Category Archives: Politics
The Critical Jobs of the Interpreters Who Teach at the Defense Language Institute; an Interview with 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments must be in by Monday, August 8, 2011.
Please see my letter below for more details:
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 http://reformimmigrationfortexas.org/1/2011/speak-english-an-open-letter-to-texas-lawmakers/
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: http://www.license.state.tx.us/court/lciboard.htm
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 (http://www.sos.state.tx.us/texreg/), 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.
Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) went , of his own volition, on a fact-finding trip to Syria last week, in an effort to try to bring peace to the region. He alleges his Arab-American constituents in Cleveland asked him to assess conditions on the ground there because of the government’s severe crackdown on protesters of the regime. He met with President al-Assad and members of the opposition on Monday, after al-Assad had refused to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Syria. He was subsequently quoted in an article in the Syrian media as saying “President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians” and “President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his efforts towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this”
Although Rep. Kucinich was not there representing the Obama government, this comes at a time when others in the U.S. government such as Republicans Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, have made repeated calls to recall the U.S. ambassador to Damascus because of the violations of human rights by the Syrian government.
Mr. Kucinich says that his comments during an interview were misinterpreted, although David Kenner, a Foreign Policy writer has pushed back saying that the Congressman does not speak Arabic and the original Syrian news article was in English so no translation would have been necessary.
CNN interviewed Fouad Ajami, an Arab specialist who is a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, who suggests that the Syrian regime is taking advantage of the Congressman to spread their propaganda. Watch the video here. Although Mr. Kucinich asserts that it was not done intentionally he says he will be ever mindful of the perils of being “lost in translation” during the rest of his trip.
This all begs the question of why the Congressman did not hire a professional interpreter to accompany him on a mission as delicate as this? It would have avoided all of this subsequent speculation. I called Mr. Kucinich’s office and spoke to a member of his staff to ask about the circumstances surrounding this event and was told that he did not know the answers to my questions and that I would have to speak to his press secretary. I have left a detailed message for the press secretary about the reason for my call. I will do a subsequent post if/when he calls back.
I was very intrigued by the events as they unfolded at the hearing, the identity of the “mystery” interpreter, how he came to be there, his background, etc. A NAJIT colleague from Texas posted the Texas Senate Accessibility page on another forum and I started by calling the numbers there to ask whether anyone from the public-at-large had called to secure an interpreter for the hearing in question. I spoke to Scott, a Senate Coordinator, at the number designated on the page to schedule interpreters. He told me that they hardly ever receive any requests for spoken language interpreters, that occasionally they receive a request for an ASL interpreter and that no one had called for this matter. I asked him what the procedure and qualifications were for hiring the former and he became very flustered and told me I would have to call the Secretary of the Senate, Patsy Spaw, who would be better able to answer my questions. I called and left a message with my question, in my capacity as director of NAJIT, asking to be called back. That was three days ago.
In the meantime, I called RITA (Reform Immigration Texas Alliance) one of the groups that the witness, Antolin Aguirre, was affiliated with when he went to testify before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. I inquired and was told the identity of the “interpreter” and have subsequently interviewed him.
His name is Loren Campos. He is a bilingual young man, 22 years old, born in Monterey, Mexico who entered the U.S. illegally when he was 11 years old and has applied for permanent resident status through his sister who is a U.S. citizen by virtue of having married an American. That application was filed in 2003, 8 years ago, and it typically takes anywhere from 10-15 years to be processed. In the meantime, Mr. Campos is soon to graduate as a civil engineer from the University of Texas at Austin.
I asked Mr. Campos how he came to be the interpreter at the hearing and he told me that in his freshman year he came across a group called the University Leadership Initiative that was advocating for the Dream Act, proposed federal legislation to provide an 11 year pathway to citizenship for students 16 years or younger when they arrived in this country. Its mission struck a chord with him and he joined the group. He attended this senate hearing to become informed about SB9 on behalf of the group. While there, the coordinator for RITA, Adriana Cadena, asked if anyone would volunteer to interpret for several witnesses and Loren agreed. He told me that he is not involved with RITA, that he had never met the witness and that he was not prepped at all as to what would be discussed. It all happened on the spur of the moment. It was the first time he had ever “translated” outside of a casual conversation. (I was not able to resist the pedantic impulse to explain the difference between a translator and an interpreter and to explain that when acting as an interpreter, one cannot answer questions on behalf of the witness, which he did).
This morning I came across a widely differing account of the event than those which we have been reading, by a Ms. Adryana Boyne. She also alleges to be an interpreter. I will let you all be the judge of that.
I asked Loren Campos whether he felt that Senator Harris’s remarks had been maligned by the press. He told me that it was apparent to all, or I guess almost all, that the Senator was “very frustrated and upset” that some people elected to testify in Spanish. Apparently there had been two women before Mr. Aguirre, that he started to question in the same way but then held back. It seems that Mr. Aguirre was the straw that broke the camel’s back although two more witnesses testified in Spanish after him, also through Mr. Campos, without eliciting any comments.
The moral of the story is that as interpreters we have a long row to hoe to make our elected officials, the courts and other stakeholders aware of the value that as professionals we bring to the table as well as the duty incumbent upon certain stakeholders to provide the services of a certified interpreter.
A self-professed LEP individual, Antolin Aguirre, was testifying last Friday in Austin at a Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee hearing regarding Senate Bill 9 which is designed to crack down on illegal immigrants in Texas. Please listen to the video in the referenced article. Texas Senator Chris Harris from Arlington told Mr. Aguirre when he was two minutes into his testimony through an interpreter, that it was “insulting” that he should be testifying in Spanish because he had been in this country for many years. Whereas I believe that it is incumbent upon residents of this country to learn English, I also strongly believe that if one does not feel comfortable testifying about an important issue in English, one is entitled to express himself coherently through an interpreter. I have spoken to federally certified interpreters in Texas who have assured me that they have interpreted for the legislature on many occasions. I find it close-minded and unconscionable for a U.S. Senator to have made such a statement and I would welcome your views through the poll as well as your comments.