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 Home > Event-related > European SF > FSE-ESF 2006 > Helpful documents for interpreters

[ en ]

Interpreter’s booth survival kit

(Date: 29 April 2006)


1. Room coordinators: an extinct species

2. The newest Babels species: the “Facilitator-Interpreter”

Insufficient number of room coordinators: a plague? No, a blessing

1. Room coordinators: an extinct species

Contrary to what was done in some past forums, there will be no room coordinators at the Athens ESF as the number of volunteers to take on this task is insufficient.

Far from being a catastrophe, this is an opportunity to increase team empowerment and cohesion. In fact, the room coordination function involves gathering information, identifying and reporting problems and, most of the time, making quick decisions. We as interpreters in our booths, working as a team in direct contact with the speakers/organizers with full knowledge of our needs are best positioned to do this.

Enters.. the “Facilitator-Interpreter”

2. The newest Babels species: the one-person-band “Facilitator Interpreter”

If you are a professional interpreter (with or without social forum experience) or someone with extensive interpreting experience in your personal or professional life, you are part of what Babels calls the “pro/experienced group” of interpreters. As such you naturally qualify to the noble role of “Facilitator-Interpreter”...

If you do not have as extensive an interpreting experience as the above category of Babelit@s, do not despair! You have been selected in recognition of your language skills and your interpreting experience in past social forums, so if and when the opportunity arises (as it no doubt will), take up the torch and play the role of “Facilitator-Interpreter”!


The teams in the booths are made up of a mix of pros/experienced interpreters and less-experienced interpreters.

If you are a « pro/experienced » interpreter, there are a number of responsibilities which you should take on, as the person most used to and conversant with the interpretation exercise and environment. In this role, you can expect the full support of the “less-experienced” interpreters, who are very often militant activists in the subjects addressed or have a greater experience than you with social forums. As in the professional conference context, everyone should leverage the full power of teamwork and mutual support.

What is expected from « Facilitator-Interpreters »:

Before your planned conference session:

  1. Gather all relevant info on the conference you will interpret (program, names of speakers, any available preparation/presentation documents, relevant Babels glossaries, etc....)
  2. Get the info re: the names of the colleagues working with you in your booth
  3. Get the info re: the languages and number of booths for your conference, possibly the names of colleagues in the other booths

Upon arriving to your booth (for all, arriving at least 30 minutes before the conference starts is more than recommended):

1. Get immediately organized as a team - identify the level of experience of colleagues (pros/experienced or less-experienced) in your booth AND in the other booths:
 Share the tasks defined below among pros/experienced
 Agree on collective decision-making
 Support less-experienced throughout the process
 If you identify that there is no pro/experienced in a booth, provide close support to the less-experienced colleague(s) concerned

2. Establish direct, immediate, collective (yet personalized) contact between the interpreters and the organizers/speakers: objective is to check for changes, obtain maximum information and identify potential difficulties

Very few speakers/organizers know what interpretation is about. Identify the key people who have the information we need (speakers, orders of presentations, languages used, etc). Expect last-minute surprise changes...

3. Thoroughly check for changes on the agenda AND for appropriateness of the language setup (who will speak –names/organizations-, when, topics and especially: what languages will be spoken by the speakers, and what languages will interpreters be translating into)
 ask for presentation papers (ask for extra copies if they have, no time for photocopying!, in most cases quick note-taking and passing around the booths will have to do...)
 create awareness on several levels:

  • inform speakers that they should speak clearly, loudly, control their speed:
    • they will be interpreted and some of the interpreters are not professional conference interpreters
    • they are addressing an international audience, most of whom are not native speakers
  • ask speakers to only speak the language they chose (not switching languages, nor speaking portuñol, spanglish, greekenglish, etc.)
  • identify the moderator(s)
    • assign them the task of controlling the speed of speakers
    • agree on visual signs with them to pass messages (speaking too fast, problems with sound, etc.)
    • make them aware of the need to manage microphones (speaker microphones always on, no shuffling of paper/ noise close to microphones, using microphones for all questions, etc.)

 agree with speakers/moderators to notify the audience that interpretation is available, and indicate at the start which languages will be spoken and heard in the session

  • ask them vocabulary questions,
  • have a short conversation with speakers, on their topics, etc., get used to their accents
  • develop credibility and visibility with them, making them aware that we are volunteer militant interpreters, not free service providers

4. Establish direct, immediate, collective contact between the interpreters and the ALIS sound/interpretation equipment people and make sure the technical setup is in place – work as a team
 Check the technicians are present
 Check interpretation functionality: channels, relay, etc.
 Check quality of sound, test that all microphones work, test all the booths

5. Based on the status information from the organizers and the status information from the ALIS/sound/interpretation equipment people, validate the relevance of the interpretation setup:
 If confronted with agenda changes or problems which call into question the planned setup:

  • Gather the interpreter team quickly and decide as a team (ask Babels back-office for support as needed)
  • Make sure all members in the team are consulted/informed
     Ensure that all booths/colleagues understand the setup: channels, relay, passive and active language, retour, etc

6. Check that all scheduled colleagues are present (in your own booth, but also in the other booths – make sure that no less-experienced colleague is alone in his/her booth) – quickly report anyone missing to the Babels back-office

7. Check the presence of water, pen and paper in all booths

8. Circulate information quickly through the booths – organize information sharing/circulation because time is of the essence

9. Reporting back to Babels’ back-office

Identify a means to communicate with the Babels back-office (intercom, cell
phone, etc.) to report problems or ask for backup interpreters

10. Manage environment around the booths
 ensure silence around the booths
 make sure participants do not stand in front of the booth, blocking the view of interpreters

11. Hold a roster with names of interpreters present (versus schedule) to keep track of interpreters who do not show up, etc.

At the end of the conference:

Keep all interesting words you and others have jotted down on any odd bits of paper in order to feed the Babels lexicon project and keep building our terminology database.

Last but not least, enjoy the experience and have a great time, contributing to a major event with your skills, time and personal efforts!

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