The death of healthcare interpreting in the Netherlands

This is a reblog of a piece I wrote for the AIIC Blog. You can find the original post here.

When patients must provide their own interpreters, the healthcare system itself becomes ill. The ensuing social and personal toll is once again being ignored in the name of transient budgetary savings.

Most people with even a marginal interest in the interpreting profession will have heard about the events involving the UK Ministry of Justice’s changes to court interpreting procurement and the scandals arising from service provider Capita’s mismanagement of interpreter resources (if you haven’t, you can read a summary of events here and follow the interpreter response here). It will come as a sad surprise to hear that something even more worrying is going on in the Netherlands. There, healthcare interpreters have seen their profession effectively erased out of existence as a result of a government decision to no longer pay for interpreting services in healthcare settings.


Man vs. Machine? The FIT World Congress 2014

It’s been a hectic summer for me, and it’s shaping up to be an even busier autumn. I won’t bore readers with details of what has been keeping me occupied lately (although I will include a few links at the end of this post for friends and family curious to know what has caused me to drop off the map). But at some point amid all the list-making and juggling this summer, it occurred to me that either (a) I manage to find a way to balance blogging with my busy schedule, or (b) it may be time to close up shop on the Diaries altogether. And since I’m not quite ready for (b), here is my attempt to get back in the blogging saddle.

 "Image courtesy of Tom Curtis /".

“Image courtesy of Tom Curtis /”.

I’d like to ask you all to cast your glances ahead to August, 2014. Just under a year from now, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) will hold its XX World Congress in Berlin. The topic for the 2014 congress is Man vs. Machine? The Future of Translators, Interpreters and Terminologists. Over three jam-packed days, there will be a trade expo, a job exchange and plenty of opportunities for networking, not to mention around 100 different presentations, panels and workshops held around the following four sub-themes (as listed on the call for papers):

• Translators, interpreters and terminologists – careers demanding a diverse range of expertise (e.g. translation technology, terminology work, research expertise, business competencies, translation and interpreting in a wide range of specialist disciplines, literary (book) translation, intercultural competency, post-editing, audiovisual translation)

• How translation and interpreting contribute to safeguarding human rights (e.g. community interpreting, intercultural understanding, court interpreting, medical interpreting, interpreting in crisis and war zones)

• Professional practice and the rights of translators, interpreters and terminologists (e.g. professional ethics, standards and norms, fees, copyright and intellectual property, security and freedom of expression for translators and interpreters, crowd translation, transcreation)

• Teaching and research in the field of translation, interpreting and terminology work (e.g. didactic methods, general education vs. specialist education, CPD, IT tools in training, TRAFUT, language industry studies)

Why am I telling readers about the FIT event almost a year before it is scheduled to take place? Because now is the time for prospective attendees to vote for their favourite presentations, panels and workshops from the list of all the proposals submitted. Only the top submissions will be invited to form part of FIT 2014, so the voting process is key to the success of the event!

I have to admit I’ve got a bit of a vested interest in getting people out to vote. If you scroll way down the voting list, near the end under the heading “Teaching and research”, you’ll see one proposal that bears my name. It’s for a panel discussion entitled “The future is now: Virtual learning environments and the digital revolution in interpreter education” and if all goes according to plan, I’ll be joining Suzanne Ehrlich of the Univeristy of Cincinnati in the United States, Della Goswell of Macquarie University in Australia, Andrew Clifford of York University in Canada, and Kim Wallmach of Wits Language School in South Africa to address this very hot training topic. Together, we’ll offer perspectives from around the globe on how virtual learning has been embraced in interpreter training.

But that’s not all there is for interpreters at FIT 2014. A quick look at the list of proposals reveals a wealth of potential sessions that could be of great interest to those in our industry. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

– a workshop on the use of smartpens in interpreting (Esther Navarro-Hall, aka @MmeInterpreter)

– an introduction to iPads in the booth (Alexander Drechsel, aka @tabterp)

– theatre improvisation techniques as a professional development tool for interpreters (Matthias Haldimann, aka @matthaldimann)

– a panel proposal called “Interpreting 2.0: Exploring the interface between interpreters and technology”  bringing together Navarro-Hall, Drechsel, Nataly Kelly (@natalykelly) Barry Olsen (@ProfessorOlsen) and Thomas Binder

– a presentation on interpreting in the European Parliament (Juan Carlos Jiménez Martín)

– a paper on Edupunk (Jonathan Downie, aka @jonathanddownie)

– A review of EU Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpreting and translation in criminal proceedings (Liese Katschinka)

– A panel on technology and interpretation at European and international Courts and Tribunals (Liese Katschinka, Christiane Driesen, George Drummond)

…and there are plenty more. The good thing is, you can vote for as many proposals as you want! So, if you want to support ongoing dialogue in the translation and interpreting community – even if you don’t think you’ll be attending FIT 2014 in Berlin next summer – please cast your vote for what you see as the hottest topics in our industry today (if you submitted a proposal on an interpreting-related topic but don’t see it on my shortlist, please tell me in the comments section and I’ll add it). If you think you can fit it in, try to plan a trip to Berlin for next summer. I hope to see you there!


…so what have I been up to this summer? In addition to putting together this proposal for FIT 2014, I attended a summer school for researchers, co-planned and ran a CPD course for young interpreters, prepared two courses for the fall term of my favourite online MA program, co-designed and held a skills upgrade course for practitioners, and am currently busy putting together a seminar for trainers in Africa. If you’d like to find out more about any of these initiatives, just let me know! 

The Myth of Work/Life Balance

I promised readers a guest post exploring how one interpreter-researcher manages his work/life balance, and here it is!

The Myth of Work/Life Balance

Starring: A Young Family, Interpreting, Research and Lots of Cups of Tea

by Jonathan Downie*

As I type this, my pregnant wife is reading to our nearly fifteen month old son, I am fighting a cold and preparing for an interpreting job that will last almost all of next week and there are at least three research conferences that need my attention, especially given that for one of them, I still don’t know where I will be staying. Add on the fact that I have about an hour’s worth of research interviews to transcribe and it might seem that life is pretty crazy at the moment. It is.

When I was asked to write a guest post, the first topic that was suggested was how to balance researching, interpreting and having a family. My first response, which I didn’t dare say, was that I am not sure I know how to do this myself. The reality is that it has usually been the case that when family or research demanded more of my time, interpreting work was slow anyway. I also made the decision not to do any overnight interpreting or research conferences for the first year of my son’s life. So, it was more a case of the scales being loaded one way or the other than achieving anything that an outsider would call “balance”.

But then, perhaps balance is overrated anyway. Even in the completely crazy times, like this month where everything seems to be happening at once, or like the eight days I spent in Germany for data gathering, it has never been a case of starving one part of my life to feed another. In fact, as far as possible, I have deliberately tried not to divide my life into “parts” that I try to “balance”. Instead, I have tried (and not always succeeded) to act as one person with one life that involves all of these areas rather than three or four people trying to live together in one body. In short, I try to centre everything on family, even to the point of taking my wife and son on a data gathering trip, which became a holiday for them.

I also don’t make decisions on my time on my own. Whenever something comes up that would have me away from the house overnight or even just missing my son’s bed time, I talk it through with my wife and we decide together. That way, it is much easier to resist the siren song of overwork and the lure of getting self-worth from activities, even good ones, that would distance me from my family.

It also helps me work harder. As a big social media fan and enthusiastic blogger, it is easy, all too easy, for me to spend hours on Facebook when I have data to work on or a conference to prepare for. On the days I work from home, it really helps to have someone to kindly remind me, every so often, that Facebook doesn’t pay the bills and that paid projects should take precedence over unpaid ones.

The biggest unspoken benefit of freelancing is that, when we get to work from home, we get to be present with our families and to share our work world with them. While we might occasionally moan about distractions and might want to barricade ourselves in the home office for eight hours a day, the reality is that working from home automatically melts the work/family barrier. I believe that is a good thing. Sure, we might not be as “productive” as we imagine we might be in a workplace[1] but what could be more rewarding than getting to earn money to keep a roof over your head while getting to spend time with the people you love the most?

Freelancers also get to set their own pace, within reason. I am off interpreting from Tuesday to Friday next week. As long as I get the prep work done on time, I can choose whichever hours work best to get it done. So, if my son needs a hug or if my brain needs a bit of writing to wake it up, no big deal. My son can get his hug and then he can go play with his toys while I play with IATE.

As well as melting the work/family barrier, freelancing also then gives us a unique level of flexibility and maybe our use of that flexibility is the closest we might get to what some people call “balance”. The truth is, you can’t give a toddler lunch and do terminology research at the same time, as much as it might be fun to try. You can, however, be patient over lunch time and allow time with your toddler to let your terminology settle into your brain. After all, a relaxed brain is a learning brain.

And what about research? Well, for most of this week, research hasn’t really figured on my agenda. That’s okay. As my wife reminded me, you can only do so much. One of the benefits of being a part-time PhD student is that I get flexibility there too. If I am off for a week interpreting, no problem. If anything, given that my PhD is in interpreting, it is a win-win as I get a nice reminder of what it is like to be in the booth, working under the very same weights of expectation that I am researching. Separating research and paid work makes no sense at all when they are so closely related.

To use two words that are big in research-land at the moment, instead of balance, what I am always looking for is “engagement” and “collaboration”. The first simply means that people outside of an area, say academia or interpreting, get to discuss and debate what is going on there whenever it involves them. My family have a right to be “engaged” with my work and research life since the decisions made in those areas have a direct effect on my time with them and the amount of finance coming in.

“Collaboration” goes one step further and sees us working as a team. It might be something as simple as my wife giving me the “lay person” view on a research problem I am facing or as complex and long-term as making sure we are working together as parents and as a couple. The longer we are married, the more I realise that the greatest moments aren’t found when I have gone off and achieved something on my own but when my wife and I have worked together on something. The greatest views are the ones we have shared, not the ones I saw on my own.

The problem with looking for a “work/life balance” is that it assumes that your life can and should be split into slices, which then get shared out like pieces of chocolate cake. The problem is, of course, that there is always someone or something pushing for a bigger slice. Often, what we call “work/life balance” is simply a calculation of how much sacrifice we can ask our families to make before disaster happens.

If our families are engaged with our work in creative ways and we are engaged with their lives too, something interesting happens. Even in those moments when we can’t be with them physically, as will happen when you interpret or when you are away doing research, you do those things with the help of your family and with their blessing. Instead of “work” and “life” pulling in different directions, our aim should always be to make every part of our lives into a single, coherent whole. It’s not easy, and we will make mistakes but even the journey to get there is worth it.

[1] Anyone who has ever done both will tell you that workplaces aren’t always as productive as you might think. All those watercooler chats, team meetings, sneaky games of solitaire, trips to other offices and times spent waiting for approvals add up!


Thanks, Jonathan, for sharing your story! For more stories from interpreters about how they address the issue of work/life balance, check out these links (and don’t forget to read the comments):

Being a travelling interpreter, spouse, mom and friend (Elisabet Tiselius at Interpretings)

A call for childrearing interpreters (Matt Haldimann at 2Interpreters)

Work-life balance: not as simple as it sounds (Anne-Kirstin Krämer at The AIIC Blog)

*Jonathan Downie is a conference interpreter, PhD student and blogger. He is also a director on the board of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. He co-edits the LifeinLINCS blog for the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University and has recently launched RockYourTalk, a blog which aims to help academic, languages professionals and preachers deliver talks that work  for the social media generation.