Due to technical problems, Walter Keiser has asked me to publish here his contribution to the discussion that had already been published on June 20, 2005 in the AIIC Forum
Walter KEISER (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: 20 Jun 2005 12:11
Subject: Voluntary Work. Elements for constructive debate
VOLUNTARY WORK: CONTRIBUTION TO A CONSTRUCTIVE DEBATE.
When I suggested to Peter Naumann to get his article on BABELS published in COMMUNICATE I did so hoping that this would lead to a positive debate among conference interpreters, both AIIC and non-AIIC, on the delicate and difficult subject of voluntary interpreting. Unfortunately this is not what happened. The "debate" immediately turned into personal attacks instead of substantive discussion, and aggressive criticism of AIIC, as if Peter Naumann’s article had been AIIC-piloted. In one word, a totally unproductive response. Fortunately, of late, some positive, experience-based contributions have yielded elements for a constructive debate.
Just one word about AIIC. Ever since it’s foundation, November 1953, it has been AIIC’s policy to encourage voluntary work by its members. Article 13 of the first issue of the Professional Code stipulates: "Les membres de l’Association peuvent fournir leurs services gratuitement, à condition d’assumer eux-mêmes leurs frais de voyage et de séjour éventuels (sauf dérogation exceptionnelle que le Conseil aurait consentie)".
In this contribution I am not going to talk about AIIC’s practise or policy. I am not either dealing with borderline cases, such as a mixed system of paid teams for main meetings and volunteers for secondary or satellite meetings, or cases where certain cost items such as accommodation, meals, and travel arrangements might legitimately be negotiated as being at the expense of the organisers. I also omit in this article the thorny question of how to define organisations or events "deserving" voluntary interpretation. Of course, all these elements should be part of the debate. To day I am writing as a professional conference interpreter having worked for free for a number of meetings. I am also drawing on my experience as a consultant interpreter having organised and managed teams of voluntary interpreters.
Yet, before going into this, I must take issue with a statement of principle, shall I call it credo, repeatedly brandished on the BABELS front. It stipulates that in order to faithfully and excellently interpret a political, socially engaged debate the interpreter must be deeply convinced by, and committed to, the Cause. This is totally wrong. Any conference interpreter worthy of this name is perfectly able to faithfully render any type of speech, political, economic, social, religious, even if he/she does not share the credo of the speaker. It is precisely his/her job to convincingly speak as a political pasionaria, a sober scientist, a tough trade unionist, a bible-quoting evangelist, a person deeply in grief, etc. Not to master this oratory skill is dangerous. I have seen, very rarely it is true, interpreters who were so deeply engulfed in their political credo, or marked by a terrible personal experience during a war, that in certain circumstances their feelings permeated their work, leading them to "loaded" or biased renderings. Consequence: Frequently, their interpretation caused diplomatic incidents. At worst they were fired on the spot, at best they were transferred into the Translation Service where their output could be checked before publication.
Here now my rules of conduct when organising teams for voluntary work (I simplify):
THE BASIC RULE: APART FROM THE PRINCIPLE OF A SERVICE GIVEN FREE, THERE IS NO VALID REASON FOR APPLYING TO THE WORK OF VOLUNTARY INTERPRETERS CONDITIONS DIFFERENT FROM THOSE YOU INSIST ON OBTAINING FOR NON-VOLUNTARY WORK.
Seen from the viewpoint of the consultant (recruiting) interpreter, this implies:
a) For the interpreter:
1. Together with the offer, supply of precise information about the meeting and the working conditions (languages required, number of interpreters per booth, work-load). Information about accommodation and meals, travel arrangements, insurance, etc. Qualification of the offer (firm, option, deadlines).
2. As soon as possible, information about the composition of the team(s), booth mates, etc.
3. An individual contract clearly stating the terms of recruitment.
4. Before the meeting, information about, if possible dispatching of, reference documentation, terminology, detailed session programmes, etc. Before and during the meeting, provision of texts of the oral presentations, legends of slides, PowerPoint transparents
1. Recruitment: If you can get voluntary interpreters familiar with the subject matter of the meeting all the better, but real professionals will be able very quickly to prepare any meeting. Beginners should be tested before being put on a team. By "beginners" I mean interpreters who have had advanced interpretation training, including simultaneous interpretation, but who still lack professional experience. NEVER MAN A BOOTH WITH BEGINNERS ONLY, AVOID IF AT ALL POSSIBLE LEAVING BEGINNERS ALONE IN A BOOTH. For large meetings, testing sessions should be organised before the event. Sometimes I got voluntary help from the faculty of recognized interpreters’ schools experienced in testing, sometimes assistance by consultant interpreters used to spot talents.
2. Technical conditions: THERE IS NO REASON TO PUT UP WITH SUB-STANDARD SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETATION EQUIPMENT AND/OR UNQUALIFIED TECHNICAL STAFF. I always insist on being put into touch, prior to the meeting, with the person(s) in charge of the equipment. I submit my requirements on the basis of the same "Checklist on essential items on booths and equipment for simultaneous interpretation" I use for non-voluntary events. Sometimes I even succeeded in getting for the organisers excellent equipment supplied free of charge by equipment firms. NEVER FORGET: THE BEST INTERPRETERS IN THE WORLD WILL BE UNABLE TO SECURE QUALITY WORK IF THE EQUIPMENT IS NOT GOOD.
It is my experience that professional interpreters, AIIC or non-AIIC, will gladly accept voluntary work, provided they get the assurance that the working conditions offered to them will permit optimal quality work.
I hope that from now on the debate will be about substance, not persons or passions.
Walter (Wadi) Keiser, Geneva
20 June 2005