When clients do not provide information in advance.

February 10, 2020 § 4 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

We are expected to accurately interpret all subjects from one language into another, often to an audience that knows the topic, sometimes to people who have devoted their lives to that subject. We meet these expectations and deliver the rendition by performing many complex tasks, among them extensive preparation, including research and study of the topics to be presented during the conference, lecture, workshop, business negotiation, press conference, court hearing, diplomatic summit, etc.

We are professionally trained to research a subject, understand it, prepare glossaries, and study it, but this is not enough. Knowledge in any subject is infinite and it must be narrowed down to the specific themes to be presented or discussed at the event we were hired to interpret. Speakers have different styles and many have done their own research, written books or papers that will be presented, or at least alluded to, often for the first time, during the dissertation.

Due to these facts, the only way we can deliver the best quality service is by studying the presenters’ materials ahead of time.  This means our client must provide this information: documents, videos, audio recordings, for us to prepare, and we need to get them as far in advance as possible.

Documents are very important because that will be the main portion of the lecture; it often includes power point presentations we must review for several reasons: We need to make sure we understand the contents of every slide, that we find the best equivalent terms in the target language; we must pay attention to the information each slide contains because we need to tell the presenter how long the slide needs to stay on the screen before moving on to the next one, to give the audience time to listen to the interpretation and then see the contents of the slide (words, figures, charts, images, quotes, etc.) This is time consuming and it could take interpreters several days to go through the power point presentation.

Videos are difficult to interpret. Sometimes the sound is not very good, or words get lost behind the sounds of very loud music or noise; the speakers on the video may talk too fast, have a heavy accent, use regional expressions, tell a joke or share a sports story. Many speakers choose movie or TV show clips with nothing to do with the conference, because they were chosen as icebreakers or to drive a point across. There are videos of songs also. Interpreters need to study these videos; some must be watched many times. They have to assess the jokes, idiomatic expressions, cultural differences, and sports analogies, and then decide what to do: find a similar joke in the target language, use an equivalent sports story on a sport the audience will relate to, find the best idiomatic expression on the other language to convey the same message using the same register. Sometimes the best solution is to recommend the speaker not to use the video, particularly when there are cultural concerns.  Then, on the day of the event, interpreters need to make sure the video’s volume and quality of sound is the right one for both: the room and the booth.

Audio recordings could be an interpreter’s nightmare, especially in court interpreting where the quality of the sound is less than desirable because many of these audio recordings come from wiretaps, hidden microphones, concealed body microphones, and so on. These recordings are plagued with obscenities, slang, low register speech, and powerful background noises. Interpreters devote endless hours to listening and sometimes decoding what was said. This time-consuming task must be performed ahead of the event so the interpreter knows the recording’s contents and determines what words to use during the rendition. After reviewing the recording an interpreter can suggest to the client to use a transcript of the audio recording, with a written translation into the target language, and either project it on the screen at the same time the audience listens to the recording and the interpreters simultaneous rendition, or to distribute paper transcripts and translations for the audience to follow along the recording.

These arguments should be sufficient for all clients to provide these materials to the interpreting team ahead of time; many knowledgeable, experienced clients do so and the results are evident: a great interpretation. Others are more reluctant, and there are some who unfortunately neglect the interpreters or clearly decide not to provide an iota of information before the event.

Interpreters need to convey to the client the reason they have to see the materials before the assignment; they have to explain that interpreting is a fiduciary profession, that we are bound by a strict duty of confidentiality, and make them see we have no interest in the information past the day of the interpretation. When the client is concerned about intellectual property rights or national security, Interpreters can offer flexibility to the client, and for an additional fee, they can agree to review said materials at the client’s place of business, but always ahead of the event.

All interpreting services contracts must include a provision stating that the client assumes the obligation to provide all requested and needed materials to the interpreters as early as possible, and always before the event.

Even with such a clause, sometimes, interpreters get no materials, get part of them, or they get all materials, but a video or a slide were added at the last minute and the interpreting team learns of this change at the venue, right before the start of the event, or even worse: during the rendition when the slide is shown on the screen or the video is played.

In these cases, professional interpreters have two reactions coming straight from their gut simultaneously: “I will stand up and walk away. I am not interpreting this”, and “I am a professional, the client’s incompetence or negligence it’s not the audience’s fault. I’ll stay and try my best”. Both reactions are good and have value. Let me explain:

The good client will always deliver materials on time, you need not to concern about them, but there are other clients late with the materials, deliver only part of them, and sometimes forget to provide needed information altogether, but they have potential, you want to keep them, and they will improve if you try a little harder. I say give these clients a second chance.

As soon as it is evident they will not provide materials, talk to them and clarify that what they did was wrong, but, because you are a consummate professional, you will try your best and stay and interpret the event even though the final result will not be nearly as good as it would be if the materials were provided. If they fail again on a second event: drop them, you are wasting your time with them, and time is money.

Finally, if your contract calls for client to deliver all requested and needed materials and the client did not comply, when you are not interested on that client, and it was a nightmare dealing with them during the preparations for the event, I would walk out without interpreting, demand payment of my fees, explain to them they breached the professional services contract they had with you, and if they refuse to pay, sue them for your fee plus damages and your attorney’s fees.

On both cases you taught the client a lesson: To the client you want to keep, you tried to educate them and keep them on your list. To the client you never want to see again, you showed them that interpreters are professionals they cannot take advantage of.

I now ask you to please share your thoughts on this important subject.

Translation/Interpretation online groups: A superlative failure in judgment?

January 7, 2013 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

In this modern world where we practice our profession we often encounter resources that help us answer a question, confirm a suspicion, ask for a suggestion, share information, and offer a point of view.  Many of us are taking advantage of the web and constantly visit professional websites, blogs, dictionaries, glossaries, professional chat-rooms, list-serves, and many other sites where we can find tools that in the past were difficult to get.  Just like many of you, I have fully taken advantage of these resources and often post articles and opinions on my blog (www.rpstranslations.wordpress.com), offer links on my professional Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/RPS-Rosado-Professional-Solutions), and provide links to information to those who follow me on Twitter (@rpstranslations).  I also participate in many professional groups and chat-rooms.

I personally find them very useful and interesting. It is fascinating how we can learn from a colleague 14 time zones away by simply writing a comment on a Linked-in professional group.  These practices have helped many of us grow professionally and as business people.  As many of you know, I have posted many times on many groups, chat-rooms, and list-serves that originate all over the world.

My experience has always been positive and useful, however, I have recently come across certain opinions that came very close to limiting the access and usefulness to some of these resources.  There was a translators professional group that was trying to limit postings to one language; an interesting policy for a translators professional group where by definition, those interested should be translators and therefore know at least two languages.  This policy risks losing many participants as a good number of translators feel more comfortable writing in the other language pair instead of the one this group wanted.  This would also limit the reach of the ideas circulated in the group as third-language professionals who otherwise may benefit of a business or good practices posting would now be kept away.  Obviously, this would also discourage many others from participating as the group can be perceived as censoring and controlling what members share just by reason of not using the ONLY language allowed.  Some colleagues defended this position stating that the group is for people who use this specific language, that those who disagree should move on to other groups. I disagree, and fortunately most of those visiting the group agreed with me: This restrictive policy was not adopted. Translators and Interpreters use at least two languages and often use them both.  The failure of this movement made me very happy although I have to say that even though the administrators of this group announced that there would be no censorship, even now this is one of the very few groups on line that still “reviews” your posting before publishing it.

Another even more extreme example of this trend can be found in a different professional group chat-room where the person that moderates it (and obviously runs it) has decided not to include anything that is not strictly about what this person believes is the subject matter of the group.  Let me explain: A few months ago I entered to this group and posted a few articles about the business and ethical aspects of our profession.  Suddenly, all postings (mine and everybody else’s) went away overnight. They were replaced by a notice that this person proudly re-posts several times a week that reads: “Cleaning up discussions on…(the) group.”  It is interesting to note that this group supposedly has 386 members, and after the “clean-up”  all “surviving” postings, going back one year, are by the person who runs and moderates the group; well, there is actually one exception: another person posted the ONLY other posting that survived, and that entry is dated 10 months ago.

I believe that professional groups, chat-rooms, blogs and list-serves should be open to all professionals. Of course there should be a moderator to keep us all focused on a specific topic when posting on a blog (there is another professional group where one of the members constantly posts adds selling shoes, but don’t get me started on that one) and to keep obscenity and useless personal attacks out of the professional discussion; however, limiting access in a linguist group because of the language, and eliminating all relevant entries because they deal with the professional or ethical aspects of our career can result on the demise of said professional groups.  I would like to hear your opinion, particularly that of those who regularly use these cyber-tools.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with review at The Professional Interpreter.