New reality calls for creative planning and flexibility in conference and community interpreting.

January 25, 2023 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

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

Dear Colleagues,

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

Dear Colleagues,

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

Dear Colleagues,

When interpreters you never heard of take to social media, even LinkedIn, to talk about their many RSI assignments, bragging about how they work long hours at odd times of the night, just to be “congratulated” by others doing the same thing, and by people known for hiring interpreters for little pay and poor working conditions, and next you look at what our European Parliament colleagues are doing, you must conclude it is admirable, and worthy of our full support.

These brave interpreters are fighting to protect their health and to work under the conditions previously agreed to, but they are also fighting for the profession. If an institution like the Parliament gets away with violating a collective agreement, and resorts to hiring cheap interpreters, even from places outside the Union, all other interpreters will be next. Those of us who mainly work in the private sector, and as individual contractors with some institutions, must understand that the rules broken somewhere else, and the disregarded agreements, will happen in our market not long from now. These are some of the reasons why we should all support our EP colleagues; but there is another reason we should admire them, respect them, and use them as an inspiration and role model: They understand the value of the service they provide, and they use it as a tool to protect the profession.

It is funny how at the same time these colleagues are fighting this battle, many others have quit, decided not to act, or chose a strategy that does not let them negotiate as equals with those who impact their interpreting practice.

Recently, the court interpreters of an American State, who have been paid one of the lowest professional fees in America, and have not seen a fee raise or cost of living adjustment for years, asked for a $10 USD per hour fee increase, set a deadline for the authorities to respond, and threatened with a walk off if those dates were not observed and their demand for a raise was not honored. First, the action had a lot of support, it got precious media coverage locally and nationwide, but a few days later, after the State gave them questionable reasons, basically denying the raise and telling them they would “consider” their petition for the 2024 budget, despite the determination of some interpreters to go ahead with the walk off, most interpreters gave in and continued to work. They feared not being scheduled to work (for peanuts) anymore.

A few weeks ago, a nationwide association of judicial interpreters held a conference in the United States. Among the guests to speak about their successes on language access to the courts, an individual who has repeatedly lowered court interpreters’ work conditions in one of the States in America was scheduled to participate and praise the accomplishments of the program he is responsible for. I learned of this situation when an interpreter who works in that State reached me in Europe to share the news and to ask me why in my opinion that person had been invited to speak, despite his actions as an administrator which have resulted in leaving approximately 20 or so state-certified court interpreters (a considerable number in a small State like this one) out of work, because of his practice of hiring interpreters without a court certification, and interpreters from other States who work for a pay lower than the one State court interpreters must get paid.

I immediately suggested all interpreters in the State take this opportunity, when the interpreting universe of the United States is paying attention to this conference, to publicly denounce these practices for the world to know. In other words: to bombard the conference Twitter account with stories of how the practice of these government officials is not to observe court interpreter state policy, and to deny court work to those who complain. Even though this was a unique chance to pressure the State, except for a few colleagues, who I salute, the rest of the interpreters decided not to go to war with the State government to protect their profession. They feared retaliation and not being “called to interpret anymore”.

Finally, a few days ago I was asked to sign a petition to the authorities asking for a fee raise for a group of specialty interpreters in the United States. These are the only interpreters authorized to practice at this level; they are an elite group, and considered among the best in their field. Unfortunately, they are also known as the interpreter group that has not seen a raise, or cost of living adjustment in over 6 years. Even though I knew from the start I would sign the letter in solidarity with my colleagues (I rarely work in that system because they pay very little), I read the letter and was sad to see it was a very timid letter applying no leverage. My first reaction was: Why is a government agency that has not cared enough about its interpreters for so many years going to change policy after reading a letter with no teeth? Unlike the interpreters’ letter in the first case above, which at least had a deadline and a threat of strike, these federal court interpreters exercised no leverage. They put no pressure on the authorities.

The European Parliament interpreters showed us the value of our work. If the interpreters in other organizations or public service agencies stopped working, the system would be crippled. The authorities know this and know they would need to avoid such labor stoppage no matter what. All government agencies in the world operate within a budget and it takes time to modify it, but all government agencies in the world have additional emergency funds to be used to keep the government running. Had these interpreters exercised their leverage, their raises would be coming right now.

Interpreters everywhere must understand that communication among those who don’t share a common language is impossible without their services. They need to see there is a great demand for what we do elsewhere; that during the time of a stoppage they can interpret in other fields and venues, especially in these days of distance interpreting. The day most interpreters shake off their fears, doubts, and lack of confidence, and do as our European Parliament colleagues did, their fees and work conditions will finally be as they should. It is a matter of understanding they need us more than we need them.

Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “The only thing to fear is fear itself”.  

How to handle an assignment cancelation.

July 5, 2022 § Leave a comment

Dear Colleagues,

Interpreting is subject to many external factors that can affect the event to be interpreted. Rescheduling and cancelations are not uncommon. Natural disasters, political crises, financial problems, participants’ illness, transportation issues, and even a pandemic can postpone or scratch a conference, a filed motion, a plea agreement, or a dismissal can continue or cancel a court hearing, and technical issues can interrupt, postpone, or cancel any remote event or RSI interpretation.

Most interpreters, and many clients, understand that interpreters sell their time, and the professional-personal nature of the service makes it impossible for an interpreter to work two assignments at the same time. Because postponements and cancelations are common, and this understanding of how interpreters work and generate income is widely known, practically all interpretation agreements have a cancelation clause.

Unfortunately, there is no cancelation policy uniformity. Most interpreters, and their clients, understand that interpreters must be compensated for a last-minute cancelation, fewer agree this compensation should cover more than last-minute changes.

Because interpreters need to prepare for an assignment, a cancelation impacts interpreters beyond missing a day of work; an interpretation quoted fee represents more than the 3 days of interpreting during the conference or trial, it includes the compensation for the time an interpreter devotes to research, study, planning, and practice for the event. The compensation amount must be linked to the time already spent on the assignment. Complex cases require more preparation, so the compensation must reflect it. Let’s see: A three-day technical, scientific, or specialized conference canceled four weeks before the scheduled start should command higher compensation than a routinary three-day conference, on the same topic, held every year. On the first case a fair compensation could be eighty percent of the agreed fee. Compensation for the second conference, with the same advanced notice, could be fifty percent of the originally agreed fee. Cancelation of a scheduled interpretation received by the interpreter over eight weeks before the event should carry no monetary compensation unless the subject of the conference caused interpreters to begin preparations before that date.

In all cases, the client needs to reimburse the interpreter for all disbursed expenses to the notice of cancelation. This includes airplane or train tickets, hotels, car rentals. Immunizations, Covid tests, photocopies, printing of materials, long distance phone calls, etc.

The situation is more complicated when clients, in good faith, because they want to keep the professional relationship with the interpreter, send a notice of cancelation of the event, and send notice of another assignment for the same dates of the now cancelled event. Under this scenario, clients expect interpreters to cover assignment two on the same terms they were originally retained to interpret assignment one. Clients believe they have protected the interpreter because no work day was eliminated. Many interpreters think the same way.

That is not the case: Although the interpreter will work on the same dates and will make the same money he was expecting from interpreting assignment one, the interpreter needs to prepare for assignment two, a different conference requiring research, study, planning, and practice. The originally quoted fee included preparation for that assignment. Using the same fee for assignment two would mean that the interpreter will now research, study, plan, and practice with no compensation. This is unacceptable.

Interpreters need to understand that the original agreement, the meeting of the minds on services and fees, ended with the notice of cancelation. Even though the client has proposed a different job for the same dates, the interpreters are entitled to compensation for their preparation for the original conference and to reimbursement of expenses. The client has now made a new offer for a different assignment, and fees must be negotiated from the beginning. Once the interpreters assess the complexity of assignment number two, they can quote a fee for that interpretation. The fee should factor in there were no vacated dates from the first assignment, but it has to include preparation tasks for the new event. Once the parties agree, there will be a new interpreting services contract for the second assignment. If the interpreter is hired for the second conference, an adjustment to the cancelation fee for the original contract reflecting there were no vacated dates is appropriate. The goal is to be compensated for all work performed inside and outside of the booth (or virtual booth) and to respect the client by negotiating in good faith and only charging for professional services rendered.

In Our Unregulated Profession: Educate the Client Every Time You Can.

June 14, 2022 § Leave a comment

Dear Colleagues,

I was recently retained to work on an RSI assignment by an official organization. This was not a private market job, but it was a multi-day project that provided the opportunity, even at a distance, to converse with those in charge of the event.

On the last day of this job, I learned from one organizer that they were very happy with the interpreters’ work. I was told they were very impressed by the level of the interpretation and technical support. This person congratulated us for the smooth hand overs, quality of the interpreters’ sound, our preparation for the assignment, justifying our request for so many documents; I heard they were “impressed” by the fact we never stumbled with any of the specialized terms, and we never asked for the speakers to slow down. They also commended our tech support team for “protecting the interpretation” every time they asked for the speakers to mute their microphones to prevent echo, asked the participants not to speak over each other during their exchanges, and when during the dry run they explained the headsets and microphones acceptable for the event.

This person mentioned they will have other similar events soon, and they were under pressure to look for other interpreter services in the private market because our services came at a high price compared to the fees others ask for in the private market.

I let them know that they will likely get a different quality of service at those lower prices because interpreting is an unregulated profession where anyone can claim to be a conference interpreter. I explained that our cost was justified by our services because the organization that brought us to the event only offers interpreters who regularly work with governments and international organizations, with years of experience, who are members of the most prestigious conference interpreters’ association in the world. I took the opportunity to emphasize that all things he congratulated us for, come from such quality level, and that even in the private market, the interpreters I was talking about would not be less expensive, as they charge the same, or higher fees, when working for a private corporation.

The organizer thanked me for sharing this information; told me nobody in the private sector had ever explained that to them, and they now understood the higher cost was justified. This was a brief exchange, but that evening I reflected on the importance of doing a good job, always understanding the client’s needs and thoughts, and never wasting an opportunity to talk to the person in charge of making the decisions when a window opens organically as it happened here.

I Applaud the Professionalism and Humanity Many Interpreters Have Displayed under Terrible Circumstances. 

March 9, 2022 § 9 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

For some weeks we have witnessed the professional job our colleagues in Ukraine and elsewhere have done under extremely difficult circumstances. We have seen them in action interpreting for journalists throughout the country, even in very dangerous situations; we have seen their stellar performance in the international organizations, bilateral and multilateral government summits, refugee camps, TV networks, and non-governmental organizations. Some of us may have been directly or indirectly involved in some of these services, and many of us have been in touch, at a more personal level, with interpreter friends and their family members in Ukraine, in a neighboring country’s refugee shelter, or living abroad in Ukrainian communities, sometimes for many years.

To many, when we think of our colleagues in these extraordinary circumstances, the first images that come to mind are of Victor Shevchenko’s moving, emotional rendition of President Zelensky’s speech to the European Parliament, and Die Welt Übersetzerin‘s interpretation of Zelensky’s words for the German WELT television channel, truncated by emotion. To these two colleagues, and all others: You are doing an amazing job, and as evidenced in social media and interpreter associations’ websites worldwide, we support you, respect you, and admire you.

These sad times have shown the public that interpreters are not automated beings that take information in a source language, convert it, and then render it in a different target language. Interpreters are human beings, they are world citizens who, to do their job correctly, need to have a bast knowledge acquired by reading, studying, traveling, and life experiences. Interpreting is a human profession, and this is one reason why a machine full of algorithms will never convey the same emotional message our colleagues are transmitting to the world at this terrible time. My motivation to write this post came from the examples above, also from the inappropriate comments by some in social media, sadly including some interpreters, who criticized the emotional renditions with empty arguments too bizarre to even mention. All I will say is I am glad AIIC issued the very valuable resolution against bullying, and I invite those who criticized these interpreters to read this document and learn about professionalism in our craft. I wish all interpreters providing their services during this horrible invasion: physical and mental health, freedom, and a safe return to your loved ones. I now invite you to share your comments, and please abstain from sending political comments justifying the invasion. They will not be posted.

The Super Bowl: Interpreters, American football, and a big day in the United States.

February 7, 2022 § Leave a comment

Dear colleagues:

Because Americans love to bring up sports in a conference, and due to the acquired taste needed to enjoy a sport popular in the United States and few other places in the world, every year I write a post on the biggest sporting event: The Super Bowl.

On February 13 the United States will hold the most watched TV event in our country, a game played on an unofficial holiday, more popular than most holidays on the official calendar. The Super Bowl is the national professional football championship game in the United States of America; and it is not football… at least not THAT football played in the rest of the world.  This popular sport in the United States is known abroad as “American football,” and even this designation seems troublesome to many who have watched a little American football and do not understand it well.  Although it is mainly played holding a ball, the sport is known in the United States as football for two reasons:  (1) Because this American-born sport comes from “rugby football” (now rugby) that came from soccer (football outside the United States) and (2) Because it is football, but it is not British organized football, which when American football invented was called “association football” and was later known by the second syllable of the word “association”“socc” which mutated into “soccer.”  You now understand where the name came from, but is it really football? For Americans it is. Remember that all other popular team sports in the United States are played with your hands or a stick (baseball, basketball and ice hockey). The only sport in the United States where points can be scored by kicking the ball is (American) football. So, even though most of the time the ball is carried by hand or caught with your hands, sometimes, a team scores or defends field position by kicking or punting the football.   Now, why is all this relevant to us as interpreters?   Because if you interpret from American English you are likely to run into speakers who will talk about the Super Bowl, football, or will use examples taken from this very popular sport in the U.S.  

On Sunday, most Americans will gather in front of the TV set to watch the National Football Conference champion Los Angeles Rams battle the American Football Conference champion Cincinnati Bengals for the Vince Lombardi Trophy (official name of the trophy given to the team that wins the Super Bowl) which incidentally is a trophy in the shape of a football, not a bowl.  It is because the game was not named after a trophy, it was named after a tradition.  There are two football levels in the United States: college football played by amateur students, and professional football.  College football is older than pro-football and for many decades the different college champions were determined by playing invitational football games at the end of the college football season on New Year’s Day.  These games were called (and still are) “Bowls.”  You may have heard of the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and many others.  When a professional football game was created to determine the over-all champion between the champions of the American and National Conferences, it was just natural (and profitable) to call it the “Super Bowl.”

The game, which involves two teams representing two regions of the country, will be played in Los Angeles, California. It will be the second time in history that one team playing for the famous trophy will play in its home stadium.  Last year was the first time when the Tampa Bay team played at home. Every year the Super Bowl is played in a venue where the weather at this time of the year is more welcoming. There will be millions watching the match from home, and there will be hundreds of millions spent on TV commercials during the game.  

As I do every year on these dates, I have included a basic glossary of English<>Spanish football terms that may be useful to you, particularly those of you who do escort, diplomatic, and conference interpreting from American English to Mexican Spanish.  “American” football is very popular in Mexico (where they have college football) Eventually, many of you will face situations where two people will discuss the Super Bowl; as you are interpreting somebody will tell a football story during a presentation; or you may end up at a TV or radio studio simultaneously interpreting a football game for your own or another foreign market.

The following glossary does not cover every term in football; it includes terms very common, and where there were several translations of a football term, I selected the term used in Mexico by the Mexican media that covers the sport.

ENGLISHSPANISH
FootballFútbol Americano
National Football LeagueLiga Nacional de Fútbol Americano
NFLN-F-L (ene-efe-ele)
American Football ConferenceConferencia Americana
National Football ConferenceConferencia Nacional
PreseasonPretemporada
Regular seasonTemporada regular
PlayoffsPostemporada
WildcardEquipo comodín
StandingsTabla de posiciones
FieldTerreno de juego
End zoneZona de anotación/ diagonales
Locker roomVestidor
Super BowlSúper Tazón
Pro BowlTazón Profesional/ Juego de estrellas
Uniform & EquipmentUniforme y Equipo
FootballBalón/ Ovoide
JerseyJersey
HelmetCasco
FacemaskMáscara
ChinstrapBarbiquejo
Shoulder padsHombreras
Thigh padsMusleras
Knee padsRodilleras
JockstrapSuspensorio
CleatsTacos
TeeBase
FundamentalsTérminos básicos
Starting playerTitular
Backup playerReserva
OffenseOfensiva
DefenseDefensiva
Special teamsEquipos especiales
KickoffPatada/ saque
PuntDespeje
ReturnDevolución
Fair catchRecepción libre
PossessionPosesión del balón
DriveMarcha/ avance
First and tenPrimero y diez
First and goalPrimero y gol
Line of scrimmageLínea de golpeo
Neutral zoneZona neutral
SnapCentro
Long snapCentro largo/ centro al pateador
HuddlePelotón
PocketBolsillo protector
FumbleBalón libre
TurnoverPérdida de balón
TakeawayRobo
GiveawayEntrega
InterceptionIntercepción
CompletionPase completo
TackleTacleada/ derribada
BlitzCarga
Pass rushPresión al mariscal de campo
SackCaptura
Run/ carryAcarreo
PassPase
“I” FormationFormación “I”
Shotgun FormationFormación escopeta
“T” FormationFormación “T”
Wishbone FormationFormación wishbone
Goal postsPostes
CrossbarTravesaño
SidelinesLíneas laterales/ banca
ChainCadena
Out-of-boundsFuera del terreno
Head CoachEntrenador en jefe
Game OfficialsJueces
FlagPañuelo
POSITIONSPOSICIONES
CenterCentro
GuardGuardia
Offensive TackleTacleador ofensivo
Offensive lineLínea ofensiva
EndAla
Wide ReceiverReceptor abierto
Tight endAla cerrada
Running BackCorredor
HalfbackCorredor
FullbackCorredor de poder
QuarterbackMariscal de campo
BackfieldCuadro defensivo
Defensive endAla defensiva
Defensive tackleTacleador defensivo
Nose guardGuardia nariz
LinebackerApoyador
CornerbackEsquinero
Free safetyProfundo libre
Strong safetyProfundo fuerte
Place kickerPateador
PunterPateador de despeje
PenaltyCastigo

Even if you are not a football fan, and even if you are not watching the big game on Sunday, I hope you find this glossary useful.  Now I invite you to comment on football, sports interpreting, or maybe you would like to share a “sports interpreting anecdote” with all of us.

Will greed win over quality medical interpreting in the middle of a pandemic?

September 9, 2021 § 4 Comments

Dear colleagues:

On May 15, 2021 the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) released a study suggesting that an English-to-English exam might solve the shortage of healthcare interpreters in what they call “languages of lesser diffusion,” meaning languages other than Spanish, Arabic or Mandarin. The reason for this “sui-generis” affirmation is very simple: developing actual interpretation exams to test candidates on simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, and sight translation in both: source and target languages would be too expensive and therefore not profitable. Interesting solution: examine candidates’ English language skills (reading comprehension, medical concepts, fill-in the blanks, and what they consider can show the candidate’s “potential correlation with overall interpreting ability”: “listening comprehension.”) An English only exam will catapult an individual into an E.R. to perform as an interpreter without ever testing on interpretation!

What about native English speakers, who in the study scored an average of 87.9% compared to non-native speakers, who scored an average of 76.6%? No problem, says CCHI; passing score is 60% and Spanish language interpreters will continue to take the interpretation exam already in existence. I suppose the expectation might be that people who speak other “languages of lesser diffusion” in the United States have a higher academic background and their English proficiency is higher. Another point that makes this “solution” attractive is that most interpreter encounters in hospitals, offices and emergency rooms involve Spanish speakers, which brings the possibility of lawsuits for interpreter malpractice to a low, manageable incidence. I would add that many people needing interpreting services will not even consider a lawsuit because of ignorance, fear or immigration status. The good news: CCHI concluded that although this English-to-English exam option “is a promising measure…(it)…requires additional revision and piloting prior to use for high-stakes testing.” (https://slator.com/can-a-monolingual-oral-exam-level-the-playing-field-for-certifying-us-interpreters/)

Reading of this report and the article on Slator got me thinking about the current status of healthcare interpreting in the Covid-19 pandemic. How long will the American healthcare system ignore that the country is everyday more diverse and in need of professional, well-prepared healthcare interpreters in all languages? The answer is difficult and easy at the same time.

A difficult answer.

It is difficult because we live in a reality where every day, American patients face a system with very few capable healthcare interpreters, most in a handful of language combinations, and practically all of them in large and middle-sized cities. The two healthcare certification programs have poor exams. One of them does not even test simultaneous interpreting, and the other tests a candidates’ simultaneous skills with two 2-minute-long vignettes (one in English and the other in the second language). Consecutive skills are also tested at a very basic level with four vignettes of twenty-four 35 or fewer-words “utterances” each. It is impossible to assess somebody interpreting skills with such an exam after just 40 hours of interpreter training. (https://cchicertification.org/uploads/CHI_Exam_Structure-Interface-2020.pdf).

Except for those interpreters with an academic background or prepared on their own because they care about the service they provide, the current system provides a warm body, or a face on a screen, not a healthcare interpreter. Because the motivation is a robust profit, it is conceived and designed to protect the interests of insurance companies, hospital shareholders, and language services agencies. It has been structured to project the false impression these entities are complying with the spirit of the law; It is not designed to protect the physician or the patient.  

In 1974 the United States Supreme Court ruled that failing to provide language support for someone with limited English proficiency is a form of discrimination on the basis of national origin (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2000/08/30/00-22140/title-vi-of-the-civil-rights-act-of-1964-policy-guidance-on-the-prohibition-against-national-origin).  The ruling was later broadened and implemented by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (https://www.ada.gov/effective-comm.htm) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) commonly known as “Obamacare.” (https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/1557-fs-lep-508.pdf) This legislation specify that healthcare organizations must offer qualified medical interpreters for patients of limited English proficiency and those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

An easy answer.

Despite the reality we face, the answer to the question above is easily attainable because the healthcare industry has immense financial resources and a system that lets them capture money at a scale no other industry can.

The healthcare sector deals with the lives and quality of living of all individuals present in the United States. Their reason to exist is to save lives, not to produce ever-growing dividends to its shareholders every year. This is an industry that spends unimaginable amounts of money in medical equipment, state-of-the-art technology, physicians, surgeons, nurses, therapists, researchers, attorneys, and managerial staff salaries. New expensive hospitals, medical office buildings, clinics, laboratories, and rehab centers are built all the time. This industry can spend top money in those sectors because it is good for business. It is an investment that produces a profit. I am not even scratching the surface of these expenses, but even if we ignore the money spent in food, gear, vehicles (land and air), utilities, clerical staff, janitorial staff, and medical aide positions, we can safely conclude this is an industry that knows how to spend money when an expense is viewed as an investment that will produce a financial benefit.

Designing good medical interpreter exams in many languages is expensive, paying professional-level fees to healthcare interpreters will cost money, managing a continuing education program will not be cheap, but the healthcare sector cannot cry poverty. They have the funds to do it. It is incomprehensible how a business that bankrupts its patients after one surgery or a chronic disease can argue with a straight face, they can only pay 30 to 50 dollars an hour to a medical interpreter. This is an industry that charges you fifty dollars for a plastic pitcher of water or twenty dollars for a box of tissue they replace every day.

Quality interpreting, and living up to the spirit of the law, cannot happen when an organization spends money to look for shortcuts such as testing English-to-English in an interpreting program. Only the promise of a professional income will attract the best minds to healthcare interpreting. Current conditions, including low pay, an agency-run system, and searching for shortcuts to go around the law will never produce quality interpreters.

If those deciding understand good professional healthcare interpreters are an investment as valuable as good physicians, surgeons and nurses, the solution can begin immediately. Designing and administering a quality interpretation exam will take time, getting colleges and universities to start interpreting programs that include medical interpreting will not be easy, but there are steps that can improve the level of interpreting services right away.   

A higher pay, comparable to that of conference interpreters will immediately attract top interpreters in all languages, at least temporarily or part-time to the field. Many top interpreters see the need for quality services during the pandemic, and they feel a need to help, but they have to make a living and healthcare interpreter fees do not meet the mark.

Instead of thinking of English-to-English exams to create an illusion they are forming interpreters, stakeholders should recruit native speakers of languages where interpreters are hard to find, but they must stop looking for “ad-hoc” interpreters in restaurant kitchens and hotel cleaning crews, and start talking to college students and professors, to scientists and physicians from those countries who now practice in the United States. With current technology, hospitals should look for their interpreters among the interpreter community in the country where a language is spoken and retain their services to interpret remotely, instead of opening massive call centers in developing countries, using the technology to generate a higher profit instead of better quality.  

Hospital Boards must find the money and allocate it to interpreting services. In these cases, such as Medicaid and others, the cost of interpreter services should be considered an operating expense. Insurers do not reimburse for nursing and ancillary staff. Hospitals and practices pay their salaries.

Payers may also benefit by covering interpreter services. Although data are limited according to the Journal of the American Medical Association Forum, studies suggest that when physicians struggle to communicate with patients, they are more likely to order unnecessary tests and treatments. This not only puts patients at increased risk, but also directly increases payer spending. Limited English proficiency patients may need care more frequently or seek treatment in more expensive settings, such as the emergency room, when they cannot communicate with primary care providers. Similar to insurers in fee-for-service arrangements, risk-bearing provider groups in alternative payment models face a similar incentive to curtail unnecessary or wasteful utilization. Poor interpreting services will also result in malpractice lawsuits against hospitals, language service providers, insurance companies and medical staff. In the long run, by far, this makes investing in quality interpreter services and interpreting education/certification programs a smaller expense. “Paying for interpreter services, from cost-based reimbursement, to their inclusion in prospective payment models, to insurer-led contracting of remote interpreters, would not only address the disparities exposed by the pandemic, but also help support practices facing financial peril due to the pandemic.” (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama-health-forum/fullarticle/2771859) It is time to grow up and stand up to the stakeholders in the healthcare sector; it is time to unmask the real intentions of language service providers who take advantage of often-poorly prepared interpreters to get a profit. It is time to have a serious healthcare interpreter certification exam that really tests the candidate’s interpreting skills. We need university and college programs, and a different recruitment system led by hospitals and insurance companies not multinational interpreting agencies, or ill-prepared small local players. Interpreters cannot be made in 40 hours and we can’t have newly trained interpreters learning at the cost of real patients’ safety. The pandemic showed us the importance of healthcare interpreting, let’s seize the opportunity to professionalize it.

Our options when the client does not pay.

May 3, 2021 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Sometimes freelance interpreters face a scenario where a client agrees to pay a professional fee, and after the interpretation they refuse to pay, make a late payment, or try to pay less than the fee agreed by the parties. It is not unusual to hear from a colleague struggling to stay afloat as a business because of morose or dishonest clients.

The first thing we must do is assess the client before agreeing to the service, we have to do our homework, find out who the client is, what is their track record. This due diligence is essential to decide if we want to enter a professional relationship or not. The next step should be a negotiation where you listen to the potential client’s needs, establish your conditions, and give expert advice to the client. Once an agreement is acceptable to both parties, you must sign a contract, preferably your own, or the client’s when they require it, as long as all your negotiated conditions are included.

Many times, there is not enough time for a lengthy negotiation, especially when this assignment is short or urgent. When you find yourselves in this situation, negotiate by email, text, or over a telephone or video call. Do noy skip this step. Many times, there is no time to draft a lengthy, written contract; some clients have a less formal approach to their hiring practices. That is fine, but there is something you must do regardless of the situation or the client: You must have proof of the essential terms of the negotiation, in case you have to take action against that client.  Let it be very clear I am not giving you legal advice; if you need legal assistance, please see an attorney in your jurisdiction. I am only sharing what I do in these cases:

Email or text your client, even if you were just retained and you are on your way to the assignment; even if you are on the phone with the client. Just let them know you are sending an email spelling out the conditions just discussed because you need it for your internal paperwork. This text or email must include all relevant terms of the agreement, and it should be short and straight to the point. Something like: “Per our recent conversation, this is to confirm that you have retained me to interpret “X” Conference (or other event) to take place in (city and country, or on “X” platform to be used if RSI) on (dates and times of the event). My fee will be “X” amount per day (up to 4, 6 or 7 hours, depending on the type of service: distance or in-person) with an OT hourly rate of “X” amount after that, payable within (30, 45) days from the time I send my electronic invoice to this same email address, and a late interest payment of “X” percent if not paid on time. Please confirm these terms by responding to this email the word: “Confirmed”.

Then, in small print (to keep the email short) but before my signature, I add: “It is agreed by the parties that the recipient of this communication has 48 hours from the date of this email to reject its terms, and not responding to this communication within that time will constitute agreement to all the terms in this communication.” Once again, remember this is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have questions.

When a client does not pay by the date agreed in the contract, send them an email (never a phone call because you want to have proof of this communication) attaching your invoice with a legend stating “Overdue.” And politely “remind” them of the payment. This is enough in most cases. If the client cries poverty, or ignores you, wait 30 days or whatever is customary in your country but charge late payment interest. After that, you repeat the same 30 days later. If the client does not pay, then retain a collection agency. They will charge you to collect, but that is better than nothing. Finally, if this does not work, or if you prefer to skip the collection agency step, take the client to court. Sue for payment of your fees, late payment interests, court costs, and attorney’s fees (when retaining a lawyer). Most morose clients will settle at this time, but if they do not, move ahead with the lawsuit and get a judgement against the client. This does not guarantee you will collect any money, but will go to the client’s credit report. You should also take that judgement to the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and local Consumer Affairs authority where the client resides. Next, report the incident and provide copy of the final judgement to the client’s professional associations (for disciplinary action) and to your local, national, and international interpreter associations so this client can be included in all black lists to benefit your colleagues. Finally, if applicable, share this information with the ethnic media target of that client’s business, and share it on your social media, just stating the facts, without editorializing to avoid any future complications. This will get your money most of the time, and will teach a lesson to those who violate your professional services contract. It will also send a message to others that you take your work seriously. I now ask you to share with the rest of us your policy to avoid this breach of contract, or to collect unpaid fees.

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