Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Memories

At 9 o'clock tonight local time, the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games begins in London. Already at 10:30 this morning, Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC, was addressing the world press. His speech will have been interpreted into several languages.

Forgive me if, on this historic occasion, I indulge in some personal memories.

The first Olympics I saw were the 1948 ones in London. In fact I was living and going to school within walking distance of their main venue, the old Empire Stadium in the London suburb of Wembley. They were especially exciting because they were the first after WW2. I didn't see much of them; we didn't have TV. But I was present to see the great Fanny Blankers-Koen win one of her four golds. Amazingly, it's on YouTube: click here. By that time I was already a conscious Native Translator from years of language courses at school and one year at university, but I had no idea that Expert Translation even existed as a profession, and there were as yet no schools of translation in the UK.

The second time was the 1976 Montreal Games. Very different. I was living further away from the venue, in Ottawa, but 200 km is almost next door by Canadian standards. By then I was a Professional Expert Conference Interpreter. I did a four-week stint at the Games, which included a week of preparation since it was 'money no object' for the Montreal organisers under legendary Mayor Jean Drapeau. My most vivid memory is of the evening at the Montreal Forum when little Nadia Comaneci scored her perfect 10, the first Olympics gymnast ever to do so. (It too is here on YouTube.) The reason I got in, and even had a front-row standing position, was that the organisers had forgotten to order proper identity tags for us interpreters. No doubt we were their least concern. So at the last minute they decided to issue us press tags, and those got us in everywhere.

I have other stories about those games, but they concern Professional Interpreters and so this blog isn’t the place. Instead, I want to draw attention to the army of other interpreters at the Games, the Native Liaison Interpreters. Unlike the conference interpreters huddled away in their booths, they wear smart uniforms and are to be seen walking around everywhere at all such international events. Some are temporarily professionals, some are volunteers. But they aren’t engaged as interpreters and they aren’t recognised as such. They’re called hostesses and hosts or guides, etc. Of course they have a lot of other duties besides interpreting, but many of them have to be bilingual, including the professional London Blue Badge Guides, and it’s not sufficiently appreciated that impromptu translating and interpreting are part of the job. It's taken for granted.

So with all those Liaison Interpreters around, why are Conference Interpreters needed? For one thing for the press conferences like Jacques Rogge's this morning and which follow each event. But few people realise how much conference work goes on behind the scenes before the Games even open. It’s an opportunity for the world governing bodies of each sport to get together. I had said to our chief that I knew about soccer, which in those days few Canadians played, so I was assigned to a week of meetings of FIFA, as well as to a tense meeting of the IOC over Taiwan‘s participation as “China“. I was on the relief team that was hastily formed and called in around 7 am to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel when the IOC meeting had gone on all night and worn out the regular team.

When somebody at Forli asked me what was the most interesting interpretation job I'd ever had, I didn't hestitate. I regard the Montreal Olympics as the high point of my professional interpreting career. I'm sure the London Olympics will be the high point for many younger interpreters, Expert and Native.

Fanny Blankers-Koen. Wikipedia. Click here.

The Guild of Registered Tourist Guides, London. Click here.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Taiwan controversy at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. CBC Digital Archives. Click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

European Directive on Court Interpreting

At the beginning of this month I went to a conference on court interpreting at the Jaume I University in Castellón de la Plana (Castelló in Valencian), which is on the coast one hour north of Valencia. I went because the people organising it at Castellón have been very kind to me, and because many court interpreters in Spain and elsewhere are Advanced Native Translators, not Experts. Furthermore, even if they're paid, many of the Native ones are only occasional Professionals. I ought to have known that at a university meeting there would be little presence or discussion of non-experts or non-professionals, but I did learn some interesting things.

There were two ‘hot topics’. One was the tussle going on in the UK since the recent privatisation of court interpreting services and the government’s determination to put it all in the hands of a single commercial agency. It’s a professional matter and so beyond the scope of this blog, but one consequence is that Expert Interpretation in the British courts has receded for the moment in favour of untrained and untested interpreters. Click here if you want to know more.

The other was the impact in Spain of the European Union Directive on court interpreting (see Reference). It's as remarkable for what it doesn't say as for what it does. We were told that the gaps are due to the fact that EU directives must be approved by all the Member States and so they represent a lowest common denominator.

A good example is training. The Directive is progressive in that it requires Member States to
"request those responsible for the training of judges, prosecutors and judicial staff involved in criminal proceedings to pay special attention to the particularities of communicating with the assistance of an interpreter."
This is something that is indeed necessary. In some jurisdictions, lawyers even regard interpreters as an interference rather than a help, because they blunt the cut and thrust of cross-examination. On the other hand, nothing is said about the training for the interpreters themselves. Is it because the delegates couldn't agree about what kind of training is suitable, or who should provide it, or how to pay for it? The people at the Castellón meeting seemed to take it for granted that in Spain the universities should be recognised as the providers. However, that's not realistic. The universities are ill-equipped to provide the training at the level and in the numbers needed. Valid candidates for training don't necessarily meet university admission conditions and are in urgent situations where what they need is a 'crash course'. In Canada, the most successful court interpreter programme, the one at Vancouver Community College, is given outside the universities at the community college level.

A related consideration is pay. What's the point of getting training for a highly responsible job if the pay is miserly compared with what conference interpreters and lawyers earn? Several Castellón participants mentioned it, and it's a problem in Canada too (see References). Yet the Directive has not a word to say about it.

It's 'motherhood' to say that all court interpreters ought be trained Experts. Justice demands it, and also expediency. If a mistrial is declared because of faulty interpreting, there are serious costs and delays. The Directive goes some way to offering a recourse for bad translation:
"Suspected or accused persons have the possibility to complain that the quality of the translation is not sufficient to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings."
But it only mentions it in connection with written translations; and "complain" falls far short of the "grounds for an appeal" that's available, for example, in Canada.

So the reality is that court interpretation will continue to be provided by Native Interpreters for a long time yet, because
* Administrations won't or can't pay what Expert Interpreters would cost. (The Spanish government is all too obviously in no position to incur any additional administrative expenditure at present.)

* Without attractive remuneration, there's no incentive to get training.

* In any case, training facilities are completely inadequate.

* Even if all the above were taken care of, it would be virtually impossible, in this era of population shifts, to keep up with new demands for 'exotic' languages. The whole community interpreting movement in Canada started with the arrival of the Vietnamese boat people and their language in the 1970s, and there was another crisis two decades later when a sizable community of Somali language speakers came on the scene. In Spain, it's been the several Eastern European languages that weren't taught here.
Nevertheless, it's to the credit of the Directive that it does offer one innovative avenue of hope. This is its encouragement of remote interpreting using videoconferencing:
"When using videoconferencing for the purpose of remote interpretation, the competent authorities should be able to rely on the tools that are being developed in the context of European e-Justice (e.g. information on courts with videoconferencing equipment or manuals)."
The implication is that the courts will accept videoconference interpreting as legally valid. It would make it possible to supply interpreters from a small pool of Experts to widely dispersed courtrooms. It requires investment in electronic equipment and research (or trial and error) to determine the best set-ups, but the internet provides a network infrastructure that can be used for other purposes besides interpreting.

Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. Click here for the text.

Presente y futuro de la traducción y la interpretación ante los tribunales en Europa. VIII Jornadas de Traducción Jurídica, Universitat Jaume I, Departament de Traducció i Comunicació, Castelló de la Plana, 2-4 July 2012. The programme is here.

Mike Sadava. Misinterpretation: crisis in Canadian court interpreting. The Lawyers Weekly, 2010. Click here for the article.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My myGengo Experiments (2)

This is the second myGengo experiment. The first was reported in the previous post.

In the second experiment, still disguised electronically, I took myGengo's recruitment test. There's no fee for it. I submitted translations of two short texts from Spanish to English. I deliberately didn't spend much time on them, because it was the Standard (low-paid) rank that interested me. It wasn't the correct way to set up the experiment; I ought to have taken more time and sought translations by a real Native Translator. But here, for what it's worth, is the result.

The verdict took a long time coming: five weeks. I contented myself in the meantime with thinking that at least they were taking care over it! Ultimately, to my relief, it was accepted. But what was most interesting was the comment that came with the evaluation from the myGengo staff:
"You did a very good job of coming up with phrasing that sounds fluid and natural to convey the same meaning in English. You are still a bit close to the text but the word choice was quite good. Remember to just cut out words that are not necessary in English, as Spanish tends to use a lot more words."
A bit close to the text? Quite likely. Most of the professional work I've done recently has been of legal documents, and for those – as one client instructed me categorically – "your translations must be as literal as possible." Translators form habits and can fall into a rut. The last sentence too, about cutting out words, is sound advice – I used to give it to my students – and it convinced me that the writer was experienced and serious.

I'd like at this point to be able to say that you get what you pay for at myGengo and that the public will soon learn when it's appropriate to use it and when they should pay more. It's true for some knowledgeable users, individual or corporate; but it's also true that the general public is still woefully ignorant about translation and unable to judge it at Expert level. An indication of this comes from the now widespread misuse of machine translation. For example, I recently heard of a Spanish lawyer who used Google Translate to produce the English version of an international insurance policy. Very dangerous. Yet there is no legal disclaimer on the Google Translate site, whereas some Professional Translators limit their liability on their invoices and a few even carry professional liability insurance (see the article referenced below).

There's already a field in which crowdsourcing of translating is impacting on Professional Translators. It's the subtitling and fansubbing by "ces passionnés qui traduisent des séries pour que les nuls en anglais puissent en profiter [the enthusiasts who translate TV series for the benefit of people with no English at all]." A recent article (see References) is quite vitriolic about them, or rather about the industry that exploits them.

Liability insurance for translators. Translation Journal, January 16, 2007. The text is here.

Nora Bouazzouni. Internet a-t-il tué le sous-titrage pro des séries? [Has the internet killed professional subtitling for series?]. In French. Francetvinfo, June 17, 2012. Click here.