My Roman Holiday

Many readers will know that I have just come back from a whirlwind trip to Rome. I went there to attend a Training for Trainers seminar on “Research Results and Implications for Interpreter Training”. It was a two-day event organized by AIIC Training and given on this occasion by one of the leading lights in interpreting studies, Daniel Gile. Doesn’t sound like much of a holiday, you say?

Well, consider this: I managed to time my visit to coincide with the biggest blizzard the city has seen in decades, which blanketed the Italian capital’s seven hills with snow, made taxicabs scarce and metro queues endless, led to hot water shortages and flickering lights at my hotel, and covered the Roman cobblestones with treacherous ice. Add to that the fact that I was only there for about 36 hours, most of which I spent cooped up in a windowless room with no view of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, or anything else remotely Roman for that matter, and you may seriously start to wonder why I am calling this post “My Roman Holiday” and not “My Roman Ordeal” (hint: it’s not to compare myself to Audrey Hepburn).

It’s quite simple, really. For me, the trip was a wonderful experience. Firstly, it was only the second time in the seven years since my first child was born that I have “treated myself” to some time away from home for professional development purposes (not purely business travel).

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A ♥ for Language Blogs

A great idea came down from Translation Times earlier this week: why not have language bloggers share their favorite blogs with readers? With ideas like this, it’s easy to understand why Translation Times were ranked #1 on Lexiophiles’ 2011 list of Language Professionals Blogs. They even came up with a special name for the posts (see above) and are offering a free book for one lucky participating blogger (something tells me Judy’s MBA in Marketing had something to do with that last feature).

My contribution to this awareness-raising effort will focus on blogs that deal exclusively with conference interpreting. There are dozens that touch upon different aspects of interpreting from various angles, but I’m going to see if I can come up with a list of favorites that includes conference interpreting blogs only. Here goes …

1) BOOTHEANDO – This blog ranked #13 on Lexiophiles’ 2011 list and was the only conference interpreting blog to make the top 25. It is undoubtedly the standard-setter in the field. Its author, a staff interpreter at the CIHEAM, offers professionally-written, insightful, impeccably-researched contributions on all aspects of the field. What’s better, she’s a great communicator and born networker, as anyone who follows her on Facebook and Twitter (@blogbootheando) will know.

2) IN MY WORDS – This blog is written by a Brussels-based freelance interpreter for the EU institutions and a fellow AIIC member. She also happens to be doing her PhD in interpreting studies – a fact which can easily be seen in her posts, which show a depth not many can offer. The author’s take-no-prisoners attitude to the key questions affecting interpreters today, such as professional ethics, practice and standards, are of great use to anyone who wants to know more about these issues. I also find it personally enlightening to see how she manages to cover in a single post what it would probably take me dozens to address! (I am going to make “less is more” my new mantra). The Twitter handle for this blogger is @tulkur.

3) AVENTURAS DE UNA TRADUCTORA-INTERPRETE EN MADRID – This blog delivers exactly what its title promises: a personal, informally-written account of the life and times of a Madrid-based interpreter. Full of entertaining anecdotes and personal photos and videos, it’s always a good read. I only wonder about the “traductora” part, since I have yet to see any posts on translation… Twitter handle for this one is @aidagda.

4) COSAS DE DOS PALABRAS – This blog is the joint effort of two authors, one sworn interpreter and one conference interpreter. The latter is an assiduous reader of my own blog – which confuses me a bit, since as a former student of mine, she should know it all already! The posts on conference interpreting are complete and well-written. My only quibble would be that they are very few and far between! I would like to hear more from this blog. Twitter handle is @2paraules.

5) LE BLOG DE TIINA – Time to branch out a bit language-wise. This French-language blog is by another fellow AIIC member, this time Geneva-based, who is also a freelance interpreter at the UN and EU institutions. Although the author insists that her blog is “not just about interpreting”, it includes a series of informative and entertaining posts on the profession, complete with videos and photos. The posts, which I am told are also published in ASTTI‘s quarterly journal Hieronymous (although for the life of me I can’t find it online), are well worth the three-month wait in between.

6) DOLMETSCHER-BERLIN – This is the one blog I wish I followed more. It looks interesting and well-written, but since it doesn’t appear to have an email subscription function, and is also not on Twitter, it’s a bit off my radar. In my world, if it doesn’t show up in my inbox or Twitter feed, then it might as well not exist. RSS feeds just don’t do it for me. Must change that… Please, don’t make the same mistake as me and give this blog the attention it deserves!

7) TOLK FRANS – To round off my own language combination, I have to include a  blog in Dutch. So here it is! Funnily enough, it’s written by a Frenchman. Go figure. Anyway, it’s so well done that you would swear the author is a native. I understand he has a Dutch girlfriend – that might have something to do with it. The blog addresses a number of interesting issues for interpreters, such as passing the EU exams (which the author did just recently), learning new languages, Eurojargon… Again, I just wish the posts came more regularly. The author has just joined Twitter at @LeTolk.

8 ) DON DE LENGUAS – This is a radio blog that offers regular podcasts, many of which are on interpreting, so I think I can safely include it here. It’s produced by the Department of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Salamanca. I particularly like the interview with the author of Bootheando that they did as a surprise birthday present for her earlier this year! Twitter handle is @DonDeLenguas.

9) LOURDESAIB on YOUTUBE – This YouTube channel could almost be called a video blog. It offers a series of interesting, informative videos on conference interpreting as seen from every possible angle. New videos are added regularly, and are organized in playlists (on the European Parliament, the UN,  the European Commission, Interpreter Training, and more) to facilitate exploring. As a colleague of its producer through the professional association AIB, I know that the videos are extremely well-received among the interpreting community, which is why I would like to share them with readers here. The videos are disseminated via AIB’s Facebook page and Twitter feed at @AIBInterpretes. (In the interest of full disclosure, let me add here that I am the adminstrator of AIB’s Twitter feed and co-adminstrator of their Facebook page.)

10) And finally, in the “I -can’t-believe-there’s-a-blog-about-that” category, we have INTERPRETING EN POINTE, a blog about interpreting and …ballet! Apparently the author can’t decide whether to be a translator, an interpreter or a ballet dancer. I wish her the best of luck in all three as she decides!

And that’s it from me! I know I have missed some interesting blogs, but I have to stop somewhere. If you know of any more conference interpreting blogs that you would like to add to this list, please let me know. I’m always looking out for something new to read! And many thanks once again to Translation Times for spearheading this initiative.

Happy reading!

The University of Westminster closes its training program

The Announcement

This is the news I woke up to last Monday morning:

“It is with deep regret that we are writing to inform you that the University of Westminster has decided to close the MA Conference Interpreting course.  It is a shame that a respected course so close to its fiftieth anniversary should be wound up.  As you doubtless are aware, the Coalition government recently made severe cuts in Higher Education funding, leaving the University with difficult – and sudden – decisions to make about how to effect savings.  We were informed of this in early April, made a counter-proposal for a streamlined course, with full staff support, but it has not been accepted.”

The news of this closure dropped like a bombshell on the interpreting community. Readers who may not be familiar with the interpreter training course at Westminster may wonder why. To help you understand the situation better, I’ll just briefly give you some background information on the course that has just been disbanded.

The interpreting training course at the University of Westminster was established in 1963 at what was then the Polytechnic of Central London. Westminster was a founding member and the original coordinating institution of the EMCI (European Master’s in Conference Interpreting) consortium. This is a group of 18 universities that cooperate in the post-graduate training of conference interpreters through student and teacher exchanges, resource sharing, videoconferences, and liaison with the EU institutions. Westminster is also one of only two courses in the United Kingdom recommended by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters.

Countless graduates of the PCL/Westminster training course have gone on to successful careers as conference interpreters as staff or freelancers at the UN, the EU and other institutions, as well as on the private market. There is currently even one alumnus working for the Canadian government! Some alumni have reached important positions in interpreting administrations, others are active as trainers, and many also contribute actively in other ways to the promotion of the interpreting profession.

Despite being located in the UK, Westminster does not train only English booth interpreters. The course follows the tradition of other illustrious schools such as the ETI in Geneva and ESIT in Paris, training a broad mix of interpreting students with different language combinations. French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Swedish, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian, Russian and Chinese interpreters have all been trained there. Westminster was also the first school to train interpreters in the Maltese and Irish booths. The school has also organized short courses for working interpreters as well as for the SCIC (the Interpreting Directorate of the European Commission) and the European Parliament.

The Justification

Anyone who, like me, wanted to find out more about the closure would have quickly come across this notice posted on the official course website:

Statement for Applicants on Closure of MA/PG Dip in Conference Interpreting

MA/PG Dip Conference Interpreting is a well-respected course that has been recognised by the EMCI, AIIC, the EU and the UN in various ways for the quality of its graduates. The closure of the course is not a decision that has been taken lightly and it has not been taken because of any quality, teaching, management or recruitment problems.

The training of conference interpreters to the level to which the course aspires is a resource-intense activity and the course generates a significant deficit each year. Whilst the Department has worked closely with the course team to develop a sustainable model of delivery, and has looked at a range of options to achieve this, this has not been possible.

Higher Education sector in the UK is currently subject to a range of financial pressures. In the present climate, the Department is no longer able to subsidise course delivery to the extent required by a conference interpreting provision and has been unable to identify a sustainable business model for the long-term future of the course.

Given the very limited choices available, a strategic decision has been taken to withdraw permanently from the training of conference interpreters, rather than attempt to reduce delivery costs and compromise quality, and thereby to refocus the resources of the Department on other activities.”

The Reaction

Now, I don’t think anyone needs any help to grasp the importance of the points being made in this notice. It’s made quite clear that despite the fact that the course is recognised for excellence in its field, budget cuts had led to the decision to disband it.

I think that this decision marks a serious precedent in higher education, particularly with respect to the field that concerns me most: that of post-graduate interpreter training. When the value of an education is converted into little more than a dollar sign (or in this case, pound sterling), then alarm bells should start going off everywhere. Stakeholders, and society as a whole, have a responsibility to recall the bigger picture. If conference interpreter training is considered “too expensive”, what will happen to the values of multilingualism so championed by the European Union? If the training of interpreters suddenly becomes unaffordable, what will happen to the quality of global political debate and intercultural discourse? These, and many other underlying questions, are thrown up by the decision to close Westminster.

The Response

With all this in mind, the interpreting community has decided to speak out on the decision. In the past days, I have heard many different people, all linked in different ways with the interpreting world, express their shock and dismay at the decision to close the Westminster training course. This is a message that should reach the ears of those who took the decision, if only so that they understand the reception that their decision has had among the wider community.

To this end, the interpreting blogosphere has decided to launch a joint action to raise awareness amongst readers of what has happened at Westminster and encourage individuals to express their views on it. Today, Bootheando, In my words, Cosas de Dos Palabras, the blog of Judith Carrera, Aventuras de una traductora-intérprete en Madrid, and The Interpreter Diaries are all publishing posts with the news. At the end of each post, you will find a link to a Facebook page that has been set up to allow members of the interpreting community to express their views on the matter. If you have a view you would like to share, or would simply like to express your support to the course coordinators in these complicated times, please take a moment to post a comment on the wall.

We encourage readers who are also fellow bloggers to take the information given here and publish it on their blogs as well. All readers are invited to share the news with the broader interpreting community using the available channels.

We may not change anyone’s mind, but at least we should speak out about how we feel about the decision to close the interpreting course at the University of Westminster.

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