At a time when online learning is more important than ever, Nathaniel Elcock talks to Alexander Drechsel and Josh Goldsmith from techforword.

This article was originally published in the ITI Bulletin. You can watch the full interview below.


Alex and Josh! Who are you, and what do you do?

Alex: I'm from Germany, but I've been living in Brussels for over 13 years. I'm a staff interpreter at the European Commission, and I’ve always been very interested in technology.

Josh: I’m from the USA, but now based in Geneva. I'm an EU- and UN-accredited conference interpreter and also a trainer and tech researcher. I've been a big tech geek for many years, and I do research to help promote the use of technology among language professionals.

So, what is techforword, and how did it get started?

Josh: We run a variety of courses for language professionals – including interpreters, translators, bloggers and writers. The aim is to empower language professionals through technology. It officially came into being in 2019.

Alex: I think the word ‘training’ sums it up pretty well. As with many things, we started small when we first met in 2014, and we’ve not looked back since! Josh and I have done many projects together since then, and when we decided it would make sense to formalise everything, we also looked to move more into on-demand courses. We still offer live on-site and tailored courses, but our current focus is on making all of the great content we've built over time available in an on-demand format.

Can you give us a flavour of the kinds of courses you offer?

Josh: We recently released “Speech recognition for interpreters,” and our course on ‘Sim-Consec’ interpreting will likely launch before this column is published. We’ve also offered courses and webinars on the use of tablets and mobile platforms, note-taking, terminology, speech to text, and audio and video for interpreters, to name a few. Artificial intelligence is something we have in the works, too, but we can’t let the cat fully out of the bag yet!

Do you think you can have too much technology in translation and interpreting? Can it sometimes be a hindrance?

Alex: You know, I sometimes hear that from colleagues, but I've always been very aware that people have different preferences, and some people just don't feel comfortable with tech. That's totally fine – people should use what works for them. We're not just doing tech for tech’s sake. I think we're trying to present interesting, useful tools, and teach colleagues how these tools can make work a little bit easier.

Josh: I'd add that there is not very much research on multimodality – having to work with different kinds of input. Technology certainly adds a source of input, so you have to learn to work with it to reduce the extra cognitive load. Admittedly, more work needs to be done on this to ensure that interpreters aren’t overwhelmed.

COVID-19 looks set to bring about permanent changes to the language service industry. What are your predictions about technological developments in the short to medium term?

Alex: I probably have a rather specific perspective because I work for a huge institution. In recent months, as we have slowly started to resume our ‘normal’ work, I’ve seen that delegates are very happy to be back in the same room again. They can make do with video conferences, but they are delighted to be back together, to be able to have those ‘side conversations’, and to gauge feedback in a way which is very difficult online. And they're also glad to have the interpreters back! So, it's not necessarily the case that everything will stay online because of COVID-19.

Josh: In some markets, remote may become more prevalent. It may also open up opportunities for new kinds of meetings; I think we'll definitely see more of that. However, I don't think the only technological change in our industry is tied to remote. I think there are huge technological innovations which may be overlooked, and I would encourage colleagues to think about how some tools might allow them to do their job better.

Do you have advice for any technophobes out there?

Josh: Yes! If something sounds as if it could be interesting, give it a shot! But there’s no obligation to use tech. At the end of each course, we usually say: ‘pick one thing that you want to focus on right now, and start there.’ I would share the same advice with those who are more hesitant to use technology.

Nathaniel Elcock runs Aardvark Language Services Ltd, and is also a lecturer in Interpreting and Translation at the University of Central Lancashire and an associate lecturer in Translation at the University of York