Remote Interpreting (RI): Professional Standards and Self-Care for Interpreters

This post originally appeared on ATA TCD News (Newsletter of the Translation Company Division of the American Translators Association), Volume 2 | Issue 7 | Winter 2021, and it is republished with permission.

In this article we will focus on the importance of following professional standards even in remote interpreting settings, self-care for remote interpreters and interpreters at large, and tips to help you deal with interpreter trauma.

Now more than ever before, language service companies are providing language solutions that empower companies to communicate with their clients wherever they may be and/or do business globally, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic by bridging the gap of language barrier through remote interpreting (RI) in various settings.

THREE MAIN TYPES OF RI

To provide an understanding of what types of interpreting fall under this umbrella term, and how they differ from one another, the next sections will discuss the three ways in which virtual interpreting can be performed or delivered: over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), video remote interpreting (VRI), and remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI).

It is worth noting that there has been more demand for RSI (on different platforms) since the beginning of the current pandemic with the cancellations of conferences. It is used for virtual meetings such as Multilingual conferences, corporate events, meetings, workshops, training and/or daily briefings. For more details see this Nimdzi article on the subject: The Virtual Interpreting Landscape.

Telephone & Video Remote Interpreting (OPI & VRI): Consecutive

Mostly used in these main settings:

  • Medical (telemedicine and in person health care)
  • Legal/Court (depositions or general court proceedings & Immigration)
  • Educational: Parent-Teacher conferences, other IP meetings, and more
  • Business: customer service, meeting and more

WHY ARE PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS IMPORTANT EVEN IN REMOTE SETTING?

The main reason is that, like in any other profession, professional interpreters are required to abide by the standards governing their profession whether they are working on-site (face-to-face) or remotely.

Observation: During this pandemic, we have noticed a new trend of different actors in our industry relegating standards to the sidelines or completely ignoring them, including language companies, interpreters and clients. We should always uphold them. For reference, check out the following links:

WHY OPT FOR TEAM INTERPRETING IN LEGAL SETTINGS?

  • Practical (helps with interpreter fatigue): We know that conference and sign language interpreters work in pairs, taking turns every 20-30 minutes to relieve one another. Team interpreting is also used in court proceedings— notably trials and depositions—but not all courts use it.
  • Essential to accuracy and completeness of the message: The quality of the interpretation depends on it. Given the responsibilities associated with performing this complex task of interpreting that leads to fatigue, it is crucial that both interpreters work as a team to deliver the message accurately. See the recent NAJIT Position Paper on Team Interpreting In Court-Related Proceedings.
  • Advocacy and client education: Interpreters need to advocate for themselves when needed, and inform the clients or end users of the benefits of team interpreting. They also need to follow the relevant code of ethics for the best outcome possible for all parties.

SELF-CARE FOR REMOTE INTERPRETERS

FAQ: Do remote interpreters experience trauma while performing their duties?

A: Yes, they do, and so do all interpreters. Thus, the importance of self-care.

Workspace

Generally remote interpreters work with one or more language services companies. They log into their servers or take calls using a landline (recommended) or a mobile phone.

Tip: Have water with you. You will need it! If you need water while on a long call or if you start coughing and choking for some reason, inform the client: “This is the interpreter, and the interpreter needs a water break” or “The interpreter needs to be excused,” if you need to relieve yourself.

TRAUMA: Tips to cope with work related trauma As we all deal with the anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we want to take a moment and acknowledge all the brave interpreters who help ensure equal access to vital community services such as health care, justice, and education. Interpreters are essential workers too. You can download the safety tips for Providing Interpreting Services During COVID-19.

I trained professional interpreters to be neutral, impartial, strong emotionally, and not to be attached to the story they are interpreting. Still, interpreters are human like everybody else, so these stories can affect them emotionally and even physically at times.

Tips for Coping with Interpreter Trauma

  • Breathing: Take a deep breath (you can stop and breath even on a call).
  • Debriefing: Talking to a professional or another colleague can be extremely helpful. Note that some companies have debriefing protocols in place, but they are very few.
  • Exercise: Studies have shown that exercise is good for our emotional wellbeing and balance.
  • Laughter therapy: Humor is good for you. See this article on the topic: Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke.
  • Breaking the isolation: “Physical distancing is not social distancing.” Make the call! You might consider joining a professional organization if you do not belong to one yet, which affords you the opportunity to network. Safely spend time with others, friends and families.
  • Anything else (cooking, dancing, singing, yoga, meditation, mindfulness) that works for you.

Learn critical self-care techniques for remote interpreters in this webinar. You’re Worth it! Selfcare for Remote Interpreters: An Urgent Priority by Marjory Bancroft.

Author bio

Adjo aka Mireille Agbossoumonde dreamed of becoming a Journalist because she admired a native Ewe Journalist growing up in Togo. Because of her love of languages, she went on and graduated from Université de Lomé, Togo, with a Bachelor in English and Linguistics and a Master’s degree in Translation English-French and became a Sworn (Certified) Translator and Interpreter in 2000. She also obtained a Certificate in Pedagogy from the National Institute of Education Sciences (INSE) and a Professional Development Certificate/Badge for Simultaneous Interpreting from NYU, New York university in 2016. Before moving to the US, she was a high school teacher and taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for 6 years and here in the US, she taught French as a Second Language in Atlanta Public Schools, GA-USA for 4 years. She is currently an experienced French Conference/RSI and remote interpreter (French, Ewe & Mina) and has been a full time interpreter since 2009 specializing in medical, legal and immigration court interpreting. She is also a federal Language Consultant as a Member of the NLSC, National Language Service Corps. She also served as Contract Interpreter Monitor for USCIS (2010-2017). Adjo likes singing, dancing and cooking for her family and friends (now for friends impacted by COVID-19) when she is translating, interpreting or running her company, Le Pont Translations LLC (Founder and CEO) based in Atlanta where she resides. Email: info@leponttranslations.net

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): How is the T&I industry laid out?

This post is the first in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

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How is the T&I industry laid out?

As a preface, I can think of numerous times since I began working as a translator that friends and family have come to me with questions about my work. Do I actually have a job? Do people pay me to do it? Who do I work for? The questions are not always this blatant, but I can often sense the underlying question of how the translation and interpreting industry really works, and whether it is a viable career for someone who knows a second language. In short, the answer is yes!

The question of how our industry is laid out is usually one that people do not ask straight-out, but it is the first topic I address in my response. It is crucial to have this foundational knowledge before you consider becoming a translator or an interpreter so you can decide if you—your lifestyle, your skills, your background—will make a good fit for the industry, and vice versa.

Translation vs. interpreting

The first distinction to make is the difference between translation and interpreting. Check out the infographic below to get an idea (credit: lucomics.com). Translation is written; when you translate, you receive a document in one language and translate it into another language—usually on a computer, but sometimes by hand. Interpreting is spoken; interpreters work in person, by phone, or by video, interpreting words spoken in real time by conveying the same message out loud in a second language so that another person or other people can understand what was said.

Translation and interpreting require very different skills; translators are strong writers with a good grasp of writing conventions in their target language. They need to be able to properly understand the source language to create a suitable translation. Interpreters, on the other hand, should have a strong command of speaking skills in both languages and must be able to produce coherent and accurate renditions of what is being said as it is said.

What is a language pair?

The combination of languages in which a translator or interpreter provides services is called their “language pair.” Translators usually work from one language into another; for example, I work from Spanish into English (Spanish>English), which means that my clients send me documents in Spanish and I deliver translated documents in English. It is a good rule of thumb to remember that translators usually work into their native language. This is because most of us are naturally better writers in our native tongue, so we work from our second language into our first. Interpreters, alternatively, may work with both languages at the same level; for example, if an interpreter is hired to help a doctor communicate with her patient, the interpreter will need to speak both languages so both parties are understood. In this case, we would say that the interpreter’s language pair is Spanish-English, since he is not working into one language or the other. As a side note, some interpreters offer their services at conferences where the speaker or presenter speaks in one language and some or all attendees need to hear the presentation in their own language (this is called conference interpreting). If, for example, a group of marine biologists from Mexico attends a conference in Miami, their interpreter would be working from Spanish>English, and would most likely provide the interpretation simultaneously through a headset while the speaker is speaking.

Who do you work for?

This is one of the questions I hear most often. A high percentage of translators and interpreters are freelancers, which means we work for ourselves! Our clients may be translation agencies or direct clients from other companies that require our services. Most T&I professionals work for clients all across the world, which makes for an interesting workday! Some full-time employment opportunities exist for translators and interpreters, but much of the industry is built on an independent contractor model. There are pros and cons to working for yourself:

Pros Cons
Flexible schedule Unstable income
The more you work, the more you earn Loneliness
Work varies and can be very interesting No employer benefits

What does it take?

To become a skilled and successful translator or interpreter, it is important to be self-motivated! Especially if you are going to become a freelancer, you want to be sure that you have the fortitude to set your own schedule, manage your time, and keep growing your business. It is also essential to have strong language skills in two or more languages. It is important to recognize that being bilingual does not automatically make someone a translator or interpreter! Knowing two languages is crucial, but it is important to have training or experience that teaches you the ins and outs of translating or interpreting: the pitfalls you may encounter, best practices, and the code of ethics by which you must live and work. Bilingual individuals who are not cut out to be translators or interpreters and want to use their bilingual skills in other capacities can find great career opportunities as language teachers, bilingual medical or legal providers, language project managers, and so forth. In fact, bilingual individuals can play a key role in just about any profession imaginable.

We hope this helps to answer some of the initial questions you may have about translation and interpreting! Stay tuned for the next installment: “Starting from Scratch.”

Header image: Pixabay

Interpreting 101: An Interview with Student Interpreters

By Kimberley Hunt

Interview with Student InterpretersI had a chance to catch up with three interpretation students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). As part of the T&I program at MIIS, interpretation classes are mandatory for the first semester to give students a taste of the profession. After that, students can continue pursuing interpretation as a career. Anna Bialostosky, Elizabeth Crowell and Michael Ross are bidirectional French-English interpreters about to graduate. They have all spoken French and other languages for many years, and have lived in Paris, Perpignan, Aix-en-Provence and Nîmes as teachers, students and travelers. They talked with me about the beginnings of their careers, some of their practical experience, and advice for prospective interpretation students.

How did you first become interested in interpretation?

MR: I hadn’t even really thought about interpretation. I didn’t know there was a difference between translation and interpretation until I looked at MIIS, and even at the very beginning, I still thought I just wanted to be a translator. It wasn’t until we were required to take interpretation classes that I thought maybe it would be a nice way to vary my career.

AB: Interpretation appealed to me because it’s a little bit more social, and I thought it would be lonely to be by myself all day long. I also liked the aspect of getting to work in a lot of different subject areas.

EC: There’s also a performative aspect to it, and being a musician, that appealed to me. It’s like being on stage, with the pressure but also the excitement of having to perform on the fly.

What do you find the most fulfilling about interpreting?

AB: I find it to be really exciting. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of getting up in front of people and doing consecutive interpretation. I also find it to be sort of like a puzzle, and it’s very satisfying when everything comes together.

MR: It’s nice to connect directly with your end user. For example, with translation, particularly if you’re working with an agency, you never come in contact with the person who’s actually going to use your work. With interpretation, however, you get to work directly with them.

How did you train your brain when you first started simultaneous interpretation?

MR: We started with shadowing, where someone speaks in English and you repeat everything that they say in English immediately afterwards.

EC: We also started with doing two things at once. We would listen to a speech while drawing a picture, and then we’d have to repeat the speech in the source language. Then we listened to speeches while counting forwards and backwards. We slowly worked our way up to listening and interpreting at the same time.

AB: When we began simultaneous interpreting, we started with personal stories, which have a narrative and are a little easier to follow, as well as fairy tales, since they’re familiar to most people.

EC: We also worked with postcards, which was a lot of fun, because you have the image in front of you and can follow along with what the person is saying to activate your memory.

What is your practice schedule like? Do you practice alone or with each other?

EC: Eight hours a week [of consecutive practice on class materials] is the goal. Some professors say four hours of practice for every two hours of class, others say four hours every day, including classes and real-life opportunities. We also practice with other people in other languages, since it’s very good practice for taking relay. For example, we have a German colleague and she’ll take a speech in German and simultaneously interpret it into English and then we’ll take the English and interpret into French.

AB: We also go vice versa into English so she can interpret into German, which is really great, since it puts extra pressure on you to be very clear and go straight for the meaning when you know that someone is depending on your interpretation.

Do you go back and listen to your practice interpretations?

MR: One of the most important things about listening to your practice interpretations is making sure to animate your voice. Sometimes I might stagger through an interpretation, with lots of pauses in the text, and it’s really unpleasant to listen to.

EC: You have to make sure your tone matches the tone of the original speaker. You can’t sound like someone just died when they’re saying they went to Disney.

AB: If I concentrate on making myself sound expressive and sound like I’m communicating, then I’ll be able to get the ideas better and be idiomatic instead of sounding like Eeyore. No one wants to listen to an Eeyore interpreter.

What sort of interpreting experience have you had outside of the classroom?

MR: Some of the more colorful things we’ve done include taking a trip to a waste management facility in Monterey. We went on a tour with one of the managers and had the experience of walking around while consecutively interpreting and making sure to stay close to the speaker so they don’t get 20 feet ahead of you.

EC: We dealt with some of the issues you can face in that context, like ambient noises, as there was a lot of big equipment and trucks driving by. It was also a windy day, so we had to make sure the pages of our notebooks weren’t flying everywhere and we knew where we were in our notes. Those are good things to practice dealing with.

What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in becoming an interpreter?

AB: Be flexible and creative and be ready and able to adapt to various types of information or incongruous information. I wish I had gone to mechanic school or law school, or I wish I had learned how to fix a car in French or English. Take every opportunity to learn something new and be really curious.

EC: It’s definitely a field where specializations pay off. If you happen to be in another profession and want a career change, interpretation and translation is a good choice because that type of specialized knowledge is rare and invaluable.

All in a day’s work for MIIS interpreters! Thank you Anna, Elizabeth and Michael for your valuable insight into the life of student interpreters. If you have any questions for them, please leave a comment below or email khunt@miis.edu.

Header image credit: Life of Pix
Header image edited with Canva

3 Ways to Enhance Your Medical Interpreter Training Experience

By Erin Rosales
Reblogged from Connecting Cultures with permission from the author (incl. the image)

Interpreter trainingYou finally did it! After months of consideration and endless prodding from family, friends, and even that guy at the supermarket, you finally enrolled in an interpreter training program. Woo hoo!

Your course work will prepare you to interpret in the medical field, but there will always be more to learn than can be covered in a 40-hour, 180-hour, or even degree-level interpreter training program. (If you’re wondering how long it will take to learn everything there is to know about medical interpreting, this might not be the right career path for you.)

Why not get a head start on learning beyond the essentials covered in your medical interpreter training program? Here are a few ways to do just that:

1. Do the required work, and then some. Study the required vocabulary, and then some. Practice interpreting using the exercises provided, and then some. Analyze common ethical scenarios, and then some. You get the idea. By all means, do prepare for your course exams, but don’t stop there. Your real exam will take place when you are on your own with a patient and a provider relying solely on your interpretation. Make sure you’ve done everything you can to prepare for this moment.

Chances are quite good that your instructor(s) will give you practical tools you can use for continued professional development and self-guided study. Take advantage of these resources early on.

2. Join an association for interpreters. Yes, believe it or not, such things do exist. And yes, thank heavens, students are welcome in many organizations – usually at a discounted membership rate! Not sure where to begin? Check out the International Medical Interpreters Association, the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, and the American Translators Association. Don’t forget to investigate local and regional associations, too. Many can be found on the ATA Chapter and Affiliate webpage: https://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php.

Joining a professional organization, especially as a newcomer to the field, is a great way to connect with other colleagues, grow professionally, and ensure that you are engaged with current industry trends and happenings (and I’m not just talking hairstyles and hangouts!).

3. Grow your online network. Having professional business contacts is always a plus, but having an online network is about much more than just stuffing an electronic rolodex. You’ll need friends, sympathetic ears, sage advice, and a bit of inspiration to keep you thriving throughout your career. Of course, not everything posted in an online forum is good, correct, or valid (except for things I post, of course. That was a joke. But not really.), but even when faced with content that seems, well, bizarre, you’ll have an opportunity to consider and reflect on viewpoints that are new or contradictory to your own, and perhaps even learn from them. You’ll also have the chance to learn from the challenges that others have faced, and that, quite possibly, you’ll face yourself someday. Before long, you’ll even find that you have something to contribute to the online community, and you’ll have a place to do just that.

Getting online is easy and not at all expensive, provided you already have a computer-type device with Internet service. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, all offer free services. Upgrading for a fee is optional. Not sure where to start? You might try LinkedIn – create a profile, join a few relevant groups, and start learning from and with others.

What tips do you have for aspiring interpreters who want to enhance their formative training experience?

The Interpreter’s Voice(s) – 1

By Brian Harris
Reblogged from Unprofessional Translation blog with permission from the author (including the image)

The Interpreter’s Voice(s)The other day I was reading a comprehensive manual of interpreter training by a Spanish friend when I came upon a quotation that confirmed something I’ve long suspected. It’s from an article by the late Hildegund Bühler. She ranks the qualities of a ‘good’ interpretation. Most Expert Interpreters and interpretation teachers would put something like her “Sense consistency with the original message” in first rank. Bühler’s list, however, begins with “native accent” in first place. This is understandable if you know that her ranking is based not on what the experts think but on the preferences of listeners to the interpretations. As I used to say to my students, “You can get away with murder if you do it with a native accent.”

But a surprise came with her second-ranking quality, still well ahead of “sense consistency”, etc. It’s “pleasant voice“.

I like to believe this because of an incident that occurred to me when I was interpreting at a conference in Canada. A lady came up to me in one of the intervals and said shyly, “It doesn’t matter which language you’re speaking. I just love to sit and listen to your voice.” I have no illusions; I’m no Basil Rathbone. But it was a compliment I’ll never forget.

I take no credit for it. The germ of our speaking voices, like the germ of translating, is something natural that we’re born with. However, like other natural capabilities, it can be modified by culture and training. (For which reason Spaniards tend to have loud voices from childhood.)

Here, though, is a counter-story. We had a student come to us at the University of Ottawa for interpreting who was already an Expert Translator. In fact he was a staff translator for the Government of Canada who wanted to change career path. After several months in the programme, the time arrived for his final examination. He was the student we felt we had the least to worry about that year.

To our horror and astonishment, he failed.

I should explain that our juries were made up of external Professional Interpreters and not of teachers from the university. So as soon as possible, I asked one of the examiners what on earth had gone wrong. This is the reply I got:

“Oh, yes. He can translate all right and he’s fast enough. But can you imagine having to sit and listen to that dreary voice all day.”

Efforts to find a suitable voice coach for him in Ottawa failed. We turned to the university’s drama school and sent him for a course there; but it turned out to be focused on the loud voice needed for the theatre. However, there was a happy ending. With the help and criticism of colleagues, he improved and the following year he passed.

The ‘compleat’ Expert Interpreter needs to have mastered not one but several registers of voice. Here they are listed in order of increasing loudness:

1. Whispering
2. Microphone
3. Telephone
4. Dialogue
5. Court
6. Oratorical

Let’s go through them.

1. Whispering may be true whispering, ie, to speak very softly using one’s breath rather than one’s throat and devoicing the voiced sounds. Or it may be murmuring, ie, using normal articulation but very quietly. This is a natural mode but it has a common fault in practice, which is to let the volume rise to a point where it disturbs other people around who don’t want the interpretation.

2. Microphone voice. This is the register used in simultaneous interpreting, for an obvious reason, and hence in the stories told above. Since microphones aren’t natural, nor is this register. But it’s not only a matter of volume. If you’ve listened to your voice recorded through a mike you know – and may have heard with surprise – how the process changes its timbre and hence its character. Common faults are speaking too close to the mike, hissing on sibilants, speaking too loud. The last is made more likely by the headphones simultaneous interpreters have to wear. Today the register is needed as much for TV as for meetings or radio.

3. Telephone interpreting. Close to (2), but telephones have less fidelity than professional mikes and the context is complicated by the use of speakerphones. The rise of a telephone interpreting industry has made this register important almost overnight.

4. Dialogue interpreting. This is the register of much community/public service medical and diplomatic interpreting, where there are meetings with two or very few participants. Cecilia Wadensjö coined the term in connection with immigration and medical work. It is the register closest to everyday conversation, and is therefore natural. However, care must be taken to maintain a volume that enables all the participants to hear without straining.

5. Court interpreting. Here we take a big jump into the unnatural. It’s the register not only for the courts strictly speaking, but also for tribunals and public hearings, workshops, etc., that are still often conducted without microphones. In court it is a legal as well as a practical necessity that everything the interpreter says be heard by all present, even the people seated behind the interpreter, and this requires high volume and voice ‘projection’.

6. Oratorical. For large audiences. There should be a microphone for it but sometimes there isn’t. I’ve had to do it, for example, when the equipment for simultaneous had broken down. It requires conscious boosting of volume, projection and endurance equal to what is required for the traditional theatre. Indeed I got my training for it doing amateur theatricals at school.

To be continued.

References
María Gracia Torres Díaz. Enseñar y aprender a interpretar: curso de interpretación de lenguas Español/Inglés. Malaga: Encasa, 2004, p. 228.
Basil Rathbone: there are several recordings of his readings of Poe’s The Raven and The Red Death on YouTube. They are the best.
Hildegund Bühler. Linguistic (semantic) and extra-linguistic (pragmatic) criteria for the evaluation of conference interpretation and interpreters. Multilingua, vol. 5, no. 4, 1986, pp. 231-235.
Cecilia Wadensjö. Interpreting as Interaction: On dialogue-interpreting in immigration hearings and medical encounters. Linköping University, 1992.

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