How will we remember the Spring of 2020?

By Aimee Benavides

COVID-19 has brought a lot of things to the surface that seemed marginal before, and the future of interpreting and our ability to adapt has been tested. Right now, we are facing an unprecedented situation of forced inactivity which has very little to do with our skills, our marketing ability, or our experience as interpreters. I dare say it seems as though we’ve had to make 10 years of progress in 3 weeks. Remote platforms that didn’t seem relevant just a few short weeks ago have become the center of recent conversations among colleagues and in social media.

How are we spending our time? Some staff interpreters are still being required to go to court for emergency hearings while others are teleworking, using remote platforms, or rotating their duties by taking turns going to courtrooms to interpret for detained defendants. For as much as the shelter-in-place orders and disaster declarations have affected courtrooms and courthouses throughout the nation, many things continue unchanged; attorneys still need to meet with clients, and other litigation continues its course. Freelancers are suddenly faced with requests from courts, agencies, and clients alike to provide their services remotely. What may have seemed like a pipedream of a court administrator wanting to save money has now hit us in the face as a new reality. Some of us may feel that our choices are to adapt to remote platforms or wait out the virus hoping to stretch our bank account until business as usual opens up to a reasonable degree. What once seemed like a platform that only benefited the courts as a cost saving method is now seen by some as a lifeline to work in a safe and healthy environment as we face a global pandemic.

What once seemed like a platform that only benefited the courts as a cost saving method is now seen by some as a lifeline to work in a safe and healthy environment as we face a global pandemic.

The current situation reminds me of the Blockbuster versus Netflix model. Many of us have fond memories of browsing the selection of videos on a Friday night to see what we would be taking home for the next 3 days for our own personal movie night. Netflix didn’t start off much differently. They began with a marginal market share of mailing movie titles to folks. It seemed rather marginal to many of us because we didn’t have that instant gratification of finding a title and watching it that same night. Then came another marginal offering – digital content. We’ve obviously come a long way since then as Blockbuster is a relic of the past and remains as an iconic memory to a certain demographic, unknown to others, and Netflix is now the reality. How does that compare to us as interpreters and translators? If we continue to push against technology and innovation that impacts our chosen profession, where will we find ourselves in 10 years? Will we be Blockbuster, or will we be Netflix? The important position our association needs to take is to work to shape the standards to be applied to interpreters both in and out of court when certain technologies inevitably take their place in our profession. Even though I don’t think our current interpreting model, where services are provided in-person will be completely displaced the way Blockbuster was, I do, however, believe that many people have had an awakening as to the possibilities of “meeting” without them all being in the same place. I encourage all my fellow interpreters to try to understand the options out there and help to shape how they are used and under what conditions. Our certification standards, for one thing, cannot be ignored regardless of the method by which services are provided. Cutting corners with the technology and equipment should likewise be avoided. This is where our association can really shine. Let’s take the opportunity to raise the level of service and improve our working conditions. With so many video conferencing options, previous services provided over the phone can be elevated to provide for a better experience for everyone, including the interpreter.

One thing that truly gives me hope and makes me feel encouraged is the amount of collaboration and networking that is occurring among colleagues. I see presenters giving free and discounted webinars. I see associations doing their best to provide information and resources to members who are facing financial difficulties. I see colleagues communicating and helping their courts to find solutions even though they didn’t have the luxury of time to plan. I am also seeing clients being understanding of the fact that those of us who are parents with school-age children are now trying to juggle having kids at home all the time and still keep up with our professional responsibilities.

In addition to wishing everyone good health and safe conditions, I hope that we all come out of this pandemic with more humanity and grace; that we give ourselves permission to not be perfect, but to do our best; that we show grace to our friends, family, and colleagues, understanding they are also under enormous and unforeseeable pressures. This isn’t an easy situation to be faced with, but we’ll get through it, together.

[Aimee Benavides is a California Court Certified Spanish interpreter and Federally Certified Interpreter who lives in Central California. She has served on the NAJIT board since the end of 2017. She is currently the vice-chair of ASTM F-43 which covers many important areas where standards are being created for interpreting, translation and other related areas. She is passionate about upholding professional standards and improving the profession from the inside out.]

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of NAJIT.

4 Comments
  • Michelle Gonzales
    Posted at 21:07h, 11 May Reply

    “With so many video conferencing options…”?

    I cannot find a VRI platform available for freelancers that accommodates both simultaneous AND consecutive modes of interpreting. Zoom provides capabilities only for simultaneous interpretation but you have to buy the Business Plan for $200/month (and then I think you have to pay for an add-on on top of that). But the court would have to buy it, not the interpreter. Because the court has to be the host. So I would have to ask my court clients to buy that package so that I can provide my services to them. Not great customer service. And, if the defendant says anything that the interpreter needs to repeat in English, sorry, can’t do it.

    The courts could just hire a VRI agency and push out the freelancer all together.

    So, where is there a VRI platform that an freelance interpreter can purchase to offer both simultaneous AND consecutive interpretation to court clients?

    • Aimee Benavides
      Posted at 17:58h, 12 May Reply

      Zoom provides for simultaneous interpreting for a cost of $55 a month which consists of a Pro plan ($15 a month) plus the webinar add-on ($40 a month). Courts have other options and when interpreters work with their local courts to find solutions they are usually better than what would be done without interpreter input. The University of Arizona is hosting a free webinar that Ernest Nino-Murcia, Tamber Hilton, and I are presenting specifically regarding this.

  • Helen Duffy
    Posted at 16:29h, 12 May Reply

    While witness testimony must be consecutive and on the record, I have an idea for simultaneous remote interpreting. The interpreter can call a cell phone that the defendant has in their hand and interpret into the defendant’s ear through the phone. (Whose phone would the defendant use? That seems like something for the attorneys and the court clerk to work out.) What do you think? Has anyone tried this?

    • Aimee Benavides
      Posted at 02:27h, 14 May Reply

      Absolutely – that is being done as a sort of bandaid solution while many courts figure out something more robust. Hopefully we can work with our local courts and our clients as well to propose more robust solutions that will help us maintain the quality needed to do our jobs well!

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