Why Interpreters Make the Best Parents

First, the big news: Alejandro Moreno-Ramos (aka Mox) has just published his second collection of cartoons for translators. Mox II: What they don’t tell you about translation has come out just in time for Christmas and is sure to make the perfect stocking stuffer for the freelance translator in your life.

Now for my part in the story: I was invited by Alejandro to contribute to his new book. What follows is the Interpreter Diaries’ humble contribution to Mox’s mission of bringing a smile to the face of translators (and interpreters) everywhere. Enjoy!

Why Interpreters Make the Best Parents

As a freelance conference interpreter with two small children, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how these two aspects of my life interact. I often worry about how having an interpreter for a mom might be detrimental to my kids’ development, and try to find ways to ensure that my hectic travel schedule, my schizophrenic way with languages and cultures, and my obsessive need to be informed about absolutely everything (to mention just a few of my better features!) have the least possible impact on my family.

Today, I am going to give myself a break from all that brow-furrowing and instead take some time to think about why interpreters might actually make the very best parents of all. I’ll go through the various phases of childhood and demonstrate why the children of interpreters have got an edge over the rest. Maybe, by the end of this exercise, I’ll have managed to convince even myself!

In the early years:

We will happily sing you various language versions of all the classic lullabies (did you know there are Dutch lyrics to “Frère Jacques”?).

We will not feel compelled to bring in a nanny to teach you Chinese, Polish, or whatever language is currently in vogue at the nursery, since we reckon we can teach you everything you need to know about languages ourselves.

When you’re at preschool:

We will have just as much fun as you do watching Dora the Explorer teach Spanish words to English kids (and English words to Spanish kids), although we may go a bit overboard when editorializing on the regional variations reflected in Backpack’s choice of terminology.

We will ALWAYS have a pen and pad in our bag for you to doodle on when the wait gets too long at the restaurant.

At show and tell, when you are asked to explain what your mommy or daddy does for a living, you will have plenty of answers to choose from (examples from real life: “My mommy sits in a glass box all day”, “My mommy gets paid to talk”, “My daddy packs suitcases for a living”).

You will benefit from early exposure to trends in comparative literature (“You know, the Little Mermaid actually died at the end in the original Danish version”).

In primary school:

We will teach you the correct pronunciation of foreign footballers’ names – a skill guaranteed to amaze your friends at recess.

You will have the coolest collection of foreign coins and banknotes of all the kids in your class (until we requisition them for our next trip).

If you are a very good boy all year, you may end up getting presents from Santa AND the Reyes AND Sinterklaas.

We will fill your shelves with the original language versions of Tintin, Le Petit Prince, and other foreign kids’ classics – then happily sight translate them for you at bedtime.

We will amaze you and your friends with our Trivial Pursuit skills (warning: the fact that your mom would appear to know everything, while seemingly cool now, will swiftly become a liability in the next developmental phase).

During the teenage years:

You will graciously overlook the fact that we constantly embarrass you by spouting useless factoids in front of your friends, because we will now be able to help you with your English homework, your Spanish homework, your German homework, your Geography homework, your History homework …

Since we are used to commuting a thousand kilometers or more to work, we will never complain that Saturday’s swim meet in the next town is too much of a drive.

Although we will insist that our iPhone is for replying to client emails and our iPad is for listening to Portuguese news podcasts, you will often be able to sneak in a game of Angry Birds when we’re not looking.

We will teach you a few choice phrases to impress the cute new French girl in class with (although you may want to double-check the translations before you try them out on her).

And the all-time most important reason why interpreters make the best parents ever is …

… we will not let you grow up to be interpreters.

iPad: The Ideal Boothmate?

Interpreters are becoming an increasingly tech-savvy bunch. Most of my colleagues – especially the younger generation – now have smartphones in their pockets and tablets in their backpacks. It’s important that we look at how we can best integrate the technology we use in everyday life into our professional practice.

One question that comes up time and again is how the now-ubiquitous iPad can best serve our needs in the booth. I see more and more colleagues bringing their iPads with them to work, but opinions seem to be mixed about just how useful they are as boothmates. Some would appear to see iPads as little more than a way to stay connected, and use them only to check emails and work schedules. But I feel they must offer more than that. What I want to know is: how can iPads help us do our job?

In an attempt to obtain a satisfactory answer to that question, I contacted Alexander Drechsel, staff interpreter at the European Commission. Alexander has embraced new technologies in a way not seen in many senior interpreters. He has earned the reputation of being a bit of an iPad expert, and regularly shares tablet tips and tricks with his colleagues on internal training courses at the SCIC. Alexander also recently gave a demonstration on iPads to a crowd of tech-curious language professionals at the BDÜ conference “Interpreting the Future” in Berlin. Our chat was inspired by that presentation.

Image credit: bplanet / freedigitalphotos.net

MH: Alexander, would you say that the iPad is the ideal boothmate?

AD: Definitely! I have been using an iPad almost exclusively as my digital booth companion for over two years and think it is perfect for referencing documents, looking up and managing terminology, and checking e-mail, to name just a few use cases. Also, the fully-charged battery will last you the entire day and, unlike with traditional notebooks, there is no bulky power brick and no noise from a fan or a keyboard.

MH: What made you switch to an iPad (from a laptop, presumably)? 

AD: Yes, I did switch from a laptop. The main reasons for that are the ones I pointed out above: portability and a small footprint (very important in mobile booths with little space and few outlets). I also feel it keeps me more focussed on the task at hand than a larger and full-featured notebook would. This is probably because a tablet is smaller and usually only displays one app at a time.

MH: What are the main disadvantages of an iPad as compared to a laptop or netbook? 

AD: Depending on how you look at it, the limited multitasking capabilities could be considered a disadvantage. For example, it is quite difficult to display content side by side on a tablet – say, two documents or two apps. You will have to switch back and forth between them.

Apple’s iPad also comes without several key technologies: Flash (for some interactive web content and videos), Java (for traditional web applications) and full USB connectivity. While you can connect your smartphone or digital camera to transfer pictures and video, you cannot just plug in the thumb drive the speaker gave you with his presentation on it. Android devices, on the other hand, are much more open in this regard.

MH: I imagine that you can always get around the lack of a USB port by having the speaker’s notes or presentation emailed to you. But is it true that it’s hard to work with MS Office files on a tablet, or is that just a case of unfounded iPad-bashing?

AD: Handling Office documents is actually quite straightforward on tablets: You can usually display them straight away (iPad) or with pre-installed apps (Android). For editing, you will either need to install dedicated apps or rely on web apps such as Google Drive or Office 365.

MH: Does it have to be an iPad, or are the tablets running Google Android and other iPad competitors just as good?

AD: In my view, pretty much all the tablets running either Apple’s iOS or recent versions of Google’s Android (meaning 4.0 or later) are great devices. If you’re interested in Microsoft’s newest spin on tablets, the Surface, I would recommend you wait for the Surface Pro, which will also run “classic” Windows software.

MH: Tell me about the apps on your iPad that you couldn’t live without.

AD: If I could install only one app on my iPad, it would have to be GoodReader. From file management to viewing and annotating PDFs – this app is the best thing since sliced bread. Then, of course, there are the essentials like Mail and the web browser (I prefer iCab Mobile). For terminology, I use Interplex HD (also available for iPhone and PCs). To keep up with news, I rely on Flipboard and Mr. Reader. My guilty pleasures would probably be Tweetbot (Twitter is great for interpreters!) and the occasional round of Angry Birds.

MH: Now the big question for interpreters: what about terminology management?

AD: Well, I already gave this one away now, didn’t I? Interplex is my go-to app for terminology management. It is very easy to use, allows quick searches and lets you synchronize your valuable words with other devices through Dropbox. What more could one ask for? If you’re looking for a more general database app for your terminology, have a look at Bento for iPad.

MH: And note-taking? Do you know of any apps that might work for consecutive assignments? 

AD: I have been meaning to bring my iPad along on a consec job, but they are very rare in my case. And I think that smaller formats (iPad mini, Nexus 7, Galaxy Note) would be a better choice for such a situation. As for apps, you could try Penultimate (good drawing engine, wide choice of paper templates) or Paper (best drawing engine, very simple and intuitive notebook metaphor).

MH: If you had to recommend just ONE piece of booth-friendly hardware for a (possibly cash-strapped) young interpreter to invest in, which would it be? 

AD: If you already have a mobile device (say, a laptop) and chances are that, as a student, you do, stick with that when you start out. Even just a smartphone can be very, very useful. During your first jobs, you’ll have to cope with so many things, don’t let a new device confuse you.

Once you really want to spend some money, ask yourself a few questions: Do you want a dedicated “booth device” (i.e. tablet) or something more versatile (i.e. a small ultrabook or notebook, like the MacBook Air)? Do you already have a smartphone? Then maybe you’ll want to stick with it, because many apps today run on both the phone and the tablet version of the operating system. Do you want a small tablet (better for mobile interpreting jobs) or a bigger one (better for the booth)? Talk to colleagues about their experience or check online resources such as interpreting.info.

MH: To wrap up, just one last question about technology take-up in the interpreting world. More than a decade into the 21st century, we interpreters are still faced with stacks of paper documents each time we walk into a meeting. Is this going to change any time soon? Does the advent of iPads and other mobile technology mean that the paperless booth is just around the corner? 

AD: Where I work: no! And I presume the same applies more or less to the private market, too. I am sure however, that the situation will look very differently in two or three years. I certainly hope so!


Alexander Drechsel can be found on Twitter at @adrechsel and @tabterp.

Hear more of Alexander’s tips for working with iPads in the audio recording of his presentation (in German) at the BDÜ conference. 

Read what other interpreters have to say on interpreting.info about iPads apps for the booth.

This post was originally published on the AIIC Blog.

Interpreters Tell the Story

Over the past few posts on the Diaries, I have been telling readers about some of the blogs I enjoy reading. In today’s post, I will add one last blog to that list. This one is of particular significance to me, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

The AIIC Blog was launched last spring as part of the revamp of the main website of AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, of which I am a proud member. The blog’s tagline, “Interpreters tell the story,” promises an inside look at a broad range of topics related to the life of a conference interpreter, and that is precisely what it delivers. Recent posts have included a discussion on how government cutbacks might affect language policy, reflections on how techniques for glossary management have changed over the years, an entertaining rant about poor lighting conditions in booths, and even some ideas on the possible link between interpreting and jazz.

The blog is a collaborative effort, publishing regular articles from a number of veteran interpreter-bloggers, including Luigi Luccarelli, Phil Smith and Mary Fons, as well as guest posts and the occasional contribution by our President, Linda Fitchett. The more eagle-eyed among my readers may have noticed a familiar byline among all these names. For the past few months, I have been making regular contributions to its pages, telling stories from my own life as an interpreter. So far, I’ve talked about how a chance encounter in Brussels airport got me thinking about my own (mildly neurotic) relationship with the languages I speak, and I shared with readers what I did over the summer – or didn’t do, actually. And I have plenty more ideas brewing for future posts, so please stay tuned!

Here’s the quick way to find out what they’re talking about over at the AIIC Blog

If you would like to keep up with what is published on the AIIC Blog, all you have to do is add it to your RSS feed. By the way, while I’m on the topic of RSS feeds, I can’t pass up this opportunity to tell you about an interesting feature of the new AIIC website. Not only can you add the blog to your RSS feed, you can sign up for RSS updates on any number of interpreting-related topics. Whenever an article is posted anywhere on the website (not just the blog) that is related to the RSS feed you’ve chosen, you will get news of it in your feed. You can choose to receive news on more than a dozen topics, including freelancing for international organizations, getting started in the profession, training and research, conference equipment and standards, and others (consult the full list here). Cool, isn’t it?

Another nifty feature of the new website is its page of site sections, which offers a tidy little selection of past AIIC articles, all organized by topic. Visitors can navigate between about 30 different compilations. Here you’ll find articles on interpreting in conflict zones, memoirs talking about the history of the interpreting profession, overviews of global conference markets, tips for voice management, research findings and guidelines on remote interpreting, and much more.

Happy reading! I’ll be back soon with something other than a blog review…