Volunteering Interpreters and the impact on Language Services

July 17, 2012 by admin

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A valuable insight into the world of interpreting at the Olympics from our interning colleague Jennifer.

The debate between interpreters continues as to whether volunteer interpreters are doing more harm than good to the overall language quality and consistency of interpreting services provided during and leading up to important international events.

The Games are soon to commence in the UK and with them they will bring 14,700 athletes, 21,000 media representatives and 10.8 million spectators from more than 220 countries. The vibrant, cultural and linguistic diversity of London is already an advantage for hosting the Games, however, certain professional interpreters will also play an essential role in bridging the language barrier and create a clearly communicated event.

Providing language services at the Olympic Games is an integral part of this event. Interpreters enrich the quality of experience for athletes, visitors and the Olympic family allowing them to interact with one another and get first-hand experience of different cultures.

Although it is not essential that all languages at the Olympics are catered for, at the very least according to the International Olympic Committee and the UK Charter, English, French and the official language of the host city of the Olympics are considered the official languages of the Games and must be supported at all times. In addition to this, simultaneous interpretation must be provided into French, English, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic, which are deemed to be the official working languages of the Games.

Interpreting expertise will be needed during press conferences, services for live updates, ceremonies, official accreditation, medical facilities, drug testing, security, transportation, procedures and disputes, and also for providing information to the general public, so it is no surprise that a great many qualified interpreters as well as volunteer interpreters have been signed up for the event.

The professional interpreters consist of simultaneous and consecutive interpreters for live broadcasts and presentations, whereas it is reported that volunteer interpreters will help Olympic participants during more informal communication.

Paid interpreters as well as volunteer interpreters are subject to an interview process whereby their language skills are tested by Olympic officials. Although it could be argued that volunteer interpreters are creating unfair competition for professional interpreters who need to interpret for a living, volunteering positions are a great opportunity for newly qualified interpreters, such as graduates lacking work experience.

As a translation agency Rosetta Translation requires its vetted interpreters to have at least five years of working experience in addition to recognised industry qualifications and accreditation. This often becomes a vicious circle for graduates who have the qualifications, but lack necessary experience. International, multicultural events such as the Olympic Games are therefore a real prospect for budding linguists.

Interpreting at the Olympic Games is both a joy and a challenge according to many interpreters. Volunteer interpreters are often thrown in at the deep end, but it is precisely these high pressure situations that form a common part of interpreting assignments in general. Preparation is therefore key. Many interpreters spend days preparing for new assignments, but this time definitely shines through when a job is done well.

Several interpreters may however find it frustrating to have spent such extended periods of time preparing when they are given little opportunity during the event to showcase their talents. This is a risk many volunteer interpreters will have to take given the nature of the interpreting for which they have been selected.

However, what is clear is that such events do create essential opportunities for newly qualified interpreters looking to develop careers in this field and unable to get onto the books of agencies due to their lacking experience. These individuals should therefore be supported and encouraged by their more experienced peers for the good of the language industry in general.

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