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Interpreting Stakeholders Join Forces
Posted by Nataly Kelly on June 22, 2010  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Best Practices, Interpreting
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Last week, individuals from all major sectors of the interpreting field -- community, conference, legal, medical, military, and sign language interpreting -- gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss common ground as well as differences. Organized by InterpretAmerica, the event also featured the presentation of a first-ever, comprehensive study of the North American interpreting marketplace, authored by Common Sense Advisory.After opening remarks from the event organizers, Katharine Allen and Barry Slaughter-Olsen, Common Sense Advisory presented some of the major findings of the 88-page report, which was commissioned by InterpretAmerica and provided to summit attendees. Important discoveries included:
  • Most interpreters specialize in multiple areas. The majority of interpreters reported working in diverse settings and across geographic boundaries, even though associations are divided on the basis of industry sector as well as countries, regions, and states or provinces.

  • By and large, interpreters are translators. The vast majority of interpreters also do written translation work. Nearly eight out of 10 interpreters reported that they also work as translators. This does not mean that the reverse is true (that most translators are interpreters).

  • Interpreters are getting older. The data reveals a clear "graying of the profession," as the majority of interpreters are now getting on in age, while smaller numbers of new recruits are entering the field.
Throughout the rest of the day, delegates from a diverse audience that included organizations such as the U.S. Department of State, the European Commission, the National Center for State Courts, the United Nations, the World Bank, and many others listened intently to presentations and participated in interactive discussion on issues affecting the interpreting field.

Other keynote talks included a presentation on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by former Department of Justice attorney Bruce Adelson, a whirlwind tour of ethics and standards in every major interpreting sector throughout North America from community interpreting expert Marjory Bancroft, a session on making issues heard on Capitol Hill from professional lobbyist Kent Burton, and a paper on the role of education for interpreters in North America presented by Diane de Terra, former dean of the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). The entire day's events were documented on the InterpretAmerica Twitter feed.

One of the most poignant remarks of the day was uttered in the closing remarks from Dr. de Terra,"How is quality perceived from domain to domain in interpreting?" This comment struck a strong chord with us, since Common Sense Advisory has frequently attempted to raise awareness of the gap between views of quality on the supply and demand sides of the language services market. Our research on this topic in the translation realm shows that quality is defined differently from one industry to the next, and our study of vendor selection criteria in the telephone interpreting market revealed similar findings.

MIIS professor Holly Mikkelson took the notion of end-user involvement a step further, commenting that sign language interpreting end users -- deaf and hard of hearing individuals -- are usually represented at conferences within that sector. She observed that a similar inclusive attitude for consumers of spoken language interpreting services would be beneficial for the field and suggested that future events should take into account this need.

In our concluding remarks, Common Sense Advisory commented on the role of technology -- not just in the future -- but in the present. Computer-assisted interpreting and machine interpretation technologies are not fading away. Rather, they grow in importance each day. But will the interpreting profession be prepared to deal with them?Questions like these are important ones -- and the summit gave them a much-needed home.

Technology was apparently also on the mind of the event organizers, who announced the theme for next year's event: "Providing Quality Interpreting Services in a Push-Button World." As the language services market keeps on growing and the majority of interpreters near retirement age, the topic of how technology can assist could not be more timely.

However, the crowning achievement of the event was that it brought together the diverse and numerous interpreting stakeholders -- and professional associations -- from across North America to discuss common issues in a collaborative and inclusive way, something that can only be seen as beneficial for the field.


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Keywords: Interpreting, Interpreting technologies, On-site interpreting, Telephone interpreting, Video interpreting

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