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Four Developments In Interpreting You Should Know About, Part II

Published July 21, 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. Here is part two of his write-up of key highlights from the Summit for his own blog. We asked him if we could post it here as well and he said yes!

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 II

This week, I’m continuing my report on this year’s InterpretAmerica Summit. This was an event that I attended at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

Now, I go to a number of conferences in the language industry each year. After all, it’s part of my job to make sure that the MCI — and its graduates! — are well connected in the world. I also need to know what’s new and what’s happening next in interpreting. I always learn something useful from every event I attend. But InterpretAmerica always takes my learning to a new level. There are few other activities that help me understand, in such a short period of time, how my profession is changing.

This year’s summit was entitled, “Ride the Wave: Finding Opportunities in Uncharted Waters”. At the outset, InterpretAmerica Co-President Katharine Allen encouraged participants to, “catch the huge wave of change bearing down upon us and ride it rather than getting rolled hard in the surf”. It was a powerful message. With it in mind, I now continue my list of the top four developments in interpreting that need to be on your radar…


@SierraSkyIT: Let’s ride the wave of change in interpreting rather than getting rolled in the surf.

3. Barry Olsen: Test Driving New Remote Interpreting Platforms

One of the raisons d’être of InterpretAmerica is to hold new developments up to the light. In so doing, co-presidents Katharine Allen and Barry Slaughter Olsen give interpreters a chance to examine developments from all sides. They can see the good and the not-so-good. With this information, interpreters can decide how best to get in the driver’s seat, and where they think a new development should go. I’m reminded of something that Winnie Heh said in my interview with her last week: “If you don’t manage it, somebody else will. You may not like the results.”

InterpretAmerica Co-President Barry Slaughter Olsen introduces Andrea Baccenetti,Founder and COO of VoiceBoxer.

Indeed, Barry started his test-driving session from a simple premise. We don’t have to like remote interpreting technologies or the impact they are having on the profession. But it behooves us, whatever our position, to know as much as we can about them.

This struck a chord with me. As a researcher and an academic, I often debate ideas in the public sphere. When you do this, some people think you’re promoting. But holding something up for closer inspection is not necessarily the same thing as giving it a ringing endorsement.

Participants had a Q&A with a live interpreter who works with both ASL and Spanish.

So from that point of view, I was eager to get started with the test drive. And Barry did not disappoint. First on the list was Stratus Video Interpreting, a company perhaps best known within sign language circles. Barry was able to connect to the service from an iPad, and very quickly. Within seconds, we were chatting with one of Stratus’ live interpreters, who described her experience of remote and face-to-face interpreting, and the pros and cons of each. As luck would have it, the interpreter we spoke to uses both ASL and Spanish in her work. When using Spanish, she interprets consecutively (the Stratus system only has one audio channel). But when using ASL, she can interpret simultaneously (because one language is using the audio channel, and the other the video channel).

From there, we got a second look at the Kubi from Revolve Robotics. I say “second” because the previous day, sign language interpreter Stephen Frank gave a remote presentation using the system. In a nutshell, the Kubi works with an iPad to give an interpreter a “presence” in a remote location. The Kubi allows the interpreter to move the remote iPad right and left, and up and down. In this way, the interpreter can “look” around the remote room, via the iPad’s camera, to get a better sense of what is happening there. Often, interpreters who work remotely complain that they don’t have a feeling of being “situated”, because they can’t change their view of a remote space to better follow and understand what is going on. The Kubi helps to eliminate this handicap.

Interpreter Stephen Frank pans the room at InterpretAmerica as he speaks to Barry and the audience from a remote location.

We also got to hear from David Frankel, CEO and Founder of ZipDX (Barry is ZipDX’s General Manager of Multilingual Operations). Readers of this blog might recall that I have mentioned ZipDX in the past — in fact, our MCI students have reviewed it and other remote solutions as part of our theory course, INTE 5700 Interpreting Studies. ZipDX allows interpreters in up to seven different languages to interpret interactive teleconferences. It has several innovative features — for example, a faint echo of the source language helps all participants know when the floor is not open, and it stops the interpreter from playing “traffic cop”. And since it is now web-based, interpreters don’t have to download a client application to their computers. (For a lively discussion of ZipDX and other platforms, have a look here and scroll down.)

Barry demonstrates the ZipDX interpreting console.It’s now web-based, which is good news for Mac users!

The “new kid on the block” was VoiceBoxer, a platform that allows clients and interpreters to jointly deliver a webinar in a vast array of languages. Similar to ZipDX, VoiceBoxer is designed so that interpreters can work in the simultaneous mode. But VoiceBoxer is intended for non-interactive, one-way communication. In other words, attendees can hear the webinar presenter (or the interpreters) in real time, but they cannot ask questions or make comments viva voce.

Andrea Baccenetti gives a demonstration of VoiceBoxer — in Italian —that was interpreted ably into English by our State Deparment colleague Alessandra Bonatti-Harabin.

4. Jost Zetzsche: Passing the Technology “Torch” to Interpreters

Perhaps the most touching moment of the conference occurred during the keynote speech by well known translator and technology advocate, Dr. Jost Zetzsche. Regular readers of this blog might remember that we were fortunate enough to welcome Jost to Glendon back in March. He gave a great talk on our campus, and his presentation at InterpretAmerica was equally compelling.

Jost took a look at the history of translation and technology to mine someimportant lessons for interpreters.

(One final note on technology. Jost gave the first half of his talk in Monterey in German, and it was interpreted into English by one of the MIIS interpreter trainees. The audience listened to the interpretation via Williams Sound’s Hearing Hotspot. This is an app that turns your smartphone into an interpreting receiver, eliminating the need for a physical one. It was very cool!)

Jost was one of the first translators to take up the banner of technology. In any number of public fora, he advocated its use and encouraged other translation professionals to engage with it. But the story as he tells it is that translators were initially reluctant to do so. Actually, I think it’s fair to say that some translators were outright hostile. So what was the end result?

There were cases where developers were doing preliminary work on a translation tool. These developers reached out a hand to translators, only to have it batted away. The translators said, “these developers don’t know the first thing about translation,” and they refused to engage in dialogue. (But honestly, why should developers know about translation? Not many translators know much about software development…) The translators consequently lost an opportunity to reshape the tools in question, and the tools were never tailored to translators’ needs.

Jost outlines the mistakes that translators made with technology.

There were also cases where some developers hit the nail on the head. They brought to market excellent translation tools that were designed with the needs of translators in mind. But when the translators were slow to adopt these tools, the designers thought that there was no market for what they had made and moved on.

In the present day, the debate over translation and technology is behind us. Very few translators today would argue that they can do their work without a translation memory, a workbench platform, content management, or even some machine translation. As a result, translators don’t need Jeromobot — the social media persona Jost created to champion the marriage of translation and technology — quite the same way they used to.

Barry receives Jeromobot on behalf of all interpreters.

Jeromobot takes his first steps on the interpreting stage.

But the situation is different within interpreting. Interpreters stand at a crossroads, and we have a choice: to repeat the errors of our translator colleagues, or to grab a seat at the table and influence some of the decisions about technology that will impact us. To encourage interpreters to take the latter path, Jost symbolically “passed the torch” by offering Barry and Katharine their very own Jeromobot. It was a moment rich with symbolism!

@Jeromobot: Interpreters have a choice. To repeat translators’ errors with technology. Or to take a seat at the table.

All in all, learning about these four developments made me feel like I just might have a decent handle on some of the changes that are gripping our industry. I walked away from the experience with all kinds of thoughts buzzing in my head. I now find myself thinking about ways to incorporate what I learned into my work with our MCI students.

Do you have a story about rising to the challenge of new opportunities? What new developments are on your radar? To let me know, leave me a note 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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