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Conference Interpreting in Québec and the Next Generation

4-Portrait Lauren Michaels
By Lauren Michaels, Certified Conference Interpreter

The majority of conference interpreters (as distinct from court interpreters and community interpreters) work as freelancers in major city centres, with Montreal and Québec City being the main ones in the province. This article will provide a brief overview on how to find work in the private and public sector in Québec, on professional development, the challenges facing the profession today, plus a few words of wisdom for new interpreters.

How to find work in the private and public sectors

Most work for freelancers comes from fellow interpreters, agencies, audiovisual companies or from clients directly. Maintaining an impeccable reputation, networking with colleagues and handing out business cards to potential clients (but not while on assignment when hired by someone else!) are the first steps to survival as a self-employed interpreter. It is also a good idea to make yourself known outside your city of residence for times when out-of-towners are looking for local interpreters.

Becoming a member of OTTIAQ and AIIC will contribute to your credibility and professionalism, add your name to an online directory, and give you the opportunity to benefit from and contribute to your professional community. Creating a profile on LinkedIn is an excellent way to get additional visibility and connect with clients and colleagues from around the world.

The Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau manages all interpretation services for parliamentary committees and conferences. To be on their roster, you must pass a rigorous accreditation exam. Not only is the Translation Bureau a great client, being accredited is an excellent feather in your cap in terms of credibility and competence.

The provincial and municipal governments also hire interpreters from time to time, but each has its own procurement process for professional services, so you need to contact them directly.   

Professional development

Once you finish your studies in conference interpreting, it can be tough to find opportunities to hone your skills. Sign up for AIIC’s Training and Professional Development Mailing List as well as OTTIAQ’s Newsletter to stay abreast of what’s being offered. Co>lab is a week-long peer-practice intensive for conference interpreters (inspired by the WISE Interpreting Workshops in Europe), and if you want a very demanding training experience, there is the Cambridge Conference Interpretation Course.

Self-teaching is also essential to expand your general knowledge and improve your technique. For the former, read newspapers in both English and French and magazines such as Maclean’s and The Economist, watch documentaries (the National Film Board is an excellent place to start for Canadian history) and read regularly (even fiction – the idea is to be exposed to different writing styles to activate your language resources so they’re easier to retrieve when you’re working). For the latter, you can speed read out loud (challenges your pronunciation and articulation), shadow in your second language (repeat after the speaker in real-time), paraphrase articles (say the same sentence using different words), sight translate (translate aloud as you read) and create lists of synonyms, collocations and idioms. It's also important to record yourself from time to time, either while on assignment (if it's not confidential, and with the client’s permission) or while practising at home, and then play the recording back and listen.

For Canadian politics, be sure to take advantage of CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel) and the House of Commons’ ParlVU and Senate ParlVU live streaming services to practice and listen to the interpretation! (The European Commission’s Speech Repository is also excellent.)

Challenges facing conference interpreters today

The biggest disruptive technologies in the industry right now are remote conference interpreting applications like Webswitcher, KUDO, Interprefy, Voiceboxer and Boostlingo, to name but a few. These applications offer exciting new possibilities that must be explored with an open mind while asking the right questions about working in safe conditions and upholding best practices. At the leading edge of research into these technologies and their impacts on the profession are the AIIC Technical and Health Committee and InterpretAmerica’s monthly column, the Tech-Savvy Interpreter.

Whether you work with proven or new technologies, protecting your hearing remains a crucial issue since interpreters are often exposed to the possibility of acoustic shock. A February 2019 CBC article is a vivid reminder of how important it is to safeguard our most valuable equipment – our ears! Following its publication, the Translation Bureau sent out hearing protection devices to all its freelancers. Getting your hearing checked by an audiologist once every year or two is also recommended. That way you will have a benchmark should an accident occur on the job.

A few words of advice to new conference interpreters

Starting out can be very intimidating. The best way to overcome this is to show colleagues that you work hard by coming to assignments prepared and on time (at least 20 minutes before start time), and to show clients that you are competent and that you care by speaking confidently and by following up with them.

Joining an association or starting an initiative that brings colleagues together are great ways to foster dialogue about working conditions and new technologies that are constantly evolving.

Is there a shortage of conference interpreters in Québec? It's difficult to have a bird’s-eye view of the entire market to be able to answer that question. It’s also important to note that interpreters often travel for work, so this mobility allows one market to fill in for another whenever possible, albeit at a higher cost to the client. Although it may feel as though there is a shortage during the busy fall and spring seasons, the University of Ottawa and York University at Glendon are producing at least a handful of trained interpreters each year, some of whom move to Québec. This means that at least a few new ones trickle in every year, and many seasoned interpreters are delighted to welcome them into the fold!

Lauren Michaels is a French ↔ English freelance conference interpreter in Montreal, certified by OTTIAQ and accredited by the Translation Bureau. She has been interpreting full-time since 2012 and has worked in Ottawa, Québec City and Montréal. Co-founder of co>lab and a mother of two.


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