Letter to the Editor

Comment on Tony Beckwith’s Interview with Cressida Stolp

Before I share my comments regarding Tony Beckwith’s interview in the January-February “Our World of Words” column, let me say that I think it’s a good idea to look at the other side of the coin (i.e., translation and interpreting agencies) to gain insight from another’s perspective.

I’m a professional conference interpreter and a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters with the language combination German A, English B, and French C (and unofficial Dutch). My home base is Switzerland. I’ve covered more than 3,000 interpreting days, about one-fourth of which in the legal setting, mainly depositions and arbitrations. I receive about 10–15 unsolicited inquiries from agencies per week, mainly for translations and some for interpreting.

Here are some things (in chronological order) that struck me after reading Tony’s interview with Cressida Stolp.

Résumés: Most agencies who send an inquiry ask for a résumé. If I answer, I refer them to my website. Many times this is not good enough and they want a customized résumé for a particular job. This is presumably sent to the potential client. The agency may or may not get the job. Should it get the job, it often goes to a less qualified but much cheaper “colleague.” Needless to say, I stopped sending résumés a long time ago.

Benefits of working with an agency (as an interpreter): The only benefit I can see is when the agency offers a package. However, I’m usually asked to give a quote. I spend hours making travel arrangements, sometimes even put a team of colleagues together (free of charge), and get paid after 60–90 days. There is a lot of preparation for an assignment that is often unpaid. When the agency offers a package, which includes my rate plus travel fees, transfers, and the like, I can see the benefit. And there are agencies that just do that, and I love working with them.

Top-three qualities (for an interpreter): The ones listed go without saying when you’re a professional conference interpreter (and not someone who took a “three-month backpacking tour in Italy,” to quote Ms. Stolp).

I would like to add a fourth and fifth quality that agencies want: cheap/cheaper, experienced/highly experienced. Plus, “please quote your (very) best rate.” That’s a contradiction in itself.

I’m sure that many professional colleagues feel exactly the same. Agencies have their place, and I know some wonderful agencies and work with them. However, many should walk the talk and give priory to quality and not price.

Edith Kelly
Morcote, Switzerland

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