Problems related to Babels

Paris, St Denis, France: 12-15 novembre 2003

what do you think Babels should improve from ESF?

Organization of teams (there were too debalance few profis, lot of beginers...)
Unnecessary resources (they wanted me for a Swahili conference, and the speaker changed his mind.....)
Task division (I had none work)
Principles of Babel's (first wxperience interpreters were not substiuted for an availble profi)
Other (specify)
No votes
Total votes: 8

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Problems related to Babels

Postby Jairo » Thu Nov 20, 2003 4:15 pm

what do you think Babels should improve from ESF?
Do not only choose an answer, explain it....

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Postby Jairo » Thu Nov 20, 2003 4:18 pm

I had to leave a scheduled conference because they urgently needed a Serbian interpreter. So I cross Paris and when I get to Ivry the speaker tells me she has change her mind and she will speak in English. Could Babel's have a bit of tougher decission power not to break schedues?

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Postby Leda » Sat Nov 22, 2003 9:07 pm

Jairo wrote:I had to leave a scheduled conference because they urgently needed a Serbian interpreter. So I cross Paris and when I get to Ivry the speaker tells me she has change her mind and she will speak in English. Could Babel's have a bit of tougher decission power not to break schedues?

I was in Ivry and I remember that case, Jairo. I was probably one of a few available people at the Salle Babels who was told to call a list of interpreters' mobile phone numbers or to call the other Salle Babels, in quest of necessary interpreters. Some interpreters got more than one call. Those who replied to the calls later on could not talk to the person who had called them, and the one who answered the phone was not informed about the matter. The typical solution in these cases was, "just come here, now!", which in my humble opinion is not very efficient as a method.

Here's my basic critique on Babels: we can't organize interpreters properly if we don't organize ourselves, the organizers, properly... Improvisation and fire-extinguishing was the name of the game all the way, at least from where I was watching. Relatively easy planning initiatives would have avoided situations like yours. But I felt all around me a deep love for improvisation and fire-extinguishing, and a fierce resistance to any move into organizing stuff. Is that a deliberate policy, or is it just my impression?

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Postby steph » Mon Nov 24, 2003 10:12 am

Hi there

I'm not quite sure how this thing works, even though I sense it to be a wonderful tool. Could you explain it step-by-step? (sending people to go and look at other forums is not an attractive methode, I'm afraid :( )

Second : can we also talk about the positive aspects of Babels? being able to state what went wrong is very useful to avoid doing the same mistakes. But dwelling on that only, is highly "démotivant"... no?

Bon, je suis pas certaine de savoir utiliser le forum, même si j'ai l'intuition que c'est un outil formidable : une explication ne serait pas de trop (je doute qu'envoyer les gens voir ailleurs comment ça se passe soit suffisant).

Et... peut-on aussi se souvenir des belles choses au sein de Babels? mettre les problèmes à plat, c'est essentiel pour la suite. Mais si on ne fait que ça, bah.... :roll:


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Postby sylvi » Sat Dec 13, 2003 2:33 pm

a follow-up on my post in the other thread.

First of all, I think Steph and the others did a great job of the resources at hand! Frankly, I couldn´t have done it, I would have had a nervous breakdown after the first day!

But still, what went wrong or what could be improved next time?

- There was an imbalance of experienced/professional interpreters and beginners.

I know that was hard to avoid, first of all because there were more beginners than others and second, because teams had to be reorganized at the last minute (in the other thread, Steph mentioned the Women´s Assembly as an example. I was there and I know it was a complete chaos, but I think it worked out pretty well in the end).
I think a working database (of who can do what and where they are at a given time) could avoid some problems here. It would take some work to set it up, but in the long run it would make things easier.

- language combinations

I know the goal was to have three interpreters per booth, that would have been great. I also know the goal was to have all source languages covered by the two interpreters. However, more thought should be given to what languages the speakers will be using. If four out of five panel speakers speak French, then both interpreters should have French (plus another language, of course), so they can take turns. This would reduce the amount of relay interpreting. On the other hand, if there is only one French speaker, there is no point in having one interpreter who has only French, because that means the other one has to do all the other speakers or, again, there is a lot of relay.
Nothing against relay interpreting in general, but you lose some information in the best of cases, and if you have to take relay from a booth where a beginner is interpreting and isn´t doing too well, you don´t stand much of a chance.

(I guess there is no chance of actually finding out in advance whether the audience needs all the languages? In some of the smaller workshops I am quite sure that sometimes there wasn´t one single person listening to the Italian or German booth, and these resources could have been used elsewhere. But I guess that would probably be quite impossible to find out in advance.)

- number of booths

I noticed there were only four booths for five languages. When the language wasn´t French, either the booth (e.g. English) had to do the interpretation into French, or the French interpreter had to jump from one "free" booth to the other. I read the discussion on why we had these cardboard boxes, but was there such a shortage of them that we couldn´t have 5 per room? Or were there so few French interpreters?

I hope at the next conference the interpreters are more reliable and turn up when they are needed, because then planning would probably work.

Despite all my criticism: I had a great time and it was a good experience! Thanks to the team!

You really made us feel welcome in the Babels room, you cared for us, you managed a hard job well. I think it was great to have those deck chairs (la Villette) and coffee and snacks, it was a nice place to get together and relax.
And something that may seem quite trivial but does not happen at all professional conferences: Water bottles in the booths! That was one of those small gestures that gave me the feeling you cared for us.

Another thing I liked was the participants´ attitude towards the interpreters. At a "normal" conference, interpreters are taken for granted and only noticed when they do something wrong. The nice thing about being voluntary interpreters was that we weren´t "invisible", that the audience appreciated our efforts, were friendly to us, thanked us - and made an effort to speak slowly (well, not always, but many did). At several workshops the moderators actually stopped the speakers and told them to go more slowly (particularly if they were reading a text at full speed). You don´t get that at a "normal" conference. That was great!

All in all, I liked the spirit of Babels. I liked the feeling of togetherness that you only get when working together as volunteers.

Thanks again!


"PROS" versus beginners

Postby COULARDEAU Jacques » Tue Dec 16, 2003 4:56 pm

"PROS" are an illusion, a ghost and a phantom. Today's "pros" are yesterday's "beginners" and today's "beginners" will be tomorrow's "pros". So where is the problem? We have all been beginners and we will always be beginners in fields we do not know perfectly. There is no universal "pro". A "pro" always has his limits. ETC ETC ETC

Next time everyone will be a little more "professional" than last time. That is all and that has to be all.


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Postby steph » Tue Dec 16, 2003 7:55 pm

I think you're forgetting one thing, and it"s an important one. There is about one third of professional interpretors among the people doing volunteer work for Babels at ESF.
Meaning : people who's everyday job it is to translate simultaneously others. People used to spend long hours preparing themselves on obscure, political or technical issues. That makes a difference. It is a job, with its rules, ropes and tricks.
I'll say it even more easily than I'm no professional interpretor or translator myself. When I happen to be in a booth, it"s all volunteer and amateur work.
Now... this should not prevent pros doing volunteer job for Babels to be nice to their fellowwomen and men. After all, everyone of us chose to be there.


Postby Guest » Tue Dec 16, 2003 9:59 pm

Bonsoir tout le monde !
eh oui , moi aussi j'essaye ce truc :
J'avais tres envie de communiquer l'entousiasme et l'euphorie pour avoir participer comme interprete a Paris !
Normalment , en Italie , je suis artisan et cela a representer pour moi une facon de participer de "l'interieur" au forum .
J'ai mis quelques jours a me reprendre a peine retourner en Italie ( en plus , ici , il y a eu toute la retorique sur les soldats italiens morts a Nassirya . patrie . eglise . heros !?? )
J'ai beaucoup apprecier toute l'atmosphere et je retiens que , pour ce que j'ai pu constater moi-memme , nous avons reussis drolement bien a assurer les traductions .
Considerons aussi le fait que rien , mais absolument rien , n'avait ete prepare avant ! chaque fois , je suis arrive sans avoir ancune idee de ce qu'il allait se passer et se dire pour les prochaine 2-3 heures a venir !
Considerons l'entousiasme et la dediction avec laquelle nous tous , nous nous sommes lancer pour chercher d'assurer le mieux possible !
Nous avons memme fait la greve refusant de traduire avec le megaphone lors du seminaire a la villette avec Toni Negri ou 1500 personnes devaient entre dans une salle ne pouvant en contenir seulement 300 !

Je suis tres content d'avoir partiper et je ne regrette rien
J'espere avoir encore l'ocasion de le refaire
Je salue tres chaudement toutes et tous ceux avec lesquelles j'ai eu l'honneur de travailler , de rire , de boire et de manger


p.s. J'ai fait des fotos de la petite fete a la villette le vendredi soir,
je peus les envoyer via e-mail a qui veut les avoir !
(me contacter a )

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Answering Jacques ...

Postby ljesover » Thu Dec 18, 2003 8:33 am

Sorry but I am going to answer you in the other thread... concerning "pros and beginners". See you there

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Postby Laura » Sat Jan 10, 2004 3:12 am

Ok, Jairo want us to comment, so I'll do it.

1. Yes, teams were not balanced. But with 900 interpreters and 21 languages, 5 languages per room... I still wonder that it worked at all!!!

2. On wasting available resources, see point 4.

3. Yes, task division can be improved, I had very little work to do. Seeing how I am a pro, and seeing how I was not the only pro doing nothing at the check point or at home, this leads to

4. First experience interpreters were not always substituted for an available pro. Which is a petty, and a waste of resources (point 2). But seeing how many people has complained in this forum of not having much to do, we jump again to point 2: resources were wasted, because too many interpreters were engaged. And now, Babels has to pay for too many plane and train tickets. No wonder we haven't been repaid! And I need the money!



Postby Guest » Wed Feb 18, 2004 9:23 pm

How it was for me?
* Fine!
* Babel's people where doing their best and I appreciate it a lot, but ...

I also have my points to criticize:

* I was given the schedule of someone (spanish, as I am) who has french in the language combination and I CANNOT SPEAK FRENCH AT ALL!! That means, I was running from one place to another asking me why I never had to work till I began to suspect which whas the problem.

* the not back yet

* I also agree with the problem of not being aware of which languages are needed and provided at each event.

* I was told we would have all costs paid (food and lodge) and I had to pay for my own food because it was not enough. I know it is difficult to pay our food -specially to 900 interpreters- but I would have appreciated if I had known it in advance, just to organize my expenses in Paris (which is also not the cheapest city).

I will join Babel's Interpreters again, but not before I receive the money for last trip back. It was a really great experience and I had -and still have- the feeling I have done something useful for the world which is a good feeling. I have known interesting and nice people as well.


Thanks for reading ;-)

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