An Open Letter to the Founders of Babelverse

Dear Josef and Mayel,

You’re probably wondering why I have been ignoring your attempts to get in touch with me lately. After all, in the past we’ve exchanged tweets, corresponded by email and even skyped. But you will have undoubtedly noticed that I have not been responding to any of your overtures lately, and for that I think you deserve an explanation.

I’ve decided to give it in the form of an open letter, because I think my readers have a right to hear what I am about to say. Also, like my colleague Elisabet Tiselius states in her latest blog post to you, I feel these sorts of discussions are best held in the public domain, where everybody can benefit from the exchange and contribute to it if they wish. They should not be hidden away in private Skype chats.

But before I get started, let me just make one thing perfectly clear. My views on Babelverse have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you represent a tech startup that promises to “disrupt” my industry. With all of the talk going around lately about the benefits of disruption and the dangers of stagnation, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that one can be very much in favor of innovation (which I most certainly am) while harbouring reservations about those who claim to offer this innovation. In other words, professional interpreters have every right to question your approach – and this includes your technology – without being immediately branded Luddites or characterized as crotchety old grannies who feel that this business hasn’t been the same since IBM came up with those newfangled Hush-A-Phone thingees back in 1927.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I feel like I can explain why I don’t consider your company a valid interlocutor in my work to further my chosen profession. Basically, it can be summed up in a few words: integrity, transparency, professionalism and mutual trust. I come into contact with a lot of people in my professional and personal wanderings, and long ago I decided that if they couldn’t meet these few basic requirements, then I would not waste my time with them. Let’s look now at my interactions with Babelverse in the past few months and see how you measure up.

definition of Babel

It all started with what the more generous among us might construe as a misrepresentation of the facts. When, last September, I tweeted my doubts about the working conditions you were offering, you immediately replied that you had “hundreds of pro interpreters on board, including aiic & eu terps”. The wording of this tweet set the alarm bells ringing. There are, in total, only a few thousand interpreters in the world who meet that description, many of whom are trusted contacts of mine. I found hard to imagine that I had somehow missed the news that “hundreds” of us had already discovered the existence of an as-yet largely unknown tech startup and had rushed to offer our services.

Now, you didn’t actually say that your hundreds of interpreters were all AIIC members or EU-accredited. Indeed, with the wording you used, it would suffice for two or three of us to have signed up to make your claim true. And as a matter of fact, I had actually heard from one or two colleagues who had told me that they had gone into your database in order to have a look around (they had been confused by the lack of information on the public site and had assumed that information on rates and working conditions would be provided in the members-only pages). But none of them had done any work for you yet.

I have to say that this last bit didn’t surprise me. According to the little information which was available on the Babelverse website at the time (which has since disappeared – more on that in a bit), the working conditions you were offering clearly contravened AIIC’s professional standards: there were three-hour simultaneous assignments being allocated to single interpreters working alone, and payment was to be based on actual mike time. No professional conference interpreter in their right mind, AIIC member or not, would ever consent to those conditions.

But back to my point. Soon after our Twitter exchange, you contacted me and offered to discuss the matter further on Skype (typical damage control tactic, by the way: get the criticisms off the social media and into the private domain). Then, during our Skype chat, when I asked you to put your money where your mouth is and show me your list of hundreds of AIIC and EU interpreters, you freely admitted that you didn’t have them. You went on to explain in your own defense that you had felt upset by my comments and had dashed off your tweet in the heat of the moment. Fair enough, but explaining that you have done something “in self-defense” and without premeditation doesn’t make your actions any less suspicious.

So much for integrity. Let’s talk about transparency for a moment. I think Elisabet has already very effectively made the point that you are not exactly serving transparency when you refuse to give references or reveal who your “expert interpreting consultants” are. I asked you this during our Skype chat as well, but you declined to reveal your consultants’ names, claiming this information was confidential. I ask you, what professional consultant offers his or her services in secret? Assuming they exist, what do they have to be ashamed of? If these consultants truly are helping you to shift the interpreting paradigm through disruptive innovation, they should be shouting it from the rooftops, not hushing it all up.

The point has also been made by others that there is absolutely no way to access your database of interpreters to see who’s in it. You claim on your page that the interpreter profiles are public, but I have looked everywhere and I can’t find any public profile except that of your Global Community Ambassador Laura. It is very nice to see that she speaks Spanish with a Buenos Aires accent and offers expertise in everything from Behavioral Science to Contract Law, but what I don’t see is if she – and the rest of your interpreters, for that matter – belongs to a professional association and/or has any recognized interpreting accreditations or other externally verifiable credentials to back up her claims.

What most worries me in terms of transparency, however, is something I just happened to notice the other day. You claim to want to engage with industry players, and have a plethora of forms and buttons on your website purporting to facilitate just that. And yet in the one place where a debate seemed to be emerging last fall – your FAQ forum – something seems to have happened. All of the threads that I saw building there last fall have now mysteriously disappeared. There weren’t many, admittedly, but there were a couple of interesting points being made. So where has it all gone? The only thing I can find on the FAQ page these days are five questions asked by Josef. Now that’s engagement.

I am pleased to say that in a rare show of prescience, I decided to take screenshots of some of the more interesting comments that were to be found on your FAQ page back then. I still have those screenshots, and I’d like to share just a few quotes from them with readers here:

“I am utterly confused as to how Babelverse works”

“unless you’re outright transparent about how Babelverse works, less and less (sic) professionals will put all their info in not knowing what comes next”

“not very good business practices, to expect professionals to accept work without knowing what they’ll be paid”

“you pay by the minute and your hourly rate is very low”

“there’s no training platform to be seen”

“sweatshop labor”

To be fair, I should say that there were a few comments on the forum made by interpreters siding with Babelverse. This one is my favorite:

“I interpret all day long with only a few min break to drink water. Isn’t that what I’m being paid for?”

I should also say that while not all of these questions received answers, there were a few that you replied to, mostly to say that Babelverse was in beta phase, that it was a work in progress, and that it would all be sorted out sooner or later. Fine, that’s fair enough. So why is there is no trace of these exchanges that I can point my readers to? How has purging your FAQ forum served transparency and improved your engagement with the industry? If those forum threads are still around, I challenge you to make them public again* so that my readers can have a look for themselves, and contribute their own views to the debate, if they are so inclined. Of course, they can do that here on my blog, too, and I would encourage them to do so. You two should also feel free to make comments on this page, of course. I’d like to hear what you have to say in response to this post. Please don’t expect me to react to any emails or DMs, though. I think I’ve made it clear enough why.

Now, I see that this post is getting quite long and I haven’t even started talking about professionalism and mutual trust, the other two measures of credibility that I mentioned at the start. But maybe I should leave it at this for now, and just point readers wanting to read more to the excellent comments made by my esteemed colleagues Vincent Buck and Marta Piera Marin (on the Babelverse site and InterpretAmerica’s blog) and Elisabet Tiselius (in her first and second posts on this topic). Like me, these people are both professional interpreters and enthusiastic adopters of technology. They also happen to know this industry inside out. I subscribe in full to all of the points they have made.

Depending on what happens next, I may decide to share with readers what I had intended to write in the second half of this post. For now, I would just like to leave you with a quote that I recently came across on the Twitter timeline of your Global Community Ambassador (of all places):

“Never lie to someone who trusts you, and never trust someone who lies to you”.

Disruptively yours,


*The FAQ forum was made public again shortly after this post was published. You can find the link in the comments section.

140 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Founders of Babelverse

    • Sharks? I cannot let that stand. Don’t put us in the same boat as other companies who exploit interpreters interpreters with abusive wages while charging high prices to their clients. We are in fact the complete opposite.

      • Just for your information, Mayel, there was a huge debate over here a few years ago when some intermediaries decided to start taking 5-10% off the interpreter’s rate as a commission. So, given the 30% you propose to cream off the top, I hope you understand why I have a hard time accepting your argument that your practices are diametrically opposed to those of aforementioned rapacious agencies.

  1. Hi, Michelle!
    I can’t really talk about the project itself, since I wasn’t contacted by them to join their staff of interpreters (not until i retweeted Elisabet’s post, at least) and because I was never really convinced of the whole matter. There’s something fishy and I definitely agree with what you’re saying, especially if you’ve had your “private” skype chats.

    When this project came to light, the word being used was “crowdsourcing”. Maybe it’s just me, but the word itself seems so impersonal, especially in the interpreting world, and from day one, I’ve had my doubts.

    I think you’ve made your point here, and I would really love to see what Babelverse has to say about every single thing you’ve pointed out. Chapeau!

    P.S: another example of Babelverse heat of the moment (right after I had praised Elisabet Tiselius’ post): “have u created an account on @babelverse? We welcome u to sign up & give us ur feedback on product rather than hear-say”.

    IMHO, not professional. Maybe they should have tried to convince me as well? Don’t know. But that was definitely not the way to encourage me to find out some more of the project itself.

    • Thanks for your comments, Flor. Their method seems to be to encourage the doubting Thomases among us to sign up to their platform and “see for themselves”. But from what I understand, there’s nothing to see.

      Also, in signing onto their database, or any other agency database for that matter, interpreters run the very real risk that their data will be used to win jobs that others will end up doing in their stead. This is a common practice, known as “CV phishing”, that was discussed at AIIC’s Private Market Sector meeting (remote interpreting was also discussed there, by the way. AIIC does have its finger on the pulse). Here’s the link to the PriMS tweets:

      Thanks again for your contribution. I look forward to continuing the discussion!

      • Mayel says “We never stoop to such practices”, but in effect, in the tweet that started this whole thing off, you did just that. You action was tantamount to that of agencies who use AIIC CVs they phished from their owners or lifted off sites like LinkedIn to win tenders.

        This is not paranoia or even hearsay on my part. I am currently involved in a case of an agency in the Netherlands that won a major tender to provide interpretation to international organizations there by using AIIC CVs without their owners’ consent (and I have reason to believe I was one of them). After they won the tender, the client asked for proof that they work with AIIC interpreters. They have not been able to provide it, of course (since they stole the CVs). So now an official inquiry has been launched and it looks like the whole tendering procedure might have to be annulled. Do you know how much that costs a client? They must be hopping mad at this point, and I don’t blame them.

        Now, you may not immediately see how this is similar to your innocent little tweet, but in both cases, a service provider lent itself credibility by publicly linking its name with a professional association – a link that later could not be substantiated. The main difference is that you did it without thinking, whereas the agencies have a clear intent.

        AIIC has been known to send cease and desist letters to unscrupulous players who repepatedly use their name or logo without subscribing to our professional standards. And as in the case described above, you can see how easy it is to get into legal hot water with the end client with this sort of practice as well.

        Just saying.

  2. Sick and tired as I am of seeing only precarious work wherever I look to, I agree with this ‘braveheart’ post. Thank you, Michelle.

  3. I was curious so I went and registered at the site. My curiousity has unfortunately remained unsatisfied because I have learned nothing. There are still the same few topics at the FAQ site, absolutely no information on payments except that Babelverse keeps 30% of the fee and no info on working conditions. So even if I wanted to give it a try I couldn’t because I cannot in good faith promise to work at a job I know virtually nothing about.

    • Thank you for your comments, Katka. Others who have been on the inside of the Babelverse page have also confirmed to me that there is no more information available there than on the public site. I certainly hope they realize that this is not the way to earn their interpreters’ trust. They want to create a “people-powered universal translator”. For that, they will need people.

      • I’m extremely glad you raised that point, Mayel. It was going to be in Part 2 of this post (under mutual trust), but since you raised it here…

        My decision to break off communications was indeed linked to the very document you refer to. As I was drafting my replies, it suddenly occurred to me that I might unwittingly be becoming one of the “expert consultants” that you claimed to have. The reason why they’re all anonymous may be that you are using their services without their knowledge. At that point I realized that I really had no idea of your true intentions. If, as I suspected, and as all the indications seemed to confirm, it were to transpire that you were just another misinformed middleman intent on making money from an industry you know nothing about, then by engaging with you, I would basically be helping you to achieve that and in so doing tearing down with one hand the work I had been trying so hard to build up with the other.

        That leaves me with just professionalism to cover. But I think that’s enough for now, really.

      • “[…] by engaging with you, I would basically be helping you to achieve that and in so doing tearing down with one hand the work I had been trying so hard to build up with the other.”

        I couldn’t agree more with you and I am glad you took the decision to cease communication as you would have been an excelent expert consultant for a middleman that looks not to know how our industry works.

        Well done braveheart-Michelle! I fully support your post and comments! Keep going!

    • Our rates vary according to cost of living, use-case, tier of services, etc. It is a complicated system based on 2 years of market research and feedback from interpreters, and still a work in progress. That is why they aren’t yet available on the website (but they will soon be). In any case though, we always indicate the applicable rate in a job request, and interpreters are always at liberty to accept or reject.

    • Thank you, Simone – and Nadine, Isabel, Javier, Diana and others who have voiced your support. I think the time has finally come for us to bring this discussion out into the open. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

  4. Do you really believe that Babelverse is out to destroy the interpretation industry and make interpretation worse? That makes no sense for their business. What makes sense for Babelverse is to provide the highest quality of interpretation in a new, innovative way. Yes they will see challenges technologically but these can clearly be overcome. Look at how fast technology is advancing. We are sending robots to Mars for christ sake. You don’t think video stream and internet is going to improve and allow them to do amazing things? That’s just crazy.

    • Thank you for your comments, Alexander. You appear to have missed my point completely. I actually am anxiously awaiting the day that an effective remote interpreting solution appears. You see, I live on a distant island literally miles from any major interpreting center, and I would love nothing better than to be able to do my job from the comfort of my own home.

      My point is not that the idea is a bad one. Rather, when (and note I do not say “if”) the idea becomes reality, I want to see that the people who are realizing it have at least some basic ideas about how the industry works. Nothing Babelverse has done has led me to believe that this applies in their case. And as long as there is this lack of awareness, the solution is simply not going to work.

      Also, I also did not say they were out to destroy the industry. I said they had not done anything to earn credibility among interpreters, and I think you’ll agree that without us on their side, they have nothing.

      • You do realize this is a very early stage startup right? What is the point of your article? To smear their name before they even have a chance?

      • I actually had no intention to say anything about Babelverse at all. You’ll recall that everything I described happened months ago and at the time I decided that, although I did not personally consider them valid interlocutors, for the reasons of integrity and transparency expressed above, I would leave them to their business and see how it turned out.

        What I didn’t include in my post were my parting words to them at the end of our Skype chat. I said something along the lines of: “I have to admit I am still very skeptical about all this, and I don’t see how it could possibly work unless you learn something about interpreters and interpreting. But I hope you prove me wrong.”

        The reason why I have chosen to express my views in public now is not because I am hoping to smear a poor startup’s name. Like I have any clout in Silicon Valley! The fact is, they forced my hand in announcing (and inviting me to) a Google Hangout that while appearing to promote debate, will not do anything of the sort. The very title: Disruptive Technology: Opportunity or Threat” leaves you the choice of either embracing disruption – and by extension Babelverse – or rejecting it and appearing like a Luddite. Their apparent gesture does not leave any room for people like me (and I assure you there are plenty of us), who want innovation but not on any terms. So I had to write this post. It is now up to Josef and Mayel to prove me wrong.

      • “you appear to have missed my point completely.” Once again I fully support you, Michelle.

        As Alexander has lost your point completely I wonder if Alexander is in the interpreting industry in the first place.

        No that I am saying you are not, Alexander. But it is hard to believe you are missing what Michelle is trying to explain and bring to the public domain for the sake of our profession.

        Undoubtedly Michelle is not against technology innovation. She is just defending our standards as interpreters and that includes working conditions (we all know that covering a three hour long session in simultaneous by ourselves goes against working conditions standards). And that’s just to name a few examples.

    • Hi Alexander,

      Based on your comments you cannot possibly know much, if anything at all, about professional interpreting and you are completely missing the point of the article.

      Nobody’s afraid of technology. The author clearly isn’t out to get Babelverse, but it is true that any “agency” or “website” or whatever you want to call it “business” that offers such ridiculous conditions to their workers simply is not – in any way, shape, manner or form – qualified to enter the market it is trying to enter.


  5. Why do you even bother? I mean – excellent post and all that, I learned something, I had never heard of these people. But should they get in touch with me, I would click on “Delete”, jus as I do with all those agencies who want my CV or with Nigerian investment opportunities and I haven’t received to many penis enlargements recently, but they all receive the same treatment. No discrimination!

    I have also received fishy offers for telephone interpreting, at 50 cents per minute or some such. Go away! Leave me alone! And no, I don’t need a life insurance, thank you very much!

  6. Michelle,

    Of course we’ve read your post, and will reply to your concerns, just give us some time to wade through everything being written on the web right now.

    It is a pity that you have chosen to ignore our invitation to a public discussion. Participation in a debate does not equals endorsement.

    Why the cynicism? Skepticism is respectable, but why not base your opinions and decisions on actual facts rather than assumptions?

    As you mention, we’ve reached out to you and talked in the past. I really don’t understand why you have decided to forgo constructive two-way conversation, opting for this public rant instead.

    I want to state again that our doors are always open, specifically there’s is still room in the Hangout for people who are open to honest discussion, and we will also answer questions submitted here:


    • Hi Mayel,

      I’m pleased to see you have joined the discussion here. My apologies if my reply right now is a bit brief, but I was quite literally just about to turn off my computer and go to bed when it came in.

      I look forward to hearing what your responses are to the points I raised above. There is not much you can do in the short term re: my first concern (once bitten, twice shy, as they say, and my own kids know very well how long it takes for me to start believing them again after they’ve misrepresented the truth to their mother). But with respect to wht I’ve said under transparency, I’d very much like to hear what you have to say. Reposting your FAQs was a very good start.

      As to why I have chosen not to accept your invitation to the Hangout, it’s quite simple. As far as I’m concerned, the topic being offered for debate, “Disruptive Technology: Opportunity or Threat”, is not the right question to be asking. As you very well know, and as they point out in the InterpretAmerica blog, the term “disruptive technology” has postive connotations and in equating your work with it, you are effectively eliminating any possibility for real discussion about what exactly it is you are doing. If I question Babelverse, I run the risk of being accused of seeing DT as a threat, and therefore being anti-technology and all sorts of other nasty things. But that is not the point, not at all.

      You would appear to disagree with my manner of structuring the debate (via open blog posts and discussion forums) just as much as I question yours (by asking loaded questions on a Google Hangout). That’s fine, you have a right to your opinion and I have a right to mine. In any case, let me assure you that I am not alone in my views, and far from this post being merely a personal rant, it reflects the concerns of many colleagues, professional and non, conference and community, young and old, who are asking themselves the same questions but do not benefit from the outlet that a personal blog offers. I feel like I am speaking for many of them when I ask you to respond to these points. And I’m sure they will all appreciate reading what you have to say.

      • Michelle, to clarify. The topic is “Disruptive Innovation” not “Disruptive Technology”. The technology is one part of the whole package we are discussing, in fact is a minor one. Babelverse is a work in progress always has been, not everything can be perfect from day 1, it has to evolve, we have reached out to you and other pro interpreters to open dialogue, either publicly or privately, pretty much every test of our platform has been public though, way back with the Japanese Tsunami Crisis Response application we built, to interpreting President Obama’s State of the Union, to the odd TEDx conferences we trialled our service, to The Next Web conference just trying out a couple of languages and trialling different set ups with our interpreters, to the huge TechCrunch Disrupt event where we ran our largest operation yet of 12 languages simultaneously, in the startup world, it is all about trial and error and iteration to get things right, we could have holed ourselves up and built something that we thought would work for interpreters then “appeared”, but that’s not what we did, at each stage we have run an experiment we have received feedback from users and interpreters and improved and evolved our platform, we already asked you 1 year ago if you would like to be part of this evolution and project, and this offer is still open, and to any interpreters that would like to get involved, but you seem to think that talking get’s things done, partly yes, but doing get’s things done. We’re not another major language service provider (Language Line, ASL etc..), we’re new, there is a real opportunity to create something worthwhile for the industry here. There are plenty of copycats waiting in the wings, and their heart or passion is not in the right place. There is nothing “fishy” or suspicious about Babelverse, Josef or Mayel. Please keep an eye on our blog. There are only so many times we can extend an invitation. Good night, I’m getting some sleep!

      • Thank you for your comments, Josef. I too am planning to get some sleep very soon. The slip in reproducing your Hangout title must be due to my fatigue levels.

        What you have just written has done absolutely nothing to alleviate my fears. And here’s a tip: while I am willing to look the other way and ignore the grammatical and spelling errors in your comment as I wade through the commas to try and find your point, I think you will find that many of the language professionals you hope to reach out to will be much less forgiving.

  7. It’s kind of sad reading all these recent blog posts attacking Babelverse, really. It sounds like all the people that they reached out to years ago to collaborate with in building a better product for interpreters rejected their contact, and now they’re all out there to get them.

    So here are my few points:

    1. it’s an early stage startup – they need customer feedback – that is you, and you refused it. You know those types of people that decide not to vote and then complain about the elected president? That’s very similar to what you’re doing.

    2. they are still testing – they are reaching out to you for help and feedback, to develop a product that will make YOUR life easier. They are not interpreters, and they need your help to help you – in return you act like you are the sharks, and come out as feeling threatened and fighting change. Change will happen. Technology WILL disrupt your industry, weather you like it or not. It would be sad to destroy the guys who are actually trying to work WITH you.

    3. You are all acting like a bunch of high-school immature kids. You point out the problems, but don’t give any sort of positive feedback, or help them understand how they can develop a better product for you, so that you and them can reach a mutually beneficial state.

    4. They are having a hard time getting investment because VC’s out there say that Google and other big companies are working on products that will DESTROY (not disrupt) your industry, and Babelverse are fighting for you guys, representing your rights and qualities, and lobbying on your behalf to people that are just waiting for you to be eliminated from the translation/interpretation sector.

    I could go on and on, because I know them personally and I know for a fact that they are trying really hard to help you and that all these attacks are actually affecting them on a personal level. They got offered a lot of money before to sell their startup (even in the initial stage), which they refused because they didn’t want to sell out and give up their concept of a global community of interpreters.

    You just attack them based on what you’ve read on internet about them and a couple of tweets. You have no idea how hard it is to create a startup, to bootstrap it and basically give up your personal life to make it happen. I’m not saying they deserve praise or anything, it was their choice and they love it. However, it makes me angry the way you react to their intentions.

    – You don’t like their rates? Well, then work with them and figure out a way to get better ones.

    – You don’t like their lack of transparency? Then get on skype or google hangout and confront them, don’t come up with ‘open letters’ – this is like a bully high-school approach – you know, ‘that guy’ that treats people like crap in public, but actually they’re getting along fine when they interact in private.

    – You have time for tweets and forums and very long blog articles? They don’t, because they have a business to run and their customers to fight.

    Stop pointing out the problems and issues, and work together to come up with a good solution! Easy as that. Don’t fight against them, because even if you destroy them, there will be others to replace them soon, and trust me, they won’t be initiating google hangouts with you guys.

    I hope you guys will reach a consensus and figure out a way to work together and spend the time you waste on writing back and forth on actually collaborating.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Thanks for your comments, Anca. I feel they merit more time than I can give them right now (I am about to rush off to catch a train with no wifi and won’t be back online for several hours). I will publish them now, so that my readers can see them, and answer your various points later today.

      • Thank you for posting them, lady! Funny enough I just got off a wi-fi-less train as well 🙂

        Look forward to hear your answers! 🙂

      • Here, finally, are my responses to your points, Anca. If they are a bit brief it’s because you made so many points that need addressing in a single comment. Please bear with me.

        1 We are not ganging up on Babelverse. If we are all saying the same things, it is because we have a valid point, or several of them, actually. I most certainly have not asked my colleagues to come here and make comments supporting me. The fact that they have turned out in droves in quite telling, don’t you agree? And that reminds me, where are all the Babelverse interpreters? Shouldn’t they be here defending their employers from all this shameless slander? I was sort of hoping I might get to meet some. Although I have to admit that you make a great sparring partner as well :).

        2 You say they have been around for two years. That should give them geriatric status in the startup world. Most startups will have either taken off or died an invisible death by their second anniversary.

        3 I don’t consider interpreters as Babelverse customers. They are their (potential) service providers. The users are their customers. What Josef and Mayel need is not customer feedback but input from their service providers. And I think you’ll agree that they are getting plenty of that these days. If they don’t like what they hear, then maybe they are asking the wrong questions.

        4 Don’t get me going on elections and voting practices (although If you manage to guess my political leanings, I will buy you a virtual beer and tell you all about them). And personally, I don’t see the parallel with cranky non-voters anyhow.

        5 I DO actually see how remote interpreting could make my life easier. Unfortunately, try as I might, I don’t see how Babelverse can do it. Someone else might, eventually. Ask Josef and Mayel what research has been done on remote interpreting, by whom, and what the results were. If they can’t answer you, then I rest my case. If they can, then tell them to use it to make a better product.

        6 I have only been in the language business for 17 years, but already I have seen plenty of change. Some has been good, some has been bad, much has been disruptive. I’ve adapted and in many cases benefited from the change, and I’d like to think that in a few cases I’ve even contributed to making it happen. I’d also like to think I’m still young enough to seize the opportunities that change has to offer. One day I will hit granny mode, of course, but hopefully not quite yet.

        7 Am I a granny or a high school kid? Now I’m confused.

        8 I am well aware of what Ray Kurzweil is up to these days. Do I lie awake at night worrying about it? No (see 6 above). If forced to choose, I would place my money on Google. They might just do it. Maybe I’ll recycle myself as a welder in the Canadian oil patch. I hear they make upwards of 100,000 bucks a year, which is more than I could ever dream of in my line of business.

        9 If Josef and Mayel don’t want to feel attacked on a personal level, they should stop doing the sorts of things that made me write the blog post. I can see where accusations of lack of transparency might hurt, but I didn’t ask them to refuse to give the names of their consultants (for example).

        10 You’re right, I have no idea how hard it is to run a startup, although I can get an idea from my friend who is doing just that. He lives and breathes his work, forgets to eat, and lies awake at night thinking about what needs to be done next (I do all of that too, by the way).

        11 I’ve already explained why I don’t feel like skyping with them anymore – and at this point, I doubt they’d want to skype with me. As for the hangout, I know Barry and Esther and I am sure they will do a fine job representing the profession. They don’t need me there. Anyway, Babelverse is asking the wrong question, as I’ve said elsewhere.

        12 As a matter of fact, I don’t actually have time for forums and very long blog articles (though I will always find time for tweets 😉 ). I skipped lunch and dinner and a good chunk of sleep yesterday, and am missing dinner tonight, in order to be able to do all this and still meet my professional obligations. But I reckon it is worth the sacrifice. Not to mention the fact that my waistline will appreciate the enforced fast.

        I think that covers it. Let me know if I missed anything.

      • Heyllo Michelle,

        Sorry it took a while to reply, I actually had to work today. haha! oh boy, this is ending up taking a lot of our time, isn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to write these points! I’ll try to be brief with my responses

        1. You are part of an industry that is very close tied together. That is to be appreciated, that you guys are sticking out for eachother, but it makes it really difficult and risking for the ones that don’t agree with the thought leaders to speak up… I don’t think I need to explain why

        2. J&M have actually taken your advice and travelled the world for the past year, meeting your community. They had interest from investors and big companies that offered them a lot of money to sell to them, but refused, because they believe too much in their concept to sell it to corporations. They did get funding, which they used to travel and meet interpreters from all over the world. They just stopped a month ago, took care of some health issues and now are getting into actually applying everything that they learned during their travels.

        3. I don’t believe they asked any question that caused all these articles. (correct me if I’m wrong)

        4. Hmmm…I would need to know a bit more about you to be able to even try to guess that. A virtual beer and chat sounds good either way, though!

        5. They’re trying to make a better product. I joined this discussion to defend their intentions and their character (even though impulsive at times – especially one of them :D, they are great guys and definitely not sharks). I will let them talk about the research, results and all that, and how they are working on delivering a better product. Also, being on the road for a year doesn’t give much time for product developing, but it does for research

        6. Great to hear! (the seizing opportunities part, not the granny one haha).

        7. Lol! I think only you can figure that out!

        8. Well, Josef and Mayel don’t want to place their money on Google. 🙂 Being stubborn and passionate will do that! If you ever recycle as a welder in the Canadian oil patch please post pictures! Now that’s a career shift that’s worth spotlighting!

        9. Their consultants have profiles on the website. However, in their place I wouldn’t place my clients that support me in the line of fire either! 😉 Actually I think it’s admirable of them to not disclose their names when it would obviously benefit them to do so, since said interpreters didn’t decide to expose themselves

        10. …and they do too! (i sleep like a baby when I get the chance, though)

        pfew, already getting tired…

        11. What are the ‘right’ questions?

        12. I know, me either! Takes a loooot of time to read and write these comments and keep track of all of them. I do skip a lot of the meals as well, and lost a lot of weight! Bring on the forums and heated discussions, I say! haha

        I doubt you’ve missed anything! And if you did, then damn, we’re talking too much! 😀 My twitter name is anca_albu, right now i love the idea of 140 characters 🙂

    • “- You don’t like their rates? Well, then work with them and figure out a way to get better ones.”
      I’m sorry, but why should I? If rates don’t suit me, be it a flight, a hotel or a dish in a restaurant, I go somewhere else.
      Why don’t they try this with plastic surgeons? They could be on stand-by, be paid only whenever their hands actually move and give 30% of their income to Babelverse. Isn’t that a great idea?

      • First of all, if you chose to go somewhere else, then just move on. Why should you work with them to figure out better rates? Because this change in your industry will happen sooner or later, and I assure you you guys want to be part of the decisions that will be made regarding how it will work. Otherwise you will be left with no choice but accepting what has been set by others.

        There are a lot of interpreters out there, some of them from not-so-rich countries, that will happily accept lower rates than you. You will end up watching the decline of your industry due to globalization and technology. Better stay on board and steer the changes to a solution that will benefit you.

        Also, you got their business model wrong. 🙂

  8. looks like some people follow you like sheep and take your words for granted. Kudos to you, it means you’re really good at what you do and people respect you.

    You should use those qualities for positive change, not negative attacks. I know it’s a lot harder and takes more effort, but trust me – you’ll come out as a better person 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment. You may find it hard to believe, but the underlying intent of this post was indeed to effect positive change. I spend a great deal of my time working to try to improve and defend my chosen profession. If people “follow me like sheep”, then I would like to believe that it is because they have measured me against their own criteria of integrity, transparency, and professionalism and decided that they could trust what I have to say (the greatest compliment I have ever received was not actually given to my face but was overheard in conversation: “You know Michelle, she’s so WYSIWYG”).

      Of course, like all bloggers, I am open to criticism and commentary. That’s the price you pay for expressing your views in public instad of hiding them away in private fora. If, as a result of this post, I see that something needs to be done to change my approach and in so doing make me a better person, then you can rest assured that I will do it.

      • Thank you for your reply and openness 🙂

        I don’t find it hard to believe that your intent was to effect positive change. I just believe that you failed at clearly communicating that message. You are a thought leader in your industry, weather you want to admit it or not, and posts like these are being taken for granted by your followers. They will not do their own research, they will not read other articles, but instead they’ll just diss Babelverse based solely on your article. It just seems a bit harsh.

        Babelverse is defending your profession as well! I’ve seen them do it a lot of times.

        i.e. After I talked to an investor about them and said investor replied that they wouldn’t invest in Babelverse because in 4-5 years noone will need interpreters anymore, Josef’s reaction (in his impulsive way 🙂 ) was “he’s an idiot! the world will ALWAYS need interpreters, no matter if google figures out the right technology. Human interpretation will always be needed, and you can never replace those skills with technology”.

        My point is that they believe in you, they want to create something that would help you help them in buying that aspirin in Greece. Their vision is probably too big to be put on a home page by 2 web developers, but they are trying! You should at least appreciate their honesty, even if it means they might come off as less diplomatic..i assure you their intentions are good and far from the ‘shark concept’.

  9. For a start-up trying to recruit language professionals, a couple of lessons on English punctuation could come handy to Joseph Dunne as shown in his lenghty response above. Folks, I believe that just by taking this people seriously we are already giving them an aura of importance that they surely do not deserve,.I happen to have read their first (and so far only, at least for me) email : they want you to be on stand by for hours, and be paid only for the minutes of real interpretation. As Michelle said, no interpreter, profesional or even amateur, in his right mind would agree to that. Let us call things by their real name, this is a shameless attempt by young people who are dreaming of becoming millionaires on the back of serious professionals, just because one day they were in a pharmacy in Athens and could not buy aspirin. The more we argue with them, the better for them: they can show the people they are trying to syphon money from that they are engaged in “serious dialogue with professional interpreters”. I suggest we simply ignore them and let the whole thing die down. Mauro Lando, in Brazil

    • Dear Mauro

      As a language professional, you probably learned to judge people’s emotions by the way they express themselves. I think you should use those skills in this case as well, and realize that Josef’s post is written in a moment of not-so-calm thinking 🙂 And how could he be, when the people he is defending in front of the real ‘sharks’ are on their as sand attacking them, even on a personal level, nut just their business model (which, by the way, you got all wrong – they don’t expect you to be on stand-by and not get paid for it, you actually chose the times you are available, and they assign you based on your availability.)

      Actually, that comment made me realize how much this affects them and I decided to write my views as well.

      “I suggest we simply ignore them and let the whole thing die down.” Really? That’s your suggestion? There are others out there that will do this, and they are already ignoring you. They will find ways to make your job titles obsolete, just for the sake of saving money. Trust me, I have talked to people that use your skills that are waiting for Google to figure out the translation part of technology. They are working on it as we speak. If you “ignore” the people that are part of the tech world and are on your side, you stand no chance.

      Also, look at their background: they are web developers (geeks, if you will 🙂 ), not english major graduates. Their skills are in a different field than speaking eloquently, and if you throw in emotions and replying at these types of attacks at 3am, messy confusing posts tend to happen.

      As a last point, since you want to play the “point out spelling mistakes” card: when you are attacking someone, it’s best to pay attention to the spelling of their names, otherwise you’re targeting the wrong person 😉

  10. Pingback: Babel precarity – more questions | Interpretings

  11. Thank you Michelle for this strong message. I totally agree with the four principles you consider pivotal to a satisfying professional relationship: integrity, transparency, mutual trust and, indeed, professionalism. I believe those of us who teach must convey this idea to our students, so they learn to discern what is acceptable and what is not. But more seasoned colleagues need a reminder from time to time, too. That is why I will be forwarding your post to my Region, if I may.
    I have already shared it on my Facebook page and I had the most revealing comment from a young colleague, who is just starting out in our profession but who obviously already knows what she’s worth: <>. Exactly!

  12. What the young colleague said was: OMG, I just had a look at the website: “Do you speak more than one language? Try yourself at interpretation! Practice first on our training platform and obtain a new source of income.” – I’m sorry, WHAT?!

    • Dear Regina,

      Please bare in mind that the co-founders of Babelverse are web developers. They believe in open-source technology, they consider themselves “glomads” (as in global citizens). They believe in sharing knowledge and information freely, and this is what the world is tending towards.

      There are a lot of learning websites out there, from different tools (such as software), skills, to new languages. The language ones are doing very well, and people all over the world are keen on learning at least a new language.

      If you want to focus on accreditation, regulations, degrees and all that, trust me when I say that these will become a thing of the past.

      I was confident that I can interpret in real-life, since English is my second language. I have been proven wrong by Josef, who made me do it. It’s very hard to become an interpreter, it takes a lot of work, practice and passion. Your sector is full of intelligent people, and I think you know better than not to be threatened by a potential “interpreter learning platform”. And if people start learning how to interpret by actually practicing and getting feedback from the pro’s out there, what’s wrong with that? I’m all for learning!

      Also, growing up in communism made me have no consideration for degrees, accreditation and papers proving my value, skills and knowledge. I have never proven my worth by showing a piece of paper to someone, and there are more and more people out there who are like this. For how long do you think that the world needs to pay fees to intermediaries that approve or not what we know? It could be a lot easier, we can rate each other! So the interpreters could actually work as a community supporting and teaching each other. Maybe I’m being idealistic, but I believe in an open-source world as well. 🙂

      You ladies keep talking about integrity, transparency, mutual trust and professionalism, though you refuse to have an open live discussion with these guys. You attack them online and promote them to your groups, influencing their opinions and basically telling them they should not use a platform. That’s not integrity 🙂

      You talk about mutual trust – how can these guys trust YOU? You refuse collaboration, you publicize articles that point out the issues but don’t give solutions, so it comes off as you’re just out there to get them because you feel threatened by change.

      Professionalism? Babelverse respects your industry, they are always speaking highly of you, and protect your rights and skills in front of people that can’t wait for technology to take over interpretation 100%. Maybe they don’t come off that way on their website, but remember it’s a small team that are trying hard to connect with you and come up with a better product. Your industry’s response? Negative attacks and spreading the word to people that you know for a fact that they won’t do any research to figure out if you are right or not. That’s not professionalism, that’s mob mentality.


  13. There is one things I’ve never been able to understand (and this isn’t exclusively about Babelverse): why quote or announce an “Interpreter fee” (to a client, interpreters, the world at large) and then take a percentage off it? Doesn’t that effectively mean that it is not the “interpreter fee”? In other words, why not just cite the amount the interpreter will actually receive (after commissions, bank/transfer/currency fees, etc.) as the interpreter fee? And anything else as a fee (e.g. coordination, service, etc.) to the client?

    I’ve chosen not to post this question as a reply to any of the Babelverse comments because it is directed to everyone.

    • Because they want to be transparent about their commission, and open negotiations. The terms might be off (I see what you’re saying here), but why don’t you just tell them it is the wrong terminology instead of “never being able to understand”? Seriously? These guys have been around for 2 years, did you ever ask them this?

      It’s not that hard to make things simple, really 🙂

      As a side note, all comments on this article are about Babelverse and I am aware that anything you comment on here will be directly associated with them, either if you want to direct it to everyone or not 😉

      • Well Anca, I did want to direct it to everyone, including the people from Babelverse. It’s an old question – and truly I’ve never been able to understand for a simple reason: I would think that transparency vis-a-vis clients would be a plus for a company or self-employed person. But most people I’ve asked – both intermediaries and other interpreters – have told me it doesn’t matter. If I ask people in other lines of business, they just look at me quizzically and say, “But everyone knows that business is done that way!”

        Of course all comments here concern Babelverse in one way or another. I was simply referring to placement on the page.

      • I think the point about the rates, including the one raised by Luigi and others below and another question asked by Martha on your FAQ forum, is not so much that they are low (which they are), or that you will take 30% (which you will). The point they are making is that the interpreter has no idea how much he will actually get.

        You say 47 USD per hour. Fine. So I am hired for a job that is meant to take 2 hours, in a booth with another colleague. Since we will split the work theoretically I will be 47 dollars richer at the end of it. Thing is, what if the delegates decide to speak my language for 30 minutes of that? Do we each go home with 75% of the 47 dollar rate? Or what if the meeting unexpectedly ends after 90 minutes, just as my second turn was about to start? I get paid for 30 minutes and my colleague gets paid for 60? If that’s the case, everybody will be fighting to go first (a rare occurrence in the booth) or we might possibly see a sudden proliferation of microphage syndrome.

        But let’s assume that you have factored all that in and I am assured that I will be paid 47 dollars, come what may during the meeting. Okay, so how about the fees? Your FAQ says

        “You will be able to see the relevant rate when you receive a request, and if you take the gig, 70% of the price paid by the listener(s) is then credited to your Babelverse account (minus payment processing fees and eventual telecommunications costs). You can then withdraw it via PayPal.”

        Assuming that we clarify before the event that the $47 is net after the 30% cut, and not gross (because your wording is not clear on that), that still leaves the question of the fees. These fees vary by country of origin and destination and are not insubstantial. When I consider a translation offer from Switzerland, for instance, it is important for me to know that the bank fee will be 15CHF (about 12€). And the client will NEVER cover that for me. When my parents want to send me a Christmas gift from my gradnmother, the transfer fee of about 25 USD is usually bigger than the gift itself.

        So I will have to find out before clicking “accept” what fee will be involved. As for telecommunications costs, whoa, I don’t even want to go there. You’re smart, can’t you put together a VOIP system or something that doesn’t require the use of telephone networks? Or maybe you already have, in which case I have no idea why your answer above even includes the cost of the call. Confusing, like so many other things about this.

        On the other hand, you say “listener(s)” as if there might be more than one client. Does that mean you could theoretically earn 470 dollars if 10 people tune in to your interpretation? Now that would be disruptive innovation that I could go along with.

      • Hey lady,

        From what I understand from Babelverse, if you are an expert on call for 2 hours and you are paired with another interpreter, you each go home with 47USD x2. You are being paid for the whole time you are on call, not for the actual interpreting minutes.

        I am sure that all the financial issues and questions will be clarified by Josef and Mayel. Actually, the past few days they have been working on implementing a tool that would make it very easy for you to know beforehand how much money you’d make, based on your level of expertise, languages used and amount of time. They’d rather do that than write comments on here, because that’s how they are. (also, it’ll keep them sane and determined, and keep their passion going, instead of ending up writing comments driven by emotion – we all saw how that went! :P)

        I am sure they have more pleasant surprises for you. I actually smiled when I read the last paragraph, because I have a feeling that you’ll end up getting along very well 😀

      • Anca,

        I know a lot has been said in these comments already, and there is no way at this point that I could possibly reply to all the points raised without starting to sound boring and repetitive. Anyhow, in most cases those who know me know what I would say in reply to each point, and those who don’t know probably wouldn’t believe me.

        There is just one last point I want to clarify before we conclude this discussion (or possibly move it onto Twitter, if that’s what you prefer). And that has to do with my little calculation exercise above. I hope it was obvious that I was only doing that to show how obtuse the whole approach was, not to try to negotiate what would be an acceptable deal for me.

        Babelverse’s business model is such that it could never be bent into an acceptable deal. Why? Because I am of the old school who likes to believe that people deserve equal pay for equal work. When I work on a team of interpreters from 23 different countries, I need to know that each and every one of is earning the same amount. I couldn’t look my teammates in the face if I knew that I was making more than them because 1) I come from a higher-income country (and anyway, I have no idea how you could fairly determine that, as A. Drechsel says in his blog post); or 2) I am working for a larger audience (my comment above was intended to be sarcastic, and the fact that you missed it is only another indication of the gulf that separates us).

        Just to be quite clear on this last point, let me say that I regularly work in meetings where my interpretation is being heard by several dozen or hundred people in the meeting room, plus an indeterminate number of listeners via webstreaming, and (just to cite a few examples) my Slovak, Bulgarian and Slovene colleagues’ interpretation is being listened to by a a few MEPs sitting at the back of the room. Why is their work worth any less than mine? Did they not invest the same time and effort as I did to get where they are?

        Now, I understand that when it comes to the crunch, market forces will win out over mere ethics every time. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or play along. And if the world is changing so quickly that everything I have learned about standards and ethics in my profession becomes irrelevant, then so be it. I would rather go down with the ship than abandon those standards and hang on at any cost.

      • Hello Michelle,

        I believe that since we have a gulf that separates us, it makes no sense for me to try to get you to change your attitude towards Josef and Mayel. This was not about negociating, but about being reasonable people.

        You say: “When I work on a team of interpreters from 23 different countries, I need to know that each and every one of is earning the same amount.” – how do you make sure of that?

        Anyway, when you state something like “Babelverse’s business model is such that it could never be bent into an acceptable deal. Why? Because I am of the old school”, then I am bound by my own beliefs to stop reasoning with you.

        You’ve been so negative throughout our conversation, that I frown every time I see there is a new reply to your blog post. I will stop now, and go back to being one of the “behind the scenes” supporters of Babelverse, because they are worth it. 🙂


      • by last paragraph I meant this one: “On the other hand, you say “listener(s)” as if there might be more than one client. Does that mean you could theoretically earn 470 dollars if 10 people tune in to your interpretation? Now that would be disruptive innovation that I could go along with.”

      • Anca, if I understand you correctly, you do not live and work in your native Romania. Would you do your job for a remuneration similar to what is paid in Romania? Idem with interpreting. Just because someone interprets from or into Romanian, Bengali or Somali must not imply that the person is paid as if s/he was in Romania, India or Somalia. S/he might be living in Monaco.

  14. Anca,

    you are missing an important point here: we do not have to work with ANY START-UP, PERIOD.

    I have a friend who works at Google. Just imagine one day he builds a website and says:

    ”Did you read a few books on the UK legal system? Why don’t you try to be a lawyer on our platform! We have a tiered system. A complicated payment structure based on where you come from. You only get money for the actual typing time and we get 30% commission. By the way, don’t criticise us, come talk to us on Google Hangouts!”

    Wake up.

    • Nobody said you HAVE TO, Diana. Of course you don’t have to. It’s not your job or obligation to help others in developing something that can improve your industry.

      You’re taking this way too extreme though. Babelverse is not only about professional interpreters, it’s about translators as well. And just to clarify this once and for all, Babelverse platform does not force you to any standby time where you wouldn’t get paid.

      Where did they ever say “don’t criticise us?” That was me, saying that you and your community are being way too harsh on them. My views are my own, do you guys really need disclaimers about everything?

      Obviously your industry is dysfunctional, since so many of you have had bad experiences in the past with people that tried to take advantage of your skills.

      Why are you all so afraid of to speak to them on Google hangout? You could take that as an open call for real time criticism, with real time answers, but you instead chose to see it as a scam or something negative. Your view on all this is wrong, you are all being way too negative and way to cynical, and in the end is not going to serve any purpose.

      So basically there are 2 ways this whole thing can go:
      1. Chose to ignore Babelverse, spread the word about how they’re trying to scam you poor interpreters, ruin their image and their business.
      2. Be open about what they’re trying to do, stop assuming things and drawing the wrong conclusion without even giving them the chance to talk to you without being attacked on every level (including personal – very unprofessional).

      Which one will it make you feel better? You can probably easily do the first one, it’s the most convenient for you guys at the moment. But in the long run it will not do any good, because what Babelverse is out there to do will happen either way, so you guys might as well accept it.

      And by the way, I went through 5 years of immigration, lots of interviews, paperwork, immigration laws and rules, that by the end I was done with it I was a pro at it. I never once used a lawyer, because I could do it myself. So yeah, some people out there might want to become interpreters and don’t know where to start, or how. Maybe they just want to test it out before they go ahead with all those accreditation and medals you guys brag about. What’s wrong with that? 🙂

      You’re so stuck in your diplomas and association memberships that you miss seeing the bigger picture 🙂

      • so, “Obviously your industry is dysfunctional”
        What is disfunctional at the moment, sir, is your dreams of making big money on the back of us, poor idiots who do not grasp the geniality behind your idea. Just by writing this phrase it becomes clear how little you know about our profession. And I take the opportunity to remind everybody following this blog: the more we argue with them, the more they learn about us and the more they will refine their scam.

      • Anca,

        If what you’re trying to do here is to improve the image and credibility of “the guys at Babelverse”, let me tell you that you are failing miserably, as your personal accusations (“You are all acting like a bunch of high-school immature kids”, “mob mentality” etc.) followed by countless smiley faces (really, don’t use smiley faces right after questioning someone’s integrity) do nothing to remedy the situation. And frankly, I don’t think people here care a lot about how cool and well-intentioned “the guys” are, when the conditions and fees posted on the website clearly show that this is a rip-off, at least for professional interpreters.

        If people here seem to express a common opinion, it’s not because they are a bunch of ‘sheep’, but because they work in the same industry, perform the same function in that industry and have the same interests. And to defend those interests collectively, they form associations and stipulate certain professional standards that must be met for an interpreter to receive a fair reward for the value he/she offers. I’m sure Babelverse would prefer to negotiate individually with a bunch of isolated interpreters instead of dealing with an association of interpreters who have a common voice and collective bargaining power, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon, at least among the highly-qualified interpreters you’re dealing with here.

        A very basic fact in this discussion, which is not to be missed, is this: it is Babelverse that needs us, not the opposite (and we’re not too scared of your futurology exercise with its prediction of an interpreting doomsday). Babelverse is the one desperately looking for (and apparently not finding, but claiming to have found anyway) the “black belts” who actually work for international organisations such as the EU and the UN, hold degrees and are members of professional associations.

        In Babelverse’s own words: “If you’re Black Belt (professional interpreter), you’ll have to provide your credentials, such as diplomas, certificates, resume, association memberships, and recommendations.” (

        So when you come here and say something like “You’re so stuck in your diplomas and association memberships that you miss seeing the bigger picture”, I get the impression that you haven’t even read the website of the company you’re trying to promote. They state it clearly that they need people with diplomas, experience and accreditation – that’s the only way they can gain any credibility, otherwise they would be limited to offering a second-rate interpretation service provided by home-schooled people “who know two languages”.

        Now let me try to be constructive. How could Babelverse manage to attract the black belts it so desperately needs? Easy: offer conditions similar to those the blackbelts already find in the market.

        If you offer daily (not hourly) fees similar to those we find in the market and respect our professional standards (such as these:, you might be able to attract professional interpreters for your high-profile assignments AND have a viable business model – you would be saving costs with interpreters’ trips, accommodation and other expenses, which may allow you to offer a lower price to the client while still paying interpreters their fair share. Of course, a 30% margin will probably be a bit too wide in that kind of model, but that tends to be the case almost everywhere.

      • Judging from your posts, you have no clue or whatsover about interpreting. You even revealed yourself by saying “YOUR industry”. Any professional can see from the website that it’s unprofessionalism par excellance. If you are not one of the owners of this start-up or a non-professional interpreter who is working for them and would not otherwise get a chance to a serious job, I don’t see why are you trying to defend this non-sense. The machine interpreting will never replace humans if you need to interpret something more then “Hello, my name is Anca”.

    • SO true, couldn’t agree more – what an awesome summary, Diana!!

      And Michelle, Thanks so much for spending all the time and effort to openly and publicly share your opinion rather than choosing the easier way and just ignore that company.

  15. Speaking of sharks, other companies will enter the market, such as this one by Goldman Sachs MBAs. Paying “translators” as little as 12% (
    ), and completely ignoring that there is such a thing as interpreting professionals. You’ll find that there’s a difference between fans of open-source & the sharing economy vs. people who actually are out just to make money.

  16. After all her/his talk about honesty and openness, I think it’s high time for Anca to disclose her/his full name and his/her relationship with Babelverse. Since you are clearly not a translation/interpreting pro, what’s your role here?

    Dagmar Jenner

    • Fair enough, Dagmar! 🙂

      My name is Anca Albu, I am the European business development manager for Startup Weekend (, in case you’re interested), which is a network of global entrepreneurs that organize events to promote entrepreneurship and teach people how to build startups. I am also working on creating and growing the global startup community, focusing on post-communist countries and the way cross-sector collaboration and shared values can create a collective impact in the East-Central European region.

      Before this I worked as a graphic and web designer, so I have technical background as well, and I also have a bachelor’s in International Relations and I worked for 4 years in a human rights organization based in Wahsngton DC. I lived in 3 countries in the past 5 years, and I am in touch with people from over 100 countries that are trying to improve the way things work in their economical environment.

      My relationship with Babelverse is that they started their business during a Startup Weekend event in Athens in 2010, I have met them in person and I know what their goals are, as a startup. I know their ups and downs, the issues they are trying to solve, and the difficulties they are running into. I might not be a professional interpreter, but I am a friend, and all this ranting and attacks that happen these days online towards the Babelverse guys just make me furious.

      Not furious because you are wrong – you might be right, and I am positive you have your reasons to doubt anyone (since so many of you seem to have had bad experiences in the past). What makes me furious is the mob mentality, and the fact that neither of you gives actual real constructive feedback. You all just point out the issues, and none offers a viable solution – you are taking the easy approach, which is to destroy these guys’ image and credibility, instead of at least considering to collaborate towards reaching a mutually beneficial solution. (i know, i know, you don’t need them. But in the future you will! )

      You attack them in group, and it is hard to stay rational when you are being cornered. This is why I jumped aboard.

      All these opinions are mine, not Babelverse’s, Josef’s, Mayel’s, Startup Weekend’s or any other organization, startup, company or person that I am connected to. 🙂

  17. Mauro, I don’t have the option to reply to your last comment, so I post a new one here. Your reply is very immature. You chose to focus on one sentence, take it out of the context and turn it around to make it sound really negative.

    I don’t make any money from Babelverse or the interpreter industry, have no financial interest in posting here. I work for a non-profit, I like to make people smile, and I like kitties. Making big money on the backs of your industry (never ever called you names, but I actually admitted it takes a higher level of intelligence and skill to be an interpreter) is reaaaally far from my interests and my goals as a human being.

    I am not attacking your profession, I am attacking you, personally. Because you don’t really know how to BE professional.

    Also, I am not arguing, I am just having a constructive discussion. 😉

  18. ”…neither of you gives actual real constructive feedback. You all just point out the issues, and none offers a viable solution.”

    Again, you missed the point. We don’t have to and we don’t want to. The ”constructive feedback” and the ”viable solution” in this case would equate to free consulting. No thanks. We didn’t ask for this, so why should we help? It’s just like the ALS case in the UK: they create the mess with the government and now they want to ”work with the interpreters to come up with a solution and improve the response rates.”

    • Ok, Diana, we obviously have different interests, background and mentality, so we’ll never reach an agreement. I don’t look at life from a money perspective, but a humanitarian one. I focus on collaborations, I promote open and free environments, where people can work together towards creating a better world (and no, i’m not a tree hugger, I’m actually a pretty cynical person :P). By now you’re probably laughing at me and thinking I’m an idealistic silly idiot. Well, I don’t really care, because I am a happy idealistic silly idiot, and I learned long time ago that money are just a tool to ‘buy stuff’, not actually what makes people truly happy 🙂

      Have fun getting rich being an interpreter, and I hope to run into you again in 5 years 🙂

      • ”I learned long time ago that money are just a tool to ‘buy stuff’, not actually what makes people truly happy.”

        While that is true and I completely agree with it, it doesn’t mean we should give away 30% of our fees.

        By the way, we should be rich. Research what it takes to do the job, and you’ll understand why.

      • I’ll be joining the Google hangout. I want to hear what Babel is going to say. Remote interpreting is here to stay (we all know that). I want to enter the conversation and make sure they adress critical issues like the ones Michelle has raised in this post. If they come up with a deadline by which the platform will be completely ready, I will try it and write my own post about it. I want to be proactive. I think both Babelverse and the interpreting community will benefit from discussion. In fact, all these posts here and in the Babelverse’s site is a very good start, I think.

  19. Thank you Michelle for defending our professional standards and working conditions! I am struck by Babelverse’s emphasis on entrepreneurship, and the fact that they have only been in this industry for 2 years.

    I spent three years in graduate school in order to become a professional interpreter. Therefore, I resent two “entrepreneurs” with no background in interpreting and only two years of “trial and error” in the field tell me that I now have to sit at the table and negotiate with them. No, quite simply, no. I negotiate with other interpreters.

    • Lol. I spent 4 years in graduate school to learn how to become an international relations expert, and I don’t resent anyone for it. 🙂

      Babelverse didn’t tell anyone to sit down and negociate, they want to discuss about what works best for your community. No need to put the word entrepreneur in quotation marks either. This is not a competition of who spent more time doing what, really.

      They have years of background in web development, and I am sure they wouldn’t be resentful towards you if one day you’d want to start creating websites for a living.

      • I bet you’d get plenty resentful if someone decided to call themselves an expert in international relations after a couple of weekend training sessions. And then take your job. That would make all the time and effort you put in your degree seem a bit pointless.

      • Actually I would try to figure out how did they do it, and give them props. The time and effort I put into getting my degree were mostly for my personal development, and I would never consider that as time lost.

        If I’d lose my job, I’d find another one, but I will definitely not waste my time right now worrying about ifs and maybes that may or may not happen in the future. And if there is any warning about it, I would do my best to work towards avoiding that by adapting.

  20. Diana,

    I know it takes years of training, learning and a very skilled person to master interpretation. I have been explained that by, ironically, the Babelverse guys. They respect your talents.

    Are you rich?

    • I’m sorry, you said we wanted to get rich, not me, so I fail to see the point of the question. But no, I am not and I do not want to be. And I am not a conference interpreter yet, but I will be in the very near future 🙂

      • well, you were the one that kept bringing up the 30%, and you were the one that first said that you should be rich based on what you have to go through to become an interpreter 🙂

        Good luck in your career! 😉

  21. Nice to see such a lively exchange developing on this forum! I’ll chime in to the main discussion above in a bit (and give Anca the reply I promised him), but there a couple of things I just absolutely have to get off my desk first. It’s just taking a bit longer than I expected to reach the end of my workday, since I keep getting all these animated comments arriving in my inbox.

    For now let me just say I have had an idea for Josef and Mayel to consider. And startup guy Anca as well, we’ll see what he thinks of my pitch ;). Here goes:

    Let’s assume the tech-related issues can be resolved (and from what I have understood, this is by no means guaranteed). But let’s assume for a moment that you can actually produce a universal translator app platform. You would solve a lot of your current headaches, which seem to be related to your inability to connect with your potential service providers or understand the ins and outs of the professional interpreting industry, by refocusing your offer towards the fun, non-professional side of things. Create an app that will translate the kind of stuff your glomads want to know – a virtual globetrotting crowdsourced phrasebook. You know, like Shazam, but for backpackers.

    If you do it this way, you can bring all the language enthusiasts on board you like (who number in the millions), and don’t even have to bother with all the protests of us crotchety old stick-in-the-mud professionals (of which there are only a few thousand). You may not be able to monetarize each and every interpreting interaction, but if you sold a few million copies of the app for even a couple of bucks each on an App Store, that would bring in something to cover costs and please the investors. To compensate the language enthusiasts powering their platform, drop the complicated rate scheme altogether and go for volunteers only. You know, provide a fun, crowdsourced service to the global village, with the sole recompense being your own personal satisfaction. Or you could always keep the tipping idea and hope for generous customers.

    Customer-side, you’ll have a much easier time of it convincing millions of people to download a cheap phrasebook app that will help them say “please can you give me some aspirin my head is killing me” with the help of an young, enthusiastic and tech-friendly bilingual volunteer than convincing a few corporate customers accustomed to higher communication standards to shell out for a product that may not deliver and which doesn’t really meet their needs anyway. Trust me, I spend my life negotiating with corporate clients and they have specific demands and know how to drive a hard bargain.

    And while I’m here, let me bring up a whole other issue that so far nobody has raised, but which is actually very important in the interpreting (and translation) world, but which wouldn’t be a problem with my glomad-powered solution: liability. I raised this with you in our Skype chat a few months back and your response was to assure me that you would never go into “hospitals, courtrooms, or anything like that”. Okay, so you’ve recognised the importance of quality and accuracy in those contexts and are at least tacitly admitting that you don’t think you could deliver it. Or at least you are not sure enough that you can deliver to be willing to risk a lawsuit. Do you think that liability is less of an issue in the conference or corporate world? The customer whose Babelverse interpreter screws up a big deal with a potential customer in Japan by, say, getting all the figures wrong (a common problem with beginners) may be well inclined to slap a lawsuit on you. And chances are he’ll have lawyers to help him. The conference organizer who sees his delegates wrinkling their brows when the interpreter freezes up and grinds to a halt (I’ve seen it happen with amateurs more often than you can imagine) may also decide to sue Babelverse for not delivering.

    Even in the Greek pharmacy example, there is a potential liability issue. Let’s say the backpacker says “My head is killing me, can I have some painkillers?” and the Babelverse interpreter translates painkiller not as αναλγητικό (analgi̱tikó) but as ασπιρίνη
    (aspiríni̱). A few moments after completing the transaction and popping the pill he’s been sold, said backpacker then drops dead from anaphylactic shock caused by a reaction to acetylsalycilic acid. Had the pharmacist heard the more general term “painkiller”, he might have asked “paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin?” and the traveller could have told him about his allergy to ASA and a senseless tragedy could have been avoided. So who’s responsible in this case? The backpacker, for not providing information about the allergy (who can blame him for forgetting, after all his head was killing him), the pharmacist for not asking, the interpreter for mistranslating the key word, or Babelverse, for creating the situation in the first place? I wouldn’t want to call it.

    So, spare yourself the need to take out liability insurance (which exists for both interpreters and translators, further proving my point). Keep it fun and simple, stick with the volunteers, provide no guarantees, risk no liability issues (by adding a disclaimer). Just offer a good laugh and maybe a helping hand to your fellow glomads. The idea might just take off. And then you can come back to the crotchety old pros and tell us “I told you so”.

    What do you say, can I come to your next startup camp? 😉

      • Hey Michelle, you are more than welcome to attend a Startup Weekend event! Actually I would love it if you would, so you would get a feel on how the startup world works 🙂 If you let me know where you are based, I can send you an invitation to the next Startup Weekend happening in your city!

        Diana, thanks as well. I am indeed female :))

        Michelle, about your pitch:
        1. Any tech-related issues can be solved, with the right amount of money to hire developers.

        2. inability to connect with the current service providers is due to the service providers not wanting to connect with them…refusing Skype calls and such (had to say it 😛 haha), and interpreters being stubborn about protecting an industry model that will change sooner or later, no matter what

        3. there already are a lot of apps that do translation of photographed text. Heck, they even did an app that translates words into sign language ( This is what makes your idea not innovative, and probably won’t stir too much controversy in the startup world (or their customers 🙂 )

        4. The point of developing a cheap phrasebook app has been so overdone, and really doesn’t match the personalities and goals of J&M. Again, they are not in it to make fast money (or they would’ve sold Babelverse long ago to people that ARE making money off the interpreter’s industry’s back, offers were made).

        5. You can still have the liability insurance that you currently have, that will solve that issue.

        The startup world is a tough one, I’m afraid your idea won’t solve a real problem, so you won’t get a passionate team together! It’s a good idea though, that definitely makes money, so you’ll get a team of people that don’t want to change the world, but only want to get rich.

        Looking forward to further debate on the existing issues with Babelverse 😉

      • Oh well, it was worth a try. I’d forgotten about those instant sign translator apps. If you could make Babelverse half as cool as those, you might have a chance. Anyway, I have a good friend who runs a startup and has already got plenty of support and funding. If I decide to take the tech world by storm with my clever new ideas, I’ll ask him how to go about it.

        As for the liability insurance, it wouldn’t be your interpreters taking it out, but Babelverse. They may want to get a quote. Insurers in our industry tend to get really annoying about such trifling matters as credentials.

      • Heyllo Michelle,

        Again, you come off as very offensive! 🙂 But I’ll overlook that part and move on.

        That instant sign translator was created during Startup Weekend Beirut in 2010, by the way. So were a lot of other startups that are changing industries and are all about a sharing economy. Startup Weekend has events in over 110 countries, and last year alone we had over 500 events, so we have a global network of professionals that are sharing their knowledge freely and help the entrepreneurial ecosystem get stronger and stronger. If you want to ask your friend about how to take the tech world by storm, it’s your right to do so, but you would be (again) refusing help and collaboration with people in other fields.

        You might want to pay attention to where the world is heading: 20 years from now all small business owners will speak English, and the world will practice a sharing economy (i recommend you read this article in Forbes We promote it and encourage it.

        Personally, to me it seems silly you want to close your eyes to what Babelverse is trying to do. Knowing the economical trends and working with the European Commission to bring startups more into the spotlight, innovation and technology into every industry out there, it seems like you guys are shooting yourselves in the foot. But hey, to each their own. There are interpreters out there who do appreciate what Babelverse is trying to do, and support them. It will take longer to get to a result more to your liking, but they won’t give up! (this would explain a little bit why

        Here are more articles on the future of the sharing economy, which is what Babelverse is all about:

        In the end, I believe we have very different views about how the world works. You believe everyone is out there to get you, Babelverse believe in a sharing economy based on mutual trust, and I believe that everyone can get along fine and work together towards global development. Again, to each their own. I can’t force you to change your past and make you believe that good people are still out there, and you can’t convince me that everyone is fundamentally evil, trying to scam everyone around them. (even though I could have reasons to – i’m not naive, I just choose to be positive)

        Have a wonderful day/evening/night, wherever you are 🙂

      • I think you misunderstood. My friend with the startup is a techie, not an interpreter. And he already has his seed funding and all that. He knows what he’s doing. I’m sure you know what you’re doing as well. But I don’t know how we got on this topic, because I don’t actually want to start a company. But thanks for the links anyway. I have been getting gazillions of visits from the U.S. these past two days and my guess is they are from startups, so those visitors might find them interesting.

    • For now let me just say I have had an idea for Josef and Mayel to consider.
      Me, too. They both should drop this analphabetic project to avoid waste of time and money and move on. Go figure how to screw taxi drivers. Pardon my French. And they better do their research before coming back with an “excellent” idea.

  22. I really appreciate your efforts, Michelle. Thank you very much for your excellent work!
    To correct such situations professional interpreters should consider ourselves as brands, as people selling services, and behave accordingly. We do not underprice ourselves, we meet up with clients and identify customers who are suitable for us. It is rather unlikely that the subject of discussion is or will be found among the latter.
    Conference interpreters who see themselves and behave as professionals and are specialised have nothing to do with the bone of contention here. It is about high time the experts withdrew form this discussion. I think it is a waste of time to even begin dealing with the agency market.

  23. Hi Michelle and all who have been joined in this lively exchange,

    To be clear, the participation of Babelverse and any other vendor or individual with specific business models or views is not an endorsement of their model or views. Our vision at InterpretAmerica is “providing a forum for the interpreting profession” where ALL issues can be aired. To be aired, everyone needs a seat at the table. We have opened many such debates through the Summits, and have typically found that these conversations do much to move everyone towards greater understanding and solutions.

    We have Invited Josef and Mayel to InterpretAmerica 4 specifically to encourage open discussion about their platform and business model. We saw this as an issue that needed to be addressed through frank discussion with the interpreting community. And as your blog post and the subsequent comments have shown, there IS much to be addressed on many levels–particularly, the chasm separating professional interpreters and the many language startups in the high-tech world. As interpreters know well, dialog is where understanding begins. We are in talks right now with other technology providers that are creating waves in the interpreting industry, but cannot make any more announcements until we have confirmed their participation. Babelverse was the first to confirm. Our blog post on the potentially positive power of disruption, in which we mentioned Babelverse’s participation in InterpretAmerica 4, appears to have come at a time when some serious frustrations among the conference interpreting community finally came to a head.

    We will continue to encourage constructive, open dialog on the topic of interpreting and technology with Babelverse and others and invite all those interested to join us. Interpreting, like so many other professions, is traveling a rough road as technology continues to change the way we work and, perhaps more difficult still, how people (mis)perceive what we do and what it takes to do it. If we don’t get out and tell our story, others will. And we won’t have control of the narrative.

    Michelle, thanks for speaking your mind and vividly setting forth your concerns, many of which I share.

    Josef and Mayel, thanks for stirring the pot (or should that be kicking the hornets’ nest). This discussion has been a long time coming.

    Barry Slaughter Olsen
    Co-president, InterpretAmerica

    • Thank you very much for joining the exchange here, Barry. I value your views and am sure my readers would like to hear them as well.

      I have to admit that my exchanges with Anca have worn me out, so I haven’t got much energy to respond to your various points right now. But I think anyone who comes to visit this page will benefit from what’s written here, whether I add much more to it or not. After all, mine is only one of many voices.

  24. Michelle, so unfortunate you have so many complaints. I’m sure babelverse would only improve if you’d work with them rather than rant publicly.

    It’s really early stage for babelverse- so rather than sling mud- why not converse with the founders?

    I sense a lot of unmerited bitterness in your “open letter”. What is the goal of writing this piece by the way? I see no positive outcome.

    • The positive outcome is that we have now got the conversation going. I suspect that if I hadn’t written this piece, Josef and Mayel would have had to wait until InterpretAmerica for that. As I see it, I’ve given them four months’ head start.

    • Justin,
      I included the following in the P.S. to Zachary’s entry. I realized my mistake, so I include it here.

      P.S. to Justin Perez: I am offended by your language when you address Michelle. If you wish to use the same language with me, fine. But not Michelle. She has not done any mud-slinging. If others have, please take it up with them. If you mis-undertood where Michelle stands, then it’s YOUR problem. I believe she has been pretty clear thus far. We need more TRANSPARENCY. She has not aired any complaints, only concerns – which you then call “bitterness”. If you misunderstand Michelle standing up for her principles, then I offer that you really do not know Michelle 🙂

      Al Navas

      • Thank you, Al, for speaking out in my defense. It is really very appreciated. I am indeed waiting for Babelverse to respond to the various points I raised regarding their transparency. As I have already said on Twitter, any replies I get from them that address my specific concerns raised above will be posted here on my blog.

  25. Hey all, designer at Babelverse here.

    Just wanted to put a few words in saying that we at Babelverse are completely dedicated to making great products and working with interpreters to IMPROVE the industry. We have no intention of being unfair or screwing anybody. Michelle is quite bold with some of her assumptions here about who we are as individuals and as a company.

    I welcome people to read my article I wrote last October on my blog if you’d like to gain some REAL understanding of one person on the Babelverse team and where they are coming from.

    Everyone on the Babelverse team is incredibly excited about the interpretation industry and we absolutely love it. The last thing we want to do is make the industry worse. Some of us on the team may be newer to the industry than you, but we do know quite a lot now and are constantly learning more.

    As it has been said before, we are having a live debate soon. I recommend you check that out because then you actually get to hear some real information instead of bias. I am also personally willing to have a live discussion with anyone that has any questions or concerns about what Babelverse is aiming to accomplish.


    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Zachary. Babelverse knows what needs to be done at this point. Addressing the points raised in my blog post would be an excellent start. And I don’t mean by giving enthusiastic pro-interpreter statements such as the one you give here. It’s nice that you love my industry, but I never said you didn’t. I said you didn’t understand it, which is not the same thing.

      The FAQ forum has been republished, and I have heard news that the interpreter database is now public as well (as your website indeed says it should be). However, I still can’t seem to find the list of your interpreters on your website. If you could include the direct link here, then I will add a note to my post above.

      What interpreters need right now is some clarity, something to back up your statements. Having clear referrals from your consultants and testimonials from the interpreters who support you would go a long way to achieving that.

      I guess the best way to convince interpreters of something is to have other interpreters explain it to them. Even the most multilingual among us don’t seem to speak the language of Silicon Valley.

    • Hi, Zachary. At the end of your entry you stated:

      “I am also personally willing to have a live discussion with anyone that has any questions or concerns about what Babelverse is aiming to accomplish.”

      I’ll take you up on your offer. Please let me know what we can do in short order. I am interested in the guts of the technology. Stuff beyond Skype, hangouts, but not excluding smartphones (maybe THAT is what you refer to). I believe those two first items have been eliminated.

      I am more interested in *what* it is that you are working on. If I must sign a Disclosure Agreement, I am willing to do so. But let’s start a dialog. Why wait until an upcoming conference?

      The time is NOW, in the interest of full transparency for Babelverse. Signing a Disclosure Agreement, by the way, would not contribute any toward full transparency. Maybe we could even talk geek-to-geek, with questions in real language when the geeky stuff is not fully understood by the parties involved.


      P.S. to Justin Perez: I am offended by your language when you address Michelle. If you wish to use the same language with me, fine. But not Michelle.

    • Le 8 octobre 2012, Zachary Zorbas écrit: “This past month my mind has opened up to this industry which is so new to me.” Il a découvert l’interprétation il y a environ six mois et avoue ne parler qu’une seule langue. Et voilà qu’il veut devenir un expert qui va concevoir les consoles de demain, pour nous rendre plus heureux. A la bonne heure! Et puisque nous sommes ici entre traducteurs universels, je me dis que je peux tout aussi bien écrire en français, après tout…

      • Zac is an expert in design, Tiina! Based on general studies, you don’t need to be an expert in every industry you design for! You just need to do research and get feedback.

        Based on your logic, designers would only have to design for other designers, and interpreters would only have to interpret for other interpreters. Makes no sense, does it?

        You writing in French won’t stop me from replying. 😉

      • Also, stop with the personal attacks, and please focus on Babelverse as a business. Personal attacks are kind of low, and you’re better than that 🙂

  26. Thanks Michelle, for kicking this off. I suspect I will write an article on my blog, but with a slightly different angle. For now, I will make the following recommendations and comments, in full knowledge that it might be a bucketful:

    1. I am a little bit familiar with Google+ Hangouts on Air, so I will make the following recommendation: Make sure ALL public broadcast points are published ahead of time, with full URLs, so that people can select their favorite one(s).

    2. In the interest of full transparency, publish the discussion points ahead of time. By this I mean that ALL discussion points to be aired can, and should be, seen by all who: a) Choose to follow the live hangout, and b) Are also interested in the direction Babelverse is taking. Doing this will give ALL interested people a chance to prepare rebuttal points ahead of the live hangout. Why have NO relevant discussion points been made public yet? Is the grand total exactly zero? Will the hangout still take place, following commentary from professional members of the interpreting community?

    3. STICK to the discussion points published. If I may suggest, this is likely to be the best way to plow through the Hangout on Air without wasting a lot of precious time. Trust me, it can happen; it will happen. Just ask some of the participants to #EPT hangouts they enthusiastically attended (several have commented already). I thank each and every single one of them for their support in the past!

    4. It would be much more acceptable if ALL points submitted on the form provided at the web site will see the light of day, before the hangout date. This will go a long way toward providing transparency. I, for one, am interested in the technology, but can only offer that most have failed to see full transparency. This must change if anyone wishes to consider entering into a lively discussion. The Babelverse web site lacks the transparency we all crave to see; I hope this improves in the future. I believe this is what leads to so much negative commentary – not everything is on the table yet. Please change that.

    5. Assign someone to monitor the hangout streaming URLs during the hangout. If this is not done, any points and counter-points to ANY important discussion will be missed, leading to further frustration.

    6. Where are the Babelverse people at this stage? Only Anca is contributing as this point, and she is not even a part of Babelverse. Is there a target date for the hangout at this point, even if it is a moving target?

    7. Please consider using Events in Google+ to advertise this. That will work as a nice entry point into more transparency. Through Events, the dates of the hangout can be changed, with proper Notifications going to all interested parties. The last thing the group will want to do is advertise the proposed date of the hangout without publishing the discussion points and a short lead time to the hangout date/time.

    I am sure I miss mentioning a few things. I will come back if I remember them. Thank you for your attention!

    Al Navas
    Country Club, Missouri, USA
    The Judiciary Interpreter blog

      • You are welcome, Renée!

        I suspect that all our contributions will help to provide focus to the discussion in the hangout, AND transparency to the Babelverse web site.

      • I thought you were on the road – it was just a hunch. It’s never-ending, right?

        Since you have explained your position so well, as did Zachary, let us have a little chat in a Google+ Hangout on Air, which we could stream to the world. That way, nothing would be “secret”.

        Many time, hangouts will work much better than trying to have a dialog using the written words. Some things are put in writing that should never find their way to the outer world. And some of those things can (and will) hurt.

        I issued a similar invitation to Zachary earlier. Maybe we could chat for a while.

        By the way, my feet have been itching to get on the road again. I need to pile on a few more miles to the million or so I did while I worked overseas.

        I look forward to your reply, and to Zachary’s. Thank you!

        By the way, this is also an open invitation to Michelle. She is a pro of the Hangouts!

      • never ending, indeed! 🙂 I do love love my job and my community, and have fun travelling and meeting so many amazing people!

        I am always open for meeting new people and discussion, so sure! I’m all for a google hangout. However, I don’t believe I can give you the answers you are all waiting from Babelverse. That is their duty, and I assure you they will answer all the questions you or any interpreter has.

        I think it is wise for them to be quiet right now, since being right in the middle of the heated discussion is making them vulnerable. I think that if people would not attack them personally it would be ok, but since it’s not the case…

        I would love to hear your story of working overseas! I’ve been living in 3 countries so far, and boy it can be challenging! 🙂

    • Michelle,

      As I re-read my long post above, I have some grammar and spelling errors. Is it possible to submit corrections?

      I missed the errors as I tried to proofread them prior to submitting them for approval.

      Thanks you.


      • Thanks, Michelle. If you don’t mind, please take a look, and correct several typos on a few of my replies or suggestions – IF you find a little time to do. Best,

        — Al

  27. To the people of Babelverse:
    Wow, after following this thread all week long, I had to speak up my mind. However this comment is clearly in defense of interpreters.

    My profile: Vincent, a young professional, thinking at the time about a change in career and aiming to enter an interpreter MD next year.

    Just to to make it clear: I’m not a professional (yet…I hope), hence no perks to fight for. I think I may have more objectivity than both parties here: I’m not trying to promote my activity in order to make it sound cool and edgy, and I don’t need to defend a job that I’m not doing and will maybe never do If I came to fail the entrance exam of the school (chances of that may be high). Of course, your-average-Joe would probably be even more objective, but Joe is probably doing stuff totally unrelated to interpretation anyway, like fishing.

    Contrary to some people may think here, readers are not stupid enough to think that the author of the blog is” a thought leader in your industry, weather you want to admit it or not, and posts like these are being taken for granted by your followers. “For starters, I have no idea who is the author of the blog, maybe she is the worst interpreter ever, and she’s just really good at blogging, the activity giving her an aura that she doesn’t deserve. Who knows? I’m following loads of interpretation blog though, and I have to say that theinterpreterdiaries is not the only one to tackle the Babelverse affair.

    To sum it up, we, readers, are curious enough to cross check information to see what the debate is about. I see that as a totally condescending remark (sorry to start the flame war again). I had no idea what this Babelverse business was about two weeks ago before the post on and I think it’s better to know the seas before sailing them.
    So, from what I have seen so far, it seems that these debates is totally useless because there is one big problem lying in the business plan of Babelverse : it’s its lack of professionalism and clarity.

    On the first point: where is the interpreter in your development team? I’m happy to see that you have a global community manager and someone in charge of PR, but where is the interpreter? I don’t know how you couldn’t get the idea of recruiting one and take her/him as a consultant and pay her/him for the job. I know this is a startup, your wage is FAR from being good, maybe you don’t even pay yourselves right now, but well, you’ll have to deal with it. I totally understand the backfire you are getting now. Had you recruited a professional from the beginning you wouldn’t have wasted your time now. He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind.
    Man, you could even have her/him lobbying for you. Evil, isn’t it?

    You are techies (it’s not an insult, my fiancée is a web programmer/designer, it’s even a compliment), who got this (maybe revolutionary) idea to link interpretation with new technologies, so you only get the technical part. Say an interpreter had the idea, would you like them to go around Skype or Google Hangout to get FREE CONSULTING from you. Wouldn’t you like to be fully part of the team, and getting paid, even if it’s nothing, for your work? Well, maybe you’re advocates of Open Source but that’s not what I can judge from your actions so far.

    That’s for the lack of professionalism.

    Regarding the lack of clarity, your page doesn’t give me precise information on what you want to achieve. Your blog looks like you just pile up the comments you got from many interpreters here. They even seem added as you see them. You could actually check them against the dates of the comments made so far on many posts and retrieve the chronology of all that. It appears to me that you don’t process the information you’re getting…
    Moreover, your service goes from from “Conferences in multiple languages for on-site audience by remote interpreters…”. Ok, I get it, it’s conference interpreting…to “quick turnaround translation of text documents”? WHAT? How are the two related? When Joe is back from fishing and read that, the only thing he could tell about it is that you’re “doing language stuff, my niece loves languages now that I think about it”

    Make it clear: do you want to be an interpreter agency online. A translation agency? Do you want to be a new tool for interpreters? A new tool for clients? Again if you had done some studies, you would have know what were the exact needs of the industry with your idea as a starting point !

    I’m being harsh here , but I don’t think that your ideais bad. I actually think it could be great. If I ever come to join the industry I would be even eager to work with you.

    Get the idea that interpreters are dedicated people. I want to become one of them because I have dreams, like most of them probably have. And it’s not getting rich. If I wanted to be rich later, I’d just carry on the path I’m walking now. But well, I wouldn’t mind getting paid DECENTLY after all the studies I would have been through to achieve this goal (given that I reach it). (in my case two bachelor degrees, one MD, one year abroad, 6 months fellowship, 3 years work experience and then another MD for interpretation. Yeah, I think I should get paid decently. And from what I’ve read so far about the profession, lots of people have this kind of profiles)

    Make things clear, but first of all among yourselves! Stop the “hey thank you for your comments, we’re so happy to have feedbacks from you, now let’s talk openly about it in a closed space, birds are flying behind us”.

    Yup, so far your communication online has three tones: sarcasm (Anca is part of your team here, even if not officially), obvious anger, and shiny sun is shining in the sky and birds are singing, let’s use you for free (that’s how I read most of the comments).
    I know that posting your ideas online could be a bad idea, other people could steal them, but I think you started off on the wrong foot : as said above, if you had taken an interpreter as a consultant from the beginning, you wouldn’t be here. Now that you’re here, I suggest you to come back when you know where you want to go.

    PS: (when Google translate is able to translate things like “your-average-Joe”, I’ll feel threatened by any interpretation service Google could build)

    • Dear Vincent,

      1. You keep saying “make things clear” or “to clarify”, but you start with:
      “However this comment is clearly in defense of interpreters.”
      “I think I may have more objectivity than both parties here”

      “My profile: Vincet, a young professional”
      “Just to to make it clear: I’m not a professional”

      Not that easy being clear, is it? (now THIS was sarcasm)

      I could leave it at this one point, but just so you won’t say I’m picking on one mistake in your thought process:

      2. You say I am being sarcastic but you use the “birds flying behind us” phrase a few times. I believe you are the sarcastic one here.

      3. If I work for Babelverse, then you work for the Interpreter Diaries

      4. A thought leader is someone who is influencing the community they are part of. You are not yet part of the community, so obviously you wouldn’t be influenced by this, and would do your own research.

      5. not ALL interpreters are supposed, or forced, or pushed into using Babelverse. If you don’t agree / don’t understand / don’t think it’s fair enough, then don’t use it! Easy as that 😉 Just accept the fact that they will continue, that they do have the support of other interpreters who are not as “old school”, keep doing whatever you were until now, and let it go – you are all so sure they won’t succeed, but still waste time to fight it. Why?

      And to end it all, so far I have only seen negativity and banter towards Babelverse, and no intention whatsoever to even try to make things better. This whole blog post and all the following comments will have no mutually-beneficial outcome, so I will stop spending my time here to defend something that doesn’t need defending.

      Have a great day,

  28. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Mar 4-10) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  29. Congratulations, Michelle. From your comments I can appreciate that you post has been so useful for professional interpreters. Not also for them, as a student, it is good that some professional people like you and your colleagues mentioned above, come to light these unfair companies.
    It’s kind of sad reading all these blog posts, in some of my last year lessons at university, we discussed about ethics and companies, Babelverse looks like a perfect company for trainee in this area because of its motto “freedom to work how, when and where you want. At last.” In contrast, if I go down to its webpage, not all the comments support this idea:
    “When I first saw the website and the conference, I thought this is something new in the industry that I need to try. And I immediately understood where the Babelverse team was coming from”
    I completely agree with your idea of integrity, transparency, professionalism and mutual trust; basic and most important aspect to take into account that reminds me of our teachers telling “don’t accept any job, respect your ethics and ideals”
    Thank you for showing us, as you have said in other comment, that they had not done anything to earn credibility.

  30. I understand Michelle’s point, but, to be frank, I believe that she is speaking from a privileged position. It is very easy to label this new phenomenon as a new way of exploiting the interpreters’ talent, but, although I am not completely embracing this new technological wave in the interpreting profession, I still believe that we must come to grips with this new reality whether we like it or not for the following reasons:
    – Using this platform is not mandatory. You can choose to work for Babelverse or decide not to. This is up to the interpreter.
    – I can understand that those amazing people working for AIIC or for international organizations (EU, UN and the like) are looking with disregard from their Ivory Tower at these platforms and consider them as threats to their profession. I would like to remind you that there are many young interpreters with an MA or even a Ph.D from prestigious European Universities who are struggling to find a job in the precarious interpreting marketplace, where fees are much lower than those proposed by Babelverse. Even the international organizations are exploiting the work of free-lance interpreters; they don’t renew 6-month contracts because after that term they should pay interpreters a higher fee.
    Maybe these young interpreters can harness the benefits of technology to enrich their CV and enhance their skills.

    Believe me, the whole interpretation market is already dumped down, especially in Europe. Many unqualified professionals accept interpreting jobs for a pittance because there’s always been (and always will be) the widespread misconception that anyone knowing a couple of languages could be an interpreter. This has not generated with the rise of Babelverse. I’m not saying that working for Babelverse should be our life job, but maybe it could help young people like me acquiring the much-vaunted “working experience” that businesses and translation companies often use as an excuse for not hiring us. The reality is that, when you can’t find a job anywhere, you start forgetting all those ethical principles you lernt at the university and just try to find a way to make ends meet. Some talented interpreters are already considering opting for other jobs, and I will probably join them very soon.

    • Thank you for sharing your views. I certainly don’t feel particularly amazing, nor do I think I am seeing things form up in an ivory tower of any sort, but if that is your impression, there’s probably not much I can do to change it. I agree that there is a lot of competition on the interpreting market, and while I don’t spend much time worrying about it for my own sake (I’ve changed careers often enough in the past 20 years to know that I will somehow make it, even if I stopped interpreting tomorrow), I do sometimes lie awake at night wondering what sort of a world I am sending my students into. I can only hope that interpreters can work together to ensure that we all have a fair shot at a decent living – which WILL include the use of high-tech solutions and remote interpreting, of course. However, there is no need to place ourselves at the mercy of ill-informed middlemen just because they’ve had an idea for an app.

      • Thank you for your reply. I didn’t want to criticise anybody, I was just wondering if there could be an intelligent way of using these new apps without falling into the trap of being exploited by some new Mark Zuckerberg for the benefit of the global market. As I said in my comment, I really fear that crowdsourcing is going to wipe out the slightest possibility we have to make our profession fully recognized and respected, but I am also aware that many young people who can’t find a job are going to use Babelverse anyway, because sometimes it is the only way they have to earn some money and practise interpreting. Of course this system is not perfect, but maybe interpreters can improve it by making their voices heard.

    • Yes, the interpreting market is very competitive, not everyone can make it out in the wide world. But what you say about the EU is muddled and inaccurate – at the end of a temp contract, what I think you’re referring to, you would go on the accredited freelance list, and in fact, get paid more on a daily net basis, though you’d still be cheaper than staff over the length of a career.. I’m no defender of the way the EU recruits, but muddles don’t help.

  31. I am a professional interpreter, professional as defined by the only worldwide recognised professional association,post-grad university training schools,and major institutional and business users. Babelverse hasn’t defined ‘professional’ in any recognised way.

    I think the concept, as originally conceived, is interesting, useful, and altruistic.And could make money.
    I’ve watched the presentations to anglophone venture capitalists, whose reactions were shaped by clearly not knowing that professional simultaneous interpretation even existed. Two computer geeks had realised that machine translation, even at a basic level, is pretty unreliable, and likely to remain so for some time.We had stories about visiting Greek doctors or a pharmacy, and the helplessness of not being able to communicate.

    I have often offered spontaneous help in this kind of situation in shops or railway stations, without dreaming of charging for it, but I can see that if people would like to pay for it, for the most basic easing of communication, that’s a reasonable and constructive option. Good luck to Babelverse in offering that.

    In their sales pitches, these guys parrot a bit off the AIIC website about what is needed to make an interpreter,and the fact that interpretation is expensive, they want to make it accessible.What I find puzzling – and it must be to do with the lack of protection of title, you can call yourself an interpreter if you went on a school trip to Paris at 14 – is that when they began to think about remote interpreting applied to business conferences and international seminars etc, or a separate category of PSI work, generally not as highly skilled but certainly trained and specialised, they didn’t wonder why true professional interpreting involved higher fees than 50 cents a minute. If a client accepted their service for a proper conference, with their interpreters – and no true professional will accept their conditions – they are putting themselves in the position of a multinational having their accounts done by someone who left school with a good grade in maths, or of a patient being operated on by a theatre orderly who has watched a surgeon at work over the years. There is a reason why highly trained and experienced specialists get paid more.

    Babelverse see the interpreting market as one open playing field with no distinctions drawn between levels of skill or expertise.Anca claims that proof of these is irrelevant, and that her ex-communist country background means she can see the way forward, degrees etc aren’t required. She is insultingly unaware of the value put on very highly trained and experienced interpreters in the former Soviet bloc. They produced some of the best in the world, and they paid them accordingly.

    Of course remote interpreting will grow. There are very tight protocols internationally about its use, which will be limited. The EU is working on the issue now. It will involve dedicated rooms permanently equipped with with very specialised defined sound equipment, very skilled live camera feeds of speakers and their colleagues, split screens, soundproofed booths to ISO standards etc. Also shorter working hours, the process is recognised by real professionals and their clients as being considerably more demanding and stressful than conventional work, and has to be organised accordingly. If Babelverse doesn’t know why, find out.

    The Babelverse business model is completely inconsistent with these technical and professional requirements for this end of the market. Sitting at home with your laptop or Iphone won’t hack it.Their own website describes what is needed to service it, but it isn’t what they’re offering.

    What I see is an originally sparky, feasible,good idea going bad due to a lack of understanding of professional interpretation, and, probably, the dawning realisation of the founders that there was money in the professional market. Laura won’t do as the resident expert,Babelverse hasn’t got one. Young interpreters may see it as a way to make a living, they would do better at Walmart. They also should understand that, as with any profession, not everyone makes it to the highest level.

    Ironically, I might have signed up for the original idea myself. As it is, with what Babelverse are claiming to be able to provide, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, and neither will any PSI, AIIC, or EU level interpreter.

  32. Three things for Babelverse to ponder –

    -when East European countries joined the EU, there was a need for their interpreters across Europe, institutional, business, trade unions, lobby groups, etc. There were several truly bi-lingual Brits in the profession, whose parents had settled in the UK postwar, whose home language was not English, who attended churches in exile, mixed with their community groups etc. Before any of them embarked on adding Polish, Serb, Hungarian, to their professional profile as a passive language, they ALL spent a year or more in their parents’ home country, usually following university courses, and continuing to work freelance with their normal professional combination. They did this to meet the requirements of the level at which they work.
    – rule of thumb here is that you need a pool of around 2000 linguists with degrees in language studies, prof training, and, with luck, the home background described above, to find 500-600 translators, and 50 odd interpreters who can work at the levels described above.
    – when the head of interpreting at the EC was bawled out by journalists for failing 75 out of 80 at a test he’d organised for Czech freelances, he answered quite rightly that 75 of them were not interpreters of the level required, though they had all attended something called an interpreters’ school. There are hundreds of these turning out liaison or social interpreters, but not simultaneous conference interpreters.

    Babelverse is talking about attempting wage disruption, not a disruption innovation, when they claim that they can service this level of the industry. If they have truly spent 2 years researching the subject, it certainly doesn’t show.

    They have recognised the inadequacy of machine translation, and the need for what IBM called, charmingly, ‘skinware’, ie real people. They know their technology. They had a good idea for ad hoc immediate translation help of a basic,useful kind, and identified a new potential market which hitherto has not been served. They are not listening to the profession they have stumbled across, even though the kern of their idea was that people, not machines, are needed for communication.

    As I said in a previous post, true professionals at various levels won’t accept their idea of working conditions and pay in their branch of the industry, and they will fall flat on their faces, despite technology, without them.They are planning a huge disservice and damaged reputation to an industry about which they claim to be passionate, which they appear to know little about, and the excitement of their technology is making them deaf to the skinware.

    Young interpreters, real ones, looking for experience should contact anti-war groups, Amnesty, small charities – big ones have interpreting budgets – and offer to work for free, these are groups we have also traditionally served, and this is a common way for new faces on the market to get themselves known, and start getting contracts. If you’re aiming at conference work, BV would be a disastrous start.

    Why am I bothering to write all this?
    Because I really liked the initial idea.
    I liked the enthusiasm of these guys in their presentations.
    The uninformed idiocy of a lot of what they said annoyed me, and it’s getting worse, they won’t listen and learn.
    Doing sales spiels in uninformed anglophone countries won’t save them.
    I don’t want potential future colleagues to be employed in such appalling working conditions with derisory pay.
    They will certainly turn out a handful ‘naturals’, who could do my job. To them I’d say get out, and get training.

  33. Hello everyone! I have only learned about Babelverse and their ideas very recently, and I came across this thread while trying to learn what the interpreting circles had to say about the company. I’m an EMCI trained interpreter, and I got accredited in Brussels in 2010. My experience in the industry is still very limited, as I have not been able to get access to spaces where I could practice interpreting. Since coming out of my EMCI training I’ve worked as university level language trainer, and more recently I went back to studying, hoping to find ways to get involved in interpreting research or interpreters’ training in the future.
    As many of you, I also found some of Babelverse’s ideas seemed positive at first. In fact, I was curious to learn more and so I have scheduled a meeting with the company for next week.
    However, I also agree with some of the points expressed in this thread – particularly with how uninformed Babelverse’s discourse seems to have been. I have watched some of their presentations, mainly those held in anglophone countries, and unfortunately I also noticed what some of you have already pointed out – that perhaps Babelverse are trying to sell a product that doesn’t really exist (because they started selling it before they could “create” it), to customers who would mostly take their word, as those customers aren’t experts in interpreting and might never have considered their interpreting needs before learning about Babelverse’s “cool-startup” approach. Babelverse speaks the language of that particular pool of customers, but it doesn’t speak the language of the interpreters’ who would be qualified enough to provide a reliable and effective service.
    I agree that a wiser step to take would have been to employ an interpreting expert from the start. However, I hear Babelverse are now looking to expand their company by hiring more full time employees – not only experts on technology but also interpreting experts.
    Shouldn’t this be a sign that the company is taking on board the comments it has received until now and trying hard to right their initial wrongs?
    If Babelverse turned out to be willing to trully dedicate to enhance their knowledge of interpreting, shouldn’t the professional interpreting community at least consider hearing them out?
    My other question is if you believe the company to be deserving of support at this point in time.
    I am asking you this because I really want to try to get a good enough perspective on this so as to prepare to my meeting with them.
    I hope everyone understands that I am posting these questions out of genuine and unassuming curiosity, and without any second intentions in mind.
    I would really appreciate it if you could share your points of view with me and others like me who might have just recently learned about Babelverse.

    Thank you.

    Best wishes,


    • Welcome to the blog, Helena, and hats off to you for having taken the time to read all of the comments in this very loooong discussion thread! You must indeed be very keen to find out more.

      I don’t think I have much more to add to this topic, personally. However, you ask some valid questions that are worth consideration. If you want to reach more people than those who may find themselves reading this blog post + thread, why don’t you take your questions over to, where you can sound out fellow interpreters on the topic of Babelverse? The Babelverse people have profiles on that forum as well, so they may decide to join in any ensuing discussion.

      Thanks again for your interest! All the best,


      • Hi Michelle!
        Thank you for replying and for suggesting
        I’d just like to tell you that it was not that hard to go through the thread, as many people have written down very similar opinions.
        Hope your week is starting well 🙂
        Best wishes from London.

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