Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Diasporas, Smart Mobs, and the Creation of a Digital Interpreting Commons

“When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” –Clay Shirky

I have spent the last few years observing macro trends in technology, communication, and social interaction wondering when and how these larger trends would eventually affect the world of interpreting. Last week at the annual SCIC Universities Conference held in Brussels, I no longer had to wonder. 

A new initiative called SpeechPool.net is poised to help student interpreters and their trainers alleviate one of the vexing problems of interpreter training efforts around the world—a lack of quality, level-appropriate speeches for beginning and intermediate interpreting students to practice with.

The idea is strikingly simple, as most revolutionary ideas are—provide a simple, easy, universally accessible platform where students and trainers from around the globe can upload audio and video recordings of speeches being given in classes and practice groups in a myriad of languages at training institutions the world over so they can be used by students and trainers everywhere. The initiative is the brainchild of conference interpreter and trainer Sophie Llewellyn Smith. You can watch her introduction of the platform here or read a recent interview about it on The Interpreter Diaries

Speech banks have been around for years at individual schools and institutions. But due to the rapid advance of technology and the time-sensitive nature of much of the speech content, these platforms were quick to obsolesce and the speeches grew stale. So what’s so groundbreaking about this initiative? Put simply, it has the potential to harness the collective creative power of the diaspora of thousands of interpreting students and trainers around the globe to the benefit of all, thereby encouraging mutual improvement and success while allowing competition at a higher level of competency.[1] It is a clear example of win-win thinking, which is the basis of the emerging sharing economy. This is not one group offering content to others out of the goodness of its heart. It is not altruism. It is a platform for a dynamic exchange of value between equally interested parties, and that makes all the difference because SpeechPool.net will only succeed if there is sustained value generated by all who contribute to and benefit from the platform.

Of course, there are many unknowns in this budding effort. But that is not the point. The days of certainty and a near perfect product before going to market are over. This platform can adapt and change as new needs and ideas emerge. Serial iteration in the new hyper-connected digital world where everything is software based and resides in the cloud makes it easier than ever to adapt and evolve. 

To my knowledge, this is the first bona fide example of intelligent crowdsourcing that has the potential to improve the quality of interpreting services around the world, not to dumb down or cheapen the profession. That is powerful.

 The key to the success of this endeavor is participation and meaningful contribution, so dust off those old video and audio files that are languishing on your hard drives, digital recorders and smartphones and contribute them to the greater good of a growing profession, and while you are at it, practice some consecutive with notes. Oh, and fasten your seatbelts, this is just the beginning of a coming wave of innovation that is already affecting our noble profession.

Barry Slaughter Olsen

Interested in learning about how today’s technologies are changing how interpreters work and promote their careers? Then join us at InterpretAmerica 4 on June 14-15, 2013, in Reston, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Register today! Early-bird registration ends May 12, 2013.

[1] See Leaders Make the Future by Bob Johansen, p. 165.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wild Wild West Conditions Persist in Medical Interpreting

This week, InterpretAmerica Co-President Katharine Allen, along with interpreting student Kaitlin Heximer, is the guest blogger for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters' (NAJIT) weekly blog.

The topic? Lamentable work and language access conditions that still persist in too many healthcare settings. Raising the profile of the interpreting profession is a major focus for InterpretAmerica. The theme for this year’s 4th InterpretAmerica Summit is On The Cutting Edge: Bringing Interpreting To The Forefront. A major goal of the Summit is to impart the knowledge and skills we all need to create a highly visible platform for our field. 

Our keynote speaker, Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Busy World, will apply the depth of his expertise to creating such a platform not just for individuals, but for an entire profession. His talk will be followed by a panel of three of the most effective social media users in the interpreting industry - Ian Andersen of the European Uniion, Nataly Kelly, co-author of Lost in Translation, Brandon Arthur of StreetLeverage.com.

The blogpost, Wild Wild West Conditions Persist in Medical Interpreting, highlights the story of Masters candidate Kaitlin Heximer, whose initial interpreting work in the community interpreting sectors was anything but smooth, due to the lack of even basic training she had received in interpreting ethics, standards, and protocols.

“When I think back to the first time I ever interpreted in a formal setting, I would have done things differently if I knew then what I know now about interpreter ethics and best practices. A “simple” medical appointment turned into an epic 11-hour saga at the hospital emergency room with a patient whose sinus problems were quickly overshadowed by his mentally unstable condition.” **
Kaitlin is currently a student in the newly-minted and highly-innovative Masters in Conference Interpreting program, offered through the Glendon College School of Translation at York University. She already has a Masters in translation, and is no stranger to the healthcare system herself. She started interpreting just a year ago, as a volunteer interpreter for a refugee resettlement agency.
Her story is worth hearing. It is a stark reminder that despite so much rapid change transforming the healthcare interpreting profession, the “bad ‘ol days” of pressing untrained bilingual staff or volunteers into service are not yet a thing of the past. Hospitals may be jumping on the technology bandwagon in droves, doctors now access video medical interpreters through their smart phones and there are not one but two validated national medical interpreter certifications in the US[1]. However, patients and bilingual individuals trying to help them are still put in high-risk situations with depressing frequency.
To read the rest of her story, visit the NAJIT Blog.
Then register for the 4th InterpetAmerica Summit, to be held June 14-15, 2013 in Reston, Virginia! Add your voice to the discussion!