CTS Professionalisation Talk 2022-23 #7: Precis Writing

On Friday 25 November 2022, Maggie Hong gave a talk on building a career as a conference interpreter in the post-Covid market.

Maggie Hong is a freelance conference interpreter and translator based in Chicago. Her clients include international organizations, government departments and agencies, institutions, and corporations.

She works as a certified Mandarin interpreter with various governmental institutions in the USA. In addition to conference interpreting, Maggie also does community interpreting and teaching and she is active in professional associations.

Maggie’s talk focused on the circumstances in the USA market, but was also useful and thought-provoking for students who wish to work in other countries. The talk revolved around three aspects

Job options for conference interpreting graduates

In the USA, the majority of interpreters are freelancers. Staff positions offered by international organisations and government departments are usually limited. Rigorous tests are required and not all language combinations are needed.

Multinational corporations expanding their businesses in the USA sometimes hire in-house interpreters, but it is rare for local enterprises to do so.

There are more staff positions for community interpreting. Community interpreters work more regular hours and may also do translation. However, they earn less than conference interpreters, and a pay gap also exists between court interpreters and medical interpreters.

Post-Covid trends for conference interpreters

If you want to earn as much as before or even more, you will have to diversify your portfolio to incorporate community interpreting, translation, teaching and training. You also need to familiarise yourself with new technologies.

Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) is fully accepted by interpreters and associations after the pandemic. Working time can be very irregular due to time zone differences, and remote technicians are not necessarily as experienced in dealing with interpreting technical issues. Although on-site conference interpreting is recovering, the hybrid mode is here to stay.

Contracts matter more in RSI settings. Check carefully the working time and liabilities in emergencies like power outages. Consider surcharges for irregular working time and recordings. When interpreting on-site, make sure that Covid prevention measures are taken.

Skills and strategies for excellence

  • Diversify your portfolio by honing skills in translation, localisation and community interpreting. Avoid clients who try to underpay you.
  • Get accustomed to working remotely and handling technical issues. Coordinate with your interpreting partner and remote technicians in advance to be better prepared.
  • Networking is important. Become a member of professional associations and maintain a good social media presence.

Q&A session

How to achieve better job satisfaction in RSI settings?

The best remedy is to keep a second line of communication through online platforms and social media to make sure that you are seen as a person rather than just a voice.

What should I do if my clients prioritise expense over quality?

It is true that more clients are outsourcing interpreting to places where lower pay is accepted. Nevertheless, always maintain your standard and take the opportunity cost of dropping such clients if necessary. You should also join professional associations to support advocacy.

Any tips for voice control and anxiety relief during interpreting?

Practice, record, listen back and pinpoint what you need to improve.

Author: Zitao Zhang