THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE

a view from the booth

Covid-19 has upended the way we do our job as much as our daily lives and now, as the dust settles after the big shake-up of 2020, it is time to assess where we are and determine where we are headed.

These days, the institutions are running various forms of hybrid event – with some of the interpreters or delegates meeting in person and others connecting remotely – that are still highly dependent on technology, good connectivity, and meeting platforms that enable multilingual communication.

Agencies and consultant interpreters are operating almost completely online which, somehow, has accelerated the rate 'race to the bottom' as the pool of available interpreters has become global and an increasing number of colleagues seem to operate on the understandable basis of a fear of never working again.

Such a frantic downward spiral has also opened the door to makeshift working set-ups with interpreters connecting to parallel sessions on monolingual platforms, in an attempt to create a multilingual environment, and strange contractual propositions that expect interpreters to waive standard rights such as a proper cancellation policy.

Technology has also turned everyone into overnight experts, and the digital space is now flooded with webinars, seminars, and summits about pretty much everything but on which few have something new or valuable to say. The cacophony can be deafening and disorienting.

However, the biggest – almost tectonic – shift facing our professional community is the new role taken on by many remote simultaneous interpreting platforms: the conference interpreter marketplace.

Promoted as a novel way to bring interpreters directly to clients and vice versa, these marketplaces are simply copy-pasting the model used by large LSPs selling PSI and community interpreting services, especially in the United States. In doing so, these marketplaces will introduce three major changes to the way the business of conference interpreting is conducted:

1- It will eliminate the very valuable advisory role currently offered by specialist agencies and consultant interpreters, leaving clients to figure out for themselves what type of interpreter, setup, etc they need.

2- It will reduce the carefully developed skills of conference interpreters to a series of searchable tags from which clients can select an interpreter – somewhat similar to buying shoes online where any pair of black, size-4 wedges would do as long as they meet the selected filters.

3- The platform that owns the marketplace will be the only voice in the matter, singlehandedly determining rates, working conditions, and contractual offerings, leaving both clients and interpreters with just the one binary choice of 'take it or leave it'.

Does this mean that the future of conference interpreting is bleak and devoid of all hope? Not quite.

It just means that we are on the threshold of the next century of conference interpreting and, most importantly, that we interpreters – the ones with the actual talent and skills to do the job – have on our shoulders the biggest responsibility of our professional lives: deciding where we go next.

The most difficult thing about this pandemic is that it is brutally honest – pushed to the extremes by endless lockdowns, everything that is good in our lives shines brighter and everything that is so-so is becoming unbearable. The best thing about this pandemic is that all bets are off – and when all bets are off, everything is possible.


** Article originally published in the LRG Newsletter, February 2021

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