Inttranews Special Report - Babels
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Like any global conference,
the World Social Forum which took place in Porto Alegre,
Brazil, on January 26-31, could not have taken place
without interpreters and translators – but in this
case, all 550 of them were volunteers, organised by
Inttranews decided to find out more about what the
organisation does and why.
Inttranews: Could you explain when,
how, and by whom Babels was first set up?
Babels was first launched at the first European Social
Forum in Florence, Italy, in 2002. Activists following
the social fora process realised there was an important
need for languages and managed to pull together a
group of volunteer translators/interpreters to assist
with the needs of the European Social Forum.
Inttranews: How is it organised?
Babels is a loose network of volunteer translators
and interpreters from all over the world who connect
via email. there is no fixed structure. Babelians
can in turn be coordinators, interpreters or translators,
according to the needs and to their interests. For
each forum, a group of Babelians starts organizing
the various processes (selection of interpreters,
lodging, travel etc) through email (or personally,
if there is a group of Babelians in the city where
the event will take place), then get together a little
before the event to wrap things up.
Inttranews: Do you receive funding
of any kind?
No, we don't receive any funding other than from the
organisers of events we are participating in. The
money we receive is entirely used for enabling interpreters
and translators to be present at these events.
Inttranews: How many interpreters
and translators work with you?
Volunteers are selected from a pool of 9,000 registered
Inttranews: How do you organise
your interpreters and translators?
There is no organization in the formal sense of the
word. Selected volunteers are informed by email, and
accept or not the invitation. In ESFs, national Babels
co-ordinations have been responsible for selecting
interpreters in "their" language. Between
ESFs, there is no fixed organisation, but in the run-up
to an ESF, the Babels co-ordination in the host country
is responsible for liaising with the organisers, while
in correspondence with other Babels co-ordinations
Inttranews: Are all of your interpreters
and translators volunteers, and who pays their costs
(travel, accommodation etc.)?
All translators, interpreters and coordinators are
volunteer. The social forum process finances their
travel, accommodation and food during the social fora.
Inttranews: Do you apply any qualification
criteria to join Babels as an interpreter or translator,
and if so, what are they?
Each coordination working in different countries or
for various events (for example, Babels-uk, Babels-it,
etc.) has different ways of selecting interpreters.
Each volunteer may register with Babels on the website,
and choose his/her level: first experience, occasional,
experienced or professional. The criteria for choosing
the level are explained on the Babels’ website. Then
each coordination is free to select the interpreters
they want to work with.
Inttranews: Into how many languages
can you provide translation and/or interpreting services?
Babels does not provide services. Babels is one of
the political actors of the social forum process and
is working hand in hand with it. See charter and description
of Babels on the website. That said, Babels works
with as many languages as possible, depending on the
requests and needs of the forum’s participants. There
has been a recent effort in increasing numbers of
interpreters for indigenous languages, and other languages
usually forgotten. The goal is to enable each participant
of a social forum express his or herself in his or
her own native language. At the 2003 ESF in Paris,
there were 5 "official" languages and a
number of supplementary languages, but at the 2004
ESF in London, the concept of official language was
removed and interpretation was available in 17 different
Inttranews: Do you only work with
oral interpreters, or do you provide sign language
Babels also works with sign language interpreters
Inttranews: At Porto Alegre, a
special transmission system was used to relay the
translations. Could you describe how it works?
NOMAD: please check Nomad’s website
www.apo33.org/babels [Editor’s note: see the Inttranews
articles on 01.02.05 and18.02.05 entitled “ Nomad
Interpretation Free Tool (NIFT)”, and on “ Alternative
translation networks: TARG” on 18.02.05]
Inttranews: Apart from Porto Alegre,
where else does Babels provide its services?
Again, Babels does not “provide services”; we are
a volunteer network, and a political actor at the
Social Fora. Babels has worked with the social fora
since the European Social Forum in florence in 2002.
The network then worked at the European Social Forum
in Paris (2003) and London (october 2004), the World
Social Forum in Mumbai (January 2004), the Americas
Social Forum in Quito, Ecuador, (July 2004) and the
World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (2005)
Inttranews: Do you have to choose
between sites for your support, and if so, on what
criteria do you base your decisions?
Babels is involved with social fora only and other
projects that are consistent with the principles of
the WSF and are in line with the Babels charter
Inttranews: What are the main difficulties
you have to face, and how do you try to overcome them?
Managing a horizontal, non-hierarchical and multicultural
network is one of our challenges. It can also be difficult
to get organised by email, especially given that everyone
is a volunteer and has other jobs to do! ;-) We also
permanently struggle to be recognised as a political
actor of the Social Fora—and not a service—, and in
that way hope to raise awareness of the political
importance of languages.
Inttranews: In what ways could
the international translation community help you?
Everyone is welcome to register on Babels’ database!
Inttranews: Is there any other
subject about the language industry that you feel
is of particular importance? If so, what is it?
A lot of interpreters working with Babels really enjoy
connecting with people who work for social causes,
and who would usually have no chance of understanding
each other. Many interpreters realise that working
at a social forum is hugely different from working
in the commercial sector, for the social fora’s conferences
and seminars deal with human life and a promotion
of welfare for all. For many professional interpreters
who volunteer with Babels, it is a way of contributing
to the movement with the skills that they normally
usually apply in the business world..
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