Recruiting interpreters proficient in scarce or exotic languages

 | Interpretation best practices

How do you recruit a team of professional interpreters in a country where you don’t know the language or how things work? Here’s a behind the scenes look at my experience organising the International Union of Architects (UIA) congress in Istanbul in 2005.

UIA Congress in Istanbul where interpreters were used – 2005The local organisers decided from the outset that to attract as many local architects as possible they would provide English-Turkish interpretation in 15 rooms, in addition to the two plenary sessions in 5 languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian and Turkish. This presented a challenge since the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) had few members in Turkey.

Turkey is like a lot of countries in that there is no official recognition or protection for the interpreting profession. This meant that vetting candidates would be an important step and that I would be using the indispensable Global Calliope Network in order to source qualified interpreters. I talked to colleagues who’d recruited teams in Turkey and those who were studying Turkish and knew the local market. I also contacted the local AIIC interpreters and researched Turkish interpreters online. I soon came across a Turkish association of interpreters called BKTD and three other interpreter groups composed of experienced professionals. These interpreters took the same attitude to their work as Calliope: each group had strict entry criteria, a code of practice and a businesslike approach. Many of the local interpreters had already put out feelers to AIIC, and most have since joined the association.

Preparation started a full year before the congress

My preparations began a good year before the congress. I went to Istanbul to meet the organising committee and confirmed their language requirements, did a site inspection and looked at the interpreting booths. I drew on my experience of 4 previous UIA congresses to make some practical suggestions to the local organisers. To ensure to my own satisfaction that all interpreters were up to standard I asked each to provide a brief CV. As luck would have it the AIIC private market sector held a meeting in Istanbul in January 2005, and I was able to use the occasion to listen to several Turkish colleagues working. I spoke to my local contacts to check which of the Turkish interpreters had the required language combination, confirmed their areas of specialisation, their professional experience and who got on with whom - all important points if a team of 60 is to turn in a quality performance. Whilst all this was happening I contacted interpreters based in Europe with the other congress languages (French, Spanish and Russian) as they are scarce in Turkey.

Nothing beats local knowledge

To ensure best results I asked a Turkish colleague to help me manage the team. It was of great benefit to have him act as liaison between the interpreters and the local organisers in order to bridge any cultural divides. He also gave me insight into how to get things done - nothing beats local knowledge!
At any major congress the same ground rules apply and there are always last minute changes. In Istanbul we made modifications to interpreter assignments to reflect the changes being made to the programme. To keep your finger on the pulse it pays dividends to have a team leader in every room to liaise with the organisers. We also dealt with the unexpected with the addition of previously unscheduled presenters speaking non-official languages such as Italian, Portuguese and Azeri at the last minute. Being reactive and offering solutions at the drop of a hat are all part of the job.

What conclusions do I draw from this adventure? That even in a distant country it is perfectly possible to put together quality teams of interpreters (provided you take the necessary precautions to ensure you get experienced, proficient and dependable professionals). You should always bring local knowledge into play and be prepared to make changes and manage unexpected challenges.

In any case, I was pleased that the event was successful and that my team and I were able to contribute. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our colleagues in Istanbul who proved to be great colleagues with a professional approach to their work.

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Danielle GREE
Member of Calliope in Spain