Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mapping the road to a career in the translation and interpretation (T&I) industry

At the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, my interpreting students asked me if the curriculum included a module on the business side of interpreting. It was obvious that they were thinking of the eventual return of their investment in a Master’s level degree in interpreting. Knowing the program does include a couple of modules on this important issue, I told them I would wait until the winter semester to address this topic. The idea was to avoid topic overlap during their program of studies. They recently had a session on the interpreting market in their respective places of residence and found the session to be extremely helpful but still wanted to know more. Thus, I prepared a handout with some ideas on how to tackle the work market.

Giving useful advice to your students, some of whom do not have work experience and are looking forward to getting started, requires an effort to come up with a cohesive set of suggestions. What follows is a summary of the tips I provided to them. Of course, some of them may look obvious but I thought they were all worth including.

Networking and a little investment.  Be ready to invest time to explore and create opportunities and money to invest in them.

Getting started.  Preparing your entry to the T&I market starts in school, for those without prior interpreting experience. Some classmates, especially in graduate school, become lifelong friends. Shared efforts of furthering oneself often engender extraordinary bonds.  Classmates sharing the same language pair and similar interests and commitment can become colleagues and associates.  Instructors can also be a terrific source of information. For example, thanks to one of his instructors, English-Arabic student Ahmed Al-Tameemi got a remarkable opportunity to interpret for Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the first Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto a few months ago.

Internships and other opportunities through your program of studies:  An internship is an extremely valuable experience that allows for strengthening skills in a real-world situation and exposes students to key players of the profession.

Joining a professional association while enrolled in a program of studies.  Most professional associations have lower membership fees for students.  Keep abreast of your association’s activities and try to participate in them.  Also, volunteer in your professional association by serving as a committee member, contributing articles to a newsletter, etc.

Knowing the interpreting market for your language pair. All efforts to find work locally will be unproductive if there is limited or no demand in your immediate city in your language pair. So it is worth doing some inquiry.

Knowing government trends in the hiring of interpreters and translators.  As is well-known, most translators and interpreters are independent workers, but job opportunities do exist. It is important, however, to be abreast of current hiring trends.  It appears, for example, that the Translation Bureau of the Canadian government is not filling vacant positions.  This might be temporary, however, so it is good to keep informed about trends like this.

Offering services to government agencies and law offices.  While government tends to be at the lower end of the fee range for T&I service, law offices seem to be willing to pay more for professional services.  Also, government agencies may farm out interpreting services to a T&I agency and working opportunities are to be channeled through it. It is worth doing some investigation of local trends on this account.

Conference-like interpreting.  International festivals, embassies, consulates, language schools of local universities, convention centers, international centers, international chambers of commerce, and multi-national and large corporations are likely to require interpreting services.

Being entrepreneurial.  T&I agencies are part of our industry and they are not about to go away.  In fact, they seem to be thriving. If you wonder why, the answer is simple: convenience. Agencies are appealing to both clients and interpreters and translators.  Oftentimes clients do not know where to find these professionals. Translators and interpreters, on the other hand, find it convenient not to have to look for clients. Both parties in this equation seem to be willing to pay for that convenience: the client pays the agency’s rate and the interpreters/translators get a cut for their services. Of course, the agency keeps a percentage of the amount to cover the cost of business and to make a profit. Depending on how much profit the agency wants to make, the cut for the interpreter/translator is smaller.  Translators and interpreters should be more entrepreneurial and cater to those clients who are looking for convenience. This means, of course, creating your own T&I practice. If lawyers create their own practices, why can’t interpreters and translators? When trying to cater to a specific type of client; for example, legal professionals – the courts included – it important to highlight advantages of contacting the interpreter directly; for example, personalized attention, reliability, competitive rates (no middle man), etc.

When setting up one’s own practice, it matters to not look like an agency. It is best to use identifiers such as studio or practice; For example, Beyond Words Interpretation Studio.

Client Education and translator and interpreter protection.   Lay people tend to not know the difference between translation and interpretation.  This can be seen in the media where reporters refer to the interpreter as the translator. Buyers of translation services very often times do not know what to look for when contracting the services of an interpreter or translator or what to expect. As the American Translators Association (ATA) rightly points out, “there are hundreds of ways a translation project can go off track – ridiculous deadlines, misapplied machine translation, poor project management.” The ATA web site provides several resources free of charge to help novice translators and interpreters know how to best help their clients.  They include Getting it Right – a guide for clients to be informed when buying translation services. This guide is available in Brazilian Portuguese, French, Russian, and Spanish, among other languages. ATA also provides separate agreement templates for the provision of both translation and interpretation services.  T&I agencies usually have their own provision of services agreement, but when the terms and conditions of those agreements are unacceptable, the samples provided by the ATA can prove extremely useful. 

Having your own website / blog.   Of course, there are supporters and detractors of the idea of having a website or a blog.  Those who argue against it seem to be convinced that the annual cost of a website or blog (domain name, hosting, anti-virus protection etc.) does not warrant the effort or the money. Those in favor argue that a website helps in establishing credibility and allows one to connect to one’s client base, provided it well designed and search engine optimization[1] is done. For bloggers who maintain their own blogs, like me, the annual cost is virtually zero.
Registering on T&I directories. The following are just a few examples of sites that post job and work opportunities (contract work) for several industries, including T&I.
Proz.  It claims to be the largest translation network in the world. Upwork. The site says that freelancers can do “[a]nything that can be done on a computer – from web and mobile programming to graphic design.”  The Open Mic. This site offers the option of creating a profile, sharing stories about the T&I industry, discussing important topics, and following colleagues. Translation directory. This is a paying platform (8€/month)
Note:  The cost/benefit ratio would need to be assessed when registering and paying for these directories as the cost could rapidly add up. Also, it seems that compensation for some translation contracts can be as low as 0.1USD cent per word.  This is can be downside of these platforms.

Word-of-mouth.  Do not underestimate the value of this way of getting business. We all are part of an immediate community, which leads me to an extremely important issue. While this might sound like a platitude, I cannot insist more on the importance of ethical behavior and professional conduct. Unethical behavior will only take you so far. It will be known, and sooner or later it will catch up with you.

Publications for entrepreneurial translators and interpreters
While the following publications focus on translation, they may prove useful for language professionals in general.
1.       Dagmar, Jenner and Judy. 2010.  The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation.  Paperback: 20 - 25 US$, Kindle: 8.99 US$
The authors dispense tips and tricks on how to run a translation and interpreting business through their blog Translation Times. They also offer a workshop called "The Entrepreneurial Linguist."
2.       McKay, Corinne.  2016. How to succeed as a freelance translator. Third edition.  Paperback:  20US$
 
This publication includes over 250 pages of practical tips on writing a translation-targeted resume and cover letter, preparing a marketing plan, setting up a functional home office, and finding and keeping well-paying clients. It includes separate sections on marketing to agencies and direct clients, a chapter focusing on your first year as a freelance translator and a chapter on online networking and social media.
Corinne McKay is also the author of the blog Thoughts on Translation, which she launched in February 2008

I never suspected that talking about marketing one’s services would raise so much interest. All above tips may sound obvious to the seasoned, established professional, but it is amazing to learn first-hand how important it is for those who want to enter the profession.  It seems to be so important that European Terminology, a Facebook page for terminologist of the European Union recently shared a post on this topic. It is worth that it’s addressed to translators but interpreters can benefit from it nonetheless.


[1] Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase traffic (visitors) to a website or blog by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and other search engines. This can be accomplished by making sure content is unique and that the site or blog pages are able to be indexed correctly by search engines such Google and Yahoo.
 
 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trends in interpreter compensation in the U.S. Courts


 In my previous post titled Translators and Interpreters in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, I mentioned that my next post will be on the evolution of compensation in the T&I industry; particularly interpreters in the U.S. courts.
My intention was to revisit an earlier post, Database on Compensation for Interpreters in the Courts of the United States, in which I wrote about a website created in October 2014 by Robert Joe Lee, former manager of the New Jersey Judiciary’s Language Access program. In it, he provides information on compensation for interpreters in courts throughout the United States.  I was also planning to add some data on fees for contract court interpreters, how they are determined, and how often they are revised.
I was getting ready to tackle this new post when I noticed that Lee will be making a presentation on Compensation Policies for Staff and Contract Court Interpreters in the USA at the 37th Annual Conference of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), which will be held in San Antonio Texas, May 13-15, 2016.
Gathering data on court interpreter compensation requires an enormous effort as reliable data is hardly available. Since I will attend NAJIT’s conference, and more specifically Lee’s presentation, I’ll put my post on hold until I can report on what I learn at NAJIT. It should be interesting!  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Translators and Interpreters in the Occupational Outlook Handbook

This post aims to provide an overview of a milestone in the recognition as a professional activity of the work performed by translators and interpreters: its inclusion in the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Before doing so, it is necessary to establish what is understood by the terms profession and occupation, as these concepts vary from person to person, from one field to another, and even over time. The terms profession and occupation also tend to be used interchangeably, but for some actually refer to two different ideas.

Some of the considerations about what makes an occupation and a profession can be found on the site Key Differences. According to this site, an occupation is an activity a person performs regularly to earn a living, while a profession is an occupation or vocation requiring a high degree of knowledge and expertise in the specific field.  It also points out that a profession differs from an occupation in that the former presupposes the existence of a code of ethics, compulsory training, is regulated by statutes (an assertion that would benefit from deeper analysis) and compensation is based on skills and knowledge (another arguable assertion). One may or may not agree with all these assertions, but the fact is they summarize key differences.

Another view comes from the Profession Standards Council, which defines a profession as a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and possess special knowledge and skills in a widely recognized body of learning derived from research, in which education and training is at a high level, and which is recognized by the public as such. Professional knowledge and skills are used and applied in the interest of others. A professional thus is a member of a profession, which as pointed out before is governed by codes of ethics and is bound by ethical principles such as competence, integrity and morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their professional domain.

The existence of ethical standards seems to be the common denominator in the definition of profession. Standards are, in general, created and applied to bring predictability to the manufacture and delivery of goods and services, with the ultimate goal being the establishment of trust by their consumers. Of course, standards can also bring about liability for failing to comply with them.

Translators and Interpreters in the Occupational Outlook Handbook
As can be seen in previous posts, translation and interpretation meet the definition of profession as described above. Of course, translation and interpretation involve different sets of skills, taken as a whole there is no doubt that they are both professions and both translators and interpreters are considered professionals.
While both activities have been performed since time immemorial, there have been several stages in their development as a profession. Their inclusion in the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor contributed greatly to their perception as a profession. In the 2002-2003 edition, the OOH included translators and interpreters in the section Occupations Not Studied in Detail, which means it included only a brief employment projection and not an occupational profile[1]. This is the entire entry:
Interpreters and translators
Translate or interpret written, oral, or sign language text into another language for others.
• 2000 employment: 22,000
• Projected 2000-10 employment change: Faster than average
• Most significant source of training: Long-term on-the-job training
 
As modest as it may appear, this event represented a milestone in the recognition of T&I as professional activities in that it joined the ranks of occupations such as nursing, engineering, accounting, and numerous others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers occupational information through the Occupational Information Network – O*NET, which is a wide-ranging database that describes worker competencies. Information gathered in this database come mainly from job descriptions and professional associations.  It is also worth noting that in its glossary of terms, the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes the term occupation but not profession; defining the former as a “set of activities or tasks that employees are paid to perform.”
Evolution of the description of T&I on the Occupational Outlook Handbook
Since its first entry in the OOH, significant changes can be seen in the description of the occupation for translators and interpreters.  The 2010-2011 edition of the OOH  includes an occupational profile for the T&I industry.  In its Significant Points section, it says that about 26 percent of interpreters and translators are self-employed; that some work only sporadically; and that employment was expected to grow faster than average depending on specialty and language. It also provided a distinction between translation and interpretation – a distinction a great number of people still do not know. The OOH described the work of interpreters and translators in settings such as conferences, the judiciary, healthcare and services for the deaf and provided information on working environments, education requirements (indicating that it can vary but a bachelor’s degree is often requested) certification, and means for advancement.  Very importantly, it provides job projections, earnings, and sources for additional information. Information for the occupational profile is drawn from professional associations such as the American Translators Association, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, the National Council on Interpreting on Health Care, and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
Technology has allowed for more innovative ways to display data, and this is reflected in 2016-2017 edition of the OOH.  Not only is information in this latest edition presented differently; i.e. in separate tabs, but it is also more detailed. For example, the tab What Interpreters and Translators Do describes the difference between these two activities and provides details about simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. Unfortunately, it includes a third category – whispered interpreting – which is, in fact, simultaneous interpreting performed without any equipment. A third mode of interpreting which was not included is sight translation – the oral translation of a written document, which is used in many settings.  
While there is room for improvement in the description of this profession – or occupation – great progress has been made. In less than fifteen years, this profession has gone from one that did not have a profile in the Occupational Outlook Handbook to one whose profile is now over eight pages in length. Despite some errors, the OOH can be used as a tool to educate and sensitize the public on the skills of translators and interpreters and the challenges they face in the delivery of their services.
This post does not address the evolution of compensation in the T&I industry as it will be discussed in a separate post which is coming soon.


[1] Personal email to the author dated August 26, 2013 from an Economist of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Program.