AIIC Staff Interpreters: Reaching out, moving on together

During the 2015 AIIC Assembly week, staff interpreters from around the world discussed conditions in organizations and met with freelance colleagues to examine common challenges.

In the lead-up to the 36th AIIC Assembly in Addis Ababa, the AIIC Staff Interpreters Committee (SIC/CdP) came together for its yearly meeting under the adept stewardship of its outgoing Chair, David Sawyer. The guiding principles of his 3-year tenure—outreach, transparency, growth—culminated in the first ever joint meeting with AIIC's Private Market Sector (PRIMS) and an outreach session open to the entire community of interpreters.

The committee has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, manifested by more collaboration with the technical committee, PRIMS, and other groups within the association. There is unanimous consensus to maintain this trend and great enthusiasm for coordinating once again with the recently reconstituted Standing Committee of the Agreement Sector (SCAS).



The committee continues to compile information on testing parameters and methods used to screen candidates applying for staff positions. The use of video rather than a live speech is becoming more common, especially to avoid accusations of unfair treatment, and SIC/CdP members voiced the pros and cons of this approach. Work continues on designing a survey to gain as complete a view as possible of testing practices across the world.

Working conditions

Interpretation working hours, which constitute working sessions in some but not all institutions, can be calculated in different ways by various employers. Some members noted a creeping increase in working hours. Vigilance must be exercised to make sure that the length of working sessions is proportionately calibrated to reflect this.

Non-interpreting hours in the workplace often equate to preparation time. Adequate consideration must be given to assuring that staff interpreters can devote part of their scheduled time to this essential task. In some workplaces, sessions may end before the end of the workday per se; remaining hours should and could be used for preparation. However, after a full day of interpreting it is not always possible. More often than not, staff interpreters spend some time on preparation outside of regular business hours and to the extent possible, seek to offset it through some form of compensatory time. Hence there is a need to fairly monitor working hours (or working sessions) to strike a balance.

Interpreters at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT) in particular have to contend with a problem that affects readiness: incredibly long periods during which they are not called upon to interpret or are assigned to translation and/or translation-related duties. This stems from the normal phases of a judicial process, and suggestions to mitigate long absences from the booth are peer-review, interpretation training and self-training.

Members also discussed travel and working conditions when on mission, an issue with some staff interpreters (at UN Nairobi for instance) who travel a great deal. Questions were raised on how to address air travel thresholds and physical conditions that would be conducive to maintaining optimal working conditions whilst on mission. Mission heads are responsible for ensuring overall execution of a conference and must be well versed in the needs of interpreters, as well as booth, sound and equipment requirements. Missions away from HQ can entail long-distance travel, refusing one is not usually a viable option, and active work is always preferred by all parties. It is essential that officials making decisions know standard requirements.

There is also a growing trend to integrate interpreting services into a general services division, a practice that has ramifications. Being head of an interpretation service involves much administrative work, and interpreters are not always interested as, unsurprisingly, they prefer to interpret! However, having an experienced interpreter in such a position will make a difference in how management registers and responds to interpreters' needs.

Distance interpreting

Andrew Constable (International Criminal Court) updated the Committee on the distance interpreting project. The first key task was to agree on clear definitions to cover the different types of distance interpreting. Feedback has been positive: the definitions have been well received by the AIIC ISO delegation as well as an informal committee on technologies and interpretation within the European Commission. An online survey on distance interpreting was sent around to members of the SIC/CdP; members not yet having replied were encouraged to do so. The next phase of the survey will involve expanding it to freelancers in conjunction with PRIMS.

Joint meeting

The theme of unity was carried over to day two when the SIC/CdP held its first ever joint meeting with the Private Market Sector (PRIMS). Both groups received an update on Council business and then discussed the status of AIIC's website. There was also a call to make sure AIIC was properly represented among Professional Conference Organizers (PCOs).

Distance interpreting was examined within a context of collaboration among AIIC groups and with institutional initiatives. Andrew Constable presented the distance interpreting survey project, drawing distinctions between teleconference interpreting (enables direct view of participants) and remote interpreting (no direct view of participants). Subsumed under these two categories are videoconference interpreting (VCI) and audioconference interpreting (ACI), as well as video remote interpreting (VRI) and audio remote interpreting (ARI).

Videoconference and video remote interpreting are both gaining ground in organisations, even if only in trial stage. Single screens, as opposed to multiple ones, are used, and the number of videoconferencing sessions still appears largely inferior to conventional conference sessions.

Whilst there are varying opinions on the rate of change at which videoconferencing is impacting the profession, there is a very broad and shared opinion that all forms of distance interpreting increase the level of stress and effort to do the job properly, relative to a face-to-face context, thereby increasing levels of fatigue. Audioconference interpreting and audio remote interpreting are deemed to introduce additional levels of difficulty. Results have also demonstrated that current video and audio set-ups do not provide for optimal quality of interpretation.

Many felt that when faced with such scenarios, interpreters would have to indicate the loss of quality to their audiences or cease interpreting outright, a far from desirable recourse for all involved. What is clear is that ICT technologies dramatically alter the conditions and standards which have applied to conventional interpretation: new conditions and standards must be determined, by those most knowledgeable and capable, to forge a future that will benefit the community of professional interpreters and those we serve.

Working together is of great benefit for all," were the words on which Andrew concluded his presentation, and that aptly sums up an especially important initiative that should remind us all of the true meaning and spirit of solidarity.

In January 2014, the plight of former ICC interpreters was brought to the forefront by the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). As the first Sango booths in the world, they joined the ICC to be trained as simultaneous court interpreters, providing French and Sango language services in the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the CAR, in a trial that started in November 2010 and ended in November 2013, at which point their contracts expired.

Civil War had broken out once again in the CAR, with one interpreter seeking asylum in Paris and another in Cameroon with his family. Those trapped in Bangui faced dire circumstances: looting, insecurity and major financial difficulties. Merely surviving was a feat. Interpreters at the ICC, in Africa and indeed around the world were shocked and prompted into action, setting up a fundraising effort. Donations were elicited so that our colleagues could withstand this period of instability, and eventually see beyond it. Expectations were exceeded, and interpreters donated to such an extent that the recipients can now begin re-building their lives, literally. Plank by plank, room by room, our colleagues can start re-building their dwellings that were so senselessly destroyed during the conflict. This was a profound example of what can be achieved through common effort and solidarity.

The PRIMS and SIC/CdP ended the joint session by receiving members from the Committee on Admissions and Language Classification (CACL) to discuss Assembly resolutions and amendments. One of the proposed changes was to require candidates to have at least one sponsor based in the same country as the applicant, a way of further vetting a candidate's ethical credentials. The second proposed change was a tightening of “C" language requirements. In a measure to ensure quality, an AIIC trademark, applications will henceforth be made in the form of language pairs, as recently announced here.


To close the two days of constructive talks, an outreach session brought together a diverse group of AIIC members and other interpreters to learn of developments in our respective institutions. Such collaboration is the best way to move forward together.

Staff Interpreters Committee 40th anniversary

At its next meeting in Paris later this year the committee will celebrate it's 40th anniversary. AIIC was founded by staff interpreters. The profession has flourished and AIIC unites all interpreters, both staff and freelancers. A historical overview, and tribute to its origins is a positive reinforcement of the direction in which it is headed. Preliminary topics to be discussed will be training, professional development and new technologies.

To read the full minutes of the meeting, download the document attached below.

Recommended citation format:
Staff Interpreters. "AIIC Staff Interpreters: Reaching out, moving on together". April 21, 2015. Accessed July 7, 2020. <>.

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