NAJIT just held its annual conference a few weeks back, and my experience as a first-time attendee drew comparisons with last year’s ATA’s conference. Those in the know – know that NAJIT and ATA are two of the most significant US-based organizations for interpreters and translators, and that each organization holds its own annual conference. Here’s some first-hand tips on how to do conferences like NAJIT, and how these two events compare.
NAJIT, the National Association of Judicial Interpreters & Translators, is the go-to organization for all things law. The main body of the 2016 conference was held on a Saturday and Sunday in May, with select workshops offered on Friday (the 13th!). As a new professional, I had very limited contact with NAJIT (accepting some casual conversation with a few members) prior to the conference, but knew that getting involved would be instrumental to my efforts in establishing myself in the topical area of law. This is in stark contrast to how I approached attending the 2015 ATA (American Translators Association) conference, where I had previously been able to be a part of the organization’s activities by getting involved with the local ATA chapter (I’m a board member of NCATA – ATA's DC subchapter), and that ATA is more focused on general skills than those related to a specific topical area.
Coming in to San Antonio from DC meant that I would need to make both flight and hotel arrangements. I reserved a spot for a Friday afternoon workshop, and paid for the conference fees online. The plan was to arrive the morning of, drop my bags in the hotel room, grab a quick power nap, and attend the workshop. Then, I thought it would be nice to meet up with both new and old friends over dinner to close out the evening. As for the rest of the weekend, I planned to just go with the flow until my flight left on Sunday afternoon.
Tip #1: Fly to the event the day before
This might seem pretty obvious, but flights can and will be problematic. Despite being scheduled to arrive several hours in advance of the workshop, my plans were a little roughed up by the lovely attendants at BWI who felt that it was in all our best interests to remain in the security line for a really long time (perhaps now they’ve changed their mind?). Anyway, flight missed; workshop missed. Not too much harm done, and I got to chill with friends in the evening anyway. Still, it was a shame to miss Judy Jenner’s workshop on depositions.
Tip #2: Spring for the in-house hotel room
One of my best decisions was to bite the bullet and get a room at the same hotel in which the event was being held. NAJIT 2016 was held at the Marriott Rivercenter. Pretty swanky and pretty pricy, but well worth it after a long day of workshops/presentations/networking/dinners. Staying in-house meant that I had peace of mind in knowing that I could get back and forth between the conference and my room to handle any involved business phone calls or emergencies. It was also a benefit in that the hotel offered the flexibility for me to leave my belongings in the hotel room past the standard checkout time, so that I could finish out the conference based on my schedule – not the hotel’s.
The Comparison – People and Professionals
NAJIT is focused. Much more so than ATA. This focus puts one in a great position to meet experts from a highly diverse background set, where professionals learn about what other professionals do as interpreters and translators of law. At ATA 2015, I met both agencies and LSP’s that specialize in my language combination (Chinese/English). We spoke to one another, and made lasting friendships, based on what our language combinations or language needs are. NAJIT presented an entirely different dynamic. I think this is because of three main reasons.
NAJIT conferences have been described as ‘united’. The number of attendees at this year’s NAJIT, from my anecdotal point of view, was in the hundreds. ATA 2015, if consistent with prior years, was in the thousands. No better or worse judgement is implied here for either case, but it certainly designs a different dynamic. Relationship building just seems to happen better in a low population density environment than in a high-density micro-networking environment.
Focus on the topic
Law and all its relations (ethics, practice, specialties, etc.) can be a bear of a topic, and NAJIT provides a unique opportunity to focus on this single area for an extended period of time. A full weekend offers one time to focus the mind on several concepts and make novel connections between related, but distinct, presentations. This seems to foster the ‘stimulating’ and ‘passionate’ quality that has been spoken about NAJIT previously.
Focus on the members
At NAJIT, I met people and learned about their stories and profession. We did not share business cards because of a common language combination, or because we were both ‘newbies’. I had conversations with people that, in learning about their backgrounds, allowed me connect better to my personal practice. The interpreter whose mother and father came from different continents and now live in the US. The pre-interpreter/translator lives of others. The fact that I observed my first town-hall style meeting where individuals had an opportunity to speak with the board about personal and organizational concerns. The connections I made with other members happened in a very organic way.
Put another feather in that hat, would ya NAJIT?
If you've ever seen the famous 'Who's on First' skit between Abbot and Costello, you might have noticed how quickly they go back and forth (check out 01:39-2:06).
Other times, interpreted discourse happens in sequence, like with consecutive interpretation. In the sequential version of interpretation, the interpreter and speaker must coordinate the stopping and starting of speaking. Done poorly, the speaker and interpreter speak over-top one another. On the other extreme, neither person talks, and the conversation's flow breaks down.
An analogy is two people trying to get through a door at the same time. If they both go through together, they end up smashing into one another and no one gets through. If they both wait to go, no one gets through just the same. People are normally pretty good at getting through doors in situations like this, because of social conventions: think of the 'lady's first' concept.
Experienced interpreters have suggested that new interpreters should wait a certain amount of time (between two to seven seconds in this case) to start speaking. The argument is that the interpreter needs to make sure that the speaker is absolutely finished talking before they 'take over' and start talking. Here's how that would look in sequence:
1. Speaker talks.
2. Speaker stops talking.
3. 2-7 second pause.
4. Interpreter talks...
But, is this pause really necessary? To answer that question, we can employ what academics call ‘Conversation Analysis’ to discover how an interpreter and the people they service might coordinate with one another – in a natural way. The basic concept is this: Conversations are made of pieces, called turns, where each person takes a turn speaking (just like is shown in the sequence shown above). For simplicity's sake, it's you're turn when you're speaking, and it's my turn when I'm speaking. Likewise, when one person is finished speaking, their turn stops and another person can take up a new turn.
In the interpreting world, such as at a business meeting, it's very important that each person eligible to speak (both attendees and interpreters) know when one turn can change into another turn. The shift from one person’s turn to another person’s turn is called turn transition. In consecutive interpretation mode, interpreters are always involved in turn transition, either as someone releasing a turn, or taking up a new turn. Here’s that previous example, in light of all this new lingo, where the interpreter takes up a turn.
1. Speaker talks (speaker's turn)
2. Speaker stops talking. (turn transition)
3. 2-7 second pause. (nobody’s turn)
4. Interpreter talking (interpreter’s turn)
This sequence is really weird. Try it yourself! Go find your best friend and talk to them. In the middle of the conversation, just pause for two-seven seconds after they finish speaking. I GUARANTEE it will feel like the world has stopped, and they will be wondering "What's wrong???” The reason for this is that such pauses almost never happen in conversation (such pauses are typically maxed out at 1 second). When they do, they clearly indicate what linguists so eloquently call 'trouble'. When such a problem arises, the common social rule is to try to identify and then correct it. The goal of the conversation has suddenly changed from talking about the weather to identifying what the problem is.
Interpreters that follow bad advice, like extended pauses, likewise indicate to everyone present that there is some kind of trouble. Put yourself in the speaker's shoes, and think about what you might assume the trouble is. If I were to be in such a situation, I would automatically assume that the trouble is that the interpreter is having trouble interpreting.
Extended pauses in conversation may redirect the topic of conversation. Interpreters should not be the cause of redirection.
How should an interpreter know when to take up their turn? That's easy! You do it all the time. Go have a conversation with your best friend again. About half way through, think to yourself about how you know when to start speaking. It just happens, right?
Academics have identified several strategies for understanding when a turn may be coming to completion, such as the following: syntactic completion (a whole concept has been presented, such as happens in written language when you see a period at the end of a sentence), intonation change (a speaker's tone might go down when a statement has been completed, or up for a question), speed change (a speaker uses one rhythm continually when speaking and then suddenly shifts into a lower or higher speed to complete their turn), and actual words that indicate completion (someone says: "I will not do it - period").
There is a cornucopia of ways in which we understand that a speaker is finished talking, and these are already intuitively built in to your everyday skills used in conversation. As an interpreter, I rely on these strategies, plus one interpreting-specific strategy that’s based on body language. When writing notes (and listening to the speaker), I look at my notepad and position my head down. When I notice the speaker completing their turn (using the indicators above), I change my body position so that when the turn ends, I have completed my note-taking - my head is positioned up - and my eyes gaze around at the audience and my notes. This position is maintained throughout my turn. When I subsequently release my turn, I switch back to the first position. These visual cues are consistently used throughout the session, and quickly become understood by everyone present.
Interpreters should render, rather than redirect, discourse in the other language.
Michael Grez, co-founder of Intran Solutions. He is a linguist specializing in interactional theories of communication.
Tian Huang, co-founder of Intran Solutions. She provides conference interpretation and translation between Chinese and English.
(picture courtesy of erfan a. setiawan)
A few months back, some soon-to-be interpreting/translation MA graduates asked me a question at the end of a presentation: How do you get gigs? Stumbling around my words, I realized it seems like they come from almost anywhere. Here’s a more focused light on that subject.
Faced with this same question as I started out, I initially broadsided agencies with emails and waited…and waited. Things started moving as soon as I began expanding my efforts, so that several ways, or what I’ll call flows (described below) appeared. The distinction between doing things like emailing and doing other things (like making a website) is subtle but also necessary, especially in the beginning stages of a freelancing career.
How flow works
From beginning to end, each gig has its own flow. By this, I mean that there is a sequence of actions that people take, which eventually ends in actual interpreting or translating work being done. That’s really academic sounding, so here’s a classic example, where I (peekaboo!) had a friend who needed work done. We agreed on the terms (price, timeline, etc.), and work was done.
But soon enough, if you’re like me, that personal network gets exhausted. This is where I adapted beyond my personal networks and email strategy. Two types of flow appeared and became apparent.
Pre-fab (Pre-fabricated) flow
This is the network that you’ve already got. All it needs is a little polish. Turns out that I had been developing this all along while in a previous life and during school – professors, visiting lecturers, past and present personal friends, etc. All I had to do was…
To start with, I reoriented how I engaged with online social platforms, like WeChat, and LinkedIn. Then some amazing flows happened, like this:
(Tian has an alumna, that has a friend, that works with a company…)
This is one of my longest flows. It shows that there are five individuals involved. All I needed to get it started was to know an alumna that believed in me. From there, the rest of the flow did the work, as I was introduced to each party down the chain. I made sure that the work done was par excellence, and hopefully now I’ve got four new flows from this one gig.
So, pre-fab flow is great, but it’s even greater when it builds upon itself to create new sources of flow. Other resources, like association memberships and a website can act as a way for freelancers like us to create our own new opportunities. Here are two actions (making my website and becoming a member of a T/I association) that I’ve taken, and actual flows coming out of those efforts.
The point here is simple: Flow is where work comes from. It starts by vacuuming you up into a process that connects you with other people, and ends in work being done. Pre-fab networks do this automatically and with little effort, because all the pieces are already in place—all you need to do is to make yourself available and trustworthy. Fab flows are only available once you make/do something new, like a website, conference, association membership, etc. Early career freelancers should be open to opportunities offered by all types of flow, and therefore open to interacting with as many valuable collaborators as possible.
We imagine that as new freelancers graduate to a more experienced career-stage, certain flows become more valuable than others. So, only valuable flow-types will be developed, and other types will fall by the way side. Any thoughts on this?
Time to go with the flow! (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)
Image (top): Ben Gray