Only work with experienced conference interpreters.
May 30, 2023 § 3 Comments
Because the quality of the service we provide, and our success as professional interpreters are essential to remain relevant in a crowded market, we must protect them both at all times.
Our reputation and credibility as interpreters are exposed to many risks every time we interpret; some of these risks are at least partially beyond our control, but many others can be avoided if we do our due diligence. For those totally or to some degree out of our control, like earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist acts, poor national infrastructure, and similar occurrences, we can take precautions, choose our assignments wisely, and hope for the best. To avoid or minimize all other risks we should act professionally.
Deciding if we are knowledgeable enough, or if we have time to prepare for an assignment before accepting a job, approving the interpretation equipment to be used, location of the booth, work conditions, and even the right client, are all decisions we can, and should make every time we interpret a conference; our credibility depends on how we approve or reject these factors that will produce a good rendition instead of a disastrous interpretation. Another decision of enormous consequences is the selection of our boothmate or boothmates.
Because we do not provide our professional services in isolation, all team members in the booth must deliver the same quality level, while working harmoniously before and during the event. Research, assignment of tasks, glossary development, deciding the active interpreting shifts, and booth etiquette in general, are as essential as an accurate, clear, complete and pleasant delivery of a speech. Picking your boothmates has never been easy. Globalization, distance interpreting, and the arrival to the market of some new players with a “uberization” model that handles interpreters like commodities instead of professional service providers made the process murkier.
Today, interpreting services’ users could be retaining paraprofessionals, and in many cases, paying for interpreters in the booth that make a living interpreting, but are not conference interpreters. Out of necessity when assignments went away during the pandemic, and thanks to the convenience of remote interpreting which gave many individuals the courage to work as conference interpreters shielded by a platform, the backing of an unscrupulous agency, and many kilometers between the event to be interpreted and their computer screen, the conference market received many public service interpreters, skilled at what they do, but lacking the required knowledge needed to interpret from the physical or virtual booth. Conference interpreters started to hear how clients offered to speak slower, cut their sentences short for consecutive interpretation, pay assignments by the hour, received requests for same day conferences, and were offered historically low fees.
Technicians, event organizers, and old clients also shared with their long-time trusted conference interpreters how the renditions were not always clear, or complete, and how the interpreters would show up unprepared and speak so fast nobody could understand what they were saying. Up to this sad moment, we would tell clients they could avoid these issues by retaining the services of professional, experienced, conference interpreters, ideally of those belonging to a professional association of interpreters, not an association of translators, as most interpreters who are members of these associations practice public service and not conference interpreting. The real problem started when some event organizers, platforms, agencies, and negligent interpreters, started to put together mixed booths with one conference interpreter sharing duties with one or more interpreters from outside the conference field.
Those complains of incomplete rendition, speaking too fast, too literal, without decalage, were directed to the team in the physical or virtual booth, and that included the experienced conference interpreters who did a good job. Unfortunately, their client could not separate their rendition from their boothmate’s.
At the same time, another important risk was showing its face for the first time: Some experienced conference interpreters refused to learn, or had a difficult time learning the technology needed to work remotely. Even when they had prepared for the assignment, and had interpreted the same event in person many times, they could not be heard because they would not open their microphones, would arrive late to the virtual booth because they could not figure out how to connect to the event, could not take their shift as active interpreters because they forgot how to do it, or simply would drop the call. This became a serious problem because now conference interpreters were also risking their reputation when working with trusted, experienced conference interpreters who were computer illiterate. At the same time, younger individuals, with a college degree in conference interpreting, were entering the market with a new set of credentials: solid interpreting skills, lack of experience as conference interpreters, deep knowledge of technology as a life-long skill instead of an acquired skill as it is the case of older interpreters like myself.
After observing how the market had changed since 2020, and acknowledging the old and new risks we face every day, I concluded that the only way to protect ourselves and keep our clients’ trust was to carefully select those who I share the (physical and virtual) booth with. I decided to only work with experienced conference interpreters, and in today’s globalized world, where in some countries with a large immigrant population, government officials and opportunistic agencies are industrially creating public service interpreters who possess a light version of the very basics of the profession, and after a short time, they start booking them to “interpret at conferences”, in my opinion, experienced conference interpreters are those who have worked as conference interpreters for a long time, those new conference interpreters with a degree, no experience in the booth, but with deep knowledge of RSI and technology in general, and those who have experience and have learned the technology. When there are several interpreters with similar credentials, I always choose those who belong to an international or domestic conference interpreter association such as AIIC.
You see, my experienced conference interpreters in the booth can be veterans of many years or newcomers to the profession.
What happens when the client’s policy lacks vision, and punishes common sense that benefits them.
April 24, 2023 § 2 Comments
Government agencies everywhere are not exactly known for the speed and efficiency of their procedures. Whether it is due to their huge size, politically-motivated decisions, corruption, or plain inefficiency, our dealings with government entities often take longer and require of more steps than those needed when doing business with the private sector. Most of the time, these government agencies’ employees act in good faith and are just as frustrated as we are.
I enjoy working with government agencies I appreciate, but it is important to make a distinction between those entities with complicated or “unique” procedures that take their time to do things, but they do them right, and those who erratically change procedures, add requirements, do not know what to do when a matter is slightly out of the ordinary, and sit on an issue instead of solving it. We can all live with the former. The process may take longer than we would like it, and filing forms, logging ins, and other steps they have set, are due to the size and volume they handle daily. Like it or not, we always know what to do, what to expect, and how long it will take. Volume, prestige, income, working conditions, and other characteristics of this work justify the process to get approved, paid, adjudicated, and so on. Also, our points of contact at the entity are familiar with our services, and understand what we want. The problem is the latter category; those agencies with outdated policies, lack of direction, and employees of questionable skill.
The way this second group of government agencies deals with independent contractors, in particular interpreters, is driving them out of the market and they do not even realize it.
Sometime ago an interpreter was hired by one of these government entities for an assignment that required travel, the interpreter did everything needed to fulfill the contract: prepared for the job, and showed up on time. This interpreter took care of the logistics too: hotel reservations, rented a car, and purchased an airplane ticket. They did it all according to that government agency’s handbook. Before traveling, and because of the interpreter’s status with that airline, not because of a fare reduction, the interpreter got a partial refund for the airfare. After the assignment, the interpreter went home, prepared an invoice in the format requested by this government, explaining and documenting the airfare situation, and sent it out for payment.
Weeks and months went by and the invoice had not been paid yet. Finally, the interpreter contacted the agency to see what had happened to this invoice, and this individual was told they had not paid them because the cost of the airfare did not match what the interpreter paid. Instead of contacting the interpreter with questions they had, this government entity had invaded this interpreter’s privacy by contacting the airline directly and obtaining personal records with nothing to do with the assignment. The government wanted to benefit from the interpreter’s airline privileges even though it had no right to do so. It would be different if the plane ticket had been reduced and the interpreter was trying to cash in by asking for the higher fare, but here we have a case where someone automatically gets a benefit derived from their personal life, and now a third party wants to benefit from the circumstance. The fare reduction came from a traveler elite status obtained by constantly traveling with the same airline; the government did not pay for other previous trips.
Eventually, after months of endless correspondence and phone calls, the interpreter gave up and ate the loss, but because of the unconscionable violation of the interpreter’s privacy, this colleague decided never to work for that agency again.
I had a similar experience a while ago. I was retained by a government agency I seldomly work with, but I had done other assignments with them in the past, so once we agreed on the terms of the service, I took the job. Like the first case above, this assignment was out of town so I needed to travel. I should mention that the government involved in this case differed from the one of the first case.
As usual, I made all travel arrangements, including airfare, and waited for the date of the job. I was contacted by the client about 2 weeks before the assignment to inform me it had been cancelled, so they would send me my fees and reimburse my travel expenses. Because the hotel is paid after the stay, I cancelled the room at no charge, so my only outstanding expense was the airfare.
In the time between when I purchased the plane ticket, and the day the job was cancelled, I was contacted by another government agency I had not worked with for many years, for an assignment in the same city where the original assignment was scheduled to take place. I made my new hotel reservation and I was going to buy a new airplane ticket when I saw the price of the ticket had increased considerably. At that point I decided that instead of cancelling the first, less expensive ticket, and getting the refund (remember: the original client had offered to pay me for it) I contacted the airline to change the plane ticket to the dates of the second assignment. Because of my airline status, they changed the ticket and honored the original, less expensive charge plus a ticked change fee considerably lower than purchasing a ticket at the full price. I explained to the first client what I did, told them they did not need to reimburse the plane ticket because it was now switched to another job with a different client; however, I requested a letter from them to my second client, also a government agency, explaining the situation. They gave it to me. I thought this letter would help clarify, and justify, the date the original ticket was purchased (about six months before the second assignment).
I did the assignment and invoiced the government entity following their instructions to the letter of the law. Besides my fees and other expenses, I was asking for the reimbursement of the original plane ticket, plus the amount paid to change the ticket. I included the first government agency’s written explanation and a printout of the airfares the airline was charging when they contacted me for the assignment, showing a more expensive ticket than the sum of the original plus the extra fee.
I was contacted by the government after a couple of months. They were requesting an explanation for the airfare. They did not understand why I had used a (less expensive) ticket previously purchased instead of a new (more expensive) ticket. I answered by sending them all documents back again. Months went by, and these email exchanges became a common thing, without getting us anywhere and with the government making more bizarre requests every day. They wanted airline records that did not exist. A few months later I asked the government about my fees for that service provided months earlier and the reimbursement of everything else beside the plane (hotel, ground transportation, meals, etc.) At that point they sent a payment that covered my fees and all other expenses but the airfare, because they were still “deciding” what to do when faced with such an unusual situation. I was told many times I should have accepted the reimbursement from the first agency, and then purchase and request reimbursement for a second ticket, even if it was over 200 percent more expensive than the original ticket.
I will not ever understand why a government punishes those who try to save it money just because it may require more paperwork. The government employees I dealt with do not understand it either. It is just what it is, and for that reason, I doubt I will do business with that government entity again.
Interpreting for a big crowd and before a big crowd.
April 3, 2023 § 6 Comments
Many people think interpreters are outgoing individuals, and most are, but several colleagues are introverted and even shy. Unlike court or healthcare interpreters who interact with their client during their rendition, conference interpreters work anonymously from a booth in the back of a room or remotely with a video camera off. The audience hears their rendition, but they never see their face. More than once, I have been stopped in an elevator or hallway by a conference attendee to ask me if I was interpreting the event because they recognized my voice, but had they encountered me on the street, they would have walked by without even looking at me.
Sometimes, our work challenges that comfortable shield of anonymity and puts us where, whether we want it or not, we are on the spotlight.
In some assignments, conference interpreters working from the booth, interpret for millions of people simultaneously. Interpreting live TV is one case. Other times, an interpreter works from the stage, out of the interpreters’ booth, before a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands. Two scenarios prone to make us nervous before we start our rendition.
What should we do in such situations? Our priority is to accurately interpret the message into the target language using all of our knowledge and skills. This includes relaxation, focus, and concentration. We need not be fearless but we must avoid panic. There are certain things I learned in my practice that help me to interpret with the same quality as if I were working in the booth away from all eyes, and never thinking of the millions of ears that listen to these renditions.
Years ago, I was hired by a well-known corporation to interpret a speech by an important politician to be broadcasted to millions around the world. Some would listen to the speech live, others would listen to the recording, and portions of the speech, and my rendition, would be played by news agencies all over the world. Later on, some segments of the speech (and my interpretation) would be used in documentaries to be distributed internationally. I was thrilled when I first got the assignment, I immediately did everything I was asked to do regarding security by the client and the venue of the event. I researched, practiced, and studied for weeks. I was so focused on the assignment, that I had no time to reflect on the enormity of the task and its ramifications.
Everything was going smoothly and according to plan until, a couple of days before the event. Somehow a group of colleagues discovered I was doing the assignment and they called me to congratulate me, wish me luck, and ask me if I was nervous and afraid the rendition would go wrong. They all mentioned the audience of millions and the relevance of the event. Because of these repeated comments, I got apprehensive; suddenly, any imaginary worst-case scenario came to mind, and it got to a point it could get on the way of my delivery.
On the day of the event, I arrived at the stadium where the event would take place many hours before the start. I went to my booth, set up my things, and sat there trying to relax. Meetings with producers and sound tests were repeated throughout the day. It all kept me busy and distracted me, but that feeling in my stomach and the weakness of my legs never went away. About two hours before going on the air, the sound technician assigned for the event came into the booth and asked me how I was doing. I lied. I told him everything was fine, that my years of experience would get me through the night. Somehow, he did not buy my arguments and gave me a piece of advice I treasure and constantly apply even today: He told me the interpretation was between the speaker, the microphone and me. “Nothing else matters. You work the same when you interpret for one and when you interpret for millions. Think of the microphone. Do not think of those listening to you.” I internalized the advice and applied it to my work that night. It worked like a charm! Even stressful moments like the late arrival of the copy of the speech when the speaker was already on stage did not face me. From that day on, I have thought of all interpretations as if there was only one listener. Relaxation and concentration work.
On the story I shared with you, there was a potential audience of millions, but only a small percentage of perhaps 5 to 10 percent would listen to me because most people would listen to the speaker in the source language. The next story I am about to share involved an audience of dozens, a hundred at best, but all of them would pay special attention to my rendition.
I attended a conference as part of the audience years ago. I was there to learn and enjoy myself, not to work, but before one meeting, an important individual scheduled to be one of the authorities presiding over the event without speaking, approached me less than ten minutes from the start of the event. I was already in my seat inside the auditorium, when this person asked me to interpret some remarks he had been asked to give. Because of who this person was, the look I got, and the immediacy of the event, there was no way for me to say no, so I agreed to do it. I got a nice thank you and was told the interpretation had to be done consecutively. I didn’t even have a pad to take notes, so the speaker handed me a copy of the program and suggested I write on the back of the pages where there was no printed information.
I got up on stage, a chair was brought in for me to sit next to the speaker, and the event started. The remarks were given to an audience of professional conference interpreters who knew me. I immediately remembered the words of that sound technician from my past and interpreted successfully. At the end, an audience of my peers gave me a nice ovation, which was a nice gesture. I got through this event where I interpreted before a big crowd because of my focus on the task. I have applied the same strategy to those assignments when retained to interpret for a celebrity. These are two examples of how we can overcome our doubts, fears and nervousness when interpreting for or before a big crowd by making it simple and concentrating, relaxing and focusing on the task at hand. It works for me and I am sure it will work for all of you.
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, because our profession lacks regulation in many places, 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 § 4 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”.