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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 Babels ( 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 members.

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 languages

Inttranews: Do you only work with oral interpreters, or do you provide sign language as well?
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 [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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