“We’re not at the UN”

Recently I got a call for an interpreting job here in Atlanta from an agency I had never worked with before.

I was told that we would not have partners, but that we would have the proper equipment (booth, headset, mic). I should have already seen the red flags… I replied that the industry standard for simultaneous interpreting is to have two interpreters to relay one another every 20-30mn or so. But since I was only needed for a few hours, I figured I should be fine, so I’ll accept the job.

Well, I showed up to the event over an hour early only to see that they had none of the equipment I was expecting and that we had agreed upon over the phone. The only equipment they had was a wireless mic, no booth, and not even a headset! I would have to listen to the presenters without a headset, and then interpret simultaneously over my own voice and theirs…

Upon knowing this I should have walked out, but the idea of losing the money and potentially tarnishing my relationship with this new agency (despite their snafu) was too strong, so I stayed. I explained in a very calm, professional manner why we needed this equipment and how this was not at all an unrealistic request, only to be told by the client that “we’re not at the UN”. I have no idea how I didn’t just lose it right then and there…

Needless to say, it was very hard and I was exhausted from the stress of it all as well as the extra work my brain had to do, but at least I learned a lesson: there is a reason why industry standards exist and if the agency won’t provide the bare minimum, then we should not provide the service!

My interpretation was compromised because of the agency’s choices and I felt embarrassed at times when I couldn’t hear the speaker. The truth is that we are on the front line, not the agency, and for this reason we must stand up for what’s right in order to defend our reputation and quality of work. It is also necessary to educate the agencies and clients of the reasons why we need such equipment.

2 thoughts on ““We’re not at the UN”

  1. Totally agree 🙂 People don’t understand what is like to do the job without the right equipment. They also expect interpreters to know everything about everything and beyond! By the way, very nice blog. I’m studying Interpreting and Translation at the University of Trieste, Italy, so I’ll definitely come back to read more of your posts and maybe get some tips 🙂
    All the best,

    • Thanks Lucrezia!
      I’m glad that you like the blog and will try and post more interesting things! Best of luck in your studies.

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