The Importance of Client Education

 

I have been wanting to quit Facebook recently, but I still follow some of the translation and interpreting groups on there, which makes it impossible to quit cold turkey. I really enjoy scrolling through people’s questions, comments, or even silly photos related to the profession.

Well, yesterday someone posted the following comment in one of the groups: “I have an odd scenario: another interpreter (not really qualified or trained) has been hired at the same event I have. She is asking me for my rate so that she can match it or not charge too high/low. Not sure what/how to answer her? Suggestions?”

People poured in with comments and opinions on how this woman should handle the situation.

 

“The International Association of Conference Interpreters states that all booth interpreters should be paid the same.”

 

“If you do not share your rate you are depressing the market.”

 

“Refer the other interpreter to some professional websites so she can get training.”

 

Most of the comments were about the rate sharing, but my initial reaction was to think about how this woman will be stuck with a partner who is an unqualified interpreter.

This happened to me once. I was stuck with someone who was unqualified for the job and I had to spend two weeks in the booth with her. I ended up working longer stretches to ensure that the listeners would understand as much as possible, but at the end of the day, they complained about her, and there was nothing I could do about it. Not only was she not qualified, but she also lacked basic booth etiquette. For instance, she would not silence her phone, so it would start ringing while we were working.

Back to the Facebook posting. I wrote a comment to the woman stating that I thought that it is not only in her best interest, but also her client’s to speak up before the conference and share her concerns about this colleague with them directly. After all, the organizers probably spent a lot of time and effort putting this show on the road, and one could assume that they would not want anything to go wrong. The woman specified later that the client seemed uneducated about our profession and that there actually would be no booth. The interpreters would be sitting in a corner using headsets (that she was providing for the occasion).

I suggested that she talk to them from their point of view (“What’s in it for them?” or in this case, “What do they have to lose?”). A client will listen if you bring up a genuine professional that affects them directly. If clients are not educated in terms of interpreting and interpreters, it’s not their fault, but it’s up to us to educate them, and why not share ATA’s free client education brochures, Getting it right (there is one for translation and interpreting) to guide with them? I do pretty frequently. I will admit that I feel somewhat weird doing it, but I then think to myself, “How else will people learn?” (The brochures are available online on ATA’s website and in print. ATA members may order up to 20 copies at no cost to share with their clients. For details, please see http://www.atanet.org/publications/getting_it_right.php.)

 

I think that it is essential to raise professional concerns. Doing so shows that you care as much about the quality of your work as you do about their conference. As long as these concerns are expressed politely and diplomatically, there is no reason for people to dismiss you, or shoot you down. It is also important to speak to people in terms of what they want to hear.

 

“Why should I care that we don’t have soundproof booth? They are too expensive anyway. It’s not like we’re at the U.N. (…). Oh, the interpreters will not be able to hear the speakers quite as well, so the accuracy of their rendition won’t be as good. (…). And the interpreters’ voices will be heard by everyone in the room. Hmm. How much for that tabletop booth again?”

 

“And why should I care that the interpreter is unqualified? I found her online, so I’m sure she’ll be fine. (…). Oh, unqualified interpreters are not able to keep up with the speaker (…). They will probably miss a lot of important elements, so the audience will not understand what is being said and they won’t get the most out of the conference. Oh I see! Who can you recommend?”

 

Such conversations only end like that in my dreams. But if we keep educating clients, then maybe this dream can slowly become reality.

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