Interpretation is a highly specialized skill; it takes far more than simply being able to speak two languages at once. To get a better understanding of what life is like for an expert in the field, we sat down for a video chat with Ewa Jasinska-Davidson.
With degrees in both English and Spanish, Ewa also holds a DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) in English and Polish Law and a Master’s degree in Conference Interpreting.
She splits her time between interpreting conferences in three different languages and teaching the next generation of interpreters at London Metropolitan University. We chatted with Ewa about her experience and her thoughts about the future of the profession.
Before becoming a conference interpreter, you spent many years interpreting for the police, courts, hospitals and solicitors. Why did you switch to conference interpreting?
I absolutely loved that job. I really enjoyed bridging the communication gap and helping people communicate, especially in such difficult circumstances for some of them. Then it was an obvious choice that another progression would be to start doing conference interpreting.
How do you prepare for a conference?
In my typical working day for a conference, I try to start with following the news in all three working languages, which is a very important aspect for conference interpreting because you never know what they will start talking about at the beginning.
My preparation for the conference would need to happen beforehand; sometimes it takes more than a day. Maybe a week or the weekend before, I revise all the materials and prepare glossaries so that on the day of the assignment, I am up to speed and know the vocabulary.
If you’re going back to do a job that you have done already, so you know that terminology, you know the sector, that would be an easier job in a way. But if you’re being asked to do a medical or pharmaceutical conference, this will involve a lot of preparation that you need to factor in to your schedule.
What does a typical conference look like for you?
You spend the whole day in the booth; you alternate with your booth partner. According to some research, your focus and concentration are worse after a certain time, so that’s why it’s very good to alternate.
It doesn’t mean that whenever you’re not interpreting, you’re not working. You will still be listening, following what’s happening on the floor and sometimes writing down numbers or maybe new terms that will pop up.
How do you manage your schedule and travel?
Pre COVID-19 times, February to June and September to December would be busy months for conference interpreting.
When it’s busy, it’s very busy. As a freelance interpreter, you are in charge of your own diary or agenda, so you need to be quite sensible. I only agree to a number of jobs for which I can physically be present and travel.
As much as I love travelling, sometimes it can be challenging for me—spending time on the trains and then at the airports. But I like going to new places. It’s a great bonus if I can extend my stay and do some sightseeing. Last year, I had a job in Budapest for the first time and I had an afternoon off, so I had a nice stroll, saw cultural sights and tasted some new food.
What do you like best about being a conference interpreter?
Probably my very best aspect—and this is something I discovered many, many years ago that I always wanted—is that no two days are ever the same. This is true even if you go back to the same conference or if you’re working for the same client. Every time, you learn something new, and it’s amazing that all of a sudden, you are interested in topics like polymers or meat hygiene.
Another aspect is that I am interacting with my very experienced colleagues and, you know, that interaction is amazing. I like talking to people and I like building those relationships with them, and some of my colleagues have become my friends.
During the current pandemic, conferences have gone virtual. How has this affected your ability to interpret?
This is an unprecedented situation that causes so many changes, and conference interpreting is actually now possible online. The International Association of Conference Interpreters has acknowledged that this is now a necessity, and there are some recommendations on what kind of equipment you should use and what the working conditions are.
In the booth, you would work for up to 30 minutes and then you would swap. But in remote interpreting, the cognitive load is even higher. So, either there should be bigger teams of interpreters or you should swap more frequently with your booth partner. And obviously with the social distancing, you can’t be working with your partner next to each other because you can’t observe the two-metre rule. So, it’s additional effort, because your booth partner might be sitting somewhere else and you would need to help each other via computer chat.
I think this present crisis might be an opportunity to adapt to future developments. I don’t think when the crisis is over that everybody will move to remote interpreting, because people will still want to meet face to face. But there might actually be some companies that may decide that they will alternate—that they will meet online once a year and in person once a year.
How else do you think interpreters will need to adapt in the future?
Obviously, there is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and AI interpreting. I personally think that AI could be helpful to facilitate the work of interpreters. Technology will not replace interpreters, but it will be the interpreters who embrace technology that may replace other interpreters.
I think it is very important for us to not only stay up to date with the current affairs with our languages, but also with the developments in the technology.
If you are planning your next corporate event, whether remote or in-person, we can help set up the right interpreting solution for your needs.