Monthly Archives: June 2011

Was the “mis-translation” of the Congressman’s statement in Syria intentional or not?


Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio)  went , of his own volition, on a fact-finding trip to Syria last week, in an effort to try to bring peace to the region.  He alleges his Arab-American constituents in Cleveland asked him to assess conditions on the  ground there because of the government’s severe crackdown on protesters of the regime. He met with President al-Assad and members of the opposition on Monday, after al-Assad had refused to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Syria. He was subsequently quoted in an article in the Syrian media as saying “President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians” and “President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his efforts towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this”

Although Rep. Kucinich was not there representing the Obama government, this comes at a time when others in the U.S. government such as Republicans Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, have made repeated calls to recall the U.S. ambassador to Damascus because of the violations of human rights by the Syrian government.

Mr. Kucinich says that his comments during an interview were misinterpreted, although David Kenner, a Foreign Policy writer  has pushed back saying that the Congressman does not speak Arabic and the original Syrian news article was in English so no translation would have been necessary.

CNN interviewed Fouad Ajami, an Arab specialist who is a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, who suggests that the Syrian regime is taking advantage of the Congressman to spread their propaganda. Watch the video here.  Although Mr. Kucinich asserts that  it was not done intentionally he says he will be ever mindful of the perils of being “lost in translation” during the rest of his trip.

This all begs the question of why the Congressman did not hire a professional interpreter to accompany him on a mission as delicate as this?  It would have avoided all of this subsequent speculation.  I called Mr. Kucinich’s office and spoke to a member of his staff  to ask about the circumstances surrounding this event and was told that he did not know the answers to my questions and that I would have to speak to his press secretary.  I have left a detailed message for the press secretary about the reason for my call.  I will do a subsequent post if/when he calls back.

Whimsical Language Post



 Today is my birthday, so as a present to myself,  I get to write about light-hearted, fun, or just interesting stories that are  language-related which I have recently come across. On the subject of  interpretation, I have written in recent posts about the interpretation of body language and the language of smell and forensics.  We can now add to that dream interpretation.  At first glance, this could seem like any quack could set himself up to do this in an Arab country or anywhere for that matter. However, it is not as simple as that in the UAE.  In Islam,  it turns out that  dream interpretation is only permitted if it is done by a trusted scholar, pursuant to an UAE fatwa issued in 2008! Furthermore, certain interpretations have been standardized.

I found the following article about Grosjean’s new book, Bilingual: Life and Reality, to be very insightful.  I encourage you to click on the links with excerpts from different chapters.  His blog on bilingualism from a psychological standpoint is also very original and will be of interest to all linguists.

As I have gotten flowers today, I felt I needed to know more about the language of flowers and I find myself  in complete agreement with the metaphysical stance of the last sentence in the article referenced.

I will close by sharing with you the next book choice on my summer reading list that promises to be  informative, fantastical and entertaining!  It’s called In the Land  of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent.  Click here for excerpts.

The Wavering Fate of Language Programs and Languages in General


This is a persistent issue that the world needs to solve.  I just came back from the InterpretAmerica Summit in Washington where we heard from Dr. Kayoko Takeda talk about the fact that there is not more research being conducted on interpreting is the U.S. because there are no doctoral programs for our profession and that is where in-depth research projects are usually carried out.  Moreover, the Monterey Institute of International Studies‘s  masters in T&I are the only ones left to date in the States.  It is mind-boggling that our country is not taking the necessary steps in this direction to equip our students with professional language tools that will enable us to compete properly in the relentless process of globalization.

I just signed a petition on Linkedin launched by the AIIC group in that forum to ask the University of Westminster not to cut its conference interpreting program.  I urge any of you that can support it to sign in and do so. The University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Relations teaches some of the world’s hottest languages of the developing world such as Arabic, Urdu, Hindi and Chinese.  They receive federal funding, as well they should, because we need to be able to communicate fluently with these countries, in their languages, for business and international relations to prosper.  Nonetheless, because of our economic predicament these programs are slated to receive drastic cuts that will severely hinder their ability to provide this very needed service. It is happening not only here but in countries such as Malayasia that is struggling as its language, which was the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago, is losing its dominance to English. In this regard, I have always been intrigued by the talks that our colleague, Dr. Georganne Weller, has given at professional forums regarding INALI, and the very important work they do to promote indigenous languages in Mexico. I understand there are over 200 indigenous languages in Mexico! Speaking of indigenous languages, the Cherokee Nation apparently understands this problem here and has created a private language immersion school for Cherokee, in Oklahoma, that is applying for charter status.

I will close on an interesting note which caught me by surprise.  Chinese proficiency testing is growing in Mexico, at the Confucius Institute of the Autonomous University of Yucatan. Read about it here. Perhaps a reader from Mexico might be able to shed some light on why this effort is gaining popularity there.

Body language expert: Casey Anthony showed sadness; Cindy Anthony lied on stand – National Crime | Examiner.com


Body language expert: Casey Anthony showed sadness; Cindy Anthony lied on stand – National Crime | Examiner.com.

Right after I post about an independent  blog I read regarding body language and the Anthony case, the prosecution decides to hire an expert in this regard.  Whereas a year ago I may have thought this specialty to be somewhat esoteric, I have since come to view it differently.  We are all interconnected at a very basic level and intuitively we can learn to recognize in others gestures and facial expressions that are universal in nature.  The book “Blink” by best selling author Malcolm Gladwell delves into this fascinating topic in depth with anecdotal and scientific support from many seemingly unconnected fields.  He teaches us to “listen with our eyes”, as our ASL counterparts do.  For an engrossing summary of the concept without having to read the whole book (although I heartily recommend it), go here.

Everybody’s an Interpreter; Further Apropos to the Harris Outburst


I was very intrigued by the events as they unfolded at the hearing, the identity of the “mystery” interpreter, how he came to be there, his background, etc. A NAJIT colleague from Texas posted the Texas Senate Accessibility page on another forum and I started by calling the numbers there to ask whether anyone from the public-at-large had called to secure an interpreter for the hearing in question.  I spoke to  Scott, a Senate  Coordinator, at the number designated on the page to schedule interpreters. He told me that they hardly ever receive any requests for spoken language interpreters, that occasionally they receive a request for an ASL interpreter and that no one had called for this matter. I asked him what the procedure and qualifications were for hiring the former and he became very flustered and told me I would have to call the Secretary of the Senate, Patsy Spaw, who would be better able to answer my questions. I called and left a message with my question, in my capacity as director of NAJIT, asking to be called back.  That was three days ago.

In the meantime, I called RITA (Reform Immigration Texas Alliance) one of the groups that the witness, Antolin Aguirre, was affiliated with when he went to testify before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. I inquired and was told the identity of the “interpreter” and have subsequently interviewed him.

His name is Loren Campos. He is a bilingual young man, 22 years old, born in Monterey, Mexico who entered  the U.S. illegally when he was 11 years old and has applied for permanent resident status through his sister who is a U.S. citizen by virtue of having married an American.  That application was filed in 2003, 8 years ago, and it typically takes anywhere from 10-15 years to be processed.  In the meantime, Mr. Campos is soon to graduate as a civil engineer from the University of Texas at Austin.

I asked Mr. Campos how he came to be the interpreter at the hearing and he told me that in his freshman year he came across a group called the University Leadership Initiative that was advocating for the Dream Act, proposed federal legislation to provide an 11 year pathway to citizenship for students 16 years or younger when they arrived in this country. Its mission struck a chord with him and he joined the group.  He attended this senate hearing to become informed about SB9 on behalf of the group.  While there, the coordinator for RITA, Adriana Cadena, asked if anyone would volunteer to interpret for several witnesses and Loren agreed. He told me that he is not involved with RITA, that he had never met the witness and that he was not prepped at all as to what would be discussed.  It all happened on the spur of the moment. It was the first time he had ever “translated” outside of a casual conversation. (I was not able to resist the pedantic impulse to explain the difference between a translator and an interpreter and to explain that when acting as an interpreter, one cannot answer questions on behalf of the witness, which he did).

This morning I came across a widely differing account of the event than those which we have been reading, by a Ms. Adryana Boyne. She also alleges to be an interpreter. I will let you all be the judge of that.

I asked Loren Campos whether he felt that Senator Harris’s remarks had been maligned by the press.  He told me that it was apparent to all, or I guess almost all, that the Senator was “very frustrated and upset” that some people elected to testify in Spanish.  Apparently there had been two women before Mr. Aguirre,  that he started to question in the same way but then held back. It seems that Mr. Aguirre was the straw that broke the camel’s back although two more witnesses testified in Spanish after him, also through Mr. Campos, without eliciting any comments.

The moral of the story is that as interpreters we have a long row to hoe to make our elected officials, the courts and other stakeholders aware of the value that as professionals we bring to the table as well as the duty incumbent upon certain stakeholders to provide the services of a certified interpreter.

Cindy Anthony’s Voice and Body Language Show Lies On Stand In Attempt to Protect Casey « Dr. Lillian Glass Body Language Blog


Cindy Anthony’s Voice and Body Language Show Lies On Stand In Attempt to Protect Casey « Dr. Lillian Glass Body Language Blog.

As you know, I have been following this trial with prior posts.  It’s fascinating to see that there are specialists interpreting not only what you say but also what you don’t say vocally but your body conveys silently, body language.

I wonder if anyone will expound on the language of smell which has been so talked about in this trial?

Designer Galliano Says He Can’t Recall Speaking Slurs – NYTimes.com


Designer Galliano Says He Can’t Recall Speaking Slurs – NYTimes.com.

This is what caused it: http://youtu.be/3CQO8q3FSH0   The upshot: Court Case

We complain when qualified/certified interpreters are not used to interpret in U.S. courts but this is happening all over the world.  How surprising is it that at the  high profile case of John Galliano in Paris, the interpreter used seems to have been incompetent? (Because you never know how what really happened was interpreted by the news).

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Galliano’s experience with an interpreter will be discussed at the FIT (International Federation of Translators)  International Forum on Ethics and Good Practices in  Paris this summer.

Texas Senator Insulted Spanish Testimony – Video | Mediaite


Texas Senator Insulted Spanish Testimony – Video | Mediaite.

A self-professed LEP individual, Antolin Aguirre, was testifying last Friday in Austin at a  Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee hearing regarding Senate Bill 9 which is designed to crack down on illegal immigrants in Texas. Please listen to the video in the referenced article.  Texas Senator Chris Harris from Arlington told Mr. Aguirre when he was two minutes into his testimony through an interpreter, that it was “insulting” that he should be testifying in Spanish because he had been in this country for many years.  Whereas I believe that it is incumbent upon residents of this country to learn English, I also strongly believe that if one does not feel comfortable testifying about an important issue in English, one is entitled to express himself coherently through an interpreter.  I have spoken to federally certified interpreters in Texas who have assured me that they have interpreted for the legislature on many occasions. I find it close-minded and unconscionable for a U.S. Senator to have made such a statement and I would welcome your views through the poll as well as your comments.

Improving Internet Privacy – WSJ.com


Improving Internet Privacy – WSJ.com.

After hearing about technology all weekend at the InterpretAmerica forum, I thought this article regarding how to manage how much we are tracked by technology when we are on our computer, to be very apropos.

Second North American Summit on Interpreting, June 17-18, 2011


Technology Panel

InterpretAmerica succeeded in sustaining the momentum of their first summit last year, at their second just ended in Washington, D.C. yesterday.  The conference was well attended by just under 200 active, well known interpreters from many fields including medical, ASL, conference and legal.  NAJIT had a strong showing with Rob Cruz, Chair, Robin Lanier, Executive Director, and myself from the board present.  In addition, we ran into many NAJIT colleagues that were also present:  Jaime de Castellvi, Giovanna Lester, Tony Rosado, Melinda Gonzalez Hibner, Cristina Helmerichs, Rosa Wallach, Marjory Bancroft  and Lisset Samananiego, to name a few.  Moreover, there were many OTS (Other Than Spanish) interpreters there whose language combination included Turkish, Mandarin Chinese, Romanian, Ukranian, Korean, Farsi, Portuguese and others. The audience was attentive and involved as current topics having a bearing on our profession such as technology and professional identity were discussed. The keynote speaker was Nataly Kelly, the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense  Advisory  whose basic message is that technology is influencing  our work and that we must embrace it or be left behind.  In keeping with the topic at hand, many of the attendees swiftly tweeted snippets from her discourse and that of other speakers throughout the conference. If  you look soon at Twitter.com, you may still find them under the hash tag #InterpAmSummit. Nataly stated that the main drivers behind technology were speed, access and availability followed by quality, and not lower prices, as we might think. Innovation has been partly driven by need in times of catastrophes and many solutions are coming in from outside of our field. You can read about her interview of  Ray Kursweil on the subject here. Other recent mentions of technology which I found, that dovetail these discussions  are a new API  we can download to Skype in other languages and an invention that sounds a little fishy!

The other overarching topic that was debated was that of the interpreter’s professional identity. After a moderated exchange regarding independent contractor status vs. employee status in the OPI industry, which was not relevant to many of the attendees, the forum was divided into several groups that discussed different angles of our work. This session was very relevant. The groups talked about  Legal interpreting and Advocacy roles, which session was ably moderated by Robin Lanier, Education/Training, Professional Associations, Technology,  and Certification/Credentialing.  Our own Marjorie Bancroft will be writing a white paper based on the results of these discussions which were provided to her by a scribe from each group and which will be posted on the InterpretAmerica site at the end of the summer.  Some of the findings were made known briefly at the end of the hour and a half exchange of ideas. There was one finding in particular I thought very interesting  and it is that interpreters from all fields want to have one organization to represent them and that meets all their needs. That issue has been top-of-mind for the new NAJIT board as we start our mandate and we will be rolling out our suggestions to both members and prospective members in the near future.  As the premier organization for interpreters, and one that has built a solid brand after an effort spanning many years, we feel that that is our role to do so and we want to frame our mission to encompass that need.  In order to do this properly, we need the input and assistance of our members so that this is considered professionally, efficiently and democratically.

There were several technology vendors who brought their wares to the Summit in D.C.  It was a good opportunity for our colleagues that are not familiar with conference interpreting to test drive the experience of interpreting in a booth with all the latest bells and whistles. There is also a revolutionary new product called the Digi-Wave by Williams Sound to deliver simultaneous  interpreting without need of a booth that all should look into. It’s a big improvement over the old Whisper Sound guide system.  NAJIT is having conversations with a dealer to get preferred pricing for our members. Similarly, we were able to see how OPI (Over the Phone Interpreting) software and VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) works. We were gently warned that technology is here to stay so we cannot postpone familiarizing ourselves with it so as to influence its development. Technology will not replace interpreters.  The interpreters who embrace it will displace those who don’t. As Barry Olsen reminded us, Wayne Gretsky, the hockey star, says “a good hockey player plays where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”.

Lastly we heard from Dr. Kayoko Takeda, an associate professor at the MIIS Graduate School who is an author as well as a  conference and legal interpreter.  She  talked about her research interests in interpretation and her own experience with the evolution of  technology in the corporate workplace as distinct from criminal court proceedings. An attendee asked her whom we could turn to, to conduct research in our field. She informed us that the possibilities are very limited due to the lack of doctoral programs  in Translation and Interpretation, which are the natural venues for this work. I was heartened to hear from a colleague at the conference, Andrew Clifford, from the School of Translation at Glendon College in Toronto, Canada, that they are planning on offering an MA in T & I by 2013.  Dr. Takeda went on to say that when a profession is tied to degrees and research, its status grows.  I couldn’t agree more and I am curious to see what the findings  of the group that discussed Certification and Education were.

Next year, the summit will be held in Monterey CA.  June 15-16. The organizers emphasized the value of the feedback from attendees in the evaluation form collected at the end of the conference as that is what will determine the issues to be discussed next year. Everyone was very conscientious in complying with the request to be specific so I look forward to continuing the lively debate next year with one more year of experience under our belt in this time of flux for our profession.

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