An interpreter’s perspective on the book – Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Seth Godin, in his newish book on Tribes, takes on a challenging task – prompting us to consider how we see our role as workers in our modern, social world.
We’ve looked at tribes from the point of view of our own profession – conference interpretation. Here, we break down the basics – what tribes are and how they work, and how interpreters might see what they do from the perspective of the tribe.
What are Tribes?
Tribes happen when people are connected to each other, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Tribalism isn’t new, and has taken on a slight tinge – traditionally connected with concepts such as ethnicity or labor, for example. Tribes live together in valleys, having relieved themselves of the day-to-day drudgery of rugged mountain-man individualism. When people enter into a tribe, they enter into a community that moves in a common direction. They have shared interests, ways of communicating, and a leader to direct traffic. Most importantly, tribes happen because the community wants change, and have faith that the change they seek is desired and actionable.
So, there are leaders and followers. Godin evokes the specter of Steve Jobs and others in the tech lineage as examples of tribal leaders. Leaders design iProducts. iConsumers buy them, and crucially, build communities that recognize a common allegiance, thereby building momentum for iProfit. Followers, as it stands, should be respected in fulfilling their role, yet Godin leaves us feeling that anybody who’s anybody really would want to be the leader.
The conference interpreter’s perspective:
Interpreters traditionally don’t, but can fit the model. Interpreters embody the rugged individual. They speak your language, but they also speak that other language too. Jobs are typically by contract, not employment. Even the tools of the trade, like the notes they take to remember your 15 minutes of speech, are custom made for that interpreter – no two sets of notes are alike.
Interpreters act with other interpreters as a crowd, rather than a tribe. They are the mountain goats of linguists, their bonds made through an association of geography or language. At the end of the day, most self-employed interpreters know that crowd-level success is great, but individual success is necessary.
Is there a way off the mountain for interpreters?
Tribes need a way for people to commune with one another. In Godin’s modernist view of the tribal world, community is shifting away from old notions of manufacture, ethnicity, and nationality – towards new conceptualizations of ideas and services. Social media doesn’t make a tribe in and of it’s own merits. Members create tribes when leaders leverage a medium to facilitate communal ownership of the platform.
Such facilitation seems to be exactly what interpreters do for clients. Moving away from the A/B-language view of the interpreter, could it be that the interpreter acts as tribal leader, utilizing a medium (interpreting) that facilitates tribal qualities in the community of clients they serve? Going back to Godin’s Tribal concept, let’s situate that with the interpreter. Tribes happen when:
The challenge of application rests on the idea of faith. Currently, interpreter codes of ethics mandate that the interpreter take on a neutral stance. The interpreter should take on their role as if they do not exist – where meaning is the sole province of the speaker. For interpreters to take on a role as leader, they would require a new mandate. Wittgenstein famously said that meaning is a two-sided coin… negotiated between people, rather than dictated by individuals. Are interpreters arbitrators of meaning, or are they simply translators of meaning?
We think that the value prospect of the entrepreneurial interpreter lies in their capacity as tribal leaders.
This blog written by:
Michael Grez and Tian Huang of Intran Solutions LLC, provider of authentic conference interpreting service between Chinese and English - based in Washington, DC.
Takeaway: People can understand interpreter problems without knowing the language.
A while ago, we received some feedback from a client that we just finished interpreting for.
“Thanks for doing such a good job!”
Really, we wondered? How could someone who doesn’t speak both languages ‘feel’ that the interpreter did a “good job”?
The client continued: “I felt that when I emphasized something - that you did the same when you were interpreting.”
This idea got us started thinking about how that famous line – that 90% of all communication is non-verbal, meaning that you should be able to understand a whole lot of what someone says without even knowing the language. It seemed like for us as interpreters, that this would be very important to deeply understand, so we took this idea and ran with it.
The result has become a collaborative effort between us, an interpreting company, and an academic friend at a university... Michael Grez of Intran Solutions, along with Dr. Kazuki Hata of Tokyo City University, recently presented their findings at the recent American Association of Applied Linguistics conference in Portland, called Repair in Interpreted Monologue.
The findings show that people who use interpreters can understand - not only that their interpreter is experiencing problems - but also can understand how the interpreter is trying to fix that problem. All without knowing the language.
This is particularly important for anyone who uses interpreters, because it’s absolutely necessary that communications can flow freely between people, and not be bothered by wondering whether or not the interpreter is doing their job well enough. Because, as soon as they’re wondering about the interpreter, they’re not focused on what they need to be focused on – the client, getting the sale, getting to Yes, or whatever.
So, we think that there is a lot more room in the interpreting industry for teams like this– where the rubber of academia can meet the road of interpreting practice. We’ll keep you posted on other collaborative efforts as we find them.
Until then… Have you ever heard of practicing interpreters and academics joining forces? If so, we would love to hear from you.
This article is co-written by Michael Grez and Tian Huang, co-owners of Intran Solutions, provider of interpreting and translation services between Chinese and English, based in Washington, D.C. Special thanks to Kazuki Hata!
Image provided by the United States Navy.
A recent report put out by the Economist Intelligence Unit describes how language affects business done across borders. This article describes how translation (spoken interpretation and written translation) fits in this puzzle, so that company can better understand the situations where they might best utilize such services.
The skinny: Companies understand they are not providing the best returns for shareholders because of failures in cross-border communication. Translators are an important part of the solution mix. Here’s how...
Comprised of a survey and interviews with experts and senior executives, the report suggests that companies experience challenges relating to how well, or poorly, multi-language resources are managed. Here’s some quick stats:
Beyond such fluffy statics, it’s most important to consider local challenges. 61% of Chinese-based firms say that they have ‘suffered financial losses as a result of failed cross-border transactions.’ Lan Kang, the general manager of human resources at Fosun Group, based in Shanghai, attributes such difficulties not only to language, but also culture: The ‘high-context’ Chinese style of communication does not always translate well into the ‘explicit’ approach normally taken in the American style. But, how does a company cross such barriers in the best way? There’s a choice between using employed bilinguals, or contracted translators.
On using bilinguals
It is true that job candidates with two+ languages are in demand - approximately 40% expect job candidates to be multilingual. Bilinguals are useful, especially at the higher end of the employment market, where superior skillsets are correlated with superior second-language skills. Yet, bilinguals are not always the best option. The bilingual bottleneck can filter out other desirable traits more specifically suited to the job, especially in places like China, where Ms Kang says ‘Western multinationals often limit themselves to English-speakers and thus miss out on people with excellent operational experience who don’t speak English.’ There are also other issues, that we have discussed previously.
On using translators
The results of this report indicate that interpreters are most commonly used during communications with an outside firm. 42% report using interpreters and translators to communicate with ‘external partners across borders’. Almost half of that, 23%, report the same internally.
Likewise, of the external factors affecting cross-border communications, the most critical are in developing relationships with clients or customers overseas, selling overseas, and branding/marketing. This makes sense - You only get to make a first impression once, and if that involves butchering the relationship via poor communication efforts… As they say, that’s all folks.
The translator wants how much money?
It’s true. Good translators are expensive. That’s why we think that companies doing cross-border trade or operations should carefully consider their specific situation. Bilingual employees might just be the right option, or they might not.
So, consider the situation:
If YES, that interpreter or translator might just be a great investment. You, your customer, and your shareholders will appreciate how your interpreter pays dividends.