by Jennifer De La Cruz on Thursday, October 31, 2013
Experience alone cannot be the deciding factor when one weighs the decision of volunteering. I think it is important that we encourage everyone who is passionate about our professions and who wants to see them advance, to become more involved. It was one of the themes for me as I spoke with individuals at the conference in May. Not to belabor a point for those of you who heard firsthand, but I think that the people who are passionate and really have a vision for what our professions should be, too often think that they lack sufficient experience or “clout” to be able to take a leadership role. It is worth noting that before any of us stepped into positions of leadership for the first time, we were newcomers. I think that there are different types of leaders with varying traits that are natural to some, acquired for others, but I believe that everyone has the ability to lead, since the best leadership comes from example. At the very least, we each have it within our control to be a good example. As for more overt leadership roles, there has to be a first time, not a “best” time, for there to be a next time. If you would like to see our professions go in a certain direction, if you are passionate about it, there is a role for you. If not you, then who? –Rob Cruz, Message from the Chair (NAJIT.org)
This poignant reflection in Rob Cruz’s most recent message as our top leader at NAJIT struck a chord with me, and I couldn’t agree more.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for a variety of roles in our profession. Sometimes, the tasks have been new to me; other times, the duties I take on are a natural progression of something I’m already doing. As Rob says, there have been many first times, and they were usually not the best times. There have been countless people along the way who have had the patience to show me the ropes and to guide me down the right path when I was lost or about to make a mistake. The journey has led me to understand more about who we are, what we do, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. Even so, sometimes I feel like a beginner. But I stay involved, nonetheless.
My a-ha moment
Today, I had the opportunity to visit with a dear friend who I worked with as a medical interpreter many years ago. Our conversation naturally led to me describing what I do in court on a daily basis, and all that goes with it. Because of the affection I have for my friend, I felt like I wanted to help her see things just as I see them, and my description started getting very extensive. It came to a point where I realized I know so much more than I can possibly describe over lunch. Could it be that I’ve grown and changed more than I sometimes realize?
Then I saw a tweet from NAJIT to check out Rob’s message. There’s my answer! The difficulty I had at lunchtime in describing all I know was because of a long journey that included my nine-to-five routine PLUS getting involved outside the courtroom.
So, why do I feel like such a newbie sometimes, even after over 16 years in the biz? Could it be that the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know? If that’s true, then Rob is right: there’s never a perfect time to step up to the plate, but our turn does eventually come if we’re truly participating on the team. What is all too common is that if we’re too new, we don’t volunteer because we’re new; then, once we have the experience, we realize that there’s so much more to know, and so we continue to feel unworthy. How silly of us!
The time to give to our profession is always. We’re growing and changing. Technology is taking us to new places. We’re more connected than ever. The possibilities are endless, right?
Too few, really
I’ve been shocked at times to discover how few people make themselves available to participate in group efforts. Even when I was raising small children, I started getting involved by merely having a membership in a couple of interpreter organizations, which allowed me to understand so much more than simply putting in my time at work. The more we are involved, even from afar, the more we discover where to position ourselves to eventually feel pulled in to take on roles that we never asked for or expected – they just happen.
Perhaps this is a pretty natural phenomenon for all professions, but I think we carry an even bigger responsibility to stay involved. It is not uncommon for interpreters and translators to struggle to be understood by the world and to be treated as the professionals we are. So it follows that a huge group of brilliant and talented individuals who are not involved would continue feeling misunderstood. How much more powerful would we be if all of us lost the fear of becoming involved, of volunteering, of participating, and simply of being willing to put in our two cents?
Rob has it right, and I think we’ve got a lot of great leaders out there who need our help. Please, consider finding your niche and becoming involved in the organizations of our profession. Whether it’s sharing helpful information with your officemates, attending a conference, or starting a movement, the time is now, and if not you, then who?
by Kathleen on Friday, October 11, 2013
There is quite a bit of talk lately among those of us in the interpreting profession about the professionalization of community interpreting. In Great Britain and Canada, community interpreting, also referred to as “public service interpreting” is an umbrella term encompassing any kind of interpreting for the public sector, and includes judiciary and medical interpreting. In the United States, we separate legal and medical interpreting, and use the term “community interpreting” to refer to any other kind of interpreting among LEP or deaf individuals and representatives of the institutions associated with health, housing, education, family, welfare and general social services. Currently, the field of community interpreting is developing rapidly, and there are various movements underway to train and certify community interpreters.
Such training is becoming indispensable. The professionalization of community interpreting is an idea whose time has come.
Training for Community Interpreters
I must say, I am all for it! I live in an area that is mainly served by a small handful of certified interpreters and a larger group consisting of either untrained self-employed or ad hoc interpreters, or equally untrained bilingual social services personnel. I have found that the lack of the most basic knowledge of proper interpreting techniques is profound, and I take advantage of each and every opportunity for teaching interpreters and clients how it’s done. All the skills we use in court or in medical interpreting—use of first person consecutive interpreting, simultaneous interpreting for the LEP who is not being being addressed directly—must also be mastered for use in community interpreting. Just because the assignment does not take place in a courtroom or doctor’s office doesn’t give one permission to use “he says/she says,” or allow an LEP person to just wait in silence while an English conversation of importance to the LEP is going on.
Taking advantage of those really good teaching moments
An excellent opportunity to do some education on correct community interpreting presented itself to me two months ago. Although, I work mostly in the courtroom, I always welcome the chance to work in other venues. So when XYZ agency called, desperate for an interpreter for a mental health counseling session scheduled for the next day, I accepted. I was told that all of their “regular” local interpreters were busy with other assignments. Grudgingly, they accepted my terms, which they informed me were much higher than they were used to paying. I would be interpreting for the Spanish-speaking mother of a teen-age girl who had tried to commit suicide.
I arrived 15 minutes before the time of the appointment, and was somewhat taken aback to find that the mother and daughter had already arrived and that the counselor was talking to them, using the daughter as interpreter for the mother. It was not a good sign.
As I usually do, I asked Mrs. Jones, the counselor, if she had worked with interpreters before. “Of course; XYZ always sends us excellent interpreters,” she replied airily.
I knew we were in trouble when the first words out of Mrs. Jones’ mouth were: “Ask Mom how Janet’s doing at home.” As nicely as I possibly could, I asked her to address the mother directly. “Just pretend I’m not here.” Surprised, the counselor complied. We reached another snag when I interpreted the mother’s answers in the first person. Mrs. Jones, very confused, asked me: “Is it you who are answering, or is it her?” Again, I explained that I would be interpreting the mother’s words exactly as she said them. “Just look at her,” I told her, “and pretend that it’s her answering you.” Before long, things started to go very nicely indeed, and both the counselor and the mother began to get into a back-and-forth rhythm most conducive to good communication.
Then it was the daughter’s turn. Mrs. Jones began to address the girl in English. I, of course, commenced a running simultaneous interpretation of their conversation, but after a few minutes, the counselor turned to me and said: “I’m not used to this. Why are you interpreting to Mom? I’m not talking to her right now.” I explained to her that “Mom” needed to be fully present for this interview of her daughter and that what I was doing was making that possible. Looking very dubious, the counselor went on and after a while seemed to forget I was even there.
At some point, there was a slight pause in the conversation, and Mrs. Jones said something like: “Well, then,” which I duly interpreted. She was utterly amazed. “Do you even interpret my filler words?” “Everything,” I told her. “Look,” I said, “this is how it’s done. I have been a professional trained interpreter for 15 years, and I can assure you that this is the correct way for an interpreter to facilitate communication.” Of course, I also let the mother know what these exchanges between myself and the counselor were all about.
The remainder of the session went great. Since the mother could hear and understand everything, she was able to fully participate in the session, providing information that could be vital for her daughter’s treatment, and listening to her daughter tell the counselor things she had been uncomfortable to tell her mother directly. There were tears and hugs.
What Was Learned
At the end of the session, Mrs. Jones said: “You have to understand. I have actually had interpreters fall asleep during these sessions; they don’t interpret anything to the parent. I have never had an interpreter do what you’re doing. I really appreciate this, and I understand now how important it is.” I told her as simply as I could that she should insist that any interpreter use first person in consecutive interpreting and that the parent or guardian must not be forgotten in the process.
I felt great about having been able to educate at least two persons—the counselor and the mother—about how proper interpreting must be used for genuine communication. I am hoping that the next time Mrs. Jones requests an interpreter from the XYZ agency, she will insist that the interpreter have some training, and that when the interpreter arrives, Mrs. Jones will request that correct interpreting procedures be followed. I also hope that Janet’s mother will understand that she has the right to know what is being said in all interviews with her daughter at which she is present.
I would love to be able to reach out to the XYZ agency and to others like it, but as they say, “Good luck with that.” They’re looking for the fastest and the cheapest; quality or even correct interpreting technique is really of no concern. If their clients don’t know the difference, who cares? This attitude must change, but I think it will be a long process.
Educating the Untrained Community Interpreter
We may not be able to reform the agencies that employ untrained interpreters for community work just yet, but there is something that I think I can do to reach out to the interpreters in my area who work for these agencies or for themselves. I am thinking very seriously about providing a free basic educational orientation for interpreters who don’t really have a grasp on the skills they need to truly serve in this capacity.
This would be only a first step toward improving the situation. I don’t know exactly how to get the word out, but I am considering various ways and means. I don’t even know how many would come, since a lot of longtime interpreters in my area don’t think they need any instruction, but even if just a few show up, I will have made some impact.
If anyone reading this post has any ideas or experience as to how to reach out in this way, please contact me!
Bowen, Margareta. (2003) Community Interpreting. In Mary Snell-Hornby, Hans Hönig, Paul Kußmaul, Peter A. Schmitt (Eds.) Handbuch Translation. Tübingen:
Stauffenburg-Verlag. Retrieved from http://aiic.net/page/234
Mikkelson, Holly. (1999) Interpreting Is Interpreting — Or Is It. Originally presented at the Graduate School of Transaltion and Interpretation, 30th Anniversary Conference, Monterey Institute of International Studies, January 1999. Retrieved from http://www.acebo.com/papers/INTERP1.HTM
Be sure and check out the extensive bibliography.
Mikkelson, Holly. (1996) The Professionalization of Community Interpreting. Global Vision: Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference of the American Translators
Association. Monterey Institute of International Studies. Retrieved from http://www.acebo.com/papers/profslzn.htm
Again, the references are invaluable.
Mikkelson, Holly. (1996) Community Interpreting: An Emerging Profession. Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting (1.1),
125-129. Preview at http://books.google.com/books?id=VwZDjqa9s4wC&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=the+professionalization+of+community+interpreting&source=bl&ots=bo2G82s93y&sig=DFo_awdbF5Cce0erlTbG1zXJSOU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_zMmUabUFsmx0AHQ_IHgDw&ved=0CEQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
Pöchhacker, Franz. (1999) Getting Organized’: The Evolution of Community Interpreting. Interpreting Vol. 4(1), pp. 125–140. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/97416324/Pochhacker-Getting-Organized-in-Community-Interpreting
Valero Garcés, Carmen and Martin, Anne (Eds.). (2008) Crossing Borders in Community Interpreting: Definitions and Dilemmas. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co. Preview at http://books.google.com/books/about/Crossing_Borders_in_Community_Interpreti.html?id=VwZDjqa9s4wC
by Kathleen on Friday, August 30, 2013
It’s a funny thing. From everything written and spoken about court interpretation, one would think that we are constantly working away—interpreting for trials, hearings, attorney/client interviews and the like, all day long, with a nice break for lunch. I think we all agree that this would be the ideal environment for interpreters, but we work on the court’s schedule—not the other way around.
What people may not realize is that our work does not always involve interpreting at trial. There are many relatively brief court proceedings that can last as little as five minutes. Most of the judges I work with make it a point to give priority to these brief appearances involving interpreters. They are aware of the costs involved, and do their very best to “let the interpreter go” as soon as possible. The problem is that it is not always possible. So many things can happen in the course of a court calendar that can result in delays—failed plea negotiations, attorneys busy elsewhere, preceding matters that take longer than anticipated, etc. I even have a judge who insists on going through the calendar in alphabetical order. Woe is me if my LEP’s last name is Zúñiga!
The awful thing is that those moments of boredom waiting to interpret for a plea, case review or probation hearing can be far more draining than an afternoon of good, hard, intensive consecutive interpreting. I wonder why this is. You would think that doing nothing would be far more restful than subjecting oneself to those exciting, focused, adrenaline-inducing moments typical of actual interpreting, but it is not so. So how do we cope with boredom in the court?
What Not To Do in Court
As usual, I am reminded of a story. About a year ago, I was sitting in a courtroom with a colleague waiting for a trial to begin. It was a case of a misdemeanor assault committed by one woman against another during a barroom brawl. The victim was unwilling to allow the prosecutor to offer a plea bargain to a reduced charge, and the defense attorney was unable to convince the defendant to plead to anything at all.
And so back and forth it went. Finally, it was decided that the case would go to trial, and we two interpreters were all ready to go into team interpreting mode. But first, the court had other business to conduct, other matters to resolve, and the trial would have to wait until the calendar was clear. There was no way for us to know when the case would go before the judge. We could leave the courtroom, and wait for a bailiff to call us back in, but there were no chairs or benches in the hallway. We had no choice but to stay in the courtroom and sit…and sit…and sit. After a while, and many exasperated sighs, my colleague, an interpreter rather new to the field, could stand it no longer, and whipped out her cell phone to check messages. Then she took out a tablet and started to read an article.
I was aghast. Yes, I was bored too, but it never would occur to me to use an electronic device (except for the purpose of legitimate research connected with a case in progress), with the judge on the bench! And for crying out loud, we were in the first row of the gallery in plain view of the judge, the bailiffs and everybody! I gave her what I hoped was a quelling glance, but she just shrugged her shoulders and went on reading.
How to Combat Boredom
Now, I admit, I myself have a very low tolerance for boredom, but I have never as much as opened a book in a courtroom while waiting for a case to come before a judge on the bench. I have always taken my cue from the attorneys—I have never seen one use a cell phone in the presence of the judge. Never. So neither do I. If I need to use my cell, I leave the courtroom briefly and then come back in. I have found other ways to cope with those times when there is absolutely nothing to do but wait.
You might notice that some attorneys who are waiting to go before the judge don’t just sit there. They might do a little paperwork; they might open a legal tome to consult some point of law; they might even speak very quietly to another attorney. Most just follow what is going on in the courtroom. Their attitude seems to be: “Heck, I might learn something!”—although then again, they might just be trying to impress the judge with their rapt attention to the pearls of wisdom falling from his lips.
What’s wrong with just paying attention? It beats the heck out of being bored out of your gourd. Okay, sometimes I do sit and make grocery or to-do lists, or discreetly remove the contents of my ever-messy briefcase and do a little organization. Sometimes I study the pictures of long-gone judges that festoon the walls of some of the older courtrooms. Once in a while, I even do some work on my blog post! But there are times when the wait is a little longer than usual, and these endeavors can occupy just so much of the time spent waiting. I’ve got to do something. If I just sit and let my mind drift, I find that I start falling asleep! It has happened, although I usually manage to catch myself before I actually fall off the bench. Embarrassing.
So I usually try to observe what goes on in court. I try to make the best of the situation and perhaps learn something to become a better interpreter. I jot down phrases I have never before encountered. I listen to the idiosyncrasies of this particular judge’s plea colloquy or that one’s bond review and figure out how to untangle sometimes clumsy syntax to form a comprehensible equivalent. After all, I may be interpreting those very words in a short while. (I hope!) If I am not too tired, I practice simultaneous interpreting silently in my head.
And then there is always the fascinating study of human nature, of which there is always plenty on display in any given courtroom situation. People sometimes say to me, “You must have seen just about everything by now.” Very true. Such observation both occupies the mind and teaches us about our fellow human beings.
So don’t get bored! Get busy! Use your time to advantage. You will serve the court better by using it as an educational resource. In addition, you will feel that you have actually accomplished something rather than suffered through might have been a tiresome (and tiring) morning.
Susan Berk-Seligson. (2002) The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process. Language and Legal Discourse Series. Chicago, Illinois: University
of Chicago Press
Courtroom Etiquette. www.nynb.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/courtroometiquette.pdf
Clarke, Catherine Thérèse. (1991). Missed Manners in Courtroom Decorum. Maryland Law Review. Volume 50-945, Number 4. Pages 945-1026. digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu
by Kathleen on Friday, June 14, 2013
Maybe it was spring fever, but I don’t think so.
I definitely felt what I can only describe as a breath of fresh air during the 34th NAJIT Annual Conference May 17-19, 2013, in St. Louis, Missouri.
So often nowadays I hear interpreters talk about the “graying” of the profession, and that we need to encourage more young people to enter our ranks. I understand what they are talking about, and I quite agree, but at the NAJIT conference in St. Louis in May, there was a definite excitement, a youthful exuberance and enthusiasm about the future of the profession. Yes, there did seem to be more young people there, but, more important, I think that everyone felt the presence of new ideas and an expansion of the field.
Useful information, excellent organization
I could feel and see the excitement around me. People commented about how terrific the sessions were, and often expressed regret that a given hour-long session could not have been longer. Attendees asked intelligent questions and received informative and well-thought-out replies. The presenters made themselves available to future inquiries, always a plus.
The sessions themselves revealed the extraordinary breadth and depth of topics in the interpreting world to be taught and discussed—from new advances in technology to techniques for interpreting for child witnesses to recent updates of the Administrative Office of the United States Court.
As always, I had a terrible time deciding which sessions to attend. I was interested in everything, but I found that my choices were uniformly excellent. What impressed me the most, however, was how everything flowed so well. The organization of the conference, the responsibility of the Conference Committee and NAJIT’s Executive Director and Administrator, was flawless.
A Place to Meet and Greet
It seemed that everywhere I looked people were meeting up with old friends and making new ones, which, to me, is always the hallmark of a successful occasion of this sort. I myself must have met twenty-five to thirty people I had never met before, one of whom turned about to be the interpreter coordinator of the court located in the Pennsylvania town I was born in! Small world.
Now, I had met different types of interpreters at NAJIT conferences before—court interpreters, conference interpreters, medical interpreters, community interpreters, etc. This was my first opportunity to really have a conversation with American Sign Language interpreters, two friendly women who told me they thought the conference was wonderful. It was a very positive experience to be able to exchange views with interpreters engaging in a different type of language activity, but having exactly the same goals as spoken-language interpreters—ensuring that LEP persons have access to the services available to everyone else.
The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators was founded as an organization for interpreters in the legal field. The time has come for NAJIT to reach out to other interpreting organizations in an effort to present a more united front for all interpreters in today’s world. This was part of the message of NAJIT Chair Rob Cruz’ address to the membership at the Annual Meeting and Luncheon on Saturday, May 18. Mr. Cruz spoke about the importance of interpreters’ contributions towards formulating policies about video remote interpreting (VRI) and the “full and complete” interpretation now to be required by the Executive Office for Immigration Review for immigration hearings. As to the latter, Mr. Cruz illustrates how cooperation among various interpreting organizations can be a source of strength for all.
These two examples illustrate why the time we are living in may be a defining one. I am proud to say that NAJIT has never been in a better position to call attention to our plight and to influence both policy and perception. NAJIT wrote a letter to EOIR’s General Counsel in response to their policy shift. The letter was also signed by the other members of the National Interpreter Associations Coalition comprised of our partners the American Translators Association (ATA), the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), Mano a Mano, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AAIC), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS). Although not successful in changing the policy as of the time of this writing, NAJIT continues to address these very real concerns with the help of our members and our partners.
This was perhaps the most important thing that I took away from the conference. We recognize that change is inevitable, and we must step in and be a part of it
I also felt energized by the five young people who attended the conference as NAJIT scholars. I was fortunate to be able to speak with each one of them, and I can’t remember when I have been so impressed and also encouraged about the future of the profession. Here are some revealing observations from Brian K. Jones, one of the scholars.
Of all the professional organizations to which I have belonged, it was the camaraderie and collegiality among attendees at NAJIT’s conference that really made this experience exciting and beneficial to me as an up-and-coming interpreter and translator. From workshop participation to social mingling and networking, I immediately felt a sense of inclusion. Never once was I made to feel that I was at the bottom of a professional hierarchy. Likewise, what I found equally astonishing was the wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise in the field of translation and interpreting there, all in one intimate setting.
Additionally, I enjoyed being a NAJIT Scholar. Members took a genuine interest in me, offering themselves as contacts for any questions I may have about the profession. They have been willing to share valuable materials and resources, as well as offering me information on potential job leads. All of this was completely unexpected based on conferences I had attended in the past in my other profession as a language instructor; however, the
setting that NAJIT created for its conference merits recognition for its
ability to promote such interaction among its members. All this leads me to
remember a statement made by Robert Cruz, NAJIT Chair, in which he pointed out, and I paraphrase, that everyone at the conference has something to offer NAJIT, regardless of experience and level of education because we are united by our profession, which speaks for itself.
Thank you, Brian. We are indeed united by our profession in all of its glorious diversity. That’s what I saw at the conference; it’s what NAJIT is all about.
For a copy of the NAJIT 34th Annual Conference Program. www.najit.org/Conferences/2013/Documents/NAJIT%20Conference%202013%20Program.pdf
For another viewpoint on the conference, see:
Tony Rosado. “Are Federally Certified Court Interpreters Any Good?
Maybe the NAJIT Conference Had the Answer.”
The Professional Interpreter. May
20, 2013. http://rpstranslations.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/are-federally-certified-court-interpreters-any-good-maybe-the-najit-conference-had-the-answer/
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.