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On March 21, 2019, I will have the honor of speaking at the TAUS Global Content Summit in New York. I believe translators and interpreters need a new identity. Translators must be capable of interpreting and interpreters must be qualified in translation. Transinterpreters embrace new tools, are savvy in today’s technology, are digital and mobile. They acquire soft skills to adapt to fast change and solve problems in original ways. I suggest these future Transinterpreters will be recruited from new pools of bilingual individuals worldwide.
Sidenote: I believe “old guard” translators and interpreters might be able to hold on to some niche markets as the “experts” in their fields. But if they continue to remain ignorant in the technologies of our world (electronic, virtual, digital, mobile, and similar), maybe that time will not last much either. For example, literary translators and conference interpreters might have a longer “shelf-life” than other old-school translators and interpreters, but maybe just for one decade or two.
As the world changes, every profession and craft must adapt to the changes in their world. Even artists such as painters and writers have learned to use the technologies of our time and the changes in the social conditions and communication channels. So too, the specific needs for translators and interpreters have changed. What we are expected to do, how, where, and even why and whom with, all has changed in the past two or three decades.
To give you an example, in 2011 I started some of the first webinars on remote interpreting, using phone and video. I received some comments from “experts” who had a strong position against the concept of remote interpreting. Today, it is a tried and true means of delivering interpreting, to the point that even conference interpreters are entering the world of working from remote locations.
In the field of translation, in 2013 I predicted that in a few years we would be starting most of our translations with a draft pre-translated by a machine. Post-editing is now widely used commercially and the pace is growing exponentially, to the point that even post-editing of machine translation may already be replaced by just the tasks of revision. And yes, I know that a huge amount of companies and individuals still don’t use machine translation, but they soon will, as the technology becomes cheaper and easier to use.
I will now admit that translators and interpreters will not be replaced (in the short-term) by technology, but insist they will be replaced by other translators and interpreters USING technology. This is already proving to be correct. Many have seen dramatic drops in their workloads. I am guessing they are the non-tech-savvy. Others, on the contrary, have seen dramatic increases in their workloads. They are, I believe, the tech-savvy ones.
Additionally, there is something else brewing in the air. The need for translators to be able to interpret and interpreters to be able to translate (or post-edit machine translation outputs). Why? Because in our interconnected world, voice and text are becoming interchangeable. Today we can listen to Siri or voice GPS and can dictate the texts to be sent by our phones. Likewise, in a world of remote interconnections, your clients may hire you for an interpreting session but might very well ask you to translate some texts. Or if you are working on a client’s translation, you might be asked to interpret the conversations around the modifications to the original or the translated texts.
Finally, talking about soft skills, two decades ago, translation and interpreting were “alone” professions. If you were a translator, you worked alone. If you were an interpreter, very seldom would you work in a team environment. All this has changed. Translation is now just a piece of a big group puzzle called language services, and interpreting is becoming a team effort. Soft skills are now essential as business is done at an increasingly fast pace. You must now also be agile, adaptable, flexible, and creative at solving problems; you are expected to act as a team player, have the ability to accept and learn from criticism, display a positive can-do attitude, demonstrate self-confidence, and work well under pressure.
Yes, Transinterpreters are individually a super-man or a super-woman. We have always known translators and interpreters were that, but now it is a requirement of the job! (Smile, please).
Interpreting in 2018 is becoming progressively more of an audiovisual experience in remote encounters, than the face-to-face meetings of the past. As such, in my opinion, there is one issue that interpreters of the 21st century need now more than ever: EMPATHY, the ability to understand and SHARE the feelings of another human being.
As a trained actor from my days of youth, I believe that many of the techniques that are used by actors should be used by remote interpreters; as conduits of the thoughts of another being, those thoughts never exist in a vacuum. Thoughts are intimately related not only to our culture and the patterns of our society but also to our feelings, for thoughts control feelings (and feelings influence thoughts).
Good actors make us suspend disbelief and see THROUGH them the character that they are portraying. We see those “other” human beings (they portray) in all their strength and frailty because the actors are able to get themselves “out of the way” and BECOME a true conduit of the thoughts and feelings of the character they portray.
Good actors, therefore, achieve selfless results (i.e., we see “another” instead of the actor) by developing total EMPATHY for their character. So too, it is my belief, that we, as interpreters, are conduits for the expression of another’s words and feelings. In that sense, it is too little to ask that we “simply” convey words. We MUST convey the words in total accuracy, but we must ALSO convey the thoughts and feelings that are attached to those words. EMPATHY allows us to do so, or at least to try our best. It is this human-ness that will indeed separate us from the likes of bilingual Siris!
Empathy is, at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It is a key element of Emotional Intelligence, the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves…
Three Types of Empathy
Psychologists have identified three types of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy.
Cognitive empathy is understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions, in a very rational, rather than emotional sense.
Emotional empathy is also known as emotional contagion, and is ‘catching’ someone else’s feelings, so that you literally feel them too.
Compassionate empathy is understanding someone’s feelings, and taking appropriate action to help.
So, how do we develop EMPATHY? There are many techniques and exercises. I found some very interesting by Martha Beck, appropriately called The Empathy Workout:
[Excerpts] EXERCISE 1: LEARNING TO LISTEN …start with conversation. Once a day, ask a friend, “How are you?” in a way that says you mean it. If they give you a stock answer (“Fine”), repeat the question: “No, really. How are you?” You’ll soon realize that if your purpose is solely to understand, rather than to advise or protect, you can work a kind of magic: In the warmth of genuine caring, people open up like flowers….
EXERCISE 2: REVERSE ENGINEERING Some mechanical engineers spend their time disassembling machines to see how they were originally put together. You can use a similar technique to develop empathy, by working backward from the observable effects of emotion to the emotion itself. Think of someone you’d like to understand…Remember a recent interaction… Now imitate, as closely as you can, the physical posture, facial expression, exact words, and vocal inflection they used during that encounter. Notice what emotions arise within you. What you feel will probably be very close to whatever the other person was going through…
EXERCISE 3: SHAPE-SHIFTING In folklore, shape-shifters are beings with the ability to become anyone or anything. As a child, I was fascinated by this concept and used to pretend that I could instantaneously switch places with other people, animals, even inanimate objects… I recommend you try it, soon. See that strange man in the orange polyester suit putting 37 packets of sweetener into his extra-grande mochaccino with soy milk? What if—zap!—you suddenly switched bodies with him? What would it be like to wear that suit, that face, that physique? What impulse would lead to sugaring a cup of coffee like that, let alone drinking it?
EXERCISE 4: METTA-TATION World-class empathizers…conduct a daily regimen of metta, or lovingkindness, meditation. This involves focusing all of one’s attention on a certain individual and offering loving wishes to that person with each breath you take, for several minutes at a time. Classic metta practice starts with your own sweet self. For five minutes, with each breath, offer yourself kind thoughts… Then switch the focus of your kind thoughts onto a friend or family member. When you feel a sense of emotional union with that person, target someone you barely know….