The Linguist

The Linguist 59,4 - Aug/Sept 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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@Linguist_CIOL AUGUST/SEPTEMBER The Linguist 19 PANDEMIC INSIGHTS also at home. Though usual difficulties – such as signal problems, muffled voices and complications for hearing impaired patients – can be an issue, the interpreters reported that standard telephone interpreting techniques could be applied in most cases. Things can get more complicated in other public sector settings, where interpreters may be asked to diverge dramatically from normal practice, and several people in different locations may be on a call. An interpreting assignment with a social worker, for instance, might involve a three-way call lasting anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, or a longer child protection meeting with various parties in different locations. For looked-after children (those in the care of the state), there is a meeting every six months with the carer, child, school staff and other professionals involved. At the moment, these tend to be done by Zoom, MS Teams or Skype. "Sometimes people have technical problems, and we also have difficulties because there are a lot of people talking," explains Vietnamese-English interpreter Viet Tuan Ho. This can be improved by muting people when they aren't speaking. Turning the camera off can improve voice quality, but this essentially moves a meeting with at least five parties in different locations to a phone interpreting setting. In such situations, it is vital that the interpreter has the confidence and experience to intervene when people talk over one another, talk for too long, or forget to say their name before they speak. Upholding justice In the courts, multi-way calls have become common, as the defendant, legal teams, judge and interpreter are all in different places. The toll on the interpreter can be huge. When a court's video-conferencing platform failed, one interpreter was asked to carry out a four-hour assignment on the phone. With at least seven parties involved in the emergency application to remove a child from her parent's home, the job became "impossible at times". Zanda Berzina MCIL, chair of the translators' and interpreters' trade union NUPIT, accepts this kind of work reluctantly due to the difficulties involved. In the family courts there are often four parties, each with their own legal team, and the hearings last at least one hour. "It's very hard to follow who is speaking at any one time. Some people have a bad signal; the audio quality varies from person to person, so you might have to strain to hear one lawyer then suddenly have a loud voice in your ear from another party," she explains. "Normally I would be simultaneous interpreting and other parties would probably not even notice me. But on the phone it has to be consecutive and everybody has to pause. Solicitors who mainly work in family courts are probably not used to that kind of set-up," adds Berzina, who works in Latvian and English. Interpreters always need to be very focused, but many expressed the need for even greater concentration when interpreting remotely. Extra attention needs to be given to the tone of voice and any nuances in the communication to make up for the lack of visuals such as facial expressions and body language. "It is very draining," says Berzina. Even where video interpreting is used, the challenge can be immense. "Sometimes people just carry on, or interrupt, and then you lose the whole sentence," says Lane, referring to the way platforms such as Zoom allow participants to hear only one person at a time. This also means everything takes longer, as you have to wait until you're certain someone has stopped talking before you speak in order to make sure you don't cut them off. In addition, participants sometimes forget the interpreter is there because they are not present in the room. "If you are physically sitting next to the lawyer, everybody knows you're going to do your job. But if you are in different locations, they don't give you enough time to interpret, there is a lot of noise. The court usually addresses either the defence lawyer or the prosecution, but sometimes a random person suddenly starts speaking. It's a little bit chaotic," says Berzina, though she stresses that she is not criticising any of the parties involved. Making do These are unprecedented times, and although the general view is that remote interpreting arrangements are improving, professionals still sometimes face the dilemma of whether it is safer to postpone or to continue in substandard conditions. In the child protection case mentioned earlier, for example, © SHUTTERSTOCK

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