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With the exception of the (European) AIIC conference interpreting market, I get the feeling that most conferences are managed by agencies, not by what AIIC calls consultant interpreters.

Can we conclude that most non-AIIC conference interpreters get their work mainly through agencies?

If that is the case, what's the perceived advantage of working with agencies? And what are the pitfalls?

asked 16 Oct '11, 21:01

silvia-c's gravatar image


edited 28 Oct '11, 00:03

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A more apposite question would probably be: "How should freelancers deal with agencies..." The first thing is to understand which language they speak:

(21 Oct '11, 11:33) Vincent Buck

It is difficult to make a blanket statement, because agencies have very different structures and business models. Also, in some countries agencies play a bigger role on the interpretation market than in others, so everyone works for agencies there, AIIC and non-AIIC interpreters.

A good agency would be run by people who know a lot about conference interpreting, so they are able to put together the right team of interpreters for the client's specific requirements. That of course means that they are willing to actually talk to the client in detail and ask all the pertinent questions. A good agency is familiar with what professional interpreters need to be able to do a good job (i.e. information about the meeting and subject matter, what languages are going to be spoken during the meeting) and what they need to earn in order to actually be able to make a living (as opposed to being part-time and amateur interpreters who are just in it for a bit of extra money, but actually need to have a career outside of interpretation in order to make ends meet). A good agency wants to protect the clients' interests as much as the interpreters'.

Whenever an agency calls me with an inquiry, I treat them like I would treat any direct client who calls me: By asking questions, I try to get a clear idea of what the assignment and the requirements are, and of course what my working conditions would be, i.e. languages at the conference, working hours, how many interpreters will be on the team, who my colleague(s) would be, and of course monetary conditions (fees and additional charges like travel expenses etc.). And if I do not like what I am being offered, I politely decline.

The perceived advantage of working with agencies may be that the individual interpreter does not have to negotiate directly with a host of different clients, because the agency takes care of that. On the other hand, the pitfall may be that you are either offered inacceptable working conditions and/or inacceptable pay (so you end up harming your health in the long run or working in an unprofitable and thus unsustainable manner). Also, a pitfall can be that you receive too little information about the assignment in question. This can make you look really bad the day of the conference if you were unable to prepare properly due to lack of information, which is harmful for your reputation as a professional.

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answered 21 Oct '11, 12:43

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+1 for a dispassionate, objective, answer!

(21 Oct '11, 12:50) Vincent Buck

In my 30 years as an AIIC interpreter, I’ve seldom worked with agencies, for the reasons mentioned by Oliver. They often act more like a screen than a link between the organiser and the interpreter; they do not always understand the need for documentation, which is the key to our preparation; the interpreter usually does not know in advance who s/he will share the booth with; and whether the total number of interpreters will be adequate; or whether there will be equal pay for equal work in the team. This is why I usually steer clear.

However, recently I happened to organise a large multilingual team of interpreters in Tokyo for a regular client who asked me to go through a Japanese Agency (who would provide the Japanese interpreters needed for the conference). I was pleasantly surprised to see that this particular PCO had a long experience of working with interpreters; collected all the necessary documentation; coordinated all the logistical aspects with me; and did a fantastic job. And so did the team of Japanese interpreters they recruited. So it seems that on some markets, where clients will always prefer a company over a sole trader, Agencies have learned to do a proper job. They have understood that it is wiser to provide quality and a personalized service than to make money on semi-professional interpreters. Which is good news.

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answered 07 Apr '12, 14:49

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question asked: 16 Oct '11, 21:01

question was seen: 3,195 times

last updated: 07 Apr '12, 14:49 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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