Monthly Archives: July 2011

Please send your comments before August 8 to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation

It is very important that interpreters, legal professionals and educators step up to the plate to opine about the proposed amendments to the Texas Court Interpreting Program.  In an effort to create a larger pool of interpreters, it is being proposed that the passing grade for candidates sitting for the Consortium test be lowered from 70 to 60 in order to create a basic interpreting tier that would handle the work at courts that are not of record.  The standard group of interpreters with a passing grade of 70 would be deemed part of the master tier and they would be eligible to work in any court in the state. Part of the proposal is that the initial 16 hours of training be abolished.

Send your comments online to:

Comments must be in by Monday, August 8, 2011.

Please see my letter below for more details:

Interpreting Spurs the Monkey Mind

I am not a monkey…am I?
The monkey mind is a concept that was coined in the east.  It refers to a mind that does not focus on the present moment but is always flitting endlessly from one thought to another, in the same way that a monkey furiously jumps from branch to branch. Although it is done unconsciously, it automatically drains quite a lot of brain power that we could be using for productive purposes. Scientists have determined that human beings think an average of 65,000 thoughts a day and 95% are the same thoughts from the day before. (e.g. when is that client going to call me again, I need to create a glossary and study for that conference, I loved seeing the views of the city at night in “Midnight in Paris”, my clothes are ready to pick up at the dry cleaners, etc.)

These statistics forced me to ruminate on how many more thoughts an interpreter produces. In addition to our individual thoughts, when we interpret we hear the thoughts/words of others and however fleetingly, we have to figure out what they mean and turn it into another language, sometimes wondering along the way if we captured a specific thought accurately.

A few years ago when I was studying for my MBA, one of my teachers suggested we read Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath, who leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consulting worldwide.  Based on more than 40 years of research, this book and test are a distillation of the insights gleaned in this research that has helped millions discover and develop their natural talents.

One would think that after having raised a family which entailed decades of wearing multifarious hats, e.g. being a mom, a short order cook, a makeshift vet, striving to be a femme fatale (definitely not my forte) and then being in business for many years, which brings its own line of bonnets: interpreter, boss, strong-armed collections clerk and miracle worker at-large, that I would know what my natural talents were. Neverthless, I was only aware that  I was good at communicating, I am an interpreter.  I knew I was hardworking because although I was born on a Caribbean island, my life has never been the relaxed tropical affair it should have been sans Fidel. I was raised in Connecticut and the Puritan work ethic is hardwired into my brain. I also knew I was responsible because everyone in my family is militarily responsible and there simply is no other way to be.  You don’t do just what is expected of you but more, and you do it the best way you know how, without cutting any corners. But all in all, I had never taken the time to  officially ponder what my strengths were, these were just things I knew intuitively.

I guess I always had a soft spot for Cheetah…

Rath’s book and accompanying test, which I enthusiastically recommend, taught me that among my  top 5 “themes” are  Input, which means that I have a craving to know more and that I love to collect and archive all kinds of information.  Another is Learner, which is reflective of the fact that I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve, and that the process of learning, rather than the outcome, is exciting for me. Once it was pointed out to me by my scores, I knew without a doubt that this was all true and that I did indeed present symptoms of the “Monkey Mind”.  Whenever I have to study for a complex case or a conference that I am interpreting, it becomes a mission and the more I learn, the more I am prompted to research and regardless of how much I enjoy it, the downside is that I tend to go overboard and devote much more time to these pursuits than I should, and I have an unending number of files with materials that I may not ever need again.  These files are all taking up real-estate not only in my office and my apartment but in my brain. The more overarching problem is that this discipline is very ingrained in me and creates an avalanche of additional thoughts on a regular basis because I do it constantly. Now I hazard to think that I am not exceptional in this regard as this type of endeavor is something that comes with the territory.  If you are an interpreter and you want to do your job well, you have to prepare, there is no way around that and we often interpret for different industries that are constantly evolving so there is always something new to learn. If my hypothesis is correct then many interpreters must be suffering from MMS, the Monkey Mind Syndrome.  If we extrapolate from the figures above, the average interpreter’s thought load, in conservative terms, could be anywhere between 81,250 and 97,500 a day. This is all made worse by the fallacy of multi-tasking that our society promotes. Our brains can only handle one thing at a time but our thoughts take place so fast that they fool us into thinking that we are doing several things simultaneously.  In the end we are only delaying matters by engaging in multi-tasking because it takes us longer to divide our attention among several issues than if we handled each focusing exclusively on one at a time.

Being a “Learner” as per the above, I pondered on what the most efficient way was to quiet the Monkey Mind as its incessant chatter can sometimes exhaust you and you are not immune to it while working. I also know that the “chatter” is linked to my stress level.  The more stressed we are, the louder we hear our thoughts and the more negative they become.

Once again, I knew from experience that physical exercise had its place in this puzzle.  I had been a gym rat for years and I knew that when exercising or running, if you drive yourself hard enough, you release stress and feel a certain degree of relaxation and euphoria from the endorphins generated.  Sleep and rest are also good alternatives but none of these options do the full job.

The swing back through the trees to a relaxed and productive mind

According to yoga, which I practice regularly, stress is accumulated in the physical body, in our subconscious mind and in our emotional body.  We build up stress when the sum total of our positive thoughts is overwhelmed by a greater number of negative thoughts., which may even be imperceptible to us. Exercising only affects a portion of the stress in the physical body, whereas the culprits lie for the most part in the other two areas to which we do not have ready access by traditional means. Our negative thoughts come in part from our own subconscious mind which is operating 24X7. It does not switch off when we go to sleep. If we are negative thinkers or our immunity/energy level is depressed and generating negative thoughts, then the universal law of “like attracts like” will be working while we are asleep and unable to override it and will reinforce existing negative patterns.  We also pick up negative vibes from others.  We have all experienced this at one time or another.  Our minds are like radio tuners that pick up frequencies from the ether.  We do not even have to know the people whose frequencies we’re picking up. It doesn’t matter where they are located. If you are on the same wave/energy level you will get their “broadcasts”. Take a quick test, and peek at your wellbeing score, at the Twitter Tracker. See how you compare to the rest of the population. Nonetheless, there are tools to “clean out the closet”, digging deeper, helping us to live saner, more relaxed and therefore more productive lives.

These techniques, among others, are breathing methods. Our breath is directly connected to our thoughts.  The slower we breathe, the more calm our thoughts. Picture an interpreter who is agitated under stressful circumstances, unconsciously leaning forward, breathing shallowly and rapidly from the upper chest area. What kind of thoughts is she likely to be having? Are they conducive to doing our job properly? We can however, quickly and efficiently reverse those circumstances, while working, with proper breathing. Another technique to do this is meditation.  Meditation purges our “cache” memory which we humans don’t have a button to push to clear.  As those of us who work with computers know, clearing your cache can significantly improve the speed and performance of your browser/brain. An additional benefit to this simple technique is, that unlike the deal with psychotherapy, you do not have to relive anything you are consciously aware of that created stress in order to process it and remove it. Therapy, in any case, requires a very long, arduous effort. Meditation does the job automatically and also eliminates stresses you may not even be aware of.  Contrary to the myths that abound, it is an effortless and natural technique that our minds inherently enjoy and are drawn to, once we experience it properly.

If you are interested in these topics, there is an ancient maxim that says “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.  You can start by looking into yoga studios in your area and inquiring if they offer breathing and meditation techniques.  If you are not familiar with local offerings, click here and do a search for programs in your area.  You can easily do research on these methods but they should be taught in person by a teacher that can guide you as needed.  Both are part of an oral tradition that has been handed down through many thousands of years, in addition to hatha yoga’s, poses or “asanas”, that we are most familiar with in the west.  Asanas also have their place in the stress “trifecta” of poses, breathings and meditation. Nonetheless, breathing and meditation are the more advanced techniques and unfortunately, many never forge ahead far enough beyond the exercises to experience their benefits. Don’t get left behind and please share any experiences you have had with either MMS or relief of same.

NAJIT letter to the Texas Senate Regarding Interpreting Issue on June 16

Last month I wrote about the Senate hearing in Texas where a Mexican witness attempted to testify through a volunteer interpreter and was admonished by a senator for doing so in Spanish because he had been in the U.S. for several years.  The witness alleged that he was doing so because he had never given testimony in a legal procedure and did not feel comfortable doing so in his second language.  To compound the matter, although there are several certified Spanish<>English interpreters in Austin, a “volunteer” interpreter was used and his credentials were never questioned. In my view, although I am all for learning English if you live in the U.S.A., I also believe that proper language access should be provided in matters of import. It is too early to know if we will have a response from the senate.  Thus far, one of the associations lobbying in this matter has posted our letter on their site at

On a related event, also in Texas, I am adding my request that everyone send their comments regarding new legislation to effectively reduce the level of interpreter proficiency needed to pass the state certification.  Read below for details from a post copied from the NAJIT listserv  by colleague Gloria Keller. Under her post you can click to read the NAJIT letter to the Senate regarding the June hearing.  NAJIT  will also be responding to the new legislation referred to here.

HB 4445 (two levels of interpreters) will go into effect on September 1, 2011.


On June 24th, the Licensed Court Interpreter (LCI) Advisory Board met in Austin at the offices of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). On the agenda was the “discussion and possible recommendation on proposed rules at 16 Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 80; Sections 80.10, 80.20, 80.22, 80.25, and 80.80 relating to changes in the Licensed Court Interpreter industry resulting from the passage of HB 4445 from the 81st Legislative session.” HB 4445’s original intent was to lower the passing rate of the interpreter exam as offered by Texas so that municipal court staff could pass and serve as interpreters, in order to save the municipal courts thousands of dollars. HB 4445 will create a two tiered system of court interpreters; “master” for those that will be allowed to interpret in courts of record and “basic” for those who can interpret in courts not of record. The meeting may be accessed at TDLR’s page:


Interpreters, who want to become a Licensed Court Interpreter in Texas, take and pass a Consortium exam. During the meeting, those interested and present recommended that the “basic” designation remain at the existing oral passing rate as recommended by the Consortium; 80% for the written and 70% for the oral. It was also suggested that the oral passing rate of the “master” designation be raised to 80%, and that “basic” interpreters eventually move up to a “master” level after a certain period. There was also a push to require a two day orientation for would-be LCIs.


After much discussion and despite logical viewpoints and admonitions offered by those present, to not lower the level for the “basic” designation, the LCI Advisory Board, under pressure from the Presiding Officer, Ann Moore, an attorney from McAllen, TX, overwhelmingly voted to lower the passage rate on the oral exam for the “basic” level to 60%. Only one Advisory Board member, Luis Garcia, the Chair of the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, voted against this. The “master” designation will remain at the 70% rate, and all present LCIs will be grandfathered into the “master” designation. The passing rate for the written portion of the exam will remain at 80%. There will not be any requirements that “basic” LCIs do anything to eventually move up into a “master” level. Please remember that these are only recommendations at this time.

These recommendations will be published in the July 1st issue of the Texas Register (, where they will be available for public comment for 30 days. During that 30 day period any individual or group will be able to express their thoughts for or against these recommendations. We highly encourage anyone with an interest in the legal community, especially those representative of LEPs, to express their opinions during these 30 days. Comments would especially be helpful, from other states in which there is a multiple tier system in place for court interpreters. Please pass this on.

Open letter to the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee

Eclectic 5th of July Celebration of the English Language

I really meant to do this post yesterday, July 4th, in the U.S. but between attending a traditional parade with the family, having them over for dinner, watching the fireworks and getting ready to leave for the airport a few hours later, I had to give it up.  I thought my post had lost its relevancy and I would have to wait until next year.

At this posting, I am writing from Caracas, Venezuela where I am interpreting at depositions. Much to my surprise when I arrived, I found out that today is their equivalent of July 4th.  It is the country’s date of independence and this year they are celebrating the bicentennial. They started celebrating yesterday when Hugo Chavez returned from his cancer surgery in Cuba.  As a student of business I found in interesting that bond yields had sharp gains from speculations that he might be forced to step aside due to health reasons.

I feel like I am in a time warp and that my Independence Day deadline has been extended, so here you have it.

For a hilarious abbreviated history of the English language, click here.

When I came to this country I was 8 years old and it was a wonderful experience for me and my then three brothers, which quickly turned into four.  We came from a tropical island (Cuba) to New England, which to us was nothing else but “Davie Crockett” country where we experienced snow, and living in close proximity to the woods where my brothers and I went camping, sledding, built teepees etc. With the characteristic exuberance of youth, nothing fazed us.  We were very proud of our initial “F” grades in school before we mastered the language because we thought it stood for “Fine”. I remember going to a speech therapist to recognize the difference between a “sheet” we slept on and the product of our bowels.  It didn’t bother me to have my friends laugh with me as I diligently practiced to commit the sounds to memory.  I wanted to learn the language so badly that I spent every spare minute reading everything from fairytales to Nancy Drew to the Encyclopedia Britannica, resorting to a flashlight under the covers after lights out.

At this tender age  I learned words by reading that one does not commonly use. For years I thought thigh was pronounced like “fig” starting with a “th”. I will always remember how at the “grown-up” age of 21 when I was starting to interpret, a judge asked me to stay for a moment after a hearing to see how I was doing.  He asked me how everything was working out and I answered him very seriously that things were somewhat  “awry”, pronouncing it to rhyme with “story”.  I had always loved that word but had never had the opportunity to actually say it.  I was very chagrined when the judge was barely able to suppress a smile and told me with a twinkle in his eye, “you mean awry” and he pronounced the “ry” as in rye bread…  Live and learn. That is the name of the game.  I went from writing short stories in cursive during elementary school for extra credit, to teaching myself to type my term papers and college newspaper articles on an antique typewriter that my mother purchased in a garage sale.  This all paved the way to my doing translations later and my writing this blog now.

English is a beautiful language and we must all do our part to keep it from losing its venerable form. I read a wonderful  article I want to share with you in this regard, by a fellow blogger.

Please share your language stories with me and tell me how you see the status of the English language.  Is it going downhill?

A Conference Interpreter Offers Insights About Inherent Language Skills

Ewandro Magalhaes

I am thrilled  to introduce a friend and well known conference interpreter who will be an occasional, hopefully regular contributor to Musings. His writing is delightful because it is anecdotal and  entertaining as well as informative.  I know that you will recognize the value in it.  His perspective from the conference angle of a professional working outside of the U.S. will serve to round out our appreciation of  the current status of our industry. Enjoy…

Ewandro Magalhães is a seasoned conference interpreter, author and interpreter trainer. He holds a Master’s in Conference Interpretation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is a former contractor with the U.S. Department of State, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization of American States and several other international organizations. He is the author of Sua Majestade, o Intérprete – o fascinante mundo da tradução simultânea (Parábola Editorial, São Paulo) and an active member of TAALS. A national of Brazil, he has worked in four continents and now lives with his family in Geneva, Switzerland, following his appointment last year as Chief Interpreter of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN agency for ICTs. Ewandro is a gifted writer and presenter with a passion for learning and disseminating knowledge.

As an intro to his post:
Think bilinguals have a natural edge in interpreting? Well, think again. In a recent article featured in the ATA Chronicle (May 2011), Ewandro Magalhães explores how the virtues or limitations of our languages configure and discipline our way of thinking and how we function as interpreters. Beware! What you know may be working against you in the booth. Click here to learn why!

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