Kennedy's Word: Blog

Check out my latest Word here.

It's all about teamwork - and there's no "i" in commitment...

posted 25 Oct 2017, 10:12 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 7 Nov 2017, 02:01 ]

OK, so there is an "i" in commitment. I was just quoting the great Count Arthur Strong to get your attention. 

Teamwork, however, can be a genuinely challenging issue for interpreters who are used to working alone or in pairs, and who tend, in general, to be highly educated professionals with firm ideas about their capabilities and status (I put my hands up to that one, as they say in football). So when it comes to working in a team, often with colleagues who would otherwise be competitors, some interpreters find it difficult. 

Having one's work observed, critiqued or even corrected by a peer or senior colleague when working in a larger team is the first major obstacle. Some interpreters hate being observed by anybody other than a single booth-mate or working partner. This may appear paradoxical, given that we are always performing before an audience of some kind. An audience of non-interpreters, however, will respond very differently from somebody who specializes in managing and evaluating interpreter performance. Unfortunately there's no way around this for any professional who is generally committed to improving their performance - you just have to do your best, suck it up, listen to the feedback, and act on it so you can improve in the future. You also have to manage the stress of being observed and evaluated, but that sounds like a different post altogether.

Another area where interpreters sometimes have difficulty working as a team relates to their instinct for self-preservation and self-protection. When working alone or in a pair, one has only oneself and/or one other person to look out for. Working in a team of, say, fifteen interpreters as part of a nuclear plant safety review changes this particular ball game completely: I work with my buddy, whom I know and respect, all day long, so I will certainly help them out in a crisis. But how far am I prepared to put myself out to support every single colleague in the team? Am I so terrified of being forced outside my comfort zone that I always hide when extra duties are on offer? Are there some people whom I can't stand, or whose competition I fear, to the extent that I would drop them in it (for example by omitting to help them out with terminology, or by not stepping up to help them in a difficult situation in the field, or by finding an excuse to have them replace me for a stressful meeting)? Sometimes, unfortunately, if we are being honest, the answer to any or all of these questions is "Yes". It's hard to put yourself out for everyone, when you may not even know them that well, and it may sometimes be tempting to keep your head (and your hands) down when you know you could volunteer to help a colleague out.

For better or worse, however, helping colleagues out and working effectively in a team is part of what being a professional is all about. Every single colleague should be on the lookout for ways they can help out the team, and support the overall smooth running of the assignment. I wouldn't expect people to go beyond their capabilities - that's also an important part of being a professional, after all - but I would expect everyone to pull together, which may on occasion involve stepping outside their comfort zone (which can also be useful in terms of professional development). I certainly wouldn't be impressed if someone were to deliberately swap out of a meeting on a fabricated excuse, forcing a colleague to do their work for them. I can't think of many such egregious examples of this kind of "easy ride" culture. But I can certainly think of a few.

So next time the opportunity arises to show your commitment to the team (regardless of whether there's an "i" in the word or not), be a professional, and take it. It may be an enriching experience in professional terms, and in any case helping out a team mate (and your team leader) should bring you a warm glow of satisfaction. It will certainly stop me grumbling at you about it.

See below for a blatant example of one person propping up an entire team...



Reflecting on performance, and addressing areas for improvement: there's simply no excuse for professional interpreters not to do it

posted 13 Feb 2017, 05:44 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 13 Feb 2017, 05:46 ]

At the end of a recent interpreting assignment, I overheard a customer mention that he was going to write a report for himself when he got home, covering what he did well during his technical mission at a power station, and the areas in which he could improve his performance. This is the kind of thing that most, if not all, interpreters do quite naturally during and after every job: we automatically make notes to update our skills and knowledge every time we encounter a difficulty when interpreting.

For professional linguists, however, there really is no excuse not to reflect on one's performance on a more formalized basis: noting down areas for improvement, and developing a plan to address them, is the only way to be sure that we won't encounter the same problem again.

It may be as simple as not knowing a technical term. That's easily remedied, and you don't need a formal plan to help you search for a word and add it to your personal glossaries. More complex and systemic issues, however, require deeper reflection. For example, if you find your performance deteriorating because you are tired at the end of the day, or if you really struggle in a particular technical field (such as steam turbines, to pluck something out of the air), or your note-taking skills don't allow you to deliver TL segments as comprehensively and precisely as you would like in a pressurized situation, or if you find yourself reluctant (or even unable) to deliver long segments in front of a large audience, you should be having a serious think about how and why these issues arise, and what you can do to address them.

Once you've written down some areas for improvement (and I don't know of any interpreters who can genuinely say their performance couldn't be improved), you need to work out a plan for addressing them. I was once told by a nuclear industry manager that every action plan needs to consist of actions, resources, objectives, a person responsible for each action, and a schedule.

You can apply that simple model to improving your performance as an interpreter (let's assume that you are the person responsible for each action):
- once you have decided upon your areas for improvement (for example, note-taking), identify the actions that you need to take to address the problem (for example, asking colleagues for advice, attending a note-taking workshop, reading textbooks, practising techniques);
- decide what resources you need (this will probably be in terms of time and money - you might decide to spend two days on these actions, and you might assign a budget of £200 to travel to and attend a workshop, and/or to buy a textbook. You will also need to take into account the money you won't be earning while you are taking these actions);
- identify objectives that will help you tell whether the problem has been resolved (improved precision and comprehensiveness of segments; improved comfort when interpreting; improved legibility of notes; better feedback from the customer - make them as concrete as possible); 
- determine a target date for taking those actions (in time for your next assignment, or within two months, or in time for a specific assignment that requires top-notch note-taking in a particularly pressurized situation or environment).

You don't have to construct a huge administrative machine: keep it as simple as possible, but write it down: it really does make the actions you decide to take much more effective.

It's all about getting the basics right, as they say in football

posted 21 Sep 2016, 04:50 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 21 Sep 2016, 04:54 ]

Anybody who takes part in any activity requiring skill knows that it is only when you get the basics right in terms of preparation, equipment, and technique that you can start to perform to the best of your ability, and think about improving your performance.

For interpreters, this means getting all of the following things right (any or all of these might provide material for a future blog entry):
- preparation: make sure you've had enough sleep, you've had breakfast, you've had coffee, you have a bottle of water, you tablet is charged, you have your notebook and two pens, you have your glossary, you have read the relevant documentation, you have caught the right train... it's a pretty long list, now I come to think of it
- equipment: most of this has already been mentioned under preparation, but it may include specific items like personal protective equipment (PPEs), depending on the environment in which you are working
- technique: you must make sure that you have completed sufficient initial training, practice and CPD to ensure that your language and interpreting skills are up to date, and you should reflect on areas for improvement as well as specific performance errors in recent assignments.

Once all of these things are in place, the real work starts. But until they are in place, the work can't start. So don't let any one of these elements bring you down - it might be as simple as forgetting a notebook, or having too much wine the night before, but such issues can impact your performance, and might mean that you mess up a crucial segment, or cause a misunderstanding for your clients. So, to make sure you delight the customer, and you get the job next time, get all the basics right!

Watch out for further blogs with more detailed anecdotes on this issue (like the time I forgot my notebook and had to cut off somebody in full flow in order to keep the segment manageable. The person then got cross because they couldn't get back into the conversation. Exciting stuff.).

The Flexibility Debate

posted 19 Sep 2016, 02:39 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 19 Sep 2016, 03:35 ]

I have had this argument with translators (and, to a lesser extent, with interpreters) in the past: should translators be able to cope with a text in any subject field, given the opportunities for research that are available now? Sticking to what you know is a pretty sensible rule of thumb, but making the most of new opportunities is also important for any business. I tend towards the "flexibility" side of the argument (I think that translators should be a bit like journalists in this respect), with the pretty obvious caveat that you shouldn't translate anything that is genuinely beyond your capabilities. I have been lambasted for this view in public by prominent individuals in the past. But I'm recovering quite nicely, thanks for asking.

Interpreters tend to take a slightly different view. Given the structure of the interpreting market, in which few interpreters have a sufficiently large quantity of work to be able to stick to one specialist sector (I, and some of my colleagues, are an exception to this rule, but that's another story), they often have no choice but to take assignments in a huge variety of fields, and then spend a big chunk of time on preparation (reading technical documentation, compiling glossaries, etc.). In fact, this need for flexibility and adaptability is viewed as an attractive component of the profession by many interpreters, and the ability to prepare effectively so that you can cope with more or less any subject is certainly a key skill in the eyes of employers.

Given that flexibility is clearly not an issue for most interpreters, where should the balance lie for translators in terms of flexibility? I believe that it's mainly a commercial issue: research takes time, and time is money (even if you are quoting prices based on word count), so the more familiar you are with the text type and content, the less research you have to do, and the more money you will make. However, if branching out into a new field is likely to bring commercial opportunities, then it's certainly worth thinking about. And remember that the time required for research will fall as you become more familiar with your new field. 

I'm bracing myself for another public shouting-down, because I know this is not a particularly popular view. But I'll try not to bend to other people's opinions, however personally flexible I may (or may not) be...

The simple way to find out about CPD for the freelance interpreter: talk to your colleagues when you get the chance

posted 19 Sep 2016, 01:42 by Kennedy Paver

I was recently reminded how easy it can be to pick up CPD tips and opportunities from colleagues. Freelance interpreters often work together in small teams for conference or on-site work, and rubbing shoulders with different individuals provides the ideal opportunity to swap ideas and insights about techniques than can help us to learn and develop. I find that younger colleagues often come up with the simplest and most effective ideas, such as webinars, podcasts, etc. - although obviously this isn't a hard and fast rule!
So next time you're working in a team with a new colleague, or somebody you haven't seen for a while, or even somebody you're a bit tired of working with (come on, we all know this happens), take the opportunity to tap into their experience, and ask what they do to maintain their skills, or to learn new ones. It's so easy, and it can open up unexpected new vistas (merci, Géraldine).

Just how hard is it to be a good interpreter? (AKA using your knowledge to inform the message without deforming it).

posted 18 Mar 2016, 03:14 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 18 Mar 2016, 04:09 ]

Good interpreters have to learn fast, and stay informed. Learning all you can about a subject, and building a store of specialist terminology that you can call on, are vital parts of the job. And when you have been working with clients on site for a couple of weeks, this knowledge is supplemented by a deep familiarity with the issues under discussion, and the events and activities observed. In this kind of environment, it is tempting for interpreters to use this knowledge and familiarity to inform their interpretation of individual segments, even though the clients may not specifically refer to past events themselves.

Here's an example of how an innocent attempt to bring one's immediate past experience to bear to facilitate understanding can actually distort the interpreted message: if a source language customer says "I think we could perhaps modify your assessment of this issue", and it is clear what (s)he is referring to, the interpreter does not need to add, for the benefit of the target language receiver, "This relates to that time you saw those two workers performing that maintenance activity". If the interpreter does add that detail (which was not mentioned by the SL speaker, but which may appear to be superficially helpful), it immediately brings different information to the mind of the client in receipt of the target language message. The source language interlocutor may have been intending to convey a finely calibrated message, deliberately refraining from making reference to specific events. If the interpreter ignores this, and adds information based on his/her knowledge and recent experience, the original point may be lost, and the discussion may head in a direction that was unintended by the source language speaker, and was unintentionally determined by the interpreter. (See below for an absurdist extrapolation of where this kind of input could lead.)

In a similar but subtly different situation, it may also be tempting for interpreters to show off their technical knowledge and experience to a participant in the discussions, or to an external observer, by adding information to an interpreted segment. Many (if not all) of us have been tempted by this at one time or another, but clients are rightly very suspicious of such input; it is not part of the interpreter's role to add technical information to the discussion unless they are specifically asked to do so, or unless their role goes beyond that of an interpreter. (The humorous - and invented - segment below also contains some examples of this superfluous input).

I hope that's clear. The main point is: don't add information based on your knowledge, unless there is a very good reason for doing so (for example if you are asked to do so, or if there is a safety risk, or a risk of serious misunderstanding). By all means use your knowledge to inform your interpreting, but don't use it to change or supplement the message. Inform, don't deform. T-shirt slogan? Maybe not.



French Engineer: “Pourrait-on peut-être reformuler ce constat?”
Interpreter: “I don’t agree with what you said about the issue that relates to that time you saw those two guys lifting that positive displacement pump on the chilled water system for the administration building using four paper clips, a coat hanger and a screwdriver which, obviously, should really only be used for a specific type of round-headed cap bolt.”





There's just no substitute for a love of language - and a commitment to continuous learning.

posted 1 Feb 2016, 02:19 by Kennedy Paver

I recently worked with a small team of interpreters in The Netherlands. Their love of language (and languages), and their commitment to continuously expanding their knowledge and skills, provided me with a useful nudge in the ribs. All translators and interpreters need to update their skills and knowledge every single day. There's quite simply no substitute for putting in the time, exposing oneself to the language, learning the words, and learning about relevant stuff. And it's much easier these days, too, what with that Internet and all.
I don't know if the members of the team with whom I worked are representative of Flemish interpreters (for that is what they are) - I suspect, given what I know about them, that they represent the top end of the market. However, the way they have trained their brains, so that they speak excellent English, backed up by a vast array of cultural knowledge, and are able to learn quickly when faced with new information, should serve as a template for all interpreters. I've always said that the best interpreters are fast learners. I have just been reminded that the best interpreters are lifelong learners, and language magpies too. Thanks, guys.




Where are all the people studying languages? And why is everybody so obsessed with being doctors and lawyers?

posted 24 Nov 2015, 00:14 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 24 Nov 2015, 00:17 ]

I am getting a little sick of explaining to people what my kids are reading at university (it isn't languages or science or engineering or maths, by the way), only to receive the response, "What is he going to do with that?", or, even worse, "That's alright, they can still be lawyers". Sure, my kids can be lawyers if they want, but studying a non-STEM subject doesn't mean that you have to grasp at one of the "professions" just to gain the approval of the confused society that we have become. And where, by the way, does that leave language students? Why are we, in ITI and the CIoL, promoting the cause of translators and interpreters, if deep down all we want for our kids is a solid career in law or accountancy or medicine? No wonder numbers studying pure languages at university appear to be plummeting in the face of such pressure from society and from political figures and the media. When even government ministers question the value of an "arts" degree, it makes me feel like giving up. But I'm not going to do that: I'm going to continue to champion the right of students to study what they bloomin' well like, I'm going to continue to work to boost the profile of language professionals, and I'm going to respect everybody's choice of career without belittling subjects that some people think, completely and utterly wrongly, are a waste of time.

It's about agency for interpreters - and I don't mean interpreting agencies

posted 13 Oct 2015, 08:21 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 16 Dec 2015, 01:44 ]

In the social sciences, agency means the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. In some interpreting situations, "agency" is precisely what interpreters don't have. Constrained by their working conditions and environment, and by others' perception of their role and status, they act as "dumb terminals", only speaking when directly called upon, and consequently appearing unable to act other than at others' beck and call. This can lead to a feeling of inferiority, and to statements like "I'm only the interpreter". It can also cause interpreters to be continuously in "child" mode, unable to take decisions for themselves, and uncomfortable when asked to do so, even as part of a team.
This is not a problem in some sectors, where interpreters feel fully empowered, and there is absolutely no need to talk about "agency" (some tend to get irate at that word in any case). It's not a problem with some individual interpreters, either.
In some environments, however, interpreters need to think seriously about whether a greater focus on their own "agency" might make for more effective interpreting, whether as part of a team or not. I don't mean that they should suddenly start giving out orders left, right and centre (there's a scene in a Woody Allen film where the main character, after receiving assertiveness training, attacks somebody with a pitchfork over a disagreement about the weather - I'm not advocating that kind of approach). But interpreters should think seriously about whether exerting more influence over issues such as their own safety, comfort breaks, working hours or the need to attend team meetings would ultimately make their lives - and their colleagues' lives - easier, and make for more effective interpreting right across the board. A happy interpreter - with full "agency" - will surely perform more effectively than an unhappy one, with no sense of "agency" whatsoever.

The interpreter's dream: delivering precision

posted 29 Sep 2014, 01:03 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 30 Sep 2014, 04:35 ]

As a consecutive interpreter, one thing really drives me up the wall (OK, as you may know by now, there are many things that drive me up the wall, but a person's got to stick to just one thing for a blog post, OK?).
 
I'm talking about the sheer difficulty of rendering meaning precisely (in both transcultural and translingual terms) over a long session, segment after segment after segment. I like to think of  the "arc of meaning" in each segment (I literally visualize an arc shape), the aim being to render that "arc of meaning" as precisely and comprehensively as possible. Every phrase, every sentence, every segment, every conversation, and ultimately every "mission", has its own internal arc of meaning, and each of the arcs of meaning at each different level contributes to a cohesive whole.
 
So where is my theory of interpreting, my toolbox to help me understand this process, and perform as well as I possibly can? I've got the translation textbooks - can somebody tell me where to find the interpreting ones?
 
 

1-10 of 37