Issue #1                                                                                                                                                                       June 2011

Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Interpreter's Launch Pad.  


This newsletter is designed to bring resources, tips, and a bit of fun to the lives of professional interpreters.


Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for countdown!

Astronauts are often viewed as heroines and heroes. They travel into uncharted territory, moving between worlds, beyond boundaries, and helping society understand more about places that are simply out of reach for most other human beings.


Sound familiar? It should!  


Interpreters, like astronauts, move between worlds. Their job requires extensive training, intelligence, curiosity, and yes, a bit of bravery. It takes guts to go with minimal preparation into unknown situations, where virtually anything can happen, but interpreters do this every day. Like an astronaut exploring a previously untouched planet, interpreters never know exactly what they will encounter.   


Please say hello to Interprenaut. While she may be new to you, she's a veteran of the interpreting field, and she has a great deal of knowledge and experience to share. Her mission is to explore themes that are common to all interpreters and to shuttle all her findings back to the Launch Pad.


Interprenaut explores diverse modes, modalities, technologies, delivery methods, and areas of interpreting. She visits the future as well as the past. She travels to different parts of the interpreting universe, bringing back evidence, resources, and tales of her adventures to interpreters of all stripes and types.  


Follow Interprenaut on Twitter

9Have you ever interpreted for health care or social service settings? If so, you know how different this work is from other types of interpreting. If you've been curious about working in this area, you may have been wondering where you can find information about this emerging area of interpreting.

One great resource is a 40-hour interpreter training curriculum called "The Community Interpreter," developed by Cross-Cultural Communications, Inc. The training manual can be purchased through the company's website. The company also runs live training of trainers (TOT) courses, so more experienced interpreters can go through the TOT in order to learn how to deliver the training.  


Resource: The Community InterpreterIf you're a veteran interpreter with an interest in helping newbies learn the ropes, consider becoming a trainer to pass on your knowledge to others is a great way to help the development of the field. As someone who trained hundreds of new interpreters over the years, I can also attest to the fact that there's plenty in it for you - the trainer learns just as much as the students, especially in groups that represent multiple language pairs.


What's interesting about Cross-Cultural Communications is that they also provide training in an area that is typically seen as beyond the boundaries of interpreting: cultural competence training. As a trainer, I often noted interpreters sharing their views (including stereotypes) about the different socioeconomic groups, ethnic groups, and religious groups for whom they interpret.  


Neutrality and impartiality are core tenets of every major code of ethics for interpreting. Cultural competence training helps enhance an interpreter's ability to stay impartial and unbiased throughout interpreting encounters. Yet, very few interpreters seek out this kind of training or even understand what it's really all about. True cultural competence training is tough. It requires you to examine your own biases and prejudices - and yes, we all have them.  


To bring more interpreters to look beyond just language in their professional development, it would be ideal for more cultural competence training programs to be offered for interpreters at industry conferences and in online settings. One excellent resource for cultural competence information is Think Cultural Health. The program is run by the Office of Minority Health and focuses mostly on health care, but all interpreters can benefit from its free content.  

8Have you ever heard of the Kaminker brothers? The name might conjure images of a local family-run business that's just down the street from you, but in fact, Georges and Andr� Kaminker were once veritable "stars" of the consecutive interpreting scene.

According to reports from colleagues, Georges Kaminker, known for his photographic memory, could interpret a one-and-a-half-hour speech - in consecutive mode - without taking notes! Yes, you read that correctly - without taking notes! To most of us mere mortals, this seems like an impossible feat. I remember the first time I was able to interpret an entire 16-digit credit card number back without writing it down. I felt quite pleased with my accomplishment up until I read about Mr. Kaminker!

Inspiration: Andr� Kaminker
Consecutive interpreting prodigy Andr� Kaminker (far right) at a seminar on France's recovery, July 1949.


You can read more about the Kaminkers in a book that is partially available for free online via Google Books, Interpreters at the United Nations: A History, by Jes�s Baigorri Jal�n. One of my favorite lines about the Kaminkers is available in another book you can view in Google Books, called Satow's Diplomatic Practice. In the footnote on Page 343, it states the following:


"[...] Kaminker reproduced every significant phrase, every telling pause, every emotional tone and even every dramatic gesture, and, having used no notes at all, sat down amid a thunder of applause."


Not many interpreters know what it's like to have their delivery greeted by a roomful of applause. Just imagine how incredible it must have been to witness such a highly skilled interpreter at work.   


This month, let's tip our hats (and headsets) in appreciation of the Kaminker brothers, a true source of inspiration for interpreters everywhere. 

7Many interpreters are accustomed to using hard copy resources in their work. It is not uncommon for conference interpreters to use paper copies of contextual information, terminology, and slides in order to assist them with their work. Similarly, many court and community interpreters carry hard copy resources with them. 


But things are changing. I've had many interpreters tell me that they're increasingly relying on smartphones to store glossaries, diagrams, and other information that they can easily carry with them to assignments. It certainly beats carrying around a huge backpack full of materials and dictionaries. Some interpreters have even told me that they have been taking notes on an iPad during some encounters.  

So, here's this month's question for you: 


How are you using mobile devices to help you with your interpreting work?


E-mail me to share your answers.

I'll include some of your best suggestions and tips in the next issue of the Launch Pad.
6This month, I'm highlighting a book about medical interpreting called "Healthcare Interpreting in Small Bites," by Cynthia E. Roat. For those who are not already familiar with Cynthia, she is the principal author of Bridging the Gap, one of the most popular training programs for medical interpreters.

What is especially refreshing about this book is that it addresses real-world considerations that are not often dealt with in texts for interpreters of a more academic nature. For example, in Chapter 26, called "Target Practice is Fun (Unless You're the Target) or How to Handle Angry Clients," the book provides examples of how interpreters often find themselves in frustrating situations. Sample scenarios include when the interpreter gets blamed for what the speaker said, or when one of the speakers becomes impatient when repetitions are requested. Who, among interpreters, can't relate to that?


Book: Health Care Interpreting in Small BitesRoat describes the importance of retaining one's composure, clarifying the role of the interpreter, being honest about the quality of the interpretation, ignoring offensive remarks, using assertive communication, staying transparent, and in very challenging circumstances, offering to withdraw from the situation. She also points out that the interpreter will not necessarily be able to keep all people happy all the time. If you're a people-pleaser, your good intentions can often get in the way of maintaining your neutrality as an interpreter. Roat speaks to this common problem and addresses other such practical issues in her book in a light-hearted and easy-to-understand way. 


The book is filled with exercises, advice, and even crossword puzzles to help with medical terminology. It's a fun book and a welcome addition to any working interpreter's library.  

5One of the questions I'm most often asked is whether interpreters will have job security in the long term. I believe that the answer is yes. There are many reasons. The demand for interpreting services has exploded in recent years. Language-related legislation and human rights have increased the awareness of the importance of giving people the ability to communicate, especially immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers.


However, one major fear that many interpreters have is that someday, computers will replace us. I recently conducted a video interview with well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil for my column at the Huffington Post. The video has been widely circulated on the web, especially among fans of Kurzweil and techie folks who are interested in automation of many things that humans do (not just interpreting).  

Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology
Ray Kurzweil Speaks on the Future of Technology, Translation, and the Interpreting Profession

My favorite moment in the interview comes at the end, when Kurzweil points out that musicians also once feared that their profession would be displaced by technology, but actually, the opposite has happened. Interpreting has a lot in common with music, especially when one considers the high level of skill and proficiency that an interpreter must have with language, much like a musician with his or her instrument. In fact, musicians are commonly called "interpreters" of works when they are performing pieces composed by others.


Just as musical renditions of a given piece can vary tremendously from one musician to another, the ways in which interpreters can render the same sentence are mind-numbing. Just like it's common for people to play the piano and refer to themselves as a "pianist," many people speak two languages and think (mistakenly) that they can interpret professionally. In effect, the difference between a bilingual and a professional interpreter is like the difference between someone who plays piano for a hobby and a concert pianist who must deliver a flawless performance, time and time again.


Kurzweil refers to translation and interpreting as one of the "highest-level" tasks that humans perform. When it comes to spoken language, the complexity of automation is even greater than it is for written language. So, if you wanted to hear a leading futurist say that the interpreting profession is not in jeopardy, watch the video and feel reassured!

4Two weeks ago, an important conference for the interpreting field took place in Washington, D.C. The event - called the North American Summit on Interpreting - has taken place for two consecutive years, and will be held next year in Monterey, California. The summit is organized by InterpretAmerica, who took it upon themselves to bring together stakeholders from many different areas of interpreting - community interpreting, conference interpreting, judiciary interpreting, health care interpreting, sign language interpreting, and military interpreting.

InterpretAmerica's conference is playing an important role in North America, where community interpreting is becoming increasingly developed. Some military interpreters did participate in both years' conferences, but those who interpret for the armed forces are still left on the outskirts of the profession, for the most part. Sign language interpreters were present at the InterpretAmerica events too. However, more bridge-building still needs to be done in order to create more relationships with members of the different silos of the field.


I would love to see a peer program, where interpreters from different areas could be matched with each other to develop friendships, informally network and make a commitment to get together - either virtually or in person - just to talk about their work and share experiences. Something simple and fun would go a long way toward creating links across silos. Come to think of it, a peer program that would enable interpreters from other countries to develop a relationship with an interpreter in another part of the world would also be beneficial to the field.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, perhaps links could be formed between interpreters in existing "sister cities."  


At the very least, interpreters can attempt to befriend and learn from colleagues from other areas of the profession. InterpretAmerica is providing a forum for exactly that type of collaboration.

3Which headset is the best one to use for telephone interpreting?


Many interpreters say they don't like to interpret via telephone because they cannot hear properly, but this depends tremendously on the quality of the equipment. I have always had excellent luck with GN Netcom models. While these are somewhat expensive as far as headsets go, the sound quality is superior to most other brands I have tried. I found my trusty GN Netcom headset to be nearly indestructible - surviving numerous coffee spills, instances in which I dropped it on the floor, and so on. Unfortunately, the model I most loved is no longer being manufactured. However, one of their relatively new models has received consistently positive user reviews.  


I am often asked about whether monaural or binaural headsets are preferable. Individual preferences vary among interpreters, but I personally find being able to hear with both ears to be important. If the volume is too loud, it can be either turned down, or the headphones can be held slightly away from the ears. With a binaural set, the second earpiece can simply be pulled away from the ear if high volume is an issue. However, with a monaural set, if the volume is turned up completely, there is no way to "turn up" the other ear. I always recommend for interpreters to give themselves the option to hear with both ears, because a lack of ability to hear is quite common with telephone interpreting, and is perhaps the biggest limitation interpreters have when using this method of delivery. Bottom line: binaural sets offer greater flexibility. 


One other important feature for a headset is the volume control. Look for a headset that has two separate volume controls -- one for the interpreter's voice and one for the volume of the other parties' voices. Unfortunately, when two parties are on the line in addition to the interpreter, they often have differing volume levels. For example, a nurse sitting in a call center might have a high-quality connection but is dialing a barely-audible patient on his mobile phone. No headset on the market today can raise just the volume of one of the individuals speaking. Through voice recognition technology and sound separation techniques, this should someday be possible. Today, raising the volume on a headset raises the voices of everyone. So, interpreters typically must raise the overall volume, and then hold the earpiece away from their ear slightly when the more audible person is speaking in order to prevent hearing damage. More to come on auditory and voice health for interpreters in a future newsletter! 

2Recent interpreting-related news items:

(Finland) Growing Need for Court Interpreters

(India) Delhi University Offers Sign Language Interpreters for Students

(Ireland) Member of the Roma Community Too Ashamed to Request Interpreter for Romani

(Japan) Sign Language Interpreter Challenges

(Korea) More Medical Interpreters Needed for Foreign Patients

(Malta) Shortage of Sign Language Interpreters

(Russia) Interpreters Assist with St. Petersburg's Largest Event

(South Africa) Bilingual Nurses Trained to Interpret for Refugees

(Sri Lanka) Business Interpreters Needed for Languages of Major Markets

(UK) Community Interpreter Program Launches

(UK) Government Cuts for Taxi Interpreting Program 

(USA) Colorado Courts to Provide Free Interpreters as Result of DOJ Agreement

(USA) Washington Medical Interpreters Ratify First-Ever Contract

(USA) Rights Panel Agrees with Deaf Man Denied Interpreter

(USA) Paying It Forward for Omaha's Deaf Jewish Community

(USA) Somali Interpreters Hired for Wisconsin Schools

$1.5 Billion Bank Loan from Japan Negotiated with Interpreter

(Vietnam) FutureGov Forum Attendees "Deeply Impressed" by Interpreters


From the archives:


A professor of interpreting at a university recently told me that the audio piece I recorded for National Public Radio (NPR) was a useful resource for her students. An extended audio version is now available for free download on iTunes.  

1Ready for launch?

Before you head into orbit, here are a few important notes about the newsletter... 


Telephone InterpretingIf you enjoyed reading this issue, sign up below to receive future issues automatically once per month.  


All new subscribers will receive a free digital copy of Telephone Interpreting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Profession.  


Click here to sign up and receive your copy automatically via email. 


Your comments are welcome! Do you have a resource you'd like to share with your colleagues? A book you would like to see reviewed? An inspiring interpreter you believe should be featured? Email me anytime with your suggestions, observations, and reactions. Some of them will be featured in future issues. 


Reviews and mentions. The newsletter does not accept any paid advertising. However, if you have an interpreting-related book, training program, website, resource, university course, or product that you'd like me to test or review, please email me more information for consideration. There is no guarantee of inclusion. I'll only mention resources that I believe will be helpful for interpreters based on my professional opinion.   


Translators, here's something for you... If you provide written translation services, or if you want to learn more about this field, consider signing up for The Toolkit, a free bi-monthly newsletter for translators. This publication, brought to you by Jost Zetzsche, is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in translation. Sign up here.


 "We want to be interpreters, policemen, nurses and engineers.

These career choices we have made are going to impact the world..."  

- Nichole Conrad, Senior Class President, Lisbon High School 


"It requires a special gift to keep a vast audience silent,  

to make people laugh at the appropriate time,  

or applaud a speaker through his interpreter."   

- Peter W. Krawutschke


"Using two languages competently also requires  

being able to navigate socially in two different cultural worlds."   

 - Jemina Napier


"Clothe not thy language either with obscurity or affectation;  

in the one thou discoverest too much darkness, in the other too much lightness.  

He that speaks from the understanding to the understanding is the best interpreter."  

- Francis Quarles 


"I could have been a rocket scientist,  

but I chose to be an interpreter."  

- Interprenaut

(C) 2011 Nataly Kelly                                                                                                                                  Issue #1 - June 2011