May 22, 2017 § 12 Comments
A few weeks ago I read a comment by a colleague who had just finished a very important high-profile interpreting assignment. He stated that when the event ended the main speaker thanked the interpreters for their job in the booth. Rightly so, my colleague was very happy and appreciative of the kind gesture.
His comment brought back many personal experiences of instances when speakers and organizers recognized the interpreter team by either praising a job well done, or by thanking us for our dedication and professionalism. At this moment it hit me: With some exceptions, the most important, famous, admired speakers are always kind and appreciative. It is common to be recognized at the end of a hard session. Many commend us for our rendition, others ask for a round of applause for the interpreters. I have been to some events where we have been asked to come out of the booth to be seen and recognized by the audience. It is all about respect, but it is also about education and awareness of the importance of a good interpretation.
These movers and shakers know that without proper interpretation their words would lose their thunder in a foreign language. They know that communication is essential, and our work is key to reach everyone in every culture and language.
For this reason high-profile conference interpreters are always welcome at the auditorium, conference room, and international organization where their services will be needed. From the moment we arrive we are treated with deference and respect, not because of who we are, but because of what we do. Everybody is on board, they all know that we provide a relevant professional service.
Speakers and organizers know and understand the complexity of what we do, so it is just natural we get a breakroom to relax every now and then, that they expect us to work in teams of two and three; that we get paid for travel days, and that we get a compensation appropriate to the service we provide.
As I was thinking of these circumstances, my mind drifted to the way healthcare and court interpreters are treated most of the time. Despite being an essential component to the healthcare system, or a key element to an administration of justice equal for all, doctors, nurses, judges, attorneys and support staff often view interpreters as an inconvenience instead of an asset. They are perceived by many in these areas as outsiders instead of as part of the team. Many resent them and believe that we are overpaid, after all, all we do is talk.
Although some may be motivated by who knows what reason, I think that most of their attitude and policies come from ignorance. Unlike so many people we deal with in conference interpreting, many are not well traveled and lack a sense of international community. A medical diploma or law degree guarantee no worldly view of affairs. To put it simply, they just cannot understand why people do not speak their language, and they attribute their lack of native language skills to being intellectually inferior. They believe that everybody should learn their language and consider translation and interpreting services as a waste of resources and losing the national identity. It is for these reasons, and not necessarily because they dislike the interpreter, after all interpreters speak their language, that they consider our presence annoying and our service a threat to the status quo.
I do not like this, but I can understand why these individuals do not want to treat us with the dignity and respect we are treated at the conference level. The lack of respect and demeaning practices towards interpreters I cannot justify or understand, are those perpetrated by the people in the multinational language agencies who hire unqualified people, pay disgustingly low professional fees, and treat interpreters as laborers instead of professionals.
It is the way interpreters are treated by these entities that greatly contrasts with the dignified treatment we experience in a conference they were not involved. It is these transnational entities, who are on a crusade to destroy our profession and turn it into an “industry” that wants to get us to work the booth, courtroom and hospital like an assembly line.
They know of the complexity and professional nature of our work, they understand how exhausting our craft is, they know of the fact that we sell our time. Yet, they want to pay the lowest fees, who want to take up to three months before they pay us, the ones who do not want to a second interpreter, refuse to pay for travel days, and rarely share the assignment relevant materials. These are the people who demand you call when you get to the assignment and let them know when you leave.
These are the “experts” who distrust us so much they double-check with their client to make sure we really worked for as long as we told them, and treat us like little children by telling us what to wear, where to sit, what to eat, and who to talk to. They know you, they have worked with you in the past, and at the least they researched you before they contacted you for a job. It is not about you, it is about their perception of the profession. To them, in their mythical theory of the “interpreting industry” we are laborers on an assembly line. This serves them better. Once they dehumanize us by turning us into their “industry’s” pawns, they can disrespect us, insult us, and abuse us as interpreters. This or course, only if we let them.
I now ask you to share with the rest of us your thoughts about this important issue.
January 5, 2016 § 3 Comments
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I spend most of the year traveling for work. To me, travel is a priceless tool that lets me peek through a window and see the world as it is, unfiltered and first-hand. It was something that happened during my last trip of 2015 that made me think about who I am as an interpreter, what I need professionally, and in my opinion what the true professional interpreter and translator need so we can be better at what we do for living.
Last week, while in Mexico City, I lost a tooth filling and I had to go to a local dental office to take care of it. Fortunately there was no pain, but this is one of those things that you have to take care of right away, so I made an appointment the following morning to see a local dentist. For those of you who have received all of your dental care in the United States this would be a true cultural experience. The first thing that surprised me was that as soon as I was sitting in the waiting room the dentist who was going to take care of my tooth came out to let me know that it would not be long before they call me to see him.
Even more shockingly, there was absolutely no paperwork to fill out. Being used to answering endless questionnaires and signing tons of forms and releases in the United States before seeing anybody from the medical profession, I have to admit that I was surprised. Then, almost instantly, it sank in: This was a professional dental practice managed by professional dentists who thought and acted like members of the dental profession. They saw me as a person who needed a professional service: I was a patient. It never crossed their minds that I was a customer, they never saw their job as an industry. There was no need for endless paperwork for the assembly line because I was dealing with real professionals in a field where there is no room for commodities. There were no forms, releases, or “cover your butt” documents to read and sign because the dentists were calling the shots, not the insurance companies, not the pharmaceutical conglomerates, not the professional associations that are in bed with all of these other members of the cast who are in the dentists’ environment, but hold different and many times opposing interests and points of view to those of the professional delivering the service that I was there for. The service was delivered professionally and promptly and I left the dental office happy and satisfied with the way they treated me and the services I received.
Dear friends and colleagues, I saw in action what many of us have tried to do throughout our careers, and at the same time, I saw the ugly face of that “reality”, foreign to our profession, that so many are trying to sell us as the true state of affairs and the future of the “industry”. Thanks to a dental problem in a foreign country I got to see what our profession really looks when the decisions are made by interpreters and translators instead of multinational agencies, incompetent project managers, and corrupt entities who want us to believe that we belong at the industrial park with the car manufacturer and the sweat shop, when in reality we are part of the professional services provider world with the physician, the lawyer, and the dentist among others who are downtown and very far away from the language maquiladoras where some want us to live.
I was a direct client, in this case a direct patient, who entered a professional services relationship with the professional to deliver the dental care. I paid a professional fee for the service rendered, and I was treated like a valuable individual. The fact that I met the dentist from the get go, made me feel comfortable and safe, even in a place as scary as a dental office with all of its sounds and smells. I had peace of mind throughout the entire episode because I always felt, and knew, that I was dealing with the person who knew what needed to be done: the professional dentist.
My friends and colleagues, this is exactly what we need to do every day. We have to deal with the client directly, we need to get them to experience the abysmal difference between on one hand dealing with a professional interpreter or translator who knows the field, can solve problems, and can deliver a world-class service at a well-deserved and earned world-class professional fee, and on the other hand having to deal with ignorant front desk individuals, monolingual agency owners, and unscrupulous multinational entities who many times charge as much as a real top-notch professional interpreter or translator and pocket most of it while paying the timid, scared or mediocre individual who translated the documents or interpreted the event a fee that even a beggar would consider an insult; and on top of all that, they see them as customers in a made-up industry, instead of clients getting a professional service.
A visit to a dentist in Mexico City motivated me to reaffirm my commitment to the profession, and inspired me to continue to practice a professional service without falling for those self-serving sophisms spreading the idea that we are not professionals but part of an “industry”. At this time of the year when most people make New Year’s determinations, I ask you to join me on this commitment to defend the profession and our livelihood from these outside forces who want to vanish the idea that a professional works and acts like that dentist who I met in Mexico City last week. I now invite you to share your comments on the issue of how you are educating your clients about the big differences and huge risks of hiring a “maquiladora interpreter or translator” from the “industry” instead of a professional.
July 29, 2013 § 11 Comments
I wanted to write about language service providers for some time, but it wasn’t until this morning when a colleague shared his story with me that I finally decided to sit down and do it. An interpreter was hired by an agency to provide his professional services for a 2-hour administrative court hearing. Phone calls and e-mails were exchanged, a fee was agreed upon, and the interpreter received the necessary materials and information from the agency representative; there was even an automated confirmation telephone call three days prior to the event. Everything looked normal. On the afternoon before the scheduled event, the interpreter received an automated e-mail informing him that the hearing had been cancelled. Because the notice was received less than 24 hours before the scheduled start of the assignment, this interpreter prepared and sent an invoice to the agency for his 2-hour fee. Of course, he had been offered another assignment that he turned down, because he was already booked, just the day before he received the cancellation notice. Sounds familiar right? I think there may be an unwritten “universal law” that says that every time an interpreter gets a job he will get one or more offers for the same day afterwards. I know you all know what I am talking about. Let’s get back to our story. Of course, my colleague was not thrilled since he was only going to make the equivalent to a two-hour job and he couldn’t get any other assignment for that day, but that is the “price” of doing business. This is the risk we all take when we chose the freedom of working as a freelancer. To his surprise, and mine when I heard the story, the agency representative contacted him right away to let him know that he was not going to be paid anything because the assignment had not taken place. The “less than 24 hour notice” of cancellation didn’t mean anything to them. Of course he will fight this battle and already started the process by going to a collections agency, but it made me remember another event that happened to me some months ago.
A colleague and I worked an event for an agency we had worked for before; they have had all of our information, including fee schedules, for years. We did the event, our performance was great, the agency’s client was very satisfied, and everything went as expected by the agency. I sent my invoice later on that same week, and life continued. About 2 or 3 weeks later I got an e-mail from a representative of the interpretation agency. I was a little surprised as I did not recognized her name, but the real surprise came when I read the text of the mail. This is what she wrote:
“Dear Mr. Rosado: We received your invoice… for processing. Thank you. After reviewing the invoice it came to our attention that you had made a mistake. The total for your invoice is the equivalent to 16 hours of work. The event was 8 hours long (each day)… but you worked 4 hours each day and Mr. (my colleague’s name) worked the other 4. …Therefore, I ask you to please file an amended invoice reflecting the hours you actually worked…”
After I recovered from an anger attack, I wrote her back, copying her boss, explaining her how we work and how we bill, and eventually I got an apology letter and a check for the right amount. There had been no mistake in this case. She turned out to be a new employee and It was all due to her ignorance of the profession.
I have had these annoying experiences with agencies, but for the most I’ve had a good career as far as my dealings with interpretation and translation agencies. Of course I know this is what many of you have experienced, so I will try to explain why these entities act this way, and I am going to share with you my solution to the “bad agency syndrome.”
(1) First: Not all agencies are created equal. There are agencies that you want to work for because they are good and professional. They are usually the ones with the best clients, the more relevant events. I am referring to the premier conference interpreting agencies that operate nationwide and worldwide. They offer the whole package to their client: the best equipment, the most comfortable booths, all-star technicians, and the best interpreters. They work with you, pay on time, pay well, and treat you like a professional.
(2) A different type of agency, also big (sometimes huge) and universal, is the one that provides telephonic services or in-person services at administrative federal courts. They have a lot of work; some of them trade in the stock market, and offer an average to below-average interpretation service to their client. They are popular and well liked by their clients because they provide the service at a moderate price, can offer the volume and variety of languages that nobody else can. They usually have administrative support staff that deals with the interpreters, pay very little, and don’t pay as quickly as the industry’s average. Their interpreters tend to be of a less-than average professional quality, very new to the profession, and in some cases they even work from outside the United States.
(3) Then you have the mid-size agencies who work regional or local markets. These agencies handle many events, some of them are conferences, others are not but they still call them conferences. These agencies also provide other services at the regional level such as medical interpreting, out-of-court legal interpreting, and in some markets even in-court interpreting services. These agencies aren’t big corporations; they are often a small firm or even a family business. This is the group where you must be very careful because there are some excellent agencies that provide the same or almost the same services that the big ones offer, including equipment and the highest quality interpreters (because for many reasons, the good ones are not always busy working with the big corporate agencies) but you also have many mediocre agencies that are this size. The problem is that they offer poor equipment, no equipment, low-level technicians, no technicians, and, for the most part, interpreters that don’t belong in the “A” list. They are usually staffed by poorly- paid employees with little experience, deal with clients that some times are not reliable, pay very low interpreter fees, don’t always pay on time, tend to ignore invoices for minimum guaranteed interpreter time or cancellation fees, and sometimes just don’t pay the interpreter. They often work with interpreters with no academic or professional training, and are very defensive when asked about their practices.
(4) Finally we have the small interpretation services provider. These are agencies that operate at the local level; many of them owned by an individual who sometimes is an interpreter, translator, or a relative of one of them. Many of them do business from their living rooms, have a mailing address at the UPS Store, and “train” their own interpreters because they cannot afford higher quality professionals due to the pay they offer or the type of assignments they hire their interpreters for. Sometimes they offer equipment, usually portable, work “desk-top” community events they refer to as “conferences,” contract with local medical facilities and administrative law attorneys, pay less than anybody else (with the exception of some of the telephonic agencies above) and treat their interpreters like journeymen instead of professionals.
I have heard many of my colleagues when they complain about these agencies. My solution, not to eliminate all possible problems, because that can’t happen, but to prevent most of them and mitigate the nefarious effects is as follows:
Try to work for the first group I mentioned. There will be times when a mistake will occur, like in my story above, but they are few and can be promptly fixed. Sometimes you may need to better yourself to get to those jobs; if that is the case, go do it! This comparative essay should be your motivation to do it. You should also work for the first ones I mentioned under number 3. They are often as good as group one, only smaller. The main problem you will encounter in this group is that they will have less events and therefore you will have more competition among the top-quality interpreters who will try to get these assignments. Stay away from the second group I mentioned under number 3. Do not let them sell you the “lemon car.” But…if for some reason you said “yes” to one of their assignments, put everything in writing, save all communications, and be ready to take them to the collections agency or before a judge if needed.
I would stay away from the agencies mentioned in number 2. However, if you have to work for them, negotiate a better rate than the one they will offer, and I mean a BETTER rate, not another $20.00 per hour. In all likelihood they will not hire you, but if for some reason they ever do, you will not be hurting yourself or the profession by accepting peanuts for professional work.
Avoid the ones in group 4 like the plague. Conditions in this group of agencies will never get better and on top of giving away your work in exchange for almost nothing, you will be hurting your reputation every time you work for one of them. Stop before your professional name is beyond repair.
Remember, there are excellent agencies out there but you need to do your homework and you need to learn how to say no. One of the most popular comments of many interpreters is: “They are too big, I hate them but I have to do what they want, even if I know it is little money, even if I know they don’t treat me right. I need the money. I can’t quit.” My answer to this dilemma is clear: Don’t work for them. I don’t care how big and powerful they are. You have a way to change what they pay you: stop returning their calls and emails. The moment you do this they are out of your life. No more suffering. No more humiliation. They are gone. The best part: Now you will have no choice but to become a better interpreter or translator so you can be hired by better agencies, directly by your clients, or you will have the freedom to start your own business. Let your refusal to work for them be your motivation to improve. You will face hard times for a short period of time, but it will not take you long to start making a better income because you will discover that when you are used to work for peanuts and you decide to stop, any decent interpretation job will provide you a better income.
The cure to the “bad agency syndrome” is very simple; it is like smoking: It is harmful, just quit!
November 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
Durante años he visto como muchos de nuestros colegas en el desempeño de su trabajo consultan diccionarios bilingües que no son jurídicos. Esto es algo que siempre me ha molestado inmensamente por ser abogado e intérprete. Nunca he podido entender la lógica de consultar un diccionario bilingüe inglés<>español cuando se desconoce un término o una figura jurídica. Claro que puede haber contadas ocasiones en que el diccionario bilingüe ordinario resuelva el problema, pero en la inmensa mayoría de los casos no será así. De hecho, el buen intérprete sabe, o al menos debería saber, que para poder interpretar correctamente cualquier tema, en este caso una diligencia judicial o algún otro tipo de acto jurídico, el intérprete necesita primero hacer su tarea: investigar, estudiar y comprender el tema, desarrollar su glosario, y consultar los diccionarios más adecuados para el trabajo en cuestión.
Hay que saber cómo escoger las herramientas para el servicio a proporcionar. Si se trata de un juicio penal, el buen intérprete debe rodearse de las leyes y reglamentos aplicables, los textos necesarios para entender la terminología que se va a utilizar, y los diccionarios jurídicos y diccionarios bilingües jurídicos aplicables al caso en particular dependiendo de los sistemas jurídicos en cuestión. No sirve de mucho un diccionario jurídico de España cuando el caso es de derecho argentino. Igualmente, un diccionario jurídico bilingüe inglés<>español solo puede ayudarnos cuando corresponde a la terminología y sistema jurídico del país en que sucedió el caso o de donde provienen las partes que no hablan inglés.
Yo sostengo que no existe la “interpretación jurídica español<>inglés” como tal. Al menos no la buena interpretación. Nuestro trabajo es especializado. De igual manera que no quisiéramos que el proctólogo nos saque la muela del juicio, no debemos permitir, ni aceptar, casos en los cuales desconocemos la terminología jurídica del país correspondiente a menos que nos preparemos correctamente para ello. Esta preparación implica el uso y la consulta de los materiales adecuados.
También es importante mencionar que debemos tener una terminología y sistema jurídico que sean nuestra “base.” Aquellos que nos sirvan de punto de partida. Para ello sugiero un par de cosas: Si ya hemos decidido especializarnos en algún país de habla hispana en particular, digamos el Paraguay, entonces debemos adquirir conocimientos y libros sobre derecho paraguayo. Por otro lado, si lo que deseamos es tratar de estar en aptitud de prestar nuestros servicios en el sistema y terminología jurídicos más populares en el lugar donde vamos a prestar nuestros servicios primordialmente, entonces hagamos lo mismo respecto a ese sistema y terminología. Por ejemplo México en la mayor parte del país o la República Dominicana en otras áreas de los Estados Unidos.
Yo he optado por el derecho y terminología mexicana (en español) y estadounidense (en inglés) ya que esto también me abre el mercado de abogados y empresas más grande del mundo hispanoparlante. En este sentido, además del texto de las leyes y reglamentos de ambos países y de los tratados y convenciones internacionales obligatorios para ambas naciones, yo recomiendo obtener antes que nada el diccionario jurídico Black’s para la terminología y sistema jurídicos de los Estados Unidos. Para el derecho mexicano sugiero el diccionario de la biblioteca jurídica de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) que es gigantesco, pero afortunadamente podemos consultarlo por internet. Finalmente, yo recomiendo el diccionario jurídico bilingüe de Javier Becerra (2 tomos) publicado por la Escuela Libre de Derecho en la ciudad de México. Hay otros diccionarios jurídicos y bilingües jurídicos muy buenos, que aún cuando no se concentran en la combinación del derecho estadounidense y el mexicano, me han sido de utilidad al resolver problemas de terminología muy reciente o aquella que requiere de adaptación por no tener figura jurídica homóloga en el otro sistema. En este sentido sugiero la segunda edición del nuevo diccionario de Derecho y Procedimientos Penales de Sandro Tomasi.
Les sugiero a mis colegas que verdaderamente quieran “sonar” como abogados al prestar sus servicios de interpretación a mexicanos o en temas de derecho mexicano y derecho de los Estados Unidos, que se basen en estos diccionarios. No cometan el error de basarse en diccionarios o aún peor en manuales o glosarios que traten terminología de otros países, o que hayan adoptado definiciones y terminología basado en lo que se dice en la “mayoría” de los países, o en lo que “se dice aquí en los Estados Unidos.” Aléjense de esa mediocridad. Es esencial que el buen intérprete conozca sus recursos y sepa dónde encontrar lo que necesita. Nuestra profesión ha madurado, con la globalización se ha especializado, y cada día es más competitiva. Dejemos atrás los días en que veíamos a una intérprete presentarse a una declaración bajo protesta (porque en México no se jura, se protesta declarar la verdad) en un despacho de abogados acompañada de libros y manuales que tratan superficialmente la terminología jurídica. Empecemos a tener vergüenza profesional y a entender qué es lo que necesitamos. Una vez que alcancemos esta meta vamos a mejorar nuestra calidad, nuestro ingreso, y evitaremos las burlas a nuestras espaldas por llegar a trabajar en una declaración bajo protesta de un mexicano, que es materia civil, acompañados de un manual genérico que trata de derecho penal. Por favor escriban sus opiniones respecto al uso de estos diccionarios.