Tuesday, December 6, 2011

InterpretAmerica Participates in Supreme Court Amicus Brief

InterpretAmerica is proud to announce that Co-President Barry Olsen has contributed to an amicus curiae brief for a case currently before Supreme Court. The case, Kouichi Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., is one of vital importance to both the translation and interpreting industries. The Court, in short, is being asked to determine whether there is a difference between translation and interpreting as professions. If you want to receive a copy of the brief, send us an email at info@interpretamerica.net and we will send you the PDF file

In our mission to help raise the profile of interpreting, nothing could be more important than helping clarify for the highest court in the land the distinct professional practices and skills sets required to practice translation and interpreting.

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators has also supplied an amicus brief for this crucial issue. Their brief can be viewed at: http://www.najit.org/documents/amicusbrief.pdf

Take a moment to review these important documents and spread the word about this historic case for our industry currently in front of the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Deadline for Submission of Proposals for 2012 NAJIT Conference Extended to October 15, 2011

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) Call for Papers for its 2012 annual conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been extended to October 15, 2011. Submissions on any topic relevant to interpreting are welcome. Download submission form here or visit www.najit.org.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

2nd Summit on Interpreting Keynote Address: Technology Trends and the Interpreting Marketplace

The 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting took place on June 17-18, 2011, in Washington, DC. Nataly Kelly, the chief research officer at Common Sense Advisory, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on “Technology Trends and the Interpreting Marketplace.”

Many interpreters, industry representatives, and professional association leaders were in attendance. Several attendees traveled from as far away as Canada, Europe, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil for the Summit. However many more were unable to attend for a host of reasons. But thanks to MediaVision USA, the Premier Technology Sponsor for the 2nd Summit, we were able to record Nataly’s keynote address, which we offer here in its entirety. (Just click on the video above.) The slides of the presentation will be available soon for download as well.

So, if you had hoped to make it to the Summit but didn’t, couldn’t make it because of cost or distance, or simply had no intention of attending but are now curious, we invite you to sit back and open your eyes and mind to the possibilities of what interpreting can become in the 21st century if we embrace and shape the technologies that are being used to provide interpreting services. Please share your thoughts with us after you watch the keynote address.

The 2nd Summit wasn't all technology. Five workgroups met on the second day to discuss topics vital to the future of interpreting: professional associations, education and training, certification and credentialing, legal and advocacy, and technology. All of the groups took careful notes of their discussions, which will be condensed into a white paper that will be published later this summer.

Thanks to everyone who attended the 2nd Summit and to all those who followed us on Twitter (@InterpAmerica) and Facebook (InterpretAmerica). The Summit on Interpreting will move to the West Coast next year. Mark your calendars now and join us in Monterey, California, on June 15-16, 2012.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Interpreting and the Digital Revolution

InterpretAmerica Co-President Barry Slaughter Olsen recently spoke to the members of the National Judiciary Interpreters and Translators Association (NAJIT) at their 32nd Annual Conference in Long Beach, California. We post his remarks here. 

Original Audio:
Interpreting and the Digital Revolution

NAJIT Keynote Speech by Barry Slaughter Olsen, Co-President of InterpretAmerica
Delivered on May 13, 2011, in Long Beach, California

"I am both humbled and honored to be with you today. I wish to thank the NAJIT Board of Directors and the Conference Committee for inviting me to be with you in Long Beach today. Having been asked to speak to a distinguished group of judiciary translators and interpreters, knowing that I myself am not one, is a responsibility that I take seriously. As my CV attests, I am a conference interpreter. And although we conference interpreters don’t often think about this, the genesis of our profession is actually in legal interpreting. In large measure, conference interpreting is what it is today because of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremburg. So, in a sense, I stand before you today speaking to my professional roots.

"Events that play out in courtrooms across the country, and around the globe for that matter, have significant and lasting consequences for individuals and societies. The weight of those consequences warrants that all parties involved understand the proceedings. And you are there to make that happen. I honor and respect your work.

The Digital Revolution

"But I have not come today to speak to you about the importance of quality language services in law enforcement and legal proceedings. You understand that better than I. I have come today to speak with you about the profession of interpreting as a whole and its incipient relationship with the flood of new technologies that have revolutionized modern communication.

"The introduction of new technologies for the delivery of translation and interpreting services is growing at an ever increasing rate in legal and other settings. However, just how this trend affects our professions will largely depend on how translators and interpreters react to these changes…and which battles we choose to fight.

"In today’s new media landscape, television companies, newspaper companies, and telephone companies; have learned this lesson and morphed into “media companies” and “communications companies.” They understand that their value is derived from the services they provide (voice communication, text messaging, e-mail service, etc.) or the content (television programs, news, entertainment, movie schedules, etc.) they deliver. Describing themselves by the infrastructure they use to provide their services was holding them back and making them anachronistic.

"Old means of disseminating information (newspapers and broadcast television, for example) are being displaced by websites, blogs and streaming video. Old ways of doing things have fallen by the wayside. For example, how many of you flew to attend this conference? How many of you booked your travel on line? How many of you worked with a travel agent?

"Another example: How many of you speak with friends or relatives who reside outside the United States? How many of you use a voice over IP application such as Skype to communicate with them?

"There are many other examples: photography, video rentals, even the postal service has had to adapt to new technologies over the past decade. Suffice it to say that digital technologies have touched almost every aspect of modern life to some extent. One example that hits closer to home is translation. Word processing software, translation memories, and machine translation have radically changed and will continue to change the way translators work. And I don’t think any translator longs for the days of translating with nothing more than pen and ink or even a typewriter.   

"Interpreting, however, is not as far along in its courtship with new technologies. Make no mistake, automation and computers will not replace translators and interpreters, they have changed and will change the way and where we work. Pioneering efforts are underway to introduce new ways to deliver interpreting services. And some sectors or language combinations like English/ASL have been delivering interpreting services remotely for some time now. Many of you here today may have already worked with technologies such as video relay interpreting over the internet, telepresence, or voice over IP, not to mention over the phone interpreting, which has been around for a couple of decades now. And I would wager that your experiences have ranged from good to downright unacceptable. But the important thing to remember is that, in essence, these technologies are simply the infrastructure that is used for us to deliver our services (Remember the example of television companies turning into media companies in order to adapt?). The interpreting task is essentially the same as it has always been, regardless of whether we are standing next to those who need our services in a triadic formation, working from an ISO standard interpretation booth in a conference room, or in an adequately equipped interpretation studio across town or across the country.   

Two Questions

"This leads me to two basic questions that may be on your minds as well. 

"The first question: What will be the impact of technological developments on the future of face-to-face or on-site interpreting?

"Let me try to answer the first question this way. Over the last 50 to 60 years, the basic modalities of interpreting (consecutive, simultaneous and sight translation) have not really changed, nor has the technology used to provide them. That means that professional practice, in broad terms, has remained more or less static for several decades. Think about that for a moment.  During that same period, written and oral communication have become virtually instantaneous, we are slowly but surely moving to a paperless environment, photography has gone digital, and book, music and video distribution has gone on-line and now wireless. And while many in our profession continue to maintain that interpreting cannot be done unless the interpreter is physically present in the same room as meeting participants, depositions are being conducted via telepresence, business executives on different continents meet via video conference, and webinars reach out to tens of thousands of interested participants around the globe. And it doesn’t stop there. Digital technology has changed the way doctors practice medicine and the way lawyers practice law. It has changed the way politicians run for office and the way we shop from everything from food to clothing. So can we honestly expect technology not to have a profound influence on the way we do our job as interpreters when virtually every other area of human endeavor has been touched in some way by new technologies?

 "I think we can safely say that technology is already radically changing the way we deliver interpreting services, and translation has been transformed over the last decade because of technological innovation. That same innovation has created more work than ever before for translators.

"That said, face-to-face or on-site interpreting will not disappear. The circumstances in which it is warranted will become more defined and clear cut. Economic and other forces will dictate when and where it is used. It will be seen as one of several delivery modes.

"Tele-interpreting or distance interpreting use will increase as delivery technologies become more user friendly and robust. By that I mean, the technology will we dependable enough for us to do our job and we will be able to adequately hear and see the participants of an interpreted interaction, and they us.  It is interesting to note that modern communications technologies are increasing interaction across cultures and borders, which has the potential to expand the use of interpreting. For example, the number of on-line meetings using web-based meeting services is growing rapidly, with different entities holding tens or hundreds or perhaps even thousands of on-line meetings each month. Granted, most of these meetings are monolingual, but interpreters’ services are already being retained for on-line meetings and webinars. I expect this only to grow.

"However I am concerned with the lack of involvement of the interpreting profession as a whole in the development of these technologies which we will eventually be expected to use, if we have not had to use them already. To my fellow interpreters, I invite you to take an interest in these new technologies. We must understand what they can and cannot do and be able to communicate clearly the working conditions we need to do our job well without detriment to our health and well being. To the technology developers I say, bring the interpreters into your discussions about product development. Consider how your current technologies being used in mainly monolingual environments can appropriately be adapted to facilitate multilingual communication in consecutive and simultaneous modes. Familiarize yourselves with existing technical standards for video and audio transmission for the purposes of interpretation. And let us help you build the tools that we need to do our job well and help people from different languages and cultures communicate like never before.   If the motivation behind the introduction and use of technology is limited to a desire to cut costs, then interpreters, users of interpretation, and agencies are in trouble. I don’t want to beat the proverbial dead horse of “client education,” but that is what it will take.

"If we fear technology and its impact on our profession, we will become a victim of it. If we embrace it wisely, we can shape it to our own benefit and to the benefit of those we serve. I laud NAJIT’s efforts to prepare position papers on a number of important issues facing judiciary interpreters, in particular the need for team interpreting and the use of telephonic interpreting. And I would encourage your Association to consider drafting a position paper on new technologies and modes of delivery such as videoconference interpreting and remote interpreting.

"In Europe, the AVIDICUS  Project, which conducted some of the first research into the use of videoconference interpreting in criminal proceedings, is an excellent example of how interpreters, academe, government, professional associations and the private sector can work together to study the impact of new technologies on professional practice. Similar efforts in the United States would be a step in the right direction.  

"Now, let me try to answer the second question. Where do our strengths as interpreters lie in this new landscape?

"Our strengths as language professionals lie where they always have. That is, in our knowledge of languages and cultures and our ability to facilitate cross-language and cross-cultural communication better than any technology can. Speech is perhaps the most human of all forms of human expression. And that is what makes human interpreters essential.

"In an increasingly interconnected and multilingual world, the demand for professional language expertise will only grow, in some cases exponentially, which is why there is such a push to find technological solutions to help deliver more efficient and more cost effective language services.

"Our strength lies in our ability to define who we are as a profession and to help society understand that definition. We do ourselves no favor as a profession by remaining fragmented and isolated based on where we interpret or who we interpret for.  Bringing interpreters, technology providers, educators, and users of interpreting together to discuss the future of our profession/industry was the idea behind the creation of the North American Summits on Interpreting. In June of last year the 1st North American Summit on Interpreting took place in Washington, D.C. More than 160 interpreters from across the profession, end users of interpreting services, institutional employers of interpreters, agencies and solution providers met for one day to take stock of interpreting in North America and to envision its future.
"One of the notable outcomes of the Summit was the publication of “The Interpreting Marketplace: a Study of Interpreting in North America.” This 89-page market study prepared by Common Sense Advisory is the first of its kind and seeks to capture a snapshot of interpreting in the United States, Canada and Mexico that gives us an idea of where we stand as a profession and can serve as a point of reference for future studies. InterpretAmerica has made this study available free of charge as a service to the profession. Copies may be downloaded from the interpretamerica.net website.

"Our strength as a profession lies in unity and coordinated effort. Sector-specific professional associations for interpreters have existed for years. There are international, national and regional associations for conference interpreters, legal or judiciary interpreters, medical interpreters, and interpreters for the deaf. They all serve specific and important purposes. However, Coordinated efforts to represent the interpreting profession as a whole, in my view, would be a welcome development. Through the Summits on Interpreting, we seek to encourage dialog among the many interested parties from the interpreting profession and industry. And I hope to see many of you at the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting next month in Washington, D.C.

"In sum, my message today can be distilled into two main points: First, interpreters must embrace technologies that will be used to deliver our services in order to shape them to our advantage and benefit. And second, interpreters must find ways to come together, crossing over sector-specific lines that we ourselves have drawn, as interpreting has expanded to different venues and parts of society. This does not mean our differences will disappear. But interpreters must have a unified voice if we hope to be recognized by society for what we do. 

"At a National Foreign Language Summit held in Washington, D.C., in late 2010, current CIA Director and soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke of what it will take to improve the foreign language proficiency in the United States. His words reflect what I believe it will take for interpreting to adapt to the 21st century and to the new technologies that are reshaping much of human endeavor. He said: "A significant cultural change needs to occur. And that requires a transformation in attitude from everyone involved: individuals, government, schools and universities, and the private sector.” I couldn’t agree more. 

"Thank you for your attention."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Guest Author: Crowdsourcing Explained

InterpretAmerica is proud to bring you a guest author for our latest blog post. Nataly Kelly of Common Sense Advisory recently posted an extremely helpful explanation of crowdsourcing on a national association listserve. Although crowdsourcing is a phenomenon which impacts translation more than interpreting, we know that most interpreters are also translators and this issue is relevant to all of us. Her explanation may surprise you, as it gets to how crowdsourcing can actually be a sign of increased paid business opportunities for freelance translators, not fewer. Be sure to check out the links Nataly provides at the end of her article.

Finally, the
2nd North American Summit on Interpreting is just around the corner. Register today! Early bird registration ends April 30th!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Videoconferencing Technology + Interpreting: Meaningful Relationship or Marriage of Convenience?

On February 17-19, 2011, the AVIDICUS Consortium (Assessment of Videoconference Interpreting in the Criminal Justice Services) held the first international symposium dedicated exclusively to the provision of interpreting services using videoconferencing equipment. To my knowledge and to that of the others in attendance at the sold-out Symposium that took place at the British Computer Society in the heart of London, it was the first of its kind—a bellwether of things to come for our profession. After three days of presentations on the reasons for using videoconference interpreting (VCI) and remote interpreting (RI) as well as the pros and cons of providing interpreting services in this way, everyone concluded that more research needs to be done. Perhaps Symposium organizer Sabine Braun put it best when referring to VCI and RI she said: “There is a huge demand for something we know very little about.” 

Long story short, videoconference technology is going to have a significant impact on the way we interpreters do our job in the coming years. The courtship of these technologies with interpreting, if you’ll allow me to use that metaphor, is just beginning. And like any incipient relationship, there are and will be ups and downs, misunderstandings, as well as moments of euphoria. The relationship will be long lasting, but if we want it to be a meaningful relationship rather than a marriage of convenience, we had better get involved in a constructive way, and soon. 

My own take is that we, the interpreters, need to be more active in helping the technologists understand what the requirements are for us to do our job and do it well, otherwise we are going to be plugged in at the end of the design process like an afterthought, kind of like indoor plumbing and water closets in Victorian-era homes—the indoor WC soon became a necessity in homes but often didn’t work well or stood out horribly because the houses of the era were never designed to include indoor plumbing in the first place. Such is the case with current off-the-shelf videoconferencing solutions. As architectural design progressed over the years, bathrooms and indoor plumbing became the norm in most homes, so the unsightly pipes and poorly placed privies eventually became a thing of the past.  Yesterday’s luxury became today’s necessity. 

Even so, when it comes to working together, there are plenty of naysayers and foot draggers among interpreters and technologists alike. But the sterile arguments that have led to bouts of intellectual head butting between technophiles and technophobes (i.e. “computers will never replace us” vs. “buy our software program, no translator or interpreter needed”) is missing the point. By working together, both sides stand to gain. One thing is for sure, neither side understands the other very well at all. So a little rapprochement could go a long way, because in today’s globalized world, the need for multilingual communication in all its known and yet-to-be known forms is only going to grow. 

Many interpreters feel they should always be physically present whenever their services are needed and that anything less is simply unacceptable. While I agree that being physically present is almost always preferable, demanding that this always be the case is impractical and ignores the fact that XXI-century communication technologies have created a new paradigm for interaction between people who may be half a block or half a world away. Interpreters stand to play a key role in facilitating multilingual communication in this era of increased international and cross cultural interaction, but only if we are ready to respond constructively to innovation and are willing to shape, and in some cases, accept the new realities that will inevitably have an effect on how and where we do our job. 

This is the main reason why InterpretAmerica chose to focus on technology and professional identity for the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting this June in Washington, D.C. If you are interested in helping shape the future of interpreting, you won’t want to miss it. My co-president, Katharine Allen, and I hope to see you there. 

Co-President of InterpretAmerica

Monday, February 7, 2011

Armchair Debate to Highlight Key Issues in the Interpreting Workplace

If you are an interpreter reading this blog, chances are you doing so from your home office. The Interpreting Marketplace Study prepared by Common Sense Advisory for last year's 1st North American Summit on Interpreting found that approximately three quarters of interpreters worked as freelancers, and furthermore, that few of us made our livings solely as interpreters. Rather, we supplement our income as translators, trainers and with other jobs. And while we may be well aware of the challenges and rewards inherent to being our own boss, few of us are aware of the major tug-of-war underway in our profession between interpreting services companies as to whether that freelance model will stand, or whether in the near future more of us will become company employees.

The upcoming 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting is putting this issue front stage and center with the first ever Independent Contractor v. Employee Workplace Model Armchair Debate. Industry leaders Bill Graeper of Certified Languages International and Louis Provenzano of Language Line Services will face off for the event, moderated by Stephanie van Reigersberg, a veteran diplomatic interpreter with a distinguished career in government service. 

You may ask yourself, so what? What does this really have to do with me? The bottom line, after all, is making a living. But that is precisely why this issue is of such consequence to everyone in our field. Whether language service providers hire interpreters as independent contractors or employ them directly has everything to do with interpreter remuneration, benefits, training opportunities and maintaining high quality service provision. 

At the heart of this issue is pending federal legislation addressing current laws governing whether workers are classified as employees or as independent contractors. Specifically, the legislation focuses on the “misclassification” of employees as independent contractors. The just-released federal budget for fiscal year 2011 includes "a proposal to be jointly administered by the Departments of Labor and the Treasury to eliminate legal incentives for employers to misclassify their employees. Funds are appropriated to enhance the ability of both agencies to penalize employers that misclassify employees as independent contractors, and restores protections to employees who have been denied them due to the misclassification. According to the budget, this proposal will increase Treasury receipts by more than $7 billion over 10 years. The budget allocates an additional $25 million to hire 100 new enforcement personnel to target worker misclassification and establish competitive grants to encourage states to address this issue." See http://bit.ly/gEgO20.

At stake here is the very employment model that runs our profession. Few language service providers could realistically afford to hire the independent contractor interpreters they rely on for providing services across dozens and sometimes hundreds of languages as employees. Demand is unpredictable and many languages do not provide enough work to keep interpreters employed at full-time or even half-time jobs, nor could companies contract for onsite services in rural areas using employees. To address this market reality, the majority of providers have opted for a freelance model. No doubt, there are language companies that abuse that model, using it more for keeping wages low and their federal employee obligations to a minimum than to offer quality, professional services to their clients. Freelancers have far fewer job protections and built-in job benefits than employees.

But on the flip side are many companies who work closely with their freelancers to ensure quality and which are hamstrung by the strict limitations placed on them by the federal employee legislation. For example, many companies would like to provide ongoing training and educational opportunities, but cannot do so because to offer such training would reclassify the freelancer into an employee--one due benefits, social security deductions and the like. This limitation directly affects the ability of the company and the interpreter to ensure the advanced training that both parties need interpreters to have to ensure quality and consistency of training across multiple languages and settings.

Which side is on the right here? Should the thousands of interpreters currently working as independent contractors be reclassified as employees and thereby gain access to increased benefits, wages and employer-provided training? Or would that reclassification in actuality mean the loss not only of millions of dollars of work contracts and fewer languages served, but a sharp decrease in the numbers of companies hiring on-site interpreters and the consolidation of the field into a few, large corporate entities?

At InterpretAmerica, we feel this issue is so important that we asked the two strongest advocates on either side of the issue to come debate the pros and cons for our attendees. Come listen to what is sure to be a spirited debate and then decide for yourself what our field needs. Only by educating ourselves on the broader marketplace can interpreters gain the awareness needed to participate in the shaping of their work settings. Check out the full conference offerings and come join us at the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting on June 17 and 18, 2011 in Washington, DC.