CTS Professionalisation Talk 2021/22 #5

On Friday 29 October 2021, Andrew C. Dawrant 杜蕴德 gave a professionalisation talk to the current cohort of Leeds translation and interpreting students on ‘Interpreting as a Profession and as a Career’.

Andrew is a China-based interpreter and member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). His interpreting journey started from Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, which had the first AIIC recognised Conference Interpreting Programme for Chinese/English in the world. After graduating, he worked as a diplomatic interpreter in Canada for five years, and in 2000, moved to Mainland China, where he has accumulated a myriad of interpreting experience in many different fields.

From 2003 to 2011, Andrew served as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Conference Interpreting at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation, Shanghai International Studies University. The rich experience as a trainer led to his publication of Conference Interpreting: A Complete Course and Conference Interpreting: A Trainer’s Guide (John Benjamins, 2016).

As a member of the AIIC since 1999, Andrew offered us a glimpse into this renowned organisation by talking about the significant role it plays in the interpreting profession, and its admission criteria. The goals of AIIC include setting ethical and technical interpreting standards, advancing the interests of interpreters, and offering practical interpreting support and training. For those who aspire to be a conference interpreter, Andrew strongly suggested looking up the AIIC website. 

In the first half of the talk, Andrew shared his insight into the ‘professionalisation’ of interpreting. For him, the fundamental problem of professionalisation in conference interpreting lies in the absence of ‘occupation closure’, which cannot be achieved for three reasons. Firstly, conference interpreting is too niche, so there is not a compelling public interest in legislating a mandatory credentialing system. Secondly, as interpreting training is skills-based, it is difficult to pinpoint a specialised body of knowledge. The third issue is the difficulty of testing, which he considers the biggest obstacle; currently, there is no defined, explicit performance standards for professional conference interpreters.

In the latter half of the talk, Andrew elaborated on conference interpreting as a ‘career’. An outstanding interpreter must be passionate about interpreting, have high-stress resilience, and most importantly, always strive for excellence. Since interpreting is a high-stress job without upward progression, it is crucial for interpreters to develop stress management skills and keep their passion alive. One valuable piece of advice for future interpreters is to work side-by-side with expert interpreters or get a demanding practice partner, as this is the only way for interpreters to avoid a plateau in interpreting performance.

A fascinating section of the talk was when Andrew offered his astute observation in the niche interpreting market from the fee perspective. To him, the use of the word ‘fee’ or ‘rate’ can reflect the level of professionalisation of the market. Since the interpreting service charge is determined by the preparation time and the quality, ‘fee’ is the right word to use when negotiating interpreting services.

Andrew ended the talk on an encouraging note: ‘Never lose sight of the why’. The interpreter’s mission is to facilitate communication. Despite the many challenges ahead, as long as one does not forget their aspirations and continues to cultivate professionalism, the dream of becoming a professional interpreter will eventually come true. 

The talk was followed by a Q&A session in which Andrew shared his insights on the structure of interpreting fees, priorities (information vs. packaging) that interpreters should determine when dealing with difficult tasks, and the role MT can play in the interpreting process in different fields. 

Author: Huang-Chi Ho.