Letter from the Editor: Adapting to the changing world of conference interpreting
I've found renewed energy in my work by examining a factor that had been a source of frustration: the rise of global English and the subsequent decrease of work in the English booth.
- Last updated:
News reports bear witness to this being the wet season in Southeast Asia, but my calendar reminds me that August is the dry season for work everywhere. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to gear myself up for a meaty conference and I find that I miss the ritual.
These past few years I have found renewed energy in my work, and I’ve found it by examining a factor that had been a source of frustration: the rise of Global English and the subsequent decrease of work in the English booth. I am not referring to fewer offers of employment due to the phenomenon of the incredible vanishing English booth; rather I am thinking of those long stretches in the box with the microphone switched off because inside the room everyone and their mother has decided to speak English or some semblance of it, leaving me to figure out ways to maintain the level of concentration I need - with a diminishing supply of oxygen to boot.
When you are actively working on mic, your mind focused and all your senses alert, much like a cat stalking its prey, your concentration is heightened. And as you work, you file away data, building a store of retrievable information. You are immersed, in the thick of things, engrossed, in play. But when your microphone is in the off position for long swathes of time, stimulation is less direct. You are in danger of becoming an observer rather than participant, yet you know that most of the conference attendees will be listening to you when that next two minute non-English intervention comes - surely in the exact moment that your attention wavers or a colleague enters to have a chat and tell you how lucky you are to be doing nothing!
This means, of course, that we are working even when the microphone is off. Such work can be draining, all the more so because it is intangible and goes unnoticed. At times it can lead to greater stress and even burnout. Finding ways to “stay in” the meeting is crucial: organise papers for easy reference, map out positions being taken, make mental notes of the discourse, jot down debating points, keep track on any text being referred to, etc. And clear your mind every once in a while.
A rekindled enthusiasm for my work is due in part to adapting such techniques to my way of doing things, to my mental constructs, and thus being able to stay on top of my game. Preparation is paramount, and fortunately the advent of the internet has made much of the raw material we need for thorough preparation more accessible. Many organisations now post background and discussion papers on the web. Understanding the subject under discussion - and how participants talk about it - is one of the first steps. With it comes awareness of how the meeting is set up – who will be present, what the objectives are, even what schedule will be followed.
While preparing at home, I gradually create a mental blueprint of a conference, and I tend to continuing mapping out the meeting once I arrive at the venue. My first-day routine has become a ritual that puts me into the meeting. I show up early, check the booth and equipment, and see if documents have arrived. If they have, I’ll take a quick look to see if the agenda has changed and if we have a list of speakers and/or participants. I might then check the room to see how it is arranged: the location of the French and Spanish-speaking participants becomes part of my mental geography. If I don’t know all the members of our team, I few introductions might be in order. And if relay is going to be necessary, I’ll check into which languages my colleagues work and which of them will require relay from the English booth. I’ll say a quick hello to the sound technicians, crucial allies for the coming days. Once I take my seat in the booth, I’ll make sure my notes and a pen are at hand, as well as the agenda; it will probably be the first item of discussion and even if not, will be referred to often. I’ll make certain that the water is not located in a place where it could easily be toppled by an expressive hand. A last check to assure that the microphone is where I want it (and not yet switched on). Now I feel comfortable, in place and ready to begin.
And with September just around the corner, it won’t be long before I do once again!
This year AIIC expanded its statistical survey and collected more information than ever. The full 49-page report is now available to members on the AIIC extranet. Communicate! has condensed this extensive information into a shorter statistical portrait of AIIC for our readers.
In our previous issue, Wadi Keiser’s article addressed the question of retirement and when one should consider closing the booth door for the last time. Now recently retired Chief Interpreter Sergio Viaggio shares his thoughts with us on Those Blasted Retirees.
Two years ago we reported that plans were afoot to film a documentary on interpreters under the title The Whispers. Such projects always take time, but finally we can tell you when and where you can view the now-completed film.
Phil Smith is back with some sagacious off mic advice. Don’t even think of enrolling in the Relay Race before reading it.
AIIC-sponsored training courses continue to proliferate. The US region was the most recent player to get involved, organising a course on American language and culture this past June. Markus Kowsky attended and has sent us his commentary on a chock-full week in Washington DC.
Next we travel back in time to hear from Mary Fons, who in 2004 set out from her home to attend a meeting of the Private Market Sector of AIIC in Italy. “Something Awful Happened to Me on the Way to the PriMS Meeting,” she says. Find out what it was.
Our usual closing column on Language in the News will help you track words and languages, find some answers to your questions, and even take a trip to HEL. And if you like cheroots, you definitely won’t want to miss it.
Our last issue of 2005 will come out in late-October. If you’re not already on our mailing list, click on “AIIC and Interpretation News” on our homepage to sign up for our newsletter.
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.