July 5, 2022 § Leave a comment
Interpreting is subject to many external factors that can affect the event to be interpreted. Rescheduling and cancelations are not uncommon. Natural disasters, political crises, financial problems, participants’ illness, transportation issues, and even a pandemic can postpone or scratch a conference, a filed motion, a plea agreement, or a dismissal can continue or cancel a court hearing, and technical issues can interrupt, postpone, or cancel any remote event or RSI interpretation.
Most interpreters, and many clients, understand that interpreters sell their time, and the professional-personal nature of the service makes it impossible for an interpreter to work two assignments at the same time. Because postponements and cancelations are common, and this understanding of how interpreters work and generate income is widely known, practically all interpretation agreements have a cancelation clause.
Unfortunately, there is no cancelation policy uniformity. Most interpreters, and their clients, understand that interpreters must be compensated for a last-minute cancelation, fewer agree this compensation should cover more than last-minute changes.
Because interpreters need to prepare for an assignment, a cancelation impacts interpreters beyond missing a day of work; an interpretation quoted fee represents more than the 3 days of interpreting during the conference or trial, it includes the compensation for the time an interpreter devotes to research, study, planning, and practice for the event. The compensation amount must be linked to the time already spent on the assignment. Complex cases require more preparation, so the compensation must reflect it. Let’s see: A three-day technical, scientific, or specialized conference canceled four weeks before the scheduled start should command higher compensation than a routinary three-day conference, on the same topic, held every year. On the first case a fair compensation could be eighty percent of the agreed fee. Compensation for the second conference, with the same advanced notice, could be fifty percent of the originally agreed fee. Cancelation of a scheduled interpretation received by the interpreter over eight weeks before the event should carry no monetary compensation unless the subject of the conference caused interpreters to begin preparations before that date.
In all cases, the client needs to reimburse the interpreter for all disbursed expenses to the notice of cancelation. This includes airplane or train tickets, hotels, car rentals. Immunizations, Covid tests, photocopies, printing of materials, long distance phone calls, etc.
The situation is more complicated when clients, in good faith, because they want to keep the professional relationship with the interpreter, send a notice of cancelation of the event, and send notice of another assignment for the same dates of the now cancelled event. Under this scenario, clients expect interpreters to cover assignment two on the same terms they were originally retained to interpret assignment one. Clients believe they have protected the interpreter because no work day was eliminated. Many interpreters think the same way.
That is not the case: Although the interpreter will work on the same dates and will make the same money he was expecting from interpreting assignment one, the interpreter needs to prepare for assignment two, a different conference requiring research, study, planning, and practice. The originally quoted fee included preparation for that assignment. Using the same fee for assignment two would mean that the interpreter will now research, study, plan, and practice with no compensation. This is unacceptable.
Interpreters need to understand that the original agreement, the meeting of the minds on services and fees, ended with the notice of cancelation. Even though the client has proposed a different job for the same dates, the interpreters are entitled to compensation for their preparation for the original conference and to reimbursement of expenses. The client has now made a new offer for a different assignment, and fees must be negotiated from the beginning. Once the interpreters assess the complexity of assignment number two, they can quote a fee for that interpretation. The fee should factor in there were no vacated dates from the first assignment, but it has to include preparation tasks for the new event. Once the parties agree, there will be a new interpreting services contract for the second assignment. If the interpreter is hired for the second conference, an adjustment to the cancelation fee for the original contract reflecting there were no vacated dates is appropriate. The goal is to be compensated for all work performed inside and outside of the booth (or virtual booth) and to respect the client by negotiating in good faith and only charging for professional services rendered.
March 22, 2022 § 15 Comments
We are constantly showered with comments and opinions on the way conference interpreters should charge for their services. Even though this is an issue settled long ago, some newcomers to the world of conference interpreting, mainly distance interpreting platforms and language agencies, are attempting to drop our professional business model and replace it with something that works for them, not the client or the interpreter.
Freelance professional conference interpreters have always charged by the day, but in the last two years, agencies and others who come from the world of community interpreting are trying to impose their system and offer to pay by the hour.
Court interpreters, healthcare interpreters, social services interpreters, and all other community interpreters are paid by the hour. That is a different business model that does not work for conference interpreting because the interpreting service is very different.
All community interpreters do a very important and difficult job; they work under conditions no conference interpreter would ever agree to, like noisy courtrooms, small confined areas in hospitals, and some clients who do not know, understand, or appreciate their work.
These is all true and admirable; however, community interpreters do the same type of work every day, often they even do the same repeatedly. Because of the repetitious nature of the task, and the similarities of all the assignments, they usually need little preparation. Court and healthcare interpreters often show up to courthouses and hospitals without even knowing what they will interpret that day. You arrive to court and then you know if your first assignment of the day is a divorce hearing, a felony arraignment, or a sentencing hearing. You do the job, and then you are assigned to another interpretation task. Yes, there are complicated cases and situations, and responsible interpreters try to learn the details of the assignment; yes, there is specialized terminology and procedures, but once you know them, by study or by repetition, all new cases will be an opportunity to apply what you already know.
But conference interpreter is different every day. Interpreters study, research, and practice for every assignment. Yesterday’s assignment was on mining, tomorrow’s will be on agriculture, and next week it will involve international trade. In average, conference interpreters prepare for two to two and a half days for each day they spend in the booth. Unlike community interpreting assignments, they face a very knowledgeable audience in a room where, even after all their study and preparation, they know the topic the least.
Community interpreting assignments that require little or no preparation can be paid by the hour with a minimum fee system. Often interpreters do not even work because court cases get dismissed, continued or settled, and patients do not show up for a doctor’s appointment. A guaranteed two-to-four-hour minimum fee seems like a fair agreement when interpreters set aside their time for an assignment that required no advanced preparation and did not happen.
Conference interpreters always work. Their conferences do not get canceled or postponed. Conference interpreters save a day for a client knowing they must prepare and work, even for distance interpreted events.
The community interpreting business model of charging by the hour with a minimum guaranteed works for court, healthcare and other similar assignments, but it is not a valid business model for conference interpreting.
With the arrival of Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) many language agencies around for many years making their living in court and healthcare interpreting saw an opportunity to expand into a field new to them. Even those who claim they were always offering conference interpreting services, in reality were providing community interpreting with portable equipment or a table top. They imposed their community interpreting business model to conference interpreting and that did not work.
RSI also brought many court and healthcare interpreters to conference interpreting. These interpreters, used to charge by the hour, saw nothing abnormal when their known business model was offered to them in the world of conference interpreting. Some platforms saw this and followed by applying this impossible model to conference work performed by these community interpreters.
It must be understood that conference interpreting cannot be paid by the hour as determined by a business model that does not consider the reality of conference work. Veteran conference interpreters, and new colleagues who know and understand the profession, reject this model as it fosters complacency and lack of preparation to make a living on such unrealistic terms. Some will tell you that conference and community interpreting are not that different. The ones making that argument are usually community interpreters or agencies/platforms seeking a higher profit in conference interpreting, not the best human talent.
We often hear interpreters need to adapt to the changing times. That is true and expected; however, adapting to the new reality means mastering distance and hybrid conference interpreting instead of demanding in-person interpreting for all events. It does not mean accepting a new business model that does not consider the services rendered by a conference interpreter, imposed by business entities who want to expand beyond the world of community interpreting.
May 12, 2016 § 2 Comments
Throughout the years I have written about educating the client, I have shared with all of you my ideas as to how we can make an assignment a total success and leave the client with the unshakable idea that interpreter fees are not an expense but an investment.
Not long ago, a colleague suggested that I write about those relatively common occasions when you work for a client for the first time, he has worked with other interpreters before, and the interpreter who was in that booth before you, the only other interpreter that your client ever met, was the pits.
Obviously, we all know how the story ends if everything goes as planned: The client will love our work and will never go back to mediocrity. Unfortunately, in many cases this requires of an extraordinary effort and a lot of patience on our part.
The first thing we need to determine is whether or not the former interpreter was really bad, or it is just one of those cases where the client did not get along with our colleague.
I would begin by asking many questions about the interpreter’s performance. I would find the right questions for the specific client so that, without getting him to feel uncomfortable, the following question marks get an answer: Was he professional? Was he honest? Did he know how to interpret? Was he good at problem solving and communication? Then, I would ask around. Talk to the client’s staff; seek their opinion. Ideally, if the equipment company is the same one they had in the past, ask the technicians. They always know what is going on.
If you do all of this, and your conclusion is that the interpreter was not a bad professional, and that the only problem was a conflict of personalities with the client, then you will have to do very little as far as educating the client on how to furnish materials, finding the right location for the booth, discussing speaker’s etiquette, and so on. In this situation your challenge will be to either adjust to the particular tastes and demands of the client (to me this is not the best scenario) or, if possible, find common ground with the client, get him to trust you, and develop a professional relationship based on honesty and mutual respect.
On the other hand, if you conclude that the last interpreter was incompetent, the first thing you will need to figure out is why he was bad. It is only then that you can start the client’s education.
Interpreters are bad or mediocre for many reasons, but some of the most common ones are: (1) They work for an agency that despises quality and is only concerned with profitability; (2) They lack talent or knowledge about the profession; (3) They worked under bad conditions, such as poor quality equipment or alone in the booth; and (4) They were afraid.
If the prior interpreter worked for one of those agencies we all know, and you are now working with the client through another agency, the education must emphasize the fact that not all agencies provide a mediocre service, which usually includes mid-level to low-level interpreters. That you, and all top-notch professionals would never work for such a business, because you only keep professional relationships with reputable interpreting agencies who take pride on the service they provide, including very well-paid top interpreters with significant experience. If you happen to be working with a direct client, then take advantage of this opportunity to sing the praises of eliminating the middleman. Go into detail on the way you prepare for an assignment, how you choose your team of interpreters, and make sure that the client knows where every cent of the money he is paying you goes. Only then you will be able to prove him what we all know: interpreters make a higher fee when working directly with the client, and the client spends less because the intermediary’s commission is eliminated.
If you determine that the interpreter who was there before you, was an individual who did not have enough experience, preparation, or frankly, he did not have what it takes to be a real professional interpreter, explain this to your client and take this opportunity to educate him on the qualities that are needed to work in the booth. Show him all the years of experience and preparation that have allowed you to work at your present level, share with him the complexities of the interpreting task; convince him of how an ignorant individual could never do the job correctly; and finally, tell him that interpreting is like singing or dancing: It is an aptitude a person is born with and it needs to be developed and improved. Try to convey the fact that there is something else, difficult to put into words, that interpreters are born with.
When you conclude that the previous interpreters had to work under bad conditions, you must explain to the client the importance of having the appropriate environment for an impeccable rendition. Explain how the interpreter cannot do his job if, due to the poor quality of the interpreting equipment, he cannot hear what the speaker said. Convince him of placing the booth where the interpreters can see and hear everything that will be going on. Make sure that the client understands that there are many ways to save money during a conference: a different caterer or at least a menu less ostentatious; a different ground transportation service; a less expensive band for the dance; but never a lesser quality interpreting and sound equipment; never a lesser quality, cheaper interpreter team, because this is the only expense that will make or break a conference. A conference with the best food, at the most magnificent venue, with a sound and interpreting equipment that does not work, will be a failure. The audience will not be able to hear or understand the speaker they paid for and came to see. They will come back to a second conference when the food was prepared by the second best chef in town, or the event took place in the second nicest convention center, but they will never be back to a second conference when they could not understand what the main speaker said during the first one because the equipment did not work, or the interpreter was exhausted from working alone in the booth. The client needs to hear this to be able to understand the importance of your working conditions.
Finally, when your conclusion is that the interpreter did a mediocre job because he was afraid, then you have to explain this to the client, and educate him on the benefits of having experienced interpreters in the booth: Professionals who have been through it all, and know how to prevent an incident or solve a problem. Tell the client how these interpreters exude confidence and will never have a panic attack on the job. Make it clear to your client that interpreting for a famous individual or on a difficult subject is intimidating, and only self-confident professionals can assure the success of an event of such magnitude.
In many ways, getting to the assignment after the client has gone through a bad experience will help your cause. You will find a more receptive individual, and you will have a point of reference; something to quote as an example of the things that should not happen. I now invite you to share your comments and suggestions about other ways to take advantage of this type of situation when you come to the job as a second choice because the first one did not work out.