Janis Palma

by on Friday, July 22, 2016

The Robot Interpreter

I recently heard a fellow interpreter on the witness stand for the first time. Of course, I was curious, and as I heard the first rendition come out of her mouth, my reaction was “wow, she’s good!” In fact, for a moment I even thought she was using sim-consec, the technique by which you combine simultaneous and consecutive interpreting modes with the aid of a special pen and notepad. Basically, while you take your notes the pen acts as a recorder, and you can play back from any point in the recorded event, listening through earbuds connected to the pen. One of the manufacturers of this “smartpen” technology, describes it like this: Real ink on real paper is immediately digitized and transcribed in the Livescribe+ app where they can be stored, shared, tagged, and searched, making notes more useful than ever before. The app can also record audio and sync it to notes taken at that time in the form of a pencast.

Well, as it turned out, she was not using sim-consec. She just had a really good memory and was really good at taking notes. I am always happy when I see a good performance by a colleague. But then (of course there’s a “but”!) I started to notice something else. The interpreter was not putting in her rendition any of the intonation from the source speakers’ questions and answers. Everything came out like some sort of drone, in a single tone of voice, reminiscent of a robot in a sci-fi movie from the 50s. She was also sitting back in her chair, a bit lackadaisical, in complete contrast with her flawless renditions sans the intonation. I started to wonder if these two—her posture and her monotone rendition—didn’t go hand in hand, somehow.

The balance between detachment and involvement is a very difficult one. So is the balance between lexical accuracy and pragmatic accuracy. I suspect that if you can find the balance in one, you will find it in the other.

Judiciary interpreters have to be impartial, and detachment from whatever case we are assigned to cover is the best way to maintain that impartiality. On the other hand, I have found that “getting inside the head” of the people for whom I am interpreting is a great mnemonic strategy, because it helps me understand the source language message—not just the words—and recreate that same message in the target language the way that person would have said it, if that person could have communicated in the target language. Of course, I apply that process equally for defense attorneys, prosecutors, criminal defendants, and witnesses.

I do not get “involved” in the sense that I don’t have any interest in the outcome of a proceeding. My only interest is the accuracy of my rendition. However, my lexical accuracy—meaning, my choice of words—cannot be complete if I leave out the pragmatic aspects of an oral message. To put it in simple words: leaving out the intonation that differentiates a request from a demand, a promise from an informative statement, hesitation from self-assurance, and so forth, can change the meaning of the words you choose, even if those words are technically correct.

Emphasis on a single word can change the meaning of a complete utterance. Take, for example, the simple statement: “I went there.” If you place the emphasis on the “I”, it means “I as opposed to someone else.” If you emphasize “went”, it means you took that action (going), as opposed to not taking it (not going). If you emphasize “there”, it means you went to a specific place (which must have been mentioned before in the conversation, for this phrase to make sense) as opposed to any other place.

Leaving out intonation in consecutive interpreting can distort meaning as much as changing registers, or omitting part of the source language message. If your witness does not sound like a robot, neither should you. If your prosecutor is being hostile in his intonation, so should you. If your defense attorney is being kind and sweet during examination, so should you. A good consecutive will include all the words, but a great consecutive will include the words and their proper intonation in the target language.





Former Contributors

by on Friday, July 15, 2016

La Vie en Rose

Ewandro MagalhãesThis post was originally published on May 31, 2013 by Ewandro Magalhães. Besides being an exemplary interpreter, Ewandro is also a gifted writer. He is currently in Switzerland, serving as Head of Conference Management Services at the International Telecommunication Union.

I must have been five or six, but I still remember vividly the day I realized I could read. I was gingerly crossing an intersection in my hometown, my father towing me by the hand, when the hazy neon light in the distance suddenly collapsed into a meaningful string of letters: “c-i-n-e-m-a”.

The feeling was transcendent. A code had been broken. A veil had been lifted. It felt like I had awakened to another physical sense, one I didn’t know existed. All around me words started to come out, shyly and partially at first – RESTAURAN… – then strongly: ABERTO, SIGA, PARE. They seemed to smile in relief, like they had been impatiently waiting to regain their significance after a long, dark night of oblivion.

For a month or so I had sat by my father’s battered Remington, punching keys at random in growing frustration at not being able to stitch even one meaningful word together. I was disappointed that the many lines of letters, spaces and punctuation marks failed to communicate something when I finally whooshed the page out from under the rubbery roll. “Dad, what have I written?”, I would ask in hopeful anticipation. “Nothing, son. Nothing really”, he would reply, with a benevolent smile that made his eyes squint so hard you would wonder whether he’d gone blind for a moment.

My father would then sit by my side and briefly explain concepts like vowels, consonants and, ultimately, syllables. He would stay just as long as necessary to inspire me to try again. “Oh, I got it, I got it!”, I would say impatiently, pushing his hands out of the way to engage in another bout of typing, usually no more effective than the others and just as frustrating. Dad would then retreat until disappointment brought me back and the process could be repeated. My father knew I had to own the experience and so he would push the door ajar just enough to let some light in, never really swinging it open. Yet, through that crack, albeit narrow, there was no limit to what I could see if I ventured close enough. I guess he wanted me to understand that.

In time, letters stuck into syllables that grew into words and then sentences. And before I knew I was standing at that busy intersection in utter amazement. I had pushed the gates with my own hands and stepped into another dimension. It was all magical and exhilarating, of course, but I remember feeling frustrated, too, at being no longer able not to read the neon signs. Despite the sudden empowerment, the child in me resented being robbed of its innocence. Colors and shapes had grown into something else. I had grown too, and now had to make sense of the world and label my own experiences.

Fast forward ten years. I am now in my teens, trying to learn English. Dad and I are sitting on the floor in the living room with Nat King Cole playing softly in the background. The song talks of a monkey flying on the back of a buzzard. The images are fun. The language is slangy. Straighten up and fly right. Cool down, papa, don’t you blow your top. My curiosity is piqued as key words are translated. Another brave new world is slowly unlocked. Seen through the prism of language, reality gains a broader, richer perspective.

I am now on my daily commute to Geneva, many years later, listening to a French song on my iPod. The tune is one I have heard a thousand times. Against the backdrop of the snow-capped Alps, the train whizzes past well-trimmed vineyards on the banks of Lake Leman. The Mont Blanc looms into view and I let my mind wander. I indulge for a second and drift into silent appreciation of this precious moment. I tilt my head back, take a deep breath and soak it all in. As I lie there half-awake, marveling at the scenic ride, the lyrics take meaning for the first time. It strikes me hard.

What was once gibberish now resonates in perfectly meaningful French, in a beautiful love song. Another threshold has been crossed into a warm, welcoming universe of opulent mountains, placid waters and never-ending love. My newly acquired tongue takes me back to my instincts. Through the revolving doors of language I have come full circle. I am again the kid I once was, standing halfway on that pedestrian crossing. Colors morph back into feelings rather than words. I open my eyes with a jolt, look around and see everything anew.

Edith Piaf had been telling me all along: through the lenses of love and bliss, life takes on beautiful rosey hues. I can see clearly now. My innocence is restored. I smile wide and squint my eyes so hard you’d think me blind for a moment. Yet through that crack, albeit narrow, for the first time again in years…  je vois la vie en rose.

Caroline Alex, La Vie en Rose

 by Ewandro Magalhaes



by on Friday, July 8, 2016

Interpreters Are Worthless

-    By Ana Garza G’z © 2016

Ana Garza G’z has been working as a community interpreter and translator in Central California for the past fifteen years. She became court certified a couple of years ago, and like many other freelance language professionals, she divides her time between interpreting assignments and other jobs, mostly part-time teaching. Her love of language was what made her enter the field, but her curiosity about the relationship between language and situation is what keeps her happily at work.

This is her first contribution to The NAJIT Observer, and we look forward to many more.

Would you like to see your name, picture and your article published here? Please send us your contributions for our consideration. Thank you

Ana Garza G'z

It was one of those weeks when everyone hates the interpreter. Weather is bad. Call quality is awful. And tempers are slightly more miserable than the shift.

Of course, everything the interpreter does makes things worse. When she asks clients to speak up over the static, clients comply, after pausing long and sighing longer, the way teenagers do when they roll their eyes. When she says, “say that again slowly,” to LEP customer, who are speaking on the sort of single-bar cell-phone connection that transmits one out of three syllables, LEP customer also comply, bellowing the repetition in the tone most people reserve for the truly stupid. When clients get the wrong answer, they accuse the interpreter of mis-delivering the question, which she actually took great pains to translate with the same amount of ambiguity, and when LEP customer get an answer they don’t like, they accuse her of making up additional information that clouds the issue and confuses the situation, even though she’s only reading from her notes. Then every hour and a half or so, an LEP customer responds to her friendly greeting of “Your Spanish interpreter is on the line to help with the call” by saying, “I asked for someone who speaks Spanish. I don’t want an interpreter. Interpreters are worthless.” But that isn’t as bad as the LEP customer who agrees to work with the “damn interpreter” after all, only to grumble about her to whomever is in the car with him: “They’ll let me know as soon as the damn interpreter finishes talking.” “They must be paying the damn interpreter by the minute.” “Oh, I think the damn interpreter is talking to me. What was that?

The last call of the last shift of the week started in pretty much the same way:

Interpreter with mike

Your Spanish interpreter is on the line to help with the call. How may we help you?

I selected the Spanish option because I wanted to speak to someone in Spanish. I have had negative experiences with interpreters and would rather not work with one.

That’s fine, sir,” the client said pleasantly, “I’d be happy to take your name and number for someone to call you back next week. We have a limited number of Spanish speaking staff, and none are available this evening. I can have someone return you’re call in one to two business days, or I can try to help you now.

After a little more discussion and a few highly detailed reminiscences about incompetent interpreters, the caller went ahead with his question, a complicated matter involving medical insurance for his children.

Under the best of conditions, the call would have been hard work. It was very long, and it was full of service dates, claim numbers, diagnostic codes; proper nouns for providers, medical centers, streets, small towns whose pronunciations borrowed from both languages; and quasi-legal insurance terminology. But with a rough start, poor sound quality, and a week of stored-up interpreter bitterness, it was exhausting. What was especially hard to want to bother about were the little pleasantries that surround requests for repetition and the clever turns of phrase that suggest developing rapport between the caller and the insurance company rep. The only thing that made it tolerable was knowing my shift would probably be over when the call ended.

After about forty-five minutes (way past the end of my shift), the insurance company representative said he would need to transfer us to another department, where the caller would be able to enroll in a different type of coverage, which would give his children the same level of protection they previously enjoyed.

If I can put you on a brief hold, I can get the two of you right over.

So you’ll be transferring the interpreter too?

The question was sharp, and after I delivered it, the insurance company representative hesitated, no doubt remembering the caller’s initial resistance.

Would you like to continue working with the same interpreter,” he asked carefully, “or would you like me to request a new one?

This one.” The answer was equally sharp.

All right.” The insurance company representative went through his closing script before ending with, “I’ll transfer the two of you. Please hold.

The line clicked, and in the dead air between us, the caller mumbled, “At least this one can speak Spanish.

Ugh. RI_interpreter

It was one of the rudest, most grudging compliments I’ve ever gotten, but the week had been so long and so demoralizing that it felt like a pair of wings. Despite my lack of motivation and despite the caller’s unwillingness to work with me, we managed to get the job done. He was able to resolve his issue, relax enough to interact with the insurance company representative in the comfortable way of two people acting without an intermediary, and even trust the interpreter enough to willingly conduct the second part of his encounter with her help, and I was certain that he’d stopped being fully aware of me for much of the call, which was the true compliment for me.

I keep this incident in mind when I’m in the middle of a difficult encounter, tempted to blow through a proceeding or behave unprofessionally for the best or worst reasons. It reminds me that non-English speakers almost always meet me when they’re in a vulnerable position and that I represent a history of encounters I’m not aware of. For that reason, how I do my job—the parts that go beyond accurate rendition—matters. It can make an encounter easier or more difficult, whether the people (not just LEP customers) involved appreciate it or not. By focusing on the message and on my options as a language and cultural expert, I’m able to lose myself in the voices of the people I’m interpreting for, and they’re able to draw on whatever strength they need to get through their moment of crisis. Whether this is actually the case or not, I’ll never know—unless, of course, a mumbled compliment makes me feel I did something right.



by on Friday, July 1, 2016

What Would YOU Have Done?

This is the third installment of our new feature What Would YOU Have Done? in which we bring real situations for our readers to comment on. The idea is for us to help each other overcome or prepare for unexpected situations. Drop us a line.

And if you have an experience to share, please write to the Editor. Our work is confidential and all identifiable details are removed from the stories shared with us to maintain our compliance with our Code of Ethics.

Here is a very interesting conundrum.  Confidentiality is part of the Canon of Ethics, of course, and the following true situation illustrates how interpreters can find themselves in a very difficult and troubling position:

A State Attorney General walked over to the courthouse and into the Office of Court Interpreters.  There she presented a subpoena for one of the staff court interpreters.  She said the interpreter had to testify about a conversation he had interpreted between the victim and the person who later became the defendant.  The conversation took place in a courthouse hallwayNo lawyer was present.

The Office Coordinator informed the interpreter that he had to testify against the defendant before the jury, which he did, honestly telling what he recalled from the conversation.

Note that we did not mention languages. If it had been ASL, would the interpreter have to testify? Do the same parameters apply to spoken languages? Let us know what you think and…

     1. Refuse to testify based on the Code of Ethics and accept the risk of a contempt charge.
     2. Refuse to testify without first consulting your lawyer about your rights and responsibilities.
     3. Testify. A subpoena is a subpoena.
     4. Insist that the two people whose conversation will be revealed give their written consent before you can testify.
     5. …

Use the comments area below. Remember to enter the captcha text before pressing post.

Janis Palma

by on Friday, June 24, 2016

A 21st Century Colony in America

I am often asked about Puerto Rico. Explaining our status has never been easy, but recent events have suddenly made everything crystal clear. Today’s blog is not about interpreting or translating per se, but it is about events taking place in Puerto Rico that could have a life-changing impact on interpreters and translators here on the Island.

Back in 1952 the powers that be in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. created a constitution for the Island that everyone thought had put an end to the colonial status derived from the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Estado Libre Asociado [Free Associated State], translated back then as Commonwealth for reasons yet to be explained, was defined by the first article of that constitution:

Section 1. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is hereby constituted. Its political power emanates from the people and shall be exercised in accordance with their will, within the terms of the compact agreed upon between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States of America.

Section 2. The government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico shall be republican in form and its legislative, judicial and executive branches as established by this Constitution shall be equally subordinate to the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico.

Notwithstanding, a Supreme Court decision from June 9 of this year tells a very different story. In the case of Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle et al, (No. 15-108), in which the Court had to consider “whether two prosecuting authorities are different sovereigns for double jeopardy purposes,” Justice Kagan delivered the majority opinion, whereby the Court ruled that “Puerto Rico cannot benefit from the dual-sovereignty doctrine” because “Congress conferred the authority to create the Puerto Rico Constitution, which in turn confers the authority to bring criminal charges. That makes Congress the original source of power for Puerto Rico’s prosecutors— as it is for the Federal Government’s.” (Slip Opinion in 579 U.S. ____ (2016).)

That very same day, June 9, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. voted to approve a bill known as PROMESA (H.R. 5278.) The acronym stands for Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. PROMESA intends to establish a Financial Oversight and Management Board under Congress’s “power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations for territories,” and

Neither the Governor nor the Legislature may—
(1) exercise any control, supervision, oversight, or review over the Oversight Board or its activities; or
(2) enact, implement, or enforce any statute, resolution, policy, or rule that would impair or defeat the purposes of this Act, as determined by the Oversight Board. (Sec. 108)

Just the day before, on June 8, President Obama had told Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner—a representative of the People of Puerto Rico in Congress with no voting powers—, “there is no Plan B” for H.R. 5278. So, all three branches of government seem to have come to a unified understanding: the Commonwealth is a work of fiction. Whatever happened in 1952 under the name of Estado Libre Asociado is a big mystery today. We, the people of Puerto Rico, are left to wonder what will happen now that we can no longer live in suspended disbelief.

Here are some other ugly truths. Over the course of these 64 years as a commonwealth, Puerto Rico—or rather, the citizens elected to govern the Island—somehow managed to amass a $70-billion debt that the Island’s government cannot pay. At this point, the current administration has already defaulted on its debt and is having to choose which public services to provide and which ones to cut back or cancel altogether. In desperate moves to raise funds by imposing more taxes, the government has managed to make the cost of living untenable, forcing 84,000 Puerto Ricans to leave for the mainland in 2014 alone. On May 2 of this year CNN reported that 230 people on the average leave the island every day. Those of us who cannot leave are being dragged into a downward spiraling economy where the cost of living is 11.6% higher than any other city in the U.S., the unemployment rate is 11.7%, and the murder rate is upwards of 24.4 murders for every 100,000 people.

It is not a pretty picture. I look around and I see a breathtaking tropical paradise and think to myself, “I am so privileged to live here. I should be truly happy.” At the same time I realize that I am living a crucial moment in history that will forever change the social, economic, and political fabric of this island.

The truth is there are only two choices left: statehood or independence. If Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation, there will be no more federal court and no more jobs for interpreters and translators in federal government agencies here on the Island. Conversely, if it becomes a state, work for us will grow exponentially, as the local courts—which conduct their official business in Spanish—will surely have to adopt the English language for everything they do, as will all state government agencies.

I hope with all my heart the future brings something better than what we have right now.

Gio Lester

by on Friday, June 17, 2016

Staying in Touch with One’s Native Language

- by Gio Lester

Week before last, I had the pleasure of going back to my country to attend and present at the seventh international conference of our national professional organization for translators and interpreters, ABRATES. The pleasure of being back home was underscored by the honor (and fear) of presenting in Brazil, in Portuguese, to native speakers after a long absence.

Being a language teacher, I am very sensitive to the musicality of different languages, so my main concern was vocabulary. I am one of those travelers who take a little notepad with them wherever they go. Old friends change meaning, some are retired, others are born. Technology makes it easier for us to keep up with those changes more readily. Yet, the fear was palpable for me: my world’s soundtrack is heavily English.

My strategy for staying abreast with language developments in my country is to listen to Brazilian television, radio (internet radio is great!), participate actively in language groups, read at least one novel in Portuguese a year, and speak it every opportunity I get, which isn’t often. I haven’t succumbed to the novelas yet. Soap operas are a staple of Brazilian evenings. Dinner is served before or after their novelas. Conversations, dates, life are scheduled that way too. Or so it feels when I talk to my family down there: Fale logo que a novela já vai começar! (Be quick, the soap opera is about to start). But I digress.

An example I like to use regarding the evolution of words in these 31 years I have lived in the US is the word perua (//peh-ROO-uh//). When I lived in Brazil it meant a turkey hen and also a station wagon. Forward a few years, I go back to Brazil and the station wagon is off the market, the bird is still there, and now a nosy woman is also a perua. A few years after that, the nosy woman has lost her place to an excessively adorned person who now shares the word with the bird.

Turkey hen

Courtesy of Rue Wild Life Photos

A single word to designate an animal, a style of automobile, and two types of human beings across time. Language. What a puzzle!

Jennifer De La Cruz

by on Friday, June 3, 2016

How we handled a complex hearing

This article was originally posted on December 6, 2013. Juggling languages is only part of our job. There are other dimensions most other humans are not aware of. Jennifer is our guide as we explore some of them. Enjoy.

Recently, a colleague and I were asked to interpret in a logistically complex hearing that ended up working out pretty well in the end. I’d like to share it with the readership, and point out some things we learned from this particular experience.

It was the family law domestic violence calendar, and we were to interpret for not one, not two, but six matters—all at the same time! All parties were in pro per, and we knew that at least a few of them were expected to need interpreter assistance.

The six-matter scenario was essentially a family in which some issues had arisen causing two members to each file for restraining orders against various combinations of another four family members. Because the facts of the case stemmed from the same event, the judge was interested in holding a single hearing.

We were aware that the hearing was coming, but nobody involved knew for sure how it would work out until the morning of. Many factors were unknown:  How many witnesses would be called and need an interpreter? Were all of the parties going to go forward with the hearing? What kind of time would they need from the judge? Despite knowing about the case in advance, these logistically-important issues were still a mystery.

Everybody in the courtroom got involved in the informal planning discussions held with the parties on the morning of the hearing. There would be no additional witnesses, so we only had to deal with the six parties, and we had plenty of space. The deputy chimed in about seating given the purported history of tension among the parties. The court reporter had a few words to say about ensuring that each party was identified when speaking. The clerk clarified how the interpreters would be sharing the duties. We interpreters offered ideas that would support our need to hear and concentrate. All of us brainstormed with the judge.

Simultaneous equipment was decision one because it turned out that all six parties needed interpreter assistance. Each party would hear the proceedings in Spanish through wireless receivers. Only one interpreter was needed for that task. The second interpreter would be used to go into English for any testimony given by the parties. Because the judge would be keeping all of the parties at the spacious counsel table—nobody would be separated from the group to take the witness stand—we soon realized that we could divide the tasks even more.

The petitioner side (two individuals) sat at one end of the table, near the interpreter using the transmitter to interpret the proceedings into Spanish for everybody. The respondent side (four individuals) sat at the other end of the table, near the second interpreter. If the proceedings got too extensive, our plan was to switch back and forth every so often on the simultaneous task. For testimony, each interpreter was to be the voice into English for each of the individuals seated near us, that is, one interpreter for all petitioners, and one for all respondents. Logistically, it seemed to make sense.

One thing we tried to predict was how much testimony each side would be giving. Because the respondents had not yet filed their responses, we suspected that they would be the ones with more to explain during the hearing. The petitioners had already explained their story in their petitions, so we guessed that they could have less information to tell the judge. By predicting this, we thought that the interpreter with the extra task of simultaneous duty should be the one with the petitioners, since maybe they would be talking less. In the end, our prediction was wrong; the petitioners spoke quite a lot more than the respondents. However, because we took the time to plan and felt in control, being wrong about that made no difference to how we performed.

The key factor in making this hearing work came right from the bench. The judge gave clear instructions to all parties about how to conduct themselves so that everybody could be heard. Throughout the entire process he stayed in control, addressing the parties by name and allowing each to speak in turn. The parties themselves were cooperative even through moments of emotional testimony.

In retrospect, coordination and control were crucial to a smooth experience. When we’re thrust into situations of chaos, it’s not only difficult to do our jobs well; it’s also frustrating and exhausting for all involved. The fact that the interpreters were taken into account in the planning was both beneficial and gratifying. After the hearing was over, we stayed behind and debriefed with all involved, and everybody agreed that it was a complete success.

Other circumstances could have changed how we did things for this case, such as the number of individuals needing interpreters, any lack of self-control by the parties, attorney involvement, non-party witnesses, no equipment, and lengthy proceedings. As with so many professional experiences, what we did was one of many ways we could have done things.

I’m curious as to whether our colleagues out there have experienced a similar setup and how they handled it. Leave us your comments, and let’s share some experiences!

Janis Palma

by on Friday, May 27, 2016

The NAJIT Renaissance

Yes, I heard someone use that word during the NAJIT conference this past May 14 & 15 in San Antonio, Texas: Renaissance. And it was so fitting! The energy in the air was electrifying. The conference attendants were excited about the conference topics, and very happy to see friends and colleagues from every corner of the nation and then some. The pre-conference workshops on Friday, May 13, just like the conference program, had record-breaking registration numbers. Needless to say, there were also great parties, one hosted by the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT), one by the “federales”—the lively group of federally-certified interpreters who don’t need much of an excuse to get together and have a good time—plus the miscellaneous forays to a local salsa club by just about anyone who still had the energy to go dancing after a full day of conference presentations.

Sessions on vocabulary and terminology, video remote interpreting, memory, interpreting and legal translation techniques, just to name a few, reflected the high level of sophistication our profession has reached. Conference attendees included judiciary, medical, and community interpreters, legal translators, and interpreting/translation students. The atmosphere was always one of congeniality, including the management staff who always kept a smile on their faces no matter how many people gathered in front of the registration table at once to ask for one thing or another. Kudos to Rob and Susan Cruz, and their assistant during the conference, Frankie, for their excellent planning and execution! And I must add that it was great to have Freek Lankhof, from InTrans Book Service, come out of his retirement to delight us once more with his spot-on selection of book titles.

The keynote speaker during the annual meeting and luncheon, Michael Mulé, from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, gave a powerful presentation with a unique perspective on the critical role interpreters play in providing access to justice for every limited- and non-English speaker. The session on immigration interpreter trends was equally forceful on the issue of access to justice, with the peculiar twist of an exchange between the panelists and the audience that turned out to be very enlightening for the attorney on the panel, Juan González, who practices immigration law in South Texas. These and many other sessions brought to the forefront a clear call to action for every NAJIT member: all language services stakeholders need to be continuously educated, and it is up to each one of us to do it. In fact, NAJIT already has materials available on its website that any member can download and use.

Several ideas were bounced around on this topic during a very lively and productive Town Hall meeting Sunday morning. One was to create local chapters, and holding regional conference. Both of these would boost our national association’s capacity to provide more direct and concrete assistance to members in their local advocacy and educational initiatives. Another idea was to work in coordination with state organizations to reach more language service users in a cohesive educational initiative. Having state bar associations award Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits to attorneys who attend these sessions could certainly be a strong incentive for them to attend, helping us reach that highly-elusive audience.

Also during the Sunday morning Town Hall meeting, fellow NAJIT member Agustín de la Mora challenged all of us to bring in at least two new members to NAJIT by next year’s conference. And I can add: let’s bring at least one new NAJIT member to next year’s conference. All in all, this seems to be a great time to take NAJIT to the next level, building on the experience and enthusiasm of our current Board and every one of our members. Growing our numbers is key, however, because the higher the numbers in our membership rolls the greater our association’s “clout” to reach and influence decision- and policy-makers.

In response to a concern raised by another long-time NAJIT member, Daniel Sherr, about those professionals who always ask “why should I join NAJIT? What’s in it for me?” I like to respond by borrowing John F. Kennedy’s words, with a twist: it’s not what NAJIT can do for you, it’s what YOU can do for NAJIT! And the one thing you can do right now is join your professional association, join NAJIT, and help our collective voice grow stronger and reach farther. Be part of this NAJIT Renaissance!

Gio Lester

by on Friday, May 20, 2016

What Would You Have Done?

This is the second installment of our new feature What Would You Have Done? in which we bring real situations for our readers to comment on. The idea is for us to help each other overcome or prepare for unexpected situations. Drop us a line.

And if you have an experience to share, please write to the Editor. Our work is confidential and all identifiable details are removed from the stories shared with us to maintain our compliance with our Code of Ethics.

The story below is one that takes place in almost every deposition, and many of you are familiar with the feeling we interpreters get and how uncomfortable we feel.

Depositions, being less formal than court hearings, afford us more opportunities to address attorneys, ask questions and clarify doubts. We also get to feel more personally targeted. It seems that opposing attorneys try to object and disrupt interpreters just to unsettle them and then blame the loss of the case on bad interpreting.

The colleague in our story certainly felt that way after a long, drawn out deposition in which opposing counsel was bilingual. Objections were not only a matter of form or language used by the deposing attorney. They were also directed to the interpreter, disrupting the rhythm of the proceedings, as well as the conciseness and clarity of the records, not to mention the interpreter’s concentration and mental agility.

In the case used for this article, the interpreter confronted the attorney, and explained that in one specific challenged rendition the word choices made were based on the case being criminal rather than civil, and that the choice had been informed by the interpreter’s personal experience practicing law for over a decade in the country of the deponent’s origin. There was no more criticism or critique of the interpreter’s rendition as the deposition resumed.

What would you have done?
1-   Acted exactly as the interpreter in the case
2-   Relied on the tried and true “The interpreter stands by his/her rendition.”
3-   Informed the attorney who hired you to tell opposing counsel to stop interrupting.
4-   Removed yourself from the case, asking the agency to send someone else.
5-   …


by on Friday, May 13, 2016

NAJIT’s Professional Conference—What Makes It Different

- This post  was originally published on June 8, 2012. It seems a very fitting post to welcome NAJIT’s 2016 Conference and its attendees.

I really enjoyed the NAJIT conference this past May in Boston—my first ever. I had the opportunity to get to know people I had previously met only through emails, through the listserv, or by phone. By chance, I met some people that I thank my lucky stars I ran into, and with whom I anticipate a long and fruitful correspondence. I found that the classes I took were, in the main, informative and thought-provoking. The food was good, organization was top-notch, the city was beautiful, the conversation was stimulating and there were opportunities galore for networking and schmoozing.

But do you know what struck me the most, something I did not expect? There was an enormous feeling of camaraderie, an unselfish interchange of ideas, a feeling of professional solidarity that, as a person who has attended her share of conferences, I found greatly encouraging.

I have indeed attended many other professional conferences in the course of my varied careers. As a college professor in the 1980’s, I went to quite a few Modern Language Association conventions. Since more than one-fourth of the 30,000 members of the MLA attend their annual convention, the number of attendees is staggering—anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people. It’s difficult to locate people you do know, let along meet new ones. There are numerous divisions, each concentrated mainly on the study of the literature of a given country or countries, along with others dedicated to interdisciplinary and educational fields. Careful planning is of the essence to get into the sessions you want to attend. Although I was a professional among professionals, there was no feeling of “we’re all in this together,” but rather one of disparity. For the general member, each division presents its own mini-conference and, given the magnitude of the event, there is little opportunity for contact with the myriad others occurring in the same space.

The annual American Translators Association conference is not quite as overwhelming, but still, trying to find your way around among some 2,000 people speaking dozens of different languages can be daunting. It takes extensive planning to find the people you want to get together with and also meet the people with whom you would like to begin a professional relationship. Here too, once you find your group, you are in a warm cocoon you never need to leave. My experience is that most people feel a certain disconnect with the larger group around them and make little attempt to reach out, let alone share feelings of solidarity with fellow conference-goers.

The MLA, founded in 1883, and the ATA, founded in 1959, have both been around for a long time. NAJIT, on the other hand, which began in 1978, is a relative newcomer to the world of professional associations. The membership of the MLA and the ATA consists of professionals whose fields are well-established and well-respected. In contrast, we interpreters have had to fight every step of the way to become recognized as professionals and to establish our work as important, indeed essential for there to be equal access to the legal system in this country on every level. In addition, we strive constantly to extend our mission ever further to include the fields of medical, community and signed language interpreting. We seek inclusion, not division.

So we interpreters tend to be a feisty bunch. Our struggle has made us strong as individuals and as a group. We are supportive of each other and vociferously communicative when we get together. There may be cavilers—those who say “well I didn’t like this” or “it was better last year.” I don’t know about that–for one thing, I wasn’t there last year. But I have been to conferences sponsored by other organizations, and there is one thing I am very sure of: NAJIT is a young and vigorous organization. We truly seek to make changes for the better in this world, and there are not that many organizations that can say that. What I felt at the NAJIT conference was overwhelmingly positive. Amidst all our differences of language, of location, of interpreting venues, we stand united. We are NAJIT!

“Tips for Attending Professional Conferences”  Sociologists for Women in Society, Prepared by: Tamara L. Smith, Career Development Committee Chair http://www.socwomen.org/web/images/stories/resources/career_dev/sws_tipsforconferences.pdf

“6 Musts When Attending Professional Conferences” Career Management: Keepin’ It Real by Cindy Billington   http://maysblogs.tamu.edu/careermanagement/2011/05/27/6-musts-when-attending-professional-conferences/

“Making the Most of Professional Conferences”  The Chronicle of Higher Education   http://chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/making-the-most-of-professional-conferences/29611