Category Archives: Training

When Books and the Internet Won’t Cut It


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What is a person to do?

“I don’t know anyone.  What do they expect of me? How am I supposed to behave?  What is a 4H Club?  How do you play kick ball? Why do they do math problems so strangely?  Is school really over at 3:30 every day?”  These were some of the existential concerns that fed my insecurity at the age of 10 when I moved to the U.S. from Cuba and started school in Manchester, CT.

Clearly, I could have remained in the dark for some time, given I did not know anyone well enough to ask, and was embarrassed that I was the only kid in school that apparently did not know these things.  Enter a wonderful, generous and very genuine American family, that of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Taylor, that took my brothers and I under their wing and taught us all about life in New England in a very fun way by sharing it with us.  That was my first experience with mentoring outside of my family and the positive experience has stayed with me for a lifetime. To this day, I keep in touch with their children, Debbie and Bill.

In our profession, when we start out or if we move to another location, the first three questions might remain the same while the others may be replaced by analogous ones such as, “Should I join the local interpreting association? How much should I charge? Is the terminology used here different from what I am used to?”, etc., etc. I remember after joining NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators), I was contemplating running for office.  I cold-called Isabel Framer, then Chairperson to ask her advice, and she kindly offered to take me with her when she made the rounds at the upcoming annual conference, to introduce me so I could learn first-hand what the organization was doing. She didn’t know me from Adam but she selflessly took the time from her schedule to help me because she knew I was earnest about volunteering and she wanted to be a mentor although her term was ending at the conference in question.

A call to arms!

I know that many of us have so much knowledge and experience that we should share them, and make life much easier for our colleagues.  Consider offering your services at a local or national level to some of our many fine organizations.  I am sure they receive calls from members asking for guidance on a regular basis.  You might propose to let interpreters shadow you when it is in a public setting where it is feasible.  By just watching, we learn.  Our brains have “mirror neurons” that enable us to automatically copy what we see and the modeling that you do will allow a learner to internalize behavior much more than any description ever will. You might also share glossaries if pertinent, and attend networking meetings or social occasions sponsored by an association. At these events you can help in a “meet and greet” capacity, making new or prospective members feel at ease. If you have the know-how, you may offer to give a seminar on the aspects of interpreting that you are familiar with and feel could be helpful to others. You can contact your local high school and talk about interpreting on Career Day. If you like to write, you can pen articles, and so on.

There are many ways to meet mentoring needs and contrary to what you may think, the giver learns and benefits as much or more than the takers in these scenarios. This is a win-win situation. In terms of self-esteem, there is nothing that beats the endorphin-high and fulfillment you get by meaningfully helping others. Those whom you help directly as well as the organizations you work through will certainly bolster your reputation. Furthermore, do not discount the possibility that you will meet interesting people, learn something new, have fun and be more intimately connected to others that have interests akin to yours. Don’t leave it for the future.  There is never a perfect time.  Volunteer now and those of you who have participated in these type of activities, consider sharing your experiences with us!

No Longer Just a Voice in the Wilderness


Roseann Dueñas Gonzalez

Roseann Dueñas González

Dr. Roseann Dueñas González is a 21st century luminary in the field of language access in the U.S. She was the founder and  long-standing Director of the University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation, Testing, Research and Policy.  I took the opportunity of her stepping down to ask her to share her thoughts on the status of our industry.

MCV: To give those readers not acquainted with you an idea of the influence you have had on the legal interpreting profession is the U.S., give us a brief summary of the salient points in your career. 

RDG: As a linguist, I specialized in language policy, registers of English, and language proficiency testing. I was hired by the courts in AZ in 1976 to identify defendants who truly needed an interpreter.  That led to my study of courtroom English, which became the basis of my 1977 doctoral dissertation, and a lifetime of work:

  • The Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts consulted my research for the implementation of the 1978 Court Interpreters Act.
  • I led the  development of the model, which became the Federal Court Interpreter Certification exam, (SPA<>ENG).
  • In 1983,  I founded the Agnese Haury Institute at the University of Arizona to provide training for court interpretation and to meet standards set by the federal testing model.
  • From 2000-2012, I was the Principal Investigator for  projects that resulted in the development of curricula for the major in translation and interpretation at the University of Arizona, and onsite and online education to improve the registers of Spanish teachers to teach translation and interpretation in high schools, funded by the Department of Education. That in turn brought about:

(a) The publication of Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice in 1991, in collaboration with Victoria Vasquez, J.D. and Holly Mikkelson. It is the most often cited work in law review articles and other scholarly work on court interpretation. This text provided the foundation for the profession’s stabilization, growth, and emergence as a professional field.  The 2012 revision offers further refinement of interpreter practice, protocol, and ethics.

(b) The expansion of the Agnese Haury Institute for  the training of interpreters in healthcare.

(c) Nationwide short courses in test preparation, and introduction to court interpretation, or advanced court interpretation, hybrid online/onsite training and testing options that will provide opportunities for interpreters seeking to better their skills.

MCV: Why were you selected in 1976 by the Pima County Superior Court to assist in identifying defendants needing an interpreter, which led to your seminal doctorate dissertation?

RDG: The court called the English Department at the University of Arizona and asked for a testing specialist. Judge Ben Birdsall wanted a systematic way to determine whether or not a defendant needed an interpreter. I explained that the language of the courtroom constituted a particular variety that was different from ordinary English, and that for this reason, I would have to devise a language test particularly for this purpose. The judge provided me access to cases, some research support, and a pilot population.  That was the beginning of the rest of my life.

MCV: What is the most significant change you have observed in the U.S. interpreting profession after the revolutionary implementation of the Federal Certification Program?

RDG: To see a profession grow out of out of the federal courts’ recognition of its duty to guarantee constitutional rights and to carry out the mandate of the Court Interpreters Act (1978)—that is the transformation of a lifetime.  With federal certification came the introduction of a professional language intermediary who made the courts accessible to limited and non-English speakers   Because federal certification testing was founded on a valid empirical analysis of courtroom language and the complex job of the court interpreter in this setting, it set the performance criteria and standards for the entire profession.  This tool has identified a cadre of extremely talented persons, thus launching the birth of a profession.

MCV: What is the best measure of the growth the Agnese Haury Institute at the University of Arizona and the National Institute for Interpretation have experienced since their inception in 1983?  Approximately how many interpreters have received training?

RDG: The Agnese Haury Institute can best be measured by its influence on the growth and development of the court interpreting profession.  Its commitment to sharing knowledge and experience is foremost.  The Institute was created out of a willingness of master court interpreters (of which there were few in 1983) to share their knowledge and to create a continuing platform where not only linguistic and interpreting skills could be honed, but where all of the content knowledge required of a court interpreters could be presented. Approximately 2,500 interpreters have taken courses there to date.

MCV: I see the short certificate courses offered by the NCI as a robust measure to fill the tremendous need for training that we are experiencing.  Do you believe that as recognition for the profession increases, and remuneration merits it, that it will create more traditional educational opportunities through conventional degree programs that are so needed to support this goal?

RDG: As I stated in the 1991 Fundamentals of Court Interpretation and reiterated 20 years later in the 2012 edition, the quality of court interpretation, the growth of the profession, and the quality of language access depends upon the establishment of an academic national infrastructure of translation and interpretation undergraduate and graduate degree programs with an emphasis on interpretation, and a focus on judicial settings.  However, consider the fact that it took me 25 years from the founding of the Agnese Haury Institute to the establishment of a T & I major concentration at the University of Arizona, despite my constant efforts.  Higher education has been reluctant to embrace court interpretation as a viable field of study.  Obstacles include the continuing lack of recognition of interpretation versus translation as a formal field of study; recognition of the need of higher education to fulfill the need for capable interpreters for judicial, medical and other critical settings; and the tremendous workforce demands for certified interpreters.  As this need becomes better known through the enforcement of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services, professional interpreters, linguists, lawyers, judges, and other professional groups  will have an increasingly stronger argument to begin creating academic programs.

However, a diversity of educational paths are still needed. the Agnese Haury Institute provides a professional experience unlike the experience gained in an undergraduate or graduate program. Persons who have completed our undergraduate major in translation and interpretation often take the Institute as a capstone experience.  The intensive guided practice with feedback in the three modes of interpretation (consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation) distinguishes this experience from all others.  Short courses fulfill the need for test preparation, specialized instruction such as advanced simultaneous, consecutive, and forensic transcription/translation, etc.  Short courses also offer persons considering interpretation the opportunity to self- diagnose and consider the practice of court or medical interpretation and contemplate their own linguistic, interpreting, and subject matter skills and knowledge, to find the educational pathway that meets their goal.

 

MCV: Have you compared the learning curve and the stage of our profession in the U.S. to that of other parts of the world?

RDG: Although other countries (such as Spain) are significantly ahead in terms of educational opportunities at state funded as well as private universities and colleges, the United States court interpreting profession as a whole is light years ahead of its European and other international counterparts in terms of status of the profession, remuneration and the place of certified professional court interpreters in the justice system.  This fact emanates from the rigorous standards set by the federal courts and the enforcement of same through the federal certification examination program and the commensurate remuneration policy established by the federal courts for those who have this unique capability.  Although there may be many court interpreters who are doing outstanding work in the field and are not certified at the federal level, the standards set by federal certification provide an exemplar for all state and local courts as well as for other high stakes settings, such as medical.

MCV: What can interested parties do to lobby governmental and private sources to yield support for programs such as those you have spearheaded to develop language access in the U.S.?

RDG: As private citizens, as members of the court interpreting profession, and of professional interpreting and translation groups such as NAJIT and ATA, interpreters need to consider every horizon in terms of language access.  The question that should always be:  How does this agency, court, system, etc. meet the language access needs of its LEP population.  How can I assist them to understand their language access obligation? State interpreter associations need to plug in to local colleges and universities and make it known that access is a primary aspect of their agenda, working collaboratively with universities to make language access a true part of every facet of these institutions.

What are the next goals for our industry and how can language associations help to achieve them?

As we discuss in Fundamentals, the primary goal for the profession is to strengthen its associations and continue to work towards it broader goal of “language access,” which will in turn lead to greater professionalization.  NAJIT’S new concentration on policy statements and collaboration with the American Bar Association and other agencies is an excellent beginning that should be expanded. The American Bar Association (ABA) recently launched the ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts.  Spurred on by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID), the Standards represent the most comprehensive document to date promoting full language access in courts nationwide. Among other things, it provides detailed guidance for court interpreter conduct and will hopefully contribute to lawyers, judges and court staff gaining a broader appreciation for the crucial role interpreters play.

Professional associations and all court interpreters should concentrate on creating uniform standards of certification among the 50 states and lobby for the establishment of an office within a federal agency to oversee state and local certification of interpreters and ensure that national interpreting telephone and video relay agencies and other providers are employing persons who have passed a rigorous certification examination in legal, or any venue in which laws are applied or where life outcomes are affected. Until there are uniform standards among states and national or international agencies providing interpreting and translation services, the profession of court interpretation will never achieve its potential. Moreover, as it comes of age, the profession must begin to promulgate professional ethical standards that provide more specific guidance for interpreters to follow and some ways of policing itself, instead of being “policed” by an outside nonprofessional agency.

Dr. Dueñas González decided to leave her position in September for health reasons and to spend time with her growing family, after many years of distinguished service.  I invite your comments and ask you to join with me to wish her our best. We look forward to her continuing advice as the fruits of her labor blossom.

Lessons From My Brother; Similarities Between World Class Runners and Interpreters


Galen Rupp, Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah

The Summer Olympics were quite a show. They were especially exciting for our family as my brother, Alberto Salazar, made a splash when the coaching of his two runner protégés, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, paid off, the former winning gold in both the 10K and the 5K and the latter silver in the 10K.  Their hard-earned triumph caused me to reflect on how the parallels between the training for the two endeavors theoretically dovetail to a remarkable degree.

Following Your Natural Aptitudes

If you want to be good at what you do, by default you should choose to engage in something that comes easily to avoid rowing against the current. If you stand out as a sprinter you will focus on shorter running events rather than long distance races.  As an interpreter, you may decide between becoming a specialist in legal terminology and working for the courts, becoming a medical interpreter, or switching gears every day interpreting at conferences on different subjects, depending on your intellectual predilections.

Selecting the Best Coach

Once you have made a choice, find the best coach you can in the area of expertise identified.  You may have to work with that person for a while to ensure that he is the right individual to mentor you.  Assuming that you click and your preferences are aligned, apply yourself and learn as much as you can.  Remember the axiom, “no pain, no gain”, but do not be afraid to switch if you are stagnating.

Simulation of the Optimal  Environment

My brother runs the “Oregon Project” for Nike which seeks to physically emulate the conditions in which top long-distance runners outside of the U.S. live, concentrating on factors such as climate, high altitude, oxygen levels, etc.  Alberto’s runners live in that replicated environment. Likewise, interpreters-in-training must immerse themselves to the extent possible, in the type of settings where they plan to work so that they have a realistic outlook of what it takes to achieve the skills needed to succeed.  This can be accomplished by shadowing other interpreters, going to court, medical settings or interning for a company that will allow you to attend conferences in some capacity as part of your training.

Practice; Where the Tire Hits the Road

There’s no cutting corners here.  This is what will determine your success or lack thereof and there are several components to it. You must be steadfast in your exercises.  You cannot expect to have satisfactory results from half-hearted attempts.  You must set aside the time to train and make sure you are employing the right techniques.  Watching replays is key both in the sports world as well as in the interpreting world. Thankfully, technology has advanced to a level where we can monitor the output of excellent interpreters through the internet and pick up invaluable pointers. It is also important to have the right mental attitude despite lulls in your enthusiasm, to do visualization as all athletes do, to use the right gear and have the right nutrition.  For interpreters, this is analogous to using the right equipment, be it dedicated glossaries, dictionaries, computers or simultaneous interpreting paraphernalia.  Otherwise, you are working at a disadvantage in comparison to colleagues that aim to be at the  top of their game.

A Man Is Known By the Company He Keeps

If you wish to improve in your chosen career, lift your spirits, and remain on track, associate with positive, like-minded people who enjoy what you do.  For the athlete as well as the interpreter, this means spending time with committed individuals that will support your goals be it through professional running clubs or interpreting associations that strive to develop the interests of their members through a forum that will benefit the collective in an efficient way that is difficult to attain individually.

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

Lastly, never become complacent.  Always be on the lookout to see how you might expand your skill set and help others. I am inspired by my sibling who won three consecutive New York Marathons and a Boston Marathon in the 1980s .  The Rookie, as he was called, predicted and set a world record in the marathon in 1981.  He followed that up, fourteen years later, with a win at the Comrades Ultramarathon (56 miles) in South Africa. Presently he devotes himself to sharing his accumulated expertise with today’s up and coming athletes, leading them to victory.

As interpreters, we have many options available to follow suit, from improving our own competence, to providing support and assistance to those colleagues interested in our help.  Pitch in and become involved, there’s a lot to be said for giving vs. receiving!

 

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