Hiring an Interpreter

Hints for Conference Organisers

by Joyce Trocki

Interpretation is a fascinating but little known area of translation. Interpreters must be able to listen to, and immediately transpose into another language, the words they have just heard. The diversity and complexity of subjects interpreted and the conditions in which interpreters work, sometimes demand truly remarkable performances, according to a pamphlet issued by the Canadian government. There are an estimated 2 000 simultaneous interpreters in the world.

Conference organisers should ideally approach interpreters during the initial planing stage to obtain quotations. Try not to approach interpreters at the last minute and tell them that they can only be paid a limited fee as this is all that has been budgeted for.

Don't add a commission to the interpreter's fee. Delegates who attend international conferences often know what interpreters' fees are, and are unhappy with commission being added.

There are experienced and trained conference interpreters in South Africa who have worked at international conferences. Approach the Interpreters Chapter of the South African Translators' Institute (Details at the end of this article)

Conference interpreting is very strenuous work and interpreters should be well looked after. Meals and light refreshments are always provided, as well as safe and secure parking.

There should be at least two interpreters for each language. If one interprets into English and another into the second language from English, find out if they are able to cover for each other and interpret in the opposite direction. If they cannot do so, neither has a break at all. This is why there are often three interpreters per booth, or even four (two each way).

Don't look for the lowest quotation - try to obtain the services of a good interpreter, as the success of a conference often depends on this. Never economise on the interpreter or the sound equipment.

Inform the interpreters who is providing and supervising the sound equipment. Interpreters need good, reliable equipment.

Give the interpreters as much information as possible on the subject matter of the conference. Send them papers from previous conferences. Conference organisers should budget on an agreed fee plus travelling and accommodation expenses per day per interpreters, for a normal working day of seven to seven-and-a-half hours. Overtime hours and rates should be negotiated with the interpreters.

Interpreters usually ask for a deposit before the conference, and will also want to arrange a cancellation fee as they may well have turned down other work in favour of the conference. Payment in full is required on the last morning of the conference.

If any pre- or post-conference documents need to be translated, this should be discussed with the interpreters. It is impossible for them to translate and interpret at the same time.

If the interpreters who work at the conference translate the papers, they will be familiar with the subject and the conference proceedings. Similarly, if they have translated pre-conference documents, they will have become familiar with subject matter. The documentation, which should include visa information, can also be translated by professional accredited / experienced translators who are members of the regional chapter, if the interpreter is not available or is not a translator.