The Value of Conference Interpreting Partners

For conference interpreters, not knowing who the other teammate will be can be a real source of distress.

Most great conference interpreters I know will have a preferred partner for conference interpreting.  In many cases, they prefer to turn down the job if they can’t work with their preferred partner. Some have three categories.  Tier 1 is conference interpreters with whom they will partner. Tier 2 is the list of acceptable partners in a pinch. The No List are the folks with whom they had the displeasure of working with once, and plan to never work with again.

Why? After all, it might seem to you that all they are doing is taking turns interpreting. Understanding the answer can make the difference between a flawless event or a nuclear explosion!

The work involved: Simultaneous interpreting produces cognitive fatigue.  Typically, interpreter can practice for 20 to 30 minutes before the rendition suffers inaccuracies and lackluster quality.  The conference interpreting team works in tandem.  When the other interpreter takes over, that doesn’t mean that the first is on break and can go out and find a snack.

The passive interpreter uses much less brain power but listens and even looks up words. This is a backup for the active interpreter. If the active interpreter momentarily has a brain fart and can’t think of a word, the passive interpreter should be paying attention and quickly whisper it.

Anything can happen, the active interpreter could be working through a particularly detailed stretch or have an upset stomach for that matter; suddenly, the passive interpreter now becomes the active interpreter. A professional partner is always ready at any moment.

From these examples, you can see why having a good partner is important.

The circumstances: Conference interpreting partners can be likened to marriage partners. They must be compatible for the relationship to be successful.

If they have similar backgrounds and vocabulary, they will mesh well together when it comes to language. They also must share a very tiny space while working in a booth. Imagine if one partner opens a very smelly garlic bagel or worse yet, fish soup in the booth.  Meanwhile, the other hates the smell of garlic and now must tolerate with the lingering smell all day long! Other conference team problems arise when one displays certain certain fastidious neat tendencies while the other is a slob (Felix Unger and Oscar Madison).

Experience: There are a lot of interpreters wanting to do conference work. The reason why their price seems right is because they lack experience. We don’t necessarily mind taking a less experienced interpreter under our wing.  But if you need knee surgery, you probably don’t want the MD who just obtained her medical license to perform it.

It is just so risky to hire inexperienced interpreters because they make so many rookie mistakes and unintentionally can be a distraction instead of a good partner.

Emily is an English into Spanish conference interpreter and has her preferred team. However, we also provide conference interpreting in many other languages. It is our standard practice to hire teams that prefer to work together.  Experience demonstrates that it creates a seamless event for your foreign language attendees.

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1 thought on “The Value of Conference Interpreting Partners”

  1. Pingback: What kind of interpreter do you need when planning a conference? | Alfonso Interpreting

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