Half a Kingdom

“When you wake up in the morning, you never can tell what might happen to you during the day.”

So begins one of my favourite stories from my childhood, Half a Kingdom, based on an Icelandic folktale. In it, the heroine, a young peasant girl named Signy, battles a snowstorm, rescues the hapless Prince Lini from the clutches of two evil trolls, berates the king for the unfair distribution of wealth in his kingdom (gotta love those Nordics), and plays two games of checkers.

I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately. The message to “expect the unexpected” is one that I think every conference interpreter can take to heart, since it’s true that all too often, despite our best and most thorough preparation, we have little idea at the start of the day in the booth exactly how that day is going to turn out.

But that’s not really why Signy and her adventures have been on my mind of late. It has much more to do with all the 2011 retrospectives and New Year’s messages that have been coming my way. I have been inspired by them to look back at my own past year, and when I look back at what has happened, all I can think is that there is no way I could have predicted any of it. I’d like to amend the quote above to read “When you wake up on January 1st, you never can tell what might happen to you that year”.

A brief (and incomplete) recap of my past year reveals both bright lights and shadows. Bad news first: in 2011, budget cuts led my alma mater, the University of Westminster, to close the doors on one of the most prestigious conference interpreter training courses in Europe (read more about that here). Also, a colleague lost a major interpreting and translation tender from a long-standing client to a dubious low-cost outfit from halfway around the planet – and in the process, I lost out on the opportunity to be part of his team. Another major translation client of mine, an international federation, went bankrupt as a direct result of the international financial crisis.

On the bright side, 2011 was the year in which I began to be hired regularly to interpret at the hearings of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. I was also invited to participate for the first time in a joint bid for a major European translation tender. On the teaching front, I started to participate in videoconferences (read more about those here), sat for the first time on an examination board, and launched my own lecture series.

On the social media front, 2011 was the year that saw the launch of the Facebook page and Twitter account for my secretariat, AIB, and the year I was asked to join the social media team for my professional association, AIIC (what an honour!). And – how could I forget? – in 2011 I started writing The Interpreter Diaries.

The funny thing is, if I look at everything I’ve just listed above, I can honestly say that last January 1st, I had absolutely no idea that any of it was going to happen. Waking up this morning, I think that it’s fair to say that the same is likely to be true of this year. There are some hints of possible new projects beckoning to me from just over the horizon, which makes me optimistic that 2012 will hold many new  opportunities. But just as in previous years, it’s likely that there will be plenty of surprises in store as well…

Illustration by Nola Langner

Happy New Year!

For one reason or another, my life has always followed the rhythms of the academic year instead of the calendar year. For me, September has always been a much more suitable time than January for taking stock, starting new projects – and yes, for making New Year’s resolutions! In keeping with this spirit, this September 1st post will share with readers my reflections on what this blog has achieved so far and announce what is going to come next.

So Far, So Good

When I launched The Interpreter Diaries a few months back, my intention was to offer a blog-shaped opportunity for people interested in interpreting to find information and discuss their questions and concerns. The feedback I have received so far is that this is more or less the role the blog is fulfilling. Yippee!

Here are some other brief reflections on what has happened here over the past six months:

The best part about writing a blog? Everything I’ve learned since I launched it – I thought I’d be sharing knowledge, but as it turns out, I think the biggest learner here has been yours truly. There is a lot of expertise out there, and some very interesting outreach work being done to spread it. The most interesting discoveries have found their way onto  my blogroll. What I have been learning will not only improve what I have to offer in this blog, but will hopefully also feed into my work as an interpreter and trainer.

Mission accomplished? Of all the numbers WordPress happily spits out at me on its statistics page, I am most proud of the one that tells me that my 19 posts have received a total of 267 comments so far! Even taking into account the fact that half of these comments are my own replies to messages left by readers, that still makes for an average of 7 reader comments per post. In addition to sharing information, I wanted to generate dialogue and debate, and it would appear that this is precisely what this blog has been doing.

Any regrets? Umm, can’t think of any at the moment … To be honest, my only regret so far has to do with my decision to use US instead of UK spelling conventions – hence all the annoying capital letters in the titles and headings (blame my Canadian fence-sitter’s heart for that one). I live in constant fear that I will get the two mixed up and end up using words like “colour” and “organisation” by accident …

The Master Plan

The results of a personality test I took recently told me that I am always finding (and creating) patterns. This is no less true in my blog. What may look on the surface like a random collection of blog posts actually has a very clear structure in my own (deluded?) mind. I am now going to explain this structure to curious (and possibly confused) readers.

So far, this blog has been mainly addressing general issues of interest to people who would like to find out more about the world of interpreting – possibly with a view to actually becoming an interpreter some day. The posts addressing this type of topic have been filed under the category “for aspiring interpreters”.

Of course, life is never as linear or organized as one might like it, and so other types of posts have been interspersed with this main thread (posts on resources, guest blogs, and so on). But that has been the main idea underlying what has been published on The Interpreter Diaries over the past several months.

This general, introductory section is now going to be wrapped up, and the next big section launched. What better moment than the start of a new academic year to start writing posts directed at interpreting students? That is precisely what I plan to do over the next several months. Upcoming posts will look at issues that come up in interpreter training, and will be roughly in line with what is happening on the course where I teach (although as readers will see, it will be anything but an online version of an interpreting course, nor will it discuss specifically what’s happening in my classes, to respect students’ privacy).

Once that’s done – say, in several months’ time – I plan to look at issues related to starting out as a working interpreter. That will comprise the third main section of my blog. And after that, who knows? Fortunately, that brings us far enough into the future that even my poor, micro-managing soul can handle uncertainty beyond that point.

And That New Year’s Resolution?

Amazingly enough, it’s not related to interpreting. It’s the same one I made last September – to spend more time at the pool and get into shape! I hope to have better luck this time around …

A Blog is Born

Angels, Devils

This is how the internal monologue went (picture the little angel on the shoulder): “You know, you really should start a blog. You’re into new media, you like communicating, you have plenty of views to share with the world – and hey, with all the time you spend waiting around in airport lounges, you have plenty of time to write!”

Then came the first objections (from the little devil this time): “Sure, I like new media and the social networks, and appreciate what they can do to spread messages and build community. But there’s a big leap from occasional tweeting and Facebook posting to becoming a bone fide blogger. And anyway, with so many illustrious, insightful bloggers such as Bootheando and In my words already on the scene, what could I possibly contribute to the debate?”

“You know,” continued the angel (or was it the devil? At this point it became a bit confusing), “Why don’t you just give it a shot? At the very worst, nobody will read your posts but your Aunt Trudy* back on the ranch. But you never know, maybe some misguided soul out there will appreciate what you have to say. And one way or another, you’ll finally be able to relieve that pent-up urge to shout your message out to the world!”

The decision to launch a blog having thus been taken, I naïvely thought the hard bit was over. But no, it had only begun! The whole blogging experience is proving reminiscent of pregnancy and childbirth: you spend nine months worrying about what those eight or so hours of childbirth will be like, and completely overlook the fact that the real work starts when that bundle of joy comes home and you suddenly realize you have a very long, very tiring eighteen years of child-raising ahead of you (or more, if you are a Spanish mother who can’t bear to kick her kids out when they come of age).

But I digress – those of you who decided to read a blog named The Interpreter Diaries almost certainly did not do so because you wanted to hear about the joys of motherhood.

What’s in a name?

Yes, the name – that was the next hard bit. What should I call my brand spanking new blog?

At this point I almost gave up again, the path already being so well-trodden by aforementioned illustrious, insightful, not to mention cleverly named blogs. And it’s not just blogs: Off Mic with Phil Smith, not officially a blog but a regular contribution to AIIC’s newsletter Communicate!, already offers entertaining insights into the world of interpreting. Interpreting has even been done in cartoons, as those who are familiar with the work of Benoît Clicquet (AKA Clic!) will know.

But no, I was stuck with it. I had decided to write a blog, and those who know me personally will be aware that once I’ve decided to do something, there is no talking me out of it. So I had to find a name and a voice for my blog and get on with it already.

That’s how The Interpreter Diaries was born.

Fine, you got your blog. So what’s it going to be about?

Good question. Interpreters tend to have many and varied interests and be involved in a wide range of professional activities, and I am no exception. This blog will reflect that.

The Interpreter Diaries will be about my conference interpreting at the European Institutions and on the private market in Spain. It will explore the ins and outs of my consultant interpreting for AIB, the Barcelona-based interpreting secretariat of which I am a partner. It will be about AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, and its core messages of quality standards and professional ethics. It will also be about my work over the years as an instructor on the Master’s in Conference Interpreting and the Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Service Interpreting at the University of La Laguna.

The Interpreter Diaries will not be about translation, although I do some of that as well – again, there are so many good translator blogs out there, and I had to draw the line somewhere. However, it will undoubtedly have its bit to say about business travel (a necessary evil in the life of any interpreter), learning languages, and possibly many more things that escape me now but which my little angel and devil, and hopefully my readers, will be sure to bring to my attention.

But I see I have exceeded the maximum word length recommended for blog posts (curse all those online how-to guides for cutting me short just when I was getting started!).

So I will end this first post, thank Aunt Trudy and anyone else who may have made it this far, and say I hope to see you again here soon!

* I really do have an Aunt Trudy, she really does live on a ranch, and she is my friend on Facebook, so she might well be reading this – Hi, Auntie!