For those who may not know her, Professor Holly Mikkelson at the Monterrey School of International Studies, is a state and federally certified court interpreter, and is accredited by the American Translators Association. She has been a consultant to court interpreter regulatory and training entities such as the California Judicial Council and the National Center for State Courts, and has published extensively on court and community interpreting. She is a member of the American Translators Association, the National Association of Judiciary Translators and Interpreters, and the Conference of Interpreter Trainers. She has spoken at conferences and presented workshops throughout the country as well as internationally and was the recipient of the Alexander Gode Medal from the American Translators Asscociation in 2011, its most prestigious award, for outstanding services to the Interpreting and Translating professions. She has graciously agreed to share her thoughts about the industry with us.
How does the field of Interpreting you’ve come to know over the years compare to your understanding of what it was when you first became involved with it, in 1976?
It has been revolutionized! Although my training at the Monterey Institute had focused on conference interpreting, I started my professional career as a court interpreter because it was what was available for someone whose only working languages were Spanish and English and who wanted to stay in California. Pay was determined by each court locally, negotiating with individual interpreters. We worked trials alone, all day; even though I knew standards were different for conference interpreters, being a submissive sort I accepted the working conditions without protest.
I found out about the California Court Interpreters Association (CCIA) in about 1978 when they started holding conferences to help people prepare for the new certification exams that California was starting to give. The standards for those exams were abysmal, but over the years they were revised to better reflect the quality requirements of the actual job. The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam was developed shortly after California’s, and I took the first one without realizing what a big deal it would turn out to be (otherwise I would have been a lot more nervous!). I managed to pass that exam, though I’ve never worked in federal court.
Since I joined the CCIA, scores of new professional organizations have been founded to represent the interests of interpreters in different sectors, and I have joined just about every one except for those catering to specific regions. Thanks to the efforts of these organizations, interpreters’ working conditions have improved considerably. There has also been a proliferation of publications and training programs for interpreters, though much still remains to be done in that regard. Partly because of the civil rights movement and partly thanks to the advocacy of our professional organizations. New laws and regulations to enforce language access policies have changed the landscape in this country, and have incidentally expanded employment opportunities in our field.
Today I would say that our profession has matured tremendously, and higher standards are being imposed all over the country (again, much still remains to be done). As someone who started out doing translations on a typewriter and interpreting without the benefit of portable simultaneous equipment, I am in awe at the progress we’ve made.
What is the most significant advance you’ve seen in the profession in the last 10 years? What do you think we will see in the next five?
As I mentioned above, the proliferation of research publications and textbooks and the growing influence of professional associations such as the ATA, NAJIT and the IMIA have propelled our profession forward at a rate that is only possible with the concerted efforts of many, many colleagues. I am grateful to all of them for their sacrifice and hard work. The other area that has revolutionized our field is technology, not only with respect to the communicative interactions for which we interpret (video conferencing, etc.), but also in the applications we have available to enhance our own productivity. I have to say, though, that I’m something of a dinosaur when it comes to adopting new gadgets in my day-to-day work. I think the next five years will bring even more astounding innovations that will make our jobs easier.
Do you see any interaction in the horizon with professional associations or institutions abroad? What do you think we can teach them and what could they teach us?
I do see a lot of collaboration ahead. Court and medical interpreting are receiving more and more attention around the world, and we can teach our colleagues in other countries a lot based on the hard lessons we’ve learned (such as setting standards for exams, implementing legislation, etc.). In particular, Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Union has spurred many countries into raising the bar for ensuring language access and quality interpreting in these sectors. Some of our European colleagues have reached out to their counterparts here to learn more about how to proceed.
Here in the U.S. we can learn a lot from colleagues in countries such as Australia, Sweden, Norway and Canada that have relatively long histories in the area of public service interpreting, and from the traditional conference interpreting organizations and programs in Europe. As countries in Asia become increasingly aware of needs in foreign and indigenous languages and develop new systems to accommodate them, we can learn from their innovations as well.
The best way to keep up with what is going on in the world is to read the myriad professional journals devoted to various aspects of interpreting and to attend conferences in other countries. Even if we can’t attend in person, the proceedings of those conferences are often available on the Internet.
As an educator, what qualities, in addition to professional attributes, do you think are important for an interpreter to cultivate?
It’s hard to think of any quality that I wouldn’t characterize as a professional attribute: integrity, concern for accuracy, continuing professional development, and strong interpersonal relations are all qualities that interpreters should cultivate.
Do you have any new projects in the works that you can share with us?
My son and daughter-in-law have taken over the customer service and new product development departments of our Acebo publishing business. I’ll still be involved in everything, but I’m hoping they’ll add some fresh ideas to help the business grow in the future. He’s a federally certified court interpreter and she’s a project manager who has degrees in translation and business administration, so they have lots of relevant experience to bring to the table. They’re also digital natives, so when we finally finish the next edition of The Interpreter’s Companion (still a work in progress), we’ll have it available in formats people can use on electronic devices.
Continued from Freudian Tales II http://wp.me/p1B1SV-hm
Lia arrived at the courthouse bright and early on Monday morning, feeling much better with Antonio in tow as moral support, whom she promptly sat down on the bench behind the defendant’s family. She and Antonio had had a good time reminiscing and she had confided in him regarding what was happening at her first Santeria trial, which had not started off on the right foot. Being Cuban, he had suggested she read up on the subject and she had picked up El Monte, in a botanica on 8th street. He had told her it was the definitive book by Lydia Cabrera, a Cuban anthropologist, on Santeria rituals and folklore, and she had used it to create a glossary which significantly bolstered her confidence.
Sure enough, her weekend reading on the topic, plus what little she had been able to pull up from her work computer on the case, did the trick. Much to Harry’s chagrin, Lia sailed through the interpretation of the morning testimony without a hitch. She blithely interpreted terms he would have been hard up to come up with despite his experience.
The fireworks began in the afternoon, when the defendant’s brother, a self-styled intuitive, whose proclaimed mission was to find the true murderer of whose crimes his brother was being accused, started wheeling around regularly to face Antonio and stare him down, muttering ominously under his breath. It reached a point that Tony became incensed, informed the bailiff, and the man was reprimanded. He vehemently screamed for justice saying that the court should interrogate Tony because he could see blood on his hands, insinuating he was involved in the case, after which disruption, the judge called a recess. During the recess, Lia spoke to the bailiff off the record, explaining that she knew Antonio, who was an ex-federal agent, and had brought him to the court. She also disclosed to him that on a more disturbing note, someone had put a bloodied rubber chicken on her desk the day the trial began, which she had initially taken as a joke but was now unsure about. When court was reconvened, the judge dismissed the accusations and informed counsel for the defendant at a sidebar, that if there were any further outbursts, the “clairvoyant” would be held in contempt of court, fined and ordered to leave the premises. As to the chicken, he said an investigation would be conducted by the U.S. Marshals office.
Harry, trying to appear nonchalant, was hanging on every word, not too pleased to hear that his prank was going to be looked into. Nonetheless, he was confident they would not get to the bottom of the matter. Little did he know that during a routine inspection of court surveillance videos, he would be identified, putting the offensive fowl through the x-ray machine upon entering the courthouse, laughing with the Marshal on duty about it. Unfortunately for him, that same Marshal was part of the investigation that was ordered and would remember the incident, that would ultimately result in an official reprimand that would become a negative element of Harry’s personnel file.
Around the same time as the disruptions in the Miami court, we had left Kirsten waiting for Eric, unaware of the plans Antonio had put in motion with his underworld connections, to get rid of Eric in his absence.
On the night in question, Eric came home, and had a convivial if superficial supper with Kirsten, during which he slipped a qualude in her wine. Once she passed out, he carried her to bed, officiously propped pillows around her so she would feel protected, and quickly snuck out through the service door, to a titillating rendezvous with Ana at Calle del Espiritu Santo, a funky street that takes on an edgier feel after midnight. He figured he could be back in the early morning hours before she ever woke up from the sedative.
He did not figure that there were contract killers out to get him, who had followed him home from the bank, but had not seen his surreptitious exit. These same operatives easily jimmied the front door lock shortly after he left, stealthily came into the bedroom, and coupling a silencer to a semi-automatic, systematically and callously sprayed the figures on the bed with impunity.
On his way back to his grandmother’s, Bo came to the decision that he had embarked on a trajectory, which although not to his liking, was the only means he could envision of overcoming his problems. That is, unfairly beating out the competition in order to make the money he so desperately needed. He was aware that he was running the risk of being found out but he thought he could reasonably get away with it and the results would far outweigh that probability. In spite of his body’s answer to this response in the form of a blazing migraine and his Nai nai’s advice that he could not achieve homeostasis with this self-imposed conflict in his life, he was dead-set on his course.. He could only see what his mind and physical senses were telling him. She, on the other hand, was stressing the concepts of the Tao Te Ching. That it is not about doing what we individually think is best for us, but about making the best of our universal nature and expressing it every chance we get. “We cannot impose our wishes on Nature or the Universe, but if you work with Nature, the Tao will work for you”, she said.
He did not foresee the fact that the interpreter candidates that were being interviewed had taken matter into their own hands by informing government representatives of their suspicions. Not that these officials really cared whether Chinese interpreters were losing out on a job, but they were very interested in being able to pin any kind of irregularities on the Americans because of the sensitive nature of the accusations regarding China that they were making before the World Trade Organization, which would be significantly undermined if these allegations were proven.
Consequently, the government scheduled one of their own, privy to the situation, and who was also an interpreter, to be interviewed for the position, to evaluate how to proceed.
This is the potentially explosive scenario that Bo walked into the next day, unbeknownst to him.
As the morning developed and the questioning got under way, despite his intellectual reasoning, Bo noticed a change of consciousness automatically occurring within him, which governed the way he did his job and innocently saved him from a major misstep on both macro and micro levels.
Verse 33 of the Tao as recited by his grandmother, swirled through his head and he felt more at peace:
He who knows others is clever.
He who knows himself is wise.
He who masters others is strong.
He who masters himself is powerful.
This is my first foray, in installments, of fiction related to the interpreting field, which genre I haven’t seen before. I am very interested in learning how it was perceived by my readers and would appreciate feedback from you to judge how to proceed. At this stage in my writing, I feel it is liberating not to be constrained by facts and didactic considerations. I believe stories can help to spark ethical discussions about events that happen all the time but don’t often come to light unless there is a scandal of some sort.
- Do not give advice freely, even if you think it would be helpful, unless you are specifically asked for it. It is far better to just lend an ear. Most people just need a sounding board to express their thoughts and come to a decision about events in their lives, professional or otherwise.
- Do not refuse to share resources. If you can help to make an assignment come off better with the product of your research, don’t hold back. It will make you look better to your colleague and the team better to the audience. Remember that if your partner is not up to par for some reason, you will be judged together, not necessarily separately. I am not, however, by any means condoning interpreters who consciously fail to do their part.
- Do not increase on-site drama by making unnecessary comments about the assignment, players, conditions, etc. If it’s a tough gig, you have enough on your hands without revving up the emotions, which will not improve anything and only serve to put everyone more on edge. Strive to put everyone at ease, focusing on the positive.
- Do not give work recommendations unless you are fully in agreement with doing so. Do not cave-in out of embarrassment. It is better to blush once, if necessary, than to have a permanent red face over possible fallout.
- Do not show off, either by hogging the microphone, speaking of past assignments, dropping names, etc. You don’t need to forcefully demonstrate how good you are. Others will form their opinion of you based on your unaffected performance.
- Do not be late. There are very few, if any excuses in my book for this, and it speaks volumes about you both professionally and personally. You may be the best interpreter in the world but if I can’t count on you when I need you, it doesn’t matter.
- Do not show up unprepared. Even if you don’t have specific direction as to how to study for an assignment, there is always some generic research that can be done to help you navigate more easily through a difficult job. If you have a reputation for prepping, it will precede you favorably with both clients and colleagues.
- Do not gossip. Either about colleagues, clients or assignments. There is absolutely no upside to this and you will be classified by others accordingly.
- Do not share personal information regarding clients, fees, payment practices & conditions. The scales of justice are not balanced on your shoulders. Each professional needs to sort this out and you are not the arbiter.
- Do not force yourself into the lives of others, be it clients, colleagues or otherwise. If you are interested in a relationship, put your best foot forward and show it but don’t overdo it. The Universe is at least as smart as we are and will choose who we should be with at any particular time for our own good. Remember that everything happens for a reason.
I look forward to hearing about your own list of Don’ts and experiences in this regard.
Interpreting for the media can be daunting, especially if you have not done it before, due to the size of the audience depending on you to follow the proceedings. The amount of preparation for the actual show will depend on the importance of the show to the network and the latter’s experience in working with interpreters. Some outfits will expect you to do your own research. They’ll bring the talent (you) in, sit you in front of a screen at the studio, do a mic check and you’re ready to go.
The Gold Standard:
If you do not live at the location where you will be working, you should be brought in the day before the show, and plan to spend a good part of the show date prepping for the event. You may sometimes receive scripts in advance of the date but it is usually useless to devote much time to them because new versions come out every day. Upon arrival at the studio, you will be given the latest copy and the numerous updates that come in during the day. Bear in mind that scripts are no guarantee of what will actually be said. They are a starting point for research as to facts and terminology that may be used. You will also be supplied with a rundown. This is a timeline or cue-sheet for a live show that informs you when and how long different segments will be running, among which are packages or bumps. The former are pre-recorded segments relative to the show which are not scripted and the latter are brief announcements, usually 10-30 seconds that can contain a voiceover, placed between a pause in the program and a commercial break, stating the name of the program or promoting other events on the network. They may vary from simple text to short films. The information in the rundown allows you to know how long you have to speak your bump translations, which you will prepare in advance, according to instructions, and have vetted by the director. Packages may or may not be interpreted depending on content.
Always come prepared with your own laptop unless you are assured access to one on site. Also bring any pertinent glossaries or dictionaries, so you can build a case-specific playbook. Be prepared with pertinent filler info in case a satellite goes down temporarily. You will spend several hours annotating the script and meeting with the other interpreters, depending on the format. If there are different languages involved, this is the time to reach a consensus on terminology, and to establish the order to be followed with your colleague, as to who interprets what. Usually this is determined on a gender-specific basis but when interventions are very long or several men or women speak for a stretch, this will have to be modified. You should also plan your introductions as interpreters, depending on network policy, which you should inquire about. Remember to take breaks during the day as these programs tend to be aired in prime time so you have a long day ahead of you. The client should provide snacks, beverages and meals throughout the day. I would not encourage eating very much the later it gets, so you will be alert.
As you get closer to show time, you will be taken to your cubicle to run voice/mic levels and establish your preferences as to what you want to hear. You may elect to hear the program feed in both ears or choose another option such as hearing yourself at a lower volume on one side so you can better modulate your voice, or hearing your partner to make a smoother transition. I like to hear myself, in addition to the program, as it gives me more control. The director/producer, always has the option to cut in to cue you and/or give you instructions. You will have your own monitor to follow the event live.
Content That is Not Interpreted:
Do not become overly zealous in wanting to interpret everything that you hear. Remember that most of these programs are in the entertainment genre so the translation, in addition to being accurate, must be tempered by common sense and general appeal. Do not try to interpret lyrics or poetry or jokes that don’t make sense or may be deemed offensive in another cultural context, unless you happen to know an equivalent. You have to tread a very fine line because your audience will certainly be providing feedback on your interpretation via Twitter and that is one of the ways the networks determine your effectiveness.
I trust I have dispelled some of the myths surrounding this exciting and demanding aspect of simultaneous interpreting and encourage you to try it if it interests you. I also invite you to share your comments and questions with me.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease (24%) and cancer (23%), on account of improper breathing and faulty oxygenation that unbalances the blood so that toxins are not eliminated and the endocrine glands cease to function adequately. Interpreters in the U.S.A. are within this population.
The chief endocrine glands are the adrenals, pineal, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, coccygeal, thymus, carotid, gonads, pancreas, liver and spleen. Yoga exercises all of these glands, at a difference from standard western fitness regimens that affect muscle groups only. Many endocrine glands are also ductless glands, as they secrete the hormones they produce directly into the blood or lymph system so it will be circulated to the entire body. These hormones affect every physiological and psychological function of our bodies. They control our growth, the structure of our body, height, weight and personality, determining our physical and mental activities, hence our jobs as interpreters, not to mention our personal lives. They are the chief dynamos for brain power, vitality and youthfulness, and keep us fit to make a living and enjoy life fully. Furthermore, the manufacture and distribution of these hormones can be greatly affected by the mental state of the individuals concerned. Since our work often causes a lot of stress because we deal in technical subjects and have to anticipate the words of specialists, among others, in both simultaneous and consecutive modes, this stress is bound to affect our mental state especially as we are often not able to prepare for these interventions.
Many of the poses tone up the nerve force in the spine to preserve flexibility which is often impaired when we sit in a booth all day or stand in a courtroom, or other environments to work. According to yoga, a man is never old if his spine is flexible. Exercising for even 10 minutes a day helps to improve flexibility.
Much of the reference material on the effects of yoga cited herein was taken from the classic, Yoga and Long Life, by Yogi Gupta, available on Amazon Kindle.
For poses that act on specific parts of our anatomy, go here, and click on the part of your body that interests you.
Make learning these poses with a qualified teacher, one of your resolutions for the New Year. It will be a positive life-changer!
Watch the following very short video (1:31) I put together, about The Lion Pose, which is specifically tailored for interpreters:
I am sure we will all agree that some of the basic requirements for a professional to deliver a successful interpretation, be it in the booth or in a court or other environment, is to firstly have a disciplined mind to render the task at hand without distractions and in order to have a disciplined mind, your physical body must be healthy, relaxed and rested.
During my 30+ years in the business, I have tried a lot of methods to achieve this goal in the most expedient and effortless manner, ranging from diet, to personal trainers, to mind control methods, etc., all of which I found lacking in some aspect. Either they conferred better health without the necessary relaxation and mental concentration or they met some other incomplete set of criteria.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and I have been able to verify through my personal practice, that the combination of the three basic legs of yoga: the postures, breathing exercises and meditation, achieve this end exceptionally well.
The postures differ from traditional Western exercises that focus on developing large muscles and disciplining the body. They positively affect both the mind and the body. They are unique in that they also tone up the chief endocrine glands of the body, such as the adrenal or suprarenal capsules, the pineal and pituitary glands, the thyroid, carotid, the gonads, etc., which produce hormones that regulate your body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development as well as function.[i] We need a well-tuned body to carry out the oftentimes stress-inducing work of interpreting, which will in time adversely affect us if left unchecked. It should be noted, in our youth-oriented society, that the gonads are responsible not only for an individual’s sexuality but also for his remaining in an optimum state of health. They maintain youthful vigor, prevent the onset of senility and exercise a deep psychological and physiological influence on the organism.[ii]
By learning to control our breathing, we can control our life energy, which we draw in through the breath, therefore life itself and its activities. The aim is not to build a bigger chest as in the West, but to increase oxygenation of the blood. All metabolic processes in the body are regulated by oxygen. Our brains process billions of bits of information each second. Our metabolic processes work to rid our bodies of waste and toxins. Even our abilities to think, feel and act require oxygen-related energy production. Scientists now also agree that oxygen plays a powerful and primary role in our overall health and well-being. A growing number of researchers have shown that the best way to improve health may be related to the optimum oxygenation of every cell. [iii]
When energy is distributed evenly through this technique, we achieve psycho-physical coordination, get rid of our emotional complexes and the unbalances that give rise to fear, anger, envy or a sense of inferiority.[iv] The breathing is an indispensable resource for interpreters that may succumb to any of the above during an assignment because of external circumstances or because of his own sense of inferiority due to a very demanding job. It swiftly counteracts anxiety and allows us to perform optimally.
Lastly and most importantly, there is meditation. The fatigue of the senses demands rest. Hence we sleep at night. However, the mind is subtly working even during sleep so we do not achieve full rest. Real rest is only secured through meditation.[v]
The whole mind and nervous system are re-modeled thereby. New grooves, cells and channels are formed.[vi] These will allow you to experience serenity, a sense of focus, one-pointedness of mind, patience and contentment at all times. Even under stress. They will allow you to control the wanderings of the typical mind that often jumps unrestrained from one thought to the next without respite. This is an invaluable asset in our field where we have to continuously render the thoughts and words of others, playing down the normal interference created by our minds as a reaction to said input. It creates a space where our mind is stilled and we can be creative in how we manage the output of what we are hearing.
Not convinced? Check it out. The philosophy of yoga starts with the tenet that any idea not confirmed by experience must remain mere speculation.
[ii] Yogi Gupta (1958). Yoga and Long Life, pp.36, Yogi Gupta New York Center.
[iv] Yogi Gupta (1958). Yoga and Long Life, pp.121, Yogi Gupta New York Center.
[v] Swami Sivananda (Fourteenth Edition 2011), Concentration and Meditation, pp. 120.
[vi] Swami Sivananda (Fourteenth Edition 2011), Concentration and Meditation, pp. 124.
Continuation of “Freudian Tales” posted on October 24, 2013
Arriving at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, to Judge Rubin’s courtroom promptly at 8:15 a.m. Friday morning, Harry introduced himself to Lia, the new interpreter, originally from Madrid, more recently from Salt Lake City, with whom he would be working the weeklong Santeria trial. In a gesture of bonhomie calculated to put her off guard, he offered to go first, knowing full well that the thorny terminology would not crop up until after the voir dire and opening statement, when they started taking testimony from the Olorisha priest and his Cuban clients. Harry was basically going to throw her under the truck. He intuited she definitely had not had time to review any of the prior proceedings in the case to create a glossary. He was just going to subtly but relentlessly point out flaws, offering the least assistance he could get away with, without getting called out for it. He felt all new interpreters in his court needed to undergo their trial by fire, and it was his self-designated job to preside over that event, having been there over 30 years. The torture started on schedule when the black, exotically robed cleric started to intone in thickly accented Spanish that the defendant aleyo had been advised to undergo una rogación de cabeza and given an achó to take to the bembé where it would be performed, only a day before the homicide took place. Lia, did what she could with this, translating as above, without having the slightest clue as to whether these words actually had a translation or what they even meant. Preening like a peacock, Harry shook his head ominously and whispered in a very audible tone, “aleyo means outsider, bembé is a ceremony, etc.” Of course this only served to make her more nervous as the proper protocol was that he write these terms down for her and she could correct the record, if needed, subsequently. You could see that the judge, the members of the jury and some of the santeros sitting in the audience were beginning to be concerned that they might not be fully understanding what was being said. And so the morning dragged on. In reality things were not as bad as they seemed to Lia, but to be faced with this challenge and an adversarial colleague on her first day at work in a new city was enough to unsettle anyone. The lunch break did not make things any better, to the contrary. When she slinked into her office, she found a rubber chicken lying on top of her computer. She had no idea of the significance or provenance of the item and suspected it was a joke, until the janitor stopped by to empty her wastebasket. When he saw the chicken, his eyes widened, his gaze went from the chicken, to her and then towards the direction of the courtroom where she had been working. He quickly blessed himself and looked at her intently, unsure as to whether he should say anything or not. This was not lost on Lia who quickly asked him what was going on, and was told that in voodoo, when someone wants to do a number on you, they grace you with a dead chicken or pigeon. It was 1:45 and she had to be back in the courtroom and in her seat, ready to go at 2:00, so there was no time to ruminate about this latest incident. As she slipped into her seat, the judge came out of chambers and announced that the trial would be postponed until the following work day because he had an emergency to attend to. Keeping a straight face, Lia breathed an inner sigh of relief, while Harry was chagrined that his plan for the first day had gone awry. He had been sadistically looking forward to upping the ante in the afternoon before she had a chance to regain her composure over the weekend. Shaking inside, Lia did not say anything to anyone about the chicken episode so as not to draw attention to herself. She used the rest of the afternoon to read whatever scanty information was available on her work computer about the case, then went home to get the guest bedroom ready for her old friend that was flying in that evening, while she started tossing possibilities around in her head.
Antonio Garrido, the ex-boyfriend of Ana, the conference interpreter we met last time, is boarding a flight at Barajas, to go visit his friend Lia Quesada, who has just moved to Miami. Antonio is an ex-federal agent from the US, who moved to Madrid upon retirement and is doing odd-jobs as a detective and security guard. He has recently learned that his old girlfriend, whom he is unilaterally trying to get back with, is screwing some German dude. In order to dampen the affair, he has arranged for some of his underworld contacts to take a hand in the matter and he is getting out of town to put some distance between himself and the events that are planned to transpire. Ana on the other hand is glad she has not heard from Tony again in the last week and is hopeful that he might be giving up his obsession that they hook-up again. Kirsten has been telling her that she is concerned about the area she is living in because at times lately, she has felt she is being stalked. She is glad that although Eric is acting strange and picking arguments with her, they are still living together, so she feels “protected”. Otherwise she may have to move from Carabanchel, although the rent is cheap, but she is still not getting a stable volume of interpreting work that will allow her to move elsewhere comfortably. She has bared her heart to her friend, telling her how much in love she is and how she is doing all that she can to make the relationship flourish in spite of the handwriting on the wall. Although she feels a twinge of remorse over her hitherto unknown role to Kirsten in this “threesome”, Ana has a pragmatic philosophy that “such is life” and if love is not there any longer, you have to be strong enough to admit it and move on. She is ready to sacrifice her long-time friend for her own satisfaction, not realizing that the basis for her own relationship with Eric does not bode well for its outcome. From his perspective, Eric believes in the “survival of the fittest”, or those who successfully adapt to new environments. He finds Ana’s hot, Latin blood alluring and he loves leading the sophisticated urban life in a big city. He sees Kirsten as a traditional German girl of hardy, Bavarian peasant stock, whose goal in life is to make a little money using her bilingual talents, get married and move back to Schwangau to live on a farm or to own a bed and breakfast and raise a brood of children. It was good while it lasted because she was a compatriot in a strange land when he arrived, and she took him in and made him feel at home, but it’s time to break with the past and start a new life with someone more to his present likings. Nonetheless, he feels guilty because he knows how much in love Kirsten is with him and how she has pinned her hopes on him. He also knows she is alone, living in a bad neighborhood because of her financial circumstances and is reluctant to leave her in the lurch. He is trying to plan for a yet to be determined date on which he will try to make a more graceful exit and he knows Ana is getting testy. He has not yet made his intentions known to Kirsten or shown any signs, or at least so he thinks, that he is getting ready to leave, and Ana feels he is using her. As the Spanish so quaintly say, puede que se quede sin la soga ni la cabra. (Literally, he could “lose both the rope as well as the goat.”) He might end up without one or the other because of his indecision so he has to make his move soon and let the chips fall where they may. But as far as today is concerned, he is tired after a long day at his clerk’s job at Deutsche Bank. He is ready for the hearty bohnensuppe Kirsten promised him this morning, which she knows is his favorite, and whatever else the evening might bring. There’s no sense in depriving himself or poor Kirsten when he can’t make a move yet. Maybe when they give him a raise at DB and he can help her to move to a better area…
As Bo walked towards his grandmother’s apartment in Happy Valley, across from the horse track, he gingerly criss-crossed through the street market reflecting on the different culture from what he was accustomed to back in San Francisco. Vendors were aggressively hawking their colorful wares which varied from fresh produce, to esoteric potions, to live snakes and those bottled in brine, all leaking into the street in jumbled order. They remind him of his uncontrolled thoughts abruptly spilling into his awareness. The day had gone relatively well for him. Although a member of the legal team was always present throughout his lengthy interviews with the prospective interpreters, and the latter were obviously bilingual, he was successful in subtly planting doubts as to the loyalty and capabilities of the linguists they were interviewing. The case they are involved in hinges on proving alleged violations by China of World Trade Organization rules in a greenfield direct investment project by a large American electronics manufacturer. Bo is focusing on insinuating that they are not going to get a fair shake with these subcontractors because they would not be impartial due to their ties to the government, the chief user of language services in China. Practically all interpreters are government officials who deal with the “non-Chinese world” and perform interpreting duties as a secondary part of their work, although the freelance market is beginning to open. As a point of comparison, a day’s interpreting fee is double or more than a month’s salary for a government employee, so the interpreters being evaluated are keen on getting this assignment. Although not privy to the conversations among the Americans, the Chinese are beginning to get the impression that their suit is not faring well. Bo heard them in the restroom, unbeknownst to them, disparagingly referring to him as a “banana”, Hong Kong slang for a Chinese that has been assimilated into Western culture and is yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Bo knows that some of the candidates being considered are members of AIIC as he is, and it has crossed his mind that they might report their suspicions about his handling of this opportunity to their association representatives, not to mention the political implications this could have by undermining his own credibility and that of his client before the WTO tribunal, but it is a calculated risk he wants to take in view of the benefits. Regardless, this does not keep him from fantasizing that he could be prosecuted in China. He replays snippets in his head of the recent “show trial” of his namesake, Bo Xilai. That guy had been sent up for life, even if the transgressions were not the same. In addition, if his U.S. employers catch wind of his self-serving maneuvers, he stands to lose his best client and ruin his reputation back home. This would be disastrous as the main reason for doing this is that he is “upside-down” on his mortgage and cannot make ends meet with his normal income. His wife adamantly refuses to consider moving from “Snob Hill”, so he is between a rock and a hard place, which invariably brings on a now-chronic migraine headache. Hopefully, his grandmother will have some traditional Chinese medicine to get him through the next few days, although he suspects that knowing her, the advice will be to eliminate conflict in his physical body by acting ethically. What to do? What is best for him in the long run? He would probably never be found out, it would all be over in a few months and he would get out of the financial mess he had gotten himself into when he bought that damn apartment at the height of the real-estate boom. To be continued… Be part of the creative process by sharing your opinions as the storyline concludes:
It was November 14, 2004. A blustery winter evening in New York. The sun had gone down and the wind was gusting hard. My stomach rumbled relentlessly and I shivered in spite of my down parka. I sprinted briskly along West 63 St., to reach my destination near Carnegie Hall, at 25-C, the apartment/ashram of Yogi Gupta, my spiritual preceptor, as quickly as possible.
I had traveled to Manhattan from Miami primarily to do my work as a simultaneous interpreter at a board of directors meeting for a large multinational client, but I wanted to get a spiritual boost by going to the center as I didn’t often have the opportunity to attend. I had finished a 30 Day Purification Diet that day and made the mistake of going to a Thai restaurant in the city with my colleagues to celebrate a job well done and break the fast. As I greedily wolfed down my curry dish, with chicken no less, I dimly remembered Guruji’s warning that spicy foods were not good for you. But I was dying to eat something tasty after watermelon, leaves and herbs for thirty days and when someone suggested this place, I jumped at it. Not a good idea. That is what happens when we block out our inner voice thinking , “this time” I know better.
Sure enough, my body was so de-toxed that although I had specified that I wanted the spice level to be mild, eating the dish was similar to receiving a kick in the gut.
Thinking Outside the Box
Upon arrival at 25-C, I asked Swami Prabathanand, who was manning the front desk, to recommend an herb to put an end to my misery and bought some E+ to assuage the intestinal flora. It was ultimately very good but that night I had to pay for my rashness. Guruji was in India at the time but one of his senior disciples was offering a Psychic Development technique class and a Sound Meditation scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., for which I promptly signed up. It wasn’t the Guru personally but it was the next best thing. His teachings through an experienced disciple. I am usually very organized and from my shorthand training as an interpreter, whenever I attend lectures I take down the discourse in my own diary so that I can subsequently internalize the learning by reviewing it. However by then, the food poisoning from lunch had set in. It was all I could do to try to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and I had to make a brave showing as I was the only one in attendance.
I distantly heard the instructor talk about a mythical Temple of Colors in Lemuria, a lost continent located where Japan is now, inhabited by a colony of women priestesses who were able to simply look at the astral body of supplicants, determine what colors were missing and replace them to cure problems. He spoke about the Psychic Development technique, in which I was receiving instruction, as being more powerful than Ayurveda, in that it teaches us how to communicate with the Masters, who are here to help the world advance. They are the ones who end wars and shift resources around the earth as needed. If we communicate with them our life will become much easier. In order to do the technique correctly, we need to build up prana/primal energy and not let it leak out via our thoughts. We waste time trying to mentally figure out who we are through the senses which give us wrong information. By tuning in to the Masters and through meditation, we get to the truth. It is always better to meditate in the presence of a teacher he said, because his mind is more settled and will still the restless thoughts of our “monkey brain.”
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
In spite of my stomach woes, I had a great sound meditation with a gong, which I had not been exposed to before. But alas, it was time to get up and go home. I knew from the way I was feeling I would never be able to walk back the 15 minutes to the hotel. It was 9 o’clock and there were no taxi stands anywhere in the vicinity. I dreaded having to walk to Broadway to attempt to hail a cab for a short ride, but dragged myself to the revolving front door and stepped out. I had stood there in the biting cold only long enough to get my bearings when a taxi drove up right in front of me to drop off someone at the building. I was astounded at this “coincidence” and weakly fell into the back seat muttering “Thank you Guruji” under my breath.
The following day I was slightly better but still in significant discomfort, having been unable to sleep the night before. I took a cab instead of the shuttle to La Guardia, to board a full flight to Miami. I cringed contemplating the three hour trip in a middle seat. I had been unable to upgrade to an aisle seat to be closer to the restroom because the flight was oversold. I wouldn’t even be able to rest my head against the window to grab some shuteye. My only consolation was that I had to be burning a lot of karma with how badly I felt!
I took my seat, stowed my carry-on with the help of another passenger because I felt so fatigued, and waited for the boarding process to finish. Imagine my surprise when twenty minutes later, the stewardess started reading the safety precautions and no one had come to claim the other two seats in my row, in spite of the fact that there were no other empty seats on the plane. I knew then, as I spread out, that without a doubt, what Yogi Gupta always said: “Nothing happens as a bolt from the blue”, or “A mouse doesn’t suddenly jump out of a cupboard” (meaning there are no coincidences in life), is true. The Guru knew I was making an effort to go to 25-C and although he was not there in the flesh, his spirit was there, as he often promised. We can always maintain a psychic connection with him he told us, because “neither time nor distance are an obstacle”. By going, I was endeavoring to connect with him and his teachings, so he was taking care of me in an extraordinary way because I was actively seeking the company of the Wise Man.
This was further confirmed when after arriving on my night flight, tired and bedraggled, I tried to secure a luggage cart at MIA baggage claim. I needed to take a trunk with sound equipment that I had brought back with me, to the taxi stand. Since I was one of the last people to get off a full flight, by the time I picked up my box, there were no carts available, nor any skycaps to assist me. Nonetheless, in a matter of two minutes, before I could cry from exhaustion and chagrin, a lady three carrousels away from mine, spotted me, approached me spontaneously and offered me hers.
I was thusly reminded of what Guruji once said to me : “If you continue to make spiritual efforts, God’s and Guru’s help will never be lacking. God helps those who make efforts to help themselves to the best of their ability”.
I have always found this advice to be very practical because whenever you improve yourself spiritually it affects your physical and emotional bodies as well as your mind, which in turn influences your work and everyday life. In this particular case, the purification diet in question was enervating. Our bodies are like machines that after working non-stop for a period of time, need a break for rest, cleaning and overhauling. Even if we are eating the right foods, our digestive systems can use an opportunity to burn toxins or excess fat, clearing small problems before they become big ones. In addition to losing weight, this practice makes me feel so much lighter; it increases both my energy and concentration which are primary staples for interpreting of any type.
Meditation is also extremely beneficial as it allows us to detach from the constant barrage of sensory input that we receive, especially in our business, facilitating a direct connection with our consciousness that generates relaxation and lets us harness our resources more efficiently to both lead our lives and carry out our work in a better way.
To see a more comprehensive explanation of the benefits of meditation, watch this video:
Share your “coincidences” with me. We have all had those experiences where we are in the “zone”, doing something we love or care about. They are nature’s way of telling us to pay attention to what we are doing because it resonates with us and points us towards what we could be doing to improve our lives.
There are many phrases we use in English on a regular basis that don’t have a direct translation into our other working languages and we may not even know how they became part of the English language to fathom a meaning. I have chosen a few to highlight in order to enrich our understanding of how these terms came to be.
The first one is one that I ran across a few days ago when I saw a play by that name. It is “top drawer”. I intuited that it meant something that is the best, the pick of the crop. It can mean that, but it goes beyond, having social implications. Someone that is top drawer is someone that is acknowledged to be the crème de la crème in society, which is exactly what it meant in the play in question. It came into being because the social elite used to put their important papers and possessions in the top drawer of their dresser.
Then there are sayings like “it cost an arm and a leg”(when something is very pricey), you “have a chip on your shoulder”(you are holding a grudge and making no bones about it –or not leaving any room for doubt), and “it doesn’t cut the mustard” (something doesn’t meet expectations). The first one seems to have been popularized during WWII when many soldiers paid the high price of war by forfeiting a limb. The second apparently rose from a local custom in the U.S. in the early 19th century, where boys wanting to fight would dare others to physically knock a chip of wood from their shoulder to instigate a fight. Cutting the mustard was easier to envisage because of references in the Bible as to how minute the seed is, and hence difficult to cut.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree” (you’re mistaken), originated from America’s English ancestry, in which hunting was prominent. At times hounds would apparently chase their quarry up a tree and start barking at the base of the wrong one. The phrase “quick and dirty fix” (is for when something solves a problem but not in the best way). It appears to have come about in the 20th century in an environment related to mechanics or computers.
A word I often use myself is “upshot” (result). What was the upshot of the discussion? It made it into our vocabulary through the field of sports. It is the name of the last shot in an archery match. One of my favorites, although very colloquial, is “he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed” (he’s not the brightest person around).
When life does not seem to offer any viable options, we have come up with idioms such as the more antiquated “you’ve put me between the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “between a rock and a hard place”. The first is easy to figure, either we will be in the devil’s hands or at the bottom of the sea. The second, interestingly enough, arose after a union employment conflict in the US, where the miners involved were given the choice of working for vey low wages, or losing their job altogether.
I would love to hear some of your picks for a future continuation to this article, or about similar interesting phrases that have become mainstream in other languages.
You most likely do not know him, although you probably should if you are a jazz fan. He is a virtuoso instrumentalist who has been playing since age six. He has visited over 60 countries and performed at nearly every major jazz festival on the planet. He has recorded with virtually every Brazilian pop singer plus some heavyweights on the international jazz scene.
Blowing into his saxophone is the only thing Widor Santiago has ever done for a living. He completely masters his instrument and is at ease performing live before hundreds of thousands of spectators in large arenas or at Copacabana Beach during the now-traditional New Year’s festivities in Rio. Yet, despite his unquestionable experience and immaculate precision, Widor, now in his mid-fifties, still follows a rather strict ritual before stepping on stage. It includes introspection, concentration drills, and, quite surprisingly, prayers.
A Comparable Craft
Music is as complex a language as any other. It uses its own ancient notation method of dots, bars, and symbols, a part of which got transliterated and simplified in modern times using the first seven letters of the Roman alphabet to refer to the seven basic musical notes. As with any spoken language, music is susceptible to infinite variations in tone, pitch, intensity, and tempo. In their urge to communicate, skillful musicians and interpreters will deftly combine those elements just so to disclose or conceal, enrapture or aggravate, grieve or celebrate, reveal or withdraw.
Musicians can be compared to conference interpreters on many counts. The former deal in musical notes and melodic phrases, the latter in words and units of meaning. For everything else, there are probably more similarities than there are differences. A musician, like an interpreter, will rely heavily on a sense of hearing while keeping all other sensory channels open to any ancillary elements of meaning that could be blended into a harmonious whole: the conductor’s gestures, the symbols on the score, the vibration given off by one’s instruments, the audience’s reaction. Interpreters and musicians must be endowed with a fine notion of timing, intensive focus, and agility. They must be nimble and able to improvise at a moment’s notice. They perform live in front of massive audiences, making endless instantaneous decisions as they give voice to other people’s songs or tales. The risks inherent in such high-visibility, livestreaming performances can make stress a lifelong companion to musicians as well as interpreters.
Playing to Transform
At first glance, Widor’s pre-show routine does not quite add up. After so many years on the road, you would expect an artist of his caliber to have overcome any performing anxiety or stage fright. Could he really have butterflies in his stomach at every new gig? I was determined to find out, driven by something other than mere curiosity. I sought an analogy that could produce actionable advice one could put to good use on stage as well as in the booth.
Taking advantage of my proximity to him—I married his sister some 20 years ago—I decided to ask him straight. An enlightening conversation ensued. “I like to take a minute to remind myself of the reasons I am there,” Widor explained, pausing briefly before continuing. “Different people play for different reasons. Some of my colleagues play from a place of anger. They resent being discriminated against, socially, racially, or otherwise. They feel they have been dealt a bad hand and it makes them angry. They take that anger with them on stage and work extra hard to shine, if only to take it out on the world.” He went on to explain that other performers play for the reassurance that comes with applause. They enjoy the boost to their self-esteem and capitalize on their insecurity to play like never before and attract the recognition they crave. There are also those whose art is a form of avoidance. Their heart is no longer in it, but playing keeps them busy while providing a perfect excuse to procrastinate and stay away from something else they ought to be doing (but at which they secretly fear failing).
Widor’s words totally and immediately resonated with the interpreter in me. In a profession as ego-driven as ours, it is easy to get misled. Breaking into the craft may at times involve a fair amount of elbowing, and the resulting anger can accompany a newcomer long after the initial friction. Also, simultaneous interpreting is still regarded as a superior skill, bordering on the magical, and the reassurance that comes from knowing one can do it and do it well may be uplifting and keep an interpreter elated for years on end. And there are many among us whose enthusiasm has faded, for whom playing has lost its luster. They feel jaded and yet unable to turn the table. Anxiety mounts.
“Anger can be as valid a driver as any other, provided the end result is good music,” Widor continued. “Still, in such circumstances, there will always be an underlying anxiety that is hard to push away,” he warned. Now, if the jitters are no longer a problem for Widor, then why all the introspection and praying before each of his performances? He settled the issue quite surprisingly. “I know that on any given day, in any crowd, there is at least one individual ready to be touched by a single note I play. I pray that she or he is there and leaves changed.” He concluded the conversation with a powerful statement: “I play to transform.”
In Search of Compassion
Regardless of what we do, we are all moving along a continuum spanning the full spectrum of human feelings. And while any emotion can technically carry us forward and help us shine, some will definitely leave a lingering, better aftertaste. The higher we move up the emotional scale, the closer we are to excellence and bliss. Learning to progress from mediocre to awesome and from miserable to great involves discovering loftier emotions from which to operate.
At the end of the day, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Interpreting should be no exception. It is a beautiful craft, ultimately anchored in the notion of service. It is also a stressful, taxing activity that can leave us mentally and physically drained, so we might as well do it for the right reasons. Why desecrate it with emotions unworthy of the effort? Why tie its expression to our need for reassurance or, worse yet, retribution? Why not make it meaningful by making it about someone else? Could we possibly transit from anger to vanity to detachment and, like Widor, eventually play from a place of compassion? It will likely be a gradual process, and the first step, of course, is determining where we find ourselves now. Looking for our underlying motives takes full precedence.
So, trying to translate into actionable advice some of what I learned from my friend that day, here are some suggestions and questions to help interpreters keep the reasons for their actions in check and evolving:
- Make it a habit to reflect on why it is that you do the things you do.
- More specifically, try to drill down on what makes you tick as an interpreter. Be honest!
- Challenge your motives by asking what is next on the scale.
- What could make you want to perform better? What emotion could keep you going forever?
- For whom are you playing? Whom are you hoping to touch?
- What could take you to a more compassionate mode?
- How would that affect your anxiety?
These are hard questions, and the answers will likely elude you for a while. Yet asking them and acting on the ensuing hunches is the only way forward. In the meantime, you would do well to emulate part of Widor’s concentration routine. Taking a minute to remind yourself of the true reasons you are there will make you a more conscientious interpreter. You do not need to pray, if you are not spiritually inclined, but a little introspection before opening the mike is easy enough to do and well worth your time.
Beyond the booth or across the stage are discoveries waiting to be made, insights dying to materialize, myths one push away from collapse. And in any crowd, on any given day, there is at least one life longing to be transformed. All it takes is one note played right, one word uttered compassionately, by someone no longer interested in proving a point.