Published May 16, 2017
This week InterpretAmerica heads to Miami where we will speaking at ALC 2017, the annual conference of the Association of Language Companies.
Our primary job at the conference will be to highlight the interpreting market inside the larger language services market in the United States in a plenary talk titled: The Big Picture in Interpreting: Where Is Your Company? But we go to learn as much as to share our knowledge. The ALC annual conference is an important moment for our profession every year.
The Association of Language Companies
Because the ALC is an organization for language service companies, many interpreters may never have heard of it. Even so, we should take note. Practitioners and language companies represent two sides of a triangle (the third side being the buyers/end users of our services). The more we understand what the other does and better yet, the more we find ways to connect, the better it is for our working life, for our profession and ultimately, for the people we interpret for. Although many interpreters have direct clients, the vast majority of interpreting work is managed by language service companies that have the necessary human resources and business infrastructure necessary for managing the complex linguistic needs of larger clients.
According to the organization's mission statement, “The Association of Language Companies has been established with a primary goal of promoting quality business practices in the industry.” Its annual conference is dedicated to promoting that goal.
The ALC is like much of our profession. Young. It was founded relatively recently - 2002 - in recognition of the growing strength and structure of language services in the United States. It is worth taking a moment to read the story of it's founding on the ALC website, written with unusual eloquence and detail by Craig Buckstein. The history provided captures, among other things, the often unseen human element to how organizations come into being.
Interpreting is made up of multiple players, with many interconnecting relationships.
Since then, The ALC has kept on growing, in parallel fashion, to many of the other key professional associations on the practitioner side, such as the National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.
This is InterpretAmerica's first time speaking at the ALC. We are excited to bring a more detailed picture of the interpreting side of the language services industry - which is dominated by translation and localization. We hope to continue our work of building connections between the key players in our profession, so we can work more effectively together to strengthen it.
"Labor and Management" Does Not Describe the Relationship Between Interpreters and Language Service Companies
Currently, our profession is experiencing stress and change. One understandable reaction we see is an angry backlash that is often framed incorrectly as conflict between labor and management, where "labor" represents the interpreters and "management" is represented by the language service companies. The "labor and management" model comes from jobs where large employers hire many employees. However, this dynamic does not accurately capture the structure of interpreting.
Quite the contrary. Interpreting is primarily a freelance profession where individual interpreters interact with multiple buyers or end users of services, a relationship usually brokered by language service companies as intermediaries. To be sure, in healthcare and legal settings, there may be a single employer (the hospital or court) with multiple interpreters hired as employees and in those cases, we often do see a more traditional labor/management relationship. For the majority of interpreters, however, there is no single "boss" or "administration."
Language service companies have more in common with the interpreters they hire than we may realize. They are caught in the same buffeting winds of technological change, which is upending their service delivery models just as much as it is for interpreters. They seek to connect end users who have one set of expectations and needs when it comes to interpreting with interpreters who may be used to a different work model or who may not have the actual skill set required for a rapidly changing marketplace. They are hobbled by misclassification of employee regulations that prevent them from providing direct training to support the interpreters they hire, yet the training interpreters do receive often doesn't reflect the job that needs doing.
Our goal is to help deepen and broaden the conversation between interpreters and language service companies. Each needs the other to support best practices, fair wages and appropriate working conditions while still meeting market demand. While at ALC, we will be exploring how we can support that goal.
Be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds his week so you can join us at ALC!