Author: Jonathan Downie
I was in London on Saturday for a meeting and I got chatting to some fellow interpreters about the ways that research is challenging how we think about and practise interpreting. Here in LINCS, for example, Robyn Dean is arguing for us to fundamentally shift how we think about ethics, Penny Karanasiou is asking tough questions about the role(s) of interpreters in business negotiations and I am beginning to think that experienced clients might have more helpful views of our work than we do!
All this spells trouble. Doing research like this means threatening some of the most cherished ideas of our profession. Who doesn’t like to coddle the comforting thought that we know better than our clients about, well, everything? If you start talking too openly about problems with mainstream interpreting ethics, you remove one of the few firm foundations in our profession. And as for discussing whether interpreters can do more than “just interpret”, it’s probably safer to just leave that well alone!
But the thing is, all the good researchers I know are very bad are just leaving things alone. Safe is not a word we tend to like. In fact, I was accused of enjoying stirring things up on Saturday. Me? As if!
All joking aside, I do really think that challenging preconceived ideas is exactly what our profession needs. If we discover flaws in our practice or training or in the way we sell our work then of course, it must be confronted. This is where research is at its best. When researchers get their hands dirty and ask difficult questions, sparks begin to fly.
Take Robyn’s work in interpreter training. Rather than just sit back and criticise, she actively trains interpreters to apply the case conferencing techniques used by doctors. I know of many other researchers who do groundbreaking research and then take the brave step of presenting it to professionals so they can apply it.
If interpreting is to thrive in today’s high-tech, always-on world, we need to be able to adjust. This doesn’t just mean adopting some new technology or learning to be fashionable. It means asking the though questions about what we need to change in our practice to meet our clients’ real needs and growing expectations.
Is it scary? Yes! Is it necessary? You bet. But that’s why I do research: to do work that can benefit the wider world. Maybe it’s time we all did the same.