AheadCurveIf you are young and entering the job market, things can be tough.

In the wake of the recession, the number of jobs is down, particularly for young people. When young people do find work, it’s often in jobs for which they are overqualified. (Interestingly, though, university grads still earn more money, and a degree is your best bet for employment prospects.) As if things were not hard enough, the language industry — translation and interpreting — are in a state of rapid change.

So how you do you, as a new interpreter on the market, find work in your chosen field? Well, a recent public panel discussion at Glendon shed some interesting light on that subject.

Donna Achimov paints a picture of a changing landscape

Donna Achimov paints a picture of a changing landscape

On Friday, November 28, we welcomed three guests to our campus.

  1. Kent Johansson, European Parliament, Directorate General for Translation, Multilingualism and External Relations Unit
  2. Donna Achimov, CEO, Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada
  3. Robin Strang-Lindsey, Senior Director, Service to Parliament and Interpretation, Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada

The European Parliament and the Government of Canada both run some of the largest translation (and interpreting) services on the planet. But, as the panel members explained, the way they run their businesses has changed. Here are some of the drivers of change that they discussed.


Increasingly, language services in the public sector are being asked to demonstrate their worth. Not only do they have to get their financial houses in order, they also have to measure their productivity and their impact. They need to have numbers to prove to the powers that be that they are efficient. For example, the European institutions can demonstrate that the total cost of interpretation and translation per year is less than 3€ per citizen, about the cost of a cup of coffee.

Robin Strang-Lindsey discusses value-added service.

Robin Strang-Lindsey discusses value-added service.

Value-Added Service

It’s not enough to give value for money, services also have to add value in other ways. Members of Parliament on both continents are asking for new kinds of services. For example, some want translation and interpreting not just for the business of Parliament, but their own dealings as members. Others are asking for real-time translation of social media messages, so that they can tweet and post in multiple languages.

Thinking Outside the Box

Language professionals are being asked to think ahead of the curve. In the case of the European Parliament, will the Union expand and add new languages? If so, are language services agile enough to train and recruit a cadre of language professionals to meet the new need? Here in Canada, we have a similar issue with aboriginal languages. Also, following the recent attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, language professionals stepped up to the plate and devised a plan to work more closely with law enforcement and security agencies. In this way, real-time messages in times of crisis can go out accurately and quickly in multiple languages.

Julio Montero conducts the demo of the remote simultaneous platform

Julio Montero conducts the demo of the remote simultaneous platform


It’s no secret that technology has completely reshaped translation. Today’s translators have to be able to manipulate translation memories, develop term banks, manage projects, and standardize work flow. Increasingly, they also need to integrate state-of-the-art machine translation where and when appropriate. Technology has also begun to change how interpreters do their work.

Our Translation Bureau colleagues are working with Able Translations to explore remote simultaneous interpreting. Julio Montero of Able was on hand to demonstrate their remote simo platform. Julio’s English audio feed was sent over the Internet to an offsite location, where an interpreter worked into French. The French audio was then sent back to the room, where a radio-frequency transmitter broadcast it to receivers that our audience members were using. All present seemed to agree that the sound quality was on par with normal, onsite simultaneous interpreting.

Future language professionals, what does all this mean for you?

MCI faculty member Qjinti Oblitas takes in the remote interpreting demonstration.

MCI faculty member Qjinti Oblitas takes in the remote interpreting demonstration.

First off, you need to stay informed. You won’t be able to change with the changes if you don’t know what they are in the first place. So find ways to stay in the loop. Join professional associations. Go to conferences. Read industry newsletters and blogs. Make sure you are scanning the horizon for future opportunities.

Second, get comfortable with technology. (There is a reason why Year One of the MCI is delivered online — it’s so our students are used to interpreting using remote platforms.) Figure out how you can use it to do your job faster, better, and smarter.

Third, be aware that you have to add value. Your standard skill set as an interpreter or a translator is not enough. You have to have two, three or more extras that make your services better than those of the competition. Maybe that’s a strategic combination of working languages. Maybe it’s knowledge of one or two specialized areas. Or maybe it’s something unusual that I can’t even think of because only you can bring it to the table.

Finally, adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur. (Or, if you are working within a large organization, of an “intrapreneur“). Develop a vision for your professional self. Where there are problems, imagine solutions. Seek out like-minded people and join forces. Organize to chase down opportunities.

Got a suggestion for adapting to a changing landscape? Let me know by leaving a note in the comments field below.

The session was well attended by students, faculty and guests from industry.

The session was well attended by students, faculty and guests from industry.


10 responses to “Can you adapt to a changing landscape?”

  1. Gillian Misener says:

    Andrew, you said everyone in the room agreed that the sound quality was acceptable. Just wondering what the interpreter him or herself thought–we have a lot of trouble with videoconferencing sound quality on the Hill! Thanks for your blog and keep up the good work.

  2. Andrew Clifford says:

    Hi Gillian!

    Thanks for your question. Yes, I have done my share of remote work, and the sound that reaches the interpreter is not always great.

    This time around, we did not have a chance to ask the interpreter about the sound. But it definitely is an important question to ask!

  3. Carol Card says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I wasn’t sure what was meant by this sentence in your article above. Maybe you can elaborate?

    “There is a reason why Year One of the MCI is delivered online — it’s so our students are used to interpreting using remote platforms.”

    Just wondering what content is delivered online and if there is any group work and face-to-face time with profs. Is the main purpose of this approach to teach students remote interpreting?


    • Andrew Clifford says:

      Hi Carol,

      How great to hear from you! And thanks for checking out my blog.

      There is one thing I can say about our online interpreting classes that will help to make matters clearer — they are delivered synchronously. In other words, instructors and students are online at the same time. They can see and hear one another.

      To get a sense of what this is like, here are two short excerpts from some of our classes.

      1. Consecutive Class
      2. Simultaneous Class

      Because we teach in this way, there are very few activities that we might do in a face-to-face class that cannot be replicated in an online one. This allows us to deliver our entire first year online. Students become used to interpreting live in our virtual classrooms. So it is easy for them to interpret using other remote platforms when they graduate.

      I’m not sure that I would say the main reason we teach Year One online is to prepare students for remote interpretation, but it is an important one. Virtual classes also allow us to draw students from anywhere in the world (currently, we have students in North America, Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia…). We are also able to recruit teachers from multiple interpreting markets — our instructors have experience with the European Institutions, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and — of course — the Government of Canada!

  4. Monique Perrin d'Arloz says:

    Je n’ai pas fait d’interprétation depuis vingt ans, mais c’est quand même la première question que j’aurais posée à propos de cette démonstration: LA QUALITÉ DU SON QUI PARVENAIT AUX OREILLES DE L’INTERPRÈTE ÉTAIT-ELLE ACCEPTABLE? Car les clients, eux, ils ne font pas la différence! C’est absolument fondamental, et c’est le problème dont se plaignent les interprètes depuis toujours. Il faudrait peut-être commencer par le régler avant d’envisager de beaux scénarios.

    • Andrew Clifford says:

      Bonjour Monique,

      Je suis content d’avoir de vos nouvelles ! J’espère que vous allez bien, et merci beaucoup d’avoir lu mon billet de blogue.

      Vous avez raison de souligner l’importance de la qualité du son. Que l’on interprète sur place ou à distance, si le son n’est pas au rendez-vous, cela constitue une entrave majeure pour les interprètes.

      Je me souviens très bien de ma première expérience d’interprétation à distance. À l’époque, j’étais encore employé du fédéral et j’ai trouvé la tâche extraordinairement difficile. Il y avait la faible qualité du son, bien sûr (il s’agissait d’une téléconférence où bon nombre des clients participaient par l’entremise de téléphones portables…). Mais l’absence de renseignements visuels a joué un rôle aussi.

      Quelques années plus tard, j’ai fini par prendre l’habitude. Mais les premières tentatives ont été pénibles.

      Pourtant, dans un avenir proche, les conditions techniques seront moins problématiques. La technologie évolue rapidement, et — à mon avis — la capacité d’organiser une réunion en ligne (avec qualité de son acceptable pour les interprètes) sera bientôt à la portée de tous.

  5. Catherine McNeely says:

    Andrew, I am sorry I missed the seminar. It sounds very interesting.

    How was the demonstration of remote interpretation any different from what we do already? I regularly interpret teleconferences for groups whose members are all over Canada. The only people in the same room (or even the same province) are the interpreters + the technician (we work on-site at a tech company).

    Success varies, depending on many factors.

    The main limitation is the FR and EN are on separate phone lines; the interpreter is the only contact between both lines and therefore become a de-facto co-chair (interrupting the conference call when someone on the other line wants to speak).

    Was the remote interpretation demonstration any different?

    Regards, Catherine

    • Andrew Clifford says:

      Hello Catherine,

      Nice to hear from you! Yes, we were sorry you could not attend the session. Perhaps you will come visit the MCI at another time…

      In my opinion, the Vicki platform is best able to handle the sort of situation we had during the seminar — that is to say, an event where the participants are all physically present, but where the interpreter is remote. It is different from the phone setup that many of us use in that the participants are face to face, and in that the interpreter can see the meeting room (and, if need be, be seen by folks in the meeting room).

      For a purely online meeting — one where all participants, including the interpreters, are remote to one another — I think people are better off using ZipDX. I’ve been part of several demos that our colleague Barry Olsen has given, and our MCI students have also used the platform for training.

      I like two things about ZipDX. First, a faint echo of the original speaker in the background means folks listening in another language know when the floor is free. So the interpreter doesn’t have to play traffic cop. Second, the interpreter sees a list of participants, and their names light up when they speak. So you no longer have to say “an unidentified voice” or some such because you can’t figure out who is speaking to announce it to your clients.

  6. Jean Marc Larivière says:

    Bonjour Andrew,

    J’ai eu l’occasion de travailler sur la plateforme ZipDX à quelques occasions et je suis de ton avis : son avantage principal c’est qu’elle permet aux participants de chaque groupe linguisitque d’entendre en sourdine (à très faible volume – volume qui est réglable d’ailleurs) les participants dans l’autre langue quand ceux-ci prennent la parole. Du coup, l’interprète n’a plus à jouer à l’aiguilleur entre les deux groupes linguistiques.

    Cependant, permets-moi d’apporter un bémol de taille à l’autre avantage que tu cites, soit la capacité du système d’identifier les intervenants à mesure qu’ils prennent la parole. Au départ, comme toi, je me suis dit que cela serait génial. Mais dans la réalité, j’ai été très déçu et j’ai vite constaté que cette fonction n’était pas encore au point. Je m’explique : le seuil de détection est beaucoup trop sensible. Aussi, en tout temps, la fenêtre identifiant les intervenants pullule de noms au moindre froissement de papier ou toussotement de l’un ou de l’autre. J’ai soulevé la question auprès du concepteur du système et bien qu’en théorie cela soit aussi réglable, il m’a confié que pour le moment c’était comme ça.

    Je conclue par le plus important, soit la qualité du son pour l’interprète. ZipDX est adapté à la voix sur IP (VoIP). En fait, les interprètes n’ont pas le choix et doivent s’en servir ce qui garanti la qualité sonore de leur prestation. Autrement dit, l’interprète se sert d’un casque branché directement dans un ordi via une connection USB.

    Si un client est aussi branché sur ZipDX via le VoIP, la qualité du son parvenant à l’interprète est impeccable (dans la mesure où il n’y a pas de bruits de fond dans l’environnement immédiat du participant évidemment). Malheureusement, dans la plupart des cas, les participants se branchent à la téléconférence via une ligne filaire (ça va encore), un téléphone sans fil, un cellulaire ou pis un Polycom. Inutile d’ajouter que la qualité du son parvenant à l’interprète est rarement idéal. C’est de loin le plus sérieux obstacle à une téléinterprétation de qualité.

    Pour le moment, je m’en tiens à cela. Il y aurait lieu de discuter d’autres enjeux techniques plus complexes auxquels j’ai été confrontés tant avec ZipDX que les systèmes téléphoniques traditionnels.

    • Andrew Clifford says:

      Bonjour Jean-Marc,

      Content d’avoir de tes nouvelles. Merci beaucoup d’avoir lu mon billet de blogue, et merci aussi de nous avoir fait part de tes commentaires. Je n’ai eu malheureusement que l’occasion de voir des démonstrations de ZipDX. J’ai donc été très intéressé par la description de tes expériences.

      Je suis désolé d’apprendre que le système d’identifier les clients soit si sensible. J’imagine que tu as mis Barry et David au courant du problème. Peut-être qu’ils pourront apporter une modification au système.

      Quant à la qualité du son venant d’un téléphone cellulaire, je comprends bien. C’est effectivement un problème, et il continuera à l’être sur le court terme. Mais à long terme ? Je pense que nous verrons des améliorations constantes au cours des ans…

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