The Twenty-Minute Rule

I just finished working for the CDC where I was on assignment doing simultaneous interpreting for the Stop Transmission to Polio program. It was fascinating. I learned so much, not only about Polio but also about interpreting. During the two-week period, I met and worked with some very nice interpreters who talked to me about some of our colleagues. I found out that apparently, some interpreters have a 20 mn rule, meaning that they refuse to interpret any more or any less than 20mn.

I understand the need for us to work the same amount, but geez, I’d hate to be stopped if I feel really good about a speaker, or about a particular topic. I don’t mind working a little more if it feels good.

Also, if we know that the presentation is almost done, then why hand over the mic? Why not just finish it off, for the benefit of the listener?

And what about Q&A sessions? I think it makes sense to have one person interpret the questions and the other one interpret the answers, again for the benefit of the listener. It’s just nicer to listen to. Well, often times the questions will be shorter. Should that interpreter work more afterwards?

It’s only normal that booth partners split up the amount of time they work equitably, I am not saying the contrary, but do we really need to set a chronometer?

As interpreters we must be supportive of one another, offer to take over if the other person is struggling, offer to write down numbers, bring water, and be flexible. In my opinion looking at one’s watch in this way only sets us apart from one another, adds unnecessary stress, and demonstrates an inability, or unwillingness, to adapt to situations.

Do you agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts? Experiences?

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4 thoughts on “The Twenty-Minute Rule

  1. Fortunately, I have only worked with very helpful colleagues so far. However, I think that this attitude holds us back as a profession sometimes. Or why do these translation agencies still attract such a large clientele without playing a big part in the translation/interpreting process itself?

    • That’s a very good question. Why don’t these agencies care more about the quality of interpreting/translation? I think that it’s probably because a lack of education, and the fact that their priority is to be making money and gaining new clients.

  2. It’s really relieving to see this post!! I have always thought of these things in the back of my mind but never spoke about them, because if they are not offered they simply can’t be requested.

    I have had some insensitive colleagues who would stop in the middle of a sentence if their clock goes a second after 30 minutes, it is just stunning how they could that, people get confused and they look at the booth as the voice suddenly changes (God I hate it when people look at the booth!!)

    As for me, it alll depends on the topic, there was this time when I went on for 70 minutes because I just liked the topic and it interested me on a personal level.

    Great Blog, keep it up

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience and for your words of encouragement.And I know exactly what you mean by hating it when people look at the booth, lol. I once had an English speaker (no headset on her) stare at me each time I would speak. She was probably just curious and maybe trying to follow, but it was pretty annoying!

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