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Volunteer interpreters' network
Thread poster: Karin Walker
Karin Walker  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:28
German to English
+ ...
May 8, 2004

Hi there,

This is my first post on this forum - A dedicated interpreting forum was long overdue, I'm glad it's here!
Today I received a forwarded request from a friend. It concerned a client who was looking for interpreters to provide consecutive interpretation for a paper on neoliberalism to be delivered at a conference in Frankfurt later this year. I had been forwarded the entire correspondence between the client and the person who had posted this request. It turned out that the network the organiser was posting the request on is ‘babels’ (, a network of volunteer interpreters that was originally put together to “cover the interpreting needs of the Social Forums and of other international events, as defined in the calendar of the “call of the social movements”” as the website states.
This client was unwilling to have more than one interpreter provide the (consecutive) interpretation, even though the paper was going to take around one hour (and the interpreter would not be paid). He pointed out that the (high-profile) speaker was flying in from the States and that an ‘experienced interpreter’ was therefore in order. To the organiser’s credit, she did reply to him that two people would be needed, and that simultaneous interpretation would be far more suitable for the job.
While I generally applaud the rather generous idea behind this network, I am just a bit sceptical as to the quality of the service provided to customers. In its registration section the website states that “Anyone who is fluent in one or more languages other than their mother tongue is welcome to register. The network assembles qualified professional interpreters and those who are training to become professionals, as well as such persons who are not professionals but who have the relevant language skills.”
In other words, to sign up to this network you needn't be a professional (i.e. trained) interpreter, all you need is to be ‘in training’ or have the 'relevant language skills'. I guess it's one thing to gather professionals together to provide pro bono services at selected conferences on 'social' issues; it’s quite another to be placing inexperienced, untrained people in a booth at what may be a fairly high profile conference. Furthermore, the circle of conferences that they place people at seems to have grown from its original scope: the above mentioned conference is entitled "Gesteuerte Demokratie? Wie neoliberale Eliten die Politik beeinflussen" „[und hat zum Ziel neoliberalen Lobbyismus und seine Einflussstrategien in Deutschland aufzudecken, besonders auf die Politik
der Sozialreformen der letzten Monate.]“(sorry this is just in German; it's Saturday and I can't be bothered to translate this
I am open to learn more about this network and willing to revise my initial opinion on the matter so I was going to ask whether any of you had heard of this network before, or may even be a member.


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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:28
English to Spanish
+ ...
Different skill for different tasks May 8, 2004

I suppose that they can use the untrained people for simple things, such as answering mail or the like, and professional people for those high-profile events.

About volunteer work, I've done it, but never for organizations, only for individuals.

I've found that no matter how "volunteer" is an organization, there is always somebody in it who draws a monetary benefit.

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Michael Hesselnberg  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:28
French to German
+ ...
Hallo Karin May 8, 2004

[So viel Englisch kann ich gar nicht
Ich habe eine Zeit lang als ehrenamtlicher Übersetzer und dann Koordinator für die DEFR Übersetzungen bei Coorditrad gearbeitet, dem internationalen Netz ehrenamtlicher Übersetzer fur ATTAC (und verwandte Altermondialisten),das Netz funktioniert ganz gut. Babel enstand zur Dolmetschung der WSF in Porto Alegre und der ESF in Florenz und Paris,mehr wurde von BABEL gar nicht verlangt, aber wie bei jeglichem Verein begann dort eine vollkommen unerwünschte (und schädliche ) Eigendynamik), die im Moment nur Schaden hervorruft.
Beste Grüsse

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Bruno Magne  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:28
English to French
+ ...
Commentaire à la réponse de Michael May 8, 2004


si vous le permettez, je répondrai en français, car mon allemand est comme votre anglais; mais je le comprends suffisamment pour avoir saisi que, selon vous, le réseau Babel s'occuperait de l'interprétation du Forum Social Mondial de Porto Alegre. Habitant moi-même à Porto Alegre, j'ai fait partie de l'équipe de plus de cent interprètes professionnels qui a travaillé dans les trois premières éditions du FSM et nous avons toujours été (grassement) payés.

Il est vrai que le résau Babel a des collaborateurs et que certains d'entre eux ont travaillé à titre gracieux, mais, comme ils le reconnaissaient eux-même, c'était pour s'entraîner.

Cette année, pour la première fois, le FSM a fait appel aux services de Babel. Et l'année dernière, ce fut au FSE. Aucune comparaison possible. L'avantage de Babel est qu'ils sont presque tous européens et les frais de déplacement en sont réduits d'autant. Mais pour le prochain FSM, qui revient au bercail, je doute qu'ils puissent financer les milliers de dollars que "l'importation" d'interprètes, même bénévoles, représente. Et les interprètes européens dominant le portugais brésilien ne courent pas les rues. Au dernier recensement, ils étaient TROIS en France.

Bruno Magne

P.S.: Si vous avez travaillé bénévolement pour ATTAC, félicitations et bravo! La qualité des textes est vraiment de première qualité.

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Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:28
Member (2004)
English to Polish
+ ...
English as working language May 8, 2004

English is recommended as a working language in forums not specifically designated for other languages. Exceptions are allowed, as long as they do not make the discussion difficult to follow.

Could we have this discussion in one language, please?


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Matteo Latini  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:28
English to Italian
+ ...
first hand experience May 10, 2004

Hi! I'm training as an interpreter and I volunteered for some simultaneous interpreting experience with Babels both in 2002 and in 2003. I agree with Karin when she says that the idea behind Babels is a good one, but I also share her concerns about quality. For what I have seen in these two years very few of Babel's members are professionals, the majority of the volunteers are students but there are also a good number of people who have never seen a booth! that is the problem in my opinion. I have seen that students generally do a good job (I have worken in a conference where all the interpreters were students and everything went well), but of course sometimes would need help from professionals, but in most of the cases they are in the booth with even less experienced people and this certainly doesn't help them to provide good quality service. Even worse, and this has been the case in Paris, we (students) had to work from a relay being given by totally unexperienced interpreters... it was a nightmare!! there were also many problems regarding the equipment we had to use... in short: good intentions but still there is a lot to do to improve the service!
sorry for my English but the hour is late)

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Local time: 01:28
Spanish to French
+ ...
Here I am Dec 12, 2004

I have never worked as a volunteer, though I have been paid by NGO’s, I would be willing to do it though not for anybody, I almost did it this year, but they called me late in the morning for a conference that would start at 2PM in Spain, while I was surrounded by cows and sheep in the countryside, so close to England I could listen to the BBC, I am not an AIIC member but if any NGO has a problem trying to find good interpreters they are welcome to ask me for a resume in English, French or Spanish.

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