I invited the people behind four different platforms — Babelverse, Capiche, Vicki, and ZipDX — to come to our virtual classroom. They described how they provide interpreting services using the web or other distance solutions. [... W]hether you like it or not, remote interpreting is already here. And if interpreters turn a blind eye, they’re simply allowing someone else to get into the driver’s seat. So I had my Year One students listen to what each of the developers had to say about their platforms, and then I asked them for their analysis, to see what they thought were the advantages and disadvantages of remote interpreting. That’s where things got lively.
An extremely interesting post by Andrew Clifford at Glendon. His students clearly identified the risks of remote, but also thought about how to approach the challenges: band together, engage with other stakeholders, get savvy.
This was a really fun thing to do. Thank you, Lourdes!
Originally posted on A Word In Your Ear:
A day in the life… of a tablet interpreter. A slightly exaggerated account.
My electronic wristband wakes me up again. With gentle vibrations, it pulls me away from the warm beach of what I think is a tropical island, making me drop what I think is a non-alcoholic cocktail in the process. I press the button to make the wristband stop buzzing and roll out of bed. My feet carefully avoid stepping on my iPad, which – as usual – is propped up in a charging dock by the side of my bed. After I put on my glasses, I start my usual morning routine: checking email, browsing my Twitter timeline, reading the latest posts of my favourite publications in my RSS reader and checking my sleep quality using the data that my wristband continuously synchronises to its companion app on the tablet.
Minutes later, I emerge from the bathroom looking, hopefully, like a presentable human being and soldier on to breakfast. I have a bowl of cereals and a cup of coffee in the hope of recharging my batteries, careful not to spill either organic milk nor fair-trade coffee on my precious touchscreen. The last night was short, after all, but it was not what you think (i.e. delegates fighting over commas). Apple launched a new version of the iPad software and I, of course, had to have it as soon as possible. You idiot, I silently curse myself, as I launch the Documents app to look at my preparation material for today. One agenda and 31 files later, I am done and have looked up what felt like hundreds of fish species and fishing gear. Time to put the tablet in the backpack, together with its charger and a bunch of cables (better safe than sorry). It is a nice day for riding the bike to work. No need to consult Google Maps, I know the route by heart and have carefully planned it to lead me past a few electronics shops to be able to check out the latest gadgets during my commute.
One badge swipe at a time, I make my way to the meeting room. But not without stopping by the coffee bar to top up my caffeine level and repeat my iPad morning routine. Then I go to the booth for the first round of the day. Did I mention I can’t help feeling a bit proud when I see that many colleagues are now using tablets at work? Feels a wee bit like having started a revolution. Anyway, enough with the daydreaming, it’s my turn now. I am very happy to have my fish glossary ready in Interplex HD. Whenever the delegates mention fish species I have never heard of (which, despite my preparation, happens quite often), all I have to do is type in the term. Somehow, I make it until lunch break. Time for a quick bite and my iPad mid-day routine (email, Twitter, you get the idea…). I also try to squeeze in a few podcasts and articles to keep up with my working languages and recent developments in the tech universe and the normal world.
Before I jump back on my bike after the afternoon round of the meeting, I check the electronic grocery list I share with my wife to see if I need to get some shopping done on the way home. I don’t. So I just start the activity tracker for my bike commute and hit the road. Right at the last roundabout, it happens. That pothole, I swear it wasn’t there two seconds ago. I drive right through, or in, rather, and loose balance and fall. My backpack wasn’t zipped up properly, so the unfathomable happens. My iPad slips right out. It’s bizarre to see it flying through the air in slow-motion, just like in the movies. Smack! It lands on the street. In the corner of my eye, I see a car approaching. In slow-motion, obviously. I can make out the pattern on the tyres. Just a few centimeters to go before the retina screen shatters.
I came across an article the other day titled “Learn English or stay home”. It was written by Olav Øye for the European Voice website, but unfortunately sits behind the paywall. According to the byline, Øye is a consultant and has dedicated his masters thesis (“E pluribus English”) to the study of how English is used in the European Parliament. There has been much discussion in recent months and years about the role of English and the question whether it should and could become the one and only lingua franca of the Union. I think there’s no easy answer to that question. So first of all, I offer you this quick reading list. Go ahead, I’ll wait here
To date, Europe does not have a single European public space which could be compared to what we regard as a public sphere at national level. First of all we lack a lingua franca. There are 23 official languages in Europe, plus countless other languages and dialects. A German who does not also speak English or French will find it difficult to communicate with someone from Portugal, or from Lithuania or Hungary. It is true to say that young people are growing up with English as the lingua franca. However, I feel that we should not simply let things take their course when it comes to linguistic integration. For more Europe means multilingualism not only for the elites but also for ever larger sections of the population, for ever more people, ultimately for everyone! I am convinced that feeling at home in one’s native language and its magic and being able to speak enough English to get by in all situations and at all ages can exist alongside each other in Europe.
To me, saying “everybody should learn English as their first foreign language” is not multilingualism, but that’s another matter entirely…
Officially, deputies and delegates will only speak in their national languages, as a matter of principle. Attending them is a small army of translators and interpreters who assure their message is translated into the languages of the rest of the union — at a current cost of $1.4 billion per year. The big irony, though, is that once they are away from the podium or the microphone, and they are hanging out with other European bureaucrats by the water cooler, they comfortably switch into English, the de facto lingua franca of the union. You might wonder then, when most, if not all, EU bureaucrats master English, what’s the point in maintaining 23 official languages, especially at such expense? Why not just use a single language and, what’s more, why not use the language all EU bureaucrats master — English?
That’s why the EU, why Europa quite simply needs English as an official language, as a second official language in addition to each country’s official language. It should be possible to get along with pidgin English, or “kitchen-table English”, at any given local or regional authority, one should be able to apply for a passport, be admitted to a hospital, give evidence to the police. Using English as a lingua franca is the most pragmatic solution of all because the language is being taught almost everywhere in Europe.
But there’s a second problem with English [...]: It makes us (whoever “us” may be) focus too much on British debates. Daniel Hannan today blogging the same old story of why the UK would and should not be in the EU is getting 100x more attention than a Polish politician/writer writing about how the future EU agriculture should look like. [...] Instead of discussing the actual problems of European politics – and to the credit of many EU-critics there are many – the dominance of English makes us have the old debates over and over again. (Emphasis mine)
Business is not all. Especially in Europe and in times of crisis, it is important that we understand each other – we cannot afford to threaten a construct which, although fraught with bureaucracy, is also there to maintain peace. Personally, I sometimes think that aspect is sadly underrated.
Before we finish off with a lighter take on the subject, let’s get back to Øye’s text. In a nutshell, he says that English has become the dominant language in the European Parliament and that MEPs who don’t speak it at all or not well enough have a serious disadvantage. His conclusion:
Voters and the press should therefore ask the candidates for the European Parliament if they have mastery of English, the language of politics in Europe. Otherwise citizens risk wasting their vote.
While Øye certainly has a point, it boils down to this: All that matters for a candidate to be elected is whether he or she speaks English well enough. Really?
Citing feedback from MEP assistants, Øye also dismisses interpretation in one fell swoop:
Almost none of the assistants I interviewed listen to interpretation into their mother tongue. The reason is that they do not think that interpreters can render speech adequately. Mistakes are made. Body language is lost. In politics, such nuances matter greatly.
Is that so? I would venture to say that even if English is not your mother tongue and you speak it very, very well, quite a lot will be lost. Mistakes will be made (believe me, I sit in those meetings every day). Body language, in fact, is not lost with simultaneous interpretation. Nuances do indeed matter greatly. Just another reason to make use of interpretation. The system overall is certainly not perfect since interpretation is often not available where it is needed. But we are not even close to a European Union that works flawlessly with English only.
As I have pointed out in a recent post, technology is (again) disrupting our profession. More specifically, several "translation apps" have entered the scene as mobile devices conquer our lives. Google's Translate service has been available for a while. Next, Word Lens made a big splash as the first mobile app able to translate what the users saw through the lens of their smartphone camera. The last wave is that of "interpreting apps" such as Babelverse (here's my take on it) that want to provide a platform where supply (i.e. interpreters) and demand (i.e. clients) meet and work together. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), it seems, is not a fad but here to stay.
However, as the Babelverse controversy clearly showed, the approach chosen by some aspiring disruptors wasn't quite right. If you want to read a thoughtful piece about this, look no further than Jonathan Downie's "Crowdsourcing and the Shrinking Middle".
Today, I want to write about a new interpretation app that has launched its beta version just in time for the 54th ATA Annual Conference. It goes by the quirky name Capiche and, in my humble opinion, is doing a lot of things right. A few weeks ago, Frederick Marx – CEO of Keylingo Translations and co-founder of Capiche – contacted me and gave me an in-depth presentation of his project.
First off, I like the name Capiche. There have been too many references to the Tower of Babel in translation and interpretation anyway and I never found them particularly suitable. Capiche also keeps it simple for now. It works similarly to a two-party video call: the client and their communication partner on one side and the interpreter on the other, working in consecutive mode. This would make make sense for settings in public health (doctor's office) or law enforcement (questioning at police office, deposition).
In order to be successful, such a platform must use rock-solid technology. Capiche has chosen to use an innovative technology called WebRTC (real-time communication on the web). But what is so great about WebRTC?
Proprietary software and plugins are the bane of internet communications, [...] as you spend more time negotiating over what tool to use than on the eventual conversation. [...] WebRTC [...] is intended to be an open standard for video and voice communication, embedded in the software that is on every desktop – the browser. [...] You will be able to use a web-based communications service to start a conversation with a friend or colleague (or even a one-to-many or many-to-many web conference), with voice and video, as well as sharing files over a peer-to-peer connection. While a web service will mediate the call, the browser you are using will not matter, as the technology to work with your computer’s camera and microphone will be built-in, with no plugins needed.
I have done several tests of Capiche and WebRTC and found it very good. It was certainly more reliable and less fiddly than Skype or Google Hangouts. But in addition to providing a stable technological platform, Capiche will try to make the matching between clients and interpreters easier. Both can sign up with the service indicating what they want or offer. The system then informs the interpreter of new "opportunities" and he/she can accept or decline.
Currently, Capiche comes in two flavours:
- Open: Interpreters register and are vetted (how and by whom is unclear). Then, they have access to job offers from clients. Interpreters can establish links with regular clients to get priority access to new jobs.
- Private: Interpreters bring their own clients to the platform and maintain a private relationship with them. Private clients are not exposed to other interpreters.
On top of that, interpreters can also build "links" to their peers and form trusted relationships, i.e. when it comes to working together on jobs or replacing a colleague in case of sickness or other problems.
There is also a feedback feature for clients and interpreters, but it is intentionally limited at this early stage.
Money, money, money
Pricing information is available on the Capiche website. I will not discuss pricing in this post because I think it will be subject to further developments – the Capiche team will probably have to diversify their fee structure according to where interpreters and/or clients are based. In addition, the users will have to decide on whether the added value of platform justifies the one-third/two-thirds split. Capiche offers several channels to pay interpreters (including the not-so-uncontroversial PayPal), while clients just enter their credit card details to pay for services used. According to Capiche, payments are processed every Friday and within 7-10 days.
There are a few things that could be improved on the Capiche platform. I have transmitted my suggestions to the developers already, and here they are for your information:
- client-interpreter relations: send preparation material; make list of subjects more precise (currently: general, legal, medical)
- interpreter-interpreter relations: exchange of documents and information (including terminology)
- explain the vetting process
The Capiche team also has an iPhone app in the works. I will report on that as soon as I have tested it.
I am curious to see how Capiche will be doing in the coming weeks and months. Will you be giving it a try?
It was about time I did this. But so far, I have always been reluctant to go “cold turkey”. Last week, however, I was on a mission (that’s what business trips are called here in the EU institutions) to Switzerland and it seemed like the ideal opportunity to put my 7-inch Asus MemoPad through its paces during an actual interpreting job.
The first thing I already noticed at home, and it delighted me: The MemoPad is actually small enough to fit right in the pocket of my favourite travel jacket. And the portability continued to delight me throughout the whole journey, from bus to plane. The MemoPad is much lighter than my (9.7-inch) iPad 2 and feels more like an e-reader. It certainly doesn’t have the great finish of an Apple tablet, but it’s solid and good enough.
The MemoPad actually belongs to my wife, so I only use it occasionally – mainly for browsing the web or reading the articles I have saved to Pocket. Using it for work is a completely different game. I tried to prepare as best as possible by installing a bunch of apps before I leave. But let’s go through this step by step.
Android vs iOS
There are a few things I really, really like about Android, some of which are rather subjective. It looks better than iOS – certainly better than iOS 6, but also better than iOS 7, which looks unfinished. Another big plus are widgets – little windows that give access to content or functionalities of apps. For example, it allows me to display a handy list of all the reminders I have buried in my thousands of Evernote notes. They can also display the time, your calendar, the weather or your email inbox.
In a similar vein, Asus has equipped the MemoPad with mini-apps (browser, calculator, alarm clock etc.) that can float over the app you are currently using. So when you are creating a glossary (more on that later), you can use the floating browser to quickly look things up without having to switch to another app.
A big plus of Android over iOS is that it’s much more flexible and powerful when it comes to exchanging files or bits of information between apps – a process that’s notoriously cumbersome on iOS, because you end up with several copies of one and the same object.
Android tablets seem to work fine with accessories, too, such as the Apple Wireless Keyboard or the Cosmonaut Stylus.
Working with files
The first thing I usually do is gather meeting documents and other relevant material into a folder on my device. While I appreciate the portability that cloud services like Dropbox afford, I make it a point to keep work-related stuff offline.
Most Android tablets already come with a file manager or at least a “Downloads” app pre-installed, but those apps are often confusing, too limited in their functionality or both. After some googling, I settled with Clean File Manager and have been quite happy so far. As you can see in the screenshot, you have access to files by file type. You can manage files, add folders, zip and unzip files, just to mention a few handy features. Folders you need often can be added to the “Bookmarks” section in the left navigation, which I find very useful.
Unlike “Documents”, my favourite file manager on the iPad, Clean File Manager does not actually let you view documents. That’s alright, since your Android tablet probably came with some sort of document viewer or Office software like Polaris Office.
If you want document annotation (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll have to install another app. I went with the rather popular Adobe Reader which works fine, albeit not as smoothly as “Documents” on the iPad. For example, selecting text is sometimes a bit fiddly and not as easy as in other Android applications.
Unfortunately, my favourite terminology software – Interplex – is not available on the Android platform (yet?). I am not a fan of using tables in Word or Excel spreadsheets for terminology, so I searched the Play Store for database apps. And I must say, I found a true gem called “Memento”. This is a multi-purpose database app for managing all kinds of things from contacts to collector’s items. But since it is so flexible it works great for terminology management. Just create a database for your topic and language combination and you’re good to go. Great features of Memento include:
- starring entries to create a list of favourites (nice for listing terms that are very important or hard to memorize)
- adding a direct link (shortcut) to any glossary in Memento to the Android home screen
- synchronisation with Google Drive spreadsheets which allows for easy desktop entry, collaboration with colleagues and backup.
The only reference apps I tried during my test were dict.cc and Linguee. Dict.cc works great, allows you to download language packs for offline use and was reliable content-wise. Linguee, however, was completely unusable for me (and my colleague, too) as it kept crashing while I tried to look up words.
What about handwriting?
I don’t know about you, but for me, a seven-inch tablet almost begs to be used as a digital notepad. And I have used the MemoPad as exactly that, in combination with my beloved Cosmonaut stylus – but not in an actual meeting (yet). For me to dare using it in a mission-critical situation, the note-taking apps and the tablet itself must be rock-solid. I am still afraid of hitting the wrong button in the heat of the action, inadvertently sending my valuable notes into digital nirvana. But that may just be a question of adaptation and practice on my part. After all, other interpreters have already proven that it’s feasible. Also, Asus has added added a setting to its MemoPad that lets the user deactivate the “home bar” (back/home buttons, task manager) which should be very useful in this context.
My iPad favourite for handwriting is Penultimate, which is part of the Evernote family, but not available on Android. From the apps I have tried, I liked Handwriting best, mainly because of the uncluttered and functional interface and because of how easy it is to add new pages and navigate between them. For reference, here are the other apps I played with:
All in all, this experiment was really fun. I will definitely do this again and put the Asus to the test during a week of meetings here in Brussels. Stay tuned!
Instead of a long post, today, I only want to share a short excerpt from an interview I came across via Twitter the other day. It features Holly Behl, a Denver-based interpreter with a high interest in new technologies, especially tablets. I highly recommend you read her posts about a paperless interpreter experiment: part 1 | part 2.
Q: Simultaneous interpreters are already using new technologies in the booth, it is quite common to see interpreters working with laptops, netbooks and tablets, using apps and bringing their own headphones. But I know you love to use technology also in consecutive, can you tell us a little bit of how you profit from the new opportunities mobile technology is offering interpreters today?
A: Yes, I keep trying to start the green revolution in digital note-taking. There are several legal settings where I do consecutive, and after a year or so of buying bulk packs of legal pads for my notes, I got curious for a better solution. The iPad is great for a lot of things, but the Galaxy S Note is the only tablet I’ve found with native stylus integration and the ability to capture handwritten notes with the precision and reliability required for consecutive note-taking. This solution has worked so well that I often find myself without pens—they’re just not part of my work kit anymore. Instead, I have my reference material, pen, notepad, to-do list, and leisure reading all wrapped up in one slender piece of equipment.
You can read the full interview here.