Letter from the Editor
I’ve seen it year after year. A pall of wintry worry and agitation settles over the interpreting community almost before anyone has realized that the holidays are no longer so recent nor the break from work so restful. Projects are in danger of going missing in inaction. Anxiety sets out its mirrors reflecting only itself ad infinitum: When will offers of work start arriving? Is the phone broken? Has AIIC mail lost my messages? Should I be more pro-active or less pushy? I call it February Syndrome. Fortunately, February is the shortest month of the year!
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We have at our disposal skills that can provide a unique cure to this seasonal anxiety disorder. Mental strategists have shown that anxiety repels any frontal attack, but the master mutitaskers known as conference interpreters have the ability to deploy resources on multiple fronts. Pretend that little worry-wart voice is nothing but a mere speaker at a podium and then multitask around and through him. We can't tell him to shut up, but we know that repetition doesn't require the greatest effort. So while he talks on and on in his Mobius strip style, we have plenty attention at out disposal to observe what else is happening in this meeting room known as the world. Just don't get carried away with any one detail, don't concentrate on any one element, and you should be fine. The phone is sure to ring when you have forgotten its existence!
On the road again: This year my February syndrome was cured by the rarity of a 3-week conference for March (confirmed on 31 January). No time to delve deeply into any of the projects noted in my handy steno pad with preparations for an extended road trip taking precedence on my mental list. Would 3 weeks be too long? Would time drag? What hotel should I call "home"? Minor recurrences of the syndrome sometimes spill over into the first week of March, but can be controlled by centering on the task at hand: packing the suitcase. And I am happy to say that my attention remained on present realities throughout the stay. Here are some of the random thoughts and observations I noted down during my three weeks in Singapore.
Let's do it: This city may be renowned for being staid and tedious among those who accord great import to image, but there is delight to be found in the details. Besides, a city with an excellent bookstore can never be that bad. And when you have three weeks, you get to know a place in a different way through a daily dialogue with its streets and neighborhoods.
Say it in broken English? The lilting sounds of Singlish charmed my ear and I quickly started to enjoy things being said in novel ways. "Having here?" asks the spiky-haired server in the coffee shop. On Monday my New York mind paraphrased: "For here or to go?" By Tuesday I had forgotten deli-speak and accepted. By Wednesday I was anticipating the question with my own announcement of "Double espresso, having here."
New sensations: Many colleagues are now using a certain make of modern headset - portable, stylish, comes with leather pouch, excellent quality. It was time to get on the bandwagon, especially since this practical purchase would afford me the opportunity of participating in the national sport: shopping. My ears appreciate the effort.
Everybody's talking: Of course, good quality plugs in my ears won't make much difference if the chair allows everyone to speak at the same time. The cacophony only brings out another interpreter malady - illusions of order, the main symptom of which is the silent repetition of the phrase: "If only I could chair this group."
Stuck inside of mobile: Actually it seems that everywhere you go everyone is talking... into a phone. These devices should be barred from meeting rooms for the interference they cause. In fact, I would be in favor of treating them like tobacco and limiting where they can be lit up. My new motto: second hand noise is dangerous to your health.
Take the "A" train: In a multilingual country like Singapore, what is actually the "A" language"? In a multilingual meeting, how many participants actually speak their "A" language? Or is the concept of an "A" language irrelevant in both cases? We're talking interpreter-speak here; should we even apply the A/B/C paradigm to anyone but interpreters? I would say "no", especially given a growing tendency to equate "B" with second (as in "second one learned") no matter how complete the knowledge.
Respect: Does any international organisation actually certify interpreters? Does passing an exam at this body or being contracted by that one truly mean that one has been accredited? More and more often I am handed name cards that claim that the bestower has been so certified. I've asked around and some say that it is but a small stretch of the truth. I think it a rather unnecessary stretch; there are better ways to command - and show - respect.
Cold turkey: I'm sure you could find some if you tried, but the raves I heard were more about pepper crab, curries and fried noodles. Food is another national obsession of Singapore and one that I would certainly encourage. Besides, an active interest in eating gets you up and about: Little India, Arab Street, Chinatown, the various quays. Curiosity and a happy stomach are both good things for an interpreter to have.
A non-interpreter opens the door into this issue's smorgasbord of articles with Speaking in Tongues. Emily von Sydow is a Brussels-based writer in tune with communication across cultures and a respect for our work that can only make us smile: "I tell you - please avoid English if you have a choice and it's not your mother tongue. If there is interpretation - use professionals to help your communication. They're better at it than you and I are."
Next the AIIC Training Committee is back with new versions of two of our most viewed pages. Advice to Students wishing to become Conference Interpreters has been read more than 100,000 times since it was first posted on this website, and now is more reader-friendly than ever. Conference Interpreter Training Programmes: Best Practice replaces "Setting up a conference interpreting Training Programme" in sharing the practical wisdom of our trainers in a new format.
Phil Smith and Benoit Cliquet renew their collaboration in off mic with a two-course offering of discourse and drawings about the most important meal of the day: Breakfast.
In what has become a Communicate! tradition, we next offer readers a commentary on one of the many training opportunities available. Those wishing to improve their Italian would do well to read Edwin Goossens Surgélation à Rome.
"By definition we deal in our job with established languages of international diplomacy, trade and discourse; we should also take time to consider the languages currently spoken that could be lost in the years to come." Thus begins Phil Smith's review of Spoken Here: Travels among threatened languages by Mark Abley.
The most recent edition of the Prix Danica Seleskovitch has been awarded to two former presidents of AIIC: Jennifer Mackintosh and Christopher Thiéry. Our current president, Benoit Kremer, was present and was kind enough to send us this short report of the ceremony.
Several themes thread an irregular path through this spring issue - and indeed most of our issues: the importance of one's native language, respect for the languages of others, curiosity and learning, professionalism, and of course, an enjoyment of our work that can be expressed seriously or with humor. We all share a love for the music of language. And as you have surely noticed, several references to popular music have been sewn into this article. Call it a quiz if you like. To express appreciation to our readers, the editors of Communicate! would like to offer a free DVD of The Whisperers to the first person who correctly identifies the author(s) and at least one of the interpreters of the songs referred to in italics at the beginning of some of the above paragraphs. Post your answers or complaints below if you wish to go public, or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.