I was able to participate in an online training for court interpreters to learn the latest in technology for remote interpreting. They went into great depth about equipment, brand names, and the best systems for interpreting with maximum sound quality and least disturbance. All good information, culled from a pool of professional interpreters and their wealth of experience and knowledge. But the best takeaway for me was not the technical information. It was the philosophical idea of the “flexible purist” – the person who for all her idealism must stay flexible in order to survive. Letting go of the “best practices under ideal conditions” model and accepting “best (and new) practices under these circumstances” is not easy for all of us. And by all of us, I mean me.

For courts, transitioning from our “in-person is required” to trying to avoid being in the same room with others in order to save lives – in a patchwork of independent courts with a variety of equipment – was a leap of faith and a need for technology that confounded many of us. It only grew worse as the weeks and months of courts being mostly shut down dragged on. With cautious re-openings, and most court interpreters working from home, faulty equipment and new and untried applications have added to our transition woes.

Half a year into the pandemic, the idea that interpreters can work from home with high quality equipment, and avoid being vectors for infection throughout the court system, has gained traction and acceptance. Yet some of the technology bugs remain. An added challenge is that court contractors routinely interface with dozens of courts large and small (and deal with each court’s chosen modalities, applications, and anomalies). There is still a lot of confusion about what to buy, what platforms to learn and sign up for, whether to use laptop, desktop, or something else. Lots of us are scrambling. In the webinar, they offered a quote that interpreters will not be replaced by technology, but by other interpreters who are better at technology.

I was surprised to have one of the speakers present at length about preferred equipment, home office setups, and other specifics without the use of any visuals. Then I looked down at the questions section button, and saw there were suddenly 37 outstanding questions. The off-screen co-presenter popped onto the screen and let the the person presenting know that she was not sharing her screen. It was refreshing to have expert speakers on technology face an issue with technology, and they were able to go back and give us a quick look at the slides we had missed.

During a demonstration of several applications, we were shown a sample of remote conference interpreting. There was a small set of languages to click on to hear a sample of live interpreting into those languages. And there was an OFF button for listeners who wanted to hear the actual speaker. As I clicked between languages, I noted that the Spanish button brought up a Mandarin interpreter, and several lines were silent. Finally, our presenter announced, “The buttons are mixed up. For those who are asking how to listen to Spanish, it is somehow the OFF button!”

With a large crowd, participants were neither visible nor audible, but I imagine we shared – remotely – a bit of relieved and gentle laughter that even experts can have their technical glitches. We are all still learning, and it is likely to get easier as we have more practice, says this flexible purist in training.