Connecting and engaging in a landscape of practice

- " Is anyone going to the CIOL membership day tomorrow?"
-  "Me!"

This was a conversation I picked up on my phone as I was on my way to Borough market this morning. Students on the MA Conference Interpreting at London Met were chatting on their Facebook group and trying to figure out who intended to attend the event, who they could meet there. 

I am sure this has happened to you too. You feel like attending a networking event for interpreters but you worry: who will be there? What if I don't know anyone there? How do I engage in conversations with professionals when I am only an interpreting student? However, find someone that comes with you and all fear then disappears. You can't wait to go, you know it will be fun and fruitful. You suddenly believe in yourself and are open to a new adventure.

How do we transfer the safety of a 'friend' accompanying us to an event, to any opportunity that allows us to connect and engage in a landscape of practice (Wenger, 2015)?

But first things first: what is a landscape of practice? What is a landscape of practice for interpreters?

Imagine you finally travel to a part of the country you always wanted to go to but are not familiar with. There you are, looking around, observing, trying to make sense of what you see, anticipating where you may want to go next. You may be attracted by an inviting cafe where you can hear some music and see people there relaxing and chatting over some tea and scones. You may anticipate that tomorrow, you will explore the park where children are having fun with their parents. But then again, you may make a conscious decision that you will not go to the butcher's because you are vegetarian.

Mark Sofilas
To make these decisions, you engage all your senses; you need to observe and connect what is new to what you already know from experience. You may anticipate how much time you are going to spend in this new landscape of practice but you may also be aware of your constraints; for example, a tight budget that does not allow you to stay in a luxurious hotel.

But sometimes, when one is so familiar with a place, one tends to forget what has never been explored. It is not uncommon to develop a certain form of blindness to what we see every day.  This may be the case for the 'locals' evolving with ease in the landscape of practice. They may have become so familiar with their surroundings that they expect everything to stay the same. It then sometimes takes a visitor that is new to the surroundings and asks questions to rediscover a very familiar setting, reconnect with its values and generate a renewed interest for all.

Interpreters continuously travel through their own landscape of practice. Their landscape of practice may include some formal and informal features. Depending on their personal trajectory (Wenger, 2015), they may have engaged in their landscape of practice in their own personal way.

In the landscape of practice for interpreters, professional associations will be highly visible. They come across as organised structures. One tends to know the terms and conditions when joining in. There is a process to go through before being officially accepted as a member. This is what I would consider a fairly formal structure.

Now, let's move away from the formal and structured features of the landscape of practice. Let's turn around and look.... what do we see?

We may see interpreting colleagues making a habit of meeting after work. They form an informal gathering of professionals who enjoy relaxing and chatting over a drink. They may exchange views about their day, but then again they may not. They may chat about something that is completely different every time they meet. There is no agenda, they never talked about the importance of their group. However, if from one day to the next, a colleague is missing, questions are asked. Colleagues worry, they want to know more. An invisible link connects all colleagues together. Ask them what this link is and they may not know how to define it. Each colleague may explain what the group means in a completely different way, in a very personal way. But they all have something in common; they enjoy their informal gathering; it is important to them. From socialising and exchanging informally, they gain an insight in many aspects of their profession, their colleagues, they even generate new knowledge without always being aware of it.  This is why they keep on coming back.

There could be so many other features that are unique to the landscape of practice of interpreters... An interpreting assignment that lasts a few days in a specific venue, in a specific country. It may also be a university or a school where they regularly attend language classes or CPD (Continuous Professional Development) events. It does not have to be face to face... it can be chatting and interacting in a Facebook group or a Google Community. It may be a group of colleagues on Twitter that share their views on common interests such as sign language interpreting, technology for interpreters, teaching interpreting at university and so on. Sometimes, they meet face to face, but they may also interact with others using different other communication platforms and channels.

Now, let's consider interpreting students and new interpreting graduates. How do they fit in this landscape of practice? How can they find their way? How can they make decisions on where to go first? How welcoming does the landscape of practice look and feels to them? Does it inspire them to stay for a while? Or on the contrary, does it look uninviting or sometimes indifferent or even hostile? Is there some free space for them to interact or can they only go where nobody else goes? Are they invited to easily interact with the 'locals'?

It is important to note that one does not just land in a landscape of practice by chance. One tends to make one's way there gradually. What are the landmarks that interpreting students and graduates can rely on to find their way? What did they see in the distance that attracted them to this specific landscape of practice? What role will they play if any? Will they simply pass by and make their way to a nearby location? Where does the landscape of practice start and end? What are the visible and invisible boundaries, if any at all?

From the world of academia, what do we, academics, show our interpreting students? Do we point in one direction only, as the only way forward?  Do we know how to create a free, safe and creative space during interpreting studies and after graduation that allows communities of learners to consult, think, reflect and make their unique journey into a landscape of practice that they will actively shape and develop?

Do we engage with the landscape of practice interpreting students have started shaping for themselves?  Some of their initiatives are very inspiring and visionary. This is the case of the Brussels Interpreting Practice Group, WISEInterpretimebank or the famous crowdsourcing project Speechpool

Colleagues from academia, let's collaborate, learn from one another and shape our inviting landscape of practice that will welcome communities of learners from all horizons, be it community interpreting, conference interpreting, end users of interpreting services, employers, researchers, decision makers, lurkers and passers-by with an interest in the profession. Let's play an active role in shaping a landscape of practice we can be proud of.

Who is joining in?
I am in! 

I look forward to your comments.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and should not be taken to represent the official positions of universities, networks or associations.


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