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10 Lessons from Paternity Leave

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 5, 2018

Integrity Languages has been a bit quieter than usual, as we celebrated the birth of our fourth child in September. While I send off some important projects, here are a few lessons from my paternity leave.

  1. You can only truly discover what is in a nappy when you unfasten it; you can only truly know what a project will be like when you do it.
  2. It is absolutely possible to answer emails while burping a baby but do wear a muslin cloth.
  3. Learning is always quicker when you are having fun.
  4. If an “expert” knows the answer to every question, they have never met children under 7.
  5. Everything is fun to someone. Join them and you will have fun too.
  6. There is no hobby, no matter how esoteric, that someone cannot make money from using YouTube and a bit of imagination.
  7. The best days are those when you end up so tired you are asleep by the time your head hits the pillow.
  8. If you put crazy ideas on twitter, lots of people will actually want them to become reality.
  9. Trust German podcast co-hosts to be organisational geniuses
  10. Being a consultant interpreter means you have to be able to act as a consultant interpreters as well as buyers.

If you would like to see one of those lessons turned into a full blog post, drop me a comment.

Replacing interpreters with interpreters who know technology

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 13, 2018

Interpreters will not be replaced by technology; they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology – Bill Wood, company founder, DS Interpretation

That quote has become the interpreting equivalent of translators answering “it depends on context” to even the simplest question and agencies asking for “your best rate”. But what does it mean and is it accurate? Even more to the point, why should you care if you are buying interpreting?

The “undeniable facts” of interpreting technology

The impulse behind the quote that started this post seems to be these five “undeniable facts”:

  • After a slow start, new technologies are now filtering into interpreting and shaping work,
  • And they will continue to do so,
  • Those who learn how to use the technologies to their benefit and to the benefit of their clients gain a first mover advantage in the marketplace,
  • Those who lag behind are in danger of having out-dated business models that will not survive after everyone clambers to get on the high-tech bandwagon,
  • Therefore, it is a good business strategy to learn technologies now!

Now, apart from the fact that those facts have been true to some degree at any point in the development of the modern interpreting profession (which is only about 60-70 years old anyway, if we concentrate on conference interpreting), there is plenty of room to debate how far those five assumptions are both accurate and meaningful.

And of course, this still sidesteps the question of  their application to other forms of interpreting. What affects the conference hall might not touch the courts; the difference maker in the doctor’s office might have no effect on the negotiating room.

So, are new technologies changing interpreting? From the point of view of interpreters, yes they are (depending on where and how you work). From the point of view of clients, it remains to be seen. Can clients tell the difference between remote interpreting and in-person interpreting? That remains to be tested. 

Will technologies continue to filter into interpreting? Well, yes but that is practically a truism in any profession. Try to find an accountant who still keeps paper cashbooks or a lawyer who never looks up case law online.

Now what about the first mover advantage and the slow mover disadvantage? As a researcher, I have to say that I have seen absolutely zero objective evidence that interpreters who are adopting any form of technology are seeing any economic advantage (one for a PhD student to study, methinks). And we all know our share of old-school interpreters, who think that being high-tech means accepting contracts by email, yet they still make a packet.

Why People Forecast the Triumph of Interpreting Technology

The famed competitive advantage of adopting technology is a forecast, rather than a reality. We think it will be that way because that forecast serves the purpose of … selling technology. I really don’t think clients care a hoot whether we have a paperless booth or turn up with an armful of vellum scrolls. Results, not techniques, are the order of the day.

There is, of course, the rather more sound economic argument that technologies can increase service availability and so allow more streams of income. That kind of works … until we read research that tells us about video remote sign language interpreters ending up with worse pay and conditions than their in-person colleagues. If there is an economic advantage to that technology, it isn’t being felt by the interpreters. And I doubt it is being seen by the buyers either.

A More Realistic View

Adopting technology for the sake of adopting technology is a really cruddy business strategy. Being smart and adopting technologies that allow you to offer better service levels and products that are better suited to your market is much better.

So maybe the quote should actually be “interpreters will not be replaced by technology but by interpreters who make smart business decisions as to the technologies they adopt.”. Admittedly, that isn’t as good a soundbite. But it is more intellectually honest.

What about buyers?

My advice to buyers is simple. Take a good look at what you are being offered. If you receive a quote with a load of techno-babble you don’t understand, walk away. If, instead, you get chatting with someone who actually cares to find out what you are trying to achieve and sends a quote explicitly showing you how it can be done, you have found the right person.

It’s not about high-tech or low-tech; it’s about getting the right tech to deliver what the buyer wants. And if that means vellum scrolls this week and shiny apps the next, so be it. The interpreting world is too complex for short quips to sum it up.

 

Everything you need to know about untranslatable words

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 19, 2018

They don’t exist.

That’s it.

 

 

Yeah, I know, that’s kind of disappointing but it’s true.

Throw “manscaping” at any of the interpreters I work with and ask them how to say it in another language and they will not shrivel up and tell you it’s impossible.

I don’t work with interpreters who look at words and run away shrieking “that’s impossible.”

They will probably say those immortal, almost stereotypical translator/interpreter words: “it depends on context.”

Come across “manscaping” at an academic philology conference and the interpreters will handle it one way. Throw them it during an international convention on the male beauty industry and they will deal with it differently.

Same with “sobremesa“, “esprit d’escalier” or literally any other “untranslatable word” you care to mention.

None of them are worthy of the name because interpreting isn’t about finding the word for “irn-bru” in German or the English for “laïque”. Interpreters produce language based on meaning, intention, purpose and, yes, context.

That’s why we take as much interest in what you are trying to do at your next meeting as we do in the terminology you use. That’s why knowing the agenda and the goals of the meeting are just as important (if not more so) than knowing your preferred German word for “dumper truck”.

What you need to know about every single article on untranslatable words, apart from this satirical one, is that they are all poor simplifications of what translation or interpreting actually are. You can safely use them for entertainment and nothing else.

And when you really want to understand what is going on, when your business success depends precisely on your presentation being as persuasive in French as it is in English, drop me an email.

Signs of a GDPR Fakespert

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 26, 2018

Hello and welcome to the 2018 edition of The Millenium Bug. Today, we will be looking at GDPR fakesperts. What’s a fakespert? If an expert is someone who makes their money off the back of having real knowledge of a subject and helping people make effective decisions, a fakespert is someone whose only skills involve repacking generic advice into mega-courses, only available if you sign up for their mailing list (and pay £99.95).

With GDPR coming into force across the EU in May, there has been plenty of scope for real experts to make their mark (thank you Information Commissioner’s Office here in the UK) and for fakesperts to don their shiniest suits and sell their stuff.

How do you tell the difference? Here is a rather cheeky guide to what to look for in a GDPR fakespert.

  • Fakesperts conspicuously don’t mention availability of ICO guidance 

The first sign of a fakespert is that the sell themselves as the be-all-and-end-all, fountain of knowledge and never, ever mention their sources. Here in the UK, anyone who doesn’t mention that the best and fullest information is found on the ICO website is likely a fakespert. The real experts will mention the ICO and sell their services as distilling the screeds of ICO advice into simple, easy-to-apply practices for your business.

  • The closest they have ever been to SARs is feeling out of breath once

This is a bit of a data protection in-joke. An SAR (Subject Access Request to give it its Sunday name) is a request filed by someone who wishes to know what personal information an organisation holds on them. At the moment, they cost £10 in the UK and, depending on the organisation can cost much, much more to actually do.

If someone has never seen, much less had to manage SARs, it is likely that their expertise in data protection law and GDPR is more theoretical than practical. Even though SARs are thankfully rare, you probably want someone who has had the “joy” of helping a company through the existing legislation to help you through the new rules.

  • Until last week, they thought the ICO were the people who ran the Olympics 

A proper GDPR expert will know the name of the organisation responsible for data protection in your country and will definitely be familiar with their materials and guidance. If, for example, they get them mixed up with the governing body of an event where people win medals for the marathon, they will not be helpful to you in the long run [pun intended].

  • Their only training is a £29.99 course, which they are now repackaging into a £99.99 expert briefing 

GDPR is complex. It’s principles are relatively straightforward but their application is varied and depends on so many factors that it makes your head spin. Real GDPR experts, even if they haven’t yet led a company through existing requirements, will have spent days trying to get their head round the relevant laws and their application to your country.

The best of the best will already have a background in a role that would have involved expertise in existing legislation. They might be accountants, info security managers, data protection officers, lawyers or something similar. Sometimes, there might be someone in your specific field who has done their homework but it will pay to make sure that they are getting their training from the right places.

  • They are happy to sell you generic advice but won’t even consider coming to your office to help out in person 

A few bullet points with platitudes about “keeping records up-to-date”, “having clear opt-ins” and “getting a good privacy policy” aren’t enough for you to make the right decisions. What might those general principles mean to you? How do they apply in your situation?

It’s likely that you need a helping hand, rather than a teacher’s blackboard. If the most you can get from someone is a smart-looking video and a 5 point plan, keep your credit card in your pocket. At very least, you will need someone who can give you specific answers to you specific questions, even if those answers are “we don’t know yet.”

Just as the Millenium Bug turned semi-decent programmers into megabucks consultants, there is a real danger that GDPR will turn fly-by-night operators into Data Protection Gurus. I am anything but a GDPR expert. I am a consultant interpreter. But together we can make sure that we bypass the fakesperts and spend cash wisely on getting the advice and help that will not only ensure we pass the legal checks but run a much more streamlined, efficient business.

How to Fail at Pitching

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 20, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception that came when I wrote my Comprehensive Guide for Pitching. It was originally aimed at pitching to magazines but the guidelines (which have subsequently also appeared in the ATA Chronicle) apply just as well to writing pitches for guest blog posts or even asking for work.

 

That brings me to today’s post. Recently, I have begun receiving more pitches asking for a guest post on this blog as well as companies trying to sell me their products and services. Sadly, however, most of them have not been of a high standard. Since it seems that several of my colleagues are experiencing the same thing, I thought I would put together a hit list of ways to ensure that your pitch fails.

 

  1. Don’t bother checking the contribution history

 

Does it really matter that the blog or publication only ever has posts from the same people or that everyone comes from the same company? It’s not as if they will have made a deliberate decision as to whose voice they want to publish, right? Obviously, if they have made a decision as to what to cover, offering them something completely different will rarely result in acceptance. In fact, they are more likely to see you as a time waster.

 

The same goes if you are trying to sell a product. If the person running the website only ever talks about conference interpreting equipment and building interpreting teams, attempts to sell them Desktop Publishing services or expensive Translation Management Systems are unlikely to succeed.

 

  1. Forget the hook

 

All that stuff about reading previous issues and doing research sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it. Maybe you should just lob a generic pitch on a subject that has been covered a million times. It will be fine, won’t it? Guess again.

 

  1. Don’t proofread

 

Should we expect someone calling themselves a professional writer to send pitches that are grammatically sound and don’t contain any spelling errors? Or should you just hope that the no editor or site owner is not going to judge your writing skills based on your pitch? I will leave that to you to decide.

 

  1. Leave out all the stuff about targeting your pitches

 

Maybe I am the only person in the entire world who ever wonders, “why on earth am I getting this email?” It does surprise me to receive a pitch for a post on computer assisted translation tools supposedly aimed at a blog that deals with interpreting and events management. Trying to work out where a post will fit is the sort of challenge that busy people will tend to pass up.

 

  1. Start with a bunch of qualifications and history

 

We all know that the one thing editors and bloggers absolutely love reading on a Friday afternoon is the history of how long your company has been running and how many degrees your founders have. They fall over themselves to read about all the different services you offer, especially when a sum total of none of them are actually relevant to your pitch. In fact, the longer it takes them to actually figure out what on earth you are trying to tell them, the happier they are. That might just have been sarcastic.

 

  1. Use a generic salutation

 

We are in the 21st century so surely no one actually wants you to bother finding out their name or address them personally. “Dear Linguist” has that impersonal feeling that makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. And of course “hi” with no name will always be a classic. Even better, go all formal with “Dear Sir/Madam”, especially if you have sent them a message via the contact form on the website that actually tells you their name! There is no quicker way to get rejected than failing to even write a personalised salutation.

 

  1. Completely ignore guidelines and forms

 

Websites are designed with forms for a reason. Shove your email in the topic line, drop a call to action in the email box and do whatever you like with the rest of it. It will really make you stand out from the crowd in ways you cannot even begin to imagine, none of them good.

And please, if there are pitching guidelines on things like length and style, do adhere to them. If you don’t, you might as well give up before you even start.

 

 

Yes, I admit, this post has been rather heavy-handed in places. I have no doubt that those sending requests for blog posts or trying to sell their services are doing so for all the right reasons. But, since pitching essentially boils down to asking someone you have never met to do you a huge favour, it really does make sense to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Whether it seems fair or not, they will expect you to have done the research and targeting necessary to make your pitch relevant, professional and compelling. After all, it’s exactly what they will expect from your contribution and services too.

5 Signs You Hired a Conference Interpreter from Edinburgh

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 6, 2016

Edinburgh

 

If you have worked with interpreters a few times, you will realise that each one is slightly different. Want to know if your interpreters might have spent a lot of their career in Edinburgh? Here’s how you can tell.

 

1. They can predict when the words “haggis” and “whisky” will be mentioned.

After a few years on the Scottish conference circuit, it becomes really easy for conference interpreters to predict the contents of any introductory speech. There is, apparently, an iron law that says that you must mention two of Scotland’s most famous products within five minutes of starting any event. Maybe it’s to do with the fact that so many people associate those products with Scotland (even though the nation has invented so much else); maybe its because speakers easily fall into reusing old clichés. Whatever it is, it makes interpreting just that bit more predictable.

 

2. Accents? No problem.

By the time they have managed to interpret Aberdonian, Glaswegian, West Highlands and, of course, Geordie, no accent at any event ever scares an Edinburgh conference interpreter. It doesn’t matter whether their target language is French, Spanish or Chinese, they can deal with whichever speaker comes up.

 

3. They have been to all the best hotels in their home city but never stayed overnight.

For clients, the bonus of using a local interpreter is that you don’t need to pay for accommodation. For interpreters, the strange side-effect is that you might never get to find out whether the hotel actually has any rooms that don’t contain a digital projector, a fully quipped PA system and at least four soundproof interpreting booths.

 

4. They have interpreted in the rain.

Even if they leave for another market within a few years, ask any conference interpreter who has been on the Edinburgh market and they will be able to tell you stories of interpreting outdoors, in the rain. Is it just a quirk of Scottish weather? Is it a mark of how hardy they are? It could be both but that experience will mean that interpreters from Edinburgh know how to go the extra mile for clients (and where to find a smart rainproof coat … and a pharmacist that sells cold medicine).

 

5. Within five minutes of arriving anywhere, they become a walking public transport encyclopaedia.

Given that almost all of Edinburgh can be reached within two buses, Edinburgh conference interpreters soon get their heads around any public transport system you care to mention. When you live in a city with a 24 hour-a-day GPS-tracked bus service, plotting journeys becomes second nature and you expect to be able to do the same everywhere you go. Want to know how to get to your nearest airport at 4am, while carrying a large suitcase? Ask your nearest interpreter from Edinburgh.

 

 

They are hardy, they are friendly and they get to know new cities within a few hours. They are conference interpreters from Edinburgh. No matter which part of Scotland your next event might visit, if you are looking for interpreters, contact me and let’s create an impactful event together.