience, and to pay you by credit card or PayPal. Those who stay away from social media will stay away from main stream interpreting and will eventually be forgotten.
- Unwillingness to travel. Good interpreters must be flexible. We are in a profession that cannot be practiced from an office, cannot be practiced from a single city, and at certain level cannot be practiced in one single country either. Unless you are a staff in-house interpreter somewhere, or as a freelancer you have decided to settle for a certain professional level (that is not even remotely near the top of our profession) then you have to be willing to travel everywhere, anytime, for as long as needed, and on very short notice. Unfortunately these are the rules of the game. Unlike translators, we need to be on the move. This is something you need to ponder long and hard if you are truly committed to be a first-class full-time interpreter. Of course, this is not for everybody. Many people decide to practice a less involved version of the profession and choose to remain in a single town and only work within a geographically limited area. Others prefer to travel once or twice a year, or maybe want to have notice way before the assignment. This is fine if you want practice the profession at that particular level and you make it well known. Those who try to have the two lifestyles of staying at home and pretend that they are willing to travel will eventually hurt their career as sooner or later it will be common knowledge that they are not really that flexible.
- Ignore technology. One of the most exciting aspects of practicing our profession in the twenty first century is the technology we now have. Staying away from electronic dictionaries, internet search engines, and other technological advantages we now have over our colleagues who worked 20 years ago will soon put you on a “B” list. We must understand and embrace change. It is so convenient to take notes on an iPad, to interpret in a booth with a console that rewinds the last few seconds of a speech, to have all your research materials and presentations stored in the cloud, that every day we see more of our colleagues doing it. The day when hard copy dictionaries and steno pads will be a vanished species is practically around the corner. And speaking of the corner, video remote interpreting already turned the corner and it is coming towards you at the speed of light. Instead of fighting it and resisting it, we need to embrace it, we need to be a part of this technologies’ development process. There will always be a need for live “in-person” interpreting, but most work will be done remotely. Technology allows it in many different settings and the market wants it. Warning: Do not be like those interpreters who fought against simultaneous interpretation equipment 60 years ago because you could end up like them.
- Avoid interpreter conferences. Unfortunately many colleagues have decided not to go to professional conferences; many more go to the minimum required to keep their professional certifications, accreditations and licenses current, and a great number of interpreters are willing to attend a conference provided that it is near their hometown. We have heard many excuses and explanations to justify this reluctance to attend conferences and workshops: The program is not attractive, I know more than the presenters, it is too expensive, they are boring, you don’t learn anything… Sadly, those who view professional conferences this way have it all wrong. Our conferences at all levels: international, national, regional and local, are all beneficial. Not everything presented will always be new to you, but there is always something to learn. You may have more professional experience than some presenters, but they may have done some research that will increase your vast knowledge. Some are more expensive than others but they last longer and therefore may be enough to meet the year’s continuing education credits requirement, and they are also tax deductible in many countries. Conferences are never boring if you really understand their value: You attend them to develop a professional network. Yes, you go to a conference with your business cards and a few one liners to break the ice so you can get more work, get a better deal on the purchase of interpreting equipment, buy the newest dictionaries and textbooks, and as an added bonus: You go to have fun. Avoiding professional gatherings make you invisible to your peers, to the agencies, and to the rest of the world.
- Be timid when negotiating work conditions. Once again, those who are timid or afraid will rarely get excellent work conditions to do their job. It frustrates me to see a good interpreter working under terrible conditions and it happens all the time because many of our colleagues are afraid to ask for the right booth, the full-time technician, the best booth location, all conference materials, and so on. It really saddens me to see how some very capable interpreters are willing to accept an assignment without paid travel days, Per Diem, and a fair cancellation fee. By accepting these substandard working conditions the interpreter hurts his career and he harms all of us as a profession. There are plenty of good clients willing to pay what we deserve, but every time that somebody works under this less-than-acceptable conditions it gets more difficult to convince the agency or the ultimate client that the standard conditions are needed to get the best human talent and the best service. Don’t be afraid of losing the bad client. A cheap client is only a good client when the word client goes after the word “former.” Always remember: If you go along with this substandard conditions only once you will never get the full standard working conditions again.
- Mistreat the new interpreters. Even with all the new technology interpreting is a human being profession. The problem is that we are not eternal and eventually, because of the growing market, or due to our aging process, new blood will need to come into the profession, just like we once did. Those of you who know me or follow the blog know that I am all for teaching and sharing with the newcomers to the booth, the battle field, the courtroom, the medical office, and elsewhere. Clients and agencies want to keep the quality of the interpretation in their events, and the only way to ensure that continuity is to hire and train the next generation. The label of “problematic” goes to those veteran professionals who ignore, scold, or patronize young interpreters. As you know, clients are not very willing to hire a problematic interpreter for an assignment. They rather skip their name and move on to the next one on the list. If you care for the profession, if your reputation matters to you, and if you want to work until you decide to retire, just be nice to the new ones. In fact, just as you can teach them a thing or two, they can also teach you technology and help you become more marketable. It is a win-win situation.
- Wait for the assignment to come to your doorstep. Understanding the market is a requirement to be a successful interpreter. The good assignments will come to you if you go out there looking for them. I will never understand those colleagues who sit at home waiting for the agency, the courthouse or the hospital to call. A true professional has to look for work. You need to be a good interpreter, a knowledgeable individual, and a reliable professional, but unless you let others know that you are all of those things the world won’t even know that you exist. The career of an interpreter includes interpreting, studying, and marketing. Remember, this is a profession but it is also a business. Never lose sight of it. An interpreter who does not look for work is a lazy interpreter, and a lazy interpreter is a failure.
Dear colleagues, I am aware that there are many other bad things that we do to ourselves. These are some of the ones that in my opinion require of our attention. We have to avoid them and correct them. Please feel free to share with us those things that we do to ourselves and in your opinion hurt us as professionals or harm us all as a profession.
Attention certified court interpreters: You could be losing part of your profession!
January 27, 2014 § 7 Comments
In my opinion the title of this posting is not an exaggeration of what is happening to the court interpreting profession in the United States and some other places. Let me explain: There are groups of community activists, profit-hungry interpreter training entities, and interpretation agencies (that do not represent the best interests of court interpreters) who are advancing the idea that court interpreters should only be required in the courtroom, and that out of court legal interpreting should be left to “other” type of interpreter who would provide a service that would be a mix of community and legal interpreting. They argue that court interpreters are required in court because of the impartiality that is needed and due to the formalities that must be observed. On the other hand, they claim that an out of court legal setting (that they refer to as “quasi-legal”) should be left to other interpreters without court interpreter certification who would (after they get trained by this special interest groups) be able to provide a service that, according to them, has a lot of community interpreting and some legal terminology that could be easily acquired by these “interpreters.”
This approach concerns me very much because as an attorney I do know that there are very delicate and extremely difficult legal issues that take place out of court. These individuals have suggested that family law mediations, preparation of wills, and other legal services, be provided with the assistance of a non-certified court interpreter. I dare to say that the best attorneys, the more difficult issues, and the ones that affect more people’s lives, are found outside the courthouse. You only need to visit a corporate attorney or a corporation’s legal department to see it.
All legal interpreting should be done by certified court interpreters because they are the ones that know the law, are familiar with the terminology, and are backed up by a certification system run by the state or federal government.
There was a similar movement in the United States a few years ago. That one proposed that to abate costs such as paying for the services of an ophthalmologist, optometrists should be allowed to perform certain types of surgery. Let me clarify: an ophthalmologist is a physician, an optometrist is not. You go to the optometrist when you need a new pair of eyeglasses. You go to the ophthalmologist when you need cataracts surgery. Dear colleagues: We are the ophthalmologists in this example. These special interest groups are trying to take away part of our field and give it to these new “optometrists.” To do it, they are arguing that these individuals would do a job that nobody is doing and that does not need certification as a court interpreter. What they are not telling you is that they will profit immensely from this scheme. The trainers will make money by “training” these people, the agencies will make money by paying a lower interpretation fee to these individuals who will not be court certified, some state governments will continue to receive federal funds because they would be “guaranteeing access” to non-English speakers who go to court and do not need to appear before a judge, and the community activists will be happy because in their mind court interpreters charge too much for their services and their clients cannot afford it.
But wait a minute, let’s stop right there and talk about the losers under this scheme:
Many court interpreters make over half of their income from legal interpreting outside the courtroom: mediations, depositions, jail visits, witness preparation, sight translation of documents, arbitrations, administrative court hearings, and many other legal scenarios.
Attorneys have a legal duty to vigorously represent their client in order to achieve what is best under the specific circumstances. It is hard to see how this can be accomplished by using lesser-interpreters, and in many cases paying the agency the very same fee they would pay for a competent professional. Attorneys do not know that the agency pays a lower fee to these non-certified individuals and therefore they get to keep more money.
The parties to a controversy or those seeking legal advice are paying for the best possible service, even those who approach non-for-profit organizations have to pay for filing fees and other administrative expenses. It is only fair that when you go to see an attorney, the attorney’s advice be interpreted by the lawyer’s equivalent in the interpretation field: a certified court interpreter.
Our system, our government, the taxpayers… they all lose under this scheme. A poor interpretation will have consequences. I have seen many criminal cases being dismissed because of the police interview of the defendant. Those who advocate this change are proposing that non-certified court interpreters do police interviews. A poorly sight translated contract, an incomplete will due to a bad interpretation, an unfair parenting time schedule because of lack of understanding of the law on the part of the interpreter, they all lead to litigation and litigation costs money. Surgery by an optometrist… I would love to see the reaction of an administrative court judge when he is told that because his courtroom is not a real one he will have the services of a non-certified court interpreter.
It is true that in many places some of these services are currently performed by non-certified individuals. It is true that the special interest groups will defend themselves by saying that with their “home-grown certification” the people who interpret in those settings will be doing a better job than the one that is provided right now. The excuse that there is a great need for interpreters in many languages that have no court certification program is not valid either. There are interpreters in these languages that have been evaluated by the court system and allowed to work in court. Until there is a court certification program by the state, these are the interpreters who should be doing all of the legal work. The “solution” proposed by the special interest groups does not improve the quality of the service.
Instead of rushing towards mediocrity and spending time and effort justifying why it is a good option, these special interest groups should join forces with the professional community (certified court interpreters, attorneys and government) and strive to attract more quality individuals to the profession, to demand first that everybody be certified as a court interpreter and that there be continuing education for those who may want to specialize in family law mediation, corporate planning, international arbitration, immigration law, etc.
Instead of marching in lockstep with the interpretation agencies, all community organizations and true trainers, who are concerned about the quality of the interpretation and the fulfillment of the existing demand, should join forces with the professional certified court interpreter community to demand from these agencies a better pay to the real quality-proven interpreters.
Dear colleagues, I don’t know if this will happen and I would not be surprised if these special interest groups and individuals attack and criticize what has been said in this posting. Learn from our colleagues who are already fighting a battle to keep or recover their profession in other countries like the U.K. We have to defend our profession. Paralegals are not opening shop all over to offer their legal services out of court. Do you know why? Because the lawyers would not let them. They would be charged with practicing law without a license. We need to do the same. We need to defend and protect our profession.
For that reason I ring this wake up call. Be alert! Educate your colleagues and clients; do not let them take this huge piece of you professional field away. You will lose and everybody will lose.
The Language Services Agencies: Are they good for you?
July 29, 2013 § 11 Comments
I wanted to write about language service providers for some time, but it wasn’t until this morning when a colleague shared his story with me that I finally decided to sit down and do it. An interpreter was hired by an agency to provide his professional services for a 2-hour administrative court hearing. Phone calls and e-mails were exchanged, a fee was agreed upon, and the interpreter received the necessary materials and information from the agency representative; there was even an automated confirmation telephone call three days prior to the event. Everything looked normal. On the afternoon before the scheduled event, the interpreter received an automated e-mail informing him that the hearing had been cancelled. Because the notice was received less than 24 hours before the scheduled start of the assignment, this interpreter prepared and sent an invoice to the agency for his 2-hour fee. Of course, he had been offered another assignment that he turned down, because he was already booked, just the day before he received the cancellation notice. Sounds familiar right? I think there may be an unwritten “universal law” that says that every time an interpreter gets a job he will get one or more offers for the same day afterwards. I know you all know what I am talking about. Let’s get back to our story. Of course, my colleague was not thrilled since he was only going to make the equivalent to a two-hour job and he couldn’t get any other assignment for that day, but that is the “price” of doing business. This is the risk we all take when we chose the freedom of working as a freelancer. To his surprise, and mine when I heard the story, the agency representative contacted him right away to let him know that he was not going to be paid anything because the assignment had not taken place. The “less than 24 hour notice” of cancellation didn’t mean anything to them. Of course he will fight this battle and already started the process by going to a collections agency, but it made me remember another event that happened to me some months ago.
A colleague and I worked an event for an agency we had worked for before; they have had all of our information, including fee schedules, for years. We did the event, our performance was great, the agency’s client was very satisfied, and everything went as expected by the agency. I sent my invoice later on that same week, and life continued. About 2 or 3 weeks later I got an e-mail from a representative of the interpretation agency. I was a little surprised as I did not recognized her name, but the real surprise came when I read the text of the mail. This is what she wrote:
“Dear Mr. Rosado: We received your invoice… for processing. Thank you. After reviewing the invoice it came to our attention that you had made a mistake. The total for your invoice is the equivalent to 16 hours of work. The event was 8 hours long (each day)… but you worked 4 hours each day and Mr. (my colleague’s name) worked the other 4. …Therefore, I ask you to please file an amended invoice reflecting the hours you actually worked…”
After I recovered from an anger attack, I wrote her back, copying her boss, explaining her how we work and how we bill, and eventually I got an apology letter and a check for the right amount. There had been no mistake in this case. She turned out to be a new employee and It was all due to her ignorance of the profession.
I have had these annoying experiences with agencies, but for the most I’ve had a good career as far as my dealings with interpretation and translation agencies. Of course I know this is what many of you have experienced, so I will try to explain why these entities act this way, and I am going to share with you my solution to the “bad agency syndrome.”
(1) First: Not all agencies are created equal. There are agencies that you want to work for because they are good and professional. They are usually the ones with the best clients, the more relevant events. I am referring to the premier conference interpreting agencies that operate nationwide and worldwide. They offer the whole package to their client: the best equipment, the most comfortable booths, all-star technicians, and the best interpreters. They work with you, pay on time, pay well, and treat you like a professional.
(2) A different type of agency, also big (sometimes huge) and universal, is the one that provides telephonic services or in-person services at administrative federal courts. They have a lot of work; some of them trade in the stock market, and offer an average to below-average interpretation service to their client. They are popular and well liked by their clients because they provide the service at a moderate price, can offer the volume and variety of languages that nobody else can. They usually have administrative support staff that deals with the interpreters, pay very little, and don’t pay as quickly as the industry’s average. Their interpreters tend to be of a less-than average professional quality, very new to the profession, and in some cases they even work from outside the United States.
(3) Then you have the mid-size agencies who work regional or local markets. These agencies handle many events, some of them are conferences, others are not but they still call them conferences. These agencies also provide other services at the regional level such as medical interpreting, out-of-court legal interpreting, and in some markets even in-court interpreting services. These agencies aren’t big corporations; they are often a small firm or even a family business. This is the group where you must be very careful because there are some excellent agencies that provide the same or almost the same services that the big ones offer, including equipment and the highest quality interpreters (because for many reasons, the good ones are not always busy working with the big corporate agencies) but you also have many mediocre agencies that are this size. The problem is that they offer poor equipment, no equipment, low-level technicians, no technicians, and, for the most part, interpreters that don’t belong in the “A” list. They are usually staffed by poorly- paid employees with little experience, deal with clients that some times are not reliable, pay very low interpreter fees, don’t always pay on time, tend to ignore invoices for minimum guaranteed interpreter time or cancellation fees, and sometimes just don’t pay the interpreter. They often work with interpreters with no academic or professional training, and are very defensive when asked about their practices.
(4) Finally we have the small interpretation services provider. These are agencies that operate at the local level; many of them owned by an individual who sometimes is an interpreter, translator, or a relative of one of them. Many of them do business from their living rooms, have a mailing address at the UPS Store, and “train” their own interpreters because they cannot afford higher quality professionals due to the pay they offer or the type of assignments they hire their interpreters for. Sometimes they offer equipment, usually portable, work “desk-top” community events they refer to as “conferences,” contract with local medical facilities and administrative law attorneys, pay less than anybody else (with the exception of some of the telephonic agencies above) and treat their interpreters like journeymen instead of professionals.
I have heard many of my colleagues when they complain about these agencies. My solution, not to eliminate all possible problems, because that can’t happen, but to prevent most of them and mitigate the nefarious effects is as follows:
Try to work for the first group I mentioned. There will be times when a mistake will occur, like in my story above, but they are few and can be promptly fixed. Sometimes you may need to better yourself to get to those jobs; if that is the case, go do it! This comparative essay should be your motivation to do it. You should also work for the first ones I mentioned under number 3. They are often as good as group one, only smaller. The main problem you will encounter in this group is that they will have less events and therefore you will have more competition among the top-quality interpreters who will try to get these assignments. Stay away from the second group I mentioned under number 3. Do not let them sell you the “lemon car.” But…if for some reason you said “yes” to one of their assignments, put everything in writing, save all communications, and be ready to take them to the collections agency or before a judge if needed.
I would stay away from the agencies mentioned in number 2. However, if you have to work for them, negotiate a better rate than the one they will offer, and I mean a BETTER rate, not another $20.00 per hour. In all likelihood they will not hire you, but if for some reason they ever do, you will not be hurting yourself or the profession by accepting peanuts for professional work.
Avoid the ones in group 4 like the plague. Conditions in this group of agencies will never get better and on top of giving away your work in exchange for almost nothing, you will be hurting your reputation every time you work for one of them. Stop before your professional name is beyond repair.
Remember, there are excellent agencies out there but you need to do your homework and you need to learn how to say no. One of the most popular comments of many interpreters is: “They are too big, I hate them but I have to do what they want, even if I know it is little money, even if I know they don’t treat me right. I need the money. I can’t quit.” My answer to this dilemma is clear: Don’t work for them. I don’t care how big and powerful they are. You have a way to change what they pay you: stop returning their calls and emails. The moment you do this they are out of your life. No more suffering. No more humiliation. They are gone. The best part: Now you will have no choice but to become a better interpreter or translator so you can be hired by better agencies, directly by your clients, or you will have the freedom to start your own business. Let your refusal to work for them be your motivation to improve. You will face hard times for a short period of time, but it will not take you long to start making a better income because you will discover that when you are used to work for peanuts and you decide to stop, any decent interpretation job will provide you a better income.
The cure to the “bad agency syndrome” is very simple; it is like smoking: It is harmful, just quit!
InterpretAmerica: One Profession. One Real Profession.
June 9, 2013 § 4 Comments
It seems to me that a week never goes by without running into a colleague who is angry, frustrated, or confused about the new technology that is coming into our profession, an interpreter who is thrilled and excited about all these very same changes, and a colleague telling me that he or she was misunderstood, humiliated, obstructed, or underpaid while doing his or her job. Some of them react with anger, others with frustration, a few seem resigned, but a growing number of our fellow interpreters have been reacting to these real-life situations by taking action, doing something about it. Finally, interpreters finding a solution to this “never-ending” situation.
As those of you who know me personally (and many others have figured out by reading this blog) know, I have always considered myself a professional at the same level as all those who we provide our services to: scientists, politicians, attorneys, diplomats, physicians, military officers, school principals; and I try to act that way when I provide my interpretation services. I feel that we should all consider ourselves a real profession, perhaps even a profession above many others as we are also a little bit of an art. For this reason, when I first heard of InterpretAmerica about three years ago, I immediately fell in love with this idea of Katharine Allen and Barry Olsen.
I attended InterpretAmerica the last time it was held on the east coast two years. It was like a dream. The medical interpreters were there sitting next to the court interpreters, the military interpreters were having a conversation with the agencies; the equipment companies were there having a chat with the educational institutions, and the conference interpreters were sharing experiences, and learning, from the community interpreters. All interpretation fields under one roof! The colleagues from the east coast were there, so were those from the west coast, the European Parliament, the professional organizations, I saw board members and influential colleagues from ATA, AIIC, NAJIT, IMIA, and many more.
This week, InterpretAmerica will hold its Fourth Summit in the Washington, DC area. Looking at the schedule and list of speakers, it looks like this will be a very useful and interesting event. Unfortunately, this year I will not be able to attend the summit due to professional obligations, but I will be checking in regularly with many of my friends who will be there, and for the first time, I can follow the webcast of the second day if I chose to. As you know, I have devoted this blog to everything important and useful to our profession. This is one of the most important efforts in the history of interpretation in the United States. I encourage you to attend the summit, to exchange ideas, to take those ideas back home where you should share them with your colleagues. And to those of you who cannot attend this year’s summit, I invite you to get the webcast and to set aside the dates of next year’s gathering and go. I invite all my colleagues who are attending the summit, or have attended one in the past, to share their experiences for the benefit of all. I wish all the best to Katharine and Barry.
Intérpretes: ¿Vale la pena obtener una certificación médica?
October 5, 2012 § 7 Comments
Durante el verano dedico buena parte de mi tiempo a la enseñanza de nuestra profesión; es durante estos meses del año que muchos estados de la Unión Americana concluyen su ciclo fiscal y por lo tanto programan talleres y presentaciones para satisfacer sus requisitos de educación continua ya sea al final o al inicio de su año fiscal.
Durante mi viajar por el país impartiendo estas clases me percaté de un fenómeno relativamente nuevo y que se ha ido acentuando en los últimos dos o tres años: Cada vez son más los intérpretes médicos que acuden a estos cursos anteriormente aprovechados exclusivamente por intérpretes judiciales. Al concluir una ponencia, o durante un descanso, yo acostumbro platicar con los estudiantes y es así que me he enterado que muchos de ellos toman estas clases primordialmente dirigidas a los intérpretes que trabajan en los tribunales no porque desean convertirse en intérpretes jurídicos, lo hacen para estudiar, practicar y aprender con la meta de presentar y aprobar uno de los exámenes de interpretación médica.
Independientemente de lo encomiable que resulta la dedicación de estos colegas, me he dado cuenta del deseo que tienen de profesionalizar su ramo de la interpretación. Enhorabuena porque el campo médico es bien difícil, yo lo sé bien debido a las conferencias médicas que he interpretado durante mi carrera. Sin embargo, al charlar con estos intérpretes médicos, también me doy cuenta que mientras ellos estudian y se esfuerzan por capacitarse, el ejercicio de su especialidad profesional está en gran parte monopolizado por agencias de interpretación que tienen contratos de exclusividad con los hospitales, cobran bien por el servicio prestado, y pagan sumas irrisorias y desproporcionadamente bajas a los intérpretes que contratan. Por lo que los colegas me cuentan, me he enterado que un intérprete médico no puede trabajar en los hospitales a menos que lo haga a través de una de estas agencias. Inmediatamente la pregunta llega a mi mente: ¿Tanto estudiar, tanto esforzarse para ganar una baba de perico mientras la agencia está ganando dinero a carretadas? Algo no parece correcto.
La experiencia que conozco y con la cual encuentro un punto de referencia es la de la interpretación judicial ya que las agencias que trabajan con intérpretes de conferencia, al menos las buenas y más conocidas, pagan bien y tratan al colega con respeto. Yo recuerdo casos en interpretación judicial cuando el intérprete no podía contratar directamente con el juzgado o con los abogados. Si quería trabajar solo tenía una opción: la agencia. Recuerdo que así era, y por cierto con resultados nefastos de explotación y mediocridad en parte del suroeste de los Estados Unidos donde hasta hace no mucho tiempo los intérpretes no trabajaban directamente para los tribunales ni negociaban directamente con los bufetes jurídicos. Platicando con mis colegas sé que este ”sistema” sigue imperando en algunos estados. El ejemplo más palpable de poca paga y mediocridad en muchos (agrego que no todos) quienes prestan sus servicios en el campo jurídico lo seguimos encontrando hasta la fecha en los juzgados administrativos de migración.
La pregunta entonces queda: ¿Qué deben hacer estos intérpretes médicos capaces, entusiasmados, motivados y profesionales para recuperar su campo profesional y de esa manera justificar (para ellos, no para doctores, pacientes o compañías de seguros) el requisito de la certificación médica? Me gustaría escuchar sus opiniones, especialmente las de aquellos que están en esta situación. Les pido que incluyan sus comentarios y que se enfoquen al tema de este artículo: la interpretación médica como rehén de las agencias. Ya dejaremos para otro día la disyuntiva de que existan dos certificaciones médicas y aún no haya uniformidad ni consenso respecto a este tema.
The Professional Interpreter: One Profession. One Real Profession.
June 9, 2012 § 6 Comments
It seems to me that a week never goes by without a colleague telling me that he or she was misunderstood, humiliated, obstructed, or underpaid while doing his or her job. Some of them react with anger, others with frustration, a few seem resigned, but a growing number of our fellow interpreters have been reacting to these real-life situations by taking action, doing something about it. Finally, interpreters finding a solution to this “never-ending” comedy of errors where the interpreter is often an unwilling character.
As those of you who know me personally (and many others have figured out by reading this blog) know, I have always considered myself a professional at the same level as all those who we provide our services to: Scientists, politicians, attorneys, diplomats, physicians, military officers, school principals; and I try to act that way when I provide my interpretation services. I feel that we should all consider ourselves a real profession, perhaps even a profession above many others as we are also a little bit of an art. For this reason, when I first heard of InterpretAmerica a couple of years ago, I immediately fell in love with the idea and threw my support (mostly moral I admit) behind the incredibly hard work that Katharine Allen and Barry Olsen are doing.
I attended InterpretAmerica last year. It was like a dream, something you can only find in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. The medical interpreters were there sitting next to the court interpreters, the military interpreters were having a conversation with the agencies; the equipment companies were there having a chat with the educational institutions, and the conference interpreters were sharing experiences, and learning, from the community interpreters. This was unreal: I saw everybody I know and work with in my different interpretation fields, all under one roof! The colleagues from the east coast were there, so were those from the west coast, the European Parliament, the professional organizations, I saw board members and influential colleagues from ATA, AIIC, NAJIT, IMIA, and many more.
Next week, InterpretAmerica will hold its Third North American Summit on June 15 and 16 in beautiful Monterey, California. Looking at the schedule and list of speakers, it looks like this will be the best summit so far. The speaker list includes colleagues like Sign Language interpreter Jack Jason (Marlee Matlin’s interpreter) Andrew Clifford from Glendon College, Renee Jourdenais from MIIS, my good friend Jonathan Levy from Cyracom with a military interpreting perspective that will probably be new to may in attendance, Barbara Moser-Mercer from the University of Geneva, and others of the same level.
Unfortunately, this year I will not be able to attend the summit due to professional obligations, but I will be checking in regularly with many of my friends who will be there. As you know, I have devoted this blog to everything important and useful to our profession. This is one of the most important efforts in the history of interpretation in the United States. I encourage you to attend the summit, to exchange ideas, to take those ideas back home where you should share them with your colleagues. And to those of you who cannot attend this year’s summit, I invite you to set aside the dates of next year’s gathering and go. In the meantime, stay in touch with those attending, and vote for InterpretAmerica in the Chase Bank campaign to qualify for a $250,000.00 grant. I invite all my colleagues who are attending the summit, or have attended one in the past, to share their experiences with this movement started by Katharine and Barry.