The Evolution of Interpretation

The Evolution of Interpretation
July 25, 2018
Ewandro Magalhães, Vice President of Kudo, talks with us about the latest developments in the interpretation industry. He discusses its fascinating history, too. Tune in to hear from an expert.
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Renato I’m Renato Beninatto.
Michael And I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato Today on Globally Speaking, we’re going to revisit a guest that we had on the show about a year ago.
Michael It’s because we’ve been thinking a lot about the human voice.
Renato Voice has been one of the most important challenges in the translation/language services space because it is more and more the vehicle of communication. You have these voice-enabled devices, you have multimedia, you have Netflix. And the area where voice is most prominent in our business is interpretation.
Michael So today we’re going to talk again with an expert in that field who’s going to get us up to speed with what some of the latest developments are. So, let’s hear from him.
Ewandro My name is Ewandro Magalhaes. I’m a conference interpreter, who used to be also a chief interpreter in the United Nations system. I was in Geneva for seven years managing interpreters in the UN system. As of January 2017, I transited back to the US to be the vice president of Kudo. Kudo is a new cloud-based multilingual platform for collaboration, and what that means is that it’s a platform that would allow you to meet in whatever language that you want with full language support, human-powered interpretation behind it. So, for more information you can go online to Kudoway.com.
Michael And this helps companies get the most out of their webinars and their events so that they’re not single-language presentations, is that correct?
Ewandro Yes, it helps anybody who would like to meet online, be it, say, a Skype meeting, where not everyone speaks the same language. What we’re talking about is the multinational company that has offices in Brazil but also in Cambodia and in the US.
Renato We had an episode a year ago about remote interpreting and how this is developing. What has happened in the last year?
Ewandro A couple of things. First, the technology continues to evolve, so Wi-Fi is more stable and cable connections are more widespread, and so people are more confident in actually going online and taking their meetings to the cloud. That’s number one. Number two is that we’ve brought to the market a concept that is friendly enough for interpreters mostly, but also for clients to have them come and try. So we’ve been reaching out to the two communities—interpreters on the one hand and also clients on the other hand—to take them by the hand and help them try a system that might be scary at first when you don’t have all the facts. But as soon as you start getting involved in it, you see that there’s not a lot of reason to fear, because we’re not out to replace everything else that is out there. If anything, we’re offering you ways to complement your income, complement your work, or reach out to different channels of communication for things that were impossible to do in the past with the traditional solutions.
Renato Especially in the interpreting community, we have this fear of technology. The fear has to do with whatever applies to the professional themselves, to their professional career. But they’re not afraid to use computers, they’re not afraid to use Skype, they’re not afraid to use headphones, Bluetooth, wireless, cell phones—all of that is technology. How are you breaching this barrier of skepticism and fear that we see, especially among interpreters?
Ewandro Well, interpreters are only afraid of one thing, and that is not having work or being pushed out of the system, and then they become obsolete. A second fear is that because technology is involved, they are no longer in control of how they are sounding, how the delivery is getting on the other end, and so on, so they might fear they might be held accountable for glitches in the system, and then it’s their reputation on the line. So what we’re doing is making sure that we control all the variables that are controllable to make sure the interpreter is not going to be held accountable for things beyond his or her control. But also, start giving interpreters the realization that we’re not here to replace them, if anything we’re here to offer them more opportunities of work. This is not new.

At the Nuremburg trials in 1945, interpreters back then opposed fiercely to the system of simultaneous interpretation that was being introduced. They said it cannot be done, it can drive an interpreter crazy, and the shifts are not right, or whatever. They showed all sorts of resistance because they felt they were being pushed out of the room. Whoever did it were students coming out of Geneva back then, because they didn’t know better. They said “Okay, let’s give it a try and see if it works.”

And the same is happening today. Interpreters who are not out there are trying it and making it work, and the others will come in too when they realize that number one, it doesn’t take us out of the market; and number two, it’s safer in-house.
Michael What was the justification at the Nuremburg trials to put the interpreters remote?
Renato It was the first time that it was done.
Ewandro Well, that’s an interesting story because it was the first time that the civilized world was bringing to justice anybody accused of war crimes. There wasn’t legislation in place for that that was in any precedent, and because the Germans were so good at propaganda, they feared that if the trial was protracted, if it went on for a long period of time, they might start reverting it to their advantage.
Michael Public position could sway during the midst of the trial.
Ewandro They were trying to make it go fast in order to put an end to it.
Michael Yes, the immediacy of the moment was justifying simultaneous translation.
Ewandro Goebbels, the German guy who was the number one at that point because Hitler was not around, he said something in the beginning that was very interesting. When he first tried simultaneous interpretation, he said, “wow, this is a wonderful system, but I realize it’s going to shorten my life.”
Michael Wow, wow! That’s a stark reality. So, what are the factors that are contributing now in the climate to have people be remote? Why are they being pushed out of the room?
Ewandro There might be a situation where you don’t find local interpreters where you are, and you would have to fly them from, say, Tokyo, at a huge cost just to be there for 45 minutes. We actually had that specific thing happen at a major event for one of the largest multilateral organizations. One person had to be flown from Tokyo to Lima for a 45-minute assignment. So, it’s three days of travel both ways plus a lot of per diem and so on and so forth. This is one of the justifications. But, what Kudo does is not just allow interpreters to be remote, but anybody could be anywhere. So, that guy who couldn’t get on the plane, that guy now can present remotely and half of the crowd could be in the room, but the other half could be anywhere in the world. So, it expands your audience.
Michael Is it a misconception that just because you’re in a global city, there’s an interpreter available in the language pair you need?
Ewandro Depends on the city and depends on the language. Sao Paulo is a major hub, but it would be very hard to find, for example, some languages that are not typical of that region. Or if you do find the language, that person is not an interpreter.
Michael This is a parallel we see with translation all the time: clients want to have someone come onsite to do, say, a secure, very private, confidential information translation, and because you’re in a global city, they say, “oh just go find some translators that are there.” And you’re like, “well, there are two people in the city that speak the language and neither of them translate.” And so there’s a misconception from the buyer sometimes, so these remote tools allow business that couldn’t happen otherwise.
Renato We tend to look at the business, but language is a human right. You can think of situations of people in deprivation of liberty, somebody that is arrested for some reason, and they cannot be interviewed, processed, because they don’t understand the language, they don’t have access to, let’s say an Igbo interpreter in California. Remote interpreting allows that, but it brings different challenges.

This is a challenge that happens because you have a dominant language with an over-supply of interpreters. It’s the same thing with translation. So, you will have an over-supply of Spanish, Chinese, French, German interpreters, so they want to protect their market. And there is a lack of minor Asian languages, indigenous languages, that also need interpretation, but there are fewer of these people. We were talking about Iceland in the World Cup. There are 300,000 people in Iceland. How many of them are interpreters? But, imagine a situation of an Icelandic citizen or a K’iche speaker in an emergency situation. It doesn’t need to be legal, it could be health. And remote interpretation, video remote interpretation, also allows this type of situation to be solved. Do you have any real-life cases to share with us, Ewandro?
Ewandro I do actually. One of our partners in Santiago de Chile has already set up a studio. It’s a Kudo studio. And they’re now in conversations with the Chilean government to do what you just mentioned. So, they need to interview people who are being accused of crimes. And Chile have what they call Fiscalías all over the place. And they are looking for a solution to allow them to very quickly, within 30 minutes, find an interpreter anywhere in the world who could connect through a platform and provide 30 minutes of interpretation in a critical situation where they need that person heard.

You can only attain that if you have a large enough network of studios spread throughout the world using the same platform, where the partner in Chile can quickly network with anybody else—say, in Bangkok or elsewhere—and bring in the talent that you need fast enough in order to bridge that gap.

A Kudo studio is a dedicated set of booths, interpretation booths, or a space where you divide the room up in cubicles. You basically now have a place where the interpreters, instead of working from home, can walk into that little hub. They sit in a booth, they share the booth with a colleague, and everything in front of you has been prepared before you get there: connectivity is there, redundancy is there, the right hardware is there. But from there, you can now service meetings anywhere in the world.

Now, the Chilean guy who has a studio, has two or three booths there, and mostly talent in Spanish and English and French. But if all of a sudden he needs Creole or if he needs Igbo, there will be somebody elsewhere in the world who is part of the same network. So there’s another studio with the same setup where an interpreter can walk in and do the job from there as part of a global team.

We have ten partners out there already in Ecuador and Chile and three cities in the US. We’re expanding now to Macau in China, so this is already happening and this is growing. And this is something we do through the LSPs. We want to empower the LSPs to do what they do best.
Renato You’re creating opportunity for the local interpreters, too.
Ewandro And the local companies as well. So we’re increasing everybody’s reach. That’s the way we look at it. Now, going back to an old saying by Bill Wood, who is a household name in this market, “interpreters are never going to be replaced by technology, but they’re going to be replaced by interpreters who use technology.” And that goes for all of us, not just interpreters.
Renato Ewandro, this is as usual a fantastic conversation. Is there anything that we forgot to ask you?
Ewandro We’re very proud of being Kudo—that is, a very interpreter-centric platform. I know of many of my colleagues who are still a bit reluctant. They don’t want to give it a try. They are afraid. We hold demos every week just to get them acquainted with the platform. We also have an online course that they can take. It takes two hours for them to get acquainted and “certified” in the use of Kudo. When they try that—and they can do this online certification on Kudoway.com—they start having a totally different understanding, and the fear starts to be pushed away. So, we would love to continue to build those bridges with the interpreting community.
Renato Ewandro, thank you very much for joining us. Before we close, Michael, one of the things that I am very impressed about, this type of technology, is that when we talk about remote interpreting, we tend to think about the remote interpreter. But, the beauty of this technology that allows everybody to be remote, and maybe the interpreters are all onsite, but one of the participants or two of the participants are remote because of travel issues, weather, illness or whatever it is. So, it allows even major events to happen with communication being enabled by interpretation.
Ewandro That’s why we don’t like calling it remote interpretation. Because, on occasion, interpreters will be onsite. So it’s a multilingual, cloud-based collaboration tool. If everybody wants to be in the same room, and they can all be in the same room, all the better.

Thank you very much.

End of conversation

Ewandro Magalhães

Ewandro is the VP of Kudo, a cloud-based multilingual platform for collaboration that improves the way people meet and collaborate over distances and across languages. He began his career as a conference interpreter, becoming a chief interpreter in the United Nations system. He’s also a published author and has given popular TED talks.

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