XXI International Federation of Translators (FIT) World Congress
August 3-5, 2017 – Brisbane, Australia
By Marsel de Souza
Edited on October 24, 2017 to reflect the removal of a bad link.
Approximately 800 delegates from all four corners of the world convened in Brisbane – a city where nearly one‑third of the population is from overseas – for this memorable congress themed “Disruption and Diversification.”
The hottest topic related to Disruption in Translation and Interpretation (T&I) on the technology side was (unsurprisingly) the ever-closer relationship between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. On the human side, immigration was the most disruptive trend discussed throughout the congress.
Diversification was reflected in the plethora of topics covered in dozens of sessions that catered to a wide range of interests. In addition to a significant number of sessions on the usual topics in T&I, there were talks on interpreting in danger zones, indigenous and endangered languages, religious interpreting and more. There were also sessions focusing on the Australasian market.
During the welcome address, powerful statements were made by FIT President Henry Liu on technology and linguists, “Digitization loses context. We are the ones who can see the bigger picture,” and by Operating Committee Chair Tea Dietterich, “It’s not about knowledge transfer anymore – it’s about knowledge sharing.”
Aboriginal Interpreting at the Forefront in Australia
What struck me most about this FIT Congress was the number of engaging and passionate presentations. This was definitely the case for the first plenary session, a poignant talk by a group of Aboriginal interpreters from the Australian Aboriginal Interpreters Service, who decided to embrace the profession amid a number of challenges. These include attracting young talent to the profession and building interpreters’ confidence after years of oppression. Interpreting between English and Aboriginal languages is critical in Australia, particularly in the Northern Territory, to ensure access to justice and other public services. The linguistic issue is crucial in this region of the country, where English is the seventh language in some areas, or is not spoken at all. On top of this, communities are quite small, meaning that chances are the interpreter will be related to the people he/she serves. Overcoming these challenges is no simple task.
Another example of a captivating session was keynote speaker Professor Jemina Napier’s talk on the Sign Language Interpreting (SLI) profession. This was an inspiring and enlightening presentation delivered in a very original manner by the speaker: Prof. Napier used sign language during the entire session, with her own recorded interpreting heard on the loudspeakers. She provided an information‑packed overview of the history and geography of SLI, and convincingly busted a number of myths. Here are some interesting figures and facts:
- There are 138 sign languages around the world
- There are over 70,000,000 users of sign languages globally
- 80% of Sign Language Interpreters are female
- Estimated number of Sign Language Interpreters worldwide: 26,000 – 30,000 (by extrapolation)
- SLI roots are in Community, not in Conference Interpreting
- SLI pioneered the professionalization of Community Interpreting
- SLI played a vital role in developing an understanding of the interpreter’s role
A Call for Action: ISO Standards for the T&I Professions
A momentous panel discussion addressed the need to step up efforts to develop International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for the T&I professions. A valuable insight was that standards in the T&I market are evolving from the generalist to a more specialized level in order to reflect a more mature and demanding market. The panel provided an overview of the ISO standards that have already been published and those standards that are under development, and placed strong emphasis on the need for specialized experts to become involved in the creation of standards for our professions. Currently, there is not a sufficient number of T&I specialists engaged in the creation of such standards. So, here’s a call for action: participation is possible either through FIT or directly with ISO.
ISO/TC 37 is the technical committee in charge of standardizing the principles, methods and applications for terminology and language resources (please follow the relevant link at the bottom of this post for more information).
A thorough and altogether informative session presented by Dr. Glenn Flores provided plenty of glaring examples of the harmful—and at times fatal—effects of using amateur interpreters in medical settings both in the US and Australia.
According to Dr. Flores, surges in immigration in many countries result in language barriers due to the new arrivals’ limited proficiency in the dominant language. Hazards of using untrained interpreters include: omitting information about drug side effects; an increase of poor health outcomes due to errors; child interpreters tend to ignore embarrassing questions about bowel movements, menstruation, and other physical functions; key clinical information may be omitted or distorted.
The speaker presented real‑life cases of non-professional language services being used with disastrous consequences. He also discussed how professional services can help reduce costs and resource utilization. Dr. Flores additionally presented a detailed analysis of professional interpreter errors and their potential clinical effects. Finally, he drew a comparison of mistakes made by hospital interpreters, amateur interpreters, and what the outcomes were when no interpreter was used at all.
A riveting and eye‑opening keynote session delivered by journalist and anthropologist Dr. Sarah Kendzior was a sobering reminder that political power and language manipulation often go hand in hand. Dr. Kendzior spoke of the need to raise the profile of languages of limited diffusion in oppressive regimes.
To conclude, I am also very happy to report that The ATA Chronicle received the prize for Best Periodical at the FIT Prizes and Awards ceremony.
And now on to Varadero, Cuba, for the XXII FIT Congress in 2020!
For more information, visit:
- FIT – International Federation of Translators
- Australian Interpreting Service
- Sing Language Interpreter Training, Testing, and Accreditation: An International Comparison
- Errors in Medical Interpretation and Their Potential Clinical Consequences in Pediatric Encounters
- The Impact of Medical Interpreter Services on the Quality of Health Care: A Systematic Review (PDF)
- ISO/TC 37/SC 5 – Translation, interpreting and related technology
Marsel de Souza is a full-time interpreter and translator based in Brasilia, Brazil. He has a BA in English>Portuguese translation from the University of Brasilia and a certificate in advanced French studies from Alliance Française. He is an ATA-certified English>Portuguese translator and a member of AIIC and Abrates. He works primarily in Brasilia, and has extensive experience across Brazil and in France, South Korea, the UK, the USA, and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. Marsel strives to attend at least two T&I events per year, and has attended conferences and seminars in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, the UK, and the USA.
Image kindly provided by the author