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Going to a conference almost clueless
Thread poster: Muna khleifat
Muna khleifat  Identity Verified
Jordan
Local time: 09:24
Arabic to English
+ ...
Nov 3, 2006

Hi everyone,

The other day I had to interpret in a medical conference . I was given a very short notice, but I accepted the challenge. The point , however, is that the only document I was given a night earlier was the agenda. So I looked up the terms mentioned there and tried to read about the topics from WHO site and the ICRC site, I also tried Google. I couldn't find similar topics, and I was not able to tell whether I should read what I found for they were irrelevant, given the fact that I didn't have time to waste on going through each of them to find out whether they were related or not.

When I went there, my colleague who is really known to be a genius interpreter gave me all the related terms, he said he had learnt them from a previous similar conference he had interpreted, thanks to his help things went well, and I did really really good.

My question is," what is the right thing to do in such cases"?Even when we are informed about an event with sufficient time ahead but given no documents(especially if it's this technical), how should one prepare themselves. We very rarely receive the conference documents before we go to the site. The only document we often receive is the agenda.

Thanks in advance,

Muna

[Edited at 2006-11-03 19:53]

[Edited at 2006-11-03 20:10]


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Kathi Stock  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:24
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Embrace the challenge...and do the best you can Nov 3, 2006

You are not the only one with this experience. It happens...

The bottom line is: If the organizers of the conference are interested in making the conference a full success...they will provide scripts so that the interpreters can be prepared. It doesn't have to be the exact script....but at least material to get familiar with the topic and the specific terminology.

I guess you were lucky that you had such a helpful colleague on your side.

What I do in such cases....I try to do research about the company holding the conference and their products etc. on the internet. That's actually all you can do. Sometimes they provide material in the course of the conference...then you are at least able to be better prepared for the next day. But that's about all you can do.



[Bearbeitet am 2006-11-03 20:07]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:24
English to French
+ ...
Clients need to be educated Nov 3, 2006

I think this problem is caused by the fact that clients don't have a clue of what an interpreter's work involves. They often tend to think that an interpreter is a walking dictionary of all terms that exist in the universe and that those terms just pop into their head immediately when needed.

It should be the interpreter's job to educate clients beforehand - there is no other way for the client to know that you are not a walking electonic dictionary.

I suggest you - or someone else - write an article on how to buy the services of an interpreter, aimed at clients. Then, you can refer any potential or new client to the article as soon as they consider you for an assignment. You will still stumble upon clients who will ignore some basic things, but the more you work with them, the more they will understand this and they will watch out for these things in the future. You can also give feedback to clients once the job is done and tell them politely that you could have done an even better job if you would have had access to the terminology beforehand.

In the end, it's just a matter of educating the client - the same thing translators need to do. We will never stress this enough!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
Many Times Nov 3, 2006

It's happened to me many times. All the tips provided here are good ones, yet it will still happen, plus you may not have the benefit of an expert at your side.

It comes with the territory. Eventually the more experience you have, the more you will know and you will be able to do better and better.

But it will always happen again.


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Embrace your colleague Nov 4, 2006

..and give him whatever is considered as a nice gift in your environment..



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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 09:24
French to English
+ ...
my hints... Nov 4, 2006

When I was working as an interpreter - albeit a staffer, this sort of thing was always happening. From my experience, here are a few tips:

1) you should have explained to the person you contacted you for the assignment that it was vital for you to have background information, even in the form of the minutes or proceedings of previous such events. Often people need to be prompted. They fail to see that this sort of past material can help. It doesn't matter if your contact was an agency or the organisers of the conference themselves. They need to know for next time. It is important they understand that you are not asking so you can take short cuts but so you can provide a better, more complete service. You will never guess how many times, I have heard the words "so you want to do it the easy way"....... Take a deep breath, smile and explain patiently to them how it really works.

2) assuming that you were doing the usual sort of simultaneous assignment, I presume it was fair to suppose that you would not be alone in the booth. Rule 1: ask for the name and contact details of your booth companion and contact that person right away. They are often the source of valuable input. In your case, this would clearly have been so.

3) ALWAYS ARRIVE EARLY at the event. If it is a big conference, there are usually people handing out badges and material to delegates. Grab yourself a copy and get reading. Try to locate the speakers and ask them for a copy of their written material. 99% of them will have some and, if asked nicely, will always provide.

4) COFFEE BREAKS - use these to go after more material. Speak to the Chairman and/or Secretary of the event. They should be able to point you in the right direction. The advantage of this is that afterwards they know you and will be more helpful and friendly next time round, if there is a next time. Otherwise talk to delegates whenever possible: you can pick up all sorts of interesting titbits that may come in useful.

5) LUNCH BREAKS - repeat the process and/or study everything you have been able to lay your hands on in the meantime.

6) Never forget to thank everybody profusely for their cooperation. A spoonful of sugar always helps the medicine go down.

7) Afterwards, keep copies of everything and prepare a vocabulary list as an investment in the future.

It all seems obvious but sometimes it does no harm to write it down
HTH
Chris


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:24
English to French
+ ...
Reply to Chris Nov 5, 2006

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I can tell you are trying to help.

However, if I was to get there early, spend my coffee break AND my lunch break running after material, I don't think I'd be at my best to do a great job. Also, reading THAT much material would take more time than a few breaks, even if I speedread the stuff.

I don't mind doing some extra work, but I also want to be in good shape for the event. Not to mention that I also would be spending my time (unpaid) working when everybody is having coffee/a meal...

Isn't all this a little unhealthy? Has it really come to this?

All the best


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 09:24
French to English
+ ...
Reply to Viktoria Nov 5, 2006

Thank you for your put-down - "trying to help" indeed!

I was describing - as briefly as possible because apparently people don't like to read long posts - what you COULD do if faced with the dire situation outlined at the outset. Desperate times, desperate measures.

As it happens, correct me if I'm wrong but interpreters are paid (good) daily rates, they are usually offered the free coffee and often even the free lunch (in my experience). Putting in a little groundwork over lunch or coffee has never killed anyone in my experience. And the more you understand what is going on, the less stressed out you are and the easier doing your job should be.

The other point is that, if you show an interest and show willing, there is every likelihood of your being asked for a repeat performance and, again in my experience, the next time you will be given more notice, all the information and the chance to prepare properly.

It's called investing today for tomorrow and, believe me, I always found it paid dividends.

But if others prepare to spend their breaks drinking coffee and even smoking a few cigarettes (often witnessed phenomenon) and to use their lunch break to fill their faces, who am I to judge? I just know what I would do.

As for "has it come to that?" I repeat - no pain, no gain. We are only talking about "emergencies" after all.
Yours disillusioned
Chris


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Stephanie Diaz
English to Spanish
I totally agree Nov 5, 2006

with Chris.

The title of the post is "going to a conference almost clueless", which is not and should not be general practice.

If for whatever reason an interpreter gets into this kind of interpreting situation, he or she, in my opinion, should do whatever it takes to compensate the lack of preparation and study, which are essential to our profession.

coffee breaks and lunch breaks are not "unpaid" o dull times, actually the client expects that the interpreter is standby throughout the day. (i'm not saying that one should be on duty the entire day) but if the interpreter didn't have the time or chance to prepare for the conference, the least the interpreter can do is taking advantage of whatever helps to improve her work.

and finally, if the topic is too difficult or out of your expertise, i think that it is better to decline such offer and not going to a conference almost clueless.

greetings,

stephanie

[Editado a las 2006-11-05 14:00]


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:24
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Just a short comment Nov 8, 2006

CMJ_Trans wrote:

7) Afterwards, keep copies of everything and prepare a vocabulary list as an investment in the future.



On the whole I agree with you, but I have to add a warning note to the above point, which may have some relevance to the original posting as well.

Some conferences are about highly confidential issues. That is frequently the case of pharmacological/medical conferences. Unfortunately it means that they are not going to send out worthwhile material prior to the conference, and you are certainly not allowed to keep any of their material afterwards, except your own notes, prepared during the proceedings in your "rest period" or in your lunchtime.

On the other hand it is better to stretch your legs than sitting in the cubicle in your coffe break and lunchtime, and sometimes it is more valuable to meet and talk to some of the speakers or the people you are interpreting for.
Not to mention when they need you to be able to communicate with others.
I always ask if they require me in the break or not, because I would be uncomfortable if I was told that they were looking for me to help out, and I wasn't around.


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Muna khleifat  Identity Verified
Jordan
Local time: 09:24
Arabic to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Very useful tips, thanks Nov 9, 2006

I would like to thank all colleagues who helped me with their tips. I do agree people need to be educated about our job and how it should work. I understand this sometimes has to be at the expense of our breaks.

It happened with me again, but this time the conference was confidential, the only thing I could get was the title. So, I checked Wikipedia, and prepared a 4 page glossary of the terms I found, you can imagine what could have happened if I heared those terms for the first time in the booth. Fortunately, the organizer was very nice, he made sure to hand me all the presentations before they were presented(on the conference day ) , I had a technical paper based and another electronic dictionaries; so of course I read through the breaks . But it is OK, it was rewarding, and the coffee was not that good I also located some of the speakers and asked them what they meant by certain terms, for Arabic dialects might have some words that are not clear for speakers of a different dialect.

And yes in deed, I handed all the material in the end, and all I have is my notes.

Thank you all for your tips, they all turned to be useful.

[Edited at 2006-11-09 21:43]


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Interpreter246
Local time: 08:24
Conference without a clue Dec 1, 2010

Hi all! I had to take part in the business conference yesterday and I have to say it was really stressful due to lack of preparation materials. Some of the posts mention that proceedings are often confidential. Is it not the case that professional interpreters are under confidentiality clause at all times? I accepted this assignment a week before it was due and made 3 attempts to gain any information on the conference-the agency kept telling me that they do not have any information. All I got was a very general agenda. I didn't even get the name of the company who was actually doing the presentation. All I got was the names of two other companies who were the guests at the presentation. Luckily I have done my own research beforehand but still was floored by the very technical terms. The conference got very technical with a few experts making presentation in their fields. I had to interpreter consecutively and sight interpret with high speed. I didn't have a lunch break or any chance to even see materials on the presentation. I would like to ask my fellow collegues about their own experiences and advice. Has anyone had a similar situation and how did they handle it? Would you complain to an agency or is it really up to the client to make materials available and many are reluctant to do so because they would consider it extra work? Surely that is not right? What can I do to prevent such things happening in the future? Shall I just reject assignment last minute if I don't get any materials to work with at all? Thank you all for your opinions and advice.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Confidential and doubly confidential Dec 3, 2010

Interpreter246 wrote:

Hi all! I had to take part in the business conference yesterday and I have to say it was really stressful due to lack of preparation materials. Some of the posts mention that proceedings are often confidential. Is it not the case that professional interpreters are under confidentiality clause at all times?


There do exist cases of extreme confidentiality. For example, I am told by a judge that interpreters hired by the court should not be predisposed in a case, either for one party or another. The kinds of cases in which an interpreter can avail of preparatory material are generally civil suits in which they work for one of the parties.

Then, there is defence, which is like painting a target on an interpreter's back. Recommendable not to give Defence as a reference on your CV. 'Nuff said.

As for business, my experience is that preparation can be tantamount to industrial espionage in terms of how an interpreter can get his/her information. For example, although a keynote speech is generally not confidential, pre-drafted and well-rehearsed, the speaker may want to keep it under lock and key for reasons of impact. Take it with a grain of salt: experience will give you the wherewithal to handle such situations. It will also give you an inkling of what kind of jobs you should not accept: although I am well aware that the field still generally requires us to "know everything from screws to stents", I've found out that sticking to areas in which one consciously specializes in produces the best results.


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Interpreter246
Local time: 08:24
Thank you Dec 3, 2010

Thank you for your reply. With regards to that conference - I wasn't even told the name of the company I had to interpret for-that made it hard to decide if that was outside my expertise. That information cant be confidential surely? All I heard was construction industry. I do have some experience in that field. I let the agency know that if it is a standard business talk there shouldn't be a problem but if we are going technical I will need to see the materials otherwise I cannot guarantee good outcome. I still do not understand how industrial espionage can be an obstacle in briefing an interpreter. We are under confidentiality clause and surely by taking part in proceedings we have to get involved at some point anyway. What about people who translate brochures into different languages? Do interpreters usually go "blind" for this kind of assignments? As for court the procedures are usually more standard and you do get informed of the subject matter if you ask. I'm of course not talking about exact content of the proceedings, just a general idea.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sorry if I wasn't clear Dec 3, 2010

I meant to say that looking for information sometimes makes me feel like an industrial spy.

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