Specialists in oral translation services

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Intérpretes en la historia: Malinche, la intérprete de los cuatro nombres

Por Lourdes Ramírez, AIB


Este año se cumple el quinto centenario del inicio de la conquista de México por Hernán Cortés. En esta empresa fue absolutamente crucial un personaje poco conocido en España hasta ahora (1) y no precisamente popular en su tierra: la Malinche. Su biografía es extraordinaria: fue princesa, esclava, consejera, diplomática y amante de Hernán Cortés, con quien tuvo un hijo.

Pero sobre todo su papel como intérprete de Cortés fue decisivo para el éxito de las sucesivas campañas del conquistador, desde muy temprano. Por colaborar con el enemigo invasor se la ha considerado durante siglos traidora a su pueblo.  El término malinchista es sinónimo de desleal y vendepatrias en Méjico (2). Actualmente parece que se está rehabilitando su figura: se hace más hincapié en su condición de superviviente, se le reconoce su valentía, su capacidad de adaptación y sus dotes de mediadora.

Malinalli o Malintzin nació en torno a 1500 en el actual estado de Veracruz, al sur del imperio azteca, en la zona fronteriza con los territorios maya de Yucatán. Hija única del cacique de Paynala, su vida dio un vuelco cuando su padre falleció siendo todavía adolescente. Su madre se volvió a casar, tuvo un hijo varón y Malintzin fue apartada de la familia y entregada a unos mercaderes antes de que pudiera reinar. Los comerciantes a su vez la vendieron como esclava y acabó como propiedad del cacique maya de Tabasco.


En marzo de 1519 los españoles ganaron su primera batalla en Centla y Cortés recibió del señor de Tabasco como tributo y prueba de sumisión un lote de regalos que incluía 20 doncellas esclavas. Entre ellas estaba Malintzin, quien para entonces ya hablaba con fluidez tanto el maya como el náhuatl, la lengua de los aztecas. Cortés repartió a las jóvenes indígenas entre los capitanes españoles, no sin antes hacerlas bautizar a todas. Ella recibió el nombre cristiano de Doña Marina, aunque todos la llamaban Malinche.

Durante la primera etapa de la conquista, la comunicación con los caciques locales fue posible gracias a Malinche y a Jerónimo de Aguilar, un sacerdote que pasó ocho años cautivo entre los mayas. Él traducía del español al maya y ella del maya al náhuatl. Esta doble interpretación consecutiva permitía a los españoles negociar con las tribus indígenas y avanzar por los territorios sin ser atacados.


Con el tiempo Malinche aprendió también el español y fue ganando cada vez más influencia y respeto. No sólo por sus competencias lingüísticas, imprescindibles, sino por su conocimiento del territorio y de la relación de fuerzas entre las tribus indígenas. De intérprete y asesora cultural pasó a ser amante y confidente de Cortés. Tal era su compenetración que algunos se referían a él como “el Malinche”.

Mediante los servicios lingüísticos y de inteligencia de la Malinche, Cortés pudo esquivar o mitigar situaciones de peligro inminente y también formar alianzas con diferentes caciques de pueblos sometidos por los aztecas para luchar juntos contra el enemigo común. Así fue avanzando sin demasiados obstáculos hasta la capital de los mexicas. Malinche interpretó en todas las negociaciones de Cortés con emisarios del Emperador y más tarde, en Tenochtitlán, fue su portavoz oficial ante el mismísimo Moctezuma.


En agosto de 1521 cae Tenochtitlán y el imperio azteca. Al año siguiente nace el hijo de Malinche y de Cortés - Martín, el primer mestizo - pero él ya tenia esposa y Malinche se casa con otro español, Juan Jaramillo. Al hacerlo adquiere una buena posición social, ya como mujer libre. Todavía acompañará a Cortés en una expedición a Honduras pero cuando sus servicios ya no son necesarios desaparece de escena. Muere unos años después en un terremoto.

Malintzin, Malinalli, Malinche, Doña Marina (3) fue una de las primeras intérpretes documentadas de la historia. Pocos intérpretes ad personam han llegado a influir de forma tan clara en el devenir de los acontecimientos o a tener tanto poder, como mano derecha que fue del Capitán General y Gobernador de la Nueva España. Antes de que existiera como tal, demostró como nadie el valor añadido de la intermediación cultural, inherente a la profesión de intérprete.

Ni heroína, ni villana, ni víctima de las circunstancias. Malinche - “la lengua” en las crónicas de la época - fue ante todo una mujer inteligente, capaz y valiente que supo jugar bien sus bazas para salir airosa de una situación complicada que ella no eligió.

Se puede decir que su intervención cambió el curso de la historia, porque sin su ayuda inestimable la conquista hubiera sido sin duda mucho más larga y cruenta para ambos bandos - sobre todo para el español - teniendo tal vez un resultado final diferente.


Notas:
(1) Con el 5º centenario hay más interés por la conquista en general y también por ella. Hace poco se estrenó la película de Gonzalo Suárez “El Sueño de la Malinche”.

(2) También se la conoce como “la chingada”, sinónimo de prostituta.

(3) Se podría añadir un quinto nombre: Tenépatl (“quien habla vivamente” en náhuatl).

Bibliografía:
https://www.lavanguardia.com/historiayvida/la-malinche-interprete-hernan-cortes_11154_102.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.es/historia/grandes-reportajes/malinche-la-indigena-que-abrio-mexico-a-cortes_6229

https://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/la-enigmatica-malinche.html

Jane Lewis Brandt, Malinche. Plaza y Janes,1981

Para saber más:
Bernal DÍAZ DEL CASTILLO, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la nueva España,1568
Fanny DEL RÍO, La Verdadera historia de la Malinche, Random House, 2002

Friday, May 24, 2019

AIB y el MUIC de la UAB — una alianza en el mentoring profesional

By Guiomar Stampa, AIB
Mentor, mentora
Del gr. Μέντωρ Méntōr 'Méntor', personaje de la Odisea, consejero de Telémaco.
1. m. y f. Consejero o guía.
2. m. y f. Maestro, padrino. Fue su mentor político.
3. m. y f. ayo.
RAE

En su artículo Mentoring: An old idea that's still new del blog de septiembre de 2016, nuestra socia Martha Hobart ya nos hablaba del mentoring o mentoría, que es la voz que recomienda la Fundeu en español.

AIB siempre tuvo vocación de formación. Lo demuestra el que, entre nuestros socios, muchos nos dediquemos también a formar a las generaciones de futuros intérpretes en nuestro entorno profesional. Además, nuestra misión se centra en la defensa de unas buenas condiciones de trabajo que redundarán en beneficio de nuestros clientes y el bienestar de los profesionales de la interpretación. Pero para defender algo antes hay que tener muy claro lo que se quiere defender, cómo se quiere defender y por qué se quiere defender. Y eso resulta muy difícil hacerlo cuando falta experiencia en el oficio y hay que pagar el alquiler.

Por otra parte, el MUIC, Master Oficial en Interpretación de Conferencias de la FTI de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona apuesta por una formación académica rigurosa pero en contacto regular y directo con la realidad de la profesión. De ahí los módulos del Seminario Profesionalizador y Mentoring que se imparten en los dos años académicos que dura el máster.

Estos módulos tienen como objetivo la familiarización del alumno con la práctica profesional de la interpretación de conferencias y se articulan en tres bloques impartidos por profesionales que orientarán a los estudiantes sobre diferentes aspectos de la interpretación de conferencias.

El primer bloque está destinado a dotar a los estudiantes de una serie de pautas para trabajar la resonancia y proyección de la voz, experimentar la flexibilidad vocal y fortalecer el aparato fonador. Helena Kabo enseña técnicas de voz que recuerdan al cuerpo lo que ya sabe y son eficaces y sencillas.

El segundo bloque está constituido por las clases virtuales impartidas por funcionarios de organizaciones internacionales.

Y el tercer bloque, que es el que nos interesa más aquí, se articula en torno al mentoring profesional. El objetivo estriba en que los estudiantes se familiaricen con los aspectos prácticos del ejercicio de la profesión, que no son pocos...

¿Cuáles son los usos y costumbres de un intérprete profesional?
¿Cuáles son nuestras obligaciones legales y tributarias?
¿Y qué hay de la ética profesional?
¿Y qué hay de las nuevas tecnologías? ¿Cómo vamos a incorporarlas mejor a nuestro oficio?
¿Cómo podemos prepararnos mejor para nuestro primer día de trabajo real en cabina?
Y la reunión, ¿la preparamos aprendiendo de memoria listas interminables de palabras, traduciendo las presentaciones o leyendo sobre el tema?
Y si pensamos en completar nuestra combinación lingüística añadiendo algún idioma una vez dominadas las técnicas, ¿por dónde empezamos? ¿Cuál será la mejor elección?
Y ya que estamos, ¿cómo se organiza un servicio de interpretación en un congreso multilingüe?

Pues para responder a todas esas dudas tenemos a los mentores de AIB.

Y de ahí, de la vocación en la formación de AIB y la vocación profesionalizadora del MUIC, nace esta alianza en el mentoring profesional.

Si logramos que los jóvenes intérpretes empiecen su andadura sin tantas incógnitas, con menos zozobra y sintiéndose algo más acompañados que nosotros en su día, todos ganamos.

Ganamos AIB, el MUIC y los estudiantes, que son los protagonistas de esta historia.

AIB también colabora con la UAB en el curso intensivo de consolidación de habilidades de interpretación de conferencias de este mes de julio.

Podéis encontrar más información sobre el máster en su página web y en sus redes sociales:
https://tinyurl.com/mastermuic
@muic_uab
@muicuab

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Reminiscences and musings

By Martha Hobart, AIB


Recently in this blog we've talked about new approaches to simultaneous interpretation and the growing use of modern technologies, especially remote interpreting. These two posts highlighted the many changes rapidly taking place in our profession in the past few years and the effects they have had on our job, and will lead to more changes in the coming years. All at what seems to be warp speed.

Reflecting on what Pilar and Felix wrote about led me to think about the changes that were taking place in the profession when I started many years ago. I speak mainly about Spain because that's where I've worked for most of my career.

At that time simultaneous interpreting was fairly new in Spain and starting to take off in the private sector, which has traditionally been a major source of work for us in this country. Companies and other groups organizing conferences had little or no experience with the technique and didn't know what to expect. Working conditions were pretty primitive compared with today and could vary enormously from one assignment to another. Surprise seemed to be the norm.

Likewise, there was no training available in Spain and aspiring interpreters had to acquire the necessary skills however they could, although there were colleagues who had trained in other countries and became de facto trainers for us newbies.

(By the way, I wouldn't recommend this method of trying to break into the profession. The profession has matured, interpretation is a more complex task than it was years ago and conference goers have higher expectations of interpreters who call themselves professionals. Better to find a good training program and start off on the right foot.)

There was a core group of interpreters in Spain who were in contact with AIIC colleagues and often worked with them. Around the time I began, the association became established in Spain, which was a great boost to sorting out some of the issues facing us and helped improve working conditions.

Then there were the booths. Tabletop booths were rampant, more or less workable if there were only two languages because only one interpreter was speaking at a time. But more languages meant more voices and, to top it off, the booths were usually placed side by side, all in a row if possible. A cacophony of languages and voices, which caused no end of pain for interpreters and audience alike.


Plus poorly designed built-in booths, to the extreme of a row of one-person booths in some cases. Well, we could always tap on the glass and use gestures to communicate with our partner in the booth next door.


A lot could be said about booths, but we'll leave that for another occasion. The ISO booth standards (built-in and mobile) are now more widely known and have done much to improve booth quality.

I digress to an anecdote, one of many but this one stands out in my mind after so many years. I was hired to interpret for an interview with a fashion designer, fortunately very short and I was working by myself. The setting was the rooftop swimming pool of a luxury hotel in Barcelona, crowded with interviewer, guest, models, cameras and audio equipment and staff of all sorts.

So where did the interpretation booth fit in all this? It didn't. Interpreter and technical crew were stuffed into one of the rooms on the top floor. The room was given over entirely to equipment, including the SI equipment, and the booth was — the bathroom.😮

They put a board across the sink with mike and console on top and a stool for me in front of it. With the door closed the sound-proofing was perfect.😏

There are two things that have always stood out in my mind when in the booth. One is what I can best describe as connecting with the speaker. This is the strange feeling I've often had when interpreting someone who is relaxed and at ease, a feeling of being somehow connected to the speaker at a level more than just words.

Some people have a firm grasp on what they are talking about and are able to express themselves clearly and in an organized way. They are able to connect with their audience and the interpreters as well, and make both listening to them and interpreting them an enjoyable experience.

As opposed to people who are not accustomed to speaking in public and are nervous about it. Their uncertain feeling is transmitted to their listeners. As an interpreter in such a situation I tend to feel rather disconnected and not really in communication with the speaker.

Then there is the issue of speed, a common complaint among interpreters in general. But I’ve had the experience more than once that it’s not so difficult if a fast speaker has a well organized presentation, which makes it much easier to pick out the salient points and deliver a coherent interpretation.

I end with some thoughts on distance interpreting, including videoconferencing.

The first hint of this mode was interpretation over the telephone, which was in use long before it was even thought of as a "special" system that required special treatment. It is still in use today.

Then videoconferencing came along and with it the idea of speakers, interpreters and audience not all being in the same place. At first it was limited to a speaker in a remote location with audience and interpreters in a different place but together. Little by little the three components — speakers, audience, interpreters — came to be treated as separate units, and we all know where that has led us today.

In the early days of distance interpreting, satellite connections were recommended to avoid the unreliability of telephone lines. AIIC attempted to make this a requirement but with limited success. Sometimes there were satellites in the connection chain, but there was almost inevitably a telephone line somewhere along the way, usually at the start or at the end.

Then came the Internet which, believe it or not, was thought to be a good solution back in the day when Wifi was still in its infancy. Wifi has greatly improved but is limited, unreliable or lacking in many parts of the world.

As often happens when a new technology appears on the scene, the possibility of videoconferencing and distance interpreting sparked much excitement in the conference world. It was seen as a panacea for getting around the expense of bringing interpreters to a meeting venue. After a time, however, conference organizers realized that a remote setup could only be efficient with proper equipment and properly trained technical staff. Which often turned out to be more expensive than bringing in a team of interpreters.

We are still in the process of learning how to use this new technology in a way that makes it truly useful rather than problematic. It's a complex issue and there are no simple answers. New ideas are often not well thought out and are put into practice by people who have little experience or knowledge about what is involved.

What were once called new technologies are now becoming standard and involve a whole range of complications in working conditions never imagined by any of us when they first appeared. Once again we find ourselves in a time of rapid changes that can leave us feeling uncertain about our future, but I am confident that today's interpreters will be capable of coping with the challenges just as their predecessors did in their day.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

El taxi, los intérpretes y la uberización de la economía

By Pilar García Crecente, AIB

La lectura de este artículo (Taxistas contra el imperio Uber: ¿Es esto la lucha de clases?) me ha llevado a reflexionar sobre el imparable deterioro de las relaciones laborales que se está produciendo en toda la sociedad y que suele justificarse ya por la crisis económica y la necesidad de recortes, ya por la automatización o el avance tecnológico.

Esta frase del autor del artículo, Carlos Sánchez, resulta para mí especialmente significativa, porque estoy convencida de que es el ahorro de costes lo que impulsa la implantación de ciertas soluciones tecnológicas aunque vayan a mermar la calidad del servicio final y desde luego las condiciones laborales de los profesionales: Un nuevo capitalismo en el que, paradójicamente, el empresario busca no tener obreros a su cargo, sino que los externaliza, los saca de balance, para ahorrar costes evitando cualquier vínculo laboral.

El mundo laboral está viviendo una profunda transformación tecnológica y nuestra profesión no es ajena a ese cambio; precisamente Félix nos brindó una panorámica exhaustiva sobre la interpretación simultánea remota en su artículo hace muy poco.

No hay duda de que el avance tecnológico es ineludible e imparable, así que nada más lejos de mi intención que denostar el sacro advenimiento de la tecnología a nuestra actividad profesional; pero hay que implicarse y participar del proceso. Ya nos lo decía hace bastantes años Laura Tremosa, ingeniera, activista y feminista, en su libro La mujer ante el desafío tecnológico: Se vislumbra, pues, un cambio progresivo de la organización del trabajo que podrá ser para bien o para mal. De todos modos una cosa es segura: si no intervenimos de forma decidida, es difícil creer que vaya a ser para bien en lo que respecta a las mujeres.

De hecho estamos participando, y la AIIC ha elaborado un excelente documento con directrices para la interpretación remota cuya lectura recomiendo.

Todas estas posibilidades tecnológicas transforman las relaciones laborales y abundan en el distanciamiento entre el cliente final y el profesional, pero hay una entre ellas que a mí me incomoda especialmente porque encarna el ahorro de costes como fin en sí mismo y acarrea la peor atomización del trabajo desbaratando por completo el trabajo en equipo, aislando al intérprete y materializando su figura como el último eslabón de la cadena. Me refiero a las plataformas mediante las que se descarga un software en el portátil para ponerse a interpretar desde casa (sinónimo de oficina del intérprete).

Los intérpretes somos profesionales autónomos que prestamos nuestros servicios a todo aquel que los necesite y siempre nos ha resultado difícil agruparnos, sindicarnos o defender juntos como colectivo nuestros derechos; por no existir ni siquiera tenemos en España un colegio profesional que nos represente. AIB es única en Barcelona y la AIIC es la única asociación que vela por nuestros intereses en todo el mundo.

Bregamos para conseguir la confianza de nuestros clientes, para acceder a la documentación de la reunión y estudiar para hacer un buen trabajo, redactamos contratos para prestar el servicio, acuerdos de confidencialidad, cumplimos con la protección de datos y sus mil exigencias, pagamos seguros de responsabilidad civil por si cometemos un error, realizamos cursos de riesgos laborales y los acreditamos.... y cada vez más y más requisitos legales.

Y ahora resulta que podemos trabajar sin movernos de casa, con nuestro ordenador, un software y la wifi doméstica ¡yupi!

¿Y si falla la wifi o el portátil, quién asume las consecuencias? ¿Y si no se oye bien? ¿Quién nos contrata? ¿Nos protege ese contrato? ¿Si hay algún problema, en qué jurisdicción se va a dirimir? ¿La confidencialidad de los datos también es responsabilidad nuestra? ¿Y si nos hackean el ordenador o la wifi? ¿Y la sobrecarga cognitiva, y los riesgos laborales...? ¿Y si cometemos un error porque el sonido es malo? ¿Quién asume qué responsabilidad? ¿Cómo nos protegemos?

Esta uberización, que está afectando a múltiples ámbitos profesionales, que individualiza las relaciones laborales, que nos distancia del lugar donde se presta el servicio y nos separa de los colegas, fragmenta el equipo de intérpretes tal como lo conocemos hasta ahora. Esto nos obliga, en mi opinión, a auto protegernos y a participar activamente en los procesos colectivos que intentan modular las repercusiones laborales de esta transformación de la economía.  

¡Que no se cumpla la antigua máxima de divide y vencerás!

* http://www.mujeresenred.net/spip.php?article991
** AIIC Taskforce on Distance Interpreting. "AIIC Guidelines for Distance Interpreting (Version 1.0)".aiic.net January 11, 2019. Accessed March 17, 2019. <http://aiic.net/p/8734>.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Cazador de Palabras

By Hugo Pooley, AIB

Over the years I have had the great good fortune to be regularly sent to all the major countries of Latin America.  As often as possible I have taken the opportunity to stay over and travel in various fascinating regions.  While there, like an entomologist with a butterfly net I have endeavoured to collect interesting local linguistic specimens.  A selection of my curiouser finds may perhaps be of interest to those visiting this page.

This divertimento is written in English but will only be of interest to readers with a substantial knowledge of European Spanish.  Explanations would, as with any kind of joke, otherwise be so tedious as to deprive them of the fun.

Sometimes it is just a matter – for those accustomed to Old World Spanish – of unsuspected meaning shifts, of usages not being what they seem.  Little surprises like dique for a reservoir; reflector for a flashlight; dársena for a lay-by; plantel for a school; lastimosamente for unfortunately; or allanamiento as a judicially ordered search of premises.  Of course, the same phenomenon occurs when a Brit finds reticulation used for irrigation in Australia, or encounters pants for trousers and fanny for arse in the US.

Geographical labels are necessarily approximate, so items listed for one country or region often turn out to be used in the same way in other places too.

Trigger warning: I don’t apologise for the substantial proportion of items referring to prurient matters.  Up there with drunkenness, the human genital organs, for example, are the semantic field with the highest numbers of synonyms in both Spanish and English –  providing evidence, if any were needed, that this area occupies a disproportionate amount of space in the collective lexical imagination.

Indeed, back in the Paleolithic era, when dictionaries were books, and these were made of paper, I was once in a bookshop with the author of what had for many years been the best Spanish / English bilingual dictionary in the world, on the day that the first serious competitor for his creature was published.  When the eminent academic took it off the shelf, his perusal, like any self-respecting schoolboy's, took him straight to the entry for “the F word”, followed by a series of other scabrous terms for which he had invented the classification of three asterisks, thus *** – i.e. taboo. ROFLMFAO!

Here then are some of my little finds.

ARGENTINA

bromatología – not the science of humour, but food health; in the context, for example, of roadside checks on food carried in vehicles

costanera – bypass, doesn’t have to be near water; elsewhere (e.g. Chile, Panama) it is often a road or leisure area by a river

joda – joke, fooling around; party

remise – don't be misled by your French, hehe: hire car (with driver)

ripio – nothing to do with doggerel: earth, as in a dirt track

piche, tatú, mulita, peludo & quirquincho: these wonderful, resonant, words all refer to different species of …armadillo!

CHILE

Starting with two archetypal chilenismos

al tiro – straight away

¿Cachay? – Do you understand? / You know? / Geddit?

dividendo – regular mortgage repayment

lapicero – “pencil” or “pencil case”, you are thinking.  Pues ni una cosa ni la otra; here, as in Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Peru, this is a ballpoint pen!  Known elsewhere as bolígrafo, birome, esfero, plumero, esferógrafo, pluma, puntabola, lápiz pasta…

COLOMBIA     

guanábana, agraz, granadilla, guayaba, lechosa, zapote, lulo, agraz, pitaya, curuba, uchuva, feijoa, borojo, corozo – How lovely are these fruity words, all harvested locally?

comparendo – In theory this is a summons or subpoena, which seems to make sense; but in practice it only ever seems to refer to a notice of a fine, like a traffic ticket!

man – male person.  Not vocative; e.g. Estoy esperando a mi man

prepago – discard your Castilian ideas. This noun can be masculine or feminine; but always refers to …an escort, as in, a prostitute (one can see why: ¿será que hoy no se fía? 😉)

regalar – also not what you would think if you learned the Spanish of Spain: to lend, or let the other use – ¿Me regalaría un esferógrafo?

tinto – black coffee

tractomula – articulated truck

vaina – essentially, a thing.  Sometimes a good thing, others a bad one.  Thank the heavens for context, eh?

CUBA

patarranas – (swimmer's) flippers

ECUADOR

pelado – young kid, friend

polla – again, forget your smutty Castilian preconceptions: a crib, as beloved by students the world over – una chuleta, vamos

MEXICO

madre – interestingly, here this is a taboo word, because of its association with all the colourful insults involving lewd insinuations about the dubious morality of the interlocutor's mother: ¡tu madre!, conchatumadre…
The English terms “SOB”, “motherf***er” are of course equivalent.  However, it must be hard for a pure native English speaker to comprehend how deeply ingrained this taboo is in the common Hispanic imagination.  Sometimes it almost seems one cannot even mention the other's poor progenitor, or if one does, the circumlocution su señora madre is used; I even heard this euphemism on TV news instead: la mamá del acusado!

me vale verga – every bit as rude as it sounds: I don't give a f***

PANAMA

un push – a “love hotel”.  Referenced as such three times in John le Carré's novel “The Tailor of Panama”.  But why is it called this?

PARAGUAY

gatillar – commonly used in the same way as the English “to trigger, unleash”: Esta legislación gatillaría una ola de desempleo

Friday, January 25, 2019

A HANDS-ON TASTE OF R.S.I. (REMOTE SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETING): A brief personal view

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).