Specialists in oral translation services

Friday, January 25, 2019


By Felix Ordeig, AIB

As conference interpreters we should always be keeping an eye open for the latest technological developments which may have a bearing on our working environment and the manner in which we deliver our professional services.

Technological innovations have disrupted many sectors of our economy—travel, tourism, the hotel industry, the world of entertainment and art and culture (think of music, tv and film) and others, with considerable potential for social conflict (as I write there is a very acrimonious taxi strike affecting many Spanish cities, and bringing some of them to a virtual standstill, as a protest—legitimate or not—against lightly regulated competition from web-based chauffeur-driven private vehicles for hire, which are seen by traditional cab drivers as an existential threat). In this context the chances are that rapid technological change will also lead to some deep transformations in our profession.

The practice of conference interpreting—in simultaneous mode, and that is what I shall be referring to in this post—by and large has not really changed that much in the last few decades, whether it be in international institutions or in the private market. We either work in fixed booths, or in mobile equipment, with sound proofing, using more or less sophisticated consoles with headsets and microphones from which we carry out our work. There are ISO standards for all this equipment, compliance with which provides a guarantee that we are able to deliver the service that we have undertaken to provide. We are usually in the same physical meeting room as our audience, and we should be able to clearly see and listen to the participants, and we will normally be in that booth with at least one or on occasions two colleagues, who are there to share the workload and assist us when necessary—and who will remain attentive to the proceedings. The equipment may be better or worse, and the same of course applies to the quality of sound and vision, though we require, expect and demand the highest standards in both, and to that extent rely on qualified technical support staff (usually very close to our booths, to ensure a quick response in case of glitches) to deliver the quality that our clients pay for and expect. We also require dispatch of documents prior to the event, and the circulation of room papers or e-documents provided during the course of the meeting: to that end a presential liaison with meeting staff is very important.

There are exceptions, of course: we often have to work in another room at the same venue, either because physically it is impossible to set up booths in the meeting room, or because the end-client finds them aesthetically unpleasing—and on those occasions we will be working with screens displaying the speakers and also their presentations. But we will usually be “wired” and not far removed from the meeting room. Or else during our presential meeting we may be called upon, almost always with prior notice, to interpret a remote presentation via Skype or live video; but we will still be in our booths and responsibility for technical crashes will not be ours. There are also circumstances where portable headsets and microphones will be used (Infoport or “bidule” systems), practical for small roving groups of participants visiting a factory, a shopping mall or some other kind of facility—but not suitable at all as a cut-price substitute for soundproofed booths.

From my personal point of view one of the defining concepts of conference interpreting is team work, which is fundamental—more on that later. In fact working on one’s own in simultaneous mode is frowned upon, and should only be contemplated in specific circumstances, such as a very short event (certainly not exceeding one hour).

Nonetheless, as I have said, change is on the horizon—or is here already. Conference interpreting, unlike our sister profession, translation, has up to now not really had to face big changes, as I have just pointed out.

But now Distance Interpreting may well revolutionize the way we work—with some positive and also negative knock-on effects, potentially with considerable consequences for our professional lives.

Distance or Remote technologies are not new—as I have said above we have often been in situations where there was no direct view of participants. They have been used for some time in community interpreting, in the health field above all and also in law courts and police stations, and in many cases interpreters in these fields have found systems imposed on them without having much of a say in how they developed. 

I am only a Conference interpreter (and a bit long in the tooth at that!) not a technical expert in remote or distance systems, nor am I familiarized with the specific terminology, and I am certain that many younger—or even not-so-young—colleagues will know a lot more than I do. In this respect the terms Distance or Remote interpreting would appear to me to be synonymous (but if any reader comes up with a clear and sensible distinction which doesn’t just split hairs I’ll be happy)—and for the sake of clarity from now on I shall refer to Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI).

What is RSI? Well, I’ll take a brief definition off-the-shelf as provided by Rob Davidson, not an interpreter but a UK-based businessman in the Conference sector who has cooperated with our interpreters’ main global professional association in recent years:

“…a technology based system whereby rather than being located in the same room as speakers and delegates, the interpreters are “remote” –operating from a distant site, which can be in the same venue or in another location altogether, in another country, from a hub or even in the interpreters “own office”. He adds: “Over the past few years, a number of commercial enterprises have launched onto the market RSI communication Platforms which provide this alternative to conference interpreters operating from booths located directly in the same room”.

Maybe because of my lack of knowledge, or also because I always jump at the chance to catch up and socialize with friends and colleagues in the profession whose company I enjoy, but with whom there aren’t always many chances to get together—alas, something typical in our line of work—I decided to attend a seminar/workshop on RSI organized by the international professional association I am a member of (AIIC), and to which many practitioners belong. Participants—about 170 of us, mainly from Europe but also with colleagues from the Americas and MENA (Middle East and North Africa)—had the valuable opportunity not only to listen to presentations from commercial RSI platform suppliers and representatives from the Conference and Convention industry, but also to try out for ourselves the equipment and services advertised by the platforms, in a situation which was as realistic as possible (unfortunately limited in time, due to the unexpectedly large numbers of interpreters who by registering had expressed interest in taking part in this test). The workshop organizers had also ensured enough time was allotted at a later stage for colleagues to be able to freely and critically talk about their experience and discuss possible strategies on how to build business relationships with RSI platform providers while at the same time protecting our interests and professional working conditions, toughly won over many years hard bargaining and negotiating with both institutional and private clients.

Now, this post is a personal view, and in no way should it be seen as an attempt to provide minutes or official proceedings, so that is my disclaimer upfront. I had a chance to try out four platform suppliers, though for very short periods.

First a general consideration: There is no “wiring”—success depends very much on the reliability of a powerful internet connection, which is increasingly a viable proposition, and in most cases the sound quality was excellent (though the quality of the visual input did vary quite a bit). Much has changed for the better in the last decade or so: I remember thirteen years ago attending a sales pitch by a fly-by-night operator attempting to interest agencies and interpreters in a primitive RSI system—when a live demonstration was attempted both the sound and internet connection crashed and failed utterly.

I would distinguish between: 1) platforms who provide “hubs” in a given location, from where interpreters will work as at present in a booth, side by side with your colleague providing interpretation to participants in an event which could well be hundreds of kilometres or more away. There would be screens showing both the speaker and the presentations. In some cases even a “classical” console is provided; in this instance there would not be much difference from current practice. There would be technical support on site, so responsibility for possible crashes would or outages would not be laid at the interpreter’s door. In the majority of cases a console is replaced by an “interpreter interface”, normally a laptop: the platforms’ software allows for volume controls, mute, and some other functions. It takes some getting used to, but in life there are always Steep Learning Curves which crop up now and then, and we interpreters are supposed to have flexible mindsets and an ability to adapt to quickly changing circumstances, right?

Model 2) is very different and the one which in my view raises many challenges: the “Dispersal” model as defined by one speaker. It involves RSI with two interpreters in different locations (it doesn’t really matter whether they are one or five hundred miles from each other). The laptop will crucially include a switch-over request, which must be accepted by the remote colleague and a chat function to communicate with remote technical assistance, plus presumably someone from the distant meeting venue to provide presentations as the event progresses. In my view, for the system to function well the interpreter—working from his/her home or an office—would need a second laptop to be able to access documentation and glossaries, as the “interface workstation” would display views of the speaker. The main issue for me and many other colleagues is “cognitive overload”—one would have to simultaneously be interpreting as well as managing the chat function at the same time, which no doubt would add enormous levels of stress to our work. Furthermore, smooth functioning of relay in a multi-language scenario could turn into a nightmare if not carefully catered for.

During the ensuing discussion the main issues which were raised involved questions concerning the considerable risks, reputational and otherwise—such as liability in case of power cuts, poor signal quality, etc.—and therefore the need for robust contractual terms, covering necessary training and certification, liability, remuneration and including questions of copyright protection in instances where interpretation was webcast or recorded. In that respect the specific need for disclaimers was raised. There was much unease at the possibility of losing control and negotiating leverage, and the key principle of interpreting as team work being diluted.

On the upside, I would recognize that if the system works properly it could generate more work for interpreters, as there would be considerable savings for organizers, and events which are currently managed without interpreting because it is seen as too expensive a proposition might use our services, which would be positive as it would also raise awareness of the benefits of multilingualism. On the other hand the savings in costs could be exaggerated for organizers, given the expenditure outlay in using these systems. Furthermore, if interpreters are to work from home, and guarantee a professional service, and avoid the image of “working from their kitchen or in their pyjamas” they would probably have to invest in setting up their own “workstation”, properly sound-proofed and with back up internet connections, which wouldn’t come cheap. 

The tentative conclusions were that RSI is here to stay, but that currently there are many technical issues to be ironed out, and there is a lot of room for considerable improvement in the functioning of RSI platforms to minimize risks (in particular, compliance with frequency responses and latency is a problem) It is essential for interpreters and their associations to enter into a critical dialogue with platforms and providers (quite a few founded or staffed by trained interpreters, by the way) and ensure that our interests are represented and defended, and that we help define future practice to our benefit whilst ensuring that users of our professional services can obtain the same high standards of quality they are used to in an RSI context. Conference Interpreting is a “knowledge based industry” and the main threat we face, that we must understand and combat is “commoditization”, a ghastly word (not mine, I hasten to add, but widely used in discussions).

I shall wind up on two points: firstly by saying that happily in our profession there is a body of expertise, from people who have used these systems, and are fully aware of the potential opportunities they offer…and of the drawbacks, plus others who are very proficient in technical matters and have done a lot of work in helping to define new ISO standards in this field, and finally colleagues who have carried out academic research in the field. Furthermore, in this respect AIIC has very recently published the first version of the “Guidelines on Distance Interpreting”. 

Secondly by making a brief reference to the elephant in the room, though it is not the subject of this post: AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the world of Conference Interpreting; the jury is still out. It could well be a threat to our profession, but even though developments in AI are moving at a quicker pace than many envisaged, it is still a long way off as an effective replacement. 

Useful references

Much has been written on the subject. Here—apart from the “Guidelines” from AIIC—are two documents which were mentioned during the event.

AIIC Guidelines on Distance Interpreting

Platform Abundance 

New technologies for interpreters: An unstoppable wave

Friday, December 28, 2018

News: The Good, the Bad and the Fake

By Maria Pearce, AIB

We all know that knowledge of the subject, context and “general knowledge” are of utmost importance to our work as interpreters.

In his last post, Fernando González wrote about the differences between low context and high-context languages, and the additional difficulties posed by the latter. So, inevitably, as interpreters, we spend a lot of our time gathering information: apart from preparing specifically for our next job, we are unfortunately forced to keep abreast with what is going on in the world.

And I say unfortunately because, for the most part, the stories we read are bad news: natural disasters, terrorist attacks, refugees drowning in the seas, trade wars... We seem to live immersed in a world of fear and uncertainty. Good news, on the other hand is hard to come by, and sometimes I wonder whether anything good ever happens.

Why is there such a flood of bad news? Apparently, bad news sells much better than good news; years ago I read an article which stated "...peoples' interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life. They care much less about what happens around them when they enjoy relative peace and/or relative prosperity."

People like reading bad news and, with positive articles being few and far between, I end up wondering whether the world actually is such a terrible place. This supposedly is the effect of precisely reading so many bad news stories. According to Steven Pinker, cognitive psychologist and linguist, "Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is." So the more negative inputs we receive from the world around us, the greater our feeling of gloom.

Nowadays, news is produced at breakneck speed, and comes from all kinds of sources: traditional media, social media, in fact any person in the world with access to a device can take on the role of a reporter. With an estimated 2.5 billion smart phones users for 2019, there are 2.5 billion ways of seeing and interpreting the world. News no longer spreads top-down, but rather reaches us from all angles, from friends and not-really-friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, just to name a few. We are swept away by a complete information whirlwind.

On top of the overwhelming flow of news, now we find that it may involve real, objective news, but also very subjective interpretations or even deliberately fake news or simply hoaxes.

It can be very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Propaganda has always been around, as have lobbies in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but, in the past, if you had a critical eye and an analytical mind, you could for the most part, at least get a glimpse of the truth behind it. You could analyse, search for the sources, get the information straight from the horse’s mouth; a photograph would serve as evidence of an event. Nowadays you even have fake videos of real people which are notoriously difficult to detect. Just watch this fascinating 7-minute Ted Talk by Supasorn Suwajanakorn to realise what we’re up against.

Fake news comes in all sorts of disguises: people in far-away countries manipulating information in their own interests, paid posts on social media posing as news, or simply fake news writers who churn out loads of junk, which earns them a fortune from page views. What to believe? Who to believe?

How can we read all the news we need to read without being engulfed by a lack of faith in the human race? The key is to take a step back. Do not take things at face value, double check, there are many tools out there to help you, and above all, trust your common sense.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or simply BE happy!

http://www.aifoundation.com/responsibility : Reality Defender, a project to detect fake media.
https://play.cadenaser.com/audio/cadenaser_hoyporhoy_20181217_090000_100000/# : A radio interview (in Spanish) by Pepa Bueno. Carmela Ríos, journalist, explains how political parties use paid posts on social media, passing them off as news, and how we can detect them (minutes 31:15-40:00).    

Monday, November 26, 2018

El contexto y la falta que nos hace

Por Fernando González, AIB

A lo largo de mi dilatada experiencia como intérprete intentando desentrañar y descifrar el arcano significado de mensajes abstrusos, me he preguntado a menudo dónde reside la dificultad a la hora de interpretar.

En función de a qué colega le pregunte uno, la respuesta varía, pero impepinablemente se mencionan los siguientes factores:
  • La velocidad del orador
  • El (mal) acento/pronunciación
  • Los discursos muy técnicos y especializados 
  • Las malas condiciones acústicas
  • El cansancio acumulado (del intérprete)
Tras mucha cavilación he llegado a la conclusión de que además de los mencionados factores —o quizás por encima de todos ellos— el contexto (o su ausencia) es fuente de gran dificultad a la hora de comprender a un orador.

El concepto de alto y bajo contexto lo introdujo el antropólogo Edward T. Hall en su libro "Beyond Culture" y se refiere a la manera en que se comunican las diferentes culturas. En culturas de alto contexto, la comunicación es mayoritariamente implícita. Es decir, el contexto y las relaciones son más importantes que las mismas palabras. Pocas palabras, por ende, son suficientes. En culturas de bajo contexto, por el contrario, el mensaje se comunica casi enteramente por medio de palabras, que, por consiguiente, tienen que ser explícitas. Alto y bajo contexto deben considerarse como un continuo, como se refleja en el siguiente diagrama:
Para entender cómo ocurre esto, hay que entender cómo se procesa la comunicación. Hall lo explica así:

"There is information transferred in and out which I will call 'A'. Plus there is information that is stored in the system that we will call 'B'. It takes these two to make meaning. It takes both the information that is transferred in and out and the stored information, the information in the context, to make meaning".

Así pues, la información interna que usamos para interpretar y entender las cosas se denomina B, mientras que el mensaje en sí se denomina A. Las culturas de alto contexto se basan en las tradiciones, unas relaciones personales muy profundas y una jerarquía asentada. Tienen, pues, mucho más B.

Las culturas de bajo contexto no cuentan con la misma profundidad de tradiciones y las relaciones son más someras, más a corto plazo y requieren, por consiguiente, mucho más A.

Dicho de otro modo: la información principal en culturas de alto contexto se encuentra o bien en el contexto físico o bien es interiorizado por la persona. Una comunicación de bajo contexto es justo lo contrario: lo principal de la información se encuentra en el código explícito.

Otro aspecto relacionado es la percepción del tiempo. Las culturas de alto contexto tienen por lo general una percepción policrónica del tiempo mientras que las culturas de bajo contexto tienen una percepción monocrónica.

La gente monocrónica ve el tiempo como tangible y secuencial: puede almacenarse, gastarse, etc. Sus citas son muy precisas y las cumplen a rajatabla y se centran en una tarea a la vez. La gente policrónica ven el tiempo como fluido. La puntualidad y el orden no son tan importantes y las citas son menos estrictas u más bien indicativas. Por otra parte los policrónicos trabajan con múltiples tareas al mismo tiempo. Cambiando de una a la otra tarea.

La moraleja de todo lo expuesto es muy importante: una persona de una cultura de bajo contexto podría comportarse en un modo que una cultura de alto contexto podría considerar ignorante, maleducado o torpe. Por ejemplo, haciendo muchas preguntas (insinuando que no entiende el significado sin las preguntas), actuando de un modo poco contemporizador, sin encajar en la dinámica de grupo, incapaz de realizar más de una tarea al mismo tiempo.

Por el contrario, una persona de alto contexto podría pasar por chapucera, poco comunicativa, impuntual e incapaz de cumplir lo planificado, incluso incompetente por la incapacidad de trabajar solo.

Se estima que el 70% del mundo es de alto contexto. Ejemplos de países  de alto contexto son: Japón, China y casi todos los países árabes. Ejemplos de culturas de bajo contexto son los países escandinavos, Alemania y los EEUU.

A modo de ejemplo, me hago eco de una anécdota que me relató mi hijo sobre su trabajo como "Financial Risk Manager" KPMG, unas de las mayores empresas consultoras del mundo. A menudo los equipos de trabajo están compuestos por personas de varias nacionalidades. En una ocasión oyó a un colega británico despotricar de los colegas franceses por su poca formalidad, impuntualidad y falta de preparación. Cuál no sería su sorpresa cuando al poco tiempo un colega indio se despachó a gusto con los mismos colegas franceses acusándoles de cuadriculados, excesivamente formales e incapaces de improvisar soluciones. ¿Tenía razón el colega británico o el indio? Probablemente ambos, cada uno desde el punto de vista de su propia cultura.

Pero volvamos al tema que nos ocupa: la dificultad añadida a la hora de interpretar cuando el mensaje es de alto contexto. Esta suele ser la pesadilla del intérprete free-lance que es contratado por el Parlamento Europeo con una relativa frecuencia pero no la suficiente como para captar todas las insinuaciones, indirectas, alusiones y ambigüedades que se pueden llegar a oír en una reunión. Así, si uno oye decir a un diputado: "The plan is dead, Donald said it". Lo más probable es que nos limitemos a traducir literalmente por: "El plan ha muerto, lo ha dicho Donald". Aunque en el momento de pronunciar las palabras, nos asalte la duda de si ese Donald es Trump o Tusk (tras rápidamente descartar al pato Donald) y si el plan es el de construir un muro entre EEUU y México o algún otro plan loco de los de Trump o es el plan Chequers de Theresa May.

Un ejemplo más chocarrero y prosaico lo escuché hace poco, por boca de un funcionario de la administración española que estaba siendo auditado por un equipo de la CE. En respuesta a una pregunta bastante directa del auditor alemán, tipo: "¿Qué itinerario nos aconsejan ustedes habida cuenta de la distancia y las explotaciones a inspeccionar?" el funcionario español respondió: "Si eso… usted verá" y se quedó tan pancho. No se me ocurre una frase más "high context" que esa: ni un ápice de información contenida en las palabras pronunciadas, pero sí un mundo de información imaginable en la socarronería mezclada con una pizca de frustración de la frasecita de marras.

Precisamente por esa falta de contexto al que a menudo nos enfrentamos, yo —si me dan a elegir— prefiero aquellos mensajes en que toda  —absolutamente toda— la información está en las palabras pronunciadas. Pondré, a modo de conclusión, una frase real escuchada en un trabajo reciente:

"Chemical management of Phthorimaea operculella is challenging because of the cryptic behavior of larvae and pupae and because this insect has developed resistance to many traditional organophosphate, carbamate, and pyrethroid insecticides".

Ahí yacen, expuestas, despojadas de trampa y cartón, las palabras que uno necesita para transmitir el mensaje al idioma de destino. Ninguna indirecta ni insinuación ni ambigüedad, más que la mera descripción entomológica de unos fehacientes hechos científicos. Ahí es nada.

Lecturas recomendadas:

Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, 1977, p. 91-131

Sorrels, K., (1998) "On The Past and Future of Intercultural Relations Study, Gifts of Wisdom: An Interview with Dr. Edward T. Hall", accessed 10 February 2013 from: http://people.umass.edu/~leda/comm494r/The%20Edge%20Interview%20Hall.htm

Tung, R. (1995), International Organizational Behaviour, Luthans Virtual OB McGraw-Hill, pp 487-518

Enlaces de interés:


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Three new takes on professional networking

By Michelle Hof, AIB
Image credit: WordClouds.com

There are many different opportunities for professional networking in the conference interpreting community. Networking can be formal (at regional meetings, industry conferences, CPD events) or informal (coffee before a meeting, lunch with colleagues between shifts in the booth). These days, of course, much of it takes place online, where countless Facebook groups, Twitter and Instagram feeds, and online forums exist where interpreters can cultivate professional contacts.

Today, I want to share with you three interpreter networking events that stand out from the rest due to their innovative formats. Each of these examples originated from a specific language community (the German-speaking world in the first two cases, and Russian-speaking interpreters in the third), but perhaps we can use them as inspiration for events elsewhere in the world — maybe even here in Barcelona, the home of AIB!

Interpreters for Interpreters

The first networking event I will present is also the longest-running of the three. Called Interpreters for Interpreters ("Dolmetscher für Dolmetscher" in the original German), it is currently in its ninth edition. DfD, as its organisers call it, is exactly what its name implies: a peer training event organised by and for colleagues. Over one intensive day of sessions, colleagues present a series of themes before a room of their peers. The innovative aspect about DfD, as I see it, is how it is able to combine peer training and networking of the sort you might see at a major industry conference with the friendly, more intimate atmosphere typical of small-group CPD courses.

The event's target group is broad and the atmosphere is welcoming. As the DfD's English program (downloadable at the bottom of this link) puts it: "The event is open  to AIIC Interpreters as well as Pre-Candidates and Candidates, colleagues from the VKD and other Interpreters' Associations and also graduates from interpreting courses at all universities or training centres. Students may apply as Workshop Assistants. The presentations about different aspects of conference interpretation are offered by our colleagues on a voluntary basis."

The next DfD is being held in Stuttgart on 16 November and while I imagine it is fully booked out by now, there is sure to be another one soon for those who may wish to check it out (interpretation is provided into English where required, so no need to worry if you don't speak German!). You can find out more on AIIC Germany's events page or follow AIIC Germany (@AIICDolmetscher) on Twitter for the latest news.

Interpreters with Interpreters

The second event is similar to the first, but also very different in an important way. Interpreter BarCamps are also small-scale peer training and networking event, but this time, instead of planning and advertising the agenda in advance, the organisers follow the innovative barcamp or "unconference" format, where all participants come ready to present and the decision is taken spontaneously at the event as to who will get a turn to talk. This approach makes for an open, interactive and exciting event where anything can happen.

The first interpreter barcamps were organised by German-speaking colleagues in 2016 and have been held semi-regularly since. You can find out about past events on their homepage and follow updates about their next event (planned for March 2019 in Hamburg) on their Twitter feed (@dolbarcamp).

The German barcamps have already served as inspiration for a similar interpreter networking event held recently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You will find all the information about that barcamp at this link.

Interpreters versus Interpreters

The third innovative networking format that I want to share today is not a peer training event but a competition. Yes, you read that right - COSINES Pi is an interpreting contest organised by and for Russian interpreters. When I first heard about it, it reminded me of the translation slams that I had seen at other industry events, where two translators offer up their works to a live audience for comment and critique. So I guess you could almost call COSINES Pi an "interpreting slam".

At COSINES Pi, interpreters go head-to-head on stage to produce simultaneous and consecutive interpretations for a live audience and before a jury of their peers. The interpreter who is considered by the jury to have produced the best interpretation is then declared the winner. I am told that the format has proved a huge success amongst Russian interpreters, filling auditoriums to bursting and generating buzz throughout the professional community. To find out more about the first two COSINES Pi events and get news about the upcoming third edition, you can consult their website (in English), follow them on Instagram, or check out their YouTube channel (mostly in Russian).

¿Para cuándo en España?

So these are three innovative networking formats that I have observed in the global interpreting community of late. If you know of any innovative events that are happening in your area, I would love to hear about them in the comments section. Also, it would be great to see events such as these happening a bit closer to home, for instance here in Spain, so that more colleagues can benefit from these forms of learning and sharing. If anyone wants to volunteer to help organise a peer training event, a barcamp, or even (gulp!) a contest, please reach out — maybe we can make it happen!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Start with a smile!

By Edwina Mumbrú, AIB

Summer recess has come to an end, the cumulative stress we felt in June seems to have faded and I think we all look now at our profession with kinder eyes. We have more energy to study for the demanding assignments that will inevitably come along, and more strength to take the bull by the horns and give it our all — which is how I sometimes visualize our work, corrida-like — especially EP plenaries.

Apart from catching up with "old" friends, one of the things that I look forward to most are those delightful, humorous incidents that occur in or around the booth which lighten the heaviest days. Of course, rekindling amusing episodes is also a wonderful way to ensure we kick things off with a smile.

Knowing we can all be prone to taking ourselves a bit too seriously, I can really recommend Benoît Cliquet's wonderful Clic collection of sketches to bring out our lighter side. In addition to "guaranteed smile creation", the collection also has the benefit that all proceeds of the sale of the book go to the AIIC Solidarity Fund.
If moving images are more your style, there are also some short vintage videos that never fail to raise a smile and remind us there are many ways to get a message across albeit the wrong one. My favourites include these two:


And let's not forget the anecdotes, those unexpected moments that brighten our lives and our memories. They change over time, of course — we add a sentence or two and naturally overindulge in the telling — but it's these stories (the ones we can tell, as Cristina rightly points out in AIB's August post) that allow us to unwind after a tense interpreting day.

I am not referring to mistranslations that — apocryphal or not — non-interpreters appear to like so much, but more the sharing of comical situations that randomly occur.

If my memory doesn't fail me (a clear possibility as Guiomar points out in her post about interpreters' memory), I can share a few recent incidents, while inviting you all to relay your own additions in our comments section!

Inadvertent open microphones are clearly accidents-in-waiting. Recently, I was told of two interpreters who were commenting on the "fashion-ability or not" of the neckties on view, when suddenly, one delegate stood up and said: "Hey, before you get to mine, please switch off the mic!"

Sometimes, it"s not the external technical elements but the psychological ones that play tricks on us and bring in unwanted connections. A good example of this comes from a friend who was going through a difficult divorce process. To her dismay, she heard herself say during a financial conference: "el matrimonio está agotado" instead of "el patrimonio está agotado."

Similarly, travel, new environments and sheer exhaustion can surprise us. On a mission in Bolivia, knocked sideways by altitude sickness, I thought I had totally lost it when I couldn't understand a single word the local speaker was uttering. He went on and on and my notes were just bigger and bigger question marks to hide my panic attack… until I realized… he was speaking in Quechua!

The effect of environments can take different forms. Not so long ago, one of our members — who shall remain nameless — had to perform a tricky consecutive in the kitchen of a world-renowned restaurant whilst a camera crew filmed the illustrious chef alone in front of his culinary creation; the only solution was for our intrepid colleague to get down on her knees in order to take notes and hide behind the kitchen table. I would love to see the out-takes!

But it's not just the impersonal that can create havoc; it's the personal as well. At a conference on soybean crops, a well-meaning colleague wrote down "coffee? tea?" to simply ask her stressed boothmate if he'd care for a drink during what was a very strenuous simultaneous session. Without missing a beat, and with a big, thankful grin for the words he thought he had missed, he aired to the massive audience: "products such as coffee or tea".  Good thing she didn't write down "WC" to indicate a trip to the loo!

Humour, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but let us never underestimate the power of having fun.
Bonne rentrée!

Monday, August 20, 2018

El intérprete… ¿invisible?

Por Cristina Amils, AIB

Hace un par de meses, topé con el blog de interpretación Translation Times y un artículo titulado “The Invisible Interpreter: We Haven’t Seen Her”. En este artículo, sus autoras (Judy y Dagmar Jenner) afirman no haber visto nunca a un/a intérprete invisible, a pesar de que muchos a menudo se refieren a nuestra profesión como una profesión invisible. Subrayan el papel crucial que desempeñan los intérpretes en ámbitos tan variados como conferencias internacionales, reuniones de negocios, juzgados, hospitales, zonas de guerra, cárceles, escuelas, etc. Al final del artículo nos emplazan a todos a dirigir el foco hacia los intérpretes, a reconocerles, apoyarles y darles visibilidad.

Este artículo y los hechos acaecidos en nuestra profesión últimamente me han dado que pensar y me han llevado a preguntarme si realmente los intérpretes somos invisibles, si es algo bueno o malo, si es inherente a nuestro trabajo y si hay algún motivo que justifique intentar cambiar esta situación. Reconozco que me resulta difícil encontrar una respuesta a todas estas preguntas.

La profesión del intérprete lleva consigo toda una serie de obligaciones y compromisos que podrían explicar parte de esta invisibilidad. Pongamos, por ejemplo, la obligación a la confidencialidad. Los intérpretes presenciamos conversaciones y situaciones que a menudo tienen lugar a puerta cerrada y que no están destinadas a oídos ajenos. Formamos parte del equipo de trabajo o de la delegación, pero en realidad es como si no estuviéramos. Excepto cuando alguien que no tiene acceso a la reunión de repente se acuerda de nosotros y nos saca de la penumbra. Estoy pensando en periodistas que alguna vez han probado suerte colocándose a la salida de la sala para interceptar y sacar información a algún colega… O bien, más recientemente, el partido de los Demócratas en EEUU que consideró que era una cuestión de seguridad nacional hacer comparecer a la intérprete ante el Congreso para saber exactamente de qué habían hablado los presidentes Trump y Putin en su tête à tête. Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, la figura del intérprete cobró visibilidad en los medios de comunicación y durante los últimos días de julio ganamos más popularidad que en decenas de años. Afortunadamente la cosa quedó en nada y la Asociación Internacional de Intérpretes de Conferencia (AIIC) dejó bien claro en su comunicado que el principio de la confidencialidad del intérprete debe ser inquebrantable y que estos no deben ser llamados a declarar.

Durante estos últimos meses, también hemos oído hablar de la intérprete que trabajó en la reunión entre Donald Trump y Kim Jong Un. Parece que tiene entretenidos a los medios de comunicación en Estados Unidos últimamente, tal como refleja este artículo de abc News.

También en el corazón de Europa los intérpretes hemos dado de qué hablar. Las protestas y huelgas de los intérpretes del Parlamento Europeo este verano han llamado la atención a la prensa. Los micrófonos se apagaron y se empezaron a oír las voces de los intérpretes fuera de las cabinas. Algunos de los clientes principales de los intérpretes, los eurodiputados, contribuyeron a dar visibilidad a las protestas que se organizaron a raíz del anunciado cambio en las condiciones de trabajo en el PE.

Podríamos decir que la poción mágica que nos hace invisibles ante la opinión pública ha perdido fuerza este verano…

De todos modos, el trabajo en cabina, en interpretación simultánea, es un trabajo entre bambalinas y cada vez lo será más con la interpretación a distancia. Dejaremos de estar presentes en la sala de reuniones y ya solo se oirán nuestras voces. Bueno, de hecho esto tampoco será una gran novedad porque hace ya años que algunos clientes prefieren sacar las cabinas de la sala principal, sobre todo en las presentaciones de productos varios. Reconozco que nuestros pequeños habitáculos no siempre resultan muy estéticos ;-)

Sin embargo, creo que la invisibilidad cuenta con una excepción importante en nuestro trabajo, que no siempre valoramos en su justa medida. Cuando trabajamos en consecutiva o en enlace, somos muy visibles, mucho más de lo que nos gustaría a veces. Ahí se nos concede el derecho a convertirnos en personas de carne y hueso, a las que hay que escuchar y a las que hay que dirigirse para hacerse entender. Personas que salen de las cabinas y se “materializan” para abrirse paso a codazos entre los agentes de seguridad que custodian a algún personaje ilustre. Ahí es cuando no nos queda más remedio que dar la cara e intentar seguir demostrando que somos actores neutrales, profesionales que desempeñamos nuestro trabajo lo mejor que podemos. Tenemos que dejar claro a las dos partes que no defendemos ni atacamos a nadie y que las palabras que salen de nuestra boca en realidad no son nuestras. Ahí es cuando nos gustaría volver a ser invisibles… Pero ya se sabe que en la vida no se puede tener todo y considero que nos viene muy bien el contacto humano de vez en cuando. Nos ayuda a todos, clientes e intérpretes, a situarnos en la realidad y a conocernos un poquito más. Al fin y al cabo, no somos autómatas, sino que somos personas que hacen posible la comunicación entre lenguas y culturas distintas. Y realmente no somos invisibles.

Para muestra, un botón. Os dejo con un pequeño video muy instructivo sobre qué hacemos en nuestra profesión, concretamente en interpretación simultánea, gentileza de Ewandro Magalhaes en TED-Ed

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Test-taking – a few dos and don'ts

By Catherine Sherry, AIB

Interpreting is a pretty test-tastic occupation, and most of us have at least one tale of woe that we can hopefully laugh about later. From the test that started rather impossibly with ‘Today I’d like to talk about maiden flights and swansongs’ to the poor candidate who misconstrued ‘Let us consider euthanasia’ as being all about ‘youth in Asia’, the pitfalls are many and the stakes can be high.

Having been on both sides of the glass in recent years, I’d like to offer a few humble tips to give it your best shot:


1. Prepare. Interpreting is all about thorough preparation well in advance. If you’re doing your initial training, you need to have the final assessment in mind from day one. Get to work immediately on any areas where your trainers feel you need to improve. For accreditation as staff or freelance to institutions like the UN and EU, listen extensively to their webcasts and mine their websites taking notes on their structure, bodies and agencies, history, names of important figures, current agendas, and more. Being over-prepared isn’t a thing in interpreting.

2. Practise. This is physically and mentally tiring so it has to be well planned to be worthwhile. Practising in front of someone who can give you feedback is ideal, whether a colleague or just a friend who you explain the aim of the exercise to. Both audiences allow you to work on performance nerves, and non-interpreters can tell you what they thought about your target language and if you sounded convincing, for instance. If you’re alone, video your interpretation and watch it back, but don’t be too hard on yourself! Either way, if you’ve identified any problems, interpreting the same speech again is a good way to fix them and build your confidence. Check out Michelle Hof’s excellent AIB blog piece on where to find practise speeches online.

3. Healthy body, healthy mind! Working towards a test can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Mitigate the potentially damaging effects by eating well and making time for whatever type of physical exercise you enjoy.


4. De-clutter your mind. You’ve come this far; all that remains now is to stay calm! Trying to squeeze in more practice on the day won’t make you a better interpreter but may well make you more nervous. Instead, go for a walk, do some breathing exercises, read aloud to warm your voice up, and focus on the fact that you are prepared. It’s essential to keep those debilitating nerves in check. As Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

5. Be professional. The best way to tackle a test is by treating it as a real interpreting assignment. Don’t think about the examiners –you certainly don’t have mental space to spare on what they may be thinking or noting down– but rather picture a real person simply really needing to understand what the speaker is saying. Shift your attention from you and your performance to just getting the job done. Demonstrating sound coping skills is also crucial. Minor omissions, mistakes and slips of the tongue can all be overcome if you stay absolutely focused on the next segment of speech and keep on going.

May the force be with you! And if doesn’t work out this time, draw on the experience and congratulate yourself on giving it a go.