“When you cultivate a beginner’s mind you cultivate the mind of a pure innovator—everything is possible.” Marc Benioff
To the Beginner, All Things Are Possible
In 2009, when we founded InterpretAmerica, we had no idea where our efforts would lead us. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were beginners.
Barry was just beginning his role as assistant professor at the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and Katharine was finishing her second year as a master’s degree candidate there. Barry had 10 years under his belt in conference interpreting and Katharine was active in community and healthcare interpreting. Despite, or maybe because of our contrasting backgrounds, we found we had a similar vision.
We knew we wanted to be a positive force to help raise the profile of interpreting and had a gut feeling that interpreters wanted to connect the same way we wanted to. The interpreting profession was and is tremendously diverse, but back then, interpreters from different specialties didn’t interact much. For our first project, we decided to dedicate our time, effort, resources, and ultimately, our reputations to creating a space where interpreters from every specialty could come together and connect.
When we launched the 1st North American Summit on Interpreting in 2010, we were ambitious.
We wanted to bring together people who played all kinds of roles across of the profession, something never done before. We called the leading market research firm in the language space and proposed an unprecedented survey of the North American interpreting market (with an unprecedented price tag!) and then gave it to the profession as a gift. We invited professional association leaders to join us and simply meet one another to begin a dialog. We sent personalized invitation letters to representatives of the largest and most prestigious employers of interpreters in the world and audaciously told them they should attend. Most frightening of all, we signed a contract with a hotel in Washington, D.C. for tens of thousands of dollars with no program, no conference website, no sponsors and no registered attendees.
We began sharing our vision across the interpreting spectrum and answered a lot of questions. We promoted InterpretAmerica on social media, which back then was still in its infancy, and pounded the halls at professional association conferences. People didn’t know what to make of us. What were we? Were we yet another professional association? No. Were we an interpreting agency? No. Were we a non-profit? No. We couldn’t be because we needed to make a living.
We worked harder than ever to make the first Summit a reality, and then the magic began to happen; people began to register and sponsors signed up to support the event. The first summit was a success. Best of all it created a platform for promoting a profession we love, or as we later would say, “raising the profile of interpreting.”
A Decade's Journey
It’s hard to believe that over a decade has passed since we started down this wonderfully winding and fulfilling path. Along the way, we organized seven InterpretAmerica Summits, eight “think! Interpreting” mini-conferences together with the fabulous team at the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), and two unique and tremendously fulfilling Lenguas conferences in Mexico City with the amazing Italia Morayta Foundation.
Katharine and Barry have spoken at countless professional and industry events, been interviewed for podcasts, and written more than 200 blog posts, opinion pieces and articles. InterpretAmerica is also the platform that led Barry to appear multiple times on national and international television and to collaborate with WIRED to create two wildly successful explainer videos about interpreting for the general public.
Looking back, the topics we highlighted at the first Summit proved prophetic. Over a single day, our speakers addressed:
The Interpreting Marketplace: Occupation, Income, Demographics, Languages
Legislation and Lobbying: State and Federal Legislation and Lobbying, What Works on the Hill
Standards Snapshot, Education and Certification
Next Steps for Interpreting
Through our speakers, we strove to provide information relevant to the entire profession and through our sponsors and vendors, we brought in cutting-edge technology for interpreters to see, touch and interact with.
Every Summit, every event, was different, but over the last decade three main themes have guided our work: connection, technology and advocacy.
Raising the profile of interpreting. Our tagline has served as a continual reminder that unless we know each other, how can others know us? A profession split into isolated sectors will never be able to advocate for itself. We need to know each other, and we need the rest of the world to see what we do, or we will never gain the respect and recognition, much less the remuneration, we deserve.
At our events, we experimented successfully with workgroup sessions where we mixed participants from different parts of the profession together to talk about pressing issues. There were some eye-opening exchanges that in the end, helped everyone grow. We ran sessions that put new technology in the hands of attendees. We staged debates, pioneered the use of posters, mixed sponsors with participants, put on lightning talks, invited major figures from outside the field as keynote and endnote speakers and streamed presentations live over the internet when you still needed a professional filming crew to make that possible. We did whatever we could to connect, talk and help the profession mature.
"Interpreters will not be replaced by technology. they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology."
Bill Wood, Third North American Summit on Interpreting, 2011
InterpretAmerica began right as the mobile age took off. We were acutely aware of how the Internet disrupted and transformed the translation industry. We saw the same juggernaut bearing down on the interpreting profession. Our focus on technology trends and the changes we saw on the horizon earned us a lot of grief over the years, but a lot of engagement as well. If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s that we ignore technology at our own peril. Our goal was always to empower ourselves and our beloved profession to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to technological changes.
It is our sincere hope that InterpretAmerica will be remembered as a force for good in the interpreting profession, an entity that sought to shine a light on a profession that usually takes place just outside the limelight and raise its profile. We tried to walk our talk when championing this profession we love. We did this through blogging, putting on events, engaging with companies, professional associations and tech vendors, talking to the media or supporting the essential efforts that all of you, our wonderful colleagues, undertake. Our events sought to build bridges by bringing practitioners, technologists, entrepreneurs and end clients together to the benefit of all. We hope our efforts helped.
Shining a Spotlight
Along the way, there are moments that made us proud, and many more that humbled us. InterpretAmerica began at the height of the Afghan war. Yet our profession did not openly acknowledge or support interpreters in conflict zones. Over the years, we have tried to highlight those interpreting for the military and in conflict zones. At the 3rd North America Summit on Interpreting, we organized a panel on interpreting in conflict zones and after much negotiation, several members from the 51st Translation and Interpretation Company at Fort Irwin, California participated.
As the wars wound down (though never ended), we've worked to call attention to the plight of many Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who worked for coalition forces. Many others in our profession have done the same and continue to carry this essential effort forward. For us, these experiences have been among the most meaningful.
Two Summits later, we were humbled again by another group just gaining visibility in our profession: indigenous interpreters. Interpreters from Indigenous Interpreting+, an innovative program creating training, internships and ultimately jobs to bring badly-needed indigenous interpreters into the profession. The panel was a first for almost everyone involved, the interpreters themselves, and the audience.
We were incredibly fortunate to be able to deepen our support of creating more space in our profession for indigenous interpreters through our collaboration with the Italia Morayta Foundation on the Lenguas conferences. (For all who are wondering, just because InterpretAmerica is closing up shop does not mean that there will not be future Lenguas conferences and events. They are just on temporary pause through the pandemic, so stay tuned!)
It is so easy to view those who are different as "other," even those in our own profession. Our work proved to us only that interpreters everywhere are equally deserving of connection, visibility, and being advocated for.
The End Is Just the Beginning
So much has changed since out first summit in June 2010. No single blog can capture all that we tried to do and share, and the many, profound and life-changing lessons we experienced. Nor will we ever be able to individually thank each of you who helped us along the way. We have learned so much from the journey and our lives and careers have been enriched by all those we have met, the connections we have made, the challenges we have faced, and ultimately, the goals we have achieved.
We have learned that leadership is not so much telling people what to do but rather making the best choices possible and inviting others to come along. This last decade has prepared us both for the next chapters in our careers, where once again we find we are…beginners.
The end is just the beginning because to the beginner, all things are possible.
Eternal thanks to ALL our sponsors over the years, without whom we could not have done with we did. We can't list everyone here, but want to give special thanks to our founding and early sponsors, who came along with us on a leap of faith at the very beginning and some who stayed with us through to the end.