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First interpreting experience - is this normal?
Thread poster: MorganFlay (X)

MorganFlay (X)
Italy
Dec 16, 2015

Hello, I am new here.
I would like some opinions on what happened during my first interpreting experience, because I am not sure it was quite normal - I think my client did not behave appropriately, but I would like some information from more experienced interpreters.
First of all, let me tell you this is going to be a long post. However, I feel it's necessary to explain everything carefully.

Some info about me first:
- I am attending my university's MA in Translation and Interpreting (my program is about specialized translation + dialogue interpreting - no simultaneous interpreting, although we are taught a bit of consecutive interpreting);
- last year I was an intern at a local language school and translation agency;
- the agency called me again this year for an interpreting job.

About the job:
- the agency called me and told me it was a meeting at a notary's office for a power of attorney. They said it would last no more than one hour and that I would be given the text in advance;
- I was given the original text (in my native language) and, when the translation was ready, I was given that too. In the meantime I had worked on a translation of my own to get familiar with any problems I could have met when interpreting in the meeting;
- the translation was from my native language into the foreign language;
- although I did not do the official translation, I checked it for any mistake and I actually corrected a few wrong numbers here and there (I did not interfere with the language - I myself did not spot any mistake, but then again, I am not a native - the translator isn't either, but they are specialized in that field, so in that case I trust their judgement more than my own);
- at the end of the document there were a few lines which basically said "The interpreter has made the translation and read it and interpreted it before the witnesses and so on". I pointed out to the agency that no, I had not made the translation - shouldn't that line be rephrased? They told me it was not necessary, as neither the notary not the translator knew anything about me. This seemed off, but it was my first experience so I did not protest.

Now, before I go on, I'd like to emphasize a few things. As I said, this was my first experience. We young people are often told that it's out fault if we don't find jobs, because we are not flexible enough, because we are picky, and so on. And unemployment, at least in my country, is sky-high. So while I did find this whole thing a bit weird, I thought I'd shut up because it was my first experience, the agency had been clearly happy with my work before, so I thought "Well it's not like people are lining up outside to hire you, better keep what you have, many of your fellow students don't even get to have this kind of experience, it's hard to find a job and you've just started, you can't be picky." Don't get me wrong, I know what they did was not exactly "clean", but frankly, I felt like the situation left me no choice. Had I had more experience and other clients, I would have spoken out against it, but right now...


What I just said applies to what happened in the meeting too.

So, as I said, I was asked to interpret a power of attorney. No more than an hour. Ok, so I arrive at the office and introduce myself to the foreign couple before we all go in and meet the notary. The notary gives me a terrible impression right away: she seems aggressive and in a bad mood, overall just eager to get through the meeting and be done with it. Almost no introduction, she tells us to sit down - all rather quickly and harshly, again, in a sort of a hurry. I step in and say: "Okay, wait, so, you'll be sitting here? Good, then it's necessary that your clients sit here, and me close to the both of you..." So basically no one had taken care of where I would sit or anything. But okay, I tell myself, I should be flexible and adapt. So okay, no problem here.
The notary asks if the clients had read the power of attorney. I ask them and they tell me that no, they did not even receive the document! Who should have emailed it to them? The notary, I presume - since I emailed the translation to the agency which emailed it to the notary. But no one had sent it to them.
Now, I assumed the notary would read and explain the document - no. The notary is clearly annoyed by the fact that the two foreigners had not read it, and instead of making sure they went through it, sort of "pushed" us to be quick about it - so while the clients took their time I had to try and whisper a brief summary of it, and the notary did not even let me finish. "Okay, okay, we're done, right? We can move on, come on, we don't have time".

Mhm. Again, not sure, but this is my first experience and to be honest, I am a bit nervous and afraid - Imagine, me, a person in their early twenties, still a student, first experience, surrounded by people in their fifties who very clearly are more experienced with law and such and have no time to lose...

Okay. So the notary starts reading the document. And by reading, I mean... you know when you already know the content of something and just run through it very quickly, almost without separating the words? I was speechless.
My fault, I know, I should have interrupted her but she was going too fast, I tried to keep eye contact and motion her to stop, but she was not even looking at me, and again, anxiety and inexperience took over and I was unable to put my foot down and say "No, please, stop." I only managed at a certain point to say "Ahem, excuse me, but perhaps, could we stop for a moment and explain this concept to the clients?". She seemed very annoyed by the interruption, explained everything hastily and I quickly interpreted, making sure my clients had understood. Then we carried on. I tried to interrupt again but again, got very harsh answers or imperatives, like "Explain this!".
I had to think of a different strategy, and I decided to opt for something like chuchotage + summary, to keep up with her speed, and I whispered a summary of the paragraphs as she was reading them. Like, "Okay, here is the description of X, here is just personal information, this part explains the powers of your attorney, ...". Luckily for me the client himself asked for explanations, so that gave me a good chance to interrupt more often, although the replies were always "Explain this/Translate that". In general the notary had a very aggressive and harsh behavior which made me very uncomfortable.
Anyway, we got ti the end, we signed the papers and I thought we were done.
It was only the beginning - the notary comes back with the contract (the power of attorney was to give the client's lawyer legal powers to intervene in the purchase of a property). Now, the purchase HAD been briefly named in the POA, but the agency had told me nothing about translating a contract. When I talked to them later, they were surprised as well, since the notary had not told them they would discuss the sale/purchase contract. She had simply said "I need an interpreter for a power of attorney".
So of course... never seen the contract before. Of course, never translated the contract before. Never even had a chance to prepare a glossary, nothing. I had studied the POA very carefully, preparing myself to answer any possible question on that document, but a completely unexpected one? How was I supposed to know anything about that? Plus, I am still a student.
Anyway, not like I can back down now - I put on my best poker face and ask for a copy of the contract (we are about 10 in the room, and the notary had only one copy for herself). The notary again gets this annoyed look and asks me why I would need a copy, and I reply that I simply needed one to best follow her and explain. Okay, I get my copy. Again she starts reading it crazy fast, and again I am lost, but start right away with the chuchotage + summary strategy. Thing is, since I had never seen the document before, I do not know what is inside, so I try to read quickly and interpret even more quickly. The notary, who, by now, must have understood I need to interrupt her, stops spontaneously only to "order" me "Explain this, Tell them that, Make sure they understand this...". I keep a calm face and explain, with all the stress coming from having to explain stuff I've never seen before. Anyway I manage.
We finally finish the meeting. A bit more talk here and there, and it is finally over. Luckily, the clients seem happy with me, as they ask me help to write an e-mail and ask for my business card so they know who they should call should they need help again. I point out that I was contacted by the agency (so no one can accuse me of stealing clients) and that sure, they can contact me but the best way would be by asking the agency to contact me. Anyway, the nightmare is over.
The meeting lasted almost two hours. I was paid 25 euros per hour.


I can't help but feel a bit... ahem... uncomfortable? Is this wage acceptable? Isn't it a bit low?
But above all- is the treatment I received fair? I don't think so. Not giving the correct information about the meeting, not providing material which could have easily been provided.... The notary acting as if I'm not even there- does she expect me to just open my mouth and translate simultaneously (into the foreign language no less), even without materials? What am I, a multilingual machine?

Long story short: lack of adequate information about the contents of the meeting, lack of material which could have easily been provided (they could have emailed me a copy of the contract, even if I didn't have to translate it, I could have at least looked up the terms!), general unfriendly behavior of the notary + hurry to finish everything (if you call an interpreter, shouldn't you expect your meeting to last longer?). Is this normal?

Again, I realize I have been passive in this meeting, but try to understand: I am still a student, this was my first experience ever. Plus, I live in a country where young people are often reprimanded if they try to set a standard, people tell us it's our fault if we don't find a job because we are being picky or not flexible. The general idea here is "Young and inexperienced? You have no rights, shut your mouth and work. Can't do the job? We won't call you again".
I managed to find a strategy to survive the meeting, but is this normal? I don't think so.


Thank you for reading!


 

Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 20:32
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
It was not you Dec 17, 2015

Dear Morgan,

Relax - this was not a normal experience but rather "diving into cold water".
I am sorry, I didn't go untill the end with my reading , stopped halfway but that was sufficient to see that the notary was acting not really professionally.
I happened to hire an interpreter for my deeds, not because I needed but because the law requires and independent interpreter where a foreign party is involved. The interpreter was a young man in his 30s, a linguist - I suppose, he had plenty of time to gain experience. Cutting it short, I ended up reading and translating the deed myself. Any problem about that? None, as long as the purpose was served. Did the notary comment it? neither, again because the purpse was served.
My tip: don't wait to be seated or otherwise "taken care". You are not a social gathering. Have a couple of words, whenever have a chance, with the people to who you are going to interpret. Quickly adapt to the situation, don't hesitate to ask the host of the meeting whatever you need or your clients may need. Choose the seat yourself or ask for a rearrangement if necessary.
Don't want to push it for others, but in interpreting, I am usually more than a mere interpreter for my clients.


 

Mariella Bonelli  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Member (2004)
English to Italian
+ ...
Answers Dec 17, 2015

MorganLeFlay wrote:
Ok, so I arrive at the office and introduce myself to the foreign couple before we all go in and meet the notary. The notary gives me a terrible impression right away: she seems aggressive and in a bad mood, overall just eager to get through the meeting and be done with it. Almost no introduction, she tells us to sit down - all rather quickly and harshly, again, in a sort of a hurry.

The notary has one client after the other, who cares if she is in a bad mood or in a harry! You are there to do your job, that's all.


I step in and say: "Okay, wait, so, you'll be sitting here? Good, then it's necessary that your clients sit here, and me close to the both of you..." So basically no one had taken care of where I would sit or anything.

Who should tell you? You must know that you should sit in a position comfortable both for the notary and the client, usually near the client.


The notary asks if the clients had read the power of attorney. I ask them and they tell me that no, they did not even receive the document! Who should have emailed it to them? The notary, I presume -

No need to presume, it is the notary's task, it is her job to take care of her clients!


Now, I assumed the notary would read and explain the document...........................

My god, you were excessively prolix, more than what a human being can bear!


Long story short: lack of adequate information about the contents of the meeting, lack of material which could have easily been provided...

You must demand the original copy AND take care yourself of the translation. The notary reads the document and you read the translation. Then questions-answers. That's all.
No lack of adequate information or material. Lack of experience.


Again, I realize I have been passive in this meeting, but try to understand: I am still a student, this was my first experience ever.

As a student I would not have started in this context and with this naif attitude.


I managed to find a strategy to survive the meeting, but is this normal? I don't think so.

It is normal to have to face unforeseeable situations, it is not normal to face them without knowing what is all about. Apparently you live in my country, I know that some notaries do not have a clear idea of how this should work smoothly just because they have not done many bilingual deeds. You can kindly suggest them how to do, you must do the translation or receive it in advance, study it and then read it. That's all.

Dear Morgan, please also try to learn how to sum up events.icon_smile.gif


 

Maria Xanthopoulou  Identity Verified
Greece
Member (2014)
English to Greek
+ ...
This is not normal Dec 17, 2015

Dear Morgan

No worries: it shouldn't definitely be like that.

There are many clients who do not understand our job and how we are doing it. Our duty is to kindly educate them. When you undertake an interpreting assignment, try to do a clear deal about what exactly are you going to do, what will be the schedule and all other details. And definitely request all documents in advance. Try to make the client understand what kind of resources or conditions are you in need of in order to fullfil your duty. Flexibility is good, but it shouldn't be an unconditional surrender. Remember that we should also protect our profession and our professional standards. Finally in terms of payment 25 euros per hour is too low for a professional interpreter.


 

MorganFlay (X)
Italy
TOPIC STARTER
Maybe I was not clear Dec 17, 2015

Mariella Bonelli wrote:

MorganLeFlay wrote:
Ok, so I arrive at the office and introduce myself to the foreign couple before we all go in and meet the notary. The notary gives me a terrible impression right away: she seems aggressive and in a bad mood, overall just eager to get through the meeting and be done with it. Almost no introduction, she tells us to sit down - all rather quickly and harshly, again, in a sort of a hurry.

The notary has one client after the other, who cares if she is in a bad mood or in a harry! You are there to do your job, that's all.


I step in and say: "Okay, wait, so, you'll be sitting here? Good, then it's necessary that your clients sit here, and me close to the both of you..." So basically no one had taken care of where I would sit or anything.

Who should tell you? You must know that you should sit in a position comfortable both for the notary and the client, usually near the client.


The notary asks if the clients had read the power of attorney. I ask them and they tell me that no, they did not even receive the document! Who should have emailed it to them? The notary, I presume -

No need to presume, it is the notary's task, it is her job to take care of her clients!


Now, I assumed the notary would read and explain the document...........................

My god, you were excessively prolix, more than what a human being can bear!


Long story short: lack of adequate information about the contents of the meeting, lack of material which could have easily been provided...

You must demand the original copy AND take care yourself of the translation. The notary reads the document and you read the translation. Then questions-answers. That's all.
No lack of adequate information or material. Lack of experience.


Again, I realize I have been passive in this meeting, but try to understand: I am still a student, this was my first experience ever.

As a student I would not have started in this context and with this naif attitude.


I managed to find a strategy to survive the meeting, but is this normal? I don't think so.

It is normal to have to face unforeseeable situations, it is not normal to face them without knowing what is all about. Apparently you live in my country, I know that some notaries do not have a clear idea of how this should work smoothly just because they have not done many bilingual deeds. You can kindly suggest them how to do, you must do the translation or receive it in advance, study it and then read it. That's all.

Dear Morgan, please also try to learn how to sum up events.icon_smile.gif

May I add a few things? It seems I was not clear enough.
I was told "The meeting will be about the power of attorney".
What happened: power of attorney PLUS a contract I had never even received because no one had mentioned it even at the agency. This is why I said there was a lack of information. No one had even TOLD me we would discuss this contract.

In the future I will surely meet the notary in advance and make sure they understand how interpreters work. I had simply assumed that, since they had contacted a translation and interpreting agency, then they would have provided the info.
Plus, about the notary being in a hurry: indeed, I understand that they have a lot of work to do. However, not even taking the time to fully read the documents? Reading them at an unnatural speed, more to themselves than to an audience? This does not seem normal to me. Plus, no need to get annoyed about me interrupting them- they cannot expect me to translate the entire thing simultaneously of I am not a simultaneous interpreter. Could it be that the agency did not tell them about me being a dialogue interpreting?

Thanks for replying, anyway. I am sorry I was long-winded.


 

MorganFlay (X)
Italy
TOPIC STARTER
Thaks! Dec 17, 2015

Again, thanks for your replies. A few more things:
- is it normal to have to sight translate a highly technical text about 10 pages long? Especially a text the notary had not even mentioned to the agency? I would have gladly prepared it at home... If I had been informed! But I was told only about one part of the.meeting. This is what I mean by "lack of info". If you ask for eggs and then pretend eggs and apples, you can't be mad I won't give you the apples...
Next time I will not trust the agency and call the notary myself to make sure they are providing me with ALL the documents.
- about the mood: sure, the notary may be in a bad mood, but shouldn't personal matters be kept personal? If I am in a bad mood, it would be unprofessional of me to let it out on my clients. I got very anxious during the meeting, but I did not behave rudely to anyone, I kept a polite expression and all... Can we agree that this sort of behavior (ordering the interpreter around and getting almost angry when politely interrupted) is unprofessional?
- in the future could I insist that the notary divide the text in chunks and let me interpret, or slow down with her speaking? That was definitely NOT normal speed, more like "readingtoyourselfbecauseyoualreadyknowthecontents".

Anyway, in the future I will make sure to contact the client myself and educate them. I thought that since the agency had spoken with the notary, than they would have informed that. Apparently not. I will do it myself next time- again, this was only the first time. Again thanks.for your help!


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:32
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
I think any interpretation job shouldn't be so complicated. Dec 17, 2015

I agree with most points made by Mariella Bonelli. You are just there to do your job and you shouldn't make things complicated. As an interpreter you should not care that much about if that notary is aggressive or not (maybe her being aggressive is jut your false impression). I feel weird that you are opinionated that she didn't properly seat you.

Most of the things you cared so much about are nothing at all.

And if you don't change your way of thinking, you will find every interpreting session troublesome.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:32
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, it is absolutely normal. The clients, such as lawyers, some corporate Dec 18, 2015

managers will not adjust their behavior to what an interpreter might have been taught in school, especially that they teach incorrect things and methods in many interpreting and translation schools these days. It looks like your school may be one of those—too much "foreign' and too much 'native". An interpreter should be able to interpret both ways and be at least quasi-bilingual. So yes it is normal, and you simply have to live with it, or if something seems really unbearable, you can make a very polite remark.

Good luck. interpreting is a great profession. You just have to toughen your skin, a little bit.

[Edited at 2015-12-18 09:07 GMT]


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:32
German to English
impossible to interpret a notary's reading of a text Dec 18, 2015

At least in Germany, and the situation described by Morgan sounds comparable, a notary does not "read" a text in any normal sense of the word. It is a purely official act and it is difficult enough to consistently follow what is being said even in one language, with the text in front of you and having read it beforehand. Notaries also aren't there to explain things and the appointment at the notary's office is not there to get a better grasp on the documents being read: all of that has to be done beforehand.

It would be impossible to interpret a notary's reading of a text and that is why the main task didn't involve interpreting at all: Morgan was simply supposed to read aloud an existing translation and then interpret a bit for the necessary formalities before and after the reading.
I don't know what interpreting a contract without any preparation might even mean under these circumstances, but if anyone involved was not entirely dissatisfied, it sounds like a miracle to me.

I'm not trying to make excuses for anyone and it sounds like a comedy of errors from start to finish, but sending anyone to interpret (in the normal sense of the term) a notary's reading of a contract is certainly not normal.


 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:32
Portuguese to English
+ ...
With Michael Dec 18, 2015

I completely agree with Michael and unfortunately most of the contributions so far have been quite worrying.

In all the years I've been interpreting, I've never been asked to sight translate contracts - that is simply not doable!

Sadly, this is yet another example of an agency bringing absolutely nothing to the process. They should have explained to the end client how interpreting works, they should have asked for all the documents that were supposed to be used at the meeting so that they could be forwarded to you for review and preparation.

Another problem was the notary themselves. They didn't seem to care too much about their client. Sadly, it happens all too often. One doctor once told me ''our time is up, you have to tell the patient to leave now.'' He was quite rude and this was a particularly worried patient.

In the future, you have to learn to be more assertive. If a hand gesture is not enough, politely but firmly interrupt them. They have to stop talking otherwise no interpreting can take place. Whispering is fine as long as it's not a ten-page contract, of course.

It is also not up to you to explain any terms. It's up to the notary, lawyer, tax officer and so on to explain what the client does not understand. You are there to simply interpret. When it comes to seating arrangements, no one is more knowledgeable than the interpreter themselves, so it's always up to the interpreter to arrange the chairs in the so-called triangle position.

To sum up, this whole experience sounds like a nightmare and it should never happen again. In the future make sure you ask for all documentation beforehand and arrive around 20 minutes earlier (as you're supposed to!) in order to have time to speak to both parties beforehand and explain the interpreting process.


 

Lori Cirefice  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:32
French to English
The clients should have read the documents beforehand Dec 18, 2015

I'm not an interpreter so I can't comment on much except for one thing... what really strikes me about this whole story is that the clients really should have read the translated documents beforehand. I find it really strange that this was not the case. Indeed, when the notary does the official "reading" it goes really fast, because everyone already knows what the document contains, the reading is just for the official requirement. I think you were only supposed to interpret any exchanges and read the translated version that was given to you.

 

Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:32
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Indeed! Dec 18, 2015

Lori Cirefice wrote:
what really strikes me about this whole story is that the clients really should have read the translated documents beforehand. I find it really strange that this was not the case. Indeed, when the notary does the official "reading" it goes really fast, because everyone already knows what the document contains, the reading is just for the official requirement. I think you were only supposed to interpret any exchanges and read the translated version that was given to you.


 

Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:32
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Inexperience + stress = hypersensitivity to client behaviour? Dec 19, 2015

MorganLeFlay wrote:

...this was my first experience. We young people are often told that it's out fault if we don't find jobs, because we are not flexible enough, because we are picky, and so on. And unemployment, at least in my country, is sky-high...

The notary gives me a terrible impression right away: she seems aggressive and in a bad mood, overall just eager to get through the meeting and be done with it.

...is the treatment I received fair?

...I live in a country where young people are often reprimanded if they try to set a standard...


Dear Morgan,

That sounds like a terribly stressful event, but then again, interpreting is high-stress. I trained for interpreting during my degree but have never done it professionally, so I can't comment on what is "normal" there, but I thought I might raise this point:

You are young, you are new, it was your first time, so you were nervous and stressed even from the beginning before meeting the notary. I wonder if that coloured your interpretation of the notary's behaviour and attitude? Yes, she might have been in a hurry but I wonder if she was not actually being as aggressive and rude as you felt she was, but you saw it that way because your own personal stress and inexperience made you feel intimidated from the start?

Also, when people are not used to interpreters they can feel awkward, not knowing whom to speak to/look at or how they should speak to you, which could be another reason why she was speaking abruptly to you "translate this, tell them that, hurry!" It is also possible that she could tell you were inexperienced and was annoyed that you weren't being more assertive and professional in your approach (for example, not being clear about the seating arrangement).

Just another perspective to consider. I think a lot of those issues will improve as you gain experience and confidence in your abilities.


 

TechStyle  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:32
Someone screwed up there. Dec 19, 2015

Lori Cirefice wrote:

I'm not an interpreter so I can't comment on much except for one thing... what really strikes me about this whole story is that the clients really should have read the translated documents beforehand. I find it really strange that this was not the case. Indeed, when the notary does the official "reading" it goes really fast, because everyone already knows what the document contains, the reading is just for the official requirement. I think you were only supposed to interpret any exchanges and read the translated version that was given to you.


That's my take. Someone (not you!) had screwed up by not giving the translated version to the clients in advance, so they would know what they were signing and be ready to sign it. As I understand it, she wasn't supposed to "read the document to them" - just skim over it to verify it's the document they came in to sign.

The last time I had to get something notarised it was a flat fee, £20+VAT. If you bear that in mind, along with your complaint of "only" getting €50 for your part of the job, you'll probably see why the notary wasn't wanting to stretch it out any further with small talk! (It's supposed to go "You are Mr and Mrs X? (checks passport, takes copy for files) Good, this is the document you're signing, and you know what it is? Right, sign there while I watch ... (hand over pen, watch them sign, stamps and signs document herself as witness) Thanks, have a nice day!")

Moreover, when my mother used to do that work - she used to be a translator, then became a solicitor and notary - although she was paid a fixed salary, they all had set fee targets to meet every week or month, of about three times their salary. So, if she worked for herself, the notary could have been getting paid half as much as you were; if salaried, she'd risk getting in trouble for falling behind her fee targets that week.

You might even find a thread over on lawyerz.com "first experience with an interpreter - is this normal?" complaining about how much longer it took than doing the job normally, the translator hadn't given them the paperwork they should have so the poor notary was kept waiting ages while you sorted that out and now she's £70 behind her fee target...


 

MollyRose  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:32
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
agree with Lori, Michael, and Diana Dec 21, 2015

I'm surprised the notary got the document and the actual clients did not. They should've had the opportunity to read a translated version of it (preferably) or at least have it sight-translated to them ahead of time. If it was the notary's fault that the contract had not been provided to the client, then she should have probably rescheduled the meeting for a later time. Even if it was up to someone else to get the document to the client, she should have offered to reschedule since she was pressed for time.

I would not want to be responsible in a situation where someone is required to sign a document and they are not provided the opportunity to know and understand what it says. I believe that is unethical. Unfortunately not everybody makes enough effort to be ethical, such as the notary in this case, since she asked if they had read it and they informed her that they had never seen it before. There are people who are more interested in time and money and whatever other self interests and not in what is right for everyone involved.


 
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