Universal Forum of Cultures, Barcelona 2004

Cities are like bicycles. When you stop pedalling, you fall off… Barcelona has put this adage into practice over the course of five months of cultural events under the name Forum 2004, including 50 conferences, with interpretation. Danielle Grée, member of Calliope in Spain, chief-interpreter for the Forum, provides us with a quick glance at the whole operation. 

I was first contacted by the Forum in 1999, and then appointed chief Interpreter in 2002. My experience with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was most useful. The most important decision was to determine the languages, the number of concurrent sessions, and the dates and schedules of all 50 Dialogues before starting to recruit interpreters. Several months were necessary to fit together all the pieces of the puzzle and in the end, the Dialogues were held in 13 languages, although the foursome, Catalan, Spanish, French and English, were used in almost all the sessions.

In parallel, consultations began in order to draw up individual contracts to be signed by each interpreter. The usual compensation clause in the event of cancellation applied, but with a heavy penalty for the interpreter in case of no-show. A rather lengthy clause on intellectual property was also included in the contract, in keeping with legislation. Interpreters were paid copyright fees and were widely broadcast over the Internet, and live on television or on radio. For all the other aspects, the contract stipulated that the “general working conditions” set out by AIIC would apply.  

A complex recruiting process

By then I had received a variety of CVs, so I defined a number of recruiting criteria: relevant language combination, background and experience, geographical proximity, AIIC membership, or else having passed a test at one of the European institutions or the United Nations, and of course, team spirit and collegiality. I could then, in the fall of 2003, start giving options to those who met those selection criteria.

I quickly realized that such a complex operation would require the use of a relational database application and I decided to purchase a software package called Ipso Facto, well known to consultant interpreters. Thanks to this expert system, I was quickly able to create meetings, assign interpreters and closely follow up on their status (i.e. under option, confirmed, cancelled, and so forth), avoiding mistakes such as double assignments. Gradually, interpreters were given options and then firm contracts.

An operation such as this rivals many European Institutions (Commission and Parliament), without mentioning other organisations such as Euro 2004 or the Athens Olympic Games, which recruit from the same pool of interpreters. But the Forum had luck on its side. Uncertainties due to enlargement pushed the institutions to exercise great caution and to recruit with less advance notice. Moreover, half a dozen interpreters decided to transfer their professional domiciles to Barcelona for at least six months, including several Calliope members, experienced in recruiting and coordinating interpreters, who were often assigned as Team leaders or assistant coordinators. This was to the advantage of the Forum.

Ensuring ISO standards for interpreting booths

Simultaneous interpretation requires quality equipment and booths. Back in 1999, I included the ISO 4043 and 2603 standards for interpreting booths in my reports, and thanks to a welcome intervention from the AIIC Technical and Health Committee in Spain, five permanent booths – instead of the seven initially planned – were finally built in the magnificent 3,200 seat auditorium of the Convention Centre. In addition, all the other meeting rooms were equipped with portable booths fully compliant with standards. 

Before we knew it, May 3, 2004, was upon us: the first day with interpretation at the Forum. In addition to spoken language conference interpretation which I coordinated, sign language interpreters were brought in and took relay from the Spanish channel; the debate was also broadcast on a small screen for the hearing-impaired. Likewise, live debates were held in an open-air theatre dubbed “141 Questions” and it was decided to transcribe speeches (in extenso) onto large screens. This lead to a number of picturesque incidents that you may want to read in the full .pdf article. 

Documentation is essential for preparation and quality interpretation. A very practical solution was to open fifty virtual hard disks on the Internet, one per Dialogue, which each interpreter could access from any computer provided they had a password, and get the conference papers, the programme and the interpreters’ team sheet. The Team leaders also played a crucial role in obtaining and photocopying the oral presentations available only at the last minute, showing marvellous teamwork and seamless collegiality.

The Forum in numbers

For those who love numbers, the Dialogues welcomed a total of 2,411 conference speakers and nearly 70,000 participants from over 170 countries! This collective tour de force engendered some 4,700 interpreter days, done by 124 interpreters, 60 of whom were domiciled in Barcelona, 23 in Spain (outside Catalonia) and 41 in the rest of Europe; it wasn’t necessary to recruit outside Europe. 91.41% of the total volume of work was done by the Barcelona-based interpreters.




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