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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20 The Linguist Vol/59 No/4 2020 PANDEMIC INSIGHTS postponing would have meant leaving the child in a potentially unsafe environment. "Sometimes we have had to improvise," admits Eulalia Pessoa-White MCIL CL, who works in English and Portuguese. She recently interpreted a victim interview where the officer and victim were in their own homes. "The victim didn't know how to access MS Teams, so I connected with her by iPhone and put my phone on loud speaker so the officer and the victim could hear each other," she says. "I didn't block my number because the victim had to get back to me with information that the officer needed. You just have to do it in the safest way possible." For police assignments, phone interpreting can be done either from home or via a 'hub' at a local police station, which is set up for secure remote interpreting. This means that even for remote jobs, interpreters often have to travel to a venue, though social distancing protocols are much easier at a hub than in a custody suite or interview room. "Some of the rooms are fairly close. You sit on the same bench as the suspect but a distance away. They're starting to divide the table with plastic shields, with the officers on one side and the suspect on the other, but I never take my mask away," says Pessoa- White, a director of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). "In some police stations, they provide masks, sanitiser and gloves, but the police officers don't wear any protective equipment in my experience." Even in these circumstances, remote work may be required, as most solicitors stopped attending police stations. This means that the interpreter may be left in a room alone with the suspect, with the solicitor only present on screen. "A police officer links the solicitor through MS Teams and leaves her laptop in the interview room," Pessoa-White explains, adding that she is comfortable with the arrangement as a risk assessment is done. Looking to the future The lack of PPE in both police stations and courts is a concern for many interpreters. For some, this has meant working exclusively from home, while others take a pragmatic approach, avoiding face-to-face work where possible and using their own masks and gloves when it is not. "The stress of coronavirus adds to the mental exhaustion, because people are afraid," says Lane. This anxiety has been compounded by financial insecurity. While some PSIs were losing as much as 90% of their work, agencies including thebigword, which has the contract for Ministry of Justice (MoJ) work, announced a rate cut of 15%. Though the MoJ confirmed that work for them would not be affected, some PSIs are still facing a reduction in fees. The government's Self-Employed Income Support Scheme has kept many afloat. However, not all are eligible and there are wider fears about the long-term impact on the economy. As Szewczyk puts it: "It helped a little, but you don't know what your income is going to be for the next year or two years because of the pandemic." There are some positive signs, with most of the interpreters reporting a slight uptick in work and more bookings for the summer, and a few returning to a full schedule by early June. Most are confident that face-to-face services will resume due to the difficulties of interpreting remotely in many public sector settings, and the risk to health outcomes, the safety of convictions, police investigations and child safety if best practice can't be followed. Notes 1 By NPRSI, the ATC (Association of Translation Companies), NUPIT and other members of PI4J 2 'When Coronavirus Care Gets Lost in Translation' (17/4/20). In NY Times 3 'Hospitals Have Left Many COVID-19 Patients Who Don't Speak English Alone, Confused and Without Proper Care' (31/3/20). In ProPublica © SHUTTERSTOCK

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