Report on InterpretAmerica 2011 in Washington in June

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by Tereza d’Avila Braga

“Interpreters will never be replaced by technology, but they will be replaced by colleagues who are more tech-savvy.”

Technology dominated the two days of presentations on June 17-18 at InterpretAmerica, the new forum for interpreters spearheaded by Barry Olsen and Katharine Allen, both faculty members at MIIS. It was emphasized that machine translation heightens awareness about language transfer, therefore it widens (instead of narrowing) the market for human translation. Also, technology is not here to replace human work but to address increasingly relevant issues involving our work as interpreters, such as speed and quality.

It was my first time at this event and I was pleasantly impressed. To represent Portuguese Gio Lester was there, as well as our administrator Elena Langdon, Cristiano Mazzei, Tatiana Carajilescov, Camila Januário, Sheyla Carvalho (OAS), Ewandro Magalhães (Geneva) e Marsel de Souza (Brasília). Gio Lester was one of ten moderators leading a workgroup called “Professional Identity: Rolling Up Our Sleeves”, which was a whole afternoon working in groups and listing key issues and recommendations for the profession. Ewandro moderated a plenary panel entitled “Interpreting and Technology: Who Will Be in the Driver’s Seat?”

I specially enjoyed insights from Bill Wood, one of the panelists and founder of Design Specialists Interpretation. For instance, “Your product is not what comes out of your mouth, but what comes into the audience’s ears”. It reminded me of a conference I attended in Buenos Aires once. To have the customer’s experience, I decided to wire myself and listen in. The first interpreter was excellent, but I could not stand his voice for more than five minutes – it was like listening to a robot! And the constant ‘um’s…! When his partner took over, I quickly put my earpiece back on. Her overhang (delay) compared poorly, but she was also on top of the subject matter. Most importantly, and to my relief, she talked like a human, with intonation, pitch and tone, thank you!

Another pearl from Bill hit me directly on my lazy bone: “If you have any pride in your work, you should want to listen to yourself; it’s your product!” How many of us take the time to record our voice and listen to it when we get home from a gig? It reminded me of Hank Phillips, one of my early mentors, carrying a tiny recorder every time he entered the booth.

The organizers emphasized that we are a small profession, and very fragmented. They believe we should come together in order to create critical mass and have a single voice as interpreters, with a conscious effort to embrace new knowledge and new technology.

The line-up was impressive and I suggest clicking them online, since I only covered the bare bones here.

A highlight for me was the various equipment providers offering demos, brainstorming with us in the workgroups and speaking from the podium. We had state-of-the-art conference microphones at every seat, fully assembled booths lined up and all kinds of portable equipment for hands-on playtime. I took turns interpreting (and laughing), sharing the booth with a Mandarin stranger and asking Portuguese colleagues to listen in from their seats. Great fun.

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