by Katharine Allen
Sometimes blogs take longer than they should to write, like this one.
We are celebrating our 6th year collaborating with the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) on think! Interpreting. What is think! Interpreting? Essentially, it's a content stream focused on leading edge developments in interpreting presented during the GALA annual conference. This year, determining the leading edge was easy: Artificial Intelligence (AI). The entire conference will focus on how AI is already impacting how we work, and where these impacts are likely to take us.
The table below provides a description of the think! Interpreting content we have helped line up. We are both proud and excited about the diversity of topics and their relevance. We encourage you to explore the full GALA program here, even if you aren't actually attending. The topics and speakers provide a great glimpse into the issues that language companies are grappling with that will be addressed at the conference, which runs March 24-27.
But that's just the surface. GALA is really so much more. It's taken me too long to write this blog because I've been looking for a way to help make what happens at GALA, which focuses on the business side of the language services field, truly relevant to the majority of readers of this blog, who are practitioners in the field. I am a practitioner, an interpreter 100% shaped and formed in community interpreting, which is about as far removed from the corporate side of language services as anyone could be. And if what goes on at GALA is relevant to me, it's relevant to all of us.
Community interpreting is still my comfort zone, the core of my professional life, what I call my professional home. But early into my career, I began to chafe at not being able to fully understand the forces impacting my workplace. I had so many questions I couldn't really answer:
Where do the contracts come from that ultimately end with an agency from Florida calling me with an offer to interpret a Workers Compensation case in my small California town?
Who is providing venture capital for the tech startups whose technology shows up as video interpreting in my local hospital ER?
How can Language Line be purchased for 1.5 billion dollars by a French telecommunications company no one's ever heard of?
How come telephone interpreting companies are more knowledgeable about, and ultimately provide more resources for, the thousands and thousands of telephonic interpreters who are largely invisible in our professional organizations?
How do the driven individuals who labor in the many professional associations and nonprofits to build the frame of our profession through codes of ethics, training standards and certification programs achieve these landmark steps?
And who decides what becomes accepted pedagogy and the "correct" way to behave at work?
Those questions, and many more, are what drove Barry Olsen and me to found InterpretAmerica almost 10 years ago, and they drive us still. Through InterpretAmerica and the events we have hosted or collaborated on, I have been blessed to be introduced to many of the players who actually shape our broader profession.
Conferences Can Help Us Find Answers
I began to seek the answers to these questions by attending regional and national conferences, all of which have been important to my professional growth. But GALA is hands down the conference that has most opened my eyes to the international breadth and depth of my own profession. Every year it takes place in a different part of the world, which means that every year, a different regional selection of company owners, tech developers and other stakeholders attend, sharing their products, innovations and approaches to interpreting and translation.
GALA is where I started to understand how differently the European, US and Asian markets are structured. GALA is where I've met the down-to-earth people who create the new technology designed to help us, but which can also disrupt. GALA is where I understood how fundamentally different the business models are for interpreting and translation and the struggle company owners have to stay on top of changing service delivery models on very thin profit margins.
And GALA is where I perceived, as controversial as the term has become with practitioners, that language services are indeed an industry. We as practitioners are not and cannot be separate from the players who create and run the international infrastructure that ultimately impacts our jobs. Rather, the more we get to know each other and truly understand what our needs and realities are, the stronger we become as a whole. A cliche sentiment, perhaps, but undeniably true.
Connecting the International to the Local
To bring this theme full circle: At the beginning of this month, I attended the California Healthcare Interpreting Association's (CHIA) annual educational conference in Sacramento, California. I have been part of this conference since 2002. It brings together a broad swath of important leadership in healthcare interpreting, 400+ practitioners, vendors and other stakeholders.
This year, I watched as my veteran healthcare interpreting colleagues, people who literally helped build the field, met and interacted with key individuals I've come to know from GALA. Their company was awarded the critical Statewide Medical Interpretation Project for the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The project will lead to recommendations to the state of California regarding four key initiatives:
Identify the requirements needed to provide medical interpretation services;
Research and analyze other states’ Medicaid programs;
Recommend strategies for providing medical interpretation services for Medi-Cal beneficiaries;
Assess and recommend pilot programs to provide and improve medical interpretation services in California.(1)
Where California goes, much of the country often goes. This is a key example of what I mean by how important it is that we be aware of and know the players in our industry from outside our professional arena. Often, they are the ones tapped to oversee an initiative that will directly impact thousands of working interpreters in our professional arena. It was both extremely gratifying to see this group, made up of people who have been my mentors and who are key shapers in our field, finally meet. But I was also disturbed that they hadn't met before, nor had they been aware of each others' contributions to our profession. We should all have met each other at a much earlier stage, even if just though the articles we write and the presentations we give.
I'm not suggesting we pull out our credit cards and go into debt trying to attend all the key conferences around the world to stay informed. Luckily, we live in the era of social media and increasingly robust news resources for our profession.
So, when GALA and think! Interpreting kick off next Sunday, March 24 in Munich, be sure to follow the event on social media. Follow the conference hashtag and check in to our and GALA's social media feeds on whatever platform you use the most. We'll "meet" each other there and hopefully learn something new and useful about AI and international forces that affect our work.