News from the ISO front (ISO 23155:2022)

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Last Sunday I spent 5 hours attending a very useful webinar organised by AIIC Training and Professional Development (ATPD) in which Verónica Pérez Guarnieri explained the ISO standard development and negotiation structure and process, including all the participants in such negotiations and the relative weight in the discussions of stakeholders whose services (in our case) are subject to these standards, as well as the specific meaning of the verbs ‘shall’ and ‘should’, and Haris Ghinos took us through the new standard itself and the work involved in it.

Given I dug deep into my pockets to get hold of a copy of the standard, let me share with you what I take from it as a novice ISO reader. Please forgive me that I cannot quote directly from the standard due to copyright rules (I wish people were as pedantic about my copyright when recording my interpreting work which I am often required to waive completely if I want the job, which is by the way not in the spirit of this standard, more on this later), so I shall just pick out the pieces that address my biggest question marks regarding my status as a conference interpreter and certain requirement that CISP (i.e. anyone who puts me on the interpreting team for an assignment) ‘shall’ and ‘should’ provide me with at different stages of the assignment for me to be able to fulfil my own obligations under it.

Let’s begin with a basic recognition in the General Provisions, albeit a little vaguely phrased, that interpreting done at a distance from the event and/or also at a distance from colleagues and technical support potentially increases the mental strain of interpreting with the logical consequences on interpreters’ mental wellbeing and health. 

Furthermore we see the additional observation that the daily working time for conference interpreters should be no more than 2 sessions of max. 3 and a half hours each with an adequate break in between of one and a half hours. This is one of the ‘should’ clauses, hence it is not binding but has the ranking of a recommendation, and interpreters might do well to keep an eye on working with conference interpreting service providers (CISP) who are ISO 23155 certified as then it would be easier to ask them to consider following the recommendations therein which were, after all, formulated by CISP negotiators as well and then unanimously adopted by all stakeholders. It also strikes me as a good argument to use in feedback to the client that interpreters are recommend to give under the article that sets out their requirements and recommendations.

But back to the general provisions, they also advise clients and go-betweens to plan for additional mitigation in the case of tougher than normal working conditions, such as in cases where interpreters are physically nowhere near each other or the client, by adjusting working time, breaks and the number of interpreters accordingly, to make sure the performance of interpreters doesn’t suffer unduly.

The clause defining interpreter teamwork was interesting in my opinion in the sense that the standard is quite clear that during conference interpreting, no matter which modality, the interpreters ‘shall’ (so must) be in a position to help each other out in the usual ways we all know from the physical booth.

Another clause refers to the interpreter’s obligation to adhere to professional ethics and points to an annex for an example which in my opinion contains interesting points as it puts some of the onus for securing adequate working conditions onto the interpreters themselves. The sample code of ethics obliges interpreters among other things to keep an eye on the ISO conformity of audio, visual and general comfort provisions on assignment, it requires them to not normally work alone but to have a colleague available to take over should the need arise, and obliges interpreters to require scripted texts and other material to be provided to them before the event. Just so as to drive the message home, all this is affirmed in a final declaration that interpreters shan’t accept conditions different from those set out in the code.

On we move to the article defining interpreters’ competences. Apart from the ones that we all know and practice every time we step into a physical or virtual booth, it also recommends (the famous ‘should’ clauses) interpreters to be in a position to cope with stress (without detailing who should put interpreters into that position).

What is not up for discussion are the necessary qualifications for conference interpreters. They are all ‘shall’ clauses, and without preempting the standards for CISPs too much, one clause in the article dedicated to them obliges the CISP to make sure the interpreters they provide for an event meet the requirements in this section on qualifications for interpreters. Hint: they do not cover interpreter students who haven’t completed their degree course yet. They also don’t include merely speaking one or several foreign language(s).

In the next article we find the definition of requirements and recommendations relating to interpreters on assignment. Under them interpreters are advised to insist on travel arrangements that are not detrimental to their own ability to act in compliance with this standard. Thank you! So I was right to turn down that over-night flight that would have had me arrive at 5am in a different time zone with the event starting at 9am on the same day! Just one of the more extreme examples. Well, next time some offer like this comes in, I know exactly where to tell them to go, namely to ISO23155.

Another clause confirms once more the requirement (‘shall’) on interpreters to pay attention, even when not interpreting, to keep preparing, to keep an eye on things and assist as required. This is a useful requirement to mention to clients who question having to pay us for the full duration of an event, seeing as we are ‘only working half the time’, at least in their opinion.

Now comes the final article of the standard which sets out what is realistically to be expected from conference interpreting service providers, be they consultant interpreters, agencies, or institutions.

Generally, they are expected to know the job in all its aspects and to be able to substantiate this expertise on their own behalf and on behalf of their supply chain. I know a few agencies who would therefore already not be ISO23155 compliant, and it might be worth to check which ISO certifications they claim to have when they sell their (and our) services.

Another clause talks of the responsibility (‘shall’) on the side of the CISP (apart from making sure that interpreters have the relevant qualifications, as mentioned earlier) to support interpreters in fulfilling their obligations under the article setting out obligations and recommendations for interpreters while on a job and to provide working conditions for interpreters that comply with legal requirements and provide protection against relevant risks. This seems to complement the legal due diligence obligations of the CISP or client (such as under the EU Non-financial Reporting Directive) to assure that all parts of their supply chain also observe relevant industry standards.

It also restates the necessity for the equipment provider to comply with the array of ISO standards covering their side of things. 

There are some practical examples given as to how to do this, namely by providing all essential information to the interpreters and checking such issues as visibility for interpreters but also, importantly, it obliges the CISP to make adjustments to interpreters’ pay in case of recordings or streaming of the interpretation. This passage is also prefaced with a ‘shall’, not a ‘should’, and we interpreters must begin to insist on compliance with this binding requirement.

An important further ‘shall’ provision defines the information interpreters need to be given, like who is on the team (some agencies who used to provide this information have stopped doing so in recent years. In this context it might be good to mention once more that this standard was developed by stakeholders from the entire industry and was adopted unanimously. Another binding requirement is to include travel and rest time in the billable time for an event on behalf of the interpreters, which is certainly a clause in this article that I will get to labour a fair bit from now on.

An interesting obligation on the CISP is the requirement to assess the interpretation and related service during an event with the interpreters who were involved.

Finally just some observations on the annex on team strength for simultaneous: there is a ‘should’ provision to have more interpreters cover an event in the presence of factors that make interpreters’ work harder, with distance interpreting being named as one of them.

Surprising for me was a footnote which demands (‘shall’) at least 3 interpreters per booth that also provides relay. I have never ever seen this in practice in 30 years on the private market, and I have nigh always worked in a booth giving retour!

It is good to know and cite to all platforms and CISP who demand that events of up to 1 hour be covered by only one interpreter that they are actually in contravention of a binding requirement of this standard which puts the maximum any interpreter should work alone at 45 minutes with the proviso that, if anything, this should be even shorter under certain circumstances. Again, remember that all stakeholders in the negotiations, including CISP representatives, negotiated this requirement and unanimously adopted it.

This is it, folks. Thank you for having stayed with me until the end of this lengthy article. And while I am thanking people, let me continue with my heartfelt thanks to Verónica Pérez Guarnieri and Haris Ghinos for their patient explanations of how the ISO negotiating process works and presenting the results of this process in this particular case. I would also like to thank Michelle Hof from AIIC Training and Professional Development (ATPD) for keeping it super real as a moderator and to AIIC in general for the diligent work on behalf of the profession, be it by taking part in the development of such standards or by providing the relevant training about the standards applying to us in events such as the one I took part in.

For information, AIIC members have free access to relevant ISO standards somewhere on the AIIC website, or so I heard.

Finally I would like to state for the record that this is my understanding of the standard. Quoting me to insist on your rights won’t do much good! So if you are a practitioner in the field, I would recommend you get a copy, study it and make sure you and everyone else involved in conference interpreting in your environment acts in accordance with it.

What is behind the fake news agenda?

In view of the current deplorable events in Ukraine, I had a few thoughts on the issue of fake news that I would like to share.

I remember vividly how during the Brexit referendum campaign the pro-EU twitter ‘echo chamber’ was gobsmacked on a daily basis by outrageous and obviously untrue claims made by the two pro-Brexit campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.eu) alike, along with some of the pro-Brexit pundits like Nigel Farage on any media that would let him talk, especially RT which even offered him a job.

We simply couldn’t get our heads around the audacity of those blatant lies, like the one that Turkey was going to join the EU with the implication that all 76* million inhabitants would descend on the UK under EU Freedom of Movement rights. When in reality, it was the UK within the EU that was openly supporting the accession of Turkey and even after Brexit, in my opinion in order to increase the EU internal market by exactly those same 76* million, from which UK businesses would benefit.

What was even more dumbfounding, though, was the massive acceptance of these lies which were being shared on Twitter (among other social media channels) pretty much unchallenged by anyone other than by those who ended up being scorned as ‘remoaners’ while official news outlets, notably the BBC, were conspicuously silent on this subversive ‘alternative news’ phenomenon.

If this first push to sow doubt among people was successful in allowing the pro-Brexit campaign to win the referendum, to all intents and purposes to their own surprise, we then saw the next phase of the process of alienating citizens from legitimate news sources with President Donald Trump’s crusade against any mainstream media outlet critical of him or his policies by accusing them of purveying fake news when he himself was spreading fake news as a matter of course. Fact-checkers put the number of ‘untruths’ (politically correct moniker for the more blunt word ‘lie’) at an astonishing 30,573 over his four years in power, averaging 21 per day. We now had serious journalism being accused of producing fake news while the accusers were spreading fake news themselves prolifically and quite openly.

These days we see the same playbook being used by Russia against Ukraine and the rest of the world, and as I couldn’t help noticing when reading comments on posts about the war on LinkedIn, quite successfully so. To me, reading many of these comments feels like the Brexit referendum campaign all over again.

I am still not sure what the end game is supposed to be because for this strategy of destabilising societies by sowing mistrust to work, it is necessary to have enough people who believe the real fake news over the fake fake (i.e. ‘real’) news. It also, in my opinion arrogantly so, presumes that those believers are not at some stage lured away by yet another player who – for better or worse – manages to use the gullibility that fake news believers have been trained in to their own end.

I will certainly keep an eye on developments in a professional capacity as in a world where anyone can seemingly state anything under the cover of ‘truth’, as a professional who assists multilingual communication I may be forced at some point to choose who I am prepared to lend my voice to. But I will also keep an eye on myself because naturally, I cannot be absolutely sure that I get all my information from trustworthy sources and am not becoming a victim of confirmation bias myself in the attempt to stay close to the truth.

* As claimed on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign poster. The official figure for 2015, which this claim would sensibly be based on, is 78.5 million.

The evolution in interpreting service provision

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1 July 2021

The COVID pandemic first brought our profession to a grinding halt with travel restrictions, prohibition of gatherings, and lockdown – making multilingual meetings impossible, then gave it a massive boost with the pivot of pretty much everyone to transacting any kind of business online.

Companies that had already begun to work on providing online platforms for interpreters to work their language magic on instead of traveling to an event venue and work with equipment also brought to the venue at considerable expense to clients and the environment. Their use (and number) has exploded over the last 13 months, and their now guaranteed presence on the scene makes it impossible – and even undesirable – for clients, LSPs and interpreters to ignore them.

One of the biggest Multilingual Meeting Platforms coming out of the crisis is KUDO, and I have been invited to write a blogpost for them about the experience of a professional interpreter with their platform and services for or including interpreters that they offer:

My Experience as a KUDO Pro Interpreter

Did you know?

When WFH also extends to multilingual meetings, participants in those events will confirm that the experience is miles from the one at an on-site event.

No fancy coffee machine outside the meeting room, no appetising buffets during the breaks, no networking over dinner, no friendly ladies or gents handing out receivers for those who require interpretation. Everyone needs to be their own equipment provider right now.

Interpreters, too, have had to invest in their own professional gear to be able to shift their work to RSI platforms – although many have even gone above and beyond the exacting entry requirements to optimise their workflow which involves lots more task than before, and to ensure the best possible experience for their listeners, as well.

The problem – and trust me, it is turning into a serious one, leaving many interpreters with hearing damage that was rare under controlled conditions on site and that could end their professional careers – is that platforms do not actually produce the sound they transmit as loss-free as possible, it is everyone who unmutes their microphone. While the listeners of the interpretation are largely getting a sound that is equivalent to that at the international meetings of yore, floor listeners (among them interpreters) in turn are all too often not getting the same level of service, especially in settings without technicians at hand who can assess what simply isn’t good enough and intervene.

Let me focus on one issue today that is quite easily fixed but shockingly frequently ignored: integrated microphones. No professional RSI platform would allow an interpreter to use one. So how come this is exactly the kind of sound quality that listeners, including interpreters, get to hear from the floor?

Everyone knows by now that interpreters are some kind of magicians who can hear, understand, analyse, put into another language, rephrase, and speak at the same time – but only that which they can hear. And as they are not just listening but also doing all these other things, their sound needs to be extra clean. Makes sense, right? In fact, so much so that there is even an ISO standard for the sound quality for distance interpreting.

Built-in microphones don’t deliver ISO20108-compliant sound. They are also usually so well hidden that most speakers who use them unfortunately seem to have no idea how to address them. Most don’t even notice when they hit them, potentially hurting the ears of anyone unfortunate enough to be listening to them (which is ironic, seeing as anyone who takes the floor does so for others to hear them).

Hand on heart, do YOU know where the microphone on your device is? Don’t worry if you don’t, I had to look it up myself – not for me (I already have a professional USB mic, remember?) but to illustrate that finding integrated microphones can be like an Easter egg hunt. I started with one of my own devices, the MacBookPro 15 inch 2018. 👉

How about others? Let’s take a Dell. 👇

I guess you can see now that none of them are truly ideal presentation microphones, no matter the claims of ‘professional sound’ by the manufacturers. None of them directly face the speaker nor have a special recording pattern to exclude noise from elsewhere in the room (which interpreters’ microphones must have), so all of them are at least as good if not better at picking up all kinds of other noises near the microphone – like clicking pens, typing, ringing or vibrating phones, touchpad clicks, and coffee cup clanging on saucers – than a voice half a meter away and around a corner – and trust me, they do! Not to mention one of my pet-peeves: paper copies of presentations placed on top of the mic which manages to rustle horribly AND block the speaker’s voice at the same time. 🏆

So when giving professional presentations online, why not simply do it with equipment that does them justice? And even if you don’t believe good sound helps get your message across, it might still be a good idea to get to know the equipment you have and use it properly.

Your listeners will thank you. 🙏

Visit of SPD Secretary General to the London branch of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 2004

“Mrs. Antje Bormann was my interpreter during a trip to the United Kingdom in my capacity as Secretary General of the SPD in November 2004.

The trip included visits to various institutions and required varying vocabulary and different interpreting techniques and approaches in accordance with the prevailing circumstances. All conversations proceeded fluently and without any kind of linguistic misunderstandings. Mrs Bormann always succeeded in adapting to the situation and keeping the conversation flowing to my full satisfaction.

During all of this Mrs Bormann was polite and professional in her dealings with myself, my attendants and my host, the then chairman of the UK branch of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, as well as our British interlocutors.”

The shortest-lived form of one of the oldest professions has a future, after all?

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After the announcement of series A funding to the tune of $21m for KUDO at the end of March 2021, now a second online language-as-a-service platform (Interactio) has secured series A funding worth $30m.

KUDO started its existence in 2017, set up by Fardad Zabetian (who had previously founded Media Vision, a conference equipment company, in 2002) and his 3 co-founders, one of them a former chief interpreter at a UN department. Nearly 2 decades of equipment provision, including to the UN, is a pretty good starting point for coming up with ways to provide the same top-class service in the digital age.

Interactio started out in 2014 because of the cumbersome traditional microphones at big events delaying participants’ possibilities to ask questions, so they came up with what was later generally known as BYOD (bring your own device); software that turns participants’ mobile devices into microphones. As they reflected on their beginnings during their online announcement event, their first main clients were churches holding services for congregations speaking several languages, just not all of their members speaking all of them, thusly truly giving grassroots communities a common language by allowing everyone to speak their own.

From those very different starting points, both companies – and a number of others beside them – began to offer online platforms that allow professional conference interpreters to perform their magic from any place offering a stable wired and sufficiently fast internet connection and the quiet surroundings needed for delivering clean, professional sound. Interpreters have since then been able to work from hubs which basically replicate the conference installation on site but in one permanent location that is linked remotely to events in other places, or (especially since COVID19) they had to BTOD (bring their own devices) home to work, including in some cases radio broadcast quality USB microphones, multi-channel mixers, several laptops for the actual work and for background material and glossaries plus communication with booth colleagues, often in another country, if not on another continent altogether, said quiet environment and stable and fast broadband connection, possibly noise dampening for walls and floors, new desks (investments many could ill afford during times of a complete loss of income and precious little help for self-employed event professionals from most governments that are at odds with the expectations on the part of some clients that interpreters should somehow be charging less for their work than before). But at least, after having lost pretty much all their work due to government restrictions on travel and in-person meetings and any prospect of that kind of work coming back anytime soon, LaaS was a lifeline to interpreters, allowing them to start working again.

Both companies have thusly reinvented the way professional interpreters provide their very unique service, untying them from the hired equipment set up on site for clients with pockets deep enough to pay for equipment and one or two technicians, all the interpreters (at least 2 per language required), as well as transport and accommodation for all of them.

I am sure other platforms will follow, some of which I have already learned how to use but have had less actual working experience with, that I believe are also deserving and capable of being part of this new and exciting way for interpreters to provide their services to an even broader audience than ever before, extending the profession’s ability to bridge language gaps to more people, for even more worthwhile causes, and generally more communication. And let’s be honest, humankind is in dire need of that more than ever.

The nod of approval from the early investment community intimates that there is definitely a market for these services in this form, so there is a future, at least for now, for the human interpretation that these platforms facilitate, despite the misgivings of some in the profession.

Then again, simultaneous or conference interpreting the way we know it now took off only in the first half of the last century thanks to cabled IBM telephony equipment in a famous court in Germany, increasing the reach of the immediately interpreted word from the 2 or max. 3 persons that whisper interpreting works for to everyone in the room with headphones.

Although the hard cables have been replaced by wireless technology over the years and the table-top glass windows turned into reasonably sound-proof portable booths, this setup has essentially remained the operating model for simultaneous interpretation for more than half a century.

We are now experiencing another such watershed moment for the profession. The reach of simultaneous interpretation has been extended ‘beyond the room’, to borrow an apt phrase from KUDO’s website, to anyone anywhere in the world with a device and a viable internet connection.

Take care of your hearing

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It used to be a professional health issue for a limited number of people in work. Thanks to COVID19 and the extreme increase in online forms of working and professional networking, it has become a professional health issue for pretty much everyone: hearing damage.

Some ideas on what can be done to prevent it, both in terms of technological development and an adoption of less casual, more professional approaches to taking part in online meetings as well as self-checking to spot warning signs early, can be found in my post on LinkedIn on the subject.

caption: sample of home hearing test result

Innovation in Interpreting Summit 2021

Having dusted off my website only yesterday, I have some catching up to do. Let me begin with the present.

Today was the final day of three of this summit, dealing with all aspects of technology in interpreting: the reality of remote working on day 1 (from setting up a workstation at home via which platforms are out there all the way to useful tips in terms of equipment and etiquette to guarantee a pleasant and professional online experience for participants and interpreters alike), the tools and resources they have for staying on top of their game in these times of massive change on day 2, and the benefits and perceived threats to the profession of interpreting through even further technological developments, particularly AI, on day 3.

The entire event was conceived and put together by one of those very resources for interpreters to help them stay on top of their game, techforword‘s Josh Goldsmith and Alexander Drechsel. An array of well-known interpreters/interpreter teachers shared a wealth of useful information and – just as important – brought interpreters from all over the world together to learn together, exchange experiences and ideas and feel part of something bigger.

For anyone who wasn’t able to be there but would like to catch up on the wealth of information, there is still a bundle of the presentations and panels and much more besides available here until 3 March 2021.

I for one am looking forward to further such events as I have never before really had the feeling of belonging to such a big and stimulating family.

CPD has never been this much fun!

There was a time when I thought I’d been there, done that, and had the t-shirt (or event badge) to prove it.

And then COVID19 happened and turned all our professional lives upside down. Suddenly, when asked forcefully by our respective national guidance to work from home, I found myself much more in touch with colleagues than in the preceding two and a bit decades. I also realised that I needed to learn. Then that I had useful information to share, too.

One of the first ‘resources’ for interpreting insight and wisdom I had begun to follow even somewhat before is Techforword.com. Now I am regularly checking what they have to offer.

Right now they are putting on their Innovation in Interpreting event that I would recommend should be visited by online event hosts (it’s free) just to see how to put on a sleek virtual show! Who else if not the tech-savviest interpreters around?

It is also full of useful information for interpreters wanting to know more about how to use technology in their permanent quest to improve their work.

And it is, like other such events, a great way for us interpreters to network, to break out of our local or national bubbles and become a truly global profession, learning and developing our skills, our work environments, and the ways we can provide our services to more and more clients, together.