Archive for the ‘Interpretation’ Category

Kleber International Conference Center, Bye Bye

January 7, 2008

The Kleber International Conference Center in Paris, which was still being used by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been sold to a Qatari Real Estate Company and will be revamped by Vinci, a leading French company, before it re-opens in 2011 in the form of a luxury hotel.

I worked there as an interpreter on several occasions. I don’t remember the context of all the conferences, but the building was very old, with antique plush fitted carpets everywhere, the acoustics was appalling, so was the air-conditioning, two mutually-exclusive components when it comes to interpreting. If you opened the windows, the noise coming from the Avenue Kleber, close to Place de l’Etoile and the Arch of Triumph, meant we couldn’t hear what the delegates were saying. Bad if you must translate them. If you kept the windows shut, everyone was near boiling-point by the next hour.

But I also have some surprisingly good memories of it. One in particular. There was a very hard meeting of the European Pharmacopeia of the Council of Europe, done in consecutive with another colleague. Simultaneous interpreting would have been hard enough, but those were the days when consecutive was still very much used.

Consecutive interpreting is based on 2 prerequirements: a very good memory, and your own note-taking system. Both are equally necessary, although memory is essential, you cannot just rely on your notes. In this case, remembering long complex names was quite an achievement, so it was necessary to write a lot. So why was it a good meeting? We were in the room with the delegates, which created a collaborative climate making it slightly less difficult, as a meeting.

Before I conclude though, I’d like to remind the younger readers that the Kleber Center had a history of its own. As the daily Le Figaro reports here, during World War II, it was the famous Hotel Majestic where the German military government had established its headquarters. After the war however, it served more peaceful ends: the Paris Peace Agreement was signed here in 1973, putting an end to hostilities between the USA and North Vietnam. But more recently it was used for negotiations on Kosovo, Ivory Coast, and a long list of international issues.

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Can You Get By With Globish?

January 5, 2008

The United Nations have declared 2008 the International Year of Languages.

But if you listen to the global buzz, you might think that you don’t need ‘languages’ any more, Globish (Global English) is THE language that will get you everywhere, in particular in business.

A number of companies consider it as the way to save.

Save on what? On one essential aspect of international communication: language diversity. So if that is the case with your company, you will undoubtedly find some interesting insights in this excellent broadcast on Radio France Internationale.

The title was: ‘Interpreters in the world of business’, and several professional interpreters, as well as top players in the field of global business were interviewed.

It’s true that for medium-level meetings and communication, conference interpreters will be less and less needed. Why is that so? Because business executives are increasingly made to use English in their daily interaction with their foreign counterparts, and even among themselves! But it also means that they need to be trained (and this has a cost too).

Did I say ‘made’? That’s because I’ve had many opportunities to discuss this with French business executives, some of them extremely FLUENT in English. They resent the fact that some meetings held in France have to take place in English. They would very much prefer to use their own native language to work faster, and better.

For important business negotiations and top-level meetings, interpreting will continue to be needed, if only to ensure that the top management are allowed to speak in their own languages. But not only them: one case in point are the EWC‘s (European Work Councils) set up by European multinationals. The participants in EWC meetings are management and employee representatives, and the latter do not necessarily have the command of English (nor do they receive the kind of language training…) that would enable them to follow the meetings in any meaningful and positive way.

So interpreters now have a bigger role in business. They have made the switch from diplomatic conferences (their main line of business when simultaneous interpreting was invented, just after World War II) to business conferences, and they are a most valuable part of them, not only as language interpreters, but as cultural mediators too.

Take Chinese. As the Chinese interpreter points out in the interview, the Chinese are not giving up on their language, quite the contrary. Why should they, anyway? Very high-quality Chinese interpreting is essential to many business deals. If the two sides can’t communicate efficiently, what happens? The deal falls through or is delayed. The Chinese have enough suitors at the moment to afford to pick and choose.

So, the United Nations have declared 2008 the International Year of Languages. Are you doing anything for your language this year? Any plans? I’d love to hear about them.

A Good Year After All

December 28, 2007

At close to 395,000 words translated this year, plus a substantial amount of editing, 2007 was a good year after all.

In particular if you consider that I do all the translating myself (apart from a little help from WordFast and Naturally Speaking), I can say it has been a good year. Of course, I am not including some voluntary, i.e. unpaid work in this total. I am not including conference interpreting either, because the unit of measurement is different (number of working days, and preparation days not accounted for, as I explained in a previous post) and there is sometimes some overlap with translation work, although I find it increasingly difficult – age must be the reason – to combine these two very different intellectual activities within the same day.

Financially speaking, it has been a good year too. By this, I mean that I was able to charge my own fees, and only on few occasions felt tempted to accept a little lower paid jobs.

This is no small feat. I remember the gut reaction of a translation agency secretary who approached me a long time ago. She wanted to know how much I was charging, and when I told her the figure, she simply cried out: ‘But that’s exactly what we charge our customers!’ ‘Well’ I said, ‘that is exactly the reason why I don’t work for translation agencies. I don’t want to work for a fraction of the price that my work is worth.’ I can accept small adjustments, depending on the client, deadline, etc. but I do not accept low-paid jobs.

It all depends on how you see things: I haven’t been able to update my fees in more than 10 years.

Depending on my mood of the day, I can say: ‘I was lucky to be able to resist the drop in translation fees that has happened in recent years,’ or ‘I am unlucky that my fees have remained unchanged, when just about everything else has gone up:’ social security contributions, taxes and rates, food, clothing, utilities (oh my God, haven’t they gone up a lot?), insurance, fuel for my car, office stationery. The only things that have gone down, telephone bills (sort of…), computer equipment (but I buy a new computer every 2-3 years, so where’s the big deal?). And these bills HAVE to be paid.

Some blame it on the introduction of the Euro. I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: I don’t earn more than 10 years ago, and some years a lot less, and I spend a lot more on necessities, and this includes things like books, etc.

o why do I say that it has been a good year, AFTER ALL? Because, on Jan 1, 2007, I had very little idea that it was going to be that way. If I accepted low-paid jobs, I would probably be able to work night and day, 40-hour days. I mentioned in a previous post 2-cent jobs I once saw posted on Proz. Do I want to work night and day? No. Is it possible for me to become a millionaire, well why not a billionaire even, translating millions of words paid 4 cents? No, not if I am doing the work myself, and not if I don’t compromise on the quality delivered.

So in exchange for some uncertainty and roller-coaster sensations, I am free from a lot of other constraints, and I like it better that way.

This doesn’t mean that I work full time and translate ‘only’ 1,500 words per day. Sometimes I have been able to do more than 7,000 words in a very full day. But the rest of the time, I have been able to engage in other, equally satisfying pursuits: studying a new language and learning about a new culture, going to the movies in the middle of the day, meeting people, seamlessly being away on a short vacation and working at the same time, etc.

I don’t live in luxury, and I have my own share of problems, like anyone else, but I am able to say that I feel fulfilled by my job/life combination. And I would love to cram even more things in my life: some serious traveling, for instance. That is why I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of The 4-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. I don’t wish to become a billionaire doing no work at all, but I’m told that there is an number of interesting tips and work/life considerations in it.

So my 2008 wish for myself, and for all those who are kind enough to read my blog, is this:

A satisfying quantity of a satisfying job, and a lot of good life.

And if only I knew how to do it, I would add a lot of sparkle around this 😉

Let’s meet in December 2008 and see what we have achieved. We might be in for a lot of surprises!

Food for Thought

December 19, 2007

I’ve just read this excellent piece written by a freelance interpreter, the Editor of Communicate!, A.I.I.C.’s newsletter.

What can I add? Nothing. It’s clear, to the point, and describes the usefulness, indeed the need for interpreters and translators worldwide.

We are not an industry, we are not products, we are real people doing real jobs and needing to be considered, and paid, accordingly.

I Really Admire Your Work!

December 12, 2007

Wow. We’ve all heard it. It’s always sincere.

And it’s the perfect ice-breaker at lunchtime, but once the ice is broken, it doesn’t take us very far, especially at a —— meeting (you may fill in the blank as you like, anything ‘technical’ will do).

‘I really admire your work!’ ‘I don’t know how you do it!’ ‘I don’t even speak English fluently’ (from French speakers).

The problem is, WE know how WE do it. We know it so well that it has become standard practice for us, and we tend to under-promote our wonderful skills, to put it mildly. So we mumble a few words of appreciation, about learning the job, practicing, and so on. If we start to describe what it takes to become an interpreter or a translator, people begin to get bored.

How can we promote our skills in an environment that is simply so different from our practice? I’ve been pondering this for ages, in particular during those lunchbreaks where we end up eating (the team of interpreters, I mean), separately from our audience.

The story is quite different when I am hired to do consecutive interpreting. I accompany my clients to meetings, they get used to me as I get used to them, we sit in traffic jams together. We have time to exchange, mainly on their subject. I can be of value to them, in particular to those visitors from America, as they see me not only as their ‘French voice’, but also as a source of information, especially on study tours. One visitor used me once as a sounding board on the subject of GMOs in France.

Their message is important to them, and so it’s important to me, and I make sure that they know it. That’s probably our best promotion tool.

Technology Wonders

December 6, 2007

The marvel of technology is that I can write and publish this post as I am sitting in a hotel lobby, waiting to go down to the conference room. The reason I’m not writing it from the booth itself is that my colleagues are using it, it’s their turn to work.

In a not-too-distant past, to be out of the (home) office meant for us freelance interpreters being cut off from the rest of the world. Other clients had to wait as we grappled for phones to call our secretariat, our answerphone… Nowadays, I can take my little wifi-enabled Sony Vaio with me, check on my e-mails, check glossaries online, or offline, etc. Provided of course that there is a wifi hotspot nearby, which is not always the case, unfortunately. But I had an assignment recently, where the entire team had their notebooks with them. We would get presentations on a USB drive from the speakers who didn’t have any printed copies for us, and follow the presentation on our own screens.

Of course, this is only a microscopic fraction of what business users can achieve with technology, but it’s already a huge improvement.

Have to go now. Thank you all for the attention, it’s great to see the stats.

PowerPoints and Speakers

December 4, 2007

I found this video some time ago. It does have some connection with a meeting I have this week, where I know that PowerPoints are going to be used extensively. It’s Doug Zongker’s famous “Chicken chicken chicken”, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science humor session, on February 16, 2007. I am probably the last to comment on it, by the way. The script of this gem is here.

Why do I find this video so funny? It wasn’t designed for us interpreters, but to enlighten speakers on the use, misuse and abuse of ubiquitous PowerPoint presentations. Microsoft’s claim is that 30 million presentations are generated each day worldwide and the video focuses on the very essence of PowerPoints, their visual dimension. If they look good, they must be good, whatever the content.

May I chip in here? In all honesty, I must say that the invention of PowerPoints has made my work a little easier; when they are used properly, not too crowded, well designed, they show the structure of a presentation and supply the visual props that we were sorely missing before. For one thing, it is easier to follow a presentation when the speaker skips one, two or five slides, than it was before, when they were asked to skip some pages of a paper. Quite often we didn’t even have a printed copy of that paper!

There are other videos on the same topic on the web, but this one can be understood by everyone, whatever their language, because the content is there only to support an idea.

Enjoy!

Online Glossaries

December 2, 2007

No work today, just play…

I’ve just added the beta version of the Metaglossary.com website to my blogroll.

The good point is that for any given word you enter, it returns a number of definitions and most importantly a list of online glossaries in which that word or phrase or acronym is listed.

Careful though! When I typed UNESCO, this is one definition that came up:

United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

Oops, that’s not exactly the right answer, is it? (Correct answer: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). So the good thing is that several answers are displayed. (I’m notifying the source of the glossary so they can amend it).

Registered users are allowed to provide other answers, too.