Tablets for Interpreters: The Device You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission by the authors (incl. the images)

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more.

The latest tablets offer a host of streamlined tools for interpreters, even in high-stakes settings like court and conference interpreting. How can interpreters take advantage of these tools for business tasks, assignment preparation, and consecutive and simultaneous settings?

Come along with us for a tour of some of the tools we recommend. After reading this you’ll have a better idea how to incorporate tablet technology into your workflow.

Glossary Management

A glossary is an important part of any interpreter’s toolbox. Building a list of useful and important terms during the preparation phase can really help you get up to speed on the topic at hand. And once you have a glossary for that topic or, say, a specific conference or client, it’s much easier to build it up over time. Obviously, electronic glossaries are much easier to maintain and expand than paper ones. However, this doesn’t preclude you from printing your electronic glossary for an assignment, if you so wish. (But you might as well just use your tablet.)

While we won’t go into the details of what you should put in a glossary, we can show the different approaches that exist in terms of glossary management software. The most basic approach would be creating a table within a Word document, but we don’t recommend this as it’s simply too rigid to work with over time. Similar criticism applies to spreadsheets (i.e., Excel files), which seem popular among interpreters. However, they are not very flexible, and there is the potential risk of getting your terms mixed up when something goes wrong during sorting. If you still prefer spreadsheets, some mobile apps1 you can use include Microsoft Excel (available on iOS and Android, free for basic use), Google Sheets (free on both platforms), or Apple Pages (iOS only, free with your device).

Alexander prefers dedicated apps that work more like databases than spreadsheets. They tend to be more robust and provide more options for working with data. One example is Interplex, which has a long tradition on Windows computers and is co-developed by Peter Sand, an interpreter and member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Interplex is also available on mobile devices (iPhone, iPad) and lets you synchronize data through Dropbox.

If you’re looking for a web-based solution, make sure to try Interpreters’ Help. In addition to robust glossary management features, such as reverting back to older versions when something goes wrong, this app is also quite social-savvy when it comes to collaborating with other users and sharing your work on the “Glossary Farm.” Interpreters’ Help has a companion app for iPad, called “Boothmate.” Android users should check out Memento Database, a very user-friendly way to manage not only glossary data, but also all kinds of other information (like client contact information or a to-do list).

On top of standard spreadsheet features like filtering, sorting, or rearranging terms, database-driven apps allow for faster searches and give you more control over importing existing glossaries and exporting your data—not to mention the additional possibilities to go beyond just words by adding images, video, or audio. It may sound strange at first, but think about it: for highly technical topics like medicine or engineering, visualizing terms can make a lot of sense. As does recording the pronunciation of a difficult term in a short audio clip, or making a video glossary for sign language. There are a lot of potential uses. If you want to give it a go, I recommend using an easy-to-use app called Airtable. It brands itself as a mix of a spreadsheet and a database, is available on the web and mobile devices, and 
can be used collaboratively. (See 
Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

There is one more aspect where electronic beats paper hands-down. You may have already worked on a shared Google Doc with somebody else online, but did you know that Google also has an online spreadsheet tool (aptly named Sheets) that you can use to collaborate on glossaries with remote colleagues? (Leonie Wagener, a Germany-based conference interpreter, has published a tutorial on AIIC’s website about this.2) The benefits of this approach are obvious. You can split up the workload of bigger conferences (e.g., by speaker or by language), you get valuable input from others, and there’s a built-in chat to discuss issues with the team. Everybody contributes, and everybody ends up with a solid glossary.

Even if you work on your glossary solo, it’s a good idea to add terms during the assignment. After all, we often get the best terms from the people for whom we work, and we know the terms are relevant. This also means less work when you get back to the office, as there’s simply no need to go through all the scraps of paper with scribbles on them that you usually bring home.

Freelance Business Tasks

For freelancers, tablets also offer a modern way to take care of administrative functions, even while you are on the move. Prepare estimates, invoice jobs, do bookkeeping, and keep up on marketing tasks—non-billable work that traditionally had to wait until you got back to the office—are now easily taken care of during long lunches or on the ride home.

For example, interpreters can use their mobile phone or tablet to send job invoices before they leave the building while the job details are fresh in the mind of both the freelancer and the client. This encourages prompt payment and cuts down on email exchanges to correct or explain invoices. Applications such as Quickbooks and Expensify allow you to snap a photo of an expense receipt for automatic filing and categorization, thus avoiding lost receipts and menacing piles of receipts awaiting entry.

For your social media marketing, try using Feedly and Alltop to track new content on your favorite websites and blogs, and Buffer to quickly schedule social media posts that share your favorite articles or promote your own content. (See Figure 2.) Mailchimp, a service for email distribution lists, allows you to view and send your email campaigns and monitor their delivery statistics almost in real time.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

And speaking of email, it can be overwhelming at times, so why not try a few email apps for tablets that bring new ideas to the game, such as snoozing incoming email, read receipts, or sending messages later. If you’re intrigued, take a look at Newton (Android, iOS) or Spark (iOS).

Digital Note-Taking

Alexander: In some ways, using a tablet and stylus (a digital pen that mobile devices recognize on their touchscreens) to take consecutive notes digitally instead of on paper is the holy grail of “tablet interpreting,” although it may not immediately seem superior to the old way of doing things. I think it’s simply a lot of fun to try out!

The perfect hardware combination for this, in my opinion, is an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. But unless you already own those two, don’t go out and buy them just to see if digital note-taking is for you. Instead, work with the tablet you already have. If you don’t own a stylus yet, borrow one or buy an inexpensive option. For example, Wacom’s Bamboo styluses are very affordable and widely available.

Incidentally, Wacom also provides a free note-taking app: Bamboo Paper. As almost all note-taking applications, it works with the familiar notion of notebooks organized on a shelf or in a library. When you open up Bamboo Paper, you’ll see one or more blue notebooks that you can rename to your liking. Tap on a notebook to open it. At the top of the screen, choose your favorite writing utensil (e.g., ball pen or felt pen), stroke width, and writing color. An eraser is also available. Now you’re good to go! I don’t recommend taking interpreting notes straight away. Instead, you might want to start slowly by doodling to get a feel for how the app works. Move on to jotting down a shopping list or short text, and when you feel more comfortable, try taking notes for a short test-style speech from Speechpool or the European Union Speech Repository. If you get hooked, then digital note-taking is probably for you. Great note-taking apps for iPad are Notability and Noteshelf. (See Figure 3.) They both integrate with lots of styluses, including the Apple Pencil, and they support cool stuff like audio recording.

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Holly: I haven’t tested digital note-taking on recent Apple products, but I’ve had great results on Android tablets and my current sweetheart, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (laptop/tablet hybrid).

Samsung tablets use the Android mobile operating system and come with a free app called S-Note that meets all my note-taking needs. For example, it offers continuous page scrolling (no searching for a button to go to the next page) and automatic deactivation of hand recognition (ensuring your palm doesn’t mark or move the digital paper, allowing for a natural hand position for writing). Samsung discontinued the Note line of tablets that featured a pen-size stylus that nested neatly into the body of the device, but there are many compatible stylus options to suit any preference. Just look for the one that feels natural for you and play with the settings in your note-taking app to get the type of stroke you like.

Another option, if you want to do all your computing and note-taking on one lightweight device, is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or a similar laptop/tablet hybrid—many manufacturers are following Microsoft’s lead in this space now. (See Figure 4.) For notes, DrawBoard PDF, intended for viewing and annotating PDFs, has proven to be perfect for consecutive notes, which don’t need to be organized or stored later. Just create a new document (selecting your preferred “paper” color and texture) and start taking notes. When clients require destruction of notes, it’s as simple as deleting the file.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Much More than for Entertainment

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more, replacing their laptops with feather-light tablets. Professional devices are much more than an overpriced entertainment device. For example, Alexander uses his iPad Pro as his main computer for almost everything, from referencing documents in the interpreting booth, taking notes on consecutive assignments, and writing blog posts and editing podcasts. Holly brings her Surface Pro 4 to assignments as a tablet and mobile workstation—even running two full translation programs—and connects it to a dual-screen desk setup when at the office. Prices for basic devices start at just a few hundred dollars, so it’s a great time to try out tablet interpreting.

App Roundup

Apple iOS      Android OS      Windows
* Access using mobile browser

Glossary Management
Interplex: ••
Interpreters’ Help*/Boothmate: 
Airtable*: ••
Memento Database: 
Microsoft Excel*: •••
Google Sheets*: •••

Business Tasks
Quickbooks Online: •••
Expensify: •••
Feedly*: •••
Alltop*: •••
Buffer*: •••
Mailchimp*: •••

Bamboo Paper: •••
Drawboard PDF: 
S-Note (Samsung only): 

  1. Apps: Ubiquitous shortened form of applications, mobile device programs.
  2. Here’s the link to Leonie Wagener’s article:

Holly Behl is an ATA-certified Spanish>English translator and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter. She has been experimenting with interpreting applications for tablet technology since 2013, with reports available on her blog, The Paperless Interpreter ( Contact:

Alexander Drechsel is a staff interpreter at the European Commission’s Interpreting Service. His working languages are German (A), English (B), French, and Romanian (C). He is also a bit of a “tablet geek,” and and regularly shares his passion and knowledge with fellow interpreters during training sessions and online at Contact:

The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting: A Multifaceted Resource

By Helen Eby

Routledge Handbook of InterpretingOne of my resources is The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, edited by Holly Mikkelson and Renée Jourdenais. Its twenty-seven chapters cover a remarkably broad spectrum of topics relating to interpreting, with the following sections: historical perspectives, modes of interpreting, interpreting settings, and issues and debates. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field, sometimes two, each of whom has devoted careful research to the work.

For this review, I chose the chapters which I had seen discussed objectively the least in other settings. The book is meant to be read one chapter here or there, as a reference book. The chapters I referenced for this review focus on non-professional interpreters and quality.

In the professional listservs I participate in, members discuss issues that affect our profession. The issues of non-professional interpreters and quality are discussed there, but the participants often only give one side of the story. The discussion in these chapters, however, provided a fresh, unbiased look at these issues.

Chapter 26: Non-professional interpreters
As interpreters, we believe that some uses of non-professional interpreters put patients at risk. Situations like the following, from my professional experience, come to mind:

A young mother came to a medical appointment with her seven-year-old son ready to fill in as interpreter because his baby brother had a broken elbow. He had interpreted before. He was visibly relieved to be able to be a little boy and make paper airplanes with blank pages from my notepad. The adult daughter of another patient almost didn’t allow me to interpret for her father at a dialysis appointment. I had to reassure her that I was properly certified and would allow her to correct me as needed. She enjoyed her role as a daughter for the first time in many appointments.

When people depend on untrained interpreters for high-stakes appointments, there can be significant negative consequences. Logistically, professional interpreters simply cannot be everywhere at all times. Because of that, many of us started as non-professional interpreters before we became professionals, providing important services to our communities. For example, from 1986 to 1988 I interpreted for customs and immigrations officers, as well as in church settings, in almost all countries in Latin America. That was before I was ever trained.

In the section on non-professional interpreters, Aída Martínez-Gómez acknowledges this fact. Non-professional interpreters are, she says, “individuals with a certain degree of bilingual competence who perform interpreting tasks on an ad hoc basis without economic compensation or prior specific training” (Martínez-Gómez 2007, em. original). Interpreting started as a non-professional endeavor, and she brings this to light.

An honest, unbiased discussion of this issue is refreshing. This chapter does not advocate for non-professionals to be assigned responsibilities in areas of high risk, but simply acknowledges that we simply wouldn’t be able to get along without them. As a matter of fact, most of my interpreting students got their start by interpreting for friends and neighbors before they decided they wanted to take a class to learn how to do it “the right way.” Those interpreters are often very well prepared to learn how to be professionals, and are highly dedicated to excellence!

Chapter 23: Quality
In their discussion of quality, Ángela Collados Aís and Olalla García Becerra argue that there are so many ways to evaluate quality that it is very difficult to come to a consensus. Most measures of quality are dependent on what interpreting ethics are applied to the situation. The court setting is adversarial and highly scripted, as well as being recorded, so all court interpreting codes of ethics emphasize accuracy and impartiality, because what the interpreter says in English is the record. The medical setting is cooperative, so the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) Code of Ethics includes advocacy, while accuracy is still extremely important.

While there is an ideal level of quality to which all interpreters should aspire, Collados Aís and García Becerra explain that there are factors preventing this level from being reached. We need to understand that. Quoting another study (Collados Aís et al. 2007, 215), they propose a categorization of quality, “establishing four blocks of priorities in expectations:

Block 1: sense consistency and cohesion
Block 2: completeness, terminology and fluency
Block 3: diction, style and grammatical usage
Block 4: intonation, voice and accent

“In other words, subjects attribute more a priori importance to factors related to content and message fidelity than those related to form.” (Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, em. original)

Some barriers to quality are related to poor advance planning, such as not knowing what the appointment is about, not knowing how long it will last, or being in an environment in which the interpreter can’t see or hear clearly. Quality can’t be achieved unless interpreters know what is expected of them before the appointment. Unfortunately, this is often neglected.

In Summary
I reviewed these two chapters because they stood out to me with their fresh look at critical issues. If you read the book yourselves, you will find much more information. Additionally, at the end of each chapter there is a list of suggested reading and a substantial bibliography.

I carry the book on my Kindle and don’t expect to read it cover to cover. Then again, who knows? It is an excellent reference any time I have a question about an interpreting topic.

Thank you, Holly and Renée, for your excellent work putting this together! We, the interpreters, trainers, and policy makers of the interpreting world can’t thank you enough! Everyone should have this book on their shelf, in their Kindle, or somewhere.

Aída Martínez-Gómez. 2007. “Non-professional Interpreters.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 26.
Collados Aís, Ángela, E. Macarena Pradas Macías, Elisabeth Stévaux, and Olalla García Becerra (eds). 2007. Evaluación de la calidad en interpretación simultánea: parámetros de incidencia. Granada: Comares. (Qtd. in Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, “Quality”.)
Collados Aís, Ángela and Olalla García Becerra. 2007. “Quality.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 23.
Mikkelson, Holly and Renée Jourdenais (eds). 2007. The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting. New York, NY: Routledge. Kindle edition.

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:

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.

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.