The million

Challenges sometimes turn out as unpredictable adventures, and A Word In Your Ear has certainly done that. When I started this blog no-one thought the idea was worth a cent. “Interpretation is not an interesting subject”, they said, much less on social networks; my friends told me the whole subject would be exhausted in three videos. So it didn’t look good. But I am persistent and I have clear ideas, and one idea I had was that, with a good format, regular publication and careful control over the quality of content, the project could work out — and so it has. That is how we have reached a million hits on Youtube. If you added in visits to my other sites the million would have been reached long ago, but Youtube is what counts because Youtube is where everything started. When I set the site up I remember joking that when it reached a million visits I would close it down — but could I really?

To answer that question you have to take stock. Has it been worthwhile ?  Has it worked as expected ? Has it been easy or difficult ? Have there been more triumphs than setbacks ? The answer to these, and the thousand other questions I could ask, is yes. Yes, barring the odd disappointment, it’s been worthwhile. This project has probably been the most difficult challenge I have ever set myself, and it has been the most enriching one in all senses ; it has allowed me to work with the best professionals, talk to interesting people, visit exclusive places and learn a lot from all of them.

A Word In Your Ear has allowed me to enjoy myself and feel useful. For someone like me who believes in sharing, it has been really rewarding to make conference interpreting known through its practitioners, to bring them into the global community and to get our job better-known and more respected and valued.

Reaching the million has taken consistent work and lots of imagination, because regularly finding topics in an apparently dry subject was never easy. It was crucial for me to be able to call on the creativity and generosity of all the great professionals who have confided in me. Without their trust, [their] putting themselves in my hands to be filmed — particularly at the beginning, when the potential of video was not yet so clear — none of this would have been possible. They have shown the generosity of the great as against the meanness of the mediocrities who try to hold you back, to stop you growing and singling yourself out.

So thanks to all those who have taught or helped me, especially Dick Fleming, Claude Durand, Paco Hidalgo, Alan Rodger, Renée Van Hoof-Haferkamp, Peter Sand, Alexander Drechsel, Anne Marie Widlund-Fantini, Christopher Thiéry, Xema Sainz, Neil Munro, Javier Saseta, Natalia Sánchez, Cyril Flerov, Barry Olsen, Matthew Perret, Anne Ford and Andy Gillies.

And of course thanks to all of you, from Bolivia to Yemen, from the USA to Thailand, thanks for having followed so faithfully from all over the world. If my videos have been useful to you, if they have allowed you to know us better, to understand our work, that is thanks enough for me.

Yes, years have passed and a lot of things have happened since A Word In Your Ear was set up, but it has all been a positive adventure, and I don’t think I can carry out my threat; yes, we have reached a million hits, but no, I couldn’t any more do without what the project means and has meant to me.


Intérprete 4.0

Happy Summer 2016!

La interpretación de conferencias está rodeada de cierta nostalgia; como toda disciplina moderna cuyos orígenes se remontan a un puñado de generaciones, tiende a obsesionarse con su pasado, con aquellos momentos históricos en los que el intérprete fue clave.

Hoy en día muchos profesionales siguen aferrados a ese pasado, tendiendo a olvidar el medio siglo que ha pasado desde entonces. Todo ello a pesar de que ya no se hace política como entonces y ni líderes ni necesidades son iguales. La interpretación de conferencias se ha profesionalizado: más lenguas, más foros, más escuelas de interpretación, más tecnología, más de todo. Ha llovido mucho, y no a gusto de todos, desde Nuremberg.

Estos nuevos tiempos plantean necesariamente un examen de la profesión porque los intérpretes, formados para trabajar bajo un alto grado de presión, y con mayor nivel de exigencia, tienen difícil encaje fuera de su entorno laboral natural. Por ello, hablar de presente, y mucho más de futuro, resulta difícil pero prioritario. ¿Ha muerto la interpretación? ¿Existe un futuro? ¿Para qué estudiar esta disciplina en la actualidad? Estas son algunas de las preguntas que ahora flotan en el ambiente porque nadie pensó que este futuro laboral llegaría tan rápido. Y sí, ese futuro ha llegado para muchos mercados marcados por la crisis, el intrusismo, la precariedad, el exceso de profesionales capacitados y cualificados o la muerte del multilingüismo entre otros males.

Por eso es necesario plantearse las preguntas existenciales: ¿hay futuro?, y de ser así, ¿para quién?. No creo que esa pregunta tenga una única respuesta, los perfiles, caracteres, destrezas personales o espíritu empresarial marcarán la diferencia, pero sí creo que hay futuro para la interpretación de conferencias, un futuro diferente, eso sí, en el que cada uno tendrá que jugar todas sus bazas y diversificar. Sólo así el mercado, cada vez más dinámico, flexible y competitivo, nos aceptará.

La clave de esa diversificación a mi entender está en atreverse a “pensar diferente”, a ser creativo utilizando todas las herramientas que ya dominamos y que hoy, en un mundo marcado por la comunicación y la tecnología, son fundamentales. Perseverar, probar y fracasar, probar y acertar son la clave. Pretender mantener las fórmulas que funcionaban hace décadas y no adelantarnos a los cambios, intuyéndolos, viendo las necesidades que no paran de surgir, sólo llevará a la frustración y el fracaso. Todos podemos reorientar nuestras carreras con salidas tan, o más, gratificantes que nuestro trabajo actual, al que pueden sumarse sin que este se pierda. Ser un intérprete 4.0.

Si, por tanto, existe un futuro, pendiente de una reorientación profesional, ¿podemos decir lo mismo de las escuelas de interpretación? Una vez más la respuesta depende de las expectativas. Hoy en día ninguna formación asegura el puesto de trabajo inmediato, en eso los alumnos de interpretación no son diferentes a los de arquitectura o filosofía, por ejemplo, y esas facultades están tan llenas como las nuestras. Probablemente, la clave está en los alumnos de hoy, mucho mejor informados y versátiles que sus predecesores, alumnos que escogen sus estudios por gustos o intereses personales, a sabiendas de cuál será el mercado laboral que encontrarán. Estudian lo que les llena a pesar de ser conscientes del futuro profesional incierto que les espera. Es el “flechazo”, o el reto intelectual, lo que les mueve. Disfrutan, y sufren, con lo que estudian porque la satisfacción de una consecutiva bien hecha, en el entorno laboral o académico, sigue siendo tan gratificante hoy como hace cuarenta años. El mercado, y lo que traiga, es algo que sólo se plantea más adelante.

Quizá ese sea el mejor enfoque, el disfrutar de lo que hacemos mientras lo hacemos porque así es como surgen las ideas, y por ende las oportunidades. No nos dejemos atenazar por un futuro que siempre será incierto y atrevámonos a probar, y probar.


SCICtrain 3

This year was a very special year for the annual SCIC Universities Conference, as we were celebrating its 20th edition!  The title of the conference was

Captura de pantalla 2016-03-02 a las 10.28.57

The conference aimed to address the fact that both the worlds of interpreting and teaching are going through big changes, and that we therefore need to keep up with the (new, modern) times. Besides the big 20th birthday cake and celebrations, there were presentations from SCIC representatives as well as from trainers from around Europe and one from a colleague from DG INTE. The focus of these presentations was how we can best make use of blended learning to help students to become successful professional interpreters; one in particular focussed on how SCICtrain can be used as a teaching tool to supplement our traditional on-site assistance.

SCICtrain was launched in 2014 as a virtual video library to provide students and others interested in a career in interpreting with practical examples of conference interpreting. We wanted to give a clear and simple explanation of the full extent of the intellectual process at work when interpreting, without concealing the complexity and demanding requirements of the job. SCICtrain is part of our SCICcloud Project – a virtual store of information on our Virtual Classes and other e-learning material, such as the Speech Repository and Podcasts. We see it as an important element in our reflections on future e-learning projects, as currently being discussed by our e-learning think tank, and as announced at the conference.

Thanks to the expertise of our ACI colleague, Lourdes de Rioja, we are now able to unveil the 3rd edition of SCICtrain. A further 35 video clips have been added, bringing the total number up to over 100 (116 to be exact). A lot of time, effort and resources have gone into making this impressive library which includes a whole range of different kinds of clips: for example ‘talking-heads’ on what interpreting is all about, or on the importance of being able to prioritize information or manage stress; interviews about what it is really like to freelance for SCIC; mock tests to show students what to expect and of course demonstrations of professional-level consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.

New languages have been added (there are demonstrations of English into Portuguese in both modes and English into Dutch in both modes), as well as further videos about interpreting into a B- language. The structure of the library has also changed slightly, so you will now find the following categories:

– About SCICtrain and SCIC (6 videos)

– What is interpretation? (6 videos)

– Learning to interpret (12 videos)

– Consecutive interpretation (5 ‘theory-based’ videos and 27 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Simultaneous interpretation (3 ‘theory-based’ videos and 27 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Retour/B-language (5 ‘theory-based’ videos and 12 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Tests (4 videos)

– Working as an interpreter (8 videos)

We hope that with the new videos and the new structure, SCICtrain will be even more useful for both trainers and students.

Many thanks to all the SCIC interpreters who have been involved with the project, and to Lourdes de Rioja.

False Friends

English is the least Germanic of the Germanic languages; about half its vocabulary is of Latin origin. Logically enough, when we come across one of these English words with a Latin root, we tend to think that it means the same as its Spanish equivalent, and usually we are right. But some of them deceive; their similarity of form conceals a difference of meaning. These are known as false friends, and they are the subject of this dictionary.

Not all false friends are equally false. Some are always false, like deception, which never means decepción, but engaño. Others are sometimes false, like platform, which can mean andén as well as plataforma. This dictionary distinguishes them typographically: the correct Spanish equivalent is printed in bold and the sometimes but not always correct one in bold italic, while the always wrong is in italic.

Nor do all false friends lead equally to confusion. The biggest group of false friends are those whose meanings have diverged from a common etymological base, either Latin, French, Greek, Germanic or other, but there are many word-pairs of quite different origins which have ended up looking similar through pure chance. In such cases as agape, ailment, arras, can, castor, condo, mate, mole, pan, pie, rape and target no confusion with the Spanish homonyms is possible, so they have been excluded. They may well be amusing wordplays but putting them in the list would not contribute to the practical purpose of this compilation, which is explained below.

For the same reason words have been excluded which may be identical or similar in form but belong to different grammatical categories in Spanish and English, so that in practice there is no risk of confusion. In the sentence he defected to the enemy it is clear, even to a reader who does not know that to defect means desertar, that defected cannot mean defecto, since one is a verb and the other a noun. Further examples are to exact, to humour, to impair and to malign, whose putative Spanish false friends would be nouns or adjectives and have therefore been left out. On the other hand noun-adjective pairs like aerial, brief and cabal have been included, because the change between one category and the other is so often compatible with translation.

I also need to refer to what I call lost battles. These are Spanish words whose false English friends have taken them over altogether. Doméstico, according to the Spanish Academy’s Dictionary, means associated with house or home, not, like English domestic, national or internal (as against international). But the latter sense is now so widely given to doméstico that its official acceptance can only be a matter of time. The same is happening with severo, which as well as its traditional meaning of rigorous in enforcing the law or inflicting punishment is being used more and more, under the influence of English severe, as a synonym of grave. Another example is santuario, which has acquired, in addition to its religious sense, the meaning of asylum, refuge, nature reserve, taken from sanctuary. And one last example: secuela is now used to mean continuation or part two of films or television series, under the influence of sequel. It still sets my teeth on edge to read of vuelos domésticos, lesiones severas, un santuario para aves rapaces or la secuela de Terminator, but the fact is that widespread use over time usually converts improper usage into a new standard.

This is not a dictionary of English, or of Spanish usage. Its aim is more modest and limited: simply to draw attention, or at least to encourage doubt, and the reflex of not assuming that two similar words in different languages must have the same meaning. I have therefore tried to make it clear and concise, without abbreviations, examples or long explanations, so that each entry can be taken in at a glance.

There are two ways to search this dictionary: by word or by text, through a template that detects possible false friends in an English text. Its online format, open and free of charge, allows interactivity, with users able to make suggestions and criticisms which can be included, where appropriate, in the dictionary.

It only remains to me to thank Lourdes de Rioja for her work as publisher, producer and designer, and Alan Rodger for checking the English lexicon and translating the introduction. Without their ideas, contributions, energy, support and, above all, patience with the author, this fruit of my labours would very likely have finished up at the back of a drawer.

Francisco Hidalgo & Lourdes De Rioja.

SCICtrain 2

The 19th Annual SCIC-Universities Conference took place in Brussels on 26th and 27th March 2015 on the theme “(Re-)Making connections”. The world of Interpreting is evolving and all of us, universities and institutional employers alike, must adapt to new circumstances and user requirements by blending the use of new technologies with more traditional ways of teaching. We should aim to be at the forefront of changes in the educational approach, ensuring quality of content and accessibility so that our students have the opportunity to become successful professionals.

In this context, the second phase of our SCICtrain Project, which is available to the public after the Conference, is launched for the following purpose: to make SCIC’s knowledge and expertise available to interpreting students via a method that is used more frequently nowadays –  video-clips. Let’s remind ourselves what SCICtrain is about. It started in March 2014 as a virtual video library to provide students and others interested in a career in interpreting with practical examples of conference interpreting. We wanted to give a clear and simple explanation of the full extent of the intellectual process at work when interpreting, without concealing the complexity and demanding requirements of the job. SCICtrain is part of our SCICcloud Project – a virtual store of information on our Virtual Classes and other e-learning material, such as the Speech Repository and Podcasts. We have also included a collection of videos on how to prepare for meetings with documents, “booth manners”, myths about tests, the pleasure of interpreting and other such subjects. These have been incorporated into the different sections/shelves of our virtual library.


Javier Hernandez Saseta, Head of unit “Multilingualism and interpreter training support”, DG SCIC, European Commission and Lourdes De Rioja.

 In addition, as we wanted this platform to be multilingual, amongstthe new series of video clips, which are between 5 and 20 minutes long, we included interpretation demonstrations (both consecutive and simultaneous) into more languages (i.e. French, German, Italian and Spanish) as well as ones illustrating retour (from Latvian and Polish into English).

Cooperation with our ACI colleague, Lourdes de Rioja, on the first phase of SCICtrain has been extremely fruitful. We have continued to work together on the second phase in order to produce something new, while keeping the same format and principles which our users have been so positive about.

Javier Hernandez Saseta, Head of unit “Multilingualism and interpreter training support”, DG INTERPRETATION, SCIC, EUROPEAN COMMISSION.