Category Archives: Languages

There Is More Than One Way to Skin a Cat; a Personal Story

images-2What do a Brazilian Butt-Lift and a Kindle book have in common?

They are two examples of our society’s penchant for instant gratification. Language proficiency  and by extension interpreting, nonetheless, are not abilities you acquire overnight. They improve exponentially as you practice, and reflect consciously or not, the experiences of a lifetime.

I came to the U.S., as a Cuban exile with my family, at the age of nine, speaking almost no English.  We arrived to a completely new environment, and to what my four brothers and I naively classified as Davy Crockett country from our limited exposure to American folklore. Life in a wooded enclave where we largely fended for ourselves after school and learned to adapt to the Spartan life of New England.  While my brothers were out trapping and hunting for fun, I devoted myself to self development through reading, favoring fairy tales as a form of escapism from the inevitable household chores there was no one else to do. One of my fondest memories as a kid, is of creating a tepee in bed with my covers, after “lights out”, when I would read, flashlight in hand, so as not to wake my siblings. Above all else, I wanted to speak English well to fit in, get good grades and make my parents proud of me.  Imagine my discouragement when learned that the “F” grades I was so proud of did not stand for “Fine.”

After initially cutting my ties to Spanish, as many first generation exiles do, I went back to my native language by reading an eclectic mix of periodicals. They included magazines my parents’s Cuban friends would give us when they were finished reading them, some of which contained what were for me,  riveting excepts of unbridled sexual passion.  These came via the  stories of Corín Tellado,  a prolific writer of romantic novels that were very popular in Spanish-speaking countries and were definitely not permissible reading for an eleven year old at my house. Fortunately, my parents had no time to read magazines so they were unaware of this content. I remember that “tepee-time” required a dictionary to figure out what she was even writing about. That input was thankfully balanced by  my mother’s classical texts from the M.A. in Spanish Literature that she went on to get in this country, which she would eagerly share with me. Another favorite, secret childhood activity that fed my avid love for reading in English, was one that I could not share with my parents either because  they would have never allowed it.    There was  a semi-abandoned paper mill a few blocks from my house. It consisted of a warehouse dotted with mysterious, boiling, gurgling vats filled with chemicals, where printed materials were dumped and melted for recycling. Looking back, the place was an accident waiting to happen, without any type of security, but that was the least of my worries.  The allure it had for me was is that it was a clandestine, eerie, half lit treasure trove of all kinds of books with adult content I would never have access to  otherwise, and comic books, which became a great source of information on American pop culture for me. I would sneak in after school when the workers had left and have a field day going through the musty piles of publications messily stacked in the aisles, beckoning half-heartedly to see if I would spring them from death row.

Ka-ching in more ways than one

While in college, studying plastic arts, I had a revelation. The puritanical work ethic I had eased into in New England had a silver lining, work could be fun!  My husband-to-be was writing the dissertation for his PhD. In French Lit, and to supplement his income as an Assistant Professor, he used to do conference interpreting. To me as a twenty-year-old, that simply meant he was paid to talk and seemed infinitely easier to accomplish than my career path at the time.

Fast forward thirty years. Unfortunately it was not as simple as I thought then. However, if you are able to consciously align your values, activities that you enjoy and output that is of worth to a paying segment of society, you will usually end up in the right place. I am fortunate that over the years I was able to harness my desire to work “speaking” in another language (which had never occurred to me), my interest in studying and the discipline to work hard. The universe opened the right doors for me. I audited what conferences I could, signed up for whatever workshops were available and trained hard with generous professionals who shared their time with me.  As many before and after me, I  did not have the option to go away to school, nor where there many programs offered back then, but I made it a point to secure the mentors and the practice needed to pursue my dream of becoming a professional interpreter.

If interpreting/translating is a field that interests you, rest assured that “where there is a will, there is a way” and opportunities have expanded nowadays that will make this career choice not be as daunting as it may have been in the past because of a lack of standardized resources. Today, we even have our own section in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Interesting take on aspects of language that
we don’t usually consider.

Language Rich Europe

The following blog post over the National Geographic Project Vanishing Voices has been written by Aneta Quraishy, Senior Project Manager Language Rich Europe

I just came across National Geographic project called Vanishing Voices. Did you know that one language dies every 14 days? By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favour of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent? In the words of Russ Rymer: 

The ongoing collapse of the world’s biodiversity is more than just an apt metaphor for the crisis of language extinction. The disappearance of a language deprives us of knowledge no less valuable than some future miracle drug that may be lost when a species goes extinct. Small languages, more than large ones, provide keys to unlock the secrets of nature, because their…

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A Linguist Particle?

This week, physicists revealed to the world that they’ve all but confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, called the “God Particle” in layman’s terms. The discovery is said to answer the riddle of how subatomic particles were formed, and what gives them their mass. As an interpreter and translator who’s dabbled in more than one specialty within the scope of being a linguist, and in the shadow of such an exciting moment for mankind, I started exploring what makes us tick, a “Linguist Particle,” if you will.

This week, physicists revealed to the world that they’ve all but confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, called the “God Particle” in layman’s terms. The discovery is said to answer the riddle of how subatomic particles were formed, and what gives them their mass. As an interpreter and translator who’s dabbled in more than one specialty within the scope of being a linguist, and in the shadow of such an exciting moment for mankind, I started exploring what makes us tick, a “Linguist Particle,” if you will.


Beyond the necessary trait of bilingualism and the basic role of bridging communication gaps, I pondered what traits seem to appear in the interpreters and translators I’ve encountered in my career. Commonly, I’ve noticed they have a creative streak that manifests itself in former or second careers as musicians, painters, singers, poets, lyricists, writers and graphic artists, among other right-brained qualities. As a subdivision of these, many are the entrepreneurial, business-minded people, who are very good at marketing their professional services. The academic subgroup’s passion lies in sharing knowledge and developing others. Life experience seems to be a big factor for professional success, providing not only broad knowledge but the maturity needed to excel. Hmm… maybe another line of thinking was in order. By this point it started looking like there was just too much variety to name just one common thread.

Rather than traits, I thought perhaps what was common were principles we have all agreed to abide by. Codes of ethics, standards of practice and good practice recommendations abound, and most generally have the same sort of list ranging from the fundamentals of faithful renditions to the broad-reaching implications of client relations and professional behavior. Still, with the great variety of environments, purposes and subject matters, the ways that professionals apply such guidelines can vary, albeit only slightly in some cases.


My next leg in the journey was to check whether the professions themselves have identified specific traits. Resources abound from a variety of sources that seek to name the ideals, what makes a good interpreter or translator. The more I looked, the more I found, but the “ah-ha” moment came when I found a study by Nancy Schweda Nicholson called Personality Characteristics of Interpreter Trainees: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)[1]. I encourage you to read it because it’s much more detailed and complex than what I seek to explore here, and it cites many other very interesting sources.

Schweda Nicholson described that the study sought to identify traits of interpreter and translator trainees. She found that the traits that could be elicited from interpreters themselves would be highly subjective, explaining that “…interpreters have often examined their own personalities and attempted to generalize based on their own personal assessments… if one asks an interpreter what he or she believes to be the perfect temperament and personality for a new trainee, the interpreter will, almost without exception, describe his or her own personality.” Because interpreter and translator training programs are often led and taught by practicing industry professionals, it makes sense that some objective data would be an excellent supplement to the anecdotal descriptions that a seasoned trainer might offer.


Work by Henderson (1980) cited in the study says that the “typical” interpreter is “A self-reliant, articulate extrovert, quick and intelligent, a jack of all trades and something of an actor, superficial, arrogant, liking variety and at times anxious and frustrated…” going on to say that these are only major features of a picture that is much more complex. Interesting! Schweda Nicholson concludes that “personality may definitely have an effect on that person’s comfort level in different situations as well as on processing and organizational behavior.” Fascinating, I think, because the only entrance exams I have ever heard of for training programs focus almost exclusively on skills and abilities that tend to be limited to the performance, rather than any predictors for how a trainee might fare in the professional setting. Recognizing work such as that of Schweda Nicholson might assist programs to develop the other characteristics in trainees in conjunction with the specifics of the industry.

Perhaps intuitively, I’ve always been frustrated to hear professionals kindly encourage bilinguals to become linguists without knowing much about them. Research tells us there is so much more to interpreting and translating than language skills and the right vocabulary, and although many of the ideal traits can be developed, I’m not convinced that all of them are necessarily attainable to their fullest. The information contained in the Schweda Nicholson study seems to explain why some perfectly talented bilinguals have difficulty getting into or succeeding in the interpreting and translation industries. As a profession, when linguists seek to prepare for “the next generation” of interpreters and translators, it makes sense that people considering these careers are made aware that research and experience strongly suggests that certain personality traits may be better suited for success.

In the end, perhaps there is no such thing as a “Linguist Particle,” but instead a personality profile that is much more complex and intricate, with features that are both subjective and objective. As Schweda Nicholson puts it, “…the personality profiles of interpreters can be as varied as the topics with which they work.”


For additional background on the Myers-Brigg topic visit: and look for the first session of the Interpreters Journal Club twitter meeting.  Myers-Brigg was discussed and several interpreters from around the world chimed in.

Free-lance Interpreting: The Nitty-Gritty

Kathleen Shelly

Kathleen Shelly is a Delaware translator and interpreter certified by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. She has a master’s degree plus doctoral work in Latin American literature from the Ohio State University, and was a college professor for 12 years.  She has been a member of NAJIT since 2005, and currently holds the office of secretary on the board of directors.

As we prepare to soon launch the official blog for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), I have asked those interested in being part of that blogging team to make guest appearances on my blog to start publishing their views and becoming familiar with the logistics involved in this art form. Kathleen is the first to share her posts from that group. I know you will enjoy her takes- Blogmaster

The following is the first in a series about the practical aspects of being a free-lance interpreter. We will be discussing topics such as car maintenance, managing assignments, record keeping and general protocol. My idea is to help newcomers become acquainted with the nitty-gritty of the profession, and get feedback from those whose experience and knowledge are greater than my own. All comments and ideas are welcome!

About thirteen years ago, I was informed that my state had become a member of the National Center for State Courts, and that an exam for court interpreters was being offered. Trapped in a dead-end job fielding Spanish-language calls at a credit card company, I jumped at the chance, passed the exam and entered the ranks of free-lance interpreters. Work was rather sparse at first; looking back at my records, I see that I made a whopping $4,450.74 my first year. Over time, I developed my business and client-base, and I am now doing a heck of a lot better, although still far from wealthy.

I love my work. Even at its dullest, it beats the 9 to 5 treadmill I had found myself in before. That is not to say there are no drawbacks. There are indeed. Sometimes, as I drive that hundredth mile, I find myself yearning for the security of the staff-interpreter, that lucky soul who enjoys benefits, a short commute, a guaranteed parking space, taxes deducted automatically, etc. Unfortunately, that option is not open to me, but over time I have learned to deal with the exigencies of my trade.

What is a free-lance interpreter? In essence, we are self-employed business persons who must handle our own work schedule, our own taxes, our own benefits, our own marketing, our own record keeping and, just as important as any of these, our own professional development. The money we make must pay not only for the hours we work in court, attorney’s office or medical setting, but also the time we spend attending to business. People who know how much money I make an hour are often shocked and sometimes outraged. They have no idea how much work it has taken to get to this stage in my career, and the ongoing hours of paper work, study and preparation. I have gone through many years of education—high school, college, graduate school, travel abroad to prepare myself for this work. And, since I rarely work eight hours a day, the amount I earn does not even reflect a full day’s pay.

I always feel a little grim when someone says to me, “Well, being a free-lancer must be great! You can name your own hours, work whenever and wherever you want!” Well, yes and no. You can pick and choose assignments as long as you accept the fact that you will make less money if you get too picky. In addition, it is to your advantage to accept certain assignments to get your foot in the door. If an agency calls you repeatedly and you always turn them down, they will eventually stop calling you. I also hate hearing: “Oh, Monday’s a holiday! You won’t have to work!” Unlike a regular employee, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, period.

So let’s take a look at some of the facets of being a free-lance interpreter. My next entry will be about car maintenance. Gotta go. I have an appointment with the dealership to find out about that pesky engine light that keeps popping on!

In the meantime, I would love to hear  your freelancing stories so please leave your comments below.

Interview With Prize-Winning Translator in Cuba

Dr. Lourdes Arencibia

(Please scroll down for the translation of the original Spanish into English)

Me siento muy orgullosa de presentarles una colega y compatriota que recién conocí en San Francisco durante el congreso de la FIT.  Se trata de la doctora Lourdes Arencibia Rodriguez,  ganadora del premio 2011 de dicha organización por su traducción en el género de ficción.  Lourdes viajó de Cuba a San Francisco para aceptar esta distinción y no saben cuál fue mi sorpresa y emoción cuando además de ella, otro cubano, Rodolfo Alpízar, también triunfó en dicho foro. Lamentablemente, él no pudo asistir a la ceremonia. Dos  de cinco premios me parece un logro fenomenal para nuestra  pequeña isla caribeña, cuyos ciudadanos vienen experimentando un sinfín de graves problemas desde hace muchas décadas.

Lourdes gentilmente accedió a concederme una entrevista para contarnos un poco sobre su trayectoria y la situación actual de la profesión  en Cuba. A pesar de lo cerca que está la isla de EE.UU., no estamos muy al tanto de la evolución del campo de la interpretación y la traducción allá, debido a la situación política que limita el intercambio normal entre colegas.  Ella me ha pedido que  realizáramos el diálogo en  castellano a fin de sentirse más a gusto durante nuestra plática ya que esta es su lengua materna y la que emplea en su desempeño  profesional.

A continuación, les invito a disfrutar de mi charla con Lourdes.

¿Cómo te iniciaste en el campo de la traducción?

A pesar de que por mi formación universitaria (Licenciada en Economía y Doctora en Filosofía) era de suponer que me inclinara hacia otras profesiones, para mí la traducción no es un amor tardío. Llegué a ella tan temprano como en los años 50 a través del francés. En esos años yo estudiaba en la Alianza Francesa que está en el Vedado, al lado de mi casa en la Habana,  y tomaba allí cuantos cursos de ese idioma y esa cultura ofrecían, incluidos los de alta costura , cocina y canto. Años después, fui becada para estudiar Relaciones económicas internacionales en París, de manera que cuando se creó la Facultad de Lenguas Extranjeras en la Universidad de la Habana, empecé allí a dar clases de traducción a los alumnos que cursaban la Licenciatura en lengua francesa. Luego, cuando se abrió el palacio de Convenciones en la Habana, integré el primer equipo profesional de intérpretes de conferencias, un trabajo con el cual casi le he dado la vuelta al mundo.  A partir de ahí, ya quedé vinculada a la traducción y luego incorporé el italiano, el portugués y posteriormente el inglés a mi práctica profesional hasta el día de hoy, siempre de las lenguas extranjeras al español.

¿Qué tiempo llevas ejerciendo la profesión? 

Pues como ves, más de cincuenta años consecutivos.

¿A qué tipo de traducción te dedicas mayormente? 

Al principio, hacía de todo: traducción documentaria : científico-técnica, económica, publicitaria, periodística, política…pero luego me fui inclinando  hacia la literaria y hoy día he traducido también novelas, cuentos, poesía, ensayo… Actualmente, soy más selectiva, pero si un texto me atrae o me interesa y me lo encargan traducir, lo asumo independientemente del género o la tipología en que encaje.

¿Qué especie de cliente les pide interpretación y traducción en Cuba, además del gobierno?

Los organismos regionales del sistema de las Naciones Unidas (FAO, UNESCO, CARICOM, etc) u otras personas o entidades que realizan actividades en el país o en la región con una audiencia plurilingüe.

¿Los traductores en Cuba suelen trabajar mucho para clientes en el exterior? 

Sí, siempre que se propicie, Actualmente esta actividad no está desautorizada ni mal vista por las autoridades. Sucede que existe una Empresa de Servicio de Traducción e Interpretación, que es estatal, cuyos trabajadores realizan trabajos de traducción para entidades extranjeras pero pertenecen salarial e institucionalmente a la plantilla de esa empresa. Otros traductores e intérpretes sin embargo que son trabajadores independientes, se pueden contratar libremente con clientes nacionales y extranjeros.

Cuando se envía una traducción fuera del país, el gobierno está involucrado en el proceso? 

No necesariamente. Lo hace si en el proceso participa el ESTI, que es la empresa que detallo en el punto anterior.

Cuéntanos sobre la obra que te ganó el premio en la FIT.

Yo concursé en la FIT con mi obra completa en la categoría de ficción, a partir de mi currículo de todos estos años.

¿Cómo te sientes después de recibir ese galardón?

Me siento muy comprometida a seguir  trabajando sobre todo para elevar la dignidad de la profesión para todos los traductores latinoamericanos  cuyos méritos no son, me parece, suficientemente conocidos

¿Lo esperabas? 

Cuando uno concursa, siempre sabe que por ahí hay alguien juzgándote, pero en realidad, cuando se concursa con un número tan amplio de profesionales del mundo entero, pues, bueno, ya esas son palabras mayores

¿Qué nos puedes contar de tu colega cubano, Rodolfo Alpízar Castillo, que también ganó un premio en San Francisco?

Alpízar es excelentísimo, es terminólogo y tiene algunas obras teóricas escritas. Trabaja con el portugués aunque además es escritor, poeta y ha publicado varias novelas. Su fuerte ha sido la traducción técnica y por eso presentó su candidatura en la categoría de no ficción. Hemos sido colegas de toda la vida  y le aprecio muchísimo.

¿Es difícil conseguir permiso para ir a aceptar un premio en EE.UU.? 

Hay que iniciar los trámites con cierta antelación, no te digo que sea fácil, pero no imposible. Personalmente, es la quinta vez que visito Estados Unidos, y siempre he sido tratada correctamente.

¿Qué te pareció el congreso de la FIT? 

Yo sólo pude llegar a la ceremonia de la premiación y por supuesto que me habría gustado presenciar el resto. Me parece que debemos trabajar para que los traductores de América latina tengamos mayor representatividad en la FIT. Sólo conocía a dos o tres personas, no más. Lo que más me impactó fue justamente ese desbalance que se aprecia, aún el prestigio del traductor es bastante eurocéntrico.

¿Qué proyectos tienes en el tintero en estos momentos?

Pues ahora mismo,  estoy trabajando con el Ministerio de la Investigación de España y el Instituto Cervantes, en dos proyectos cuyos directores son dos profesores de Barcelona: uno de los proyectos es el diccionario de traductores hispanoamericanos y el otro la biblioteca de traducciones hispanoamericanas (desde el siglo XVI).  También estoy traduciendo en la Habana, dos novelas de autores caribeños francófonos  y un ensayo de crítica literaria. Preparo mi conferencia de clausura del próximo Congreso de Traducción vinculado a los proyectos que te detallo arriba, que tendrá lugar en Barcelona en octubre  próximo.  Y por supuesto, sin abandonar mi curso en el Máster de Interpretación y Traducción  que imparto desde hace trece años como profesora en el Instituto de Lenguas Modernas y Traductores de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, que es una tarea por la que siento un gran cariño.  Y por el momento, eso es todo.

¿Has percibido algún adelanto en el ámbito de la traducción en los últimos años?

Por guardar relación con el ámbito de la edición y la traducción en Estados Unidos, pudiera ser de interés dar a conocer a  los lectores, editores y traductores  norteamericanos y latinos, lo siguiente. El pasado 27 de mayo, en la ciudad de Nueva York, se anunciaron y entregaron los 2011 International Latino Book Awards,  auspiciados por una organización norteamericana radicada en California que se llama Latino Literacy Now y que premia anualmente los mejores libros latinos escritos y publicados en inglés,  en español o bilingües,  traducidos o no, en distintas categorías,  por nominaciones de sus respectivas editoriales. Este año, en la categoría de Mejor Libro de Arte, se le otorgó Mención de Honor a un libro en edición bilingüe, traducido por mí en La Habana, del italiano al español y retraducido de mi español al inglés por una colega de Nueva York nombrada Beatriz Peñín. Ambos créditos figuran en el machón interior del libro.   La obra se llama: “Una colección de arte cubano”,  y su autor es un coleccionista italiano de arte que reside en Cuba llamado Claudio Marinelli.

Lo más curioso es que por primera vez que yo sepa, se reconoce también el trabajo de traducción  en una obra premiada, pues el Director ejecutivo de la Latino Literacy Now, el Sr. Jim  Sullivan,   me escribió una carta personal como traductora que dice lo siguiente:

Dear Dr. Rodríguez:  (tú sabes que muchas veces se pone el segundo apellido como si fuera el primero)

Latino Literacy Now wanted to express our respect for your translation of Mr. Claudio Marinelli’s book, Una colección de arte cubano, which was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the category of Best Art Book, bilingual.

Although the work of a translator does not always receive the recognition it deserves, it is obviously an integral part of the process. Congratulations on your fine work. Sincerely, Jim Sullivan, Executive Director Latino Literacy Now.

Lourdes, muchas gracias por compartir con nosotros.  Te deseamos todo éxito con tus proyectos y espero sigamos en contacto para que nos cuentes el desenlace de los mismos.


I am very proud to introduce you to a colleague and fellow countrywoman whom I recently met in San Francisco during the FIT Congress. She is Dr. Lourdes Arencibia Rodríguez, the winner of the 2011 FIT prize for translation in the fiction category. Lourdes traveled from Cuba to San Francisco to accept this honor and you have no idea how surprised and proud I was to learn that, in addition to her, another Cuban, Rodolfo Alpízar, also won an award in said forum. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the ceremony. Two out of five prizes is a fantastic achievement for our little Caribbean island, whose citizens have been beleaguered by many severe problems for several decades.

Lourdes kindly agreed to allow me to interview her so that she could tell us a little about her career and how the profession currently stands in Cuba. Despite how close the island is to the U.S., we are not very familiar with how interpretation and translation have evolved there because of the political situation that limits normal exchanges between colleagues. She has requested that we hold our dialogue in Spanish in order to feel more comfortable during the conversation, as that is her native language and the one she works into from a professional standpoint.

I trust you will enjoy my chat with Lourdes.

How did you start out in the field of translations?

In spite of the fact that my college education (I have a degree in Economics and a Ph.D in Philosophy) would lead you to think I would have favored other professions, translation is not a late fancy of mine. I started in that field as early as the 50s, through the French language. At that time I was studying at the Alliance Française, which is in the Vedado neighborhood close to my home in Havana, and I used to take whatever courses they offered in that language and culture, including haute couture, cooking and singing. Years later I was awarded a grant to study International Financial Relations in Paris.  When the School of Foreign Languages was created at the University of Havana, I began to teach translation to students working toward a degree in French. Later, when the Convention Hall was inaugurated in Havana, I was part of the first professional conference interpreting team, a job that has practically taken me around the world. After that, the link to translation was established and subsequently I added Italian, Portuguese and, eventually, English to my professional practice as it stands, always going from the foreign languages into Spanish.

How long have you been practicing your profession?

As you can see, it’s been over fifty consecutive years.

What type of translations do you usually do?

In the beginning I used to do everything: document translations, including scientific-technical, financial, advertising, journalism, [and] political material… but later I started to become more partial to literary works and so far I have also translated novels, stories, poetry, essays… Currently, I am more selective, but if a text is appealing or interesting to me and I am asked to translate it, I will take it on, regardless of the genre or type of work it falls under.

What sort of clients ask for interpreting and translation in Cuba, in addition to the government?

The regional organisms within the United Nations (FAO, UNESCO, CARICOM, etc.) or other individuals or entities engaged in activities in the country or region with a multilingual target audience.

Do translators in Cuba often work for clients abroad?

Yes, whenever feasible. Currently this work is not unauthorized, nor frowned upon by the authorities. There is a government agency , the Center for Translation and Interpretation (ESTI), whose employees do translation work for foreign entities, but they are part of the staff and on the payroll of said institution. Nonetheless, other translators and interpreters who are freelancers can work freely for national and foreign clients.

When a translation is sent outside of the country, is the government involved in the process?

Not necessarily. They are if ESTI is involved, which is the agency I referred to previously.

Tell us about the work that won you the prize at FIT.

I competed at FIT with my whole body of work in the fiction category, based on my CV from all these years.

How do you feel after receiving this honor?

I feel very committed to continuing to work, especially to raising the profile of the profession for all Latin American translators, whose merits, I believe, are not sufficiently acknowledged.

Were you expecting it?

When you are competing, you always know that somebody out there is judging you. But actually, when you are competing with such a large number of professionals throughout the whole world, well, that’s a pretty big deal.

What can you tell us about your Cuban colleague, Rodolfo Alpízar Castillo, who also won a prize in San Francisco?

Alpízar is excellent. He is a terminologist and has written some theoretical works. He works with Portuguese, although he is also an author, a poet and has published several novels. His strong suit has always been technical translation, which is why he competed in the non-fiction category. We have been lifelong colleagues and I am very fond of him.

Is it difficult to get permission to travel to the U.S. to accept an award?

You have to start making arrangements with some lead time. I am not saying it is easy, but it is not impossible. Personally, this is the fifth time I visit the United States and I have always been treated correctly.

What did you think of the FIT Congress?

I was only able to make it to the award ceremony and, of course, I would have liked to be there for the rest. I think we should work toward getting translators in Latin America achieve greater representation at FIT. I only knew two or three other people, no more. What impressed me the most was exactly that notable imbalance;  the prestige attached to translators is still pretty Eurocentric.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, at this time, I am working on two projects with the Spanish Ministry of Research and with the Cervantes Institute, the directors of which are two professors from Barcelona. One is the dictionary of Hispanic American translators and the other is a library of Hispanic American translations (since the 16th century). In Havana, I am also translating  two novels by French-speaking Caribbean authors and a literary critique in the form of an essay. I am preparing my closing presentation for the next Translation Congress, which has to do with the projects mentioned above, to be held in Barcelona next October. And of course, I am doing all of this without leaving behind my course in the Masters in Interpretation and Translation, which I have been teaching for thirteen years as a professor at the Institute for Modern Languages and Translation at the Complutense University of Madrid, which is an endeavor very dear to my heart. And for the time being, that is it.

Have you noticed any advances in the field of translation in the last few years?

Due to the fact that it has to do with publishing and translation in the United States, it may be of interest to inform American and Latin readers, publishers and translators of the following. Last May 27, in New York, the 2011 International Latino Book Awards were announced and awarded. They are sponsored by an American organization based in California by the name of Latino Literacy Now, and they award prizes annually to the best Latino books written and published in English, in Spanish or both, whether they are translated or not, in different categories, upon being nominated by their respective publishers. This year, a book that was published in bilingual format in the category of Best Art Book, which I translated in Havana from Italian to Spanish, and was later retranslated from my Spanish into English by a colleague in New York, named Beatriz Peñín, received an Honorable Mention. Both credits appear in the inside cover. The work is entitled A Collection of Cuban Art and its author is Claudio Marinelli, an Italian collector who lives in Cuba.

The interesting thing is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the translation aspect in a winning entry is also recognized, as the Executive Director of Latino Literacy Now, Mr. Jim Sullivan, wrote me a personal letter as translator, which reads as follows:

Dear Dr. Rodríguez:  (You know how many times they write the second last name as if it were the first)

Latino Literacy Now wanted to express our respect for your translation of Mr. Claudio Marinelli’s book, Una colección de arte cubano, which was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the category of Best Art Book, bilingual.

Although the work of a translator does not always receive the recognition it deserves, it is obviously an integral part of the process. Congratulations on your fine work. Sincerely, Jim Sullivan, Executive Director Latino Literacy Now.

Lourdes, thank so much for sharing your insights.  We wish you the best with your projects and trust we shall stay in touch so that you can let us know how they turned out.

Interpreting Journal Club Review of First Session

The first virtual chat just took place over Twitter yesterday using the hash tag #IntJC.  We discussed the merits of a personality test to determine a person’s aptitude for the interpreting profession.  For background and for the sake of efficiency, see my recent post to introduce the concept to my readers.

It was great fun and constructive!  Lasted about an hour and a half.  What did I like the most about it?  The fact that interpreters, students of interpreting and individuals interested in our field were able to get together informally from locations all over the world such as Brussels, Caracas, Paris, Bratislava, Tokyo, Barcelona, Neubrandenburg and Miami to casually discuss a topic pertinent to the profession. I think it is a great platform for all of us to expand our horizons and form networks outside of our immediate areas. I must say I was very surprised that we did not have a better representation from the U.S., but I am sure that as the momentum grows this will improve.  Everyone was responsible and diligent in taking the test and reading the literature in order to opine.

What did I find out?  That I am not as much of an oddity as I first thought after taking the test (that was somehow comforting) At least two other interpreters on the call shared my profile of INFJ. You can find out the personality implications of each type by clicking on the Kiersey personality interpretations on the same page as the test and you can see a transcript of the session here. I found the personality assessment to be valid in my case although I share the opinion that it is not indicative of whether a person can become a good interpreter. Other comments made were that the test could be helpful in getting to know interpreting students better although our host from Tokyo, felt that the test was grossly skewed towards a Western perspective. I venture to say that he is quite right.

Our next session will be held on September 24, 10 p.m. Tokyo time or 9:00 a.m. EST, and we will be discussing the effects of stress on interpreters.  To prepare and join in, please keep on checking the IntJ C Google site which will soon have all the pertinent information posted.  It is very easy to get on Twitter and either just monitor the proceedings or monitor and participate.  If anyone has any questions, do not hesitate to contact me personally and I will be glad to walk you through it.  Hope to see you there, and please leave me any suggestions for future sessions and I will be glad to pass them on.  We all want this effort to be a collective endeavor of interest to all.

The Interpreting Journal Club; Save the Date and Participate

Carl Jung

If you are serious about your profession, would like to discuss it with other colleagues from all over the world whilst having a good time in the format of a stimulating, fun conversation, please join us. Interpreters, lovers of language and students of the profession are all welcome.

What am I talking about?

A  colleague, Lionel Dersot, The Liaison Interpreter based in Tokyo, has come up with a novel idea of discussing interpreting-related topics on a regular basis over the Internet.  The first chat will be held over on Saturday, September 10, 10:00 p.m. Tokyo time, which is 11:00 a.m. EST that same day.  I know it’s during  working hours but some of us, depending on assignments, will be available. The hash tag that is being used on Twitter is #IntJC.  You can do a search there for that tag to see what kind of a buzz this has created. Another interpreting colleague, Michele Hof, The Interpreter Diaries, suggested that the topic for the first chat be a personality test based on the work of Carl Jung, which has been used as a model to study interpreting aptitudes.  I found it very much on the mark insofar as I am concerned and it explained some contradictions that I had noticed in my personality, quite well.  I am an INFJ, a rare bird from what I am reading. To find out what this is all about, take the test here.  If  after taking the test you are intrigued by the concept, visit the site Lionel has created so that you can read the actual material that will be discussed regarding the test, and see how the meeting will work. Interestingly, the study in question was also mentioned in the most recent issue of Interprenaut.

This is a great opportunity to end the summer doldrums making new acquaintances and learning something new about how our personalities influence our profession. Make a date to be there.  Drop in and let your voice be heard!

P.S.  You do not have to be a geek to participate.  Twitter is very user friendly and insofar as the material is concerned, that’s what we do, study the texts that are going to be discussed in conferences or legal proceedings (when we are lucky enough to get them) and it’s all very interesting to boot.

The Critical Jobs of the Interpreters Who Teach at the Defense Language Institute; an Interview with Tony Rosado News Article: Panetta: Language Training Critical to U.S. Interests, Security

Tony Rosado

I was grabbing a quick lunch with a colleague, Tony Rosado, recently, between sessions, at a language conference we both attended in San Franciso.  See my prior post on FIT. The conversation naturally turned to work and I asked him what he was up to. To my amazement, as I am so far removed from this sphere,  he went on to tell me that he was off to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, where he has been working for some time as a “trainer of trainers”.  He  teaches our servicemen and women foreign language skills to enhance our  national security and defend U.S. interests abroad. I honestly did not know of Uncle Sam’s interest in this initiative which I find very intelligent and commendable, in accord with an opinion that Madeleine Albright and Chuck Hagel wrote for USA Today on the subject a few months ago, especially in view of the language cuts we are constantly seeing.  To see the op-ed, click here. Coincidentally, I was just reading today about a new technological offering by Lockheed, Martin, to offer remote interpreting through a smartphone on the battlefield.

I have  asked Tony to fill us in on this interesting aspect of our profession  through a brief interview as follows:

How did you become involved with interpreting?

I went to law school and practiced law for a few years. When I was an attorney I worked with many interpreters. I have always been fascinated by words and languages, so I made a decision that forever changed my life and became an interpreter! It has been almost 30 years, and so far, so good. I believe that going to law school in Mexico City, taking the California bar, and practicing law in Mexico and the United States allowed me to learn correct legal terminology and understand both legal systems. For this reason I am convinced that it is of outmost importance to learn the right terminology in your language pair.  When I practiced law I did everything: Civil and criminal law in Mexico, and then family and immigration law in the States. As an interpreter, I have specialized in Mexican legal terminology  and American legal terminology. This works really well because it has opened the door to an extraordinary group of clients: The Mexican attorneys, companies, and government, and it also serves me well when I work for the courts, as in a good portion of the United States, the majority of the Spanish-speaking defendants come from Mexico.  This is very interesting because when I interpret for them and I use Mexican legal terminology, they understand and feel at ease.  The truth is that this is the Spanish they grew up with, the one they saw on TV and read in the papers.  It is only after they come, and find themselves talking to Spanish speakers from other countries, and after they are exposed to the “made-in-America Spanish” that they have to re-learn their vocabulary.  I always tell my colleagues who believe that Mexicans forget their Mexican Spanish when they come across the border and try to convince me that they will only understand words and “legal terminology” made-in-America, that it is only because of them, the interpreters who use those words, that they start understanding “aseguranza” and “acuerdo declaratorio”.  I feel that we are a real profession, and when we interpret for professionals, we should sound like professionals (attorneys in this case) That is why I go around the country teaching “Mexican legal Spanish and proceedings”  If other Spanish speaking professional communities were to do the same, we would be able to provide the best possible service to the attorneys, parties, and judiciary.

How and when did you start working for the Defense Language Institute?

Actually I do not work for DLI. I am a contractor and a subcontractor. It started several years ago when I began working as an interpreter for the Department of Defense, specifically the Northern Command and NORAD. That gave me the opportunity to work closely with the military. From the beginning, I fell in love with their sense of duty, dedication, and commitment. Therefore, when I was approached by a defense contractor to participate in a new and challenging program that the U.S. military was implementing, I got involved right away. It has been an incredible experience. It is very rewarding. As an interpreter, it made me increase my vocabulary, and knowledge of geography.  Military conference interpreters will know what I am talking about, but for the rest of my colleagues, let me give you an example:  As an interpreter for NORTHCOM/NORAD you have to interpret for military personnel from all different branches of the service, and from many countries.  One time I had to work a conference that required ample knowledge of naval vocabulary, as well as the capability to recognize all military ranks and their equivalents in the other branches of the military and foreign armed forces.  A captain is not the same in the army and navy, for example. Unfortunately I cannot give more detail of the type of knowledge you must have as an interpreter to be able to work these assignments, but please believe me when I tell you that it is very challenging and different from what most interpreters do every day.  Working with military interpreters, personnel, and foreign language instructors has given me the privilege to see the world through other people’s points of view. It is really great to hang out with other colleagues after a conference or a long trial, but believe me, getting together with colleagues from other countries who have witnessed first-hand the war in Afganistan, or having dinner with one of Sadaam Hussein’s interpreters during his trial, is a different experience.  To all my teaching colleagues: The sense of duty and patriotism that envelops you when you are working with our finest and bravest is the most rewarding experience you can have as a teacher.   Military interpreters are not just good interpreters, they are also brave people with a sense of duty.  In early August of this year the Taliban shot down a U.S. helicopter in Wardak killing American servicemen, among them some of the Seals who took out Bin Laden, according to the press. One of those killed was the Seals’ interpreter.  Many interpreters have lost their lives in times of war.  I do not know of any other type of interpreter who has to keep an eye on the person he is working with so he doesn’t kill him.  Military interpreting is an essential part of our national security, and we have come a long way from the end of World War II when the U.S. prosecutors arrived in Europe after the war for the Nuremberg trials without a single interpreter (They never thought about needing one). I can tell you that we are only a few years away from seeing many of these magnificent men and women join the other fields of interpretation as they retire from the military.  It was very exciting to go to InterpretAmerica in Washington D.C. earlier this year and see how other interpreters are now recognizing and embracing military interpretation as a fundamental part of our profession.

What type of courses/skills do you teach there?

Military interpreting is a type of interpretation just like conference, legal, medical, and community. Military interpreters learn the same basics as all interpreters in consecutive and simultaneous interpretation as well as sight translation. The difference is that their work is so complex, and it is executed under such difficult conditions, that they have to utilize their military training on top of the basic interpretation/translation skills and vocabulary. Can you imagine interpreting while people are shooting bullets, choppers are flying over your head, and there is an expectation that you must get it right all the time? Other interpreters complain of noisy hospitals and courtrooms!  When you train the trainers you teach interpretation to language instructors who are very capable and have mastered their language pairs.  Many of the people you work with at this level are top professionals in some scientific or technical field somewhere in the world.  One thing I find fascinating is the constant need to keep up with all the world languages, and the need to continue to add new ones. The world is definitely getting smaller in the 21st century.

Are you familiar with prior students of DLI who have gone on to pursue a career in languages?

The program is new, but I am convinced that in the future our profession will be enriched by many smart, dedicated, and capable military interpreters who will eventually enter the other areas of interpretation. They will be awesome.

What portion of your time do you typically allocate to instruction vs. interpreting/translating?

To me, the secret to be able to last in this profession without getting tired is to achieve a balance that will work for you. In my case, I try to do one-third interpreting, one-third translating, and one-third teaching.

Do you enjoy any aspect of your work more than the others?

I enjoy all aspects. But the truth is that sometimes I do enjoy one more than the others. It really depends on the project. At this time, I am very involved with teaching and the business side of the profession, and I am enjoying it very much. I also want to mention that attending professional conferences is a very important part of my motivation to keep going. I have not missed many and I plan to continue to attend.  Lately I have spent quite a bit of time teaching because I see that as the profession evolves and becomes more specialized, there is a greater need to provide the proper instruction for specialized fields.

We are like physicians who went from being the doctor for every possible illness, dentists, veterinarians, and yes, even barbers, that have evolved to become specialists in  very  specific aspects of their profession.  I am sure that is also happening to us.  Clients will more and more look not just for a plain- vanilla interpreter, but for a legal Mexican Spanish interpreter, a  Korean interpreter with experience in neurology,  a Tagalog boxing interpreter, etc.

I am also spending a good chunk of my time on the business side of the profession.  I have always looked after this part of my practice along with the interpreting and translating services portion.  Some time ago I realized that the world economy and technology would change our profession and  how we do business.  I am working on  strategies to stay competitive in the 21st. century to be ready to compete with machines, ever-changing technology, services offered by other countries at a lower fee, and an economy where one of our main sources of work: The government at all levels, is cutting expenses, reducing its budget, and there is a perception that even in the private sector quality has been sacrificed to save a buck.  Either you evolve and adapt or you will be gone like the dinosaurs.  Traditional interpretation and translation as we knew it is an endangered species destined to disappear.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the field of military interpreting. We look forward to questions and feedback via comments. Let us know if you have any stories relating to this genre, or whether you are interested in any other particular aspects of our profession that we might discuss in this forum.

FIT 2011 on Interpreting

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?

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