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What is your experience with being briefed before an assignment?
Thread poster: Goodness

Goodness
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:13
English to Polish
+ ...
Sep 17, 2012

I wonder what are your experiences re getting briefed, getting some backgroud information, documentation, e.g. sceleton arguments or expert witness' reports before the start of an assigned job?

Do you have any positive experiences at all? Have you ever been refused brief even when you requested it on the grounds that impartiality can be compromised or confidentiality breached?

Can you think of any situations where you felt you had been overbriefed? Any specific examples of that?

Do you have any tips, any 'tricks' that get you the brief you need? What do you perceive as the biggest obstacle to receiving more background information?

What coping strategies do you undertake when you seem to be the only person kept in the dark at the start of an interpreting job?

Do you see any solutions to this particular predicament (lack of brief) in interpreters' work?

Finally, any anecdotes you could share resulting from having no brief?


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:13
English to Spanish
+ ...
My Experience Sep 17, 2012

My experience in a different language and part of the world is that on occasion I have received material ahead of time on the subjects to be dealth with, but usually not. I refer here to conference interpreting only, I do not work in courts.

Often the case is that I am only told the subject ("environmental", "industry", "public health", "transportation", etc.) and that's it. So I try to show up a bit early to see if I can get some information from speakers, moderators, etc. But many times that is sketchy also, so I just have to fall back on my knowledge of the various subjects that come up around here (US-Mexico Border) and wing it. It nearly always turns out that subjects familiar to me are involved, because I have been in business here for a long, long time.

So I am able to make up for lack of briefing with experience. But surely not everyone can. Unfortunately clients often have no regard for interpreters' needs and think we are magicians. So I guess that's what we have to be.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:13
Chinese to English
Document discussions are the worst Sep 18, 2012

My (least) favourite game is when you sit down and you realise that everyone is talking about a document that they've been working on for days/weeks, and that you haven't seen before.

"On clause 6, I don't think payment is going to work like that," they start...

I've been very fortunate lately in that the clients I've been working with are very respectful, and when I say, I'm sorry, I haven't had time to read this document, can you be more explicit, they always do their best to give me a clear answer.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:13
Russian to English
+ ...
You don't get any materials whatsoever in legal and court interpreting Sep 18, 2012

in the US, I can really speak mostly about New York, New Jersey and the Federal Court. Is would be unimaginable to even ask. Working as a conference interpreter for some symposia, especially, you sometimes get the speeches beforehand, but the speakers usually change what they are saying anyhow, so is often not even worth reading them. You usually get them half an hour before the presentation.

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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 07:13
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
A magician's anecdote :) Sep 18, 2012

Henry Hinds wrote:
Unfortunately clients often have no regard for interpreters' needs and think we are magicians. So I guess that's what we have to be.


That's my experience too, but then again I deal in live television, so no opportunities for any prep material there! Most of this work is political announcements (and the responses from the opposition parties), some speeches given by dignitaries, political campaigns and the like. I'm familiar with the players and with current events, so although I never get copies of speeches, etc., I am usually up on the news of the day. (I do wish they'd supply me with speeches they know of ahead of time, but they don't - that's where the magic comes in, at least most of the time.)

My anecdote involves a press conference given a few years ago. As usual, I received a phone call: "Can you hop on now please?" (I have special equipment installed in my home for this client.) As usual, the info given ahead of time was minimal (as if I had time to research it anyway): "A police presser out of Montreal."

Well, that time the cops had seized a weapon in a criminal case (and I knew nothing about this case), and the part of the presser they caught live was a presentation on the weapon itself. The policeman stood there in front of the cameras with the weapon in his hands, breaking it apart and naming all the parts of the gun.

Well, this particular interpreter hasn't even seen a sidearm up close ever -- my American colleagues might find this hard to believe but all I know about guns is that you pull the trigger and the bullet goes down the barrel and is ejected out. This cop, on the other hand, knew his stuff, and very quickly, in a Montreal accent, stripped the thing or whatever it is you do with these weapons, naming the inner workings of it and explaining how they had been modified by the criminal, etc., etc,... sigh. I was way out of my league. Fortunately the producer either realized my confusion or thought this part of the presser was boring, and cut away to a commercial break, returning to the event for the Q&A which was much easier to handle (at least I'd managed to glean some details of the crime during the cop's presentation, and the reporters were not asking questions about the mechanics of the gun!)

No one person can know everything about everything. In a specialized environment, such as a conference on a particular subject, the professional interpreter can reasonably be expected to master the relevant vocabulary - I for one would never accept an assignment that was, say, a workshop on guns but as Henry says, we're not magicians and sometimes, in the hustle and bustle that is live television, you get caught in the snare of an event you cannot be expected to be prepared for.

This job involved flying by the seat of your pants sometimes!


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Goodness
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:13
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
What about other settings? Sep 18, 2012

Thank you all for your contributions to the topic.
I work as a public service interpreter (courts, police, medical) in UK and have been wondering if anything could be improved as far as background information is concerned.
In my experience courts are least co-operative and I think it may be down to lack of an internal protocol that would specify what and how can be passed beforehand to an interpreter to enable him/her to prepare before e.g. a complex trial. Forensic reports, sceleton arguments, verdicts, etc - everyone has time to read and prepare and it seems only interpreters are deprived of the context. I feel frustrated when I read in various guidelines about the need to brief (and sometimes debrief) interpreters, but the practice is minimal or none. Or should interpreter blame themselves since they do not ask for brief LOUDLY enough to be heard?

Police are much better and then there is less distance between participants than in the courts.

Medical professionals are trying to be helpful and usually explain things to patients in simple terms, but then patients can be - understandably - very inquisitive.

My anecdote is that I was once asked to interpret for a patient in a surgical department of a hospital and when I arrived the patient told me the appointment was concerning his eyes. So we sat and waited (I was trying to find out more about the problems with the patient's eyes and recalling all relevant terminology), then we were called in to see a consultant who started by showing the patient some photographs and I was trying to no avail recognize in them anything eye-like (and so did the patient). There was a long pause and puzzled looks and then the doctor announced that the treatment was a success and the patient can be discharged. I made sure he was not talking about the eyes) the appointment was a review of a different med problem the patient had with some internal organs that we had just been shown


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:13
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
No briefing in court over here Sep 18, 2012

In court over here, and ex-officio, you get no briefing. However, if you're working for one of the parties in a civil case, they brief you well since the case likely depends on it.

I also get briefed by some lawyers before preliminary consultations with the client, particularly when what they want is to explain the situation to him clearly. I think this pretty much resembles what you describe about the police. (In an EU seminar I recently attended, however, certain police practices were pointed out as 'biasing'; for ex., the interpreters' sitting beside the officer instead of between the parties. The interpreter's role is really a sticky one, in a certain sense, because s/he can be influenced unawares).

Briefing, confidentiality and impartiality issues would seem to have been resolved in the Austrian system: the interpreter gets copies of all the documents, as the same interpreter is used for every individual case. But there is a strict law (the SDG, see http://www.jusline.at/Sachverstaendigen-_und_Dolmetschergesetz_(SDG).html ) governing the practice.

I very rarely get copies of speeches or presentations, and they invariably change a few details in the delivery. I find outlines more useful in such cases. It's also helpful to know the name of the person you will be interpreting, because he may have published articles on his topic.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:13
Russian to English
+ ...
There is no briefing of any sort in any legal, court or police Sep 18, 2012

environment in the US (at least in NY, NJ, and on the Federal level). It is simply impossible from the confidentiality point of view to release any information beforehand in any court settings, even in civil cases. You are also not supposed to talk to the witnesses, because this may result in a mistrial.

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Adriana Johnston  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:13
English to Spanish
+ ...
It's important to be well prepared Sep 18, 2012

Hi goodness,
Although I don't usually get many legal interpretation assignments, when I have a deposition, I would contact the claimant's attorney and ask as many questions possible about the case, of course reassuring them that as an interpreter this will help you be more prepared to do your best job as interpreter and that any information obtained will be confidential.
So any materials you can get a hold of would be useful, to familiarize with the subject that will be discussed and go over any difficult vocabulary that you might encounter while interpreting.
Hope this helps.


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Ania Heasley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:13
English to Polish
+ ...
Does not happen Sep 20, 2012

My experience with being briefed before any interpreting assignment is that as a rule it does not happen

With social services/child protection interpreting I might get a one sentence summary at the time of booking, e.g. 'it is supervised contact issue', or 'it is suspected child abuse issue'.

Hospitals usually say nothing at all about the nature of the medical condition that is going to be discussed, but spend a lot of time and effort (sending maps and directions) making sure that I get there on time and to the right ward/wing, etc.

With court interpreting it often happens that the first thing I hear about the case is the clerk saying to the defendant: 'please state your full name, address and date of birth'.
I am then left to pick up the pieces about the case and work out for myself what is being discussed.

To avoid frustration I would advise you to expect nothing, and if somebody does brief you, treat it as a bonus!

I cannot see a problem with not being briefed, as we are supposed to step in and interpret what is being said then and there.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:13
Chinese to English
Public service vs conference Sep 20, 2012

There might be a difference here between two modes of interpreting. Because court interpreting and hospital interpreting necessarily involve members of the public, the language generally remains within the boundaries of common knowledge - only those medical terms that the public can understand, for example, and legal terminology that ordinary defendants can understand.

In conference interpreting, you often get specialists talking to specialist audiences, and zero preparation would be impossible. If a hydro engineer wants his Chinese colleagues to get what he's talking about, he's going to have to give me a chance to research my dam terminology, or there's no way I can convey (or even understand!) his message accurately.


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Ania Heasley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:13
English to Polish
+ ...
Clarification Sep 20, 2012

Sorry, I should have made it clear that I only commented on public service interpreting above.

With regards to any other forms of interpreting, if briefing is not offered as a matter of course, then I, the interpreter request and request again and ask for and demand any possible documentation on the subject, on what is going to be discussed. Usually the documentation is easily forthcoming, as part of preparing for the meeting/discussion/interview.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:13
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, certain materials are available before various conferences and symposia in the United States Sep 20, 2012

as well, the only thing is that if an interpreter has absolutely no knowledge in a particular field, it is better, in my opinion, to reject those jobs. There are certain symposia for which you would really have to go back to school for two years at least to be able to interpret properly (certain very specialized symposia -- medical, science related, technical and many others).

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translatol
Local time: 12:13
Spanish to English
+ ...
Get there one hour before Sep 23, 2012

As others have said, the situation varies a lot. My experience was as a conference interpreter in Canada (I'm retired now).

My practice, as a last resort, was to get to the venue one hour before the start if possible, among other things to pick the documentation that was available on the spot on request or often just lying around on the tables (annual reports, abstract of papers, etc.) and scan them for content, proper names and terminology.

This as an anecdote. Ministers in Canada usually arrive at conferences or press briefings with their speeches ALREADY TRANSLATED, and both the original and the translation are confided to an aide to hand out to the press as soon as they have spoken. Ministers can't be disturbed, but I would watch out for the aide and ask for a copy for the booth. They usually understood and gave it.


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 07:13
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
I have to admit, translatol, Sep 23, 2012

that I never get pretranslated speeches for any of the ministers I interpret for, not even the Throne Speech. By the seat of my pants, fly I, every time. I'd hate to think that my listeners think I can't read!

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