Starting Work as a Translator or Interpreter

by Fanny Chouc

LINCS and Career Services teamed up again to hold the annual SWATI (Starting Work as a Translator or Interpreter) event on campus, for the 6th year running, on Saturday 13th February.

The one hundred or so places were booked in no time, and despite the snowy weather, Lecture Theatre 3 filled up with students from Heriot-Watt University, as well as Napier, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Stirling Universities.

The session started with an intervention by a staff EU translator from the Directorate General for Translation, Elizabeth Carmouche, who highlighted the languages most needed by the institutions, explained the recruitment process and shared tips and advice based on her own experience.

Her intervention was followed by another very informative talk, this time by Lila Guha, a freelance interpreter and member of AIIC (the only international association for interpreters). She explained how she started her career and gave students an interesting glimpse of the exciting life of professional conference interpreters, mentioning the various organisations, cities and unusual settings where her profession has taken her over the years.

Dr Castillo then took the floor to enlighten students on the versatility of media interpreting, flagging the range of skills needed to cope with the fascinating and sometimes unexpected situations an interpreter may encounter when working for the radio, the film industry or TV. Based on his personal experience, as well as his own research, he gave students a number of ideas as to how they may start to develop their CV to go into this side of the industry.

Following the break, Fiona Paterson presented her own very interesting professional pathway, which led her to combine a successful freelance translation career with regular contracts translating for the UN in Geneva. Her very informative talk, full of practical and useful information, highlighted the flexibility of this career path and the supportive attitude of fellow translators towards early-career colleagues.

To complement this already wide panorama on these professional pathways, Karin Bosshard took the floor to explain the importance and benefits of joining a professional network, using her own example and that of ITI (the Institute of Translation and Interpreting) to highlight a number of issues future professionals may not have considered yet, such as professional insurance, networking, clients’ perceptions, to name but a few.

The audience was then split into two, to facilitate participation in two practical sessions: firstly, an introduction to key business skills for freelancers, by Robert Mynett, from the International School of Linguists. His sessions focused on matters such as market research, marketing and professional organisation. Secondly, participants were invited to take part in a speed-networking session, during which they had a chance of a more personal and informal chat with the speakers, but also with Kim Scouller and Victoria Milton, two managers from Rubrik, a language service provider based in Edinburgh, as well as with Corinna Kromm, a freelance translator who recently and very successfully started her own freelance career.

All the keynote speakers and guests involved in the speed-networking are Heriot-Watt graduates themselves, who kindly and enthusiastically agreed to take some of their time to come and share their experience and advice with the younger generations.

It seems that participants particularly appreciated the chance to hear about each speaker’s own experience, and valued even more the opportunity of a more personal chat through the speed-networking. The event was described as “relevant”, “inspiring” and “practical”, and the range of speakers was generally welcome as it presented a very wide range of possible career paths.

We’ve taken the feed-back on board and will aim at organising an equally exciting and useful panel for next year’s SWATI. But before that, we’ll be hosting a talk on BSL careers in the media and we will welcome an EU staff interpreter who will talk about his career, from young Heriot-Watt graduate through in-house and then freelance translator to Brussels, Vienna and Strasbourg’s EU and UN booths.

Watch this space!

Special Issue of New Voices in Translation Studies – with Guest Editors from LINCS

by Pedro Castillo, Penny Karanasiou, Marwa Shamy and Lee Williamson

We are delighted to announce the publication of the Special Issue (number 12) of New Voices in Translation Studies.

The issue includes a selection of the best papers submitted after IPCITI 2013, organised in Heriot-Watt, and it is the result of the long standing collaboration between IPCITI and New Voices in Translation Studies.

This Special Issue of New Voices in Translation Studies results from the 9th International Postgraduate Conference in Translation and Interpreting (IPCITI), which was held at Heriot-Watt University in 2013. We, as Guest Editors of this special issue, are proud to have been involved in the editing and publication process of this journal. The 18 months between the release of the Call for Papers and the final publication have been among the most enriching experiences in our early academic careers. The papers that feature in this special issue reflect the aims of the IPCITI 2013 conference. These were twofold: on the one hand, the conference sought to promote greater participation in Translation and Interpreting (T&I) research by addressing salient issues in the field; and on the other, to foster a supportive environment in which young researchers could exchange ideas on current themes and issues in Translation and Interpreting Studies.

IPCITI 2013 was a great success, with 40 paper and poster presentations from 32 universities across 11 countries. The overall attendance included 82 delegates from universities across Europe (58), Asia (8), Africa (1), and the Americas (4). The range of papers and posters covered such diverse areas of T&I as Translation Theory, Pedagogy, Literary Translation, Interpreting (spoken and sign language) and Audiovisual Translation (AVT). The papers accepted underwent a rigorous peer-review process, and we believe that the authors present fresh perspectives on T&I, displaying both originality and methodological rigour.

We hope the readers of this special issue will appreciate the valuable contribution that these four papers make to pushing the boundaries of knowledge in Translation and Interpreting Studies, but also the opportunities that journals such as New Voices in Translation Studies offer to new researchers in allowing them to disseminate the results of their research more widely.

Happy reading!

Pedro Castillo, Penny Karanasiou, Marwa Shamy and Lee Williamson
The IPCITI Special Issue Guest Editors

Giving it away

by Jonathan Downie

Translators and interpreters know all about being passionate. Most of us arrived in this industry because we were passionate about helping people communicate. Many of us also carry a passion for the industry itself. We get into debates over conditions, working practices and clients. In two words: we care.

This “care” can and does translate into action. Translators and interpreters willingly donate their time, skills and money to helping charitable causes the world over. From refugees in the UK to Ebola patients in West Africa, there is hardly a crisis or cause that doesn’t need information to be passed from one language to another.

Until fairly recently, the idea that translators and interpreters can and should lend a hand went unchallenged an unqualified. As long as the goal was non-commercial and the cause seemed legitimate, there was little discussion as to where the work might end up. Pro bono translators and interpreters took it on trust that they were doing their bit.

All that has now changed. In discussions that have raged across blogs and forums, professionals have started asking big, hard and sometimes borderline aggressive questions about pro bono work. Clearing houses for such work, such as Translators Without Borders, now seem to be the subject of suspicion in some quarters. Increasingly, there is a desire to know who exactly benefits from the work, whether paying for the work might be a better option and to what extent local professionals might be losing out because of it.

These are good and useful questions. There are very good arguments for transparency and accountability that apply across all pro bono and charitable work. Yet, it is undeniable that, since we have the resources to ask such questions, our perspectives are skewed. I doubt very much whether a refugee cares too much about the remuneration of the interpreter who works with them. For them, a listening ear, a truthful representation of their views and a chance to understand and be understood trump any economic debates.

There is no doubt that we need to be transparent about how and when and why the efforts and resources of volunteers are used. In a current fundraiser I am involved with, which aims to raise money for anti-people trafficking charity the A21 Campaign by selling multilingual t-shirts, everything about the campaign from the people involved to the precise donation per t-shirt is online. The problem with this, of course, is that the more that is online, the more decisions are open to criticism.

A similar dynamic can be at work among new entrants to translation and interpreting who list all their volunteer work on their CV. While there are very good reasons for doing this, it is not unthinkable that certain clients may take exception to the precise causes chosen. Some electronics manufacturers might take a dim view of work for civil liberties or pro-privacy groups. Other potential clients might feel uneasy at evidence of campaigning for certain causes. While new translators and interpreters have always been advised to keep politics off their CVs, pro bono work can help it resurface.

Perhaps the solution is to be a bit more realistic. Pro bono work will always be important, both for those who donate their time and those whose lives are changed by it. The necessary transparency that goes with it, however, will always open up the opportunity for criticism. But then, as Andrew Morris points out, standing out and being different has always been a better business strategy than following the crowd and making no waves at all. Maybe the emphasis should be on the opportunities that pro bono work can bring and the lives it can change, over the people who might disagree with our decision to do it.

Why we all need double vision

by Jonathan Downie

Why would an interpreter who was beginning to get valuable clients spend his non-working time reading research papers? Why would a translator who was learning to network start applying for conferences on Translation Studies rather than for a nice CAT tool presentation?

Those are good questions. In fact, they are questions I asked myself for a while. You see, for most translators and interpreters, the word “research” makes them think about termbanks and parallel texts rather than participant observation and statistical analysis. Research for them is all about getting the next job right and maybe, if you find the time, keeping an eye on the markets you work in.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of research. To translate and interpret well, you need to be a good researcher, or more correctly a good “information finder.” You can often get away with thinking no further than your next job.

This begins to explain why I started swapping translation work for interpreting research and writing, alongside my interpreting work. What I found myself wanting, especially on those days between jobs when I had done lots of marketing and still no clients were biting, was a longer range perspective. Surely there had to be something more than simply finding information and applying it to the current job.

Now, truth be told, I am not much of a philosopher. I have never been attracted to questions like “what are we doing when we translate?” or “how can we define equivalence?” On the other hand, I am interested in how we can learn and become more effective, how we can better understand our clients’ needs and how we can improve the status of translators and interpreters. Answering that kind of question leads very quickly to finding ways of giving practical help to translators and interpreters.

Believe it or not, I actually believe that translators and interpreters can help themselves. They already have a better understanding of the questions I posed than most researchers. If your livelihood depends on it, you had better get very good at determining what your clients want! If you want to increase your earning power, you had better get a good understanding of how you could improve.

What’s missing is what researchers call “generalizability.” Learning techniques that work for you might be pretty useless for someone else. Your clients probably communicate in a very different way than mine. What we all need then is a kind of double vision. We need to be able to focus intently on the job we are doing now while still taking an interest in wider issues.

Take the infamous debate over court and police interpreter conditions in the UK. During one government enquiry, one interpreter representative made the claim that members of their association had watched court proceedings under the new contract and had noticed that the quality had dropped massively. A good researcher would instantly want to ask what they meant by “quality” and how they could tell it had dropped. A very good researcher would want to know whether all the interpreters watching the same case found the quality to be the same.

That little piece of evidence could have been much more telling if the person concerned had been able to say something like “we assessed interpreting at 10 courts and found that, on average, interpreters under the new contract omitted 50% more information than those who were working under a different contract.” The added precision is the kind of thing that can be gained when we have the double vision I was talking about.

The truth is, if any long-term improvements are going to happen in any area of translation and interpreting, it will take a combination of hard campaigning and strong data. It will take people who are excellent at the work they are doing now and yet are far sighted enough to think about the bigger questions behind their work. Those bigger questions are why I became a researcher and an interpreter and they are we why all need double vision.