Janis Palma

by on Friday, April 22, 2016

Business and Fun: mixing it up in San Antonio

It’s the last week of April and NAJIT’s Annual Conference is just around the corner. Before we know it, we will be in San Antonio, polishing skills, learning what’s new in the field, catching up with old friends and making new ones. And although I know that keeping my skills honed and knowledge updated are critical components of my professional development, the best part of that weekend for me is spending time with my very extended NAJIT family.

All work and no play is never good, believe me! But the good news is that in our world, no play time is ever a waste. Whenever NAJIT members get together, we know very well how to mix it up, and even when we are singing or dancing, someone will find a way to turn it into a discussion on some obscure term and what would be the best way to translate it.

The challenges we face day in and day out are never far from our minds, and being with colleagues from all over the country—sometimes from other countries as well—is a great opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and find creative solutions to common problems we would not have thought of on our own.

NAJIT’s Annual Conference has been the petri dish for many innovative ideas that have contributed to the professionalization of judiciary interpreters and translators, such as the Code of Ethics developed in our organization’s very early stages, or the position papers developed later on, all of which have brought with them greater respect from those other professionals with whom we interact on a daily basis. NAJIT has also nurtured ground-breaking projects that have contributed to our collective growth as we transitioned from the “Dark Ages” of judiciary interpreting and translating to our current status as a widely recognized profession.

Of course, if we did not need to do any more work to improve the relative status of some members of our profession in certain geographic pockets where the “Age of Enlightenment” has yet to arrive, we could spend the whole weekend partying and forget about all the other educational sessions included in the conference. But the truth is we still have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it together. So if you have not yet registered for the conference in San Antonio, there’s still time. We all need to be there. We all have a responsibility to keep our profession vital and current, to uphold and promote the highest competency and ethical standards, and to forge bonds of professional solidarity that will further strengthen the standing of our organization and our chosen professions in the United States and beyond.

And, of course, we all need to have a little fun every once in a while, too. So I hope to meet all of you there, in San Antonio, by the River Walk, maybe with some mariachi music in the background and a heart full of joy because I will be hugging old friends and embracing new ones that will last me a lifetime.

Gio Lester

by on Friday, April 1, 2016

An Interview with Katty Kauffman

Katty KauffmanKatty Kauffman is a Federally Certified Court Interpreter, member and Advisory Board Member for South America of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and the National Association of Judicial Translators and Interpreters (NAJIT). She is also a graduate of Pedro de Valdivia University School of Law in Santiago, Chile where she currently resides.  In addition to working in the freelance market where she has interpreted at four Summits of the Americas among other major international events– Katty serves as translator, interpreter and consultant on interpreter qualification and selection policy to Office of the Public Prosecutor of Chile.  Since the roll out of new criminal procedure in Chile in 2000, Katty has interpreted at numerous international conferences on comparative criminal procedural law and trained prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and judges in the use of interpreters in the courtroom.  She has also put her skills to use at numerous trials and hearings under the new system in Chile.

In this interview, Katty affords us a peek into the judicial process in another country, Chile.

TNO- What stands out the most about cases that use interpreters?

Under the Criminal Procedure Reform instituted over a decade ago, interpreters are now clearly distinguished from translators in criminal proceedings. This is not the case in civil proceedings where the two terms continue to be erroneously deemed interchangeable.

Most of the proceedings, both civil and criminal, involve only Spanish-speaking parties, so what makes cases with an interpreter stand out is their rarity. Having an interpreter present creates a whole new dynamic! The parties rarely know what to expect from an interpreter, but are, fortunately, usually very open to learning and are grateful for the guidance and orientation of qualified professionals.

TNO- Other than understanding their English, what are markers we should look for in determining whether or not the interpreters provided are performing up to the minimum standard, especially in a language we do not speak?


Image courtesy of Internations.org

In Chile’s criminal courts, the languages most in demand are English and Chilean Sign Language. For most other languages, the Prosecutor’s Office (responsible for hiring interpreters in all cases, as per a Supreme Court ruling) looks at the qualifications of the individual using a checklist I helped develop. Unfortunately, most are not trained court interpreters and many have no interpreting experience at all. It’s a shame, but it is also a fact of life. On the bright side, when a trained professional is not available, the Prosecutor informs the court and asks the parties to take that into consideration by speaking more slowly, in chunks, lowering the register, etc. Interpreters too can interrupt, ask for repetition, and so forth in order to ensure effective communication without fear of angering the litigants or the court. In sum, the parties tend to be very tolerant and cater to the interpreter’s needs. It’s actually kind of nice.

TNO- From your perspective, how do judges react to the use of translated documents and interviews?

In Chile, documents must be introduced by a witness, so the translator will be called in to testify both to the process used in the translation and to the content of the document. If the translator doesn’t remember what they translated (due to elapsed time, for example), they may be shown the document to refresh their memory. But it is the translator’s testimony that will serve as the record, not the document. The translator is paid as an expert witness. Fortunately, on cross the translator’s version is rarely impeached.

TNO- What are the greatest difficulties in dealing with remote interpreting? And the best part?

In some cases, the courts authorize witnesses to testify from abroad. Unfortunately, they do not use high-tech systems and–over interpreter objections– the connection is frequently via Skype. Suffice it to say, this is highly problematic.

TNO- In your opinion, how can proceedings involving interpreters go more smoothly?

At the risk of preaching to the choir, having the court provide good equipment, ensuring the use of team interpreting during trials or any proceeding over 45 min in length is, of course, a boon. That said, we are incredibly fortunate in Chile to be at the forefront of a new era in oral proceedings and to be trailblazers for the generations to come.

It behooves us, therefore, to adhere as carefully and as strictly as possible to Codes of Ethics from jurisdictions with a longer-standing tradition, such as NAJIT’s, so that we can set a solid course for the future.

TNO- Is there a memorable experience involving a different culture or language in your portfolio that you cherish or hate?   


Image courtesy of u21health.org

At the beginning of the reform in Santiago, a case came before the 1st Magistrate Court of Santiago. It so happened that the judge spoke very good English and had been trained in oral litigation in the US… where he learned the difference between a translator and an interpreter.

In this particular case, a LSP (limited Spanish proficiency) defendant was brought in for an initial appearance, but there was no interpreter. The judge agreed to a continuance to give the prosecutor time to find one. The prosecution called the local Interpol office and they sent someone over to the court. The first question the judge asked was: Are you able to interpret these proceedings here today? The response was classic: No, Your Honor, I am a translator, not an interpreter. The sound clip of the judge’s reaction is music to any interpreter’s ears: Mr. Prosecutor, my order was very clear. I told you to bring before this court an IN-TER-PRETER not a translator. Mr. Prosecutor, what part of IN-TER-PRETER did you not understand?

Needless to say, that judge is one of my favorite people.


Maria Cristina de la Vega

by on Friday, March 18, 2016

Food For Interpreting

This article was first published on September 12, 2013. Its author is our beloved founder, Maria Cristina. She reminds us of the saying “We are what we eat” and guides us in making healthier, smarter choices that will help us perform better at our jobs. Enjoy!

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is currently 1:00p.m.  We are going to break for lunch.  Please be back in your seats promptly at 2:00 p.m.  so we may continue hearing this witness’s testimony.  Remember not to discuss any details concerning the case with anyone.  This court is now in recess.”

The race is on because there is no time to walk to a neighboring restaurant, do battle with the lunch crowd, order, eat and walk back.  The only choice is to buy something from the vending machines at the courthouse, gulp it down, answer pending messages and emails, and make it back to the courtroom.

Not an optimal option but we rationalize it, buy a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, a soda and a doughnut for the late afternoon blues which we can have with a coffee to give us some energy later.  This is a situation I daresay many interpreters encounter rather often, which may be compounded by getting home in the evening, exhausted after a long day, and pulling out a frozen meal – “healthy” or not – to save time and rest up for the following day. Especially if we have to prepare for the coming testimony.

In this a short and trite but telling example, we have a listing of some of the worst foods we consume in the United States, on a regular basis:

Processed foods (sandwiches) Researchers have found that the risk of heart disease is 42% higher among people who regularly eat processed meats.

Soda Nearly half of surveyed Americans drink 2+ glasses a day.  An average can contains 10 tsp. of sugar, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and represents many health risks in addition to an increase in obesity, in a country where more than one third of the population suffers from this condition.

Potato chips  In addition to causing you to tip the scales, the regular consumption of potato chips will cause a spike in blood pressure from the high sodium content, a rise in cholesterol due to the trans fats from deep frying and the saturated fat. Other researchers are saying that the carcinogen acrylimide, created during the deep frying process, puts you at a risk for cancer.

Doughnuts  a compendium of trans fat, sugar and refined flour, with a high fat content and around 300 empty calories, to calm a sweet tooth and purportedly increase your energy level.

Frozen meals  do not usually contain enough calories or vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritive value by being frozen.  The meals have a high sodium content that make them dangerous to our health, often exceeding 25% of the daily recommended allowance for same.

Many of the foods discussed here have a high sugar content.  Read this link to understand more fully the drowsiness that sugar creates and what that entails. Another substantial portion has a high sodium content, which causes high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. For an overview of how these  effects  are produced, read here.

As interpreters, we need to be at the top of our game because we never know what the next assignment will require and our brains need to be able to swiftly collect our resources and deliver them as soon as it receives a signal to act. We cannot afford to be lethargic on the job. Moreover, we are often involved in stressful circumstances which raise our blood pressure so we must try to purge foods that will increase our blood pressure further. Our level of energy and state of health depend to a great extent on the food we ingest.

Read up on what comprises a healthy diet and learn how to interpret the nutrition labels on food. They are extremely helpful in formulating what we include in our meal plans. Strategize what you are going to eat in advance so you won’t be caught off guard by circumstances and have other options.

Let us know if you have any other suggestions for healthy eating in difficult circumstances.

Janis Palma

by on Friday, February 26, 2016

Learning by Osmosis

OSMOSIS – an ability to learn and understand things gradually without much effort. (Merriam-Webster)

I was joking with some colleagues about having parents who were physicians and, therefore, how these friends had learned medicine by osmosis. We have all had that experience: learning about a particular field of knowledge from our close relationships to someone who is actively engaged in that field. If your significant other is a filmmaker, for example, you learn about the elements of film making from his or her comments while watching a movie together. If a very close friend is a musician, you may learn a lot about music appreciation from your conversations with your friend about some particular performance the two of you go see together.

Likewise, people close to us learn about our profession from hearing us talk about what we do, how we do it, why we do things one way rather than another, and so forth. This is an opportunity that we should not overlook to educate those who are not interpreters or translators, because every time we talk about our profession, the potential exists for someone to learn a little more about what interpreting and translating is all about.

But what I find most beneficial about this learning by osmosis process is the potential for entry-level judiciary interpreters to grow professionally by being close to more experienced and knowledgeable colleagues. This could be part of a mentoring program, but it could also be an ad hoc activity any interpreter could start on his or her own initiative. All that is needed is an experienced colleague who is willing to have a less-experienced interpreter follow him or her around and learn by listening.

Here are some suggestions to get started on your own ad hoc learn-by-osmosis adventure.

1. Find a colleague whose work you admire, and is close enough that you can visit when s/he is working and you are not.

2. Let your colleague know you would like to sit and listen to his/her performance in court so you can improve your own performance. (We don’t want your colleagues to think you are stalking them!)

3. If your colleague agrees to have you listen in, be discreet and unobtrusive when you do. If your colleague is not comfortable with this arrangement, do not insist. There can be all sorts of reasons for someone not to feel flattered by your approach. Find someone else who will be happy to help.

4. When you go to court, always bring a pad to take notes. Write down any new words, phrases, or techniques you observe that are new to you and you would like to incorporate to your practice.

5. If electronic equipment is being used, ask for a headset (if one is available) so you can hear the colleagues in the simultaneous mode and the other court officers directly from the audio system if that technology is available.

If your colleagues are amenable, sit down afterwards to talk about anything that caught your attention and pick their brains. How did they get to use term “X” instead of “Y”? How did they come up with “B” shortcut for “ABC”? Your notes, reinforced by this informal conversation, should help you add new terms and phrases to your long-term memory that will make you a better interpreter. If there are any new techniques you observed and would like to adopt, try to incorporate them into your practice as soon and as often as possible. Behavioral research tells us that “it takes between 18-224 days to make a new behaviour an ingrained habit,” so give yourself time to incorporate these new techniques into your performance.

A final reminder: learning is an ongoing and lifelong process for interpreters; not all of it has to come from books or classrooms.

Janis Palma

by on Friday, January 29, 2016

The Lightness of Not-Being

I recently became a regular Staff Interpreter… as opposed to a Supervisory Interpreter. I changed my profile description in one of those networking pages that is always sending e-mails asking you to “congratulate so-and-so on this-and-that”, so I suddenly had all these messages congratulating me on my new post. I thought, “How nice”, and started thanking everyone individually until I noticed every message said exactly the same thing. I then realized it was a “boilerplate message” and that no one had read what I wrote about my “new position.” Only one person asked, “Did you move to a different district?”

Well, no, I did not move. I have been planning my retirement for the past five years, and I simply decided (for the sake of my own mental and physical health) that I really did not have to wait for my retirement to stop being a supervisor. So I am now a regular staff interpreter and someone else has taken on the responsibilities I relinquished.

Being a supervisory interpreter is not just about contracting freelancers when needed, and making sure every judge has an interpreter in his or her courtroom when one is needed. In fact, that’s probably the easiest part of the job.

The way I see it, being a supervisory interpreter means that you are somewhat of a “linebacker” for those interpreters you supervise, because many of us still work in settings where a lot of people do not really understand what we do and how difficult it is to do it well. Oftentimes there are demands or limitations put on court interpreters that are not reasonable or even realistic. It is up to the supervisory interpreter to handle those before they have a negative impact on the interpreters he or she supervises.

I may not have the perfect football metaphor here, but in my mind a supervisory interpreter is there to defend and protect the professional interests of staff and contract interpreters so they can all do the work they are called upon to do, under the best conditions possible.

Conversely, when management has an issue with any or all the interpreters, the supervisor is there to be their voice and “give face”, find solutions to any problems that may arise, convey all the information everyone needs to have so as to implement those solutions, and develop action plans to prevent such issues from coming up again in the future.

When anything goes wrong, the Supervisory Interpreter is the one who gets blamed and has to bear the brunt of whatever consequences such wrongdoing may have. But when everything goes right, no one is there to give you a pat on the back and say “good job.” The only satisfaction comes from knowing you have done your best each and every day. But the bottom line is that this is (for the most part) a thankless job.

So, yeah, after a number of years (enough, I’d say) of trying to do my best while fielding complaints left and right for things that should never have been a problem (there are some people in every workplace, I am told, who just like to complain about everything); after years of being on call day and night (because contract interpreters do get sick all of a sudden and you have to scramble to find a replacement at eleven o’clock at night for a nine o’clock hearing the next day); after seeing how little things really do change even though as a profession we have come a long way, I realized one day, “I don’t really have to do this any longer!”

I expect to retire this year, so it seemed like the perfect time to let someone else step up to the plate (sorry about my mixed sports metaphors here), while I start to “wind down” and simply enjoy what I really love doing: interpreting in court.

I feel rejuvenated! I even walk with a little spring in my step.

Ah… the lightness of not being (a supervisory interpreter)!

Janis Palma

by on Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Militant Interpreter

The phrase itself should set off an alarm. Or perhaps “militant” is too strong a word. How about “the advocate interpreter”?

Merriam-Webster defines militant as “having or showing a desire or willingness to use strong, extreme, and sometimes forceful methods to achieve something,” or, in short, “aggressively active (as in a cause).”

An advocate, on the other hand, is “ a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy.”

Is the difference between an advocate and a militant a matter of degrees? Either way, by definition a militant or an advocate cannot be an impartial or neutral person, whereas an interpreter, particularly in a judiciary setting, cannot be anything but impartial and neutral. Does that mean a judiciary interpreter can never support a cause that he or she believes in?

Hardly. Interpreters are people with all sorts of causes near and dear to their hearts. Mine is saving abandoned and abused animals. Others may want to save the planet from wasteful plastics. Perhaps a favorite cause for some is a literacy programs for inner city teenagers, or taking art appreciation outside of the museums through urban murals. We can even be militant vegans, or corporate take-your-kid-to-work advocates. But the litmus test must be: does this in any way affect my impartiality and neutrality when I have to interpret in a legal proceeding?

If it does, then you have to either recuse yourself from the case, or abandon your cause. Since most, if not all, causes are based on personal convictions and principles, chances are that in the face of such a choice, an ethical interpreter will recuse him or herself from the case, and simply move on to the next one where there will be no conflict because the required neutrality will not be lacerated.

Of course, there is no “ethics tribunal” for interpreters. It is up to each one of the members of this profession to uphold the Code of Ethics that has been promulgated through NAJIT, and to simply know which lines can be crossed and which ones cannot.

Staying ethical when you have a cause also means knowing yourself.

I know I could never be an interpreter in an animal cruelty case because I would certainly want the perpetrator to go to prison for a long, long time! It’s what is known as a “no-brainer”. If someone has polluted the rivers with illegal toxins, I can keep my opinions under wraps and interpret with no trace of bias whatsoever, even if I think the defendant is scum. I can vent later on, with my colleagues, behind closed doors, if need be.

If you have a cause in your life and are also a judiciary interpreter, take a moment to ask yourself: does my cause make me biased in a way that could affect my performance? Will I try to influence the outcome of a case through my choice of words while interpreting because of my personal beliefs? Are my opinions so strong that I am no longer perceived as a disinterested person in a case for which I have been called to interpret?

Bear in mind also that if you are a judiciary employee, there are liberties other citizens have that you don’t. Employees of the federal judicial branch, for example, cannot openly campaign for any political candidate. We cannot speak to the press without authorization from higher-ups, and we cannot post on any social media images that depict our place of employment. No selfies at your desk!

So if you contract for the state or federal judiciary, find out what the rules are regarding your “freedom of speech”, and make sure to follow them. If you don’t like the rules, it is your choice not to accept engagements in those venues. As long as we each remain within the boundaries of our Professional Code of Conduct, we can be faithful to both, our individual principles and our collective ethical responsibilities.

Janis Palma

by on Friday, October 9, 2015

Let me introduce you

How many of you are familiar with SSTI? Well, let me introduce you.

SSTI stands for the Society for the Study of Translation and Interpretation. It is the non-profit charity component of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT).

NAJIT was created in 1978 to promote the highest ethical and performance standards in the profession. Part of that was the development of educational activities to further these standards among judiciary interpreters and translators whose field experience ranged from completely inexperienced novices to fully-vetted professionals. Also part of the mission was creating an instrument designed by active members of the profession and validated by competency assessment experts to measure and certify the performance of judiciary interpreters and translators.

SSTI, created in 1997, was already conducting educational activities for NAJIT when the association’s certification exam development process began in 1999. Keeping these two activities separate—educating and testing—was one of the requirements to maintain the validity of NAJIT’s credentialing process, pursuant to the Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs from the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), now the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). And so, while SSTI focused on this credential, NAJIT took over the educational program. Since then, and throughout the years, both of these programs have undergone many transformations in response to shifting priorities for both NAJIT and SSTI Board members.

Fast forward to 2015 and we now have a NAJIT Board of Directors with a renewed interest in the original mission for which SSTI was created: to promote scholarly research and undertake projects intended to advance the profession. But first, a little technical information. Under SSTI’s Bylaws, “The SSTI Board of Directors (hereinafter, the Board) shall be appointed by the Board of Directors of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, Inc. (NAJIT), and shall consist of no less than five and no more than seven members, four of whom shall also serve as officers of the Corporation until the appointment of their successors.” (Art. V) Accordingly, a new SSTI Board of Directors was appointed in May 2015: Vice President, Aída Martínez-Gómez , Secretary, Susan Berk-Seligson, Treasurer, Holly Mikkelson, and the more recently appointed Member At Large, Melissa Wallace. I have the honor of being the President of that Board.

SSTI is embarking on brand new projects intended to benefit NAJIT’s members and make noteworthy contributions to the professions of judiciary interpreting and legal translation. One of them is a comprehensive review of the current scholarly literature on legal and judiciary interpreting. In the near future we expect to have a call for proposals to identify English-speaking end-users of judiciary interpreting services and the methods they use for making the most effective and efficient use of these services.

Our main goals at this time are:

  • - To be a source of research funding to support best practices in legal translation and interpretation.


  • - To promote authoritative research on judiciary interpreting and legal translation.


  • - To collaborate in the development of research-based training guidelines for English-speaking end-users of interpreter services, guidelines that will ensure the highest efficiency and effectiveness of those services.


  • - To be a nationally recognized source of information, statistics, and research on judiciary interpreting and legal translation issues.

The SSTI Board members want to hear from you. We want to know what research projects you think SSTI should be sponsoring. We also welcome volunteers with social media skills, grant proposal writing skills, and funded research experience who can help us match the right funding sources with the projects we sponsor. And, of course, we want you to continue to support SSTI with your generous donations when you renew your NAJIT membership.

Be on the lookout for our SSTI tab soon on the NAJIT page, where you will also be able to contact us directly. We want to hear from you!



Jennifer De La Cruz

by on Thursday, July 2, 2015

Not in My Home, You Don’t

**Flashback First Friday continues with a piece on honesty in the profession from 3 years back**

     Recently, I had some work done at the house. It was a simple installation of a security system, done by a pretty reputable company with a clean-cut salesman at the helm. Even the installer seemed to be nice enough: big smile, joked around, worked efficiently and kept his mess to a minimum.

     At some point in the process, this installer asked me to take a look at something he’d done to the system. No problem. What I was surprised (shocked!) to hear him tell me was that he could sell me an upgrade on the side that takes advantage of products removed from other clients’ homes. My mind immediately flashed to a suburban version of a guy in a dark alley asking if I wanted to buy a watch!  My heart was saddened as I respectfully declined the offer, yet I couldn’t help but feel offended at such dishonesty in my own home. The positive image I had of the installer was actually ruined.

     When I got to thinking about my experience, I saw a clear parallel to the ethical principles of our profession that deal with accurate representation of our qualifications. By extension, when we’re asked to work as interpreters and translators in any setting, we’re being entrusted first and foremost with a specific task required for somebody else’s “home”—be it their court, their clinic, their conference or their document. They’re trusting that we’ll be honest about what we do, from stating our credentials and experience to the specific words or techniques we use in practice.

     We’ve all heard stories about interpreters who call themselves “certified” when the reality is that they can only claim to have a certificate from a program; or the translators out there who rely exclusively on machine translation and charge as if they actually put some thought into their work. Happily, we don’t necessarily fit into either of those extreme categories if we’re conscientious professionals who do, indeed, possess the proper skills, training and experience to practice our craft. But does that mean that we’re not susceptible to falling into a “misrepresentation” trap too?

     Consider the times when, perhaps, you’ve been called upon to defend a particular term or phrase you used in a translation or an interpreting session. Can you truly say you were always open to the possibility that your choice was inadequate, inaccurate, and well-deserving of the challenge? Have you ever felt tempted to save face by stretching the truth so that your choice is made out to be a good synonym when it was, at best, only a related term? Food for thought, at the very least.

     I hope we can all answer the above by saying we’d never lead our client into thinking we’re right when, in fact, we’re wrong. With this hope in mind, I would call upon myself, and my professional colleagues, to continue to respect others’ “homes” and be completely honest about what we’re doing. It’s not always guaranteed to be the easy path, but it is widely held that it’s the mark of the true professional to know where limitations lie, and where it may be necessary to stand corrected or even decline an attractive offer of work.

     It may not be so easy to take a long, hard look at ourselves and seek to identify where we can apply the honesty principle. It may even take a friend telling us where our flaws lie, and our comparing them to our own perceptions. One thing to consider is that the criticism we often find easy to express about others could be said about us, as well. If the heart knows that we’ll always be susceptible to making mistakes, we’ll always need to polish our skills, and we’ll always seek whatever is the right thing to do, it’s a good start, for sure. Knowing we’re tasked with being qualified to do what we do, and essentially proving it with every word, can admittedly be a daunting challenge at times—but it’s what our clients and the profession require of us.

     There’s a writer I’ve followed for several years now who talks about issues of character–often posing very difficult questions about what true honesty is, and is not, and where we can stand to improve our attitudes about the value of truth. While he’s always quick to acknowledge how difficult it can be to consistently speak the truth, that doesn’t negate my professional responsibility to do my darndest to avoid being perceived like that installer who dared to offer me goods obtained in a not-so-honest manner. Maybe everyone has a personal line to draw, but for sure there’s a line, and if we apply our ethics, that line can be quite clear, indeed.

Further reading:

NAJIT Code of Ethics: Canon 7. Accurate Representation of Credentials: Court interpreters and translators shall accurately represent their certifications, accreditations, training and pertinent experience. http://www.najit.org/about/NAJITCodeofEthicsFINAL.pdf

Professional Standards and Ethics for California Court Interpreters “Representation of Qualifications: An interpreter must accurately and completely represent his or her certifications, training, and relevant experience. ―California Rules of Court, rule 2.890(a)  […] Never misrepresent your qualifications and credentials in order to obtain work. Your reputation and the reputation of the entire profession are at stake.” http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Ethics_Manual_4th_Ed_Master.pdf

American Translators Association Code of Ethics and Professional Practice “We the members of the American Translators Association accept as our ethical and professional duty […] 3. to represent our qualifications, capabilities, and responsibilities honestly and to work always within them […]” http://www.atanet.org/membership/code_of_ethics.php

Janis Palma

by on Friday, June 12, 2015

On Protocols and Professional Standards

“Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
― Confucius

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines protocol as “a system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations.” There were no such rules, standard procedures, or protocols for interpreters in courts of law within the United States prior to the Court Interpreters Act and the federal certification program. During those early stages we were very fortunate to have had interpreters like Sofia Zahler directing the Court Interpreter Services program in the Los Angeles U.S. District Court, with colleagues such as Frank Almeida (USDC Los Angeles), Alexander Raïnof (UCLA), Linda Haughton (USDC El Paso), and Alicia Betsy Edwards (UC Berkeley), to name just a few, whose vast knowledge about interpreting, languages and the law gave us a solid foundation on which to build our professional standards. Their handbooks, glossaries, and other educational materials were received with great enthusiasm by the small community of judiciary interpreters at a time when all of us were so very eager to learn. But perhaps the most important thing back then for those of us getting started in this field was learning to do things right: learning the proper techniques, the correct terminology, the ethical principles that should guide our conduct, as all of us shaped a profession in which we could take pride, and that would command the same level of respect as all the others involved in the highly structured domain of civil and criminal litigation.

The input of many experienced and knowledgeable academicians and practitioners—too many to name them all—over the course of the last three and a half decades provided our profession with the building blocks to arrive at the high levels of competency and skills displayed by professional interpreters in the legal field nowadays. Our current standards and protocols were not arbitrarily designed; they were fashioned with the actual role of the judiciary interpreter in mind.

As our role was defined in more and more detail, so were the performance standards and protocols we should or should not follow. Taking an oath to render everything faithfully in the two languages interpreted, for example, was one of those protocols incorporated at very early stage. Also during those first years a group of interpreters from different U.S. District Courts tried to put together a set of guidelines to be promulgated by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, with the expectation of having a uniform set of criteria that would be applicable to judiciary interpreters all over the United States as to the manner in which they would render their services. It took more than 20 years for this project to bear fruit as the Federal Court Interpreter Orientation Manual and Glossary. (See page 6 for the list of Members of Manual Writing Committee appointed in 1988.)

Soon thereafter, in 1991, the Carolina Academic Press published a book that propelled the entire profession to a completely new level of credibility and respect in academic circles: Fundamentals of Court Interpretation, by Roseann Dueñas-González,   Victoria F. Vázquez, and Holly Mikkelson. The book addressed theoretical and pragmatic aspects of the profession and became a standard reference that further contributed to the establishment of uniform protocols clearly linked to the function of the judiciary interpreter.

There are currently many states that recognize the important role interpreters play within their respective systems of justice, and that have developed standards oftentimes modeled after the NAJIT Professional Code of Ethics, promulgating the best practices for judiciary interpreters. This achievement is the direct result of all the hard work and dedication of those who came before us, making sure all along we had a solid foundation on which to build this profession.

Every single rule and protocol that has been developed to standardize an interpreter’s performance in a judiciary setting is grounded on the constitutional rights of non-English speakers facing criminal prosecution in the U.S. system of justice, be it in a state or a federal court. Every single requirement, as well as every single prohibition, exists to protect the rights of those who cannot speak the language of the courts, so as to afford them equal protection and due process.

Our current standards and protocols, these rules we must all follow, are necessary to maintain a uniform delivery of this highly specialized service. Furthermore, this consistency makes it easier for end-users to know exactly what to expect, and have some objective indicators of a judiciary interpreter’s professionalism. Upholding these standards should be a matter of pride for all members of this profession.

Only to the extent that we respect ourselves as professionals, that we uphold and defend the highest standards for our profession, will we earn the respect of those around us and our rightful place in the community of professionals where we render our services day after day.

Jennifer De La Cruz

by on Friday, April 3, 2015

Challenges from Outside the Profession: Friend or Foe?

**Flashback First Friday**

This was originally posted on the NAJIT Blog back in 2012. Leave a comment about being challenged!

A good, healthy session of constructive criticism by a senior colleague about our performance or skills as interpreters is something I venture to say we would all embrace at some level, right? Whether meant as gentle guidance or a harsh reality check, at the end of the day we’ve grown just a little if we heed these words of advice. But what if we’re being challenged by someone who hasn’t been where we’ve been? How do we position ourselves to best respond?

What is it that places interpreters in a position where outsiders would think to challenge us? Well, I know a lot about my car, and when I take it to a mechanic for something I have an inkling about, I’d probably speak up if I had an idea. Same thing goes when I take my child to the doctor because, after all, I usually have information to complement his medical opinion.

How we handle ourselves in any given interpreting situation happens in the open, and seemingly, a lot of the people around us have some level of understanding about what we do. So, yes, there is often a critical eye observing us, and feeling empowered to give opinions. The courts in California have attempted to address part of the issue of challenges by bilingual jurors who believe they hear an interpreter error on the witness stand. To a certain degree, the jury instruction[1] typically given does acknowledge the interpreter’s skills and abilities by saying that the jury must rely on the interpreter’s version. Although it goes on to allow for the challenge, the deference to the professional is understood.

We know that we are subject to both challenges and criticism, but so are other professions. A couple of factors that make it more difficult for us when we are targeted may be how our training is perceived, in general, and specifically, how we present ourselves.

We’ve heard that outside the US, linguist careers are already requiring university degrees, whereas so many training programs here are more similar to trade school certificates. Although I think there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue of “to be or not to be” university trained in the profession (often, great linguists come from other industries before joining our ranks), we have to acknowledge that kids here aren’t born into a culture that holds interpreting among the most highly regarded professions. I hope this will someday change, but in the meantime, although the knowledge we can gain over the span of a career can rival that of doctors and lawyers and scientists (we speak their words— so much of it sticks!!), when we do our jobs correctly, we simply work in their shadows.

How much of this perception can we personally chip away at in our daily dealings? If it’s all about perception, then it’s no longer a matter of only great performances and consistently upholding ethics; what we have to do is “represent” our profession in all we do. A courteous reaction to somebody who has no business challenging how I do things would be to educate, to calmly explain myself—even when my blood is boiling. But even before we are in a position to explain ourselves, if we are perceived by others as someone who has their act together, rather than some “second-class professional,” our reaction is better supported and more credible. This is probably quite individual, but we can all agree that the more we take our responsibility to the profession to heart, the fewer words we’ll need for explaining ourselves, and the more likely we’ll see those around us defer to our expertise.

On a side note, challenges from clients can be handled in a variety of ways, up to and including our decision to terminate the business relationship. When the challenge comes from an employer, however, this can be a stickier situation. Hopefully, we’ll have the backing of national organizations such as NAJIT and ATA (American Translators Association), state organizations and professional unions if, for example, an employer considers that professional ethics and the mechanics of how we complete our task must take a backseat to internal policy. In any case, holding steadfast to what we know is correct is sometimes easier said than done.

So, is the challenge from outside the profession friend or foe? Likely, it is all in how we react. A calm, reasoned answer will hopefully turn even an outrageous perception on how we do things into mutual understanding. At the end of the day, the challenges that we are facing should definitely not go on in silence. Personally, I find it very valuable when colleagues from afar share what they are going through, because all of us become more aware and prepared if similar things happen to us. Unless and until the interpretation and translation hold a place in the hierarchy that is widely recognized and understood as the highly specialized professions they are, we should embrace all challenges as “friend”, and know we will only become stronger as a result.

[1] CALIFORNIA JURY INSTRUCTIONS: CRIMINAL. 121. Duty to Abide by Translation Provided in Court. Some testimony may be given in <insert name or description of language other than English>. An interpreter will provide a translation for you at the time that the testimony is given. You must rely on the translation provided by the interpreter, even if you understand the language spoken by the witness. Do not retranslate any testimony for other jurors. If you believe the court interpreter translated testimony incorrectly, let me know immediately by writing a note and giving it to the  (clerk/bailiff).”   (emphasis added)(http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/documents/calcrim_juryins.pdf)