By Antje Bormann

In early 2020, the interpreting profession as part of the events industry was among the worst hit by national government measures the world over to fight the spread of Sars-Cov2. Travel restrictions, the prohibition of gatherings, and mandatory working from home put paid to conferences in far-flung places. Nobody knew nor even knows now, over a year later, when we will return to these kinds of events and what they will look like.

With plenty of time on my hands owing to a number of canceled contracts, I decided to do some continuous professional development, both to catch up on things I had never got around to and to lift my spirits by keeping busy. Part of this was the search for new ways to work – as the government had decreed – from home.

Luck would have it that I landed with KUDO whose open and welcoming approach to interpreters stood out. After completing the required but straightforward online assessment, the Interpreter Journey, I was booked for the demonstration of the interpreting platform, and I haven’t looked back. From that tutorial via the now legendary Soundcheck Parties to first assignments and the subsequent achievement of the KUDO Pro status, it was a journey marked by an amazing sense of camaraderie. I am grateful to the many wonderful new colleagues I have met along the way, who are equally eager for ways to keep doing what we love, with high hopes for the future, both our own and that of the profession.

All the while, uncertainty and confusion were rife in the interpreting community, and quite understandably there was and still is a degree of speculation about this new world that has upended the way we work.

I heard and read that online interpreting would commoditize our work.

Not so. In fact, since interpreting went digital, I have felt much more part of a community, of a profession. From a freelance existence on our more local markets (in terms of clients) that sometimes felt like a lonely fight for survival, I now feel a bond with people with similar issues, similar hopes, and quite downright astounding knowledge of aspects of my craft that I had been previously unaware of. I would not want to return to a world without TechForword for example, and my enthusiasm for interpreter online training events is purely down to those initial KUDO Soundcheck Parties. Thank you, Lara Weaver! I have also had more unsolicited positive reactions to my work from end clients now that I work more for them directly, and I feel more appreciated and less like a commodity than at any time before.

I also hear that moving from daily fees to a more flexible pricing structure (to accommodate shorter online meetings) may undermine the market for interpreters.

My experience, on the other hand, is that these days I occasionally have two very different meetings in one day. I can accommodate them fairly easily because they tend to be for clients who now work with me several times a month instead of once a year, so I don’t need as much preparation for every event as before once I have done the groundwork. Also, moving from one meeting to the next can be done by simply logging on to another session. I still have two-day assignments, as well, but now enjoy chilling on my balcony for lunch on both days, weather permitting. My productivity has increased, as has my income, and I can still spend quality time with my family discovering the joys of social life without having to rush to the airport at short notice, having to cancel the dinner or a theater ticket.

There is talk about global clients (among them RSI platforms themselves) moving to cheaper markets where local colleagues would undercut us.

Let me put it like this: I am working close to capacity most weeks, so I have clearly not been pushed off the market by someone in Asia or Latin America, nor did I myself feel the need to muscle in on other colleagues’ markets by working nightshifts on events in totally different time zones. By the way, did you know that KUDO pays all interpreters the same fees? Undercutting isn’t possible this way. It seems a blunt policy as the cost of living is not the same everywhere but in my personal opinion ‘leveling up’ has to start somewhere. In fact, it feels like KUDO currently blazes the trail globally for the latest EU legal initiatives on human (including labour) rights due diligence as well as a minimum wage before they have even fully come into existence.

KUDO Marketplace is the latest venture that I have had the privilege of being involved with early on. The calendar function is as it has been on some LSP intranet portals for years. A group of independent interpreters here in Paris has also recently set one up for the French market on a subscription basis. The matching of jobs and interpreters is currently still monitored by human project managers, who in KUDO’s case are all interpreters themselves and thankfully know exactly what our job entails. Relevant links and material are handily arranged on the interpreter’s dashboard, there is no need to search through emails for session links.

I’ve heard exasperation at the ‘book your event and interpreters as little as 2 hours in advance’ promise that KUDO makes to clients which on the surface appears justified.

I had misgivings, as well, but I have not been offered a job on Marketplace yet that wasn’t at least two if not more days away. If an event cannot be accommodated for whatever reason, interpreters are also free to say no, just like to an agency or direct client. The system, which is being introduced rather cautiously, prioritising smooth functioning over headline-grabbing announcements, may eventually be used in support of meetings happening as early as two hours from now. But in any event, my diary is usually already filled with previous bookings from KUDO and other clients by that time, so I wouldn’t be available, anyway.

Finally, who would complain about getting paid at the end of an assignment?

So while nobody has all the answers,

  1. I feel that RSI has thrown interpreters a lifeline we surely appreciate;
  2. due to the much more networked community we have become, we are better placed to shape the interpreting market going forward;
  3. and the new way of providing our service has opened up a market for which interpretation was out of reach due to the heavy physical logistics component. That is no longer necessary in most use cases.

I for one am more optimistic and feel less alone as an interpreter today.

Antje Bormann is a German conference interpreter (DE [A], EN [B], SP [C]) with extensive experience working on the fringes of the European institutions as well as on the private market, covering mainly industry, medical, pharma, finance, and labour relations.

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