They constitute a fundamental element in virtually every major international congress, conference, or meeting, yet there are still many people out there who refer to them by the wrong term as they perform their duties –microphone in hand—inside a booth.
We are talking about professional interpreters who, according to Hady González, general manager of the company, Panama Interpreters, are defined as “…professionals who orally communicate into a target language an idea or message that was originally issued in another language, contrary to translation, which totally takes place in writing.”
It is precisely the features of oral communication (mental agility, precision, and a high degree of knowledge on current topics and general culture) what makes language interpretation a fundamental part of inter-cultural communications, especially in the sphere of the MICE industry. Being fluent in more than one language, nevertheless, doesn´t automatically transform a person into an interpreter. González explained:
“According to statistics, simultaneous interpreters constitute less than 1% of the world’s population, although when considering specialty areas and language combinations, we’ll notice that the community of interpreters in a specific area of expertise and language pairing is even smaller.”
A demanding field
Although both translation and interpretation are subject to strict rules of ethics, quality, and confidentiality, in the case of the latter, the level of technicality demands a special degree of continuous education on topics pertaining to each client.
“I am definitely in my element when interpreting for legal-related events since I’m an attorney by trade; however, when interpreting for events of other disciplines, such as engineering, for example, I must be thoroughly prepared in advance to perform well inside the interpretation booth.”
González continued: “This is one of the aspects in which the ethical level of an interpreter is put to the test, as we often must reject a contract due to our lack of knowledge, either of a particular topic or of the technical jargon in the working languages. We need to be quite objective and strategic when accepting contracts for events in which we do not have much expertise as interpreters.”
For González, interpretation is a highly gratifying field in which one has the opportunity to mingle with international experts in various fields, but also one which places high physical, mental, and time demands.
“It is a priority to be physically and mentally prepared when entering the booth, in addition to exhibiting great versatility to work in various types of events, as we may be working on a legal subject one day and be working on a medical topic the other. As interpreters, we ought to be prepared for constant travel and agree upon our contracts accordingly. It is not the same to interpret in the interior provinces of Panama as it is to travel to the Caribbean for an entire week,” she explained.
Panama: cradle of high-value international interpreters
Due to its location, Panama is the meeting point of many cultures and has been the cradle of a good number of interpreters of high value for the region, many of whom practice their trade in a borderless market.
González expressed, “Our country is truly an ethnic melting pot. Commercially speaking, Panama is considered the gateway to the Latin American market, in addition to being regional headquarters of international organizations and multinational corporations. Likewise, a high percentage of our population is fluent in various languages. It is necessary, however, to implement academic programs specialized in interpretation to take advantage of all these elements.”
Raising awareness in the MICE industry: a hurdle to overcome
Panamanian interpreters not only have to deal with being called ‘translators’ every now and then but also with more urgent matters that precisely pertain to the MICE industry. There are organizations, for instance, that often focus on cutting costs without contemplating the quality of a field of expertise as important as interpretation. She stated:
“Whenever someone pays US$500.00 to attend an international conference, he or she is not paying to enjoy a specialty dish, but to absorb the knowledge of high-level experts and to engage in networking with colleagues from other places or areas of expertise, things that are not possible if there are language or cultural barriers. Interpreters are essential for achieving good communication and complying with the conference’s objectives; nevertheless, event organizers often perceive us as any other element in the chain value and not as strategic partners. It is important for them to understand that, if communication in an event is poor, the aforementioned event will not be promoted the following year. It is, therefore, necessary for them to comprehend that our profession is precisely that a profession. It requires constants academic and technical training, in addition to the hours accumulated at the cabin by the means of experience. There should be no space in this field for improvisations or the cutting of costs, as the reputation and success of their event partly depend on our expertise. If our clients are not aware of this, it will be very easy for them to choose the lowest price.”
About Hady González and Panama Interpreters
An attorney by trade, Hady González obtained a masters’ degree in interpretation in Spain. In January of 2013, she established Panama Interpreters, a pioneering company in offering a cloud-based simultaneous interpretation platform. Its services have been remotely offered from Panama to the world. With its new platform, the company has also been able to offer services in language uncommon to Latin America, such as Russian and Korean.
The company is also known for being the only one in Panama with a CSR program devoted to the field of interpretation. Said program features two main initiatives: the partial sponsorship of workshops for interpreters offered by renowned professionals of the field, and “Café con Intérpretes”, which are spaces designed to promote solidarity and the continuous education of practicing interpreters through free lectures. To date, the program has been able to prompt the participation of approximately 30 interpreters in more than 12 countries.