The Future of (Conference) Interpreting

Today, professional interpreters stand at a crossroads. Behind them, the well-worn paths to professionalism and even regular work seem to be showing signs of wear and tear. …

The same market forces and political motivations that have threatened court interpreting are beginning to affect conference interpreting, too.”

Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, Routledge, May 2016.

 

If there is one thing guaranteed to get me out of post-conference work motivation slump, it’s a meaty discussion about interpreting. It seems that, while I was wrestling with the “fun” of fixing the index for my upcoming book, interpreters and interpreting trainers were at the offices of SCIC (the European Commission’s Interpreting Service and Conference Organising service) hearing about the future of the institutional conference interpreting market.

According to the interpreting twitterati, the outlook is not great.  For whatever reason, the demand for institutional interpreting is down. We might not yet be at the point of mass layoffs and empty booths but this definitely isn’t the cosy, secure world many of us were trained for.

In the face of the market shift which seems set to continue, it would be easy to get depressed. Where is the golden ticket to 100 day work years we were all promised? How are we supposed to live lives of multilingual glamour if the biggest single industry player can’t supply us with a conveyer belt of cushy assignments?

Some of us, those sad few who don’t have enough passive languages or who for some reason didn’t catch the first flight to Brussels or Paris, have had to live in a similar reality for a while. If you live and work in the Scottish market, it will take a good chunk of your working life to book the boothdays that a Brussels-based interpreter will pencil in before they have finished their first waffle of the day.

Simple and brutal market realities force you into diversifying, at least for now. My preferred boothmate is also the director of a property rental agency; some Spanish-speaking colleagues of mine also clock-up hours as public service interpreters and teachers. On top of that, unless you feel like relying on agencies, you soon discover that marketing to direct clients and building teams of people to take on jobs together becomes a lifeline. In short, if you want work, you will need to push for it.

Please don’t read this as a case of schadenfreude. No one in this industry actively wants any sector to lose out and, just as we all rallied round those affected by the court interpreting contract in England and Wales, now is the time to work with and for those who will lose out due to the vagaries of the institutional market.

For that reason, this is all about hope. Having met some prospective interpreting clients, I can tell you that the demand is still there, but perhaps not in the markets we thought. I can also tell you that our main competition will not be from cheap labour markets or technological solutions but from the option to have no interpreting at all.

With that in mind, we simply can’t keep selling ourselves using the same straplines as before. “Accuracy, neutrality and confidentiality” might be attractive to diplomats and politicians (many of whom are beginning to think they can muddle through without us anyway) but it doesn’t persuade exporting SMEs, busy event managers, or jet-setting executives.

For such clients, the only compelling reason to hire interpreters is that a multilingual event is more effective, more efficient and, dare I say it, more profitable than a monolingual one. Our goal in that market is not to prove that we are getting every detail across but that we are adding value. In other words, we need to demonstrate the real, tangible return on investment.

The translation industry has shown us the way. There are figures on how much more likely people are to buy a product when the website is in their native language. There are detailed guides on how to approach direct clients and there is even an admission that aiming at the bulk and routine markets is a recipe for commercial disaster.

Might it be time for us to do the same? We have the expert guides: people like Esther Navarro-Hall, Judy & Dagmar Jenner. We have the ability. And now we have the motivation. Instead of shrinking, with creativity and determination, we could actually see the interpreting market explode. Interpreters assemble!

PS. If you would like to find material on how to navigate this difficult season in a single book, including interviews with all three of those experts and many more, you might want to pick up a copy of my upcoming book. Available on pre-order from Amazon US, Amazon UK (and others), and direct from Routledge.

 

 

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Learning from the Translation and Localization Conference 2016

(c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission.

(c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission.

All events organisers know that the world is full of conferences. If you want people to attend, it takes more than a slick social media campaign, interesting speakers and a good location. All of them are ten a penny.

So what makes an event stand out? How about a keynote address from the world’s leading (and only!) professional language creator? How about rival software vendors strutting their stuff?

No, that’s not enough, either! Well, what about talks that deal with practical professional challenges and send you home with brand new skills? How about one of the most responsive and interactive crowds in Europe and an organising team that includes a world-leading expert in the business end of the industry?

Now we are getting somewhere. As a second-time TLCer (as I think we should christen people who go to the Translation and Localisation conference), I knew what to expect: the understated musical comfort of the Sound Garden Hotel in Warsaw, Poland; challenging and entertaining content; a lively livetweeting community (#tlconference)… What I didn’t expect was a networking dinner full of translators jiving and jigging on the dance floor, and the privilege of an ‘Experts Café’ that pushed me to the limits of my knowledge, in a good way.

But the memory that will stay with me for life is seeing thirty or so experienced interpreters publicly giving each other and themselves the gift of honesty. I don’t think anyone will forget that moment.

If you are an events manager, go to the Translation and Localisation Conference to learn what an industry event should look like and how to balance learning, networking, and emotional connection. If you are in the Translation and Interpreting industries, go there to be informed and challenged.

Would I change anything? Perhaps the odd presentation was poorly targeted, perhaps there could have been more content that didn’t involve CAT tools or technical software. But what really makes a conference is the people and those who were in Warsaw will tell you that TLCers are a friendly, open, inspirational bunch. And that is why it works so well every year.

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Interpreters: We Need To Talk

There’s a silent contagion that threatens to kill my profession. It infects both new interpreters, who should be immune and more experienced interpreters, who should know better. It neuters conversation, strangles mental health and suffocates any hope of recognition.

It goes by a camouflaged misnomer, “confidentiality.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not for one second saying that we should tell the world that “Mick Smith” spent a few hours at the proctologist or that “Made Up Ltd” had a dip in their profits, which means that the MD is risking his job. Sharing that sort of personally and commercially sensitive information will always be unthinkable for any professional.

Yet too many in our profession still wrongly think that, to be true professionals, we must be some kind of secret agent, with no one, not even our closest family members having any clue about the stresses and strains we have faced that day. In fact, I have even come across one set of terms and conditions which effectively barred interpreters from telling anyone anything about their work, even to the point that all terminology research had to be done by the agency themselves.

There’s a phrase for that kind of thinking: total nonsense. Actually, it is much worse, it is damaging nonsense. How is it damaging? Let me give you three very powerful ways.

1)    Our unnecessary “vow of silence” may be destroying our mental health

Years ago, AIIC did a study of burn out rates among conference interpreters. Now bear in mind that conference interpreters do not traditionally face the kind of traumatic material that can be an everyday reality for court interpreters and public service interpreters. Still, it was found that AIIC members had higher burn out rates than Israeli army officers. Really? Are the “elites” of our profession really that mentally unhealthy?

It is also generally known that social isolation and depression are nigh-on twins. Basically, without a support group, without people you can discuss your day with, your mental health is likely to face a tailspin.

Of course, nothing in the AIIC study points to isolation as the sole cause of excessive burn out rates and it just might be that the problem has since cleared itself up. I sincerely hope it has.

Still, it doesn’t take much imagination to see why overdoing the confidentiality to the point where you can’t tell anyone anything is not a good idea. Even more so given that interpreters do like to share war stories, yet for some, this entirely cathartic process might lead to a pang of guilt.

For the good of our own mental health, we need to create safe places where we can not only share war stories but debrief on the contours of each assignment, mentally unpacking any baggage that might have built up. We need relationships with people who can talk us through our decision-making, understand our fears and settle us down after a particularly difficult or stressful job.

2)    Having a wrong view of confidentiality kills professional development

The idea of debriefing leads nicely to the next reason why we need to talk about interpreting: if we don’t, we won’t improve.

Go to almost any other profession, from medicine to music and you will find a consistent pattern of people being supervised or coached from their first tentative stages to their greatest triumphs. It’s almost taken as read that no one will improve just by gaining experience. After all, you can do the same thing a million times and still be doing it wrong.

There is a myth the interpreters are somehow special. It’s only very recently that interpreters have discovered the need for deliberate, mentored practice and so the ideas, let alone the application are still in their infancy. What we are learning, however is that interpreting is not that special. Elisabet Tiselius has shown evidence of experienced interpreters actually performing worse than they did at university.

In short, if we want to improve, we need to be able to coach and supervise each other and that necessarily means not just helping each other with practice outside of assignments but chatting about how we could improve what we do during assignments.

3)    If we can’t talk about interpreting, we can’t promote it

There is one last reason that talking about our work. If no one knows the difference we make, no one is going to hire us.

I got into a twitter chat recently with the President of FIT and a leading professor of interpreting. The conclusion was that the only way to combat the eternally bad press that interpreting gets is by getting ahead of the news cycle and generating some positive PR. If we are to do that, we really do need interpreters to blog, tweet, and talk about the times that the client sold thousands of units or the diplomats did the deal or the patient was treated.

Again, we can leave the specific details out but something as simple as:

“Did a job for a major construction equipment manufacturer. Three articles in the target language press.”

or

“Interpreted at the doctors. Patient is now fully well.”

would go a long way to helping people understand the power and importance of our work.

But what about clients?

This is all well and good; some might say, but is it really necessary to discuss this stuff in public? Honestly, I thought long and hard and discussed with colleagues the merits of making this a public blog post, rather than an article for a magazine. But the truth is, since we are talking about client confidentiality, it makes sense to involve them in the conversation.

So, clients, what do you think of all this? Would you be happy with interpreters who consulted specialists and kept improving their skills by working with coaches? Would you be happy for us to talk about the pleasure and honour of working with you?

What about interpreters? What’s your take? How comfortable would you feel about working with a coach, debriefing after each assignment and sharing your successes?

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Four Secrets of Delivering Great Service to Clients

How often are you blown away by the quality of service you receive?

Many companies seem to hide behind automatic telephone menus, impenetrable terms and conditions and feigning ignorance, doing all they can to make it hard for their clients. Actually, even in the very worst cases, some companies, like a certain toy manufacturer, even try to transfer the blame for things going wrong.

Yet, in today’s crowded markets, companies who stand out with their service levels will win the day. The events manager who hires the very best suppliers, even when it reduces their immediate margins, the interpreter who watches the room and not the clock, the translator whose research goes beyond terminology to discover the messages that work for a specific market.

But what does that even look like? For those of us in business-to-business markets, there are 4 clear signs of great service.

1)    Great service starts from first contact

I am on the look-out for a good binder to bind my PhD thesis.  I wrote to three different suppliers, one of which came recommended. However, despite the glowing recommendations and assurances that they do a great job, I wrote them off as a possibility within a few minutes. Why would I do that?

The answer is simple: their emails were awful. Sure, I am not employing them to write emails but, like it or not, people judge us by the quality of our communication. If someone asks for a quote, don’t send them prices for all the component parts and fail to add them all together. If someone sends questions, answer them all.

Basic details like starting with a nice greeting and ending with a professional sign-off can make a world of difference. Similarly, sounding approachable and friendly on the telephone or having a good handshake can make an unbelievable difference.

2)    Great service offers custom solutions

Recently, I received an email from a client, asking some questions about the setup of interpreting at an event. In those cases, there are always two solutions. You can either send a generic, flat response, or you can read through the requirements carefully and create a plan that is tailor-made for the client. For me, generic is never an option.

We are all time-poor and there will always be a temptation to go for off-the-peg generic solutions but the more generic you are, the greater your competition. If you can show that you have really thought through what your client wants and can deliver it well, you will have a strong advantage over anyone else.

Imagine that you are running a multilingual event. While it might sound good enough to add in a line saying that you will “source interpreters”, that alone is pretty generic. It’s much better to show you know your stuff by explaining just how you would source interpreters and better yet, to describe how you will ensure that you get the right interpreters for the right role at the event. After all, the demands of interpreting conversations for exhibitors are completely different to handling the highlight address by a leading expert.

3)    Great service is human

No matter how good technology gets, people will always want to talk to people. How often have you desperately wanted to find the “talk to an operator” button in an automated menu? How many times have you been frustrated by websites that just send you round in circles when you need help?

For events, apps will never replace competent staff and skilled suppliers. People will always want to talk to people. For conference interpreters, ensuring that what you say is connecting with the audience will always win more plaudits than making sure you echo the exact linguistic structure of the original speech.

4)    Great service integrates the big picture and the details

I spend a lot of time chatting with translators. Translators make a living being fiendishly brilliant with details. They don’t just understand words; they sleep, eat, live and breathe them. For a translator to really succeed, however, they need to learn how to take their natural passion for tiny details and fuse it with an ability to understand what a write is trying to do through an entire text.

It’s the same in event management. Sure, you want to get the décor to be perfect and the layout to be on the money but those details only make sense in the context of what the client wants the entire event to achieve. While we might admire those who can keep track of every minute of the conference agenda, clients will ultimately judge events by their results.

For all of us, whether we are suppliers or managers, accommodation providers or entertainers, the challenge is to blow clients away with our attention to detail while amazing them by delivering better results than they could possibly imagine. We can only do that by paying attention to how we communicate, creating customised solutions, treating our clients like human beings and nailing the details so the big picture works.

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Why Fast-Talking MEPs are not just Bad News for Interpreters

European Parliament, Strabourg. (c) Cédric Puisney via Wikipedia

It’s unusual for interpreters to make the news. Yet, a recent article on the BBC website discussed an appeal from the Secretary General of the European Union for MEPs to talk more slowly and use their native language. If you work in the language industries, this kind of appeal will be old news. But there might be more to this than meets the eye. In fact, there is a lot here for professional speakers too. But first, let’s deal with the obvious.

As an interpreter myself, I must admit that my first reaction was a kind of resigned shrug. Careless speakers will be careless. Interpreters are taught summarising skills for a reason. To some extent, we just have to get on with it. That would seem to be the obvious response.

But this “just getting on with it”, while it might be a badge of professionalism to some, masks the real issues. It’s not just interpreters who suffer when speakers go a mile a minute. Actually, everyone suffers.

Way back in the 1970s, psychologist David Gerver and his team locked down the sweet spot for excellent interpreting. They found that interpreters performed their best with texts given at a speed of 100 to 120 words per minute. Too slow, and they found it difficult to store what the speaker said. Too fast, and they got lost.

They argued that this is not just a quirk of interpreting. It is very likely that the reason why this is a sweet spot for interpreting is because it is a sweet spot for human cognition. Put simply, if you want people to keep up and take in what you are saying, aiming for a speed in-between those two limits will help you. (Think ‘BBC Newsreader’ and you will be on the right track).

So, if MEPs are racing at the speed of light, it won’t just be the interpreters who are suffering. It is likely that even people listening to them directly will be getting lost. And, if what they are saying has any importance at all, that can only be a bad thing.

Instead of playing the “interpreters are struggling” card then, might it make more sense to argue that speaking too quickly is actually bad for democracy? If you want a real discussion, if you want the voices of your constituents to be heard, s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. If you don’t, you are the one who will suffer. Oh and the people who elected you!

Of course, professional speakers should know this stuff already but it is always worth a reminder. There is always the temptation to stuff a speech so full of content that the only want to get through it is to speak like a chipmunk on caffeine high. Except it doesn’t work. Your audience will actually get less out of that talk than they would have if you slowed down and really nailed one or two key points.

One more thing. No one has yet asked why MEPs might be racing so much. You never know, they might be the victims too. If they are given a limited timeslot in which to have their say, could you blame them for trying to say as much as possible? If this is the problem, we might want to lobby for longer and more frequent parliamentary sessions.

Problems with interpreting are rarely about interpreting itself. After all, interpreting is a people activity with language attached, not a language activity with people attached. Once we look at the people problems, we get much closer to finding a solution. And in this case, it seems that the issue is much less about interpreting than it is about good public speaking, democracy and scheduling. And those are areas where we all could improve.

Posted in Interpreting | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Are You Making Your Clients Headdesk?

Man hits his head off a keyboard

Headdesk picture

I email a well-known online retailer (no, not that one) with some very specific questions.

They send me an automated reply which answers precisely none of them. *Headdesk*

I email another retailer (still not that one) with the same set of questions. It takes me three emails to get to a human being, who manages to avoid answering any of my questions, while the social media team tell me I need to wait a few hours until a specialist comes online. *Headdesk*

I naively try a third retailer (not that one either) who actually answers my questions (hooray!), only for me to discover restrictions on how they do business that make it much more difficult for me to achieve my goals. *Headdesk*

My mobile provider’s website won’t allow me to top up. Their social media team give me a helpdesk web address. The helpdesk can’t help me as I am the wrong type of customer. *Headdesk*

I have no intention of naming and shaming the particular offenders in those cases as they already know how I feel. But these stories, as many of you will know, are not unique. We could all grouse about customer service that seems exist only to prevent customers from getting any actual service.

But how many of us are self-aware enough to ask if we are leading our own clients to frustration. Here’s a story from my business. At one point, I was contacted by a new client who wanted me to provide some interpreting for them. They wanted me to list options of how it could be done, alongside likely costs.

Sounds great, right? I knew that they were trying to cost-save and they had already hinted at how they had had the work done previously. I sent them all the professionally acceptable options and then included the option they seemed to want to use, along with huge caveats and the line “many professionals would find this method unacceptable.” What I forgot to mention is that I was most definitely one of those “many professionals” and all the money in the world could not convince me to take on a job under those conditions.

Guess which option they asked me to deliver!

*Headdesk*

My own lack of clarity and perhaps my naivety in even including it as an option led to an uncomfortable email saying that I could not deliver the service they wanted under the conditions they suggested. Whoops. It should come as no surprise that I have not ever heard back from them again.

It’s all well and good for me to bounce my bonce off my desk at the garish mistakes of big businesses but unless I can learn from those lessons, I am really no better than they are. The truth is that people will only work with me if they find me easy to work with. My business future depends on the service I give my clients. That service begins with their first enquiry email and does not end until one of us ceases to trade.

Perhaps it’s time that bad customer service stories caused us less headaches and more lightbulb moments.

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Using Apps for Multilingual Events

There is a familiar refrain. “In [5, 10, 20] years we won’t need translators or interpreters. Computers will do it all.” Following that logic, thousands of apps have popped up to allow delegates to access seamless, automatic translation of just about anything to do with your event. Might they make interpreters a thing of the past?

 

The potential and limits of machine translation are a topic I have written about before. There is simply no sense in either dismissing machine translation (MT) as useless or pretending that it will be the universal, cheap solution for your event. We need a more informed approach.

 

Let’s start with the basics: translation apps will not produce perfect communications. The vagaries of human language mean that machines will always have it tough. This is especially the case given that today’s best MT engines (the bit that actually does the translation) rely on big databases of language to help them in their work. If your conference includes themes covered by those databases, the results might be pretty good. If, however, you have a conference on a niche topic or one that is subject to secrecy, your translation apps will struggle.

 

Actually, that brings me to a little discussed issue with some of the main MT providers. Take Google Translate, for instance, the most widely used engine. You might not be aware that anything submitted to them, either directly or via an app, is used as part of their continuous improvement programme. Put another way, any data that is sent to them for translation becomes their data for them to use how they wish. That should give you pause for thought.

 

Translation apps will therefore never produce human quality and some of them will have privacy issues, depending on the machine translation engines they use. This does not mean that they are useless. For straightforward, low risk communication that has no confidentiality issues, apps are helpful. Pre-meeting chats to arrange meet-ups, talk about local sightseeing opportunities and provide short snippets of information are the kind of thing that apps can deliver reasonably well.

 

When it comes to high quality, high risk communication, however, humans will always be the best option. This is especially the case for the top level of conference communication: the plenary talk or seminar. Here, you have speakers who have spent hours on what they want to say and how they want to say it. They are bringing their expertise and skills to the table and their presence is often a big attraction for delegates. They have put the work in; they expect you will too!

 

While it might be tempting to think that one day people will open an app and listen to a perfect version of the talk produced by their smart phone, it isn’t even near the horizon. Despite the giant leaps made by speech recognition and machine translation, even the very best combinations of these two can only produce something that will just about manage to allow you to find a nearby restaurant. They are nowhere near wowing an audience.

 

For that, you need professionals. People who don’t just understand languages but understand how speeches work. You need people who are committed to making sure your event is a success and who understand the need for partnership and trust. If you read my post last week, you will see where I am going.

 

Yes, apps are great and have real potential but the presence of human interpreters will still be the mark of a high-end conference for years to come. They are necessary for the same reason that hotels need reception staff, medical treatment is still given by human doctors and people go to conferences when they can get so much information online. The human touch doesn’t just mean a friendlier service but a more personalised, welcoming service. Computers are great and smartphones are powerful but in the end, when quality matters and impressions count, it always pays to go for the human option.

Posted in Events, Interpreting, Tech | 1 Comment

Working With Interpreters: Advice for Event Managers

Interpreters are becoming increasingly necessary. With globalisation, glocalisation, social media, cheaper air travel and the growth of the EU, even the smallest corporate event has the potential to become a multicultural, multilingual, multi-everything affair. Yet few event managers have any direct experience of working with interpreters. For some, it would seem to be enough to simply lift the phone to the first likely-looking agency and hope that is the end of the matter. Job done, right?

Not quite. As with almost all areas of event planning, there are ways to get interpreting incredibly right … and ways to get it embarrassingly wrong. For every event where the delegates head home feeling inspired and valued, there is one where they spend their time angrily thumping their headsets, looking around bewildered and wishing for the exit.

You can’t afford for that to happen at your event!

To make sure that your event sends ALL of the delegates home with a spring in their step, here are five top tips to ensure that you get interpreting absolutely right:

  • Over-communicate

When good event managers sit down with their clients to work on a programme, they always start with the basics: Who is the event for? Why is it taking place? How will we know it has been successful? It is taken for granted that until you know this information, you simply can’t deliver the goods.

The same is true for interpreters. While it might seem that they are walking dictionaries, ready for anything, the kind of slick service you want is only achievable with excellent preparation. Not only that but the more they know about the event, the more they can tailor your services to your requirements. The kind of interpreting you want at a big sales event will be very different to what you expect at a board meeting. Seminars at technical exhibitions have very different requirements than interpreting at a press conference.

All this means that, if interpreters are to deliver the best value service, they need to have access to the best information. In short, no event ever crumbled because the interpreters knew too much!

  • Look for Value not Price

Every marketplace is competitive and events management is no exception. Yet smart professionals that there are only so many corners you can cut before the event falls to pieces and your reputation with it! Interpreting is one of those places where cheap is certainly not cheerful.

A good interpreter is highly qualified, super literate, have a wide range of general knowledge and be able to hold their own in complex environments. They will also have a commitment to continually improving, working in close partnership with their clients and will take real pride in their work. People like that are rare.

So, how do you know when you have the right interpreters or the right provider? I would suggest a few very simple tests.

  1. Always look for membership of a professional body. This not only sets your mind at ease but will demonstrate that they are really committed to their profession and their industry.
  2. Look for someone who asks useful questions. This demonstrates that they want to really understand the event, rather than just turning up, working half-heartedly and going home.
  3. Find someone who knows their limits. The best interpreters know that you can only perform well in the right environment. If you find people who are happy to work at cheap rates, with poor equipment and no other interpreter to support them, be very afraid! That is a sure sign that they really don’t care about the quality of service they will provide. Real professionals and good agencies, on the other hand, are all too happy to explain the most effective ways to work with interpreters and the reasons behind them. They might even be able to help you build the right team for your event.
  • Listen!

If you are planning a multicultural event, you need backup. You need people who know the cultures of your attendees and can give you insights on what will work and what won’t. Interpreters are a great source of that kind of information as they are multicultural by nature. While few will volunteer information unless asked (or unless you are heading for disaster), it is always worthwhile either checking ideas with them or the agency they work with. That distillery tour might go down really well with your North American attendees but cause offence to those from the Middle East. Your decision to leave titles off the conference badges might feel egalitarian to you but degrading to someone from outside your country.

In short, partnership will always produce better results than handing the entire thing off with no support and little information. The more you see and treat interpreters as fellow professionals, whose work is vital for the success of the event, the more successful the event will be.

Posted in Interpreting | 7 Comments

So You Want to Study Translation or Interpreting…

Every so often, I get an email from someone who really, really wants to become a translator or interpreter. After I let them know about what the job entails and point them towards ITI, the next question is pretty predictable:

So where is the best place to study?

To be honest, the answer to this differs from person to person but this post will give you a handy guide of what to look for. So, here are my top 5 tips for finding a great university to study translation or interpreting.

1)    Know what you want to study and why

This seems pretty obvious but it is actually quite common that someone will say they want to be a professional translator but actually fall in love with research. Conversely, I have seen people really fed-up with degrees where you get to talk a lot about translation and never actually do any. It is really important that you know what you want out of the degree you are going to study.

2)    Go hunting

The first stage after that is to go hunting for universities that do what you want to do. For translation and conference interpreting, the hunt can be narrowed-down quite quickly as you can find a list of universities training translators and/or interpreters on the CIUTI website. Now, not all good universities are on that list but it gives you a good start. You can also try looking at national translation associations to see what links they have with universities (some, such as ITI even allow universities to have some kind of membership). Lastly, of course, there is good old googling. The point of all this is to get you a list of candidate universities that you can then narrow down.

For this reason, I would suggest finding as many candidates at this point as you can. If your personal situation allows, look abroad, especially in the languages where your second and/or third languages are spoken. Cast the net wide and you are more likely to find the right place.

3)    Read feedback

Here in the UK, we have a wonderful tool called the National Student Survey. This lists the feedback that every university in the country has had from its final year students. Suffice to say, if the students rated a university poorly, it should be way down your list. For outside the UK, it is worth doing a search for university alumni groups on LinkedIn and/or Facebook and sending a message to the administrator letting them know that you would like to speak to people who have studied translation or interpreting.

The great thing with asking alumni, especially recent alumni, is that the courses will be fresh in their minds and they will be able to give you the kind of information that universities don’t normally give away. Sure, the student:staff ratio might be small but how do the tutors treat the students? Sure, 50% of graduates might go to the EU to work but what about preparing you for freelancing?

Ask a few intelligent questions and you will get a very good idea of how you might (or might not!) benefit from the course.

4)    Read staff profiles

This might sound strange and, to be honest, you can only do it properly for a few universities, but it is a neat trick. All decent universities will have a list of staff and their research interests somewhere on their site. These “research interests” can be very revealing. If, for instance, staff are doing research on practical aspects of translation and interpreting such as training, working with clients, or policy then the likelihood is that the degrees they offer will have a more practical bent. If, on the other hand, staff tend to research stuff like “15th century postmodernist esoteric literature” then it is likely that they will be more theoretical.

This is, once again, about matching what you want out of a degree with what the university are likely to provide. If you want to study a postgraduate degree then the chances are that you too will end up doing some research. In that case, research interests that interest you take on even greater importance.

Too long; didn’t read?

In short, finding the right university course is all about knowing what you want them to provide and finding a course that gets as close to that as possible. It can take time to find the right place but your career will thank you for doing so later.

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Fake Interpreters: How to Avoid Them

If the fake interpreter scandal has done nothing else, it has alerted interpreting clients to the possibility that cutting costs could lead to irreversible damage. This is why I have taken the time to compile a short list of tips to make sure that it isn’t your name and face in the headlines beside a picture of a fake interpreter.

Check their identity

If it wasn’t bad enough that people with no interpreting skills are calling themselves interpreters, there is currently a rash of CV scamming where people steal the CV of a real translator or interpreter and then pass it off as their own. The first stage of avoiding fakes is therefore to check the identity of the person you are talking to. There are several simple ways to do this.

1)    Who wrote the CV?

If you are sent a CV, your first job is to verify that it is actually the CV of the person who sent it. As well as checking for obvious errors such a telephone numbers with the wrong country code, glaring grammar and spelling errors, date mismatches, etc, it is always worth running one quick check. If the CV is in a Word format, and you are running Windows, right-click the file and open the “Properties” box. Under the “details” tab, check that the names listed next to “Author” and “Last Saved by” are the same as the name of the person who is claiming to send you the CV.  If they don’t match, delete the CV and ignore the person sending the email. You might also want to report them to a good CV scam reporting website.

On this point, it is useful to note that traditional checks, such as asking for passport scans or social security numbers are just not up to the job. Many professionals object to these checks as, while they look like they give you useful information to verify their identity, they also give you information that would allow you to steal their identity. Add to this the fact that passport scan can easily be faked with good editing software and they quickly become a waste of time.

2)    Google them

Once you are confident about their CV, it is worth googling the person. While you aren’t likely to find snapshots of them at previous assignments due to privacy agreements, you should be able to find some kind of digital trace of them. If they are contributing to blogs, being mentioned on websites and getting listed on the websites of professional associations (see a later point), you can start to build up a picture of their attitude to work and their level of experience. You can also use this stage to verify that their contact details (email addresses, phone numbers, etc) are consistent everywhere

3)    Pick up the phone

If they give you a phone number and it is right for their country, giving them a phone is a great idea. Not only will you get to hear what their voice sounds like (a vital part of interpreting into spoken languages) but you will be able to chat to them about the assignment and give them some of the details they will need to work well. This goes for working with agencies too. A five minute phone call with some intelligent questions can tell you more than a lifetime of google searches.

Check they are qualified

Again, this is where the old checks fall flat. Asking for copies of diplomas is not, in itself, enough to check someone’s qualifications. In addition, unless you really know the world of interpreting qualifications well, knowing that someone has a Diploma in Interpreting from the University of Mutebutton won’t tell you a lot. Add to this the fact that diploma scans, like passport scans, are easily faked by people who know what you are doing and they quickly become useless.

It is much better to check their membership status with a professional organisations. Worldwide, AIIC is the number one organisation for conference interpreters, although not all excellent interpreters are AIIC members, for various reasons. In the UK, ITI is your reference organsation for spoken languages and , ASLI, SASLI and NRCPD are your reference organisations for sign languages. Not all members will be listed publicly on their websites for various reasons but again, it is a useful check to run. Ideally, membership should be dependent on the criteria that will matter to you: experience, client feedback and some form of proof that they know what they are doing.

While organisations might differ in whether they will welcome phone calls to check membership status, at very least, you can use their websites to check what membership actually means.

Check they are good

Sad to say, checking qualifications is not enough. In some areas of interpreting, not all qualified interpreters are good and not all good interpreters are qualified. The best way to check competence is to ask for references, especially where these come from people who have actually heard or seen the interpreter working and can measure the results. However, since not all clients are happy to give feedback to other clients, this is where a good phone call works wonders, as does a test, if you can run one.

On the phone, you might want to ask them some questions about previous experience, taking into account that non-disclosure agreements might prevent some information from being shared. Still, all interpreters love to share their “war stories” and all interpreters will have at least one project they are proud of that they are happy to tell you about.

You might also want to ask about their Continued Professional Development, if they have preferred boothmates or interpreting partners and how they plan to develop their careers. In short, the more they care about their job, the more likely it is they will do a good job for you. The more important the assignment is going to be, the more vital these sorts of questions should be for you.

As for testing, if you have the chance, running a small-scale (paid!) trial of a few interpreters with people who speak the language involved will give you the best idea of what the interpreter can do. Remember, however, that word-for-word accuracy might actually be a sign of a lazy interpreter, rather than a good one. Ask people how comfortable they would be hearing the interpreter for the length of the assignment and whether they are confident in the interpreter’s ability.

Too long; didn’t read?

If all that seems a lot of work, it could well be. On the other hand, it could well be a lot more work to clean up after an interpreting disaster. If you have worked with interpreters before, you can skip a lot of stages by simply asking them who they would recommend. One general rule still applies: the more important the assignment, the more time you should spend making sure you get an excellent interpreter.

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