Integrity Languages


Brexit and the Future of Interpreting Part II

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 30, 2016


I remember sitting in a church meeting once where the preacher was waxing lyrical about the vision of the organisation. Next to me, my wife sat nonplussed. Afterwards, she said to me “what he said sounded great but I was waiting for him to tell me how we were going to do it.”

Perhaps my last post left you in that position. Well, while I am no Nostradamus, I do have a few ideas of how we not only weather this storm but catch a few fish too.


  • Let’s make good headlines


Even before swathes of the UK rushed headlong into Brexit (or something like it), I was arguing that we need to change the way lobby for status. Arguing that we are necessary is a very limited strategy. Arguing that we make a positive difference isn’t.


This is even more important now. We need to immediately begin pushing (suitably anonymised) stories of what it is we do and how we make a positive difference. In a news world dominated by political wrangling and falling shares, people are hungry for good news. Let’s give it to them with both barrels, advertising that we are still open for business and still adding to the UK and EU economy.


In fact, this is the very thing that Prof Ian Mason was arguing for at the current Critical Link conference in Edinburgh. So, here it is, from today, I challenge all interpreters to post anonymised stories of the difference they make to their clients and tag it (on facebook, twitter or Instagram) with the #visible1nt hashtag. Let’s take hold of our own PR!


  • Let’s get organised


No, I am not in favour of an interpreters’ union. Instead, I want to suggest that we create networks, both locally and nationally, to make it easier and simpler for clients to get in contact with great interpreters. Let’s construct ready-made teams that can bid for the congresses, fora and negotiations that will doubtless come up. Let’s tell clients how they can find expert interpreters in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, in Liverpool, in Manchester, wherever and however they need them and let’s partner with people in related services.


Also, we desperately need to start regular interpreter meetups to encourage and help each other. I will be creating one in Edinburgh (click that link). If you send me a link, I will add yours too.


  • Let’s create


We need to be driving positive change and the only way to do that is to get together and brainstorm, thinking wild and free about what might be possible. Then we need to get ours heads together with national associations to implement the things that the industry really needs. No one else is going to change our profession except us and our associations.


  • Let’s find opportunity


In his book, Power to Create, Tim Redmond talks about two kinds of business people. One kind, when faced with a big problem, go into a steep nosedive of worry, doubt and fear. If they recover, it’s by some miracle but their confidence is never the same. The other kind of businessperson sees the same problem but refuse to be knocked out by it. In his words, they “hover” over the problem, praying about it, thinking about it, reading about what others did in similar situations – refusing to let it go until they find an answer.


For people like that, every problem is just a new opportunity to grow. If it sounds like a cliché, it is because it almost feels too good to be true but it isn’t.


Take me, for example. As well as being an interpreter, I am an interpreting researcher. In the early days of my PhD, I would hit the floor at every problem and bump in the road. Funding denied? Cue two days of whining and moaning. Book unavailable? Cue at least an hour of complaining. You get the picture.


Eventually, I realised that that is a loser strategy. I never grew and complaining never helped. Slowly, painfully, I learned the skill of bouncing. Yes, rejection and problems still hurt. This week, I heard about another funding rejection, which still stung. But it didn’t take me all day to get back on my feet. There truly is a way to take even the most unpromising result and make something of it. If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t even be here to write this.


Does Brexit still hurt? You bet it does. Can we afford to let it cripple us? No way.


Interpreters, we have a duty to our profession, to our fellow professionals, to our countries and to ourselves to face this down. Let’s make good headlines, get organised, create and find opportunities together. No one really knows where the Brexit wagon is heading but I know that interpreter can find a way to make the world a better place while it trundles along. Who’s with me?

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