The Challenges of Phone Interpreting

phone interpreting, challenges, tips, their voice, your words, shenyun wu

Besides not being able to see the people on the other line, there are other challenges to managing a phone interpreting session. I’ve listed some challenges I could think of below. These challenges can make the session stressful, tiring, and even frustrating, but at any given moment, the trick to handling these is to remind yourself to stay calm. Yes, stay calm. Stay calm! Calming down will help you reorient yourself so you don’t rush or freeze. Don’t forget why you are there: the client and LEP need your help to communicate so you need to be on top of your game.

TOO MANY VOICES. Experience tells us that when multiple people are speaking at once and over each other, no one can be heard or understood. This applies to a phone conference as well. In some cases, both the client and LEP are speaking at the same time, in other cases, they may be speaking as you are interpreting. So how do we handle this? We can try to interrupt and request that only one speaker speaks at once. If that doesn’t work, we should wait till all speakers have paused before talking to avoid more confusion and noise, because sometimes we may have mistaken a short pause as a completion of a thought. It helps to pause for a second and interpret when we are certain the speaker is done. 

SEGMENTS THAT GO ON AND ON. The ideal interpreting scenario is when the speaker speaks in short segments, allows the interpreter to render that segment, and continues his thought process. However, because most people are used to finishing their thoughts before pausing, that does not always happen. It might seems daunting to have to render a long message all at once, but keep taking notes, and if the segment becomes too long and unmanageable, the interpreter can gently interrupt and request to render what has already been said first before the speaker continues on. If this isn’t possible, wait for the speaker to complete his thought process and ask for a repetition in shorter segments. The interpreter must pay heed to cues that may affect the integrity of the rendition or flow of communication so she can take the necessary steps to ensure the quality of the interpretation.

THE INTERRUPTER. While interpreting, the listener may interrupt you mid-sentence to respond to what has been said. Since everything must be interpreted, so should this interruption. One thing I noticed about long responses and the interpreting thereof is that there is so much information provided that the listener will have questions before the interpretation is completely rendered. Take a note of where you left off, and interpret the message back to the client.  We do so to avoid breaking the flow of communication so the other party remains informed about what’s going on. Once the interruption has been taken care of, the interpreter should ask the client if it’s okay for her to complete the rendition of the previous message, which she was unable to complete earlier. They are usually happy for you to do so.

THE UNPLEASANT CALL. Phone interpreting sessions can be unpleasant for many reasons. In such situations, your stress level may go up, leading to difficulty in focusing. The key is to stay calm and to not rush. Remember not to speak too fast even when the speaker is speaking very fast. Your goal is always to render the message back as accurately as possible and as clearly as possible so the message is understood. 

STRUGGLING TO KEEP UP. While it is important to be clear and not rush, when you’re taking an emergency call, such as a 911 call, speed, accuracy, and your ability to think on your toes are especially important. Make sure that you are keeping up, but try not to stress or feel rushed because that may lead to mistakes and frustration. Still breathe as you normally would and make sure you are maintaining your focus. The LEP and clients need your full attention and language skills. Being fast doesn’t mean you need to rush.

All in all, whatever the challenges are, remember to take a deep breath and remember that non of the responses or topics are personal to you and you need not take it personally. Be calm and do your best to render the messages back as best you can to enable communication between the client and LEP.

Happy interpreting!

On the Job: How to Introduce Yourself as an Interpreter

At any interpreting job, it’s safe to assume the possibility that your clients have not worked with interpreters. Even if they have, the interpreters they’ve worked with may not have explained to them how it works. This is why it’s helpful when you introduce yourself, to also ask if they’ve worked with an interpreter, and if they haven’t, slip in your 20-second spiel to explain your role and how the session will go.

The introduction should be short, brief, and to the point. Your goal is to convey your role and to let the clients know how to communicate through an interpreter. Sometimes you’ll find it hard to explain your role because the service provider (doctor, lawyer, etc.) may be impatient, but try your best to get through it.

Your self-introduction should include four elements.
1. Confidentiality- Everything said will be kept confidential. This applies especially to legal and medical interpreting cases.

2. First person- Everything will be interpreted in first person. If the patient says, “my head hurts,” the interpreter will relay, “my head hurts,” for the provider.

3. Flow of Communication- To ensure the flow of communication, interpreters should ask all parties to speak directly to each other and keep sentences short to ensure accuracy of the message. Interpreters should also assign a hand motion to signal pauses (in case the speaker goes on too long) to allow time to complete the interpretation.

4. Everything- Everything that is said will be interpreted, even if it was not directed to the other party. For example: If the doctor has side conversations with the nurse and you and the patient can both hear it, interpret it. The patient has the right to hear everything spoken in the room.

Here’s an example of what you can say.
My name is [Name], hired by [Agency], and I will be interpreting for you and the patient/client today. I will repeat everything that is said today, and everything will be interpreted in first person. To ensure accuracy, please keep your sentences short. If i raise my hand like this [stop signal], please pause so I can catch up. Finally, I will keep everything said here confidential.

Note: When speaking to the provider, you’ll use your source language, and when speaking to the client, you’ll repeat the same information in the target language.

What if the Provider Says He’s Worked with Interpreters?
If the provider has worked with interpreters, they may not want to or need to spend the extra 20 seconds with you to learn about something they already know how to do. Don’t force it. But during the session, if you notice that the provider is speaking to you and not to the client, you can make gentle nudges to help them speak directly to the client. This is not just about following the “rules” of interpreting, it’s also about showing respect to the client. Even though our clients have limited fluency in English, some of them still understand a little bit of English, and hearing the provider say, “tell him this, tell him that,” would not feel good to them at all.

Our role as interpreters is to act as conduits and help make  communication possible between people who speak different languages. We care about our clients and want to make sure that everyone involved is kept in the loop, that’s why we should insist on interpreting everything and monitoring the flow of communication.

Interpreters care about helping their clients communicate. {photo courtesy of xdxs}

How do you introduce yourself at interpreting jobs? What are the challenges you find? I’d love to hear from you!

Good luck and happy interpreting.

How to Prepare for a Phone Interpreting Session

What is Phone Interpretation
Phone interpreting is the oral translation of conversations through the phone.  Some people find it easier because it doesn’t involve direct human contact; others find it more difficult because there isn’t face-to-face contact.

The benefit of phone interpreting is you can focus on the words while taking notes in a place you’re comfortable in–your quiet office, your bedroom, wherever. You can even have your laptop in front of you and quickly look up unfamiliar terminology while on the job. The downside is that you are not physically present and that you are reliant on technology that can sometimes be unpredictable.

Preparing for A Conference Call
The basics are the same as any interpreting session. You need the language capacity and to keep in mind the code of ethics, but you’ll also have to make sure that you put yourself in the best setting when making calls.

Environment. It’s important that you are in a quiet place when placing calls so that you can hear the other line(s) and so you’re clear of distractions during the call. While you can’t control the connection or sound quality on the other end of the phone, you should do what you can to ensure that you are in a quiet environment.

Phone Reception. I prefer landlines over cell phones as I find that the connection is better. Not everyone has a landline nowadays so making sure our phone reception is good is the best we can do to ensure clear transmission of messages. If you’re using Skype or an internet phone service, make sure that the internet connection is stable.

First Person. Same with in-person interpretation jobs, interpretations should be in first person, and if you need the speaker to repeat or rephrase something, ask in third person, “The interpreter would like you to repeat….”

Consecutive Interpretation. Phone interpretations are often consecutive. At in-person interpretation sessions, I ask the parties involved to use short sentences so I can make sure that I interpret everything that is said. I also raise my hand in a “stop” motion if I need them to pause, so I can interpret. On the phone, it’s a little different because no one can see each other. The way I interrupt is simply to start interpreting after a sentence or two. Don’t be shy to interrupt. Your goal and job is to transmit all information, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Sensitivity to Tones and Cultures. This one is obvious. To be a good interpreter, one must know the language. Especially in cases where you can’t read the speaker’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language, it’s even more important to know the cultural nuances and be able to read/copy the intonations of the speaker.

Familiarity with the Topic. Interpreters are sometimes given the subject to be discussed before the conference call. This would allow you to prepare ahead of time–catch up on the vocabulary, and read up on the topic. This is not always the case, however, so it’s important for interpreters to constantly educate themselves on new subject areas and vocabulary.

Happy interpreting!

Thoughts on Translation: Rise of the Planet of the Machines

It doesn’t look like monkeys will take over the world anytime soon, despite what the movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, says. However, machines are already taking over the world. We are so reliant on technology now, that without it, very few of us are able to actually function.

I recently started working with an organization on reviewing machine translation of texts. Rather than translating, I see it more as editing or correcting, but that’s not the point. It’s been fun and entertaining, and it has also convinced me that machines still have a long way to go.

We see mistranslated machine translations all over the internet and share the hilarity of some of these incorrect translations with our friends among our social-networking tools. I never thought much about the errors but wondered why people or institutions are fine with putting their reputation at stake, using shoddy translation tools (and not having a human review the translation for accuracy) that they should know fully well is not consistently accurate

True, our programmers are teaching machines vocabulary and grammar, and teaching them to make word choices based on surrounding text, but it is still not enough. Machine translations are often ridiculous because cultural nuances are not built in their system, they don’t know that one word can mean another in different contexts, and sometimes they’re not flexible about moving text around for better syntax.

I enjoy reading 「humorous」 machine-translated text, and I’m glad that we have yet to perfect this technology. Because until we program machines to produce completely accurate translations, I’ll have a job.

When I Can’t Say “No” and the Virtue of Logging Hours

No, a one syllable, two-alphabet word, appears simple and direct, but is in fact one of the most difficult words to utter or type out. When it comes to potential projects that come our way, there are times when we want to or know that we should say no, but just have a hard time doing it. We end up taking on the project and regretting it once we dive into it, knowing that the instincts to reject the project was correct after all.

Knowing the reason(s) why we want to say no is the first step to mastering this difficult task. A few reasons that come to mind are:
1. The pay is too low for the time you would spend on it.
2. The client has a bad history of not paying on time, or paying at all.
3. You’re already over-committed and won’t be able to give the project the focus and care it deserves.
4. You’ve had bad experiences working with this client.

After figuring out the reason(s) why you want to say no, think about why you’re hesitant to cross off this project immediately. Examples may be:
1. Money is money, you can use any amount that you can get.
2. You’re  just starting out and think that taking on this project would get you more experience.
3. This job might lead to future jobs.

These are all logical reasons for saying yes, but ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the cons outweigh the pros. In the end, the main reason you should say no is because: It is not worth your time, energy, or headache! If the pay is too low, then you shouldn’t waste your time on it. If you know that the client has a difficult time paying, and waiting is not an option for you, don’t do it. If you’ve been tormented before with a client, don’t waste your valuable time haggling with the client again.

Know Your Worth
As a freelancer, especially one who is just starting off, any opportunity seems appealing, even if the pay is low. We tell ourselves, 「I’ll do this for a while until I get more experience, then I’ll charge more,」 but I can speak from experience that it does not go this way. Once you agree to low-ball your rate, you’ll be stuck with it, which is why it’s important to know your worth and to try your best to stick to it.

It’s important to know the worth of your time and expertise. One way to calculate this is by calculating your hourly rate by breaking down the salary you would receive as a full-time employee. For example, if your goal is to make a gross income of $50,000, divide that by 52 weeks in a year and 8 hours a day, you’ll find that your hourly rate should be around $24. If you’re able to edit 4 pages per hour, then your rate-per-page would be around $6/page. Use these numbers to guide your rate, and stick to it, as much as you can.

But Where Do We Draw the Line?
But what if you really can’t say no? What if you can’t resist passing on a project? If you feel that you have to take on a project even though it is under budgeted, managing your time by logging your hours is the best way to help you use your time efficiently. For example, if you are asked to edit a 150-page textbook at $2/page, use your hourly rate calculated earlier to figure out how much time you should spend on this project. This project will bring in $300 for you. If your hourly rate is $24, then you should make sure that you only spend around 12 hours on it. This will help you control your schedule and will also minimize wasted time. For tracking hours, I like to use, a free time-management service that helps you to track multiple projects. It’s easy to use and it also has pro service for $5/month that can help you generate bills, estimates, and reports.

How do you decide whether to say no to a client?

Elance (and Don’t Say Yes to Any Project)

Many freelancers or those who are just starting as a freelancer must have heard the buzz about I learned about it through my friend, Dale, who found some help through this site for his start-up.

As a translator and copy editor trying to build a larger client list, I decided to give Elance a shot. Excited with the concept and idea of Elance, I began browsing the site for new opportunities to bid on. People who want to outsource their work post descriptions of the jobs they need done, the time frame, and their budget. Freelancers who are finding work can bid on these jobs with a delivery time frame and rate that is within the outsourcer’s budget and expectations The outsourcers will decide who to hire through the bids received, basing their decisions on the experience of the bidder, reviews the bidder has received, and the price the bidder is asking for. The more experience you have and the better reviews you get from your clients, the higher chance you will get selected for a job. But here’s the catch. The employers looking for labor often have a stringent budget, and because this website is open to workers worldwide, the competition is high for freelancers from the US who have a higher standard of living. I’ve found that at the end of the day, the bidder that asks for the lowest amount of money and has the fastest delivery date gets selected for the job.

The Competition

One big thing outsourcers look at is the price that bidders ask for. All of my bids were declined because the rate I gave was too high compared to what other bidders offered, even though I kept my rate within the outsourcer’s budget (the outsources have to select a reason why they declined a bidder’s bid, which is why I know the reason mine were declined).

Realizing this trend, I decided to place a lower bid for an e-commerce translation project. The outsourcer budgeted it at $500, so I placed my bid at $100. Within five minutes, I received an e-mail that said that I got the bid. I was excited to finally get my first bid, and jumped right into it to finish the project within the 48 hours I had promised.

Your Time is Money, Too

After finishing the 6000-word translation that took me six hours to complete and another hour to proofread, I realized that it has taken too much of my time for the money I was to receive for it. The rate for English to Chinese translations is $0.10/word on the low end, which means that I should be receiving at least $600 for this project if I had gone with my normal rate. I received  invitations to bid on projects through Elance after this, but as the one I was selected for, these projects were all under budgeted. I have declined them all.

When trying to get more work as a freelancer, we often fall into the trap of doing work for less, with hopes that the experience and portfolio we build will allow us to charge for more later on. While this is sometimes the case, it’s also important to know when to say no. I tried out Elance for three months and finally decided to stop. Even though it was an experience and something that can be added to my resume, I do not feel it was worth my time.

My Final Thoughts toward Elance

Although Elance may be a good way to make extra cash and get clients if you are from a country with a lower cost-of-living (China or India), I do not feel it is for me or for freelancers in the US. However, if you are someone who is trying to outsource your work, you may be able to find quality and affordable workers. Who knows?

Stalking Yourself Online

Do you ever enter your name and search for the results that appear on Google or any other search engine you use? The ease of finding information online has made me a small stalker of people: people I know, don’t know, or have heard of. When someone new is being hired into our company, I Google that person’s name immediately. When I’m curious about what my old classmates or colleagues are up to, I Google their names. When I get a request from new clients, I Google their names or company to find out their background. If I’m doing it, I’m sure other people are as well.

As a business professional, or anyone who is trying to get a job, it’s important to make sure that your online image is as clean and as complimentary as possible. You’ve heard it many times: Make sure to set up your privacy settings on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, so nothing embarrassing shows up in the search engines. When you get a chance, do a test-search of your name to see what pops up and what needs to go. A clean record will benefit your job-hunt efforts and even help you build a better reputation.

Everyone can be a stalker now because information is everywhere, so be aware of what you put onto the internet and make sure that nothing will negatively affect your goals.