by Maria Cristina de la Vega on Friday, May 10, 2013
What do a Brazilian Butt-Lift and a Kindle book have in common?
They are two examples of our society’s penchant for instant gratification. Language proficiency and by extension interpreting, nonetheless, are not abilities you acquire overnight. They improve exponentially as you practice, and reflect consciously or not, the experiences of a lifetime.
I came to the U.S., as a Cuban exile with my family, at the age of nine, speaking almost no English. We arrived to a completely new environment, and to what my four brothers and I naively classified as Davie Crockett country from our limited exposure to American folklore. Life in a wooded enclave where we largely fended for ourselves after school and learned to adapt to the Spartan life of New England. While my brothers were out trapping and hunting for fun, I devoted myself to self development through reading, favoring fairy tales as a form of escapism from the inevitable household chores there was no one else to do. One of my fondest memories as a kid, is of creating a tepee in bed with my covers, after “lights out”, when I would read, flashlight in hand, so as not to wake my siblings. Above all else, I wanted to speak English well to fit in, get good grades and make my parents proud of me. Imagine my discouragement when learned that the “F” grades I was so proud of did not stand for “Fine.”
After initially cutting my ties to Spanish, as many first generation exiles do, I went back to my native language by reading an eclectic mix of periodicals. They included magazines my parent’s Cuban friends would give us when they were finished reading them, some of which contained what were for me, riveting excepts of unbridled sexual passion. These came via the stories of Corín Tellado, a prolific writer of romantic novels that were very popular in Spanish-speaking countries and were definitely not permissible reading for an eleven year old at my house. Fortunately, my parents had no time to read magazines so they were unaware of this content. I remember that “tepee-time” required a dictionary to figure out what she was even writing about. That input was thankfully balanced by my mother’s classical texts from the M.A. in Spanish Literature that she went on to get in this country, which she would eagerly share with me. Another favorite, secret childhood activity that fed my avid love for reading in English, was one that I could not share with my parents either because they would have never allowed it. There was a semi-abandoned paper mill a few blocks from my house. It consisted of a warehouse dotted with mysterious, boiling, gurgling vats filled with chemicals, where printed materials were dumped and melted for recycling. Looking back, the place was an accident waiting to happen, without any type of security, but that was the least of my worries. The allure it had for me was is that it was a clandestine, eerie, half lit treasure trove of all kinds of books with adult content I would never have access to otherwise, and comic books, which became a great source of information on American pop culture for me. I would sneak in after school when the workers had left and have a field day going through the musty piles of publications messily stacked in the aisles, beckoning half-heartedly to see if I would spring them from death row.
Ka-ching in more ways than one
While in college, studying plastic arts, I had a revelation. The puritanical work ethic I had eased into in New England had a silver lining, work could be fun! My husband-to-be was writing the dissertation for his PhD. In French Lit, and to supplement his income as an Assistant Professor, he used to do conference interpreting. To me as a twenty-year-old, that simply meant he was paid to talk and seemed infinitely easier to accomplish than my career path at the time.
Fast forward thirty years. Unfortunately it was not as simple as I thought then. However, if you are able to consciously align your values, activities that you enjoy and output that is of worth to a paying segment of society, you will usually end up in the right place. I am fortunate that over the years I was able to harness my desire to work “speaking” in another language (which had never occurred to me), my interest in studying and the discipline to work hard. The universe opened the right doors for me. I audited what conferences I could, signed up for whatever workshops were available and trained hard with generous professionals who shared their time with me. As many before and after me, I did not have the option to go away to school, nor where there many programs offered back then, but I made it a point to secure the mentors and the practice needed to pursue my dream of becoming a professional interpreter.
If interpreting/translating is a field that interests you, rest assured that “where there is a will, there is a way” and opportunities have expanded nowadays that will make this career choice not be as daunting as it may have been in the past because of a lack of standardized resources. Today, we even have our own section in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Media-and-Communication/Interpreters-and-translators.htm.
by Al Navas on Friday, January 11, 2013
Sometimes my first answer is NO if I know I am not qualified to perform a task. However, if the authorities persist due to the nature of an incident, that incident is likely to be documented. It comes down to personal ethics; more precisely, it comes down to ethical behavior on your part as an interpreter. Take, for example, my involvement in a police case a few years ago.
The call from the dispatcher
The call came at 1:45am on a cold morning, the day after Christmas. The police dispatcher asked (always politely!) if I would be available to assist officers on-location with a traffic injury case. I was warned that the driver was injured, and might have to be taken to the nearest hospital for examination.
As I fumbled to put on my trousers, the warning stopped me dead in my tracks. I sat on the edge of the bed as I tried to put on the shoes while talking on the phone. I explained to the dispatcher that I did not feel I was qualified as a medical interpreter; my first answer was “no” to her request to be at the hospital. She said she understood, but that it was urgent that an interpreter be present at the site of the accident, which had taken place on the highway only a few miles from my home. As the police usually call me when they need someone on-site, I agreed to go to the accident site. Meanwhile, she would try to find someone qualified to interpret for the victim at the hospital. I started the drive to the site.
Note: According to the Office of State Courts Administrator, certified court interpreters in Missouri are not automatically qualified as medical interpreters. At the time I was a community interpreter – no training of any kind. Several years after this incident I got interested in becoming certified as a court interpreter. I continue preparations to be certified by the state, as there is a shortage of certified interpreters in Missouri.
Two miles from home I received another call from the dispatcher. Could I please join the officers at the local hospital emergency room? The victim was already in an ambulance; it was a bad case. I turned around, and explained once again that I was not a qualified medical interpreter. But she was prepared; she explained I would not have to interpret medical procedures. This job would require only that I interpret instructions from medical personnel to the victim as they placed him in new positions to allow an MRI examination.
The dispatcher wanted desperately to confirm that I would be present at the hospital, as there was no time to waste. I again explained my position, knowing the conversation was being recorded. I stopped for a few seconds to record the time on my notebook, and to write down the dispatcher’s name. I was buying a few seconds. I eventually said “…Yes. I will be at the hospital in a few minutes”.
Officers and medical personnel were waiting for me at the entrance to the emergency room. We rushed to the MRI waiting room, while I explained my function. No one in the group knew how to use the services of an interpreter. It took me two minutes to explain; just as I finished explaining, we arrived at the victim’s side. Blood and bandages…IV tubes coming and going…injury…must put these images aside…(not really — that is another post, at a later time)…
At the MRI room I started jotting down notes as I interpreted back and forth between the victim and the medical personnel.
The doctors want to do some tests on you; they require your approval.
Can you sign your name? The interpreter will read this form to you in Spanish, because it is in English.
Do you have family members we can call?
What is your name?…Please inhale and remain still for a little while; I will let you know when to exhale…
Do you speak English?…They will move your legs a bit…
How old are you?…Sorry about causing you pain…We are preparing to move you a little, again…
Organized mayhem ensued. Following the MRI, doctors requested I stay, to provide additional help as they performed additional procedures, readying the victim for admission. I did.
What did I learn that night?
My Interpreter Notebook has been a constant companion for several years. I have no idea how many I have used. I must count them some day. I have learned that going back over my notes is reassuring, as I remember details that were only fuzzy the night before. I have learned that I concentrate so hard on the victim (the patient, in this case), that I am oblivious to all details of the procedures being performed (not really — sometimes I live through these again, in my dreams and thoughts). Interpreting instructions from the emergency medical personnel, and the reply from the patient, become paramount for the duration of an emergency case.
In a nutshell, I learned:
I interpreted in a hospital environment. In the end I felt it was OK to do so, as there was no alternative that night. Could the procedures have been performed as efficiently without me? They would have found a way, I believe; but I felt good for assisting to expedite the examination.
Did I help even a little, by simply being there? I believe (hope!) I did. The victim/patient pulled through, recovered, as is now living a normal life.
Sometimes, priorities can change. Those priorities can even make you change a “no” into a “yes”.
How have YOU handled it?
— Have YOU ever been in a similar situation and said “No”?
— Did YOU ever change that No into a Yes?
— Would you be willing to consider changing your answer again, knowing it could be a life or death situation?
I look forward to your comments!
— Al Navas
Image in the article is courtesy
of olovedog at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
by Maria Cristina de la Vega on Friday, December 28, 2012
Dr. Roseann Dueñas Gonzalez is a 21st Century luminary in the field of language access in the U.S. She was the founder and long-standing Director of the University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation, Testing, Research and Policy. I took the opportunity of her stepping down to ask her to share her thoughts on the status of our industry.
MCV: To give those readers not acquainted with you an idea of the influence you have had on the legal interpreting profession is the U.S., give us a brief summary of the salient points in your career.
RDG: As a linguist, I specialized in language policy, registers of English, and language proficiency testing. I was hired by the courtsin AZ in 1976 to identify defendants who truly needed an interpreter. That led to my study of courtroom English, which became the basis of my 1977 doctoral dissertation, and a lifetime of work:
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts consulted my research for the implementation of the 1978 Court Interpreters Act.
I led the development of the model which became the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (SPA<>ENG).
In 1983, I founded the Agnese Haury Institute at the University of Arizona to provide training for court interpretation and to meet standards set by the federal testing model.
From 2000-2012, I was the Principal Investigator for projects that resulted in the development in curricula for the major in translation and interpretation at the University of Arizona, and onsite and online education to improve the registers of Spanish teachers to teach translation and interpretation in high schools, funded by the Department of Education. That in turn brought about:
(a) The publication of Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice in 1991, in collaboration with Victoria Vasquez, J.D. and Holly Mikkelson. It is the most often cited work in law review articles and other scholarly work on court interpretation. This text provided the foundation for the profession’s stabilization, growth, and emergence as a professional field. The 2012 revision offers further refinement of interpreter practice, protocol, and ethics.
(b) The expansion of the Agnese Haury Institute for the training of interpreters in healthcare.
(c) Nationwide short courses in test preparation, and introduction to court interpretation, or advanced court interpretation, hybrid online/onsite training and testing options that will provide opportunities for interpreters seeking to better their skills.
MCV: Why were you selected in 1976 by the Pima County Superior Court to assist in identifying defendants needing an interpreter, which led to your seminal doctorate dissertation?
RDG: The court called the English Department at the University of Arizona and asked for a testing specialist. Judge Ben Birdsall wanted a systematic way to determine whether or not a defendant needed an interpreter. I explained that the language of the courtroom constituted a particular variety that was different from ordinary English, and that for this reason, I would have to devise a language test particularly for this purpose. The judge provided me access to cases, some research support, and a pilot population. That was the beginning of the rest of my life.
MCV: What is the most significant change you have observed in the U.S. interpreting profession after the revolutionary implementation of the Federal Certification Program?
RDG: To see a profession grow out of out of the federal courts’ recognition of its duty to guarantee constitutional rights and to carry out the mandate of the Court Interpreters Act (1978)—that is the transformation of a lifetime. With federal certification came the introduction of a professional language intermediary who made the courts accessible to limited and non-English speakers Because federal certification testing was founded on a valid empirical analysis of courtroom language and the complex job of the court interpreter in this setting, it set the performance criteria and standards for the entire profession. This tool has identified a cadre of extremely talented persons, thus launching the birth of a profession.
MCV: What is the best measure of the growth the Agnese Haury Institute at the University of Arizona and the National Institute for Interpretation have experienced since their inception in 1983? Approximately how many interpreters have received training?
RDG: The Agnese Haury Institute can best be measured by its influence on the growth and development of the court interpreting profession. Its commitment to sharing knowledge and experience is foremost. The Institute was created out of a willingness of master court interpreters (of which there were few in 1983) to share their knowledge and to create a continuing platform where not only linguistic and interpreting skills could be honed, but where all of the content knowledge required of a court interpreters could be presented. Approximately 2,500 interpreters have taken courses there to date.
MCV: I see the short certificate courses offered by the NCI as a robust measure to fill the tremendous need for training that we are experiencing. Do you believe that as recognition for the profession increases, and remuneration merits it, that it will create more traditional educational opportunities through conventional degree programs that are so needed to support this goal?
RDG: As I stated in the 1991 Fundamentals of Court Interpretation and reiterated 20 years later in the 2012 edition, the quality of court interpretation, the growth of the profession, and the quality of language access depends upon the establishment of an academic national infrastructure of translation and interpretation undergraduate and graduate degree programs with an emphasis on interpretation, and a focus on judicial settings. However, consider the fact that it took me 25 years from the founding of the Agnese Haury Institute to the establishment of a T & I major concentration at the University of Arizona, despite my constant efforts. Higher education has been reluctant to embrace court interpretation as a viable field of study. Obstacles include the continuing lack of recognition of interpretation versus translation as a formal field of study; recognition of the need of higher education to fulfill the need for capable interpreters for judicial, medical and other critical settings; and the tremendous workforce demands for certified interpreters. As this need becomes better known through the enforcement of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services, professional interpreters, linguists, lawyers, judges, and other professional groups will have an increasingly stronger argument to begin creating academic programs.
However, a diversity of educational paths are still needed. the Agnese Haury Institute provides a professional experience unlike the experience gained in an undergraduate or graduate program. Persons who have completed our undergraduate major in translation and interpretation often take the Institute as a capstone experience. The intensive guided practice with feedback in the three modes of interpretation (consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation) distinguishes this experience from all others. Short courses fulfill the need for test preparation, specialized instruction such as advanced simultaneous, consecutive, and forensic transcription/translation, etc. Short courses also offer persons considering interpretation the opportunity to self- diagnose and consider the practice of court or medical interpretation and contemplate their own linguistic, interpreting, and subject matter skills and knowledge, to find the educational pathway that meets their goal.
MCV: Have you compared the learning curve and the stage of our profession in the U.S. to that of other parts of the world?
RDG: Although other countries (such as Spain) are significantly ahead in terms of educational opportunities at state funded as well as private universities and colleges, the United States court interpreting profession as a whole is light years ahead of its European and other international counterparts in terms of status of the profession, remuneration and the place of certified professional court interpreters in the justice system. This fact emanates from the rigorous standards set by the federal courts and the enforcement of same through the federal certification examination program and the commensurate remuneration policy established by the federal courts for those who have this unique capability. Although there may be many court interpreters who are doing outstanding work in the field and are not certified at the federal level, the standards set by federal certification provide an exemplar for all state and local courts as well as for other high stakes settings, such as medical.
MCV: What can interested parties do to lobby governmental and private sources to yield support for programs such as those you have spearheaded to develop language access in the U.S.?
RDG: As private citizens, as members of the court interpreting profession, and of professional interpreting and translation groups such as NAJIT and ATA, interpreters need to consider every horizon in terms of language access. The question that should always be: How does this agency, court, system, etc. meet the language access needs of its LEP population. How can I assist them to understand their language access obligation? State interpreter associations need to plug in to local colleges and universities and make it known that access is a primary aspect of their agenda, working collaboratively with universities to make language access a true part of every facet of these institutions.
What are the next goals for our industry and how can language associations help to achieve them?
As we discuss in Fundamentals, the primary goal for the profession is to strengthen its associations and continue to work towards it broader goal of “language access,” which will in turn lead to greater professionalization. NAJIT’S new concentration on policy statements and collaboration with the American Bar Association and other agencies is an excellent beginning that should be expanded.
Professional associations and all court interpreters should concentrate on creating uniform standards of certification among the 50 states and lobby for the establishment of an office within a federal agency to oversee state and local certification of interpreters and ensure that national interpreting telephone and video relay agencies and other providers are employing persons who have passed a rigorous certification examination in legal, or any venue in which laws are applied or where life outcomes are affected. Until there are uniform standards among states and national or international agencies providing interpreting and translation services, the profession of court interpretation will never achieve its potential. Moreover, as it comes of age, the profession must begin to promulgate professional ethical standards that provide more specific guidance for interpreters to follow and some ways of policing itself, instead of being “policed” by an outside nonprofessional agency.
Dr. Dueñas González decided to leave her position in September for health reasons and to spend time with her growing family, after many years of distinguished service. I ask you to join with me to wish her our best. We look forward to her continuing advice as the fruits of her labor blossom.
by Kathleen on Friday, October 26, 2012
The Love of Language
A number of thoughts and events came together recently to start me thinking about how we acquire language and how the ability to speak more than one language and interpret from one to the other is seen by those outside of the language profession. I can’t say that no one understands or respects what we do as interpreters or translators; it just seems that almost everyone I come in contact with really hasn’t got a clue as to how well one has to know the languages one works with. They see a bilingual person interpreting for a monolingual person, and they believe that anyone can do that with a little language study. You speak some Spanish? Go ahead and translate this important medical document for our patients who don’t read English.
This drives me nuts. I have had attorneys say to me, “I wish I had taken Spanish in high school; then I could talk to my clients directly.” People will come up to me and ask me if I think their kid could be an interpreter: “She’s getting straight A’s in Spanish!” Some people ask me if I think it would do them any good to purchase one of those pricey language-learning programs that guarantee fluency in a matter of days. Then there are those jocular folks who exclaim with a little wink, “I know just enough Spanish to get myself into trouble.” I have always been a little afraid to follow up on that one.
The thing is that learning another language really well takes time, patience, dedication and, yes, love. When I was a college professor, I couldn’t help but notice that every student of mine who actually became fluent in Spanish evinced an enormous love for language, and particularly the language being acquired. Most of them learned all they could in the classroom and then went on to study abroad. I myself fell madly in love with the English and Spanish languages at a young age, and worked very hard indeed both here and in other countries to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the syntax, usage and grammar of both languages, not to mention vocabulary.
Now, I must say I heartily approve of foreign language study at the high school and college levels. I believe that kids need to be exposed to other countries, other peoples, other points of view, especially nowadays. But don’t expect to really speak, read or write well without some serious work.
Perceptions about Language Expertise
It takes an enormous amount of effort and study just to become fluent in two languages. Acquiring genuine command of both of the languages in your language pair goes far beyond what one can learn either in the classroom, by desultory study and reading or by sheer osmosis. That’s where outsiders just don’t seem to get it. We have worked so hard to become experts, but we don’t seem to get enough respect.
About a month ago, I was interpreting in a custody case for an attorney and his Mexican client. Before the hearing began the attorney conversed with his client in Spanish. The attorney spoke fairly well, and I could tell that he prided himself on his ability. He was really quite fluent—his verb conjugations were correct on the whole, his grammar was not too terrible and his accent, while excruciating to a language professional, was not bad for a gringo. The trouble was that he thought his Spanish was every bit as good as mine. As his client was testifying at the hearing, she used the word playera, the word for t-shirt used by most Mexicans. The attorney immediately said: “I object to that translation.” Well, we all just stared at him—the judge, myself and even the defendant after I had interpreted his objection to her. I said something like: “The interpreter has interpreted the word playera as t-shirt, which is the word generally used in Mexico, the native country of this witness.” The attorney would have learned the word camiseta, which is the word generally taught in the classroom.
The point is that the attorney had no trust in me or my hard-won knowledge of both English and Spanish. I tried to convey this to him as we were leaving the courtroom, but I don’t think he really understood. How would he have felt if I had challenged him on a point of law?
And then there was the time that I was interpreting for a witness in a rape case. At the start of the trial, the defense attorney asked me for my credentials. After I stated them, he had the nerve to ask if I had an accent in Spanish (I don’t), and if the witness might not have trouble understanding me. Just a courtroom ploy, of course, but so very insulting to a professional interpreter!
It is often the same with written Spanish. I cringe when I come across some of the signs posted in our court buildings and hospitals. (One of my favorites warns against driving poisoned.) At the risk of going off on a tangent, is there any language other than Spanish with which people feel they can take such liberties? I think not. I read a best-seller recently set in an indeterminate Spanish-speaking country. The Spanish words and phrases thrown in for verisimilitude were often either misspelled or apparent machine translations. Accent marks were strewn about haphazardly. Neither the author nor the editor seemed to give any importance whatsoever to the correct use of even the little bits of Spanish in the text.
I have to wonder, though. I do believe that if the book had been set in a French-speaking country, the editors would have had an expert review the use of the French language. It’s French, after all! Spanish just doesn’t see to be accorded the same respect.
Then there was the time I worked as a part-time paralegal in a community legal assistance organization. It was a pretty cool place to work, especially since I could leave whenever I needed to go to court to interpret. One of the other people who worked there was a young “bilingual” receptionist with a high school education who had grown up speaking Spanish and English at home. The office decided that it would be a good idea to have some of their materials translated. Whom did they ask? The bilingual secretary! I tried to explain the difference between someone who really knew the language and someone who grew up speaking it at home, but it was like talking to a brick wall. The attitude seemed to be: “How can you possibly translate anything into Spanish—you’re not Hispanic! Duh!” Finally they had to cancel the project, though; the translator didn’t seem to be able get any of the work done.
At any rate, I’m done griping. I am sure that all you interpreters and translators out there have similar tales of woe. I guess we’ll just keep working away to raise the general perception of what it is to be a language professional. I know that we can and will get the respect we deserve!
by Maria Cristina de la Vega on Friday, October 19, 2012
I have just finished reading Found in Translation, the new book which has just come out by Nataly and Jost, and is already lined up for a third printing! I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the T&I sector. Having worked in the industry for so many years and always striving to keep up with new developments, I now realize that until I read the book, I only had a miniscule idea of all the ways our profession affects global events ranging from personal issues, to business, to governmental affairs and everything in between. It is a “must read”, a very enjoyable read and it will broaden your horizons and allow you to speak authoritatively to promote what we do. Read on to learn what we discussed:
1. What new fields do you see opening up for our profession with the advent of the digital age? Have you noticed any type of interpreting that has become obsolete over the years?
NK: The digital age is helping the fields of translation and interpreting both evolve, although it’s also making things more complex. For the last few years, I’ve been interested in real-time online translation, which is somewhat of a hybrid between interpreting and translation. It occurs in real time, but is in written form.
Market data from Common Sense Advisory indicates that all types of interpreting are growing, but especially on-site interpreting. There is always a lot of buzz about video and telephone interpreting, but they are not growing as swiftly as one might expect. On-site interpreting has not become obsolete. Quite the contrary – it’s one of the fastest-growing services in the market.
As for types of interpreting that may become obsolete, some people believe that consecutive interpreting eventually will, since simultaneous is so much faster, even though some studies show that the quality of simultaneous is often inferior to, mostly due to the speed. Most of our studies show that when it comes to language services, speed trumps everything else for most applications and settings.
2. What is on your “wish list” for technological advances/devices for the profession? How close are we to any of them?
JZ: In general I think we’re on the right path with how translation technology is developing. For a long time we were stuck in the same old paradigms of translation memory and termbases, but in the last couple of years development has started to move in more interesting areas.
One area that I think is particularly interesting is a more intelligent analysis of the data in databases such as translation memories. This results in many more possible matches, also called subsegment matching. The other area that I expect great things from is a close integration of machine translation into the more traditional technology. I don’t mean the typical “pretranslation” by machine translation that is post-edited by a translator, but processes by which the data that the translator has collected can “communicate” with external machine translation data to achieve more helpful results.
On the project management side of operations, I think we will see more efficient models to allow for direct contact between the translation buyer and the translator. This in turn will challenge LSPs, or language service providers, to find creative ways to bring added value to the table.
3. How can we bring together language associations around the world to help their members leapfrog the learning curve in those places where the profession is very young or has not developed significantly?
JZ: This is an interesting question. First, we can learn what went wrong when translation technology initially entered the market 15 or 20 years ago. It was a painful experience to convince all the different stakeholders—translation buyers, language service providers, translators, and educators—of the value of those technologies. Those stakeholders who adopted the technology at the beginning—primarily translation buyers and larger language service providers—found that their needs were naturally accommodated more in the ensuing development process.
How could clearer communication have made this process go more smoothly? That’s an essential question to answer and then apply so we can do a better job at introducing new technology and helping other industries get over similar humps (for instance, perhaps some of the more technology-skeptical interpreters could learn from the translators’ experience).
Our profession is actually still underdeveloped in some ways in the U.S., where many members of the translation and interpreting industries have a non-industry-specific educational background. Many places in Europe and South America are ahead of game. I believe our emphasis should be on more accessible tertiary education in the U.S. that prepares for the actual work in the real world.
Associations can play an important role in helping to build and promote such programs.
4. After reading your book and the successful instances of translation crowdsourcing for well-known publications such as The Economist, do you think it can spread to traditional sources of income for translators?
NK: Crowdsourced translation has been a source of income for freelancers and agencies for many years now. Already, many companies pay for professional editing services and volunteer translator community management. It just isn’t a very big area, which is why so few people ever see those projects. We published a report that reviewed more than 100 different crowdsourced translation platforms, but many of those were not with name-recognizable companies. Many start-ups in the high-tech space use this method.
However, it’s important to remember that crowdsourced translation is not free. Also, saving money is not the primary motivation for using this model. Many high-tech companies do this just because their online communities begin to request it. In some cases, their users simply begin translating content without them even asking to do so. As a result, some of this activity springs up without the company’s permission or even their awareness at first, as it did in the case of the Economist.
5. Have you noticed any pronounced differences in work categories between the U.S. and other parts of the world , for interpreters and translators?
JZ: In many parts of the world outside the U.S., translators and interpreters have a stronger standing because they are seen as “real” professions. In the U.S., with its generally low level of language learning, anyone with a smattering of any second language is perceived as capable of engaging in translation and interpretation. We hope that our book can serve to change that.
6. How can we increase the number of potential interpreters in the feeder, in view of the large number of retiring baby-boomer interpreters around the world?
NK: Some educational programs for interpreters report to me that their graduates cannot find work. Other sources are telling me that there is a shortage of interpreters. Much of it depends on geography, setting, and language combinations.
For example, the U.S. has a shortage of interpreters for languages of national security. Locations that receive large refugee populations also typically struggle to find enough medical, community, and court interpreters for new arrivals. The challenge is not unique to the U.S., of course. Countries around the world face similar challenges.
The fastest way to attract more young people to the field is to improve remuneration, but that alone is not enough. The profession as a whole needs to become more developed and mature. Education and training programs are lacking for many areas of the field, especially in the United States, but we’re seeing more and more emerge each year.
7. From your experience, what advice would you give to those considering becoming interpreters and translators, who want to make it to the top as quickly as possible?
NK & JZ: We can answer this one in unison – don’t be afraid of technology! It really is your friend. Technology, training, and passion for languages are really the three key ingredients for success.
Readers, please join in our conversation and tell us if you have read the book and what you think of it. We would love to share your experience!
by Bethany Korp-Edwards on Friday, August 10, 2012
Two weeks ago, we considered an ethical dilemma that had come up in my office. Today I would like to discuss the concepts of “demands” and “controls”. These terms were first used by Robert Karasek in his work on occupational stress in the late 1970s, but they simply mean (respectively) the factors that place stress on us in our jobs and the range of options at our disposal to cope with those factors.
Demands can be of several types. Karasek identified three: environmental, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. When Robyn Dean and Robert Pollard extrapolated Karasek’s findings to interpreting in their seminal 2001 article “Application of demand-control theory to sign language interpreting: Implications for stress and interpreter training,” they added a fourth class of demand: paralinguistic. I posit that there are two more types: linguistic, and a sixth factor I’ll call divergent. They can overlap (for example, difficulty hearing a particular speaker could be environmental, paralinguistic, or both).
Environmental: Demands created by the space itself: lighting, temperature, seating or lack thereof, obstructions between the interpreter and the parties, etc.
- I was standing in an unfamiliar location in the courtroom.
Interpersonal: Demands having to do with the interpreter’s interaction with the parties, or interaction between the parties.
- The judge was tired of hearing from the defendant.
- The defendant hated his lawyers.
- The lawyers on both sides were frustrated with the defendant.
- I was wary of the defendant because of his many prior outbursts.
- For that matter, I was also frustrated with the defendant.
- My teammate was a new colleague whom I had not worked with very much.
Intrapersonal: Demands that are internal to the interpreter, such as hunger, fatigue, etc.
- I was very unsure about what to do.
- I was afraid of annoying the judge.
- I was uncomfortable standing in such an unfamiliar place.
- I wondered what my teammate would think about whatever decision I made.
Paralinguistic: Demands that have to do with communication, but not language per se: body language, tone of voice, speech impediments, etc.
- The defendant and his attorney were speaking very loudly.
- The judge’s body language conveyed that he did not want to listen to the defendant.
- The defendant and attorney were facing each other, not the Court; however, from time to time the defendant did turn toward the judge.
Linguistic: Relating specifically to the words being used in the source and/or target languages. Unfamiliar vocabulary (such as scientific language or regional slang) would fall into this category. Because I’d been working on this case for so long and was so accustomed to everyone’s speech patterns, there weren’t really any unusual linguistic demands on me. (The defense attorney can certainly be “high-falutin’” when he gets going, but it wasn’t his speech that was the dilemma.)
Divergent: Demands created by having to carry out the physical act of interpreting under abnormal circumstances—using unfamiliar equipment, running out of paper in your steno pad and needing to use a legal pad instead, using a ballpoint pen instead of a rollerball, etc. (As a profession, we are set in our ways, aren’t we?)
- I was interpreting simultaneously from Spanish into English, not my (or any court interpreter’s) usual direction.
Now let’s discuss the controls I had at my disposal—i.e., the things I could have done.
- Interpret the attorney-client conference, unless and until I was told to stop.
- Not interpret the attorney-client conference, unless and until I was told to begin.
- Ask the judge on the record whether to interpret or not.
- Ask the judge off the record whether to interpret or not (remember, I was standing quite close to him).
- Move away from where I was standing to consult with my colleague about what to do.
As I’ve said before, the goal of interpreting within the court context is to facilitate an experience as close to possible as what it would be if all parties involved spoke the same language.
And what is the Demand-Control Schema?
Awareness of the demands placed upon us allows us to decide which controls to apply. The overall goal (desired outcome) of our interpreting is what guides that decision. Demands, controls, and goals vary from context to context and situation to situation … but if we consider them as three classes of variables, then the Demand-Control Schema provides a unified theory of interpreting. It is equally applicable to any context in which interpreters work (court, medical, school, religious, conference…) and any individual assignment. And that’s why this series is called “Time for a Paradigm Shift.”
See you next time, when we discuss the implications of this paradigm shift.
by Kathleen on Friday, July 13, 2012
The following is the first of a two-part series on the importance of certification standards with a view toward achieving recognition of the interpreting field as a profession on a par with those already regulated and standardized in the United States.
Part 1: Why Certification Matters
The year was 1998, and I had recently earned what was then called the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification of the National Center for State Courts, now the Consortium for Equal Access in the Courts. I was proud to be one of the first two certified court interpreters in my state. At about the same time, the courts in my state received a mandate to employ only certified or eligible interpreters, and I started getting work. The interpreters I was replacing in my local courts were two “bilingual” members of the community. The lower courts had had to depend on the services of a local chicken farmer, who sometimes appeared in overalls, and who had no problem telling people how to plead or accepting payment from both the court and the defendants. In the higher court, there was a lady who dressed nicely and was a real whiz at converting legal language into baby Spanish “so that the defendants can understand.” For many members of the local legal community, this was the only kind of interpreting they had any ever observed. Some of them didn’t know what to make of me.
I remember my first attorney-client conference as if it were yesterday. The defense attorney and I had just gone through an exemplary interview with an incarcerated defendant. I felt that the attorney had done an admirable job of eliciting information from his LEP (limited English proficient) client, and that I had conveyed the information accurately. Everything seemed hunky-dory until after we left the cell block, when the attorney turned to me and said, “You know, I think all this business about certified interpreters is a crock.”
Well, as you can imagine, I was literally dumbstruck. I wish now that I had managed a snappy comeback, but I had just gone through an in-depth orientation about the importance of adequate interpreting for LEP persons, and in my naiveté I truly had no idea there was anybody who disagreed with that assessment.
Today—Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
That was fourteen years ago. The profession has come a long way, and many, many more interpreters have become certified at both the federal and state levels. At the same time, there has developed an increased understanding and regard for the work of court interpreters and their function in the justice system. Many members of the legal community—attorneys, judges, and prosecutors— appreciate the importance of using certified interpreters, but there will always be those who, like my attorney friend, think it’s all a crock. There’s not a lot we can do to change their minds except to continue our efforts to educate and advocate for our cause and to do our very best in our field of endeavor,
There is another group, however, that presents an even greater challenge—interpreters themselves. There are working interpreters out there who strongly resist seeking any kind of certification, and their reasons are many. I’ve heard some say that they get plenty of work anyway, and that they make a good living without having to go to the trouble and expense of taking an exam. Then there are interpreters for whom the converse is true—they feel they don’t work enough to make it worth their while. There are also those who rely on getting work from certain agencies that don’t require any certification from the interpreters who work for them—indeed they call uncertified interpreters first because they’re cheaper. Where is the incentive for an interpreter to get certified if it means less work?
Then there are those who feel that they should not be required to take any tests since their experience should speak for itself. Others feel that all interpreter testing is by its very nature discriminatory. (I used to know a lady who insisted that the only reason she had not yet passed the state certification exam–after four tries–was because of her accent in English.) Finally, there are a number of unfortunate interpreters who must strive to overcome a seemingly overwhelming, sometimes pathological, fear of test-taking. For these interpreters the prospect of having to interpret in the context of an exam seems to induce such performance anxiety that it is actually more stressful for them to interpret into a microphone in a quiet place than in front of a room full of people under the most demanding conditions.
All of these reasons for avoiding the certification process suggest that a narrow and personalized perspective on certification is still prevalent in the interpreter community. We tend to see only our own situation without relating it to our profession as a whole. What we need is to develop a broader, more long-range view that focuses on one of our main objectives—to be considered as members of a regulated, standardized profession like that of any doctor, lawyer or, yes, electrician or plumber.
Good Interpreter/Bad Interpreter
When weighing the requirement for using certified interpreters, people sometimes suggest that certification does not automatically confer competence. This may or may not be the case, but to me it is beside the point. In this country, most states require that aspiring practitioners of countless different occupations pass through some kind of qualifying process, sometimes many, before they are allowed to actually begin working in their field. This includes doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, psychologists, social workers, builders, plumbers, real estate agents, beauticians…the list goes on and on. But not court interpreters, and for that matter, not medical interpreters.
Look at it this way. Would you get a pedicure at a nail salon that employed unlicensed operators? Would you go to a doctor who had not passed her qualifying exams? Would you trust the sale of your home to an unlicensed realtor? A lawyer who has not passed the state bar exam might be every bit as competent as one who has, but which one would you go to for advice about a will?
Yes, the members of every profession include individuals who are highly competent and others who are less so. There are even qualified professionals who are (horrors!) incompetent and even unprofessional. To say that there are uncertified interpreters who are just as good as their certified colleagues ignores the question of what certification implies for the profession as a whole. In order to receive the respect we seek as professionals, certification must be the norm rather than a feather in one’s cap for the interpreter and an onerous and unreasonable demand for the courts and other venues.
The extraordinary thing about the lack of standardization in the field of interpreting is that our expertise or lack thereof can affect the future of an individual in situations of life and death. Isn’t the possibility of life in prison or serious medical complications of more importance than the correct installation of a garden sprinkler system, the exact shade of color on a woman’s hair, the most favorable divorce settlement? Apparently, at this time, it is not.
Information on the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination
Information on the Consortium for Equal Access in the Courts Certification Exam
National Council on Interpreters in Health Care: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Certification of Interpreters
For a lively discussion of certification pros and cons, go to the Indeed.com forum at:
On test-taking phobias (Courtesy Gio Lester)
(Check under Social Phobias)
The next installment of this series will deal with the difficulties encountered in the areas of regulation and standardization of the interpreting profession, and will include concrete comparisons with other professions, the use of interpreter agencies
and the current interpreter situation in Great Britain and its implications for interpreters in the United States.
* It is now the
Consortium for Equal Access in the Courts
by Maria Cristina de la Vega on Friday, June 22, 2012
I have been working as an interpreter and the owner of an LSP for over thirty years so one would imagine that I have been around the block and back in terms of working with a large number of interpreters, both in court interpreting and conference interpreting scenarios. Whereas that is correct, I have been fortunate to interact for the most part with very professional individuals.
The following is an ad-hoc compilation of several intertwined qualities in the interpreters I work with that I have come to look for and appreciate during all these years:
- Respect. An interpreter has to have consideration for the person she is interpreting for, the one she is interpreting with and the ancillary cast of characters. This means being true to the message the speaker or witness in attempting to convey without paraphrasing, modifying, or editing speech. In terms of the other interpreter, she must be mindful of fulfilling her part without taking advantage of the other, both in terms of actual interpreting time and support when teams switch off. As to the rest, it is important to meet the needs of the court reporters, for example, by controlling the dynamics of the participants in a proceeding so that you are not doing simultaneous over the witness’s voice, confusing the reporter, when you should be doing consecutive. Delivery must be smooth, audible and convey the tone of the witnesses as well as the attorneys.
- Discretion. “ Whatever happens in the booth stays in the booth…” I truly value a professional who deals with issues in our working environment without informing the client or bystanders of difficulties when there are other avenues to solve the situation. I am referring to anything ranging from audio problems on the part of a technician, to slips on the part of your fellow interpreter, to personality judgments. There is a place and a time to criticize without endangering an account for the agency that hired you, or the reputation of a colleague.
- Honesty. Being true to the code of ethics of the profession without over-representing your credentials and capabilities. Pulling your fair share of whatever work is involved without overcharging. Having unsolicited respect for the clients of third parties, not trying to influence them to change their allegiances.
- Responsibility. It will always be doubly appreciated when you take on more than your share if a situation warrants it and you can help your partner. Always make sure that you are prepared for the work you have been hired to do. Leave no stone unturned in asking for and studying any available materials to do the job as seamlessly and proficiently as possible. Another very important aspect of responsibility has to do with timeliness. We must entertain the possibility that Murphy’s Law may strike and arrive at venues with a minimum half an hour lead time. That little extra time will give you, your partner, the agency that hired you and the end client valuable peace of mind. It is well worth the effort.
- Sense of humor. This quality goes hand-in-hand with the others. While it does not replace them and you can get along with and work with colleagues that do not have it, it makes life so much easier and fun. It takes the edge off stressful work and allows you to laugh at what might otherwise be embarrassing and scary, letting you form healthy bonds and a camaraderie with the people you work with.
Strive to nurture these and other positive traits throughout your career and you will note how they enhance both your personal and professional life. Be genuine in your effort and realistic, knowing that practice makes perfect and that although Rome was not built in a day, whatever you put off for another day will delay in coming to fruition.
by Jennifer De La Cruz on Friday, June 1, 2012
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 whom 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.
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
by Kathleen on Friday, April 13, 2012
No matter how high-minded we are, or pretend to be, I think all of us have a guilty secret when it comes to popular TV shows. For some it might be the latest crazy reality show or the hottest telenovela. For me it’s a show called “What Not to Wear.” I get a real kick out of the way the gorgeous experts take some cluelessly frumpy or flashy female and turn her into a confident, professional-looking woman. Love it.
So how does this relate to you? You probably dress just fine for the courtroom. But why is it so important? You might say “I want to look professional” or “I want to be taken seriously.” Yes, there is that, but there are some other important reasons as well.
When the subject of dressing for court comes up, the advice I often hear is “dress like an attorney.” Well, yes and no. I know a number of attorneys whose style of dress I wouldn’t want to emulate in a thousand years. There’s the sloppy old public defender who’s been around for as long as anyone can remember with the frayed corduroy jacket, the wrinkled khakis and the stained tie. Then there’s the Allie McBeal lookalike with the tight suit complete with mini-skirt and stiletto heels. One thing the interpreter has to remember is that the attorney has no reason to be unobtrusive; on the contrary, many high-profile attorneys make it part of their business to be as noticeable as possible. The interpreter? Not so much.
Part of our job is to be unobtrusive, and that includes our attire. Does that mean we must wear the same old black jacket and pants or skirt every day? Well, not that either. During the course of my 14-odd years (sometimes very odd indeed) as a court interpreter, I have seen almost every possible version of interpreter attire in the courts, from blue jeans and flannel shirt at traffic arraignments to chiffon ruffles and oodles of jewelry at child custody hearings. These interpreters will say that they need to be comfortable, or that that’s their “look.” They have their own way of dressing and want to be seen as individuals. Unfortunately, the courtroom interpreter simply cannot afford the luxury of being seen as different or special in this particular way. Strangely enough, I have observed that the more noticeable the clothes are, the less competent the interpreter seems to be. Interpreters who insist on their own particular way of dressing just don’t seem to hang around very long.
As with anything that contributes to your success as a self-employed free-lancer, clothes are an investment, albeit not one you can deduct from your taxes. They must fit well and look good. They must be clean and neat. When you’re just starting out you may not have a decent professional wardrobe; it’s not something you acquire overnight. Watch for sales. Save up your money for that special confidence-boosting jacket. Find a really good tailor who understands your body type.
Now, I’m not a person who is very good at matching up tops and pants and skirts and jackets. Having grown up wearing school uniforms, I just never got the hang of it. So what I have done over the years is to look out for sales and buy very good quality women’s suits at half the original price or even less. I have over 20 pant and skirt suits which I rotate and match up with different tops. I feel confident in what I wear. I have put a good deal of time and effort into looking just right, and I find it empowering. I wear low heels, because the profession often calls for a lot of standing or walking quickly from place to place. Heck, sometimes we even have to run!
Guys, of course, have it a lot easier. The suit and tie are, of course, de rigueur. But the suit must fit, the tie must be tasteful, the pants must break just right above the dress shoe. No Hush Puppies or Doc Martens, please.
And speaking of shoes, make sure yours are in good repair. I’ll never forget the time the heel fell off one of the well-worn (alright, decrepit) dress sandals I had worn that day; a resourceful bailiff glued it back on seconds before the judge got on the bench. I won’t make that mistake again.
So, this is what it boils down to. It doesn’t matter if you’re interpreting in a tiny podunk court in the boonies for a case involving a farm truck and a bicycle or a federal case involving international drug trafficking. You’ve got to dress the part. As always, you are our representative, you are the face of the interpreter community. Here’s looking at you, kid.
More about courtroom attire: