Letter from the Editor
Let's get one thing clear: I have no problem recognising that people - and interpreters are clearly people - work to make money. In fact, I think it is so evident that it doesn't need repeating. I prefer to take the proposition a step further: interpreters are often underpaid.
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Our fees are usually stated on a per day basis, with the day in question being one spent working at a meeting. That means that time spent preparing - bringing up to speed one's knowledge of a field such as climate change, learning which country stands where this week, becoming familiar with how the players talk about it, etc. - is rarely covered by a separate fee. In my case, rarely comes out to two instances of being paid a single extra day for preparation in 25 years of professional practice.
Then there is the overhead we don't take into account: computers and software, office expenses, time spent on accounting and/or money spent on a tax accountant, periodicals and books, continuing education courses, etc. Julia Böhm's piece on budgeting time and cost deserves to be read by anyone who missed it.
If freelance interpreters did not exist, they would have to be invented. In other words, we are essential - the world needs readily available language specialists, i.e. it needs people who are not employed full-time, are willing to ride the waves of cyclical fluctuations of all kinds, and are emotionally wired to survive the low-season blues. And if you need something, you must be willing to pay for it, which means that freelancers deserve to make a decent living working less than full-time. So yes, I think freelance interpreters are sometimes underpaid and at times underestimate their own worth.
It is also clear to me that there is great satisfaction in being able to make a living by doing something that is more than a job. For me interpreting is a profession with all that implies, and though we must give due consideration to the industry model of economic activity prevailing today, we should safeguard our identity as a profession and further develop it.
There is always more we can do to forge an image of a worthy profession with a capable collectivity of practitioners. Our Code of Ethics is a solid foundation on which to build. A timely reminder from Christopher Thiery of the robust centrality of Secrecy leads off this issue, reminding us of a legacy and of the fact that competitive advantage takes many forms.
Professional values are about identity. As interpreters we will find ourselves working on a diversity of subjects during our careers. More than word masters, we must be knowledge and discourse managers. Anja Rütten touches on this in her article Web 2.0 for interpreters and other facets of knowledge management.
Of course, we also deal with cultures and help others cross bridges between them; being communicators is an essential aspect of our identity. I believe we could do better in projecting that image, especially as we approach the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and the UN International Year of Languages. We have a duty to make our profession not only more visible, but more comprehensible to the world at large, thus lending support to a growing body of practitioners.
It is also interesting to discover how others interpret us - more grist for our mill. Interpreters and translators are increasingly mentioned in the news, in special reports on the administration of justice, health care, social services, situations of conflict. We also seem to be more visible than ever before in literature. Ingrid Kurz and Klaus Kaindl have compiled a collection of essays around this topic and you can catch a glimpse of what is on offer in Phil Smith's Book review: Interpreters and translators as literary creations.
A profession must assure the transmission and advancement of values and knowledge, core elements that remain after any one job is finished or any single career comes to an end. Today it is common for universities to offer post-graduate courses in conference interpreting and AIIC offers advice to students who are looking for educational opportunities. Many AIIC members are also teachers. We at Communicate! try to do our part; in this issue Carlo Marzocchi reviews Andrew Gillies' Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpreting - A Short Course.
Interpreters and translators work with language in the broadest sense, and we take the word broadest seriously. The latest Language in the News offers a glimpse of more books with translator/interpreter protagonists, as well as links to articles on how to read a translation, language and identity, freelancers on strike, and Chinese slogans.
We hope to see you back for more in 2008. Stay in touch.
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.