As a novice interpreter, I’ve been aimed at getting conference assignments since Day 1. I’ve always remembered how inspired I was at hearing seasoned conference interpreters’ anecdotes about interpreting for heads of states or among the first people to have witnessed a historic moment. I want to be one of those successful conference interpreters!
However, the path leading to the successful conference interpreters’ club is not easy. Since I’m still awaiting for the State Department’s interpreting exam results, I have had to take on some community interpreting assignments. This is where I began to have a much deeper understanding of social responsibility.
All my Chinese-speaking community interpreting clients are first generation immigrants, speaking very little English. They can only communicate with English-speaking social workers, nurses or dentists via the interpreter. In situations like this, both parties (the client and the care-provider) give their wholehearted trust to the interpreter, expecting him or her to deliver quality meaning. It also means that the client's’ lack of local-language skills could easily have themselves be the ultimate victim of poor quality interpretation and/or professionalism.
A few months back, a client told me about one such experience. Their interpreter had suggested that the client not follow a court-order, because ‘no one would find out’. Sure enough, someone did. The client ended up paying the price. I still remember my shock at hearing such lack of professionalism.
A few weeks ago, an elderly client expressed thanks at me for not scolding her for using her cane incorrectly in a demonstration to the nurse. Apparently, a prior interpreter had done just this.
Incidents like this help me realize, regardless of significant payment disparity, community interpreting is not inferior in comparison to conference interpreting. Interpreting in a conference setting makes me feel important, because I could be the voice of a reputable political figure or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. However, community interpretation provides me with a sense of doing something equally important, because I could be the voice of an immigrant who can’t otherwise communicate their needs and rights with a representative from the country where he or she lives.
One of my mentors is a Russian conference interpreter. She once told me, in the community of conference interpreters, everyone is aware of the risks in dumping. Community interpreting, while not offering the glitz and glamor and-quite frankly-monetary benefits of conference interpreting, is not so much an exception to this rule, but a complement to it. Classroom ethics training ticks boxes. Community interpretation engages the soul. I am very proud of be a member of this community.
Sales, it can be said, is all about interjecting yesses into a conversation. It’s why, when we go to a car dealership, they don’t ask questions like “Do you want to buy this car?”, but instead ask questions like, “Wouldn’t it be great to drive this car?” Creepiness aside, interpreters can often fall prey to allowing too many noes into the conversation.
Do you do translation? No, I’m an interpreter.
Oh, so you speak two languages? Yes, but no. I interpret between languages.
One way to gauge how confused interpretation consumers are is the degree to which agencies go to ‘educate the consumer’. A quick review of ATA’s agency database in the greater Washington DC area reveals that 5 of 8 agencies (63%) explicitly describe interpretation modes in some way. This is typically done through a wordy and convoluted explanation of how or where the mode is done.
We also feel the need to educate. But, in avoiding the feel of being patronizing to our prospective clients, we think it’s best to offer information in a way that they can make choices about what they learn. So, we built this idea into our website by offering layered specifics and images.
The first layer presents an overview of our services: Consecutive Interpretation, Simultaneous Interpretation and Translation. Our distinctness is brought out by using words that people can relate to on this page, like authentic, adapt, communication, accuracy and quality. Other, more academic concepts are also sprinkled throughout, like inter-person, native speaker, and target language, but these are kept to a minimum.
Overcoming Confusion through integrated imaging.
Consecutive interpretation is presented alongside a thumbnail of how it works.
This is set next to another thumbnail for simultaneous interpretation:
Further down the page, we also offer a thumbnail for translation:
All images are clickable. For simplicity sake, here, we are only talking about the second layer comparison for consecutive and simultaneous modes.
Clicking on the first thumbnail above takes the prospective client to a page with detailed information about consecutive interpretation, along with another, bigger, thumbnail. This is the same as on the previous page, but includes more detail and an explanation in the form of text:
Here, the prospective client can engage with the idea that consecutive interpretation is effective in creating a step-by-step discourse, between two interlocutors - blue and orange. A short explanation of the image is provided above the image. Advantages and disadvantages of consecutive interpretation (in contrast to simultaneous interpretation) is written below.
The same format is presented to the prospective client when they go to the simultaneous interpretation side. Here’s that image:
This represents the same two interlocutors, now engaging in a more fluid discourse, as opposed to the step-by-step nature of consecutive interpreting. Again, short explanation above the image. Advantages, and disadvantages presented below.
This form of presentation, we hope, allows prospective clients to engage with the amount of detail they want and feel they need. It keeps us away from talking about ‘what is not’ (interpretation is not translation, for example), and decreases the amount of patronizing we push onto prospective clients while they are just trying to figure out the types of value we can provide.