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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Translation and Interpreting News

Translating language skills into a new career
Published Date: 03 April 2010
There's more than meets the eye - or the ears - to being an interpreter, learns Heidi Soholt . . . AS THE woman screams in pain, Kasia gently holds her hand, while whispering that her ordeal will soon be over. Just one more push and the agony will stop.

Soon, the room is filled with the sound of a newborn baby's cries and Kasia congratulates the mother. However, although she has played an important role in the birth of a child, she isn't a relative or on the medical team. Kasia, full name Katarzyna Korzeniowska (pictured below right), works as an interpreter, and this, she says, is one of her more rewarding placements.

The 27-year-old Pole started interpreting full-time around a year ago. She is self-employed but her work comes through an agency. This arrangement suits Kasia, as it is much harder to work independently when you are new to the industry.

She came to Scotland in January 2008. With two degrees, in European Business Management and Psychology and Management, and a post-graduate qualification in European Studies, Kasia was hoping to find a position within a large corporation. But things didn't turn out the way she had expected. "I applied to companies but didn't get anywhere. I think that people were put off because my degrees weren't from the UK," she says. "I worked as a nanny for a while, but stopped when I decided to become self-employed."

After approaching an agency, Kasia was interviewed and taken on. Thanks largely to the influx of Polish immigrants in Scotland, she has worked steadily since then, and fulfilled placements in a variety of environments.

According to the Polish Consulate in Edinburgh, there are around 70,000 Polish people living in Scotland. While many of those who arrive in the country are young and highly qualified, few speak English fluently enough to take up skilled positions, explains the consulate's spokesperson, Sylvia Spooner.

However, the majority get by without using the services of a professional interpreter. "Yes, there is a need for interpreter services in the courts, NHS and so on, but in general people are able to use the bit of English they have," she explains. "At the consulate we are not able to offer a formal interpreter service but we do some translation of official documents such as birth and marriage certificates. We don't really need interpreters unless there is something more serious."

When it does get more serious, Kasia is on-hand to help. "At the moment my work is mostly in the courts. I interpret in the district, sheriff and high courts, as well as at tribunals. I also work in medical settings such as labour wards, abortion clinics, GP surgeries and with health visitors. And the police use interpreters for taking witness statements or translating for an accused. Occasionally I do private work when, for instance, someone needs help dealing with a council."

Kasia is currently studying for her Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI). The course takes one year, at the end of which there is an exam. The qualification will mean that her hourly rate will increase.

"The course is expensive - it costs GBP 540 for the exam and diploma - but it is worth it," says Kasia. "The diploma is highly regarded in the industry, and makes you look more professional."

She has, however, found plenty of work without the qualification. "Agencies will employ you without the diploma, after an interview. They usually require a bachelor degree and will also take into account your background, how long you have stayed in the country, and whether you have been studying English."

Kasia says that her work, while varied and interesting, is demanding. "You have to be ready and quick to be in some place in a short period of time, appear there without preparation and be the best you can. You need to be able to think on your feet. Also, the work is irregular, so you can't plan ahead."

Many situations, she continues, can be stressful. Kasia is often assisting clients who are in some form of trouble or distress. Last year, she was interpreting in a rape trial. The testimonies were harrowing and disturbing, but Kasia could not allow herself to become emotional or distracted. "You have to keep a cool head and concentrate on the person next to you. Emotions cannot take over. You have to tell yourself that you are there for a reason - to perform your job professionally."

Making a good "language match" is another requirement, she adds. "While some clients are educated, with others you have to alter the way you normally speak, to make sure they understand."

And interpreters require a good grasp of complex terminology. "It helps if you come from a medical or legal background, but it is not essential," explains Kasia, who studied law as part of her degrees in Poland. "You do need a good understanding of the legal system in Scotland - its vocabulary, terms and expressions."

An excellent short-term memory is another requirement. "You have to train your memory. Interpreters do two types of work - consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. Simultaneous is the most challenging as you are interpreting the moment when someone is speaking. You are usually whispering, and it is most often used in court, when a lawyer or prosecutor is speaking to an accused. You can only work for 15 minutes at a time in this way as it is exhausting. Consecutive interpreting involves transferring a few words or statements at a time, in your language, and then back into English. As an interpreter you are expected to do both kinds. Surprisingly for many, it is actually easier to interpret from your own language into English, and there is a high failure rate in the diploma exam because candidates do not realise this, and so don't practise interpreting into their own language."

Kasia's advice to anyone thinking of entering the industry is to be prepared for the instability of the work. Many interpreters are forced to hold other part-time jobs to supplement their income. The profession has seen a decline in pay which has been blamed on the awarding of key government contracts to specific agencies, and the use of unqualified interpreters.

She adds: "Interpreters need many skills aside from being fluent in at least two languages. They need to be diplomatic and objective. You are there to facilitate communication between people, never to advise or interfere. Impartiality is crucial, as is the ability to interpret every word as it is said, never editing or adding anything."

On the plus side, Kasia enjoys the variety of her work. "I'm in it for the learning curve and the excitement. I love the fact that I am learning about so many different people and lives. You are in interesting places and situations all the time."

Kasia plans to work her way up the ranks and to one day take up employment with the European Union. Once she has her DPSI, she also wants to become a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. This, hopes Kasia, will help her to fulfil her ambitions.

"EU conferencing is the most difficult work for interpreters and is very highly regarded," she says. "My aim is to facilitate better communication between the EU nations. It's basically what I do now as an interpreter, but I hope one day to do it at a much higher level."

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