"Voices from Above": New book about how technology is changing the simultaneous interpreting market

Voices from Above - The Calling of an Interpreter"Voices from Above" tells the story of Eric Bauwelinck, interpreter and owner of Mastervoice, an international interpreting business, and focuses on his personal journey from onsite to online interpreting.

This book is about human language interpreting and its transformation using modern language technology.

"Voices from Above: The Calling of an Interpreter. A Journey from Onsite to Online Interpretation" (146 pages) is inspired by Eric Bauwelinck's own self-made career path, from a community interpreter to a business and conference interpreter, and currently a consultant interpreter organizing interpreting teams with interpreter technology at international meetings. Eric Bauwelinck has been pioneering cloud interpreting since 2010.

 

The true calling of interpreters

This book is not only about the future and current market in conference interpreting and the major transformation brought about by video remote interpreting. It also contains many tips for novices and experienced conference interpreters as well as for buyers and recruiters dealing with interpreting services in the meetings market.

Eric Bauwelinck: "The market has given me so much that I want to give something back by sharing my expertise, experiences, and future vision for online interpreting technology. It is more of a spiritual vision inspired by my personal conviction that there is meaning in what we do in the interpretation industry. The interpreter’s true calling is to break down language barriers in our global society and economy."

There are around 5,000 professional independent conference interpreters worldwide with 'booth' expertise in both the institutional and the private markets.


A man with a mission

Eric Bauwelinck is a man with a mission. "My mission became clear when I took my first language course at primary school. I was greatly inspired by my first French lessons, and it was a real joy to discover new words and build my first sentences in a foreign language. Language was to fascinate me from that moment on. Understanding and speaking foreign languages became a true calling."

Eric Bauwelinck discovered simultaneous interpreting as a translation and interpreting student. "I was greatly influenced by my teachers, who were all professional interpreters in the private and institutional markets. The first time I spoke into a microphone in an interpretation booth, I knew I wanted to become a professional conference interpreter."

Today, Eric Bauwelinck's mission for interpreting is to help international organisations get their message across, to improve understanding, and to brand businesses by speaking the language of their customers.


A one square metre workplace

In the first chapters of “Voices from Above”, Eric Bauwelinck takes the reader on a personal journey from his first steps as a community interpreter to his first experiences in an interpreting booth - a workplace of one square metre with a small table and a plexiglass window. "My first experience was both challenging and rewarding, and so was the second, and the one after that. It became an adrenalin rush, an addiction - an addiction that will probably last until I retire."

Eric Bauwelinck loves what he does: "I can only speak for the private market I’ve been working in for the past 25 years, and I find that most interpreters are addicted to their work. They love what they do. They see the interpreting booth as the perfect comfort zone from which to conduct a rewarding day at work, and then return home, fulfilled. This is the very reason I am still interpreting after 25 years. Since the early days, I have found comfort, job satisfaction, and a challenging but rewarding work environment at international conferences, councils, seminars, workshops, committees, board meetings, European works councils, and many other meetings."

In his book, the author shares his vision for interpreting, his key values in terms of business ethics for interpreting assignments and, of course, his vision for the interpreting booth of the future and technology-assisted human interpreting.

"Conference interpretation is a professional competence developed by the trained and talented," Eric Bauwelinck says. "It’s not an academic science. People who don’t see that interpretation isn’t an academic science fail to understand its dynamics and the implications for interpreter training and the improvement of interpreting efficiency," he adds.

Yes, he does read academic material, but prefers reference works that take the practitioner's perspective into account, citing Daniel Gile for instance: "The social status of translators/interpreters depends not only on the quality of their product, but also, to a significant extent, on their professional behaviour."

In “Voices from Above”, the author shares numerous tips: tips to get you launched as a conference interpreter "provided you have what it takes", tips for branding yourself as an interpreter or an interpreting business, tips on how to join new online collaborative platforms, effective survival techniques, and tactics to use if you run into difficulties that undermine your performance or credibility as a professional conference interpreter, tips enabling meetings organisers to achieve a return on investment from simultaneous interpreting, tips for professional recruiters on how to reduce the stress levels of conference interpreters, and guidelines for professional speakers at meetings using simultaneous interpreting.

Is the use of English as a global lingua franca a bad development for the interpreting market?

According to Eric Bauwelinck, the impact has not been substantial. "There is a clear impact, however, on interpretation budgets with regard to meetings where participants are able and willing to use global English as a common language through which to communicate during international gatherings. The downside of this budget-oriented policy is that it might backfire in terms of weak or inactive engagement and participation from delegates who find themselves on uneven ground. Native and proficient speakers of English tend to use their linguistic expertise to dominate a discussion or debate."


Language technology: threat or opportunity?

Is language technology a threat to interpreters who have mastered simultaneous interpreting?

Eric Bauwelinck makes a distinction between onsite and online technology. He believes the transformation from traditional onsite interpreting to online interpreting is essentially disruptive. He sees a clear shift from over-the-phone and video remote interpreting to cloud interpreting. This means simultaneous interpreting in virtual and hybrid conferences and meetings as well as the simultaneous interpreting of instant human communication in online platforms such as customer support platforms, service platforms and any other form of communication platform.

Eric Bauwelinck: "Language technology is not a threat, but an opportunity to add value to the global community with new language services and opportunities in new online business environments where human language expertise is an asset."

"Language technology is advancing at such a pace that machine-learned interpretation could reach acceptance levels that are considered 'fit for use' for non-critical content or non-critical users. But certainly not for meetings requiring real-time simultaneous interpreting of professional speakers."

For Eric Bauwelinck, human face-to-face communication remains the ultimate solution for effective communication. "Until speakers are replaced by robots, there will be a need for humans to interpret the thoughts and feelings of the original speaker - a reassuring message for the professional interpreter."


Tremendous business growth opportunities

According to Eric Bauwelinck, the need for interpreters may even increase in a global online community with the tools for instant human communication. He is convinced that professional interpreters will benefit from advanced technology, without being substituted by the very same technology that was created to support this instantaneous form of human communication.

And what of the immediate future? Will supply and demand in the interpreting market change because of these disruptive technologies?

Eric Bauwelinck: "It definitely will. Firstly, developments in video remote interpretation applications will accelerate with the increasing demand for instant language solutions. Secondly, there is a shift from the traditional market distribution model towards crowdsourcing or dedicated platforms where expert linguists can offer their services directly to the market without intermediaries."

"As video remote interpretation becomes more acceptable as a means of communication at meetings, the demand for online interpreting will gradually increase, providing tremendous business growth opportunities and cost effectiveness. The advantages of video remote interpretation are self-evident: no travel, hotels or subsistence costs, low-cost technology, and by-the-minute interpretation sessions, or on a pay-per-session basis instead of full day rates."

Eric Bauwelinck expects the gradual inclusion of interpreters on global collaborative platforms. They will log into hybrid meetings where a select number of participants will be present at the meeting venue, but the overall majority of listeners can log on from anywhere in the world.

"Virtual and hybrid meetings offer great opportunities for meetings planners and organisers to attract international audiences. In such a business model, simultaneous interpretation can generate a high return on interpreter investment, with hundreds of listeners connected to the interpretation channels. These new online meetings services could also create new income models for conference interpreters."


Cloud interpreting

Cloud interpreting is video remote interpreting where the videoconferencing is also online. Cloud interpreting means that you do not need mobile conference equipment other than a computer, an Internet connection, a connected camera, and a headset.

The cost benefits for end users and buyers of cloud interpreting are self-evident (no onsite or mobile audio-visual equipment, no travel costs, subsistence, overnight stays or travel time for participants and interpreters). But what are the benefits for interpreters?

Eric Bauwelinck has the answer: "Interpreters can log in and out depending on their own schedule, preferred times, and availability. As opposed to onsite interpreting, several interpreting sessions can take place in one day. Sessions can be combined with onsite interpretation for very short online interpreting sessions. Interpreting can be carried out from home or from any other workspace with low or no ambient noise."

At the time of the publication of this book, most major providers of audio-visual interpreting technology have integrated remote interpreting systems into their proprietary systems.

Eric Bauwelinck: "The success rate for cloud interpretation will depend on the degree of acceptance by interpreters and end users, as well as the elimination of any pitfalls, but the technology is already used in virtual meetings. Connectivity is a bottleneck, and the quality of service over the Internet still depends on available bandwidth in upload/download speed, firewall settings, proxy servers, or any other service or server that blocks or protects access to other computers. This can be a real issue in times of cybercrime."


Online simultaneous interpreting

Online simultaneous interpreting refers to real-time, instant cloud interpreting without using consecutive or ad hoc interpreting, or anything other than technology for online videoconferencing.

As the ratio of live meetings to virtual and hybrid meetings will continue to change in the near future, this trend in the meetings industry will also affect conference interpreters. As Eric Bauwelinck sees it, the next logical step is online simultaneous interpreting at virtual meetings and a wide range of other forms of instant human communication on online support platforms, service platforms, and any other communication platforms.

Is online simultaneous interpreting already accepted by the market?

Eric Bauwelinck: "Acceptance levels for online simultaneous interpretation will reach a breakthrough when the availability of interpreters for online sessions gains momentum. Service providers of online simultaneous interpretation will have to 'translate' the demands of the market into an attractive, unique, and sustainable selling proposal to obtain the goodwill of the relatively small population of highly experienced simultaneous interpreters worldwide."

"Technical bottlenecks include connectivity, lack of visual communication, bandwidth, firewalls, proxy servers, and connectivity for cameras, headsets, or sound boards, with a potential impact on market acceptance," Eric Bauwelinck adds.

"In 2015, there were only a handful of online interpretation providers using real-time audio and video with online language distribution and online videoconferencing. This number increased tenfold in 2016, meaning that there will be an unavoidable domino effect in terms of online interpretation services."

Additionally, telepresence solutions - lifelike, face-to-face and eye-to-eye solutions for online meetings - will contribute greatly to the development of online videoconferencing.

"In the meantime, we’ll witness the technological evolution of virtual, hybrid, and lifelike meetings combined with ever-improving connectivity, reliability, service quality, and affordability of online language services. Hybrid meetings with online simultaneous interpreting have enormous implications for the meetings industry, because they connect onsite meetings with a live audience to audiences at any location worldwide."


Professional interpreter associations

Eric Bauwelinck is a strong believer in the existential market philosophy that everything that does not add value to the market will sooner or later be eliminated by it. "Value creation is a basic requirement for any professional services market, and this includes professional interpretation."

As he sees it, the creation of value in The Language Sector is not only about breaking down language barriers and solving language problems, "it is also about impartiality, fellowship, client orientation, and service-mindedness. Integrity is a key factor in the success of our global economy, especially in The Language Sector."

In his view, the core mission of professional associations, federations, and interest groups of interpreters should be, above all, to support their stakeholders - customers, service providers, and linguists - in the market with resources, surveys, and projects to increase the brand image of The Language Sector.

"An association of professionals can be very constructive if it aims to create goodwill between customers, interpreters, and recruiters in the interpretation market by offering qualified resources."


After the storm

Eric Bauwelinck sees a parallel between the way in which simultaneous interpreting was first introduced into the market after the Nuremburg trials and the current disruptive transformation of interpreting technologies into what he calls a historic business opportunity. "The only difference is that it won’t be one trigger in one single location, but the proliferation of thousands of online meetings using online videoconferencing."

Eric Bauwelinck is convinced that the expanding global market, the shift of old-school competition to new collaborative business, the crowdsourcing of specialised language services, the web-based sharing of language expertise, the Internet of Things, and big data will force both language service providers and linguists into new business models that are only a click or a tap away, offering new job opportunities with global customers who want instant language services.

Eric Bauwelinck: "Old-school competition in The Language Sector could transform into a shared economy with resources beneficial to all stakeholders in the market for professional language services." Utopia or reality? Time will tell.


ISBN: 9781535308137

 

Visit www.voicesfromabove.com for more information on the book and on the author

Visit www.mastervoice.eu for more information on video remote interpreting solutions.

 

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