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.
The Confluence conference is designed to offer “workshops, and opportunities for discussion, networking and career development, and celebration focusing on various aspects of translation, including literary, practical and philosophical dimensions.”
It drew attendees from all local walks of life, including translators working between an impressive range of languages, a limited number of interpreters (like ourselves), and institutions. Here’s our take on the conference overall, and a bit about our small part in it.
Confluence 2016 happened over two days, during International Translation Day, at Montgomery College near Washington DC. The first day, which we did not attend, was an open mic session with translators describing their translated works. The following day drew about 100 people, who attended presentations about both translating and interpreting topics.
The keynote was offered by David Bellos, of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? fame. One of the most impressive points made in this presentation has been previously mentioned in Thirwell’s review of the same book…
It’s often said, for instance, that a translation can’t ever be an adequate substitute for the original. But a translation, Bellos writes, isn’t trying to be the same as the original, but to be like it. Which is why the usual conceptual duo of translation — fidelity, and the literal — is too clumsy. These ideas just derive from the misplaced anxiety that a translation is trying to be a substitute.
Vivian Cook would be impressed.
Bellos’ presentation moved several audience members to explore a whole host of issues. For almost an hour, the questions came. Could it be that the translation community is hungry for a more theory/research driven approach to their practice? We hope so.
The presentations offered by others seemed more focused on the local community of translators and interpreters, and institutions. For example, local translators, like Andrew Gudgel and Minh Van T. Tran, spoke about their own translating work and discussed how poetic form can be maintained in translation. Later in the afternoon, Maria Brau and Amanda Curry discussed the FBI’s use of translators in an institutional capacity.
For our part…
Intran Solutions presented Signaling Quality through Interpretation. This focused on creating a new method of practice for interpreters that is designed from linguistic and economic perspectives. This was a big experiment for us, because we weren’t sure how the audience would take to discussing such topics, and we were very interested in getting critical feedback from the community. Wonderful things seem to have come out of it. Several audience members offered questions and critiques that will help us build on the idea.
Every conference brings something a little different to the table. Confluence focuses on the local Washington DC scene. If there was anything that we’d like to see changed, it would be to label interpreting as distinct from translation. Still, it was awesome to see such variety present in such a local event.
(Picture: Big Guns by Krystian Olszanski)
Author: Michael Grez
Intran Solutions' Director. Chinese/English Interpretation. Contact us at (610) 701-1345 or email@example.com
There’s been a big push from the interpreting community to professionalize. We seem to be moving from the neutral language-elephant in the room to a value-adding aspect of what businesses, governments, and individuals do. This is all super cool, but making that shift means it’s important for interpreters to reconsider all of the tools we use in designing value, just like we’ve already done with headphones and booths. Here, we take-on one of the least celebrated – but most important – tools an interpreter uses: The Notepad.
What goes into a good notepad? It should be easy to use, look professional, and be as cost effective as possible. Most find that ‘Steno Pads’ (short for Stenographer’s Notepad) are a good option, but having a customized notepad can do so much more.
How can I make my own custom notepads?
The bits and bobs of a notepad are pretty simple. Here’s what goes into making one, along with what we recommend, should you decide to make one yourself.
Customizing your pad means thinking about even its most mundane parts. You’ll select the paper’s brightness, weight (thickness), size, color, and any pre-printed stuff like horizontal writing lines (rules) or vertical margin lines. We recommend paper that’s not too ‘bright’ to mitigate strain on the eyes. 20lb paper is pretty good to write on – it doesn’t tear or shift and can be printed on any printer. The regular size, 8.5”x11”, works fine as well, because two pad-sized pieces can be cut out of it. My personal preference is to use blank white ‘multipurpose’ paper, with a single printed line down each notepad’s page. Here’s a PDF if you’d like to check out how this looks.
The Back and Front
For backing, we recommend something thicker than the 24-point chipboard we originally purchased. This turned out to be too thin, so we’re doubling up on these sheets for now so that the pad doesn’t warp while being held. As for the front, we purchased 5.5”x8.5” postcards with custom printing on the front. These are customized with images, like the interpreter’s name and company logo.
The binding mechanism is the hinge on your notepad. There are several types, each with their own features. We chose the type called Wire-O, because pages don’t tend to get clogged up when flipped back and forth, larger sizes (9/16”) can hold up to 100 sheets of paper, and the look is refined. There are cheaper types of binding, such as spiral binding, but we find these don’t work as well. We use 3:1 pitch (that just means there are three holes per each holed inch), but 2:1 pitch might be usable as well.
Paper Trimmer Machine
This guillotine-like device trims the paper, back and front sheets to your preferred size. We chose Yescom’s 400 sheet capacity trimmer. It handles, at one time, all the pieces that go into a single notepad, and consistently cuts well.
Like Paper Trimmers, Binding Machines come in a range of prices and quality levels. We opted for the Akiles Wiremac-M Manual Wire-O® Binding Machine. The main things we considered here are the ‘pitch patterns’, from which you can choose either 3:1 or 2:1, its ability to choose which holes are punched and which aren’t, the ease-of-use of the binding device, and overall robustness.
Is it worth it?
The initial cost is pretty high. We spent about $420 for the machines, and each pad costs about $1.25 to produce. A comparable quality store-bought pad would cost about $5.50, so this means that we will break even after about 100 pads. After that, we’re saving money, and using pads that are efficient to make and use.
Best of all, our clients know that we mean it when we use the term: professional interpreter.
Developing a professional online network means developing profiles on online platforms. Some, like us, choose to focus first on LinkedIn, because it has a nice balance between popularity and professionalism. Yet, this single-platform model can limit what a small business’ online identity can develop into. So, we’ve moved beyond the one-platform and have started developing several platforms by creating content (blogging). Here’s how that transition is progressing.
Getting established: LinkedIn
Our goal with online marketing was to network with right people and organizations. As a boutique translation and interpreting provider, we need to communicate both with other industry professionals and potential clients. There’s two things that need to happen:
A few things became apparent as we put up these posts. First (the obvious), we can get people to know about us (Goal #1) by posting on LinkedIn. As we did, our ‘connections’ grew, which made us feel Goal #2 was happening as well. We focused on short, easily digestible, content pieces that communicated from the first person perspective. Here are the titles in chrono, demonstrating how our posts moved away from the ‘me and what I am’ posts to the ‘we and what we are’ posts.
Prepping for ATA--as a newly minted interpreter
A follow-up on ATA 2015. Putting it into practice.
Intran Solutions. Hello.
Is 'Authenticity in Communication' more than just what's said? A blog.
Impressions. Month three into a new interpreting business.
Second, we also learned about LinkedIn’s limitations. By this we mean that because we were engaging with the limitations of a relatively small LinkedIn community of interpreters and translators, the ROI for each additional post would continue to decrease. This showed up on our radar as we noticed the same people liking and commenting on our content, and the number of connections elicited from each post decreasing (sorry, there’s no easy way to show statistics on this). So, we began engaging other platforms.
Moving beyond the one-platform model
One option was to create a website and adding content through blogs. Links to those blogs would then be put up on other platforms, and on LinkedIn. Here are results comparing the resulting views from Linkedin vs. Not-LinkedIn platforms:
In going beyond the one-platform model, we’ve been able to create content that engages a wider audience and is better fitted to our mission. For us, this has meant that we write about ourselves in relation to respected and relevant organizations and theory. Here’s those posts in chrono so far:
Proz’s new affiliate TM Town. Innovation meets Ethics.
Selling interpreting by educating the client
Interpreters’ Social Responsibility
Using: Interpreting-specific resources
What it’s like to take ATA’s new computer-based test
Do I need an interpreter or bilingual?
How does finding work work?
Interpretation: Rendition not Redirection
First time at the annual NAJIT conference: Professionals and People
Signaling in the Translation Industry
We think that getting on board with LinkedIn in the earliest stages of starting a company like ours is a great idea, because we really have gotten in contact with a lot of awesome people. With this foundation being set however, we have been able to expand out to more of the right people and organizations by developing an identity outside of LinkedIn by writing content on our website and linking to these blogs on several other platforms.
Tian Huang and Michael Grez are the co-founders of Intran Solutions, providing authentic communication between Chinese and English. Find us at www.intransolutions.com.
Translators ask a simple question before taking on any new gig: Are my skills right for this task? It’s challenging to answer with so many unknowns. How technical is the language… Do I know enough about the topic? This article talks about how translators can get answers through signaling.
What is Signaling?
Signaling, in short, is indicating something to another person. Think presidential candidates pummeling the airways with advertisements. The idea is pretty simple, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Where signaling becomes a little more complex is when people don’t know much about each other – what academics call ‘imperfect information’. If someone who needs a translation (a client) doesn’t know much about a translator, they’ll probably go to someone else they know more about, like an agency. The translator - regardless of their quality level - can't differentiate themselves, and contracts with an agency as well. So, what we don't know about each other can keep us from being able to directly contract with one another.
This isn’t the best-case scenario for either translator or client. The client gets service provided by any translator provided by the agency. The translator ends up providing service at commodity-level prices. The goal for the translator should be to minimize what the client doesn’t know. How’s this work?
Signaling a Standard
Translators may signal to clients about their quality level by getting relevant certifications or training. But, it’s also so important to understand just what is signaled through certs and training - they signal a standard, not the individual.
Only service providers that pass their certification/training will signal that they can perform at a certain standard. Even so, it’s the standard that is being signaled, and...
The client is left wondering: Is this translator right for my task?
Signaling Individual Quality through Networking
Signals also come through a professional network, which is built through previous clients. This is great for the client and service provider, because recommendations come from trusted people who observed the actual work done in-action. If done well, a virtuous circle of networking should develop. On the flip side, though, people are much more likely to signal when they’ve got bad things to say. So, there is huge motivation not to take on tasks that are more than one can chew on!
It’s pretty obvious that only experienced service providers will grow their network enough to be signaled consistently. This puts up a huge barrier for excellent - but new - translators. Networks take a lot of time and experience to build, so...
The translator is left wondering: How can I build a professional network?
Signaling through an Online Identity
Online platforms hold a special place on this list, because they only happen through the direct efforts of the service provider (in the same way as happens with certificates and training), and the efforts of a community (in the same way as happens with networking).
But – how do you know if you’re using them right? One way we analyze this is through Klout, where some of the biggest names in the industry have high scores, like Tess Whitty and Marta Stelmaszak. At this level, LinkedIn, Twitter, FB and the other platforms don’t simply work as discrete elements of an online identity. Rather, they support one another to design a single online identity.
Translators that signal competence online get the message out to clients by building such an identity. Those that signal but are not competent are filtered out. Those that don’t signal online remain unknown.
We think service providers that signal well will be more likely to be found by the right type of client for the right type of task. Signaling well means signaling about yourself, signaling positive things, and signaling to many people. So, the question has really changed to 'Have I signaled well enough so that the right client is asking me about the right task?'
This post was written by Michael Grez and Tian Huang of Intran Solutions, providers of Chinese/English conference interpretation and translation.
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?
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