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Four Developments In Interpreting You Should Know About, Part I

Published June 23, 2015

For today's InterpretAmerica blog post, we welcome guest blogger Andrew Clifford, Director and Associate Professor for Glendon College's Masters in Conference Interpreting at York University in Canada. Andrew is a well-known and highly accomplished figure in the interpreting profession. His expertise spans from conference to medical and legal, from practicing interpreter to educator to creator of one of the newest and most dynamic academic interpreting programs in the world.  

We were honored to have Andrew attend the just-concluded 5th InterpretAmerica Summit on June 12-13, 2015. He has done such a beautiful job of writing up the key highlights from the Summit for his own blog, we asked him if we could post it here as well. 

Read and enjoy, and then let us know...what are the key developments in interpreting you think we need to know about?

Four Developments In Interpreting You Should Know About, Part I

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had to take a bit of a hiatus from blogging. This because 100% of our attention at Glendon has been focussed on the development, administration, and marking of the year-end exams. That said, I did manage to steal away for a few days in order to attend the 5th InterpretAmerica Summit, held at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

If you have never been to an InterpretAmerica Summit before, I’ll start by saying this. Co-presidents Barry Slaughter Olsen and Katharine Allen consistently put together a well curated program of talks, roundtables, and discussions designed to represent the state of the art in professional interpreting. This year’s conference was entitled, “Ride the Wave! Finding Opportunity in Uncharted Watters”.

At previous events, Barry and Katharine had sent the message that change in the industry was on its way. This time around, the message was simpler still. Change is here.

This theme permeated the event. But there were four moments when it was communicated in a way that was particularly powerful.

1. Jonathan Levy: Remaining Human in the Face of Technology  Jonathan is the Director of Linguistic Services at TransPerfect Remote Interpreting. As such, he is well positioned to describe two important forces that are having an impact on our field.

On one hand, there is increasing technologization. Jonathan painted a portrait of an interpreter he knows named “Jake”. Jake works online from home, where he multitasks across a number of platforms to provide interpreting and even translation to several clients. He needs to keep multiple revenue streams in play to put a roof over his head.

In some cases, his clients may require him to use a platform that controls his computer. For example, it may activate his camera to ensure he is alone in a secure location. It may also require a view of his physical workspace so that clients know he is not taking any paper notes. Clients might further insist that all notes be taken onscreen in a locked-down environment, so that clients can ensure the notes are erased at the end of the day.

On the other hand, there is also humanization of interpreting. Jonathan explained that he routinely gets a high volume of CVs flowing into his inbox. He mechanically deletes or files them without taking much notice. However, one quirky résumé did catch his attention recently.

Jonathan Levy: "The way to differentiate yourself in interpreting is to be human."

The interpreter in question mentioned that she was an avid knitter. This piqued Jonathan’s curiosity enough for him to visit her website. There she went on to argue, convincingly and in detail, that her love for knitting allowed her to understand the ins and the outs of the textile industry, and that she was uniquely suited to meet clients in that sector in their place of need.

Jonathan then went on to underscore the effectiveness of this approach. By being uniquely herself, this interpreter was able to set herself apart from the crowd. What’s more, she persuasively showed how her knowledge can help to solve clients’ challenges. He then recommended that all interpreter think along those lines. We must ask ourselves — where are my clients falling short? How can I help them get a better return on investment? Or meet institutional objectives? Or add value in their specific context?

As an educator, I found both sides of this coin to be equally compelling. I asked myself some tough questions. Do my students even know how to be “Jakes”? Do they have the skill sets that would allow them to function in that online, multi-tasking environment? And more importantly, do they have the means to break out of the restrictions it imposes and develop a real human-to-human, problem-solving relationship with clients?

2. Victor Sosa: Indigenous Interpreting+ This isn’t the first time I have written on my blog about Victor. Back in 2013, he was one of the invited speakers on a panel that addressed interpreting for aboriginal peoples at Critical Link 7. Since that time, Victor and his colleagues at Natividad Medical Foundation in Salinas, California founded Indigenous Interpreting +.

The story began several years ago. Victor was able to recognize that a good proportion of the patients at Natividad Medical Center who were labelled “Spanish-speaking” actually were not. While they were from Mexico, they were in fact speakers of indigenous languages there, such as Mixteco, Triqui, and others. The Natividad team then set out to identify, train, and deploy medical interpreters who could work with those languages. They wanted these patient groups to experience the more positive healthcare outcomes that are associated with effective interpreting.

Interpreting has the power to inspire and to encourage growth.

The experience at Natividad was so positive that the team decided to expand service delivery outside of their hospital. That’s how Indigenous Interpreting + was born. It now offers face-to-face, video, and telephone interpreting in indigenous languages to other healthcare providers, community organizations, public agencies and courts.

Of course it’s great to see a venture like this thrive. But what really made an impact on me was hearing frontline interpreters Ramiro, Sergio, and Angelica — and interpreting coordinator Judith — talk about how they were drawn to their work, and about the impact that it has had on their lives. All of the panelists said that interpreting had given them a rare opportunity to professionalize, expand their horizons, and dream big. It was proof positive that our profession has the power to inspire and to encourage growth.

Anxious to know what the other two developments were? Well, you’ll have to tune in next week to read the second part of my report on InterpretAmerica. Until then, I’d like to hear from you.

In what way has interpreting had an effect on your life? Have you seen our profession change? In what way are developments in the field having an impact on you? Take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments field below.

Written by Andrew Clifford

Dr. Clifford began working as a community interpreter in the 1990s before making the leap to conference interpreting. He is a former staff interpreter with the Government of Canada and an Active Member of the Association internationale des interprètes de conférence. He is the author of “Interpreting Effects: From legislative framework to end users” (in Mezei, Simon & von Flotow Translation Effects, 2014), of “Healthcare interpreting and informed consent: What is the interpreter’s role in treatment decision-making” (TTR, 2007), and of “Putting the exam to the test: Psychometric validation and interpreter certification” (Interpreting, 2005).


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