Invaluable New Interpreting Resource

A week or so ago, we received a lovely e-mail from a colleague, Italian translator and interpreter Silvia D'Amico, who wanted to tell us about a new interpreting resource, and we have to tell you: it's amazing! Silvia asked us to post a note about the aptly named Speechpool on this blog, and we are delighted to do so. This site might be the best thing to happen to interpreters since fully enclosed interpreting booths. It's basically a very cool speech bank on steroids -- it's collaborative, multilingual and very interactive.
Ready to practice interpreting in person in Chile. With wine. 

Turns out that Dagy had already heard about Speechpool during an EU webstream of the "New modes of learning" SCIC Universities Conference in Brussels. The site was enthusiastically received by conference participants, and there's no doubt that Speechpool is an invaluable resource to practice your interpreting skills. We frequently write about which resources and tools we use to practice our interpreting and to prepare for certification and accreditation exams, and we wish this tool had existed a long time ago. Many thanks to Silvia for the reminder about this fantastic tool. She was involved in the project and did the final proofing of the Italian version of the site, although modest Silvia wants to make sure that the credit goes to Alice Bertinotti and many other volunteers, who played a very big role in the translation of the site into Italian and other languages.  The site was designed by the very talented Sophie Llewellyn Smith, who runs it.

We know that our fantastic colleague Michelle Hof of The Interpreter Diaries already blogged about Speechpool on her blog, but we figured we'd do so too, as we'd love to spread the word! Here's how it works:

  • The basic idea of the website is that interpreters exchange practice material for the benefit of all. The site is multilingual, of course (and more languages to come). The site was created and recently launched because many interpreters have complained about the fact that not that much suitable interpreting material is available online, in spite of the millions of videos that get uploaded every week. We've certainly had the same experience, even though we love TED videos and the EU speech repository (limited access, unfortunately).
  • To see speeches, you have to register (we've already done that). This takes about two minutes.
  • You can search for available interpreting videos by keyword for your specific language. Very handy.
  • Speeches suitable for both simultaneous and consecutive are available, and speakers include both native and non-native speakers, which is clearly marked.
  • You can also rate the difficulty level of the video and report any problems in terms of audio and quality, along the lines of Tripadvisor. We like.
  • We've already viewed a few videos, and the quality was outstanding.
  • Now, in addition to just learning, you can also contribute to the learning -- that's the idea. You can upload your own recorded videos for others to practice. You have to do this to YouTube (to save bandwidth) and them embed the video into Speechpool. We definitely plan on recording several videos.
  • The best part: it's free. Really. No catches. Speechpool received funding from the UK NNI (National Network for Interpreting) and is continually being developed by staff at the University of Leeds. 
Enjoy! We'd love to hear what you think about Speechpool!

Dressing for Prison

If you think getting dressed in the morning is difficult for a variety of reasons, such as not having anything decent to wear, feeling less-than-thin, or running late, then we'd like to introduce you to a scenario that makes things even more complicated: dressing for prison if you are an interpreter.

As a court-certified Spanish interpreter in Vegas, Judy has all sorts of interpreting assignments in a wide variety of places, and not all are fancy and nice, even though some of them are: think well-appointed conference rooms at top law firms with expensive chairs and lovely espresso machines. Once in a while, Judy gets up in the morning and gets dressed to go interpret in either jail or prison around the state. Here are her tips for getting it right in prison in terms of both dress and behavior, especially if you are a woman (we have little insight into how males should dress). We hope the information below helps you if you ever have an interpreting assignment at a jail or prison. Depending on the jurisdiction, only court-certified interpreters are allowed to interpret in these settings, and that's a good thing because you really need some training and solid legal background. In terms of difficulty, these assignments can be quite challenging and usually involve a lot of sight translation.

  • Dress conservatively. This might be a non-brainer, but I see plenty of attorneys, social workers, clinical psychologists and other professional women who sometimes forget this and wear low-cut blouses, high heels and silk blouses. Prison or jail is not a good place to show off your figure. Most of the inmates with whom you will be dealing will be male, and while I am not alleging anything, you better be conservative. Wear opaque pantyhose or tights if you are wearing a skirt. If you are wearing pants, make sure they are not too tight. Choose a conservative jacket that fits you well, and if you are showing a bit too much cleavage, use a scarf, which looks nice and can be taken off later. Avoid high heels: you might have to walk a bit, and the sound of high heels on concrete floors is much louder than you think. In general, try to avoid calling too much attention to yourself. I don't wear any long necklaces nor earrings and try to keep jewelry to a minimum. I wear a simple gold wedding band and I usually keep my watch, the only truly expensive item, in the car or leave it at home. Avoid zippers, as they will surely set off the metal detector. Don't use belts if you can avoid them.
  • Don't bring anything dangerous. Obviously, you don't want to go into the facility armed (I don't have a gun, so that's a non-issue for me), but most facilities also don't allow things that you might consider harmless. Inmates can make weapons out of all sorts of things, so you might have to sign a disclaimer that you are not bringing in paper clips, pencils, food, water (yes, that's too bad if you are thirsty after talking for four hours), medications (leave them in the car), and yes, cell phones. Prisons and jails are pretty serious places, so if you don't like going through metal detectors, surrendering your ID at the front desk and being searched, then perhaps you should decline an assignment that takes you into a locked facility.
  • Locked rooms. You will be locked into an enclosed space with the inmate, who is traditionally not handcuffed. The other person(s) in the room might be an attorney, clinical psychologist or a caseworker. Prison/jail guards will be just outside the room, but the facilities are so understaffed these days that you might have to wait a while after you buzz the guide (via a button) because the meeting is over and you want to leave. In one city jail, the attorney and I waited in the room, with the inmate, for two hours. Luckily, the city jail doesn't have anything against bringing in snacks, so I munched on a granola bar. I wasn't sure about food-sharing protocol with an inmate, so I ate the whole granola bar myself and felt bad, as I've got good manners. 
  • Depressing. Going to jail or to prison is not for the faint of heart, so you must be prepared for a mentally draining and emotionally challenging situation. In federal prison, people are usually locked up for quite a while, but county and/or city jails tend to house those with shorter sentences. Some of the folks you talk to might not have seen the sun for years, and that's tough to deal with. That said, I'd say 99% of the inmates I've interpreted for (all male) have been very well behaved and very polite, but you can sense their desperation and their anger, and that can be heartbreaking. Other inmates are in relatively good spirits, such as a young man for whom I interpreted recently. He had movie-star good looks, an incredibly sunny disposition, and I realized he was significantly younger than I was (he was 23). In terms of shaking hands, I usually observe what the other people do and then follow suit. In general, you are to shake the inmate's hands. No one has behaved inappropriately. 
What about you, fellow interpreters? What information would you add to this list? We'd love to hear from you and I wish I'd had information about how things work at a prison before I had my first assignment there!

Proz Conference in Brazil: August 24/25

First things first: we love conferences, even when they are held in less than exciting places. We really enjoy learning new things and spending time with friends and colleagues, but if we have to decide between a conference in say, St. Louis (no offense, nice place) and a gorgeous tropical destination, it's not a hard choice. This year, Judy decided to skip the wonderful annual NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators) conference in yes, St. Louis, but was just invited to the conference in Recife, Brazil. She was delighted to accept and will be one of the keynote speakers. We've never been to Brazil, but our dad has spent several decades traveling to this gorgeous country for business, so we just had to ask him about Recife. His immediate response: it's just as gorgeous as it looks. And then: can I come? Of course!

So: what could be better? An exciting international conference with lots friend and colleagues plus a tropical location that promises beach time? We really can't think of too many things that would be better. Perhaps all this plus fancy drinks with umbrellas? We bet we can find those, too. 

If you've been looking for something fun to do this summer and also want to get a tax deduction (be sure to ask your accountant), then this might be up your alley. The lovely conference organizers are currently finalizing details and working on the website, but go ahead and have a look here. The conference hotel looks lovely indeed. They also have a Facebook page. See you in Brazil?

Zombie Apocalypse

Note: a slightly edited version of the post below also appears in the current issue of the American Translators Association's Chronicle, for which Judy is a columnist. 

Zombie apocalypse? No, just an empty gym. Photo by Judy.
A few months ago, Dagy and I ran a 5 K charity race in Vegas, during which she proceeded to kick my butt. As a reward, she now has twin bragging rights for life and we both received a nice finisher’s goodie bag, which contained a free one-week pass to a very fancy gym. We immediately went to take advantage of this fantastic offer, and while we were very impressed with the gym’s world-class installations, spa-like locker rooms and the fact that we were working out two machines away from Andre Agassi, we also were struck by something else: the place was deserted. It felt like the zombie apocalypse had indeed happened and the former tennis world number one and the two of us were the only survivors. It was truly spooky, and even though the gym had a lot of things going for it, I did not join. I missed the energy and the great vibe from my regular, much less fancy gym. However, I did start thinking about what potential zombie apocalypse conditions feel like in our profession: it’s when the phone does not ring and the inbox is empty, making us think that no one will ever hire us again. It’s happened to every single one of us, and unfortunately the feast or famine phenomenon is part of our everyday business realities. The question is: how do you handle it? I have a few tips.

  • There will be more work. Really. You simply have to believe that this is true, and you will see that I am probably right. Our business tends to be somewhat cyclical, and some periods will simply be busier than others. Try to identify those times ahead of time if possible so you can plan ahead. For instance, I know that December is a relatively quiet interpreting month in Vegas, which is just as well because I need the time to decorate the tree, make cookies and to treat clients to holiday lunches.
  • Try not to be depressed. This is a challenging skill to master, and it’s only natural to occasionally question why you chose this profession, what you did to deserve this sort of punishment, etc. Look at the bright side: finally you have some time to have coffee with your long-lost friend, catch up on your DVR recordings, take the neglected puppy for a real walk, etc. A few months ago, I finished my last project of the day mid-morning, and spent the afternoon with a girlfriend I had not seen in months. We went to Chinatown to have reflexology massages and then to a tasty Chinese dinner, where her six-month old happily ate organic broccoli and I learned what it feels like to be the only person in the room who does not speak the language (Mandarin). I came home happy and re-energized, and sure enough, there was a new project in my inbox.
  • Be a squirrel. This might be your time to stock up on R&R, reading, conferences, doing paperwork you’ve been putting off, etc. Chances are you will be so busy in the near future that a lot of these non-revenue-making tasks will be put off, so you can be like a smart squirrel now and check some of these things off your list. Now is the ideal time to focus your energy on professional development. There’s nothing like meeting great fellow professionals and learning something new to get you excited about your profession.
  • Find new clients. This is the time to network, as painful as it might be (and can be). Make it your goal to attend one networking event and try to meet at least one or two new people. Or take a potential business contact to lunch. I tried this a few months ago, and the lawyer I took for lunch promptly sent me a project a mere four weeks after our vegan and very healthy lunch date.
Now, rest assured that in our business, there’s no such thing as a true zombie apocalypse as far as I know. Quite the contrary: the industry is steadily growing. However, I would not be so sure about that fancy Vegas gym. The zombies might have taken it over by now. I should stop by and check one of these days.

Interpreting Blunder of the Month

We are quite fond of highlighting our own mistakes to share them with our readers, so here we go. Read on for Judy's most recent not-so-great interpreting blunder.

A few months ago, I was interpreting for a Spanish-speaking witness at a relatively routine deposition for a civil litigation matter. I've done hundreds of these, but they are always exciting, challenging  and potentially contentious. There's nothing like being in the middle of five lawyers barking at each other, but alas, this particular assignment was very civil on every level.

Without divulging any details about the case (all identifying details have been changed), the deponent was testifying about a trip to a supermarket. The deposing attorney asked her about which articles she had purchased. Here's what happened.

Deponent (Spanish): Bueno, compré calabacín, zanahorias, papaya, plátanos y romero.
Judy (interpreting into English): Well, I bought zucchini, carrots, papaya, bananas and..... um, excuse me, the interpreter is drawing a blank. Allow me to briefly come up with this term. (5 endless seconds pass). Um, I am very sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but may the interpreter look up this term in an upcoming break and then supply the correct term for the record?
Opposing counsel, smiling: If the interpreter will allow it, I think I know the term. 
Judy (happy): Certainly, counsel, thank you.
Opposing counsel: It's rosemary. I believe the word you are looking for is rosemary. 
Judy: Yes, of course. Thank you, counsel. Counsel, would you please repeat the question for the deponent so we can get her full answer this time? Apologies for the confusion. The interpreter will be buying lunch.
Deposing counsel: No problem. I am craving lamb chops with rosemary.

An hour later, the deposing counsel called the firm that had hired me for this deposition and requested that he not work with anyone else but.... me. I was afraid he'd call and say the opposite, but my fears were unfounded. Turns out he was impressed with my performance, blunder and all, and it's reassuring that no one expects perfection 100% of the time: it's how you recover from potential errors that matters. I have done many depositions at this particular firm since then, and a few weeks ago, I saw opposing counsel in the elevator. He said hello, and then he said he might consider calling me Rosemary so I wouldn't forget (I won't anyway). We both laughed all the way to the top floor.

Would you care to share (that rhymes!) one of your interpreting blunders, dear readers?

Bad Habits, Part II

Junia, the American-born cat. She now resides in Vienna.
As promised, we are back with Dagy's bad habits. Many of you have identified with Judy's bad work habits, and it was lovely to hear from so many of you. Read on for Dagy's challenges.

Getting side-tracked by low-hanging fruit.  Instead of wrecking my brain about the translation of a particularly tricky sentence, I will sometimes drift off to take care of low-hanging fruit, like answering a quick e-mail or reading my Twitter stream. It's easier and also more fun.

Having too many browser tabs open. This bad habit of having countless tabs open on my browser used to slow down my previous laptop. My brand-new computer can handle it just fine, at least for now. Our techie is a strong advocate of having just a few browser tabs open. I have certainly tried, but I have not had much success. I'll keep on trying.

Excessive multitasking. I am known for having my internet radio on a French station, trying to listen to the German livestream of an interpretation of an EU session on my computer while trying to get actual work done. The obvious result: I don’t remember a thing about what I heard on the radio or the livestream and the translation takes forever. Not a very good strategy, is it?

Reading my favorite newspaper  (the German weekly “ZEIT”) on Thursday afternoons. Add my Thursday morning Yoga class and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for paid work. J

Letting the cat, Junia, hang out on the desk, which means that I am constantly picking cat hair out of my keyboard. I try to accomplish this by using my beloved Chilean letter opener with the cute penguin on the handle. I am a bit obsessed with having a squeaky clean keyboard, but I have no illusions about actually reaching that goal.

Dear colleagues: what about you? Care to share your bad habits? We'd love to hear about them. 

Source Text Blues

One of the many challenges translators face is one that many newcomers don't anticipate: poorly written source texts. We frequently get some very good questions about how to deal with awful source texts, and we thought we'd address this issue here. This is a difficult topic, and as with most business-related issues, there are few black/white answers, but read on for our thoughts on source texts and the role of the translator. 

  1. We are not the language police. Stick to your role: the client has hired you to perform a specific service, which is translation, so you should focus on that (of course, there are always exceptions).  Now, if the client asks for feedback on the source text, that's a different story. Hiring a translator who then critiques your source text is a bit like hiring an architect who comes to your house to talk about the new backyard porch and then points out that you have poor interior decorating skills. Some of our trusted clients do want us to put together a list of source text errors that we might come across, and we usually put together a very matter-of-fact list and refrain from making any unsolicited comments.
  2. Consider the possibility that you might be wrong. Many times, translators don't fully understand some of the sentences in the source text, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's where the international networks of linguists come in: we help each other! It is part of our job to dissect very complex documents and to produce a linguistic equivalent in the target language. However, consider this: perhaps a translator is not understanding the text (or a portion thereof) not because it is so poorly written, but because the translator has not kept up with current usage in his or her source language. It happens. Translators must consider the possibility that they are wrong, especially if they have not lived in a country in which their source language is spoken in many years. For instance,  we are very aware of the fact that the Spanish we grew up speaking in Mexico City has changed and evolved, and to stay on top of it, we read Spanish-language newspapers, magazines or books on a daily basis. Many times, certain passages initially strike us as being slightly off, but turns out that we were out of the loop!
  3. Read the entire source document before you accept a project. If you feel that the source text is so incomprehensible that you can't possibly translate it, then decline the project, and do so politely. If it's a long-time client, you might want to point out some of the shortcomings of the source text, but before you say these things with iron-clad conviction, check with a trusted colleague to get a second opinion. 
  4. Source texts are almost never perfect (unless you get very lucky). Expecting the perfect source text (easy to read, no strange abbreviations and acronyms, no formatting issues, perfectly written) is similar to a doctor expecting the perfect patient who describes her symptoms with razor-like precision or a CPA who expects her client to be obsessed with Excel spreadsheets. Poorly written source texts will be a big part of your life as a professional translator. Look at the bright side of poorly written source texts: any grammatical or style issues can usually be eliminated by translating the text!
  5. Research before you ask/comment. Knowing when to ask the client for clarification is another tricky subject. We wrote more about that here. But before you comment on any source text, you might want to do some research about the source text in question. Google a few lines and see if your client is the author -- now, then you must really use kid gloves. We heard about a colleague who a few years ago told a client that the source text was "terrible," only to be informed that the client, a highly respected economist, had written the text herself. Our hunch is that our colleague wasn't familiar with the highly specific way of writing for academic journals, but tried to shift the blame to the source text, which brings us to the next point.
  6. Stick to your areas of expertise. There's a reason we don't translate documents for the pharmaceutical industry: we are not qualified. The source texts wouldn't make sense to us not because they are poorly written, but because we lack the expertise to understand them.
  7. Now, different standards apply to homemade "translations." Many clients think their foreign-language skills are so strong that they can translate the text themselves. Then they simply request an editing job from a professional translator, but oftentimes, the "translations" are so poor that you have to start over. In this case, we think it's perfectly acceptable to state that you recommend a new translation (you don't have to go into great detail). But again, be kind: the misguided "translator" might be very proud of his or her work. We like our colleague Chris Durban's line about refraining from finger-wagging. 
  8. No public complaining. Don't mock a client's source text (and don't make fun of any clients, period) online or anywhere else where the client might see it. It's unprofessional. If you have to ask for clarification on a source sentence from colleagues, stick to members-only listservs or to close friends and colleagues. Never identify the client by name. 
Again, there are no easy answers, but we hope to have contributed some food for thought to this interesting topic. We very certainly don't have all the answers, but we try to be remember that we are in the customer service business. 

We would love to hear from our colleagues -- how do you deal with sub-par source texts? Have you ever said something about a source text that you wish you could take back? What's been your best/worst experience/resolution? Please leave a comment and let's continue the conversation. 
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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