Language and workplace safety

From The Economist:

Language and workplace safety

Para su seguridad
Dec 19th 2012, 21:07 by S.A.P. | NEW YORK

TWO WEEKS AGO, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on a poultry plant accident that occurred in Arkansas in June 2011. Chlorine gas, an irritant, was released when chemicals were improperly mixed, and over 150 workers were hospitalised. When interviewed, the employee who caused the accident, a monolingual Spanish-speaker, noted that the safety instructions were written in English, a language he could not read. In fact, 68% of the workers at the plant spoke Spanish as a first language. 12% spoke Marshallese, an Austronesian language spoken on the Marshall Islands. Just 17% of the plant’s workers used English as their native language. The CDC chided the plant for failing to provide proper training in the workers’ languages.

The English-only movement seeks to enshrine English as the only official language in the United States. On its surface, this unfortunate story fits neatly into the English-only narrative. A worker doesn’t know English and causes a serious accident; if everyone could read English safety materials, perhaps we could avoid these kinds of mishaps. But the CDC points out that knowing English, even knowing only English, might not help. Safety materials are often written in university-level English, even though English-speakers in factories usually have low levels of literacy. English-speakers are relatively rare in factories, anyway. Non-English-speakers aren’t going anywhere soon, and denying them resources in their own languages pushes the problem aside, rather than addressing it. For many blue-collar workers, learning English on the side isn’t really an option if their work schedules are prohibitively busy or the cost of classes doesn’t fit into their budgets. If safety is taught only in English, what happens to the workplace? Deciding whether to accommodate, say, Spanish- or Marshallese-speakers isn’t so difficult when heavy machinery is involved. Even if providing resources in smaller languages like Marshallese doesn’t make sense for most employers, it does make sense when 12% of workers speak that language. For factories, accommodating even one non-English-speaker might ensure safety.

Many American government agencies do offer resources in other languages where they’re needed, such as on ballots or governmental forms. Some governments outside of the United States have taken up the cause of language accommodation, too: the Australian state of Victoria, for example, has a guide for employers on how to manage language and cultural differences to promote safety.  Preventing factory accidents is, of course, a particularly pressing goal. The burden of providing translation is low compared to the potential costs of maintaining an English-only workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, now over 40 years old, requires training to be provided in a language the workers can understand. But accidents like last year’s demonstrate that the Act’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled. If we’re to take workplace safety seriously, making sure that training sessions and written guides are always properly translated is surely among the most urgent steps.

Bite the wax tadpole: What bad translations cost in dollars (and sense)

What really gets lost in translation? If you guessed money, you’d be right! As the story goes, when Coca-Cola tried to market its deliciousness to China, it mistakenly printed up thousands of signs with verbiage that sounded like Coca-Cola in Chinese, but in reality meant “bite the wax tadpole.”

Okay, that story isn’t entirely true, as reports. But it’s because such errors can cost a billion-dollar company like Coca-Cola more than money — think lost credibility and failed diplomacy — that vigilance in translation accuracy matters.

As the Korean rapper Psy of Gangnam Style fame recently experienced, poor translation can equal political scandal for a worldwide audience.

“Kill Yankees” is Tough to Translate


CNN’s problematic translation of a recent cover song maligned rapper Psy in many parts of the world for supposedly anti-American lyrics, which may have actually been anti-torture lyrics, according to the Washington Post. This report provides about half a dozen translations of what the Korean lyrics might really have meant and how they could otherwise have been translated into English. Although the performer was fortunate to shake President Barak Obama’s hand, it’s a little sketchy whether he’ll be cashing in on that fickle Yankee music market if American audiences hold any one of those possible translations to heart.

Mistranslations of Biblical Proportions


Bad translations have a long history. In fact, some Bible scholars trace poor translation to the time of Moses when God’s Tenth Commandment “do not take” somehow got translated into “do not covet,” according to an article in the Huffington Post.

Language experts around the world meet at great length and expense to debate single words in translations of ancient texts like The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Koran, and certainly various translations of the Bible. Errors in translation can create soul-wrenching affairs for people of faith throughout the world and, unfortunately, mistranslations abound.

Loss of Credibility


Linguists can easily chide — don’t use machine translations or try to cut corners by using student translators if you want to be taken seriously. For those of us who just want to drop a few bon mots at a holiday party, these online translations work fine and chances are, there isn’t much riding on the translation if it’s a gaff.
However, when a U.S. president goes with a shoddy translator to address another nation, the consequences of mistranslation include lost credibility and even blatant insult to an entire people. President Carter’s 1977 address to the Polish people began with giggles over the language screw-ups but ended with real shock for the missed chance to communicate effectively. As Time listed among its “Top 10 Embarrassing Diplomatic Moments,” what was communicated to the Poles was that Carter was “abandoning” America instead of temporarily leaving it, and that he desired the Poles “private parts.” Oy.

Failed Diplomacy


Government translation gaffs don’t always end in laughs, however. Sometimes mistranslations cause an escalation of political tension. A 2006 CNN World Report reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was mistranslated as saying “Iran has the right to build nuclear weapons” when he actually stated “Iran has the right to nuclear energy.” A similar situation occurred during the Cold War when Soviet leader Khrushchev was mistranslated; Americans were told he said “we will bury you” instead of the commonly used Russian phrase of “we will outlast you.”

Lessons from the Peacemakers


Then, how do you get a trustworthy transation? Well, for a start, selection criteria matter! Businesses, governments, and news agencies are all learning that to save face and potentially thousands in revenue, you have to employ top-notch professionals. That’s true whether for the localization of technical documentation or for simultaneous interpretation in the political arena.

Indeed, look at the example of the United Nations. Its interpreters continue to be celebrated for setting the standard in translation today, according to Radio Free Europe.

To get a good translation, you’ve got to get the best translator for the job — which, if this whole mix-up with Psy is any indicator, is no small task. Heck, because you already know that people who speak the same language have trouble understanding each other, you can readily see how tough it is for those who speak languages that seem worlds apart!

Translation technologies survey results

Ruth Torres Domínguez, a former Natural Language Processing and Human Language Technology student at The University of Wolverhampton (UK) and Université de Franche-Comté (France), recently conducted an online survey on the topic of translation technologies. 509 translation professionals and students from 59 countries participated in the questionnaire.  The study seeks to shed light on the opinions of translation technologies users and to update the findings of previous studies, such as the TM survey of 2006, the SDL survey of 2009, the TAUS post-editing and TTC surveys of 2010. Translation technologies still do not meet all their users’ requirements or they are of little use to all their potential users: Translation professionals. There are still many gaps to be bridged.  Interesting and key findings on the respondents’ preferences and concerns with respect to terminological-lexicographical resources, translation memory systems, machine translation (MT) and MT post-editing software, and subtitles translation tools are summarized in this report.

The results of the survey are downloadable in English  Results (in English) (2.4 MiB, 122 hits)

“Utility” Vs. “Eloquence” for measures of quality

This is a reprint of an October/2012 article I published in IMIA Viewpoints Online Newsletter (

I recently read that “utility is valued over eloquence as a measure of translation quality”(1) by some of the big TECH companies entering the translation and interpreting field, including Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation. The Taus report that talked about that was specifically referring to the “coming of age” of “real-time multilingual chat”, which is part of an entirely new array of products that are already being offered by high-tech translation automation companies; these new products are changing the landscape of bilingual and multilingual output (and translation/interpreting) in the Global Village of the 21st Century.

If this is the new industry trend, “quality” will become a “value added” –not a core requirement– sought by “some” (read “few”) companies. Thus, the new industry concept of “utility” is becoming more important than “eloquence” –which to date has been our measure of quality— and this paradigm shift will totally change the roles of the players in this industry, including us, professional translators and interpreters.

I will not discuss here the “good or evil” nature of the recent automation developments in the translation industry, as there are fervent supporters of one and the other position. My view is that the 21st Century has arrived and many translators and interpreters seem to be at odds with that simple fact. So, in my opinion, fighting technology will not serve the cause of the industry. Unless we become part – and an active part – of the conversation, we will not have a say in its development.

We need to start participating in the technological revolution by voicing our stand (other than mere “opposition”, which will just delay the inevitable), and making POSITIVE contributions so that we make ourselves indispensable to and remain part of the industry…. otherwise, the geeks will try –and probably succeed in time — in replicating what we do (remember quality is no longer the driver for a large portion of the users of the outputs of our industry).

I believe the tech industry has been rather successful at creating algorithms and software and have been pretty good at the basics of language transfer. They have not figured out how to transfer content yet, but they are getting there. As I see it, the fact that most of the software still outputs low-quality products is just a matter of “infancy”. This child will “mature” faster than you think. Few people at the height of the industrial revolution believed that automation would cause the displacement of millions of manufacturing jobs. So we, standing at the beginning of the digital/mobile communication revolution, must learn from history and anticipate the changes that will most probably happen, and participate in them today, so that we may partake in their advancements and help drive and shape their future.

The paradigm shift comes about from the fact that the truths we held sacred in translation and interpreting may be on the verge of disappearing. Mainstream needs, the advent of mobile technologies, the incursion of the TECH industry in the world of translation and interpreting is changing the basic parameters of the entire translation and interpreting industry. The basic assumptions we hold dear and which are comfortably embedded in our way of doing things are starting to fade away. Winners of battles write the history of those battles. I certainly would like to be part of those who write the history of translation and interpreting in the 21st century.

Just as the debate in the translation industry centers around the use of TM and MT, the debate in the interpreting industry is around the use of phone-interpreting, video-interpreting, web-based-interpreting, and interpreting for mobile digital users, among others. I believe the discussion cannot continue being “if” but must shift to “how” we will participate (i.e., not if we should use these technologies, but how can we use them and what do we need as an industry for consistency). We have to be aware of the changes occurring in the industry if we want to remain relevant. Any change we wish for (or wish to avoid) is ours to fight for.

So, in this fast-pace world of the 21st Century, “instant” is the concept of choice in service provision, and based on this, the larger companies coming from the software and hardware industries, from the video and gaming industries, are penetrating the language industries. They are having initial success as the newcomer competitors of traditional translators and interpreters. Their final products are years away from the “Eloquence” by which we have measured our products during thousands of years but rather, they are now striving to achieve “Utility” — the usefulness of instant access that these automated services are providing.

The silver lining is that, although these providers of technical solutions are slowly but surely gaining wider margins of market share, in doing so they have expanded the actual market size to levels unimaginable just a few years ago. So, although they are taking more and more of the market as a percentage, their own presence has multiplied the marketplace several times in size (and will continue doing so). In this way, translators and interpreters are in higher demand than they have ever been in history and our services are being recognized by mainstream as “vital” to the functioning of this new multilingual and multicultural world.

The crumbling down of geographic barriers allows for the provision of services in ways we could never have anticipated. The downside: we are no longer an elite group of intellectuals or artists but are now part of a larger group of artisans. As always in history, there is room for those who wish to remain being artists and intellectuals, to continue rendering high-quality services to the few buyers who will continue to exist. The rest of us will now be a mainstream trade, maybe at the level of law or medicine (i.e., there is the Judge and there is the paralegal, there is the surgeon and there is the home health attendant…. and everything in between).

The future is here. There is no such thing as “it will not happen”. It is happening. Translators are being replaced by machine translation at an alarming speed. Those translators who fail to see the trend will be left without a job in a matter of a decade. Post-MT editing is strongly becoming the trend in the “normal” industry and now, with this latest concept –changing eloquence for utility– the trend will change faster than ever as machine translation becomes more and more common, easier to access and “acceptable” in terms of its output. What I am reading here is that the end-users of translation products are accepting a mediocre product provided it is cheap, fast (machine-translation produced) and relatively accurate (the last hurdle yet to be achieved by new technologies, but fast on the way to getting there).

Now then, Interpreting still may hold a couple of decades more of life “as we know it” because it is a bit more complex… or is it? I have lately seen text to voice produce some amazing results… yes, one language only, but once they figure out the “magic” element – and they will (the question is When) – then development will go ballistic….

So, it is predictable that in the future (which in many places is today), people will not care about construction of the sentences or grammar or inherent meaning of the source language, or even nuances. They will just want to get the “general idea” and that is all they want. Well, at least the larger portion of buyers of translation and interpreting services. Of course there will be many others out there that will still strive for quality. Moreover, for which quality becomes even MORE important than before (thankfully, the healthcare industry seems to be one of them…. the question is… until when? Market forces drive industries, whether we like it or not).

So, for me, the issue is, how are we, the professional interpreters and translators, helping to shape the industry we will be working in? Other than complaining, what are we doing? Other than opposing progress, what positive contributions are we presenting? What levels of “association with” the developers of the new world are we engaging? Where is our strength as part of the “knowledge” pool of services in the world? How can we harness that power?

As I see it, the extraordinary growth of machine translation resources is evidence of the exponential improvement in quality in the past decade. I do not use the term exponential lightly. Growth and improvements in our industry are being exponential. So, I believe that quality translation might be achieved in one or two decades with machine translation. Quality interpreting might take a little longer, but not too much.

Yes, I know this is blasphemy. But believe me, it is reality. Once upon a time, about 15 years ago I thought Translation Memories were garbage and would go nowhere. I thought this day, when TMs are almost a requirement for the job, would never
come. Well, it is here. So, let’s face reality. There are some robots in Japan that are already capable of basic interpreting. Yes, very basic. Just as TM was so basic 10 years ago.

The future of the translation industry is being taken over by the big software companies that are creating software capable of penetrating the “magic” of translation. Once they get there, it will be like any other industry of the 19th century. Replicate, replicate, replicate.

Therefore, here is my proposal: We, the original translators and interpreters, who understand and drive “Eloquence” and not just “Utility” – we – must become very active in designing the strategies of our own future. We have to unite to create international infrastructures that support the “Eloquence” and not just the “Utility” — but not fighting with the software giants, that is a lost cause, rather providing alternatives to improve their products. Common infrastructure and common protocols should be our mantra now as an industry. A dispersed group of individuals will not achieve much.

What is the profession going to look like in 20 years? We have to start answering that question from a perspective of the current reality (mobile millenials) and not from the perspective of what we would “ideally” believe “should” be. Should does not work any more. Could is here to stay. We need to wake up to our new reality as a profession and set out to design the future that could be for us in this new Global Village of the 21st Century.

First public beta version of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek is launched

For all who are interested in German culture and science, the beta version of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German digital library), the central German portal for culture and science was initiated on Nov. 28, 2012.  It provides Internet access to Germany’s cultural heritage.  Digital objects from all sectors and media (text, sound, images, moving images) will be offered via a simple search function.

Multilingual Content Strategy: How to Get Started

Posted by  Valarie Badame /
October 17th, 2012

Content lies at the heart of every marketing initiative. In both the online and offline worlds, consumers seek information to guide their buying decisions, and will follow the path of least resistance to get that information. In modern marketing, success is measured by a company’s ability to provide the high quality content that consumers demand.

Producing good content in one language is difficult enough. But a global customer base demands more. If you don’t have a multilingual content strategy that speaks directly to foreign consumers, you’ll be edged out by the companies that do.

But how to approach this essential task? Managing local content teams in multiple countries is both difficult and expensive. A more efficient solution is to produce content centrally, then distribute translated versions to your target markets.

The advantages of centralization are clear. It’s much easier to manage your content team from a single location. And because you’re only paying for content to be produced once, you can invest more in quality. One great blog article localized in six languages is better than six average articles written in different countries.

The following tips will help you implement a “centralize and localize” approach to multilingual content.

Understand The Principles of Global Readiness

Successful localization depends on the quality of the original text. Global readiness is about preparing your content for translation in multiple languages. These are the three key areas on which you should focus:

Terminology management

Global companies need a tight handle on their use of language. Your brand depends on using  the right words at the right time. Terminology management is about developing an “official glossary” for your company, and knowing precisely how certain word and phrases should be translated. A properly built term base that is domain specific ensures language consistency across all language and content. These guidelines must be readily available to content authors and translators.

Using Pivot Languages

pivot language acts as an intermediary when translating an uncommon language pair. Say you have some valuable content in Japanese, which you need translated for the Hungarian market. Finding a Japanese-Hungarian translator won’t be easy (or affordable). It’s much cheaper to re-route the translation, first from Japanese to English, then from English to Hungarian. Your language service provider can advise you on using pivot language translations.

Global-Ready Editing & Writing

Long-winded content full of idioms and flowery language will take longer and cost more to translate. Prior to translation, you should edit your existing content with the following objectives:

  • Shortening long sentences.
  • Removing non-essential words.
  • Replacing idioms and obscure language with common expressions.
  • Applying strict English grammar rules.

Over time, your content authors should adopt these principles from the outset, reducing the need for heavy editing.

The key point is to make your content clear and simple before sending it to the translators. The global-ready format keeps costs to a minimum, because there are fewer words to translate, and ensures the smooth and consistent delivery of content across multiple languages.

Global Cities Initiative

About the Global Cities Initiative

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the United States faces economic challenges that are both structural and cyclical in nature. At the most basic level, the U.S. needs more jobs—to recover those lost during the downturn and keep pace with population growth and labor market dynamics—and better jobs—to grow wages and incomes for lower and middle-class workers and reverse the troubling decades-long rise in inequality.

Launched in Los Angeles in March 2012, the Global Cities Initiative is a $10 million, five-year project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase aimed at helping the leaders of metropolitan America strengthen their regional economies by becoming more competitive in the global marketplace. GCI is built on the concept that the global economy is a network of metropolitan economies which are home to most of the world’s population, production, finance, and sources of innovation. Combining Brookings’ deep expertise in fact-based, metro-focused research and JPMorgan Chase’s longstanding commitment to investing in cities, this initiative:

  • Helps U.S. city and metropolitan leaders better leverage their global assets by unveiling the economic starting point of their communities on such key indicators as advanced manufacturing, exports, foreign direct investment, freight flow, and immigration.
  • Provides these leaders with proven, actionable ideas for how to expand the global reach of their economies, building on best practices and policy innovations from across the nation and around the world.
  • Creates an international network of leaders from global cities intent upon deepening global trade relationships.

In each of the initiative’s five years, Brookings and JPMorgan Chase will co-host a series of domestic and global forums in collaboration with local, metropolitan area leaders to drive discussions, build consensus, and catalyze action about best practices and strategies for regional economic growth. ‪ Using Brookings’ data-driven analysis and original research, metropolitan leaders will evaluate their regional standings on crucial economic measures and be exposed to best policy and practice innovations from around the world. Ultimately, GCI aims to foster an international network of metropolitan leaders who are committed to trade, invest and grow together.

Related to this initiative, during an event hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission, Bruce Katz, Vice President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, highlighted the Atlanta metropolitan area’s current economic strengths and provided ways for leaders to leverage their assets and build the city’s next economy, under the title “Delivering the Next Economy in Metro Atlanta”.  The content of the presentation is applicable to all metropolitan areas, including metropolitan Kansas City and can be found in full, either in the form of a webinar or as a transcript, at the URL:

McDonald’s’ Local Strategy, from El McPollo to Le McWrap Chèvre

by Nataly Kelly  |   1:00 PM October 8, 2012
A cup of rice with chicken, ginger, onion, shallots, and chili peppers. A fried patty made of potatoes, peas, and spices, topped with tomatoes and vegetarian mayonnaise. Grilled chicken in pita bread with lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce. English muffins topped with refried beans, white cheese, and salsa. Breaded chicken covered in guacamole. A deep-fried roll of beef ragout. Lamb wrapped in Arabic flat-bread with shredded lettuce and tomatoes. A sandwich made of grilled salmon and dill sauce.

Do any of these dishes sound like they could possibly come from the same restaurant, let alone the same massive restaurant chain? Let’s try referring to these menu items as you would order them locally: Bubur Ayam McD (Malaysia), McAloo Tikki (India), McArabia (Egypt), McMollete (Mexico), McPollo (Chile), McKroket (Netherlands), McTurco (Turkey), and McLaks (Norway).

Yes, to the delight of many Americans and to the dismay of many others, the golden arches of McDonald’s appear throughout the world. But the menu items vary greatly. Go to a McDonald’s in Singapore, and you can order jasmine tea and a Shaka Shaka Chicken, which you create by dumping spice powder into a bag and, with a quick “shaka” of the bag, coating your chicken patty in local spices. In Spain, you can actually buy the country’s chilled soup, gazpacho, at McDonald’s, where it is served in a carton. In Brazil, you’ll find McDonald’s filling that rectangular apple pie crust with bananas instead.

The burgers that made McDonald’s famous also vary tremendously by country. Head to Japan and you can order a Koroke Burger, which consists of mashed potato, cabbage, and katsu sauce. In Hong Kong, you’ll find a burger that is served not between sesame seed buns, but between rice cakes. In Malaysia, you can order a Double Beef Prosperity Burger, which features spicy black pepper sauce. In Italy, the burgers come with pancetta and usually are on ciabatta rolls. Visit India, where eating beef is against religious rules for about 80 percent of the population, and you won’t find any beef burgers on the menu whatsoever.

In Germany, you can pick up a McSausage Burger. In Greece, a Greek Mac. In New Zealand, a KiwiBurger. In Costa Rica, a McPinto Deluxe, with rice, beans, and plantains. In Thailand, a McSamurai Pork Burger. Head to the United Kingdom around Christmastime, and you can order a mincemeat and custard pie for dessert. When in France, you can order Le McWrap Chèvre, a goat cheese wrap. In Argentina, you can have wine with your McDonald’s meal; German outlets of McDonald’s sell beer; in Israel, kosher food is served; and in Hawaii, you’ll be handed Spam with your breakfast. How’s that for contrast?

I see five important takeaways in McDonald’s global success:

1. Don’t confuse your brand with your products. While it’s true that the McDonald’s brand is strongly associated with hamburgers, this has not prevented the company from dropping all meat from some local menus. McDonald’s announced that it will open up its first vegetarian restaurants in India, a nod to the dietary preferences and religious beliefs of local customers.

2. Figure out which products have international appeal. It’s quite likely that some of your products might be desirable in every market, as McDonald’s has found. Some of the company’s products, such as its fries and shakes, stay consistent at most of its global locations.

3. View a new market as a chance to take on new brand attributes. While McDonald’s is known for its affordable fare in the United States, in many countries with a growing middle class, it can actually be a status symbol to be seen eating there. Don’t assume that just because your brand has negative aspects in one market that it will necessarily carry them into another.

 4. Remember that “small markets” may very well define your future. Many companies make the mistake of only focusing on major world economies. McDonald’s is a global company, but about 70 percent of its revenue, which normally tops $20 billion annually, comes from restaurants in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and of course, the United States. Paying attention to those countries that “only” make up 30 percent of the company’s revenue is a wise move. As their spending power grows, so too does their share of the pie.

 5. Let your customers tell you what they want. McDonald’s did not come up with all those adapted product offerings in isolation from its customers. Rather, the company observed the behaviors of customers in these local markets and packaged their products in ways that would seem local and familiar. When was the last time you adapted a product for a new market based on in-country customer feedback? You should.

 This last lesson is one that even McDonald’s sometimes forgets to implement. Recently, the company launched a new advertising campaign for the Hmong in Minnesota. Not only did it botch the translation, but it tried to convince the tea-loving Hmong people to embrace coffee. Had the company talked with members of the community first, they would have learned that not only was the translation incorrect – so was the product selection. No matter what markets you’re in, remember to put your customers at the heart of your product choices, and it’s hard to go wrong.

This blog post is partially excerpted from Nataly Kelly’s book, Found in Translation.

Nataly Kelly is Chief Research Officer at independent research firm Common Sense Advisory, and a co-author of Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World.

Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know

by Gio Lester on Friday, September 21, 2012

Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know

– by Gio Lester

During a conference assignment, not too long ago, I was confronted with a very uncomfortable situation. Unbeknownst to the team of interpreters, the company that had hired us made arrangements for recording our work. Fortunately, it was not our first time in those waters, and we knew how to tread them.

But I remember the first time I found myself in that situation. It was over 20 years ago, here in thefull-gio_in_booth-fin1-300x222.jpg US, and I could not understand why my colleagues were so upset. Well, I got an ear-full and learned a valuable lesson. I am bringing that up for up because many novices are unaware of the important groundwork already laid for them with regard to professional standards and copyrights.

So, let’s get straight to the point: Why isn’t it okay for the company that hired you to record your voice? Well, a few things happen to the sound of your voice on its way to the CD.



According to the ASTM International* guidelines (F-2089-01, section 10.13, page 7), “Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product.”  The bit about “adding a future” surprised me a little. I was at first concerned with misspoken numbers and the like, then that phrase caught my attention to the purpose of the recording, possible future uses, etc. This reminded me of the Henrietta Lacks who had her cancer cells (HeLa cells) collected, used for research, distributed and commercialized all over the world without her consent or knowledge or financial benefit.

But I still was not sure of what my rights were or where they stemmed from. Researching the AIIC (Association Internationale des Interprétes de Conférence) website I found the full explanation. Knowledge really is a powerful weapon. In the interpreters’ case, when a recording is involved, the key words are “consent” and “copyright.”

Most times, the person working directly with the interpreters at the event is not aware that recording our voices is a violation of our rights, and they simply think they are keeping their customer happy without any further consequences.

Through AIIC I learned that “The performance of conference interpreting is protected by international law.” And the Berne Convention stipulates that when committed to fixed media of any nature the performance of the conference interpreter becomes a translation and its author has exclusive rights. The protection of the author’s copyrights is the main purpose of those rules.

Does that mean recording and/or transcription of our work is forbidden? No. Both ASTM and AIIC are clear on that point — here enters the second key word, consent. ASTM (F-2089-01, 10.13, page 7) states “When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved… all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.”  Furthermore, AIIC’s standard contract has language that addresses the issue by stating that the interpretation is provided “…solely for direct and immediate use by the listeners; no recording may be made, either by the listeners or anyone else, without the prior consent of the interpreters concerned.

So we go back to the HeLa cells case discussed above in which consent and knowledge were missing. ASTM International and AIIC are working to prevent third parties from benefiting – financially or otherwise– from the work of interpreters without their consent or knowledge.

Once all parties involved in a contract are aware that recording will take place, special accommodations can be made to ensure that it is all done properly – from the speaker’s speed, terminology research, type of equipment used, to the languages used (I have had presenters insist on speaking “Portuñol” – a Portuguese/Spanish hybrid – and my colleagues in the Spanish speaking booth walked out). There is also an added fee owed the interpreters for the transfer of copyrights to the client.

How did my recent assignment end up with regard to the translation? I sent all the reference material I mention above to the agency that hired me and we renegotiated my fee.

Knowledge is power.



*ASTM International is the former American Society for Testing and Materials.

1. Publication ASTM F-2089-01 – 10.13; pg 7 –

10.13  Recording of the Interpretation—Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product. When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved. For all of these reasons, all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.

2. AIIC: