Critical Link 7 Conference – What is Driving Interpretation Profession Today?

By:  Susana de la Torre

sus pic visaI still feel so overwhelmed by the amount of information I received over the past five days.   However, my intention is to omit nothing of significance I experienced and feel the need to share.

A bit of my personal history:

In 1992 when I began my interpreting career (I consider myself one of the pioneers dating back to the early 1990s), I was selected to attend the second group trained by the Ministry of Citizenship to become a certified Cultural Interpreter.  During that time, the battle for quality interpreter training,  agency funding, raising community awareness about the importance of interpretation within the context of social services and the establishment of the interpreting profession began to take shape.

Over the past couple of decades, I witnessed not only substantial growth, but also a significant transformation of the professional interpreting field.  In the past, interpreting was something done by virtually anyone who spoke another language.  The act of interpreting gradually evolved into an accredited profession that successfully served all aspects of the public sector: legal, health, educational and social services.  I was also fortunate enough to be able to witness how volunteer interpreters groups begun to organize themselves through the formation of agencies.  These agencies later evolved into interpretation hubs delivering both services and offering training.  My interpreter training was initiated by the North York Inter-Agency and Community Council. Shortly afterward, I became affiliated with the  Scarborough Cultural Interpreter Service, which later became the Metro Cultural Interpreter Service.  Today they are known as MCIS Language Services.  I have remained faithful to MCIS Language Services ever since.

As the awareness about interpretation services and its quality began to grow, service providers and clients dedicated to quality service began requesting better, faster and more standardized interpreters.  Certification demands motivated many interpreters (myself included) to take professional development courses.  I took continuing education course with MCIS, which led to my becoming CILISAT certified in 1998.  CILISAT expanded my service offering, qualifying me for interpreting assignments for domestic violence programs,  Children’s Aid, healthcare, mental health, police and the witness protection, welfare and social services, the Ministry of Labour, homelessness and the immigrant and refugee sector program.  This also opened doors for me to work in the private sector, interpreting and translating for law offices and in immigration courts.

However, work in the industry fluctuates, and I also needed a steady income.  Although I see the need for interpretation and translation continues to grow, the field has also become very saturated.   Obtaining consistent assignments are not as easily available as they once were.  I’d always been especially interested in court and in conference interpreting, but these two fields are difficult to get into, because interpreters are generally competing with academically trained interpreters.

Eventually, the part time job I worked to maintain a steady income while in the field, later turned into a full time opportunity.  I later left the interpreting field in 2007.

Critical Link 7, Toronto

After all these years of being absent, I walked into the Critical Link 7 Conference on June 17, 2013.  I saw an international pool of interpreting and translating professionals from various fields and different levels of expertise collaborating and sharing their experiences.  I felt so at home and knew that this was where I needed to be.   Back in 2007, my life took on a different path and somehow I found myself back in a field with a hunger for an industry that I never stopped loving.  I met so many incredible people from all walks of life, sharing their experiences and common interests in a cutting-edge profession.

The very spirit of this conference motivated me to revive my career and re-examine my past choices.

The Issues – What is Driving Interpretation Profession Today?

The first session I attended was an instant eye opener about areas of specializations and the important role and challenges that are related to technology in simultaneous and consecutive interpreting environments. I remember back in the days when we felt lucky to have a pager and our assignments arrived over the phone (land line phone, mind you!). In essence, over span of 10 short years we moved from phone and typewriters and faxes to computers, smartphones, apps, I-pads and digital pens. What a difference and what advantage it can give us! Yet, although technology is a phenomenal aid it will not and cannot replace the human face of interpreting in both, providing the services or providing the training components. In my opinion only the combination of both, old and new will work the best.

I actually believe that  the technology is the major contributor to transforming the field of interpreting. Technology helped to rapidly expand the services, provide accessibility to on-line training (locally and internationally), speed up the organizational processes, identify the deliver gaps quickly and efficiently while simultaneously allowing interpreters to focus on the segments on delivery they need to focus. Technology also helps with building a consensus to improve interpreters professional status – a critical issue because of very specific challenges we face. For example, yes there is a need for standardize the profession, yet we need to allow for flexibility considering global world we live in. Specifically, the challenges interpreters face in zones of conflict are serious as much as their work conditions and very different from challenges an average hospital interpreter faces in North America. Obviously, they cannot be measured by the same stick .  Or another example: lack of interpreters for rare languages, raise an issue of how can we can recruit and train and certify in remote areas where there is a limited access to technology.

Another issue are differences between various levels or types of interpreting that again unable us to have everybody standardized by the same measure. For example, conference interpreters require academic education (Master’s degree at a minimum) and more specific knowledge of specific field, e.g. politics. The community service interpreters need primarily  team building, communication and facilitation skills. They also need qualification in the field that are interpreting for (e.g. SME/subject matter experts) and understanding of  the market place to be able to advocate for benefits of professional interpreting in public and private sectors.

The constant challenges that drive this profession did not change much over the years: the clients’ need for qualified and certified interpreters, standardized training, interpreters leadership and initiative including self-organizing and empowering, reasonable pay, lack of government funding and creation of a more comprehensive code of ethics.

Certainly, globalization and technology will help us to address them but at the same time as new challenges are arriving  and  competing for our attention: greater diversity and greater specialization.

Diversity calls for innovation  and better understanding of global markets.

Specialization equals to more specialized training, continuous professional development and an on-going effort to meet industry standards.

The way I see it-  there is a wonderful and great long road ahead of us!

Follow the yellow brick road!

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