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  • Writer's pictureFang Sheng

TIP of Our Time: A Chronicle of the Toronto Interpreters Practice

Edited by: Ben Murphy and Sijin Xian


(This is a repost of my article for Yifeng, blog of the Chinese Language Division. American Translators Association. The original post is here: https://www.ata-divisions.org/CLD/chronicle-of-toronto-interpreters-practice/)


Photo provided by Toronto Interpreters Practice (TIP).

Working as an interpreter can be isolating. In this article, I explore how the Toronto Interpreters Practice, founded by a group of interpreting professionals in 2017, provides a valuable solution to the need for effective professional practice and a supportive community.


THE GENESIS OF TIP


Most of my fellow interpreters work as freelancers and/or on a project basis. And you know for a fact: interpreting is a lonely business. To receive professional-level training, you probably enroll in a university course or master’s program, where you get instructor guidance, peer support, and pro-level booths and equipment, of course. But those couple of years are probably the only time you can practice your trade with such discipline and group support. Upon graduation, you, with your newly acquired skillset, will face long periods of working alone with only your booth partner as your companion. And in the wake of the pandemic, the new “normal” of RSI—Remote Simultaneous Interpreting—has pretty much taken your booth partner, the only in-person interaction of your work, out of the picture. So how do you keep your skills sharp and also meet the very human need for connection with your professional community?


Several young interpreting professionals faced exactly this situation in 2017, when they had just graduated from the Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI) program of Glendon College, York University, in Toronto, Canada. Sian Gu, along with a few of her “equally unemployed new grads” Rony Gao, Luyi Yang and Luana Carvalho, started the Toronto Interpreters Practice (TIP) in the hope of helping fellow interpreters continue to perfect their craft.


ADAPTING TO CHANGE


TIP’s monthly workshops first started off in Glendon’s interpreting lab, which the MCI faculty kindly allowed them to use. Prior to March 2020 all of the practice sessions were in-person at the lab, where they used the computers and consoles in the booths. The pandemic changed the game: since March 2020 TIP has gone fully remote and has been running practice sessions exclusively on Zoom. They have never been back to the Glendon lab. Now, after six and a half years, TIP has gone beyond Toronto and enjoys a global reach of over 200 members in more than 20 countries, from Cologne, Germany to Rabat, Morocco, and from Argentina to Senegal (to name a few). Through the years, TIP has organized over 70 practice sessions, totaling more than 200 hours of quality booth time, and also provided and received peer support to and from more than 220 diligent colleagues who have joined.


The sessions nowadays are fully remote, and not “anchored” at any physical location. All team members have learned to be tech-savvy (a must for interpreters) and have integrated technology into the organization of the group and events. Practices are organized with Facebook Events, and sessions are held on Zoom, with meeting registration, glossaries and booth sign-up sheets shared via Google Drive. All of TIP’s documents (membership form, feedback guidelines, etc.) are digital, and the files are stored on its Google account, to which all the admins have access.


NURTURING A GLOBAL COMMUNITY


Participants not only practice interpreting and provide peer feedback, but also make speeches on different topics and in several different languages. Their coordinated practice sessions on Zoom are also uploaded to YouTube and made available for interpreters worldwide to practice with. TIP’s YouTube channel now has over 200 videos in seven different languages.


Luana, Luyi, Rony and Sian volunteer to administer different aspects of the group: Rony manages Zoom registration, reaches out to participants for speeches, moderates practice sessions, records speeches on Zoom and uploads them to YouTube. Sian moderates practice sessions, scouts for best practices from many other workshops and uses them to improve TIP’s sessions. She has also created a lot of the group’s guidelines, such as the feedback guidelines. Luana manages the tech side of Zoom workshops and keeps the membership list up to date. Luyi manages registration on Facebook, writes descriptions, and monitors chat during practices. All four also regularly contribute speeches for practice.


When asked what the biggest benefits of TIP are, Sian shares: “After leaving the structured comfort of formal interpretation training, there are very few avenues where you can experiment and fail safely.” And most importantly, it’s about “being part of a community … Interpreters are often freelancers, working alone or with only 1-2 other colleagues for a fleeting moment. We are often separated (literally by a booth) from the client too, delivering the service as if we did not exist. But we are also human beings, professionals who need a network, peer support, mentoring, and career development.” That’s why TIP puts great emphasis on creating a community, a safe space, where everyone participates actively, provides feedback openly and respectfully, and supports their peers sincerely.


SUCCESSES AND ASPIRATIONS


Through the past six and half years, the group has overcome various challenges: sometimes there were not enough speeches. Sometimes people had other priorities and couldn’t make the practice sessions. But the admins held on. The community thrived. One time a participant told them that they came to practice because their father was dying from cancer and they needed a distraction. That’s as good a reason as any to join a practice group.


Nowadays, over 70 practice events later, the biggest challenge that the group’s organizers face is that all are getting busier and busier with their careers! All four are volunteers but also busy professionals. Three of them are part-time instructors at the Glendon MCI, and they are all full-time staff or freelance interpreters. Compared to 6.5 years ago when they first started as wide-eyed grads with more time on their hands, much has changed in their professional and personal lives. Babies were born, Sian moved to a different time zone, accreditations were obtained, careers took flight.


But the community keeps going strong. Over the years TIP has developed a consistent process for managing the monthly practice sessions. It’s never easy, which is why it’s a miracle it still keeps going. The organizers are fueled by their desire to pay it forward and contribute to the wider community.


On October 12, 2023, TIP reached a milestone: the group’s organizers were invited by FIT North America to make a presentation about their initiative and achievements at the crown jewel of interpretation training, the acclaimed Middlebury Institute in Monterey, California.


When asked about future plans, they shared that they hope to keep the community going strong and to reach an even wider community of interpreters across the world. They also hope to build TIP’s own website to create even more professional connections and bonds.


SELECT TESTIMONIALS FROM TIP MEMBERS


TIP offers me the perfect opportunity to learn and/or update many key aspects of this interpreter journey of ours. My peers are a treasure. We give and receive highly constructive feedback, provide mutual support and exchange all kinds of tips and tricks of our profession.


–Camilo Villegas


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I’ve been practicing with TIP since 2018. TIP provides a valuable platform for fellow interpreters to connect, brush up skills and learn from each other. Every session focuses on a specific topic, and whether you come to practice or contribute a speech, you will leave with newly-grasped jargon and relevant information.


–Frances Gao


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I started joining the practice sessions onsite at the lab back in 2017 (I was doing year 2 at the time in Toronto), and it was love at first sight. It has helped me tremendously in facing some of my fears regarding conference interpretation, making new connections, and, in particular, enriching my knowledge of a diverse array of subjects!


–Olivia Ocana-Quintana


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It’s been a positive and fruitful experience. The sessions are well-organized and guided. I’ve benefited as a newer interpreter in being able to listen to other interpreters’ work and hear what techniques they use. It’s been a good way for me to have simultaneous interpreting experience as well. Overall, I find the TIP practice sessions highly helpful as a means of not only connecting with other colleagues, but also engaging in constructive feedback about how to face interpreting challenges, having the opportunity to learn about new topics, and improving my interpretation skills.


–Jacqueline O’Neill Huerta


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Excellent! Motivating; quality, well-intentioned feedback; impeccably organized.


–Julia Pich


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