Where's the PPT?

Today's post is about one of the big tribulations of conference interpreting: getting the conference materials you need ahead of time so you an review, research, prepare, and do a great job at the actual event. Fellow conference interpreters are probably already nodding their heads in agreement that unfortunately it can be very, very difficult to get clients to give conference interpreters the materials they need ahead of time. We don't really have a good answer as to why that is the case (we have some ideas, though), but here are some thoughts on this subject:


  • Contracts. In all our conference interpreting contracts, we always include a clause stating that all speaker PPTs, reference materials, etc. must be received no later than five days prior to the event. The deadline can be a bit flexible depending on when the conference is. Now, clients usually agree to this clause, but what if the deadline comes and goes and no materials have been sent: now what?
  • The options. One option is to enforce the contract--depending on how you have written it, of
    course--and state that you will not interpret unless materials have been received, as per the contract. The usually gets the client motivated to find the materials. Let's be clear: we know that conferences are complicated beasts with many moving parts. After all, we have been speakers at conferences ourselves, and we know they are logistical challenges. However, it's in everyone's best interest to get the interpreters the materials they need ahead of time: it's good for the audience, the speakers, the client, and of course the interpreters. If we had a nickel for every time someone said, "Oh, it's just general topics!" only to then have a speaker who made broad connections between cryptocurrencies and the price of steel in Nigeria at breakneck speed, we'd be sitting on a beach sipping cocktails out of a coconut. The other option you have is to tell the client that they will have to sign a document saying they will assume all responsibility for the quality of the interpretation because you, the interpreter(s) has/have not received the  documents that you need in order to do a good job. We like to tell clients that we are like surgeons: we can't operate without a scalpel and without knowing which surgery we are performing, no matter how skilled we are. Yet another option is to insist on none of these things and just do the best you can without any sort of material, which is scary and usually not the best option. But sometimes it's the only option. The problem is that if you do not do a good job, it will reflect poorly on you and only you: the audience will have no idea that you didn't have preparation materials for this conference on reverse financial hedging strategies. All they will know is that you didn't do well. And that's unfair, of course, because you have been set up to fail.
  • Don't get us wrong: many times, clients (usually an LSP) will go to great lengths to ensure that you get the speakers' slides and sometimes even the showflow (those are our favorite clients!) ahead of time. Once in a while we even receive translated (poorly translated, but still) PPTs from all speakers, which is amazing. Sometimes for conferences on financial topics and big industry conferences (think Consumer Electronics Show, where Judy interpreted in January), no materials will be released to anyone, period, because of confidentiality issues. Other times the LSP simply does not understand the value of getting the PPTs for the interpreters (a sign that this isn't a very good LSP if they do not understand the profession), and does not want to "bug" the end client for the slides. Other times speakers will be working on their slides until the very last minute and simply won't have anything to share until the 11th hour. We worked at a conference that featured the speaker changing his slides AFTER the rehearsal, which was about 10 minutes before it went live and was broadcast to the world. That was less than ideal, but we made it happen.
  • Roll with the punches. Like all interpreting fields, the working conditions in conference interpreting can be imperfect, and you need to be prepared for that fact. It does get tricky at times when you have to find the precarious balance between enforcing the minimum standards of what you need to do a good job and being flexible and providing good customer service to a client who might be working under less-than-ideal conditions himself or herself. Bottom line: don't be a diva but do insist on the basics. Here in the U.S. you'd be surprised how often the client does not see the need for a booth for conference interpreting in a large ballroom and wants to use mobile equipment instead! There's no real answer on how to best handle all this in general, and we've interpreted with both a full deck of translated PPT presentations and a complete showflow and at events where we have had no idea what was going to come out of the speakers' mouths; not even a general idea (those aren't good situations).
  • Find what works for you. In conclusion, the best you can do is find what works for you and stick to it as much as possible. It also depends a bit on the client and your relationship with them and your ability to decipher how much you can push without alienating them. Usually, explaining that we need a scalpel to do surgery, we mean, that we need a booth and preparation materials to do conference interpreting, is a good start for clients and LSPs alike. Another important point we like to make to clients is the following: You want your company to look good in other languages, right? Then give us the materials we need to so can prepare and make your company shine in the other language.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, dear fellow interpreters. 

SLAM! Conference in Sweden: Master Class (Direct Clients)

We are delighted to announce that Judy will be heading to Malmö, Sweden, to speak at the SLAM! (Scandinavian Language Associations' Meeting) Conference on September 15. Since Judy is a big fan of Scandinavia, it wasn't hard to convince her to come back to Sweden, and she will be giving the opening address of the SLAM! conference, which is a collaboration between the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish translation and interpretation associations. Check out the preliminary program here. In addition, she's giving a master class the day after the main conference, which is offered in conjunction with SLAM! but has a different sign-up here. The master class is titled: No Pain, No Gain: Active Marketing to Direct Clients and will be held on Sunday, September 16, 2018.

Many colleagues want to market to direct clients but can't quite figure out how to best approach this challenge. There's no easy answer, and as the title of the master class hints at, it might be a bit painful to get there (but it's worth it). The three-hour workshop includes everything Judy has learned in more than a decade working with direct clients and is divided into 1-hour segments. Bonus: since this will be held in Sweden, the workshop includes dedicated time for fika (essentially a coffee break with yes, coffee, tea and pastries). After the workshop, the idea is to perhaps get together with interested colleagues to head to an informal dinner to keep the conversation going and to nurture relationships.

Looking forward to seeing you there! 

Guest Post by Jesse Tomlinson: Who's Watching?


Who’s Watching?

You never know, do you? Even if you’re excellent at visualizing, it’s often impossible to guess who might be watching you when you put yourself out there.

What’s your ideal professional image? What are you transmitting? Is it consistent? Does it accurately reflect your business focus?

What’s in a client? They say it takes seven points of contact to get someone to like, know and trust you, which is what building client confidence is all about. When was the last time you worked with someone you didn’t particularly like? Chances are it was someone who gave you specialized service, someone so knowledgeable that even not liking them, you still wanted to work with them.

Direct Clients

Working with direct clients takes years of investing in professional relationships. Typical recent advice directs us to go to expos, become more knowledgeable in our fields, go to client events and be well versed in their companies, and current events generally – all activities that take years to cultivate.

But as you go about your day-to-day life, professionally and personally, it can be hard to separate your private and professional lives, because you never know in whose company you might find yourself, and whether those people might be potential clients, people who have heard of you, or even someone who is already your client but whom you had yet to meet in person!

Professionally you might have the idea that people are getting to know you, reading things you write, and perhaps even following your work on Twitter. I see myself as a go-after-clients kind of freelancer, but have you ever considered that clients are out there hunting you, too? Waiting to see how well you do with current projects so they can consider using your services in the future? Maybe mystery client 992 has a big initiative coming up in two years and is thinking carefully about who the lucky translator will be to do it.

Proz invited lucky li’l old me to participate on The Pros and Cons of Working with Direct Clients, a panel discussion with Patrick Weill and moderated by Paul Urwin, Sept 26 2017, in honor of International Translation Day. This was a big moment for me and a great experience. But I never imagined that a former major US network news anchor (someone I had known for two years) would be watching and noting what I was saying about translation! I was taken aback. And that’s when I realized that most of us can’t imagine who is watching or listening in on our professional careers.

Paying attention to who could be watching us professionally is a no-brainer, right? But what about when we are wandering the world at large, casually and “off-duty”? Is there ever “off-duty” for a freelancer?

Clients, Clients Everywhere

You may have heard that airplanes are great places to meet clients, and interesting people in general. But have you ever thought that every single person you sit next to on an airplane is a potential client or source of referrals? Thinking this way is a good start to meeting more potential direct clients.

Everything you do matters. Every interaction counts. And it all adds up to the reputation you want to cultivate as a business person.

I was recently a dinner for fifteen, at a private residence where I had already met six of those present. It was a lively night with much heated controversial conversation and opinions flying high. About four hours in, a woman there told me she knew exactly who I was. She was one of my clients whom I had never met, and since we had only exchanged first names when casually introduced earlier in the evening I hadn’t made the link to my professional connection with her. It was a great reminder that you never know who you’ll run into, even when you’re in casual mode with friends.

Who’s watching you?



Jesse Tomlinson is an interpreter, translator, and voice talent. Originally from Canada, she now lives in Mexico and translates from Spanish into English and interprets in both languages. 

She is currently translating Latin American authors born in the 1980s into English for Proyecto Arraigo. See her essay on uprooting (“La vida sin limones”) at http://bit.ly/la-vida-sin-limones. Contact: jesse@tomlinsontranslations.com.

5 Truths About Court Interpreting

Image source: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/2794.htm
Both our interpreting students and beginning court interpreters colleagues pursing certification regularly ask us about what it's really like to be a working court interpreter. As Judy is a federally certified Spanish court interpreter, she is going to (partially, of course) answer this question  with 5 cold, hard truths that you might not have learned at university or during your training. In no particular order, here they are:

1) You will be scared/intimidated at times. It's fine. Tennis great John McEnroe is not known for his deep insight, but rather for his tantrums on the court (tennis court, not justice court!), but he did once say something along the lines that if you don't have butterflies in your stomach before a match (or in our case, a court hearing) you simply don't care enough. Judy still has occasional butterflies, and the situation usually merits it. A lot is at stake in court, and they are somber and serious occasions with real consequences for people who are right next to you. It's not for the faint of heart. You might have become complacent when you don't feel any sort of nervous tension at all, ever. Embrace the butterflies. Your work is important and relevant, and sometimes the weight of it will affect you.

2) Stopping proceedings is not really a (good option). It's true that we are taught that you should interrupt proceedings and ask the court (meaning the judge) for permission to look up a word if you don't know it, as guessing is never an acceptable alternative in court. While this is, in theory, true, Judy hasn't seen it done once in 10 years in court. Things move so fast, are so hectic and often so contentious that there usually simply isn't a good time to say: "The interpreter requests permission to look up a term." So the best thing you can do is to train your brain to not have that "out" and be prepared. Overprepare. Obsess about terminology. You must know it once you enter a courtroom. Realistically, you won't have time to look up terminology, so you better know your stuff. If this thought scares you, that's a good thing. Fear is a good motivator. Go and study some more terminology.

3) Sticking to the code of ethics can be a significant challenge. Codes of ethics are key, but they can also be confusing and too general, and, no pun intended, they are open for interpretation. Being impartial is one of the key aspects of the codes of ethics for court interpreters in all states, and it can be harder than it seems. It's also about avoiding the appearance of impartiality, which includes not talking to non-English speakers unless you are interpreting. It takes three people for interpreting to take place, and you are not to have side conversations with anyone. This is oftentimes harder than you think, as witnesses and defendants may want to have a friendly chat. Avoid it. If an attorney asks you to explain something to his or her client, say that you will interpret anything they want, but that you will never explain (the lawyers do the explaining, while the interpreters do the interpreting). When in doubt about the code of ethics, go for the strictest interpretation of it possible. You don't want to have the reputation of not being impartial. Your career very much depends on, in part, sticking to the code of ethics. It's better to be a stickler for the rules than to be dragged in front of the ethics committee.

4) It will be heartbreaking and difficult. You will see grown men cry, you will see teenagers get sentenced to 10 years in prison, you will see families get ripped apart. You will witness injustice, incompetent lawyers, petty disputes between the prosecution and the defense, needless motions, angry judges, overworked bailiffs, upset family members and much, much more. The American justice system is very much imperfect, but it's the one we have. As a court interpreter, your job is not to change it or to advocate for anyone, but rather to interpret. You do it if everyone is crying (and you don't cry). You do it even if it's hard or if something is happening that you completely disagree with. You solider on and do your job. No one cares about what you think and about how it affects you. This may not be what you want to hear, but it's the reality of the profession. And yes, you may interpret for child molesters, wife killers, and those who deal meth by the kilos. Be ready.

5) Respect is earned. As a new interpreter, you might find the pace impossible, and  we hate to tell you this, but no one will slow down for you. Attorneys, courtroom administrators, law clerks and all other players in the courtroom are busy people, and their dockets, desks and calendars are full. The last thing they need is a struggling interpreter, and while that seems unfair for beginners, that's the way it is. Be ready to perform at a high level after getting certified, and don't rush into interpreting in open court until you really are ready. Being certified is great, but it's the minimum requirement. All parties usually have high expectations of court interpreters, as they should. Earn their respect by going above and beyond: arrive early and impeccably dressed in business attire, put away your cell phone, be prepared for your case, don't interrupt, know where to sit, stand and hand in your paperwork, be respectful to everyone, don't take sides, don't give advice, introduce yourself to attorneys you don't know, etc. Court interpreters are an integral part of the American judiciary and of everyday court proceedings, but oftentimes we hear interpreters complain that they don't get the respect they deserve. The flip side of this coin is that attorneys oftentimes complain that interpreters are late and poorly dressed, which is unacceptable. Who's right? We don't know, but we have certainly witnessed plenty of tardiness and (yes, really) completely inappropriate apparel. When in doubt, wear a black suit. It's quite a thrill to get mistaken for the judge, which happens to Judy on a regular basis. 


We hope you have enjoyed these five short truths! We'd be delighted to hear your thoughts.

The Interpreting Olympics


As readers of this blog may have recently discovered, we like to draw analogies between sports and interpreting, mainly because well, we are pretty serious athletes ourselves and because we are tired of the same old analogies about interpreting.

During this month's 2018 Olympics in Korea, we are reminded, as you would expect, of the Olympic spirit of competition and sportsmanship. We especially loved Olympic gold medalist figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu motioning for his fellow medalists to join him on the top of the podium. Shoma Uno and Javier Fernández (who took a historic bronze for Spain), and in a touching moment, they all embraced on top of the podium. Uno and Fernández initially seemed to think that Hanyu was only motioning for them to come closer, but no, he wanted them to share the moment with him as equals. It was a touching gesture that's oftentimes done in Olympics, but it's powerful every time.

And perhaps this Olympic moment can serve as an important reminder that in the profession of interpreting, we are all in it together. It's not a competition, and while some of us might have a higher profile than others, get more glamorous assignments, have more visibility than others, have more followers on social media platforms, have cooler clients and higher rates, travel more or less than others, or get more coverage in the media than others, we should keep in mind that we must all work together to further our profession.  We are, essentially, all equals. No matter your language or your skill level (let's face it: there are skills differentials) or whether you are a high-flying diplomatic interpreter or do thousands of cases in dingy courtrooms for non-glamourous cases, you are just as important as every other interpreter. Oftentimes in our profession we don't realize that we need to be each others' best allies and fans in order to strengthen our profession from within. It is true and correct that we also have to work with the outside world to increase visibility and improve rates and working conditions, but let's not forget that it all starts from within. Let's ask each other to join each other on the proverbial podium. Let's celebrate each other's succcesses and get inspired by them: just like Olympic athletes. This analogy may or not be a stretch, but perhaps we can get a medal for trying to make it. Go #teaminterpreters! 

Cancellation Policies for Court Interpreters

For one of our final posts of 2017 (time flies, doesn't it?), we wanted to discuss an important issue for court interpreters: cancellation policies. 

If you have worked as a court interpreter for any length of time, you will be familiar with a common phenomenon: depositions, arbitrations, mediations and other types of hearings get moved, cancelled, postponed, etc. It also happens in court, but many courts will  pay the interpreter for a cancellation that is received less than 24 hours ahead of time. For civil cases and in the private market, it's up to the interpreter to set and enforce cancellation policies. In general, as a profession, we can do a better job at enforcing this, and we have (anecdotal evidence here) noticed that colleagues can be timid about their cancellation policies. However, definining them and sticking to these policies can be key to preserving our earning potential. We recently heard from a dear colleague who doesn't like to take depositions anymore because so many of them get cancelled. She has a good point, but rather than not taking the work, we think the better approach is to draft a good cancellation policy. In fact, we like cancelled depositions and other hearings.

It's entirely reasonable to have a cancellation period. In fact, many professionals have it, including doctors, lawyers, and even massage therapists and hair stylists. Most people understand that you have relatively little opportunity to sell your time again to someone else if the first person, the one you had originally scheduled, cancels a few hours ahead of time. In addition to potential lost income, there's also the issue of professional courtesy: most of us are busy enough that once we have a slot booked we get inquiries for the same slot from other clients, which we turn down (if you operate on a first-come, first-served principle, like most of us do). It's reasonable to expect clients to give us plenty of notice so we can fill the slot once they discover they need to reschedule.

Our cancellation policy is 24 hours, and we have enforced it without major problems for years. Once in a while a client will ask us to cut them some slack if they cancel, say, 23 hours ahead of time, and depending on the client, we do. We are now thinking about changing our cancellation policy to 48 hours, because in our experience, it's quite difficult to fill cancellations within a day. What about you, dear colleagues? How have you handled this issue? We'd love to read your comments.

Webinar: Negotiating Skills for Linguists

Image created on www.canva.com
We know, we know: negotiating is probably most linguists' least favorite part of the job, but it doesn't have to be painful. Join Judy and the CLEF in Québec (Carrefour des langagiers entrepreneurs/Language Entrepreneus Forum -- go entrepreneurs!)  on Friday, December 8, 2017, for a pre-holiday webinar on how to make everyone, including yourself, happy when negotiating contract terms -- but maybe not always. It's important to keep in mind that the negotiation process doesn't have to be something negative and adversarial. Sometimes it's good to look at it just as a conversation during which each party gives and takes a little.

Note: the webinar will be presented in English.

Here's a webinar abstract:
Regardless of your profession, negotiating is often everyone’s least favorite activity. It can be stressful and intimidating for linguists, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s also an opportunity to hone your skills, try new strategies, and even cement your business relationships if done right. It takes practice, patience, and the willingness to assume some risk. During this webinar, the speaker will take you through some of the main things to keep in mind when negotiating with potential and existing clients.

You can register for the webinar here. Hope to see you there and happy negotiating!

Open Thread: Spooky/Scary/Funny Interpreting Experiences

Image by freepik.
Happy Halloween, dear friends and colleagues from around the world! Halloween-based posts and newsletters (and advertising, of course) are a thing this year, so we thought we'd jump in by asking interpreters to share their scary/spooky/funny stories as they relate to their interpreting experience. Some assignments can be very scary, others are emotionally draining and difficult, while others are simply funny. Of course we do not mean to make light of challenging or scary situations, but we would love to hear about them and share them here.


Below are some of ours:

Scariest interpreting experience:  A few years ago, Judy went into a county jail to interpret for a defendant and his public defender. After the appointment was over, all three of us were locked in the interview room because the jail doesn't have enough staff to come and unlock the door. Judy wasn't scared of the defendant at all, who was very polite, but didn't enjoy being locked in a small room. Being claustrophobic doesn't help. Plus, it was lunch time! It took about an hour for staff to let us out.

Spookiest interpreting experience: Last year, Dagy had the pleasure of interpreting at an OPEC event in Vienna (Judy was there as back-up interpreter), specifically at the gorgeous Hofburg (Imperial Palace) Conference Center. It was a high-profile event with media from all over the world, but finding your way around, especially to the interpreting booth, was a bit spooky: think dark corners (no ghosts, though), hidden corridors, and hallways so complicated that it makes you want to leave breadcrumbs so you can find your way back from the bathroom. The Imperial Palace dates back to the 13th (!) century, and the fourth-floor interpreting booths are obviously much newer than that, thus creating an architectural challenge and was not always solved in the most elegant way. After much running around, we are happy to report we did did find our way to the booth, to the bathroom, to the hall were lunch was being served, and back out without needing any breadcrumbs.

Funniest interpreting experience: Judy showed up at a mine (yes, a mine) in desolate central Nevada wearing a business outfit, only to be told that she'd be interpreting outside in 115-degree weather, and that she'd be working around corrosive and potentially explosive (!) materials. Since there was no other clothing available, she was given the nurse's scrubs, socks, and steel-toed shoes, which she wore under fire-retardant clothing (brand-new, at least). The client showed up and was puzzled that the nurse spoke German.  Judy had to explain that she wasn't the nurse, but the interpreter. 

We'd love to hear your scariest/spookiest/funniest interpreting experience, dear colleagues! Please leave them in the comments below and have a fantastic Halloween!


Budgeting for Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments

Norwegian kroner, because we had the picture handy. Photo by Judy.
If you are like most small business owners here in the U.S, in our profession or any other, you are probably quite familiar with quarterly estimated taxes, which are due four times a year. We generally think taxes are a great thing, and that they are one of the main things that make a society work, and we are happy to pay them. But sometimes small businesses run into cash flow issues and occasionally you have to scramble to come up with the estimated tax payment when it's due. It's happened to us, too, and while we have always been able to pay it, we figured we needed an easy way to guarantee the money is there when we need it.

The strategy we started using is quite simple, but one we had only used intermittently before: every time we deposit a check into our checking account or receive a payment via online banking transfer (which they all should be, but we digress), we immediately take 20% of each payment and transfer that into a savings account that's used to pay taxes. The two accounts are with the same bank (Chase, as much as we dislike them at times) and the transfer is quick, easy, and free. Since the money goes out so quickly after it's been deposited, we don't really miss it, and we ware delighted to have it come tax time. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you follow a similar strategy?

Free Event: Proz.com's International Translation Day

Can you believe it's September? We can't, but the great news is that International Translation Day, one of our favorite days of the year, is right around the corner. This year September 30 falls on a Saturday, so many T&I organizations and groups are having events on Thursday and Friday of that week. Just like every year, Proz.com is putting on a free virtual event -- complete with American Translators Association CE credits (currently pending). This is a big event with some 10,000 registrants expected to sign up! Judy is delighted to be part of the festivities and will present two sessions:

1) The art of the business lunch: How to handle yourself and grow your T&I business (September 26)
2) Is Twitter stupid? (September 27)

Other sessions that look very interesting include:
What I would do differently if starting over (September 26)
Tips and tricks for remote interpreters (September 27)
How to create multiple streams of income as a linguist (September 27)


There is no need to register: you simply log on here when you are ready. Recordings will be available to all attendees (depending on your Proz.com membership status, you can access the recordings for 72 hours, 1 week, or forever). Happy International Translation Day, everyone!
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