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Critical Link International - conference

Denise Formica reports on the eighth Critical Link conference held in Edinburgh last year. Critical Link International is a non profit organisation, committed to the advancement of community interpreting, both spoken and signed, in the social, legal & healthcare sectors. The conference broadly covered topics related to sustaining the interpreting and translating profession.

The cool weather and cloudy skies of an Edinburgh summer were not enough to dampen the mood of the eighth Critical Link International Conference, which was held at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh between 29 June and 1 July 2016. Critical Link International is a Canadian-based organisation, initially focused on community and healthcare interpreting, but lately it has increased its scope to advocate for the advancement of community interpreting across the social and legal domains as well. The conference theme, ‘Critical LinkS – a new generation: Future-proofing interpreting and translating’, drew more than 350 delegates from over 30 countries.

There were many interesting presentations and posters from spoken and signed language practitioners, academics and graduate students—as well as others in related professions—on the subjects of research, processes and practices of community translation and interpreting. Some of the hottest topics discussed over the three days will be familiar to Australian community interpreters and raising and maintaining professional standards, remuneration and working conditions, ethics and practice across all domains, and issues regarding pedagogy and training, as well as future prospects for the T&I profession.

The conference opened with an address from Professor Emeritus Ian Mason of Heriot-Watt on the uncertainty that has arisen from a controversial arrangement made in 2011 by the UK’s Ministry of Justice. In a cost-saving exercise that has caused chaos across the system, courts and other judicial bodies in England and Wales are now obliged to obtain T&I services from a single agency. Questions are being raised about the quality of the interpreting provided, as there are no mandatory regulations to ensure the use of credentialled interpreters in UK courts

Mason contended that the low wages and poor working conditions of UK public service interpreters can hardly improve while government agencies enter into contracts with language service providers who continue to outbid each other by slashing interpreters’ pay. A plenary session with the theme of ‘Shaping the future of PSI: Influencing Policy and Practice’, and presentations such as 'The New Barrier to Language Access: The Language of Money and The Public Services Interpreting & Translation Network (PSIT)' lent support to Mason’s claim. If this topic sounds familiar, it is: as the conference continued it became more and more obvious that our own local concerns are mirrored globally.

Keynote speakers and plenary panels across the 3-day conference—especially the final session entitled ‘Future-proofing Interpreting and Translation: the Road Ahead’—routinely spoke to the issues of poor pay, government budget cuts and the subsequent race to the bottom, the need for laws and regulations mandating the use of credentialled interpreters, and our own role in improving the status of the profession.

The panel discussion entitled ‘Interpreting in Times of Turmoil – Conflict and Immigration’ focused on interpreters and translators, and provided a space in which the voices of the many victims of our troubled times could be listened to and reflected upon.

An enthralling discussion for all the tech-heads among us was led by Martin Volk, Professor of Computational Linguistics at the University of Zurich, who is at the forefront of research into machine translation. Introducing conference delegates to the variety of systems that go beyond Google Translate and the like, he also underlined the manner in which technology can improve media access for people with disabilities. And no, according to Professor Volk, we needn’t worry about our work being done by robots—at least not in the foreseeable future!

Among the sessions that I attended were some that focused on the issue of vicarious trauma. The AUSIT Code of Ethics clearly prohibits the interpreter advocating on behalf of the NESB client, but this is not the case in some countries. To guard against the risks of vicarious trauma as a result of interpreter advocacy, an experienced UK-based nursing instructor encouraged health interpreters to adopt an approach known as ‘Care Ethics’, which is applied in nursing training programs. The core component of this approach is empathy, which is described as a cognitive rather than an emotional process. Nurses are encouraged to be attentive, responsible, competent and responsive, while also protecting themselves from possible trauma.

Another session, presented by Canadian organisation Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, placed great emphasis on the importance of recognising and relieving stress at the earliest possible stage, and then initiating the established protocols, beginning with staff debriefing and concluding with outcome assessments. A secondary presentation in this session, entitled ‘Remaining Professional in Challenging Situations’, advocated strongly for an ‘Interpreter Introduction’, which the presenter described as a ‘suit of armour’ to protect the practitioner from the fallout of traumatic interpreting assignments.

The ‘Interpreter Introduction’ is essentially the same concept as Helen Tebble’s ‘Interpreter’s Contract’, which is familiar to Australian interpreters; and this leads me into a brief overview of the Australian contributions to the conference. It was, of course, impossible to attend every presentation, but the program showed a strong presence of Australian researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders who contributed to the various conference topics.

Recognising that there are challenges ahead is the first step on the road to the professionalisation of our industry, and presentations on research from both spoken and sign language into dialogue interpreting (in the legal and medical domains), telephone interpreting, intercultural communication, pedagogy and technology showed the vitality of the work being done within the Australian community T&I sector.

My own paper entitled ‘ “Are we there yet?” Stages in the Journey towards a Professional Interpreting and Translation Industry in Australia’ included the latest developments in Victoria where, as a result of the initiatives led by Professionals Australia, the Victorian State Government is currently reviewing all aspects of the industry: government procurement, language service provision, and standards in the T&I workforce. This topic tied in well with the plenary webcast session held on the final day of the conference and chaired by Franz Pöchacker. The webcast allowed conference delegates and participants from across a range of countries to raise questions on issues concerning the future of the profession. Unsurprisingly, most of the discussion revolved around the importance of remuneration and working conditions, and the training and credentialling of all translators and interpreters as a means of achieving the recognition that we feel we are all due.

My concluding remarks reflect the consensus I felt was reached during that final session, namely, that as practitioners we should be the first to acknowledge that unless we are part of the solution, we are part of the problem. And if the answer to the question of “Are we there yet?” is less than satisfying, then it is up to every single one of us to become part of the solution: to mobilise, to strategise and plan with our colleagues. This will give us a more unified professional voice—not only in our everyday work in our communities, but also in larger and more formal forums within our various home states and/or nations.

Denise Formica, PhD completed her thesis on the translation of Australian contemporary literary fiction into Italian at Monash University in 2009. She now works as a sessional tutor in Italian Studies at Swinburne University, and also as a freelance professional interpreter and translator, English<>Italian.

This article was originally published in AUSIT’s In Touch magazine, Vol 25, #1 (Autumn 2017). 

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About Critical Link International

"As the global organisation dedicated to community interpreting, CLI is committed to promoting the free exchange of information and research, fostering the growth of studies in the field, and increasing the visibility of academic activities and contributions internationally." (Critical Link International website).

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Published: 19/07/2017