Category Archives: Interpreting/Translation
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.
- 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.
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.
A quick refresher for those of us who don’t remember Freud’s tripartite structure of the psyche.
Seconds before the alarm on his i-phone went off, Harry languidly opened one eye, methodically scratched his parts and peered through the blinds that faced the Atlantic Ocean and the 395 causeway on South Beach. Traffic was barely starting to crawl but he knew he had to move fast to not be caught in the crunch when everyone starts to head towards downtown. He had to be at the federal courthouse by 8:00 for a big trial in which he was going to be interpreting with a new hire. Although he would never admit it, Harry had developed a ritual over the years to haze new interpreters at the courthouse and demonstrate his seniority, or so he thought, because he technically didn’t have any. Today’s game was particularly exciting because although she was touted to be a very good interpreter, she had almost always worked in conference settings. There was no way she could have hoarded the amount of legal trivia Harry had proudly amassed in his brain over the last twenty years, and he felt certain some of these obscure terms would be showcased in today’s proceedings. He relished in anticipation the “deer in the headlights” look on his prey’s face when it was her turn to interpret them and craftily planned what his response would be.
Halfway around the world, it was 1:00 p.m. Ana was well into her day’s work, interpreting at the Global Forum to Eradicate Child Pornography being held at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid. She was hoping she would not run into her friend Kirsten during the lunchtime break, who was working the German booth. Understandably so, because although she justified it to herself because her friend had told her their relationship was on the rocks, Ana was having an affair with Kirsten’s boyfriend, Eric. She was afraid that during an argument between the two of them, that uncomfortable truth would come out and she would then have to deal with it. It could hurt her reputation in the circuit as well as affect her output. But in the meantime, he was great in bed and she had had quite a dry spell after her own breakup over a year ago. Ana was unrealistically hoping that the two Germans would soon come to a cordial or at least civilized separation, in accord with their intrinsic nature, so that this detail would never come to light. After all, from her Teutonic experience, scanty as it was, they were not nearly as hysterical as Latinos. And that was something she did know a lot about.
Lastly, all the way around the world in Hong Kong, it was 7:00 p.m., and Bo had finished his interpreting work held at the posh Kowloon Hotel, at interviews grilling potential translators for the attorneys that had brought him there from San Francisco. As the image of the scintillating skyline of neon-lit skyscrapers receded on his way to Happy Valley on the tram, he realized how exhausted he was. It had been a long day and he was shouldering a delicate responsibility in advising his clients on the selection of a linguist for this all-important case. He had hoped he would be asked to do all the work himself which entailed flying regularly to HKG, a lucrative gig with the added benefit that he could also visit his elderly grandmother and mentor, but that did not seem to be in the cards unless he swiftly took matters into his hands and manipulated the outcome of this trip for his own benefit. It would be relatively simple to do, as luckily none of the attorneys spoke Mandarin, and after all, the justification was they would be getting himself, the best professional available, who was thoroughly familiar with the case.