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Fake Interpreters: How to Avoid Them

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 13, 2014

If the fake interpreter scandal has done nothing else, it has alerted interpreting clients to the possibility that cutting costs could lead to irreversible damage. This is why I have taken the time to compile a short list of tips to make sure that it isn’t your name and face in the headlines beside a picture of a fake interpreter.

Check their identity

If it wasn’t bad enough that people with no interpreting skills are calling themselves interpreters, there is currently a rash of CV scamming where people steal the CV of a real translator or interpreter and then pass it off as their own. The first stage of avoiding fakes is therefore to check the identity of the person you are talking to. There are several simple ways to do this.

1)    Who wrote the CV?

If you are sent a CV, your first job is to verify that it is actually the CV of the person who sent it. As well as checking for obvious errors such a telephone numbers with the wrong country code, glaring grammar and spelling errors, date mismatches, etc, it is always worth running one quick check. If the CV is in a Word format, and you are running Windows, right-click the file and open the “Properties” box. Under the “details” tab, check that the names listed next to “Author” and “Last Saved by” are the same as the name of the person who is claiming to send you the CV.  If they don’t match, delete the CV and ignore the person sending the email. You might also want to report them to a good CV scam reporting website.

On this point, it is useful to note that traditional checks, such as asking for passport scans or social security numbers are just not up to the job. Many professionals object to these checks as, while they look like they give you useful information to verify their identity, they also give you information that would allow you to steal their identity. Add to this the fact that passport scan can easily be faked with good editing software and they quickly become a waste of time.

2)    Google them

Once you are confident about their CV, it is worth googling the person. While you aren’t likely to find snapshots of them at previous assignments due to privacy agreements, you should be able to find some kind of digital trace of them. If they are contributing to blogs, being mentioned on websites and getting listed on the websites of professional associations (see a later point), you can start to build up a picture of their attitude to work and their level of experience. You can also use this stage to verify that their contact details (email addresses, phone numbers, etc) are consistent everywhere

3)    Pick up the phone

If they give you a phone number and it is right for their country, giving them a phone is a great idea. Not only will you get to hear what their voice sounds like (a vital part of interpreting into spoken languages) but you will be able to chat to them about the assignment and give them some of the details they will need to work well. This goes for working with agencies too. A five minute phone call with some intelligent questions can tell you more than a lifetime of google searches.

Check they are qualified

Again, this is where the old checks fall flat. Asking for copies of diplomas is not, in itself, enough to check someone’s qualifications. In addition, unless you really know the world of interpreting qualifications well, knowing that someone has a Diploma in Interpreting from the University of Mutebutton won’t tell you a lot. Add to this the fact that diploma scans, like passport scans, are easily faked by people who know what you are doing and they quickly become useless.

It is much better to check their membership status with a professional organisations. Worldwide, AIIC is the number one organisation for conference interpreters, although not all excellent interpreters are AIIC members, for various reasons. In the UK, ITI is your reference organsation for spoken languages and , ASLI, SASLI and NRCPD are your reference organisations for sign languages. Not all members will be listed publicly on their websites for various reasons but again, it is a useful check to run. Ideally, membership should be dependent on the criteria that will matter to you: experience, client feedback and some form of proof that they know what they are doing.

While organisations might differ in whether they will welcome phone calls to check membership status, at very least, you can use their websites to check what membership actually means.

Check they are good

Sad to say, checking qualifications is not enough. In some areas of interpreting, not all qualified interpreters are good and not all good interpreters are qualified. The best way to check competence is to ask for references, especially where these come from people who have actually heard or seen the interpreter working and can measure the results. However, since not all clients are happy to give feedback to other clients, this is where a good phone call works wonders, as does a test, if you can run one.

On the phone, you might want to ask them some questions about previous experience, taking into account that non-disclosure agreements might prevent some information from being shared. Still, all interpreters love to share their “war stories” and all interpreters will have at least one project they are proud of that they are happy to tell you about.

You might also want to ask about their Continued Professional Development, if they have preferred boothmates or interpreting partners and how they plan to develop their careers. In short, the more they care about their job, the more likely it is they will do a good job for you. The more important the assignment is going to be, the more vital these sorts of questions should be for you.

As for testing, if you have the chance, running a small-scale (paid!) trial of a few interpreters with people who speak the language involved will give you the best idea of what the interpreter can do. Remember, however, that word-for-word accuracy might actually be a sign of a lazy interpreter, rather than a good one. Ask people how comfortable they would be hearing the interpreter for the length of the assignment and whether they are confident in the interpreter’s ability.

Too long; didn’t read?

If all that seems a lot of work, it could well be. On the other hand, it could well be a lot more work to clean up after an interpreting disaster. If you have worked with interpreters before, you can skip a lot of stages by simply asking them who they would recommend. One general rule still applies: the more important the assignment, the more time you should spend making sure you get an excellent interpreter.

Back to Basics

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 22, 2013

In today’s social media-mad world, it is all too easy to forget that people still want to get great service at a fair price, delivered by people they can trust. We can tweet all we like but unless we are delivering what clients want, it won’t make a scrap of difference. Under all the buzz, there has to be something worth paying for.

In the past year or so, I have become a regular columnist in the ITI Bulletin, rejoined the board of directors of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, and created a new service for those people who want to improve their public speaking. Sadly, in all the excitement around these developments, my business website went unloved and unchanged. Sure, I might have tightened up the odd word here and there but it was still unclear where to find information and the site itself was beginning to look a bit ragged.

So I decided to freshen things up. Now all the services I offer can be found, at a glance, on the About page (complete with a picture!), there is an RSS feed for blog posts and a direct link to my business twitter feed. Couple that with a new design that is much more light and airy and it all becomes much easier and more pleasant to find your way around.

It’s all about making it easy for you to get the information and services you want. Feel free to leave some feedback on the new design either in a comment to this post or using by clicking the “Contact” page.

Jonathan

The Importance of Good Briefs

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 10, 2011

Part 2

Last week, we looked at the importance of giving as much information as possible to the translators and interpreters you work with. This week, we will continue this theme with a little known fact:

  • The purpose of a service determines the best person to deliver it

Would you ever go to a lawyer and ask them to take your blood pressure? Would you ever ask a dentist to fly the space shuttle? Would you expect a mailroom assistant to be the best salesperson in a company? Why not?

We are used to the fact that different people have different skills. The skills required of lawyers are different to those required of ministers. Doctors go through different training than salespeople. The same rule applies to translators and interpreters – different language professionals are best suited to different jobs.

If you want someone to interpret at a conference on vacuum cleaners, it makes sense that you would want someone who a) is a trained conference interpreter b) is decently pleasant to listen to and c) knows something about vacuum cleaners and d) is willing to learn about the things they do not know yet.

If you want someone to translate a patent for a new drug, you will not want to call on the same person who interpreted at the vacuum cleaner conference. This time, you will want someone who a) has translated patents before and b) has a strong enough knowledge of drug terminology to be able to use it correctly.

For the sake of ensuring that the service you are paying for does the job that you want it to do, it pays to find the right person. Taking shortcuts by going for the cheapest provider will only end up costing more in the long run. Think of the malpractice suits and legal costs you would face if you call someone to interpret in a healthcare setting and they are not able to meet the required standard. Think of the lost sales you would have if your brochures are well presented but have badly written content. Think of the loss of impact if the person who interprets your sermon has no clue about anything to do with church

We have all seen laughable examples of translations that were obviously not done by paid professionals with the right skills but noone wants it to be their work in the spotlight. What damage would it do if it was your name above the poorly written slogan or your website with the unfortunate phrasing?

There is always a temptation to go for the cheaper option but it pays to go for the option that will produce a better, more suitable finished product. After all, the translation or interpreting you are paying for is there to serve a purpose. At some point, your current and future customers, colleagues or readers will need to use what you paid for. It makes sense to give them the best.

So there you go, if you want a translation that works, if you want interpreting that does the job, hire the right people and give them the right information. With that combination, you are on to a winner.

The Importance of Good Briefs

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 3, 2011

Part I

If you are reading this, the chances are that you know that you need translation or interpreting. You might want to hold a meeting with people in another country or you might have a message that you want them to read or hear. There are almost as many reasons for commissioning translation or interpreting as there are projects that require them. Nevertheless, all these projects have one thing in common: they all exist for a purpose. In the words of translation theorist, Christiane Nord, translation and interpreting:

should function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely the way they want it to function.
(Christiane Nord, Translation as a Purposeful Activity, 1997/2007, p. 29, translating Hans Vermeer)

This might seem pretty obvious. After all, no sane businessperson would spend their hard-earned corporate cash on translation or interpreting unless they had a good reason to do so. On the other hand, if we bear in mind that translation and interpreting is always provided for a specific purpose, we can use this knowledge to improve the quality of the product we will receive. The rest of this short article will examine one way to apply this knowledge.

  • The more translators and interpreters know about the purpose for their work, the better they work.

This is not exactly rocket science but it is amazing how many disagreements could be avoided if we bore this in mind. There is a very simple discipline that will improve the quality of the translation and interpreting you receive without costing any more money – never send a request for translation or interpreting without a brief.

What exactly is a brief? Well, think of it in project management terms. Before commissioning a large corporate project, people spend time thinking about the project timescale, the nature of the project, its purpose and some key indicators to be used to measure its success.

The same information can be used to commission translation or interpreting. Spending a few minutes communicating the timescale, purpose, intended audience and expectations you have for the translation or interpreting project will give the language professionals you work with a much better idea of exactly what you want.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were changing jobs and relocating to a different country. In order to get through the recruiting process, you would need someone to translate your CV. You would tell the translator all about where you wanted to move to, the position you were after and even the kinds of companies you wanted to work for. They would then be able to produce a translation that was especially tailored for your target market and would offer you the best chance of succeeding. The relevant information from your original CV would still be there but it would be arranged in a way that would have the greatest impact on the people you wanted to impress.

You can see from this simple example why a better brief will lead to a better translation. The more high quality information you can give to translators and interpreters, the more they can tailor their services to your needs. This actually leads us to the point we will discuss next week.