CLI Conference – Opening Plenary

Critical Link International is a gathering of interpreters from all over the globe.  At the opening session, there were four teams of interpreters working, going from English into Mandarin, Spanish, French and ASL.    The opening session was moderated by Helen Campbell with opening remarks from Linda Fitchett from the International Association of Conference Interpreters and then a panel discussion from 4 experienced conference interpreters.  Here are summary of the points made in the opening plenary.

International Association of Conference InterpretersThe Benefits of Organizing Internationally:  What Every Community Interpreter Should Know About

Lessons from International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) with Ms. Linda Fitchett

In this opening plenary, Linda Frichette talked about the work of International Association of Conference Interpreters to organize across national lines to promote the profession of conference interpreters.  Based primarily in Europe, the AIIC is a 60 year old organization.

Triple Mandate for AIIC

  • a regulatory body (creating standards of practice that creates healthy working conditions for conference interpreters)
  • a trade union – developing collective agreements
  • a disciplinary body – ensuring that members adhere to standards of professional practice.

Strict Admission criteria for new members of the association relying on code of ethics and professional standards.

AIIC Values

  • Professional secrecy
  • Linguistic competence
  • Professionalism
  • Collegiality – both during working together as well as when competing for contracts
  • (Direct cont(r)acts) – This has become more of a challenge because professionally, there are now more intermediaries between the interpreter and client.

AIIC Projects & Activities

EULITA – European Legal Interpreters & Translators Association grew out of AIIC.
AIIC has negotiated agreements for many international organizations, including the European Union, the United Nations, Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, and trade unions.  The agreements include pay, travel, social contributions and working conditions for all non-staff interpreters.  European Union utilizes approximately 400,000 interpreter days  a year.
AIIC also works with architects in the design of meeting spaces to provide effective locations for interpreters to work in different meetings.
Linda really focused on the importance of talking about quality interpretation as the main argument for the purpose of the organization. However, there is also the need to come together as the rise of technology can lead to “atomizing” the interpreter field.  That we may spend more time working in isolation – mediated through computers.  That in the face of that, we even more need professional organizations to bring us together. Organizations such as AIIC are needed to be a part of decisions that affect interpreters – whether it is the development of new technologies or the making of policy.
Reflection:  For me, I have not had much exposure to the practice of conference interpreting that focuses more on an international level.

Panel Discussion:  What lessons can community interpreters learn from conference interpreters?

Opening Plenary Panel
Panelists Isabella Quattrocchi, Ian Anderson, Gila Sperer, and Sergei Chernov
  • Mr. Ian Anderson, European Commission
    • Began with speaking in a language that was not catered to in the conference as an illustration that not all languages can be used at all times
    • 130,000 interpreter days in a year, based mainly in Brussels & 70,000 interpreter days from freelancers
    • Has not had much contact with public service and legal interpreters and is impressed with what is happening
    • Commission has proposed legislation from a human rights angle to support interpreters in legal settings – will see how that impacts members states of the EU
    • Advised that the context of conference interpreters may be different than community interpreters and so the lessons drawn must take that into account.
    • Explained about the history of establishing pay scales for interpreters that recognized the professionalism of interpreters;
    • In 1968, interpreters had a strike to get out of the basement of the European Commission – after having done a long-study with facts of safety and working conditions to improve working conditions.
    • In the 1970s, ISO standards were established for the working conditions of interpreters.
    • Training:  require that people have University education and Master’s Degree
      • Stringent requirements
      • Internal training program started in the 1970s to meet the needs of interpreting services.
      • In the late 1980s, the program was professionalized to become more effective (and less traumatic)
      • Stopped training in-house in 1996 – because having 10 languages to deal with – couldn’t train and interpret only.
      • Sent out trainers to universities to help them establish and benchmark their training programs against international standard
    • Mentality:  A series of random reflections
      • Key to advancement of working conditions is solidarity among colleagues
      • Helps to have strong management & leadership
        • Management focused that interpreters should be focused as delegates are treated – that interpreters are part of the same event
        • Interpreters are asked to dress as the delegates
      • Paradox of loyalty – interpreters as a “caste” and being an “official” If you are seen too much as being too separate, you may not be seen as worthy of protection from the larger body.
      • Image & Branding:  When you work, you project an image of yourself and your profession. Are you part of the power structure or are you connected to the oppressed?  It is important to think about who do you identify with…
    • Learnings:
      • Organize – important to be a part of a large organization – and to be a large unified body
      • Need to be willing to threaten to remove the service
      • Negotiate on the basis of facts
      • Get allies – the people you work for – including both people who have more power in the situation
  • Ms. Gila Sperer, Manager, Conference Interpretation Service for the Government Canada
    • Head of conference interpretation services
    • Separate segment for parliament interpreting services
    • Heavily involved in training
      • Initial trainings very demanding to learn the skills needed for conference interpreting
      • Then collaborated in development of program at University of Ottawa
    • After hiring, have 18 month training period including mentoring and language lab experience
    • Quality is paramount in the situations where interpretation is provided
    • Technology – raised the question of whether technology is driving the profession or is in service of the profession
      • Technology should be appreciated, worked with and kept firmly in its place of supporting our work
    • Collaboration is crucial in maintaining and/or raising standards for interpreters working in conference settings
  • Isabella Quattrocchi, European Parliament
    • Work with 24 languages in the European parliament;European Parliament languages
    • Collaboration important in developing solid working conditions;  Normal working conditions included working 24 hour stretches; Now have been able to changed that (Helen Campbell shared the experience of working 24 hour stretches with a team – one person would work and one person would sleep through the night.)
    • All meetings are web streamed, so need to be able to speak to the constituents of the members of parliament as well as those physically in attendance
    • Works with universities to assist in training of interpreters; now using more online/virtual classes
    • Also advocating for interpreters to learn the diversity of languages needed within the parliament
    • At parliament session, there are 1000 interpreters.  (380 are staff and the rest are freelance interpreters – associated with the AIIC.)
  • Sergei Chernov, International Monetary Fund
    • Trained at Institute of Foreign Languages in the Soviet Union
      • Grew out of the experiences of the Nuremberg trials – and the struggles to have effective quality interpreters
      • Developed a strong cadre of Soviet interpreters
      • Had strong tradition of training into the “B” languages
    • Kurzen Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia is now the premier school for training
    • Works at IMF, as Deputy Chief interpreter
      • Have about 50 people in language services
      • Interpreting and translation division
      • Work in about 100 countries and 40 languages
      • Majority of work is on missions when groups of economies travel to member countries to negotiate deals or provide technical assistance.
        • Interpreters need to be able to do simultaneous, consecutive, whispering, and written translation. Can be a challenge to find people who are able to do that in local countries so have recruitment campaigns.  Believe that face to face interviews are important because they are not just isolated in the booth.  Importance of interpreters understanding the characters of an individual.
      • Having limited training
        • One program is for the People’s Bank of China
          • Three month short-course
        • Refresher courses for staff
          • Working into English
          • Note-taking
          • Voice and Diction classes led by actor from Shakespeare company