I love my job. I know, I am lucky! The agencies that hire me usually go beyond the norm. But their clients have no idea of the work we do, the preparation required, the pressure we perform under and the minimum requirements for us to deliver at the level they want. And that usually spells problems.
“Working Conditions”? What is that?
Performing without a booth at a large conference was never a consideration of mine. Who would EVER request that? Yup, it has happened. A group of interpreters is added last minute and there you are; a team goes without a booth. Interpreting from a half-booth in a stairwell? Been there, done that. More people than expected signed up for the event, so instead of moving the meeting to a larger venue, the organizers removed the interpreters from the room and placed them into the stairwell next door. A safety hazard, but the show must go on. How about standing up behind the AV console because the event planner forgot to hire the interpreters? (I thought I was getting a break!) Or working from the mechanical area where all the equipment is stored? For sure! Dark, hot, and you must be extra careful not to trip on a cable and disconnect something…
Unbeknownst to our clients, there are professional standards covering everything from the materials and dimensions of the booths we work in, the quality of the sound we are fed, the languages we speak (no, Portuñol is not a language), how long each professional can cover solo, to the recording of our voices, and much more. We also have Codes of Ethics to follow. There are Codes of Ethics for medical interpreters, federal and state court interpreters, conference interpreters, and the professional associations we are affiliated with also have their own Codes of Ethics.
Really! We are responsible professionals. Does that apply to 100% of us? No. There are exceptions, just like any other profession. Don’t let that one bad apple spoil your trust.
Lack of foresight affects everyone
I wish I could tell you that the mishaps I mentioned above took place in events for small, low-budget companies. No, it was exactly the opposite for each of those events – and there are many more examples. The reason such mishaps occur is because interpreting services are usually an afterthought. The impression we get is that when companies realize “some of those attending the event don’t speak English,” they do not have a full vision of the situation. Allow me to share some insights.
When “some of those attending do not speak English,” that means you will need to:
- hire professionals who can interpret into the languages those guys speak
- hire a pair for each language spoken, if you require their services for longer than 45 minutes at a time
- provide proper working space for these professionals and
> that space must have a view of the speaker – whether direct or indirect
> if indirect, that means having monitors available in the booths or in view of the booths
- provide some means of ventilation so the professionals can breathe (yes, really!)
- count them among your guests or staff for food purposes
- provide fresh water in the booths, in bottles for safety
- know that interpreters need to study the material to deliver quality
- know that professional interpreters are bound by Codes of Ethics, which include confidentiality
- be aware that our work starts at least two weeks before your event, not when we enter the booth
Interpreters are all-knowing beings. NOT!
One detail most of our clients fail to understand is that interpreters are not necessarily subject matter experts. Yes, we speak at least two languages and we are fluent in both. But that does not mean we are able to discuss every subject under the sun in the same language of your speaker and with the same fluency. An example: would you be able to discuss Astrophysics with an authority in that field in your own language? There are subjects of which we all have a passive understanding.
And, please, be aware that delivering the presentation to us two minutes before showtime can be counter-productive. We need time to study your material to be ready, to help your politicians or scientists or physicians or researchers sound as intelligent in the foreign languages as they do in their own.
“But we don’t have the material,” you say. Easy: provide to us a link to last year’s event, speakers’ biographies, the agenda and we will do the research, develop glossaries, study what is available. You can get more ideas in my 2016 article Embrace Your Interpreter.
I want to convey to you, our clients, that when you commission us, professional interpreters, to be your company’s voice and help you convert your ROI, we become part of your team. Treat us as such. After all, we are a big investment in your project.
We want to see you, the client, shine because that’s when we shine.
All photos by Gio Lester. All rights reserved.