Letter from the Editor
These days all enquiries regarding work reach me by email. This might not be the case if I lived in a European or North American meeting metropolis, but living in Asia, my phone is quieter and the answering machine long retired. It's positive that individual interpreters can make themselves more visible on the Internet (e.g. through the AIIC directory), but what to do when the result is a feeler from an unknown source?
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The email might go something like this: "Good day. We are interested in using your interpretation services from... to ... in City, Country. If you are interested please send us your CV as soon as possible." Below this you find a company name you don't recognize, but perhaps an email address that would indicate the existence of a website. But even the site does not help much: an all purpose company offering the full range of services in all languages, equipment rental for all sizes of meetings and events, text preparation and design, localisation, etc. They extol the virtues of "their" interpreters, but here they are contacting you who are definitely not one of "their" interpreters. Moreover you can't tell who they are and they certainly didn't introduce themselves. It's possible that you won't even find the name of a human being - just a corporate identity.
In other words, you have been contacted by an intermediary, a player in what is often referred to as the language industry. Typically the intermediary will subcontract interpreters. Often those in charge of doing so are not interpreters themselves, but rather managers or project coordinators.
The example I've used is purely imaginary, but nonetheless typical. The email seems to be offering you work, but in fact is not; it is simply an initial encounter on the great outsourcing trail. It seems to be giving you information (date, place, a company name), but in fact tells you nothing about the conference - it could be on civil engineering or heart surgery; it might even be the launch of Michael Jordan's new perfume. It implies that the intermediary has the contract in hand, but you can't be sure. And it hints that you will indeed be hired if you but send in a good resume; after all, they are interested in your services.
In fact, there is nothing that indicates that the intermediary has yet won a contract to provide interpretation services - perhaps but perhaps not. And if not, why is your CV required now? Perhaps for submission to the client as part of a bid, with or without you knowing it, with or without a commitment to hire you afterwards? The example is imaginary, but the questions are valid; we've seen these things happen before.
I recognize that not all agencies deal in this fashion. But with the spread of the internet and the facility it gives to project a global image, I have noticed an upswing in this way of doing business, which presents a challenge to our professionalism. Interpreters feel a need to be in contact with the parties they will be working with; we need information in order to prepare. Many third-party intermediaries seem to believe that they must always stand between the contractor and the client (sometimes even prohibiting any direct contact between the two), but problems arise if they do not really understand what a professional interpreter is and what our work demands.
Musing over these questions, I've come to a couple of decisions for my own practice (Note: the opinions expressed here are my own and not those of AIIC). I want to know the subject of the meeting and who is sponsoring it so that I can decide if I want to be involved and indeed, if I feel qualified to accept an eventual offer. I want to see the schedule and know the size of the team of interpreters. I would like to have assurances that I will be working with other professionals capable of doing the job. And I wish to know if I am simply being asked if I am available for the dates in question or being offered an option. Only after getting all the information am I able to quote fees.
After several upfront requests for resumes, I have decided that I will not submit one to any party unknown to me unless I have a very reliable reference. If the resume is to be submitted to the client as part of a bid (in effect making me part of the bid), I must be informed and asked for permission. And if I give permission, I will make explicit that it applies only for the meeting in question.
As Dylan Westfeldt's article in this issue points out, "You get what you negotiate." Any enquiry is an invitation to negotiate. The points I cover above are but a prologue to further negotiations. The intermediary knows this and interpreters would do well to remember it. A good working relationship can be forged through honest and open negotiations, setting the tone for all communications between parties through to the end of the conference.
My imaginary email came from an unknown source; the situation is different when I know the sender. If the enquiry comes from an international organisation, the chances are that the information I need will be there, with a clear indication of the offer being firm or an option. And if it is one of the organisations having signed an agreement with AIIC, I will not have to worry about the working conditions and can feel assured that I will be working with qualified professionals.
If the offer comes from an AIIC consultant interpreter, I will feel confident that the team will be well organized, all the relevant information having been collected beforehand. AIIC's Best Practice for Consultant Interpreters adds on the elements of professionalism and transparency I look for.
It is wise to discuss details and avoid misunderstandings from the onset. After all, we help others to understand each other and in our own professional dealings we should demand good communication - from others and from ourselves.
Clear expression, saying what you mean, is central to human communication. Susan Bassnett, professor of comparative literature at Warwick University, cuts to the quick in Save us from pomposity and linguistic porridge.
Earlier this summer the University of Westminster hosted a conference on The Future of Conference Interpreting: Training, Technology and Research. We're pleased to have two articles about the discussions there. Christine Adams leads off with an overview of the conference, which attracted some 180 participants. Phil Smith chaired a round table discussion with chief interpreters and sent us a summary of that session.
The German region of AIIC recently hosted a seminar on negotiating techniques for conference interpreters. Dylan Westfeldt summarizes it in You don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.
Off Mic peeps up again with Phil Smith offering us some well-tempered advice on appearance in Looking the part.
We've decided to give Language in the News a month off. It'll be back accompanying a new collection of articles in early December. Until then, here's to a promising future for conference interpreting and success in all your negotiations.
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.