You Are So Much More Than Just an Interpreter

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Although much remains to be done, in fifty years we have gone a long way towards accomplishing what took medicine, for instance, some 25 centuries to achieve: turning into a recognised profession based on a recognised discipline taught at recognised academic institutions.

It is not that we are more intelligent, industrious or cunning than physicians. Simply, we were born in the age of mass communication and have a profession whose time had come even before its first practitioners had ever tried their tongue at it. Let us remind ourselves, nonetheless, that even now, there are few if any professional conference interpreters into and from most languages.

I am not talking about Aymara or Hausa, but of languages no more exotic than Finnish or Greek. The International Tribunal to Judge Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia has had to go practically through the same motions as the Nuremberg trials, except that now it has a core of veteran professionals to rely upon for organising and training its interpreters.

Still, what will happen if the Hutu and Tutsi victims of the genocide in Rwanda ever get their chance to testify before such a court as well? For all practical purposes, we have established ourselves firmly only in Europe and North America, and then only for the more international languages, those that were spread by missionaries sailing in battle fleets back then or by sheer economic weight now. It matters little that more people speak Swahili than Japanese, or that more countries speak Portuguese than German. In this "patent age of new inventions for killing bodies and for saving souls, all propagated with the best intentions", as Byron saw it at the onset of the industrial revolution that made us, professional interpreters, possible, the international, i.

Back in the 70's if you knew internationally weighty languages and had nothing more profitable to do, you could always try and become an interpreter. And if you chanced to have a language combination that was more in demand than in supply, you could more or less count on recruiters tending to overlook some details of performance that otherwise would have caused the door to be slammed in your face.

Of those legendary pioneers of the profession, only the best, the ones whose names survive in our collective professional memory truly had the extra-linguistic qualifications that present-day interpretation schools demand as a matter of course from every candidate. Back then you just bumped into the profession. Now, if you know international languages, as every other regular professional, you choose it and - perhaps even more importantly - through an ever increasing number of ever more proficient schools and the mere existence of such a professional organisation as AIIC - it chooses you.

My personal case is illustrative of the points made above. Not for a moment did I suspect that I would eventually thrive at a profession I had never heard of. You see, I happen to come from the South, the Third World, the Under-developing Countries - if from one with a most promising future behind her, such as Argentina. Ever tried to make a living by teaching and translating poetry in any of the odd countries belonging to the group of 77?

Luckily enough, my parents had sent me to an English school and the ex-USSR bestowed upon me a most generous scholarship, which allowed me to imbibe two cultures and learn their languages. So with my dreams somewhat shattered but my languages blossoming, I rushed into accepting a position as a Spanish translator with the UN, where I met a host of colleagues more or less similarly salvaged from sundry professional wrecks.

They cajoled me into joining their ilk, which after a most unsuccessful attempt and a half I managed to do.


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So did I become a simultaneous conference interpreter by sheer dint of negative serendipity: a scholarship sought just to get out of Buenos Aires, an underdeveloped country that had no use for my qualifications, a language not weighty enough to have enough people capable of translating into it from Russian, an Organisation that needed passive Russian so badly that it would make believe I passed the exam the second time around if I would only promise to try and learn to interpret. My original intention was to stay for some two years and then return to my native landscape, but I stayed on, blabbering away for some twenty years, until life played upon me another of her friendly mischievous tricks.

But it came to pass and here I am upwards of four waltzing years with the crown and sceptre of Chief Interpreter at the United Nations Office at Vienna. Once an interpreter, of course, forever an interpreter, so I now have managed to earn the distrust of les uns et les autres as either a son-of-a-bitch of an administrator or a pain-in-the-neck of an interpreter. It is in such a dual capacity that I talk to you about the stormy expanse of interpretation as seen from the murky heights of management.

You all know more or less what it is to be an interpreter: it is roughly like being a translator, except that you are more visible, travel more often and can be more lax with your subjunctives. So I am going to tell you what it is like to be a recruiter. When you are a recruiter, it becomes immediately apparent that interpretation is an overpriced, unreliable and not really all that necessary service provided somewhat grudgingly by notoriously testy specimens who count minutes the way Scrooge counted gold coins.

What is more vexing, though, is how much it costs you to bring in from far away someone who is going to give you nothing but trouble, and how much an irritatingly minute binding agreement, the likes of which no other group of temporary hands in your Organisation has, ties your hands and sets you at odds with those who pay you and demand more service for less money. You cannot understand why interpreters insist on living elsewhere and how come everybody else seems to be vying to recruit them at the same time, even though you know that they are as arrogant as they are incompetent.

Yes, incompetent, otherwise they would not be complaining every time they do not have a document, or about a speaker going too fast or the slides being projected on the wrong wall; nor would delegates complain so often about not hearing in translation the cognates they expect. These people travel all over the world, make more money than you, work 25 hours a week at most, and all because they were simply smart enough to put to profitable use those languages you know every bit as well, if not better, except that you actually chose to work for a living.

As any caricature, my appraisal above contains more than a grain of truth. Most people who listen to and administer interpreters are notoriously ignorant of what it takes to be one. It is not their fault: they cannot be blamed for believing what most of us believed before interpretation school or life taught us otherwise, to wit, that all it takes is indeed to know a couple of foreign languages.

And that knowing foreign languages is a relatively easy thing: it is enough to have studied them somewhere. As to the interpreter's mother tongue If our clients and administrators are so uneducated, we have no one to blame but ourselves, since such education must, of necessity, be theoretical, in the sense that it should be a coherent, systematic and faithful verbalization of experience, an explanation of practice, or, as Marx put it when defining science, praxis made awareness.

Only interpreters can understand what it really takes to be one, but not that many can also convincingly explain it to the layman in the Administration. And that is why it helps so much to have such an interpreter - someone who knows when to stand unconditionally behind his staff and who can equally tell when an interpreter is just, well And now for more matter with less art. I shall speak as a professional interpreter now in charge of administering an Interpretation Section at the UN.

How much of my experience can be adequately extrapolated to other recruiters, within and without the United Nations system and the whole realm of international organisations, I do not know, but I suspect there is more convergence than there are divergences. From a strictly administrative view point, my job is to provide the most service for the least money. My bottom-line financial figure is the unit cost : the average amount my Organisation has to pay in order to have a body in the booth for a day.

Unless there is a huge pool of locally available freelancers with the right language combinations which, in the case of the UN languages, is true only in Geneva and Paris , or a large body of staff interpreters which is not the case in Vienna , an interpreter can cost more than he actually gets. The unit cost will be lower if, besides avoiding non-local recruitment, I can plan my resources in such a way as to obtain maximum productivity.

This, in turn depends on organisers being able to state their needs accurately, which is not always the case. For administrative, financial and statistical purposes, my interpreters are but figures in the budget and names on the assignment sheets. But we all know that not all interpreters are equal. Now my permanent interpreters I am saddled with; it is my freelancers I can choose. Let me tell you, then, on what basis. The three main criteria are quality , versatility and overall professionalism. Quality is more than a merely linguistic concept. Let me start with the most obvious. Many an interpreter knows his languages inside and out, misses nothing, makes no serious mistakes, and yet does not quite succeed in interpreting altogether satisfactorily.

The main problem is too much of an obsession with words and not enough attention to sense. I can always tell when an interpreter is too much in thrall to words: he is the one talking too much, too fast, and more monotonously; the one whose speech reeks so much of translationese that I can guess in no time what language he is interpreting from. I prefer professionals who are prone to talk less and say what really counts, idiomatically, with elegance, precision, natural intonation and poise.

Encrypted Translation

I find it difficult to put up with practitioners who sound bored and boring, or have a halting delivery, or scarcely pause to take breath and then at the wrong places. In that, I am irritated by the same things that irk any listener in any speaker. I want my interpreters to be top-notch communicators. Versatility is also important. I try to avoid relay at all costs.

Other things being equal, the first interpreters to get the offers are those with more relevant passive languages. He who has both passive Spanish and Russian in the English or French booth, the few Spanish russifiants , the few Russian hispanisants , Arabic and Chinese interpreters with both English and French, and, whenever possible, Spanish.

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Colleagues equally at ease in two booths come next. The third crucial consideration is professionalism. This in turn involves several series of factors, having to do respectively with the interpreter's attitude towards his audience , his colleagues , and me. I shall start with the interpreter's professional attitude towards his audience. A decisive factor is, of course, thorough preparation for a meeting. Then, I seek honesty : if the interpreter has not understood something or is not sure about anything he deems essential, I want him to say so over the microphone and let his audience decide whether they want to stop the speaker and ask him to repeat.

Next I treasure a user-friendly professional; someone who is constantly mindful of his audience's specific needs, who will strive to find out what they are and then tailor his approach accordingly. A professional who will ascertain, for instance, whether his clients want the amendments translated, verbatim , or both; require help from the booth with their own amendments, or can use a gloss.

As to the interpreter's booth manners , let me stress punctuality , constant presence in the booth , and helpfulness towards his colleagues , especially when working with a beginner or someone with no previous experience with a specific meeting. More decisive than most outsiders make it is personal hygiene. Lastly, I look for a sociable personality. Ours is a small team and people work better and more happily when they like and trust each other: emmerdeurs are low on my priority list.

Step 1: Begin with the Basics

Some interpreters have added responsibilities. The English booth, in particular, which is normally in direct contact with both Chairman and Secretary of a meeting, must be mindful of any problems their colleagues in other booths may encounter. It should constantly monitor the proceedings and take prompt action whenever necessary, for instance, asking the chairman to slow down a runaway speaker or to provide a missing document.

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But the main pillars of a team are pivots - in particular Arabic and Chinese interpreters. I seek natural, idiomatic, rhetorically and communicatively competent retour. Regardless of the difficulties he may have with the original, it is the pivot 's responsibility to ensure that his colleagues will be spared a halting, incoherent speech. A pivot who does not interpret with those who must relay from him primarily in mind is wanting both as an interpreter and as a colleague.

Lastly, I want my people to be good to me. Crucially, I seek interpreters who will be ready to make an extra effort and help me out when I am up a tree, even - or rather especially - if it is through my own fault. All this, of course, must be weighed against costs.

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Will I hire a local who is not as good as a non-local just to save money? If the difference in quality is less than the difference in money, yes. What do I and those of my counterparts I know offer in return for quality, professionalism and solidarity? In Vienna, for one, interpreters are not only allowed but encouraged to stop a meeting if the relevant documentation is not available in the booths, as well as to proceed to trim or, if the worst comes to the worst, even stop interpreting altogether if an interpretation of truly professional quality becomes impossible.

This, I submit, is essential: A physician would refuse to operate if some basic conditions are not met; mutatis mutandis , the same applies to any professional, and there is absolutely no reason for interpreters to be an exception. The UN system has probably ceased to be the biggest recruiter of interpreters; that honour falls now to the EU and the European Parliament with their demential language requirements. The UN system market is, alas, shrinking.

There are three main reasons for this: one is political, another financial, and a third one academic. After the first crisis in , recruitment of freelance interpreters by the United Nations Office at Geneva, for instance, plummeted from some 8, days a year to below 5,, and it has never picked up since.

Another financial earthquake occurred in September , but this time around, and contrary to popular belief, the root causes were entirely political: With the collapse of the USSR our world has become unipolar. Best Seller. Universal Studios Japan 1 Day Pass. Special Offer. Re: I want an Interpreter.

Reply to: I want an Interpreter. Read our community guidelines. Get notified by e-mail when a reply is posted. Ask a question. Still safe to travel to hongkong? See All China Conversations. How's China Southern Airline? Hotels travelers are raving about Royal View Hotel.

Read reviews. The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel. Cordis, Hong Kong. Park Plaza Wangfujing. Royal Plaza Hotel. Grand Hyatt Macau. Hotel ICON. Galaxy Hotel. Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing. All hotels in China These markets are not mutually exclusive. Founded in , its membership includes more than 2, professional conference interpreters, in more than 90 countries. Judicial, legal, or court interpreting occurs in courts of justice, administrative tribunals, and wherever a legal proceeding is held i.

Language interpretation

Legal interpreting can be the consecutive interpretation of witnesses' testimony, for example, or the simultaneous interpretation of entire proceedings, by electronic means, for one person, or all of the people attending. In a legal context, where ramifications of misinterpretation may be dire, accuracy is paramount. Teams of two or more interpreters, with one actively interpreting and the second monitoring for greater accuracy, may be deployed. The right to a competent interpreter for anyone who does not understand the language of the court especially for the accused in a criminal trial is usually considered a fundamental rule of justice.

Therefore, this right is often guaranteed in national constitutions, declarations of rights, fundamental laws establishing the justice system or by precedents set by the highest courts. However, it is not a constitutionally required procedure in the United States that a certified interpreter be present at police interrogation. In the US, depending upon the regulations and standards adhered to per state and venue, court interpreters usually work alone when interpreting consecutively, or as a team, when interpreting simultaneously.

In addition to practical mastery of the source and target languages, thorough knowledge of law and legal and court procedures is required of court interpreters. They are often required to have formal authorization from the state to work in the courts — and then are called certified court interpreters.

Incompetent interpretation, or simply failure to swear in the interpreter, can lead to a mistrial. In escort interpreting, an interpreter accompanies a person or a delegation on a tour, on a visit, or to a business meeting or interview. An interpreter in this role is called an escort interpreter or an escorting interpreter.

This type of interpreting is often needed in business contexts, during presentations, investor meetings, and business negotiations. As such, and escort interpreter needs to be equipped with some business and financial knowledge in order to best understand and convey messages back and forth. Also known as community interpreting, is the type of interpreting occurring in fields such as legal, health, and local government, social, housing, environmental health, education, and welfare services. In community interpreting, factors exist which determine and affect language and communication production, such as speech's emotional content, hostile or polarized social surroundings, its created stress, the power relationships among participants, and the interpreter's degree of responsibility — in many cases more than extreme; in some cases, even the life of the other person depends upon the interpreter's work.

Medical interpreting is a subset of public service interpreting, consisting of communication among Healthcare personnel and the patient and their family or among Healthcare personnel speaking different languages, facilitated by an interpreter, usually formally educated and qualified to provide such interpretation services.

In some situations medical employees who are multilingual may participate part-time as members of internal language banks. Medical interpreters are often cultural liaisons for people regardless of language who are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable in hospital, clinical, or medical settings. For example, in China, there is no mandatory certificate for medical interpreters as of They interpret more in academic settings than for communications between doctors and patients. The actual quality of such service for patients or medical translation for communications between doctors speaking different languages is unknown by the interpreting community as interpreters who lack Healthcare background rarely receive accreditation for medical translation in the medical community.

Interpreters working in the Healthcare setting may be considered Allied Health Professionals. In the United States, however, providing a Medical Interpreter is required by law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance. A sign language interpreter must accurately convey messages between two different languages.

The interpreting also happens in reverse: when a deaf person signs, an interpreter renders the meaning expressed in the signs into the oral language for the hearing party, which is sometimes referred to as voice interpreting or voicing. This may be performed either as simultaneous or consecutive interpreting. Deaf individuals also have the opportunity to work as interpreters. In other cases the hearing interpreter may interpret in the sign language, whichever kind of sign language the team knows and the deaf team will then interpret into the language in which the individual can understand.

They also interpret information from one medium of language into another — for example, when a person is signing visually, the deaf interpreter could be hired to copy those signs into a deaf-blind person's hand and add visual information. Some interpreters have been formally trained in an Interpreter Training Program ITP , though this is not always required.

ITP lengths vary, and are usually two or four years to obtain a degree or certificate.

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Graduate programs are also available. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf RID , a non-profit organization, is known for its national recognition and certification process. There are many interpreter-training programs in the U. A list of accredited programs can be found on the CCIE web site. European countries and countries elsewhere have their own national associations of Sign Language Interpreters. The European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters efsli is the umbrella organization of sign language interpreters in Europe. Sign language interpreters encounter a number of linguistic, environmental, interpersonal and intrapersonal factors that can have an effect on their ability to provide accurate interpretation.

Studies have found that most interpreter training programs do not sufficiently prepare students for the highly variable day-to-day stresses that an interpreter must manage, and there is an ongoing conversation in the interpreting field as to how to appropriately prepare students for the challenges of the job. Proposed changes include having a more robust definition of what a qualified interpreter should know, as well as a post-graduate internship structure that would allow new interpreters to work with the benefit of supervision from more experienced interpreters, much like the programs in place in medicine, law enforcement, etc.

It was her paraphrase of the video So-Low , [32] and showed her viewpoint upon the Israeli Sign Language interpreters' jobs. By its very nature, media interpreting has to be conducted in the simultaneous mode. It is provided particularly for live television coverages such as press conferences, live or taped interviews with political figures, musicians, artists, sportsmen or people from the business circle.

All equipment should be checked before recording begins. In particular, satellite connections have to be double-checked to ensure that the interpreter's voice is not sent back and the interpreter gets to hear only one channel at a time. In the case of interviews recorded outside the studio and some current affairs program, the interpreter interprets what he or she hears on a TV monitor. Background noise can be a serious problem. The interpreter working for the media has to sound as slick and confident as a television presenter.

Media interpreting has gained more visibility and presence especially after the Gulf War. Television channels have begun to hire staff simultaneous interpreters. The interpreter renders the press conferences, telephone beepers, interviews and similar live coverage for the viewers. It is more stressful than other types of interpreting as the interpreter has to deal with a wide range of technical problems coupled with the control room's hassle and wrangling during live coverage.

Interpreting services can be delivered in multiple modalities. The most common modality through which interpreting services are provided is on-site interpreting. Also called "in-person interpreting" or sometimes colloquialized as "face-to-face", this delivery method requires the interpreter to be physically present in order for the interpretation to take place. In on-site interpreting settings, all of the parties who wish to speak to one another are usually located in the same place.

This is by far the most common modality used for most public and social service settings.


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