CTS Professionalisation Talk

On Monday 13 June 2022, Barbara Bethäusser-Conte gave a Prof Talk entitled “The Impact of the Pandemic on the Daily Working Lives of Conference Interpreters in the UK”

Barbara Bethäusser-Conte is a freelance AIIC conference and consultant interpreter and has been an interpreter trainer at three UK universities.

Barbara’s talk focused on the impact of the pandemic on the daily working lives of conference interpreters in the UK.

On Monday 13 June 2022, students from the MA and PGDip programmes in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies and MA Business and Public Service Interpreting and Translation Studies attended a talk on the interpreting profession by Barbara Bethäusser-Conte, a tutor of German interpretating here at the University of Leeds. The talk gave the students an insight into the impact of the pandemic on the daily working lives of conference interpreters in the UK, whilst offering further guidance on how to start out in the profession.

As a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), Barbara also provided information on professional practice, ethics and the standards set out in the code of conduct followed by professional conference interpreters.

In the post-pandemic world, most professions have had to adapt to the challenges presented by the new normal, and the interpreting profession is no exception. Conference interpreters in the UK and around the world have had to adjust to new working conditions, ranging from remote interpreting (RSI), interpreting in hybrid settings, and - during the pandemic - working in hubs, co-located with fellow interpreters, but without delegates.

These changes in working conditions present advantages and disadvantages. Online conferences allow meeting organisers to save money on travel expenses and logistics, and enable those who cannot travel due to Covid-19 restrictions to take part, thus fostering inclusivity.

However, for the interpreters, working online and providing distance interpreting brings its own challenges. Interpreters may have to work without physical booth colleagues, which can make it more difficult to negotiate smooth microphone handovers; working on computer-based platforms leads to increased cognitive load; and reduced audio quality is not only more tiring but can also in exceptional cases lead to hearing impairment.

Despite these challenges, most interpreters have strived to maintain high professional standards and to find solutions to specific technical problems. Barbara explained that, in her opinion, the new normal in the industry looks set to be a mixture of physical and online meetings, with a larger emphasis on hybrid meetings. Hybrid meetings allow some delegates to return to face-to-face interaction, while continuing to enable international delegates to participate remotely.

The talk also provided useful insights into how to establish oneself in the profession, be it by working as a freelancer or, in the future, as a staff interpreter. Barbara gave tips on quotations, contracts and invoices in the private market, which are essential for tax compliance and proving experience, and highlighted the importance of adhering to professional standards throughout one’s career. She emphasised that preparing documents and terminology is fundamental for any interpreting assignment, and stressed the value of constantly acquiring general knowledge.

Barbara also mentioned that punctuality, collegiality in and outside the booth, and booth manners play a significant role, especially at the beginning of a career when establishing a good reputation. Teamwork is also essential, not least because the quality of the interpretation is judged according to the performance of the entire booth rather than on the efforts of one individual.

Throughout the talk, reference was made to AIIC and its role as a professional association. AIIC seeks to promote high standards of quality and ethics in the profession based on integrity, professionalism and confidentiality. It negotiates collective agreements with international organisations governing the remuneration and working conditions of all conference interpreters who work as freelancers for them.

AIIC also has a global outreach and mentoring network, known as the VEGA network, which offers guidance to conference interpreters new to the profession. This network can be especially helpful to recent graduates, as it provides advice, starter packs and checklists.

Overall, the talk provided crucial information on how the profession has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, how conference interpreters have been impacted as a result, and what the future of the profession might look like. It was an excellent opportunity for students to receive advice and practical tips from a professional conference interpreter, which will stand them in good stead as they prepare to begin their careers as conference interpreters in the post-pandemic new normal.


Author: Lucinda Brown