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You're working at a conference whose active and passive languages are indicated on your contract. With no prior warning, a delegate takes the floor using another language, which happens to be in your language combination.

  • Do you interpret seamlessly, as if it were an official language of the event and feel pleased to be able to help out?
  • Do you refuse to interpret, as you have not been contracted to perform this service?
  • Do you request a brief pause on microphone in order to check with the team leader &/or event organiser?

I would tend to go for the latter option wherever feasible. Allowing the use of additional languages involves practical and above all political and financial considerations and if deemed desirable by the organiser, should be the subject of negotiations with the interpreter team as a whole.

I also understand that delegations have been known to bypass the organisers deliberately, approaching the interpreters directly, e.g. "I heard you speaking xxx in the coffee break, it won't be a problem if our delegate uses it, will it?"

What's the best way to handle these scenarios?

asked 19 May '12, 10:30

parthenope's gravatar image


edited 19 May '12, 10:53

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck


I would never interpret seamlessly, as an unexpected passive language -even one I have in my language combination- may involve a series of issues:

  • I may have carefully prepared the conference in all my languages but not in those not initially contemplated in my contract; in a technical conference, preparation makes all the difference;
  • I may be the only interpreter in the team with that language, which will effectively prevent me from leaving the booth from now on, as by interpreting once, I tacitly agree to do it all the time;
  • An additional passive language may have an impact on the required number of interpreters, i.e. the manning strength. A conference in 3 languages can be covered with 5 interpreters; if you add a 4th passive language, you need a minimum of 6 to do it properly, due to the increased workload;
  • Other speakers in other languages may also try if it works and add again another language;
  • There may be political reasons why this particular language is not allowed in this organization;
  • It is a poor precedent.

However, I am not opposed to accommodating clients’ requirements, if I can. This is why:

  • I would announce on the microphone that this particular language is not a language of the conference and would switch off the mike;
  • I would ask the team leader or consultant-interpreter for instructions;
  • If I were the team leader or consultant-interpreter, I would go to the client (not the speaker) to see how vital this other language is, how many people are bound to use it, how frequently it may be spoken;
  • With this information in hand and if it is really important for the client, I would check the composition of the team + the opinion of my colleagues, and may accept an additional passive language, provided:

  • It has no impact on the manning strength

  • The subject is not technical
  • All interpreters agree
  • There is a minimum of 2 pivots in the team (i.e. 2 interpreters who understand the language and can provide a “relay” to the rest of the team), so that we can take turns.

Sometimes it is better to allow a foreign speaker to use his mother-tongue (provided all the above conditions are met) than to suffer his poor accent in another language. So, it may even be in our own interest. And if you can provide an additional service without making too much fuss, while preserving your working conditions, your client will be grateful.

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answered 19 May '12, 13:16

Danielle's gravatar image


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question asked: 19 May '12, 10:30

question was seen: 3,491 times

last updated: 19 May '12, 13:16

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