Freudian Interpreting Tales

sigmundA quick refresher for those of us who don’t remember Freud’s tripartite structure of the psyche.

The Id:


Seconds before the alarm on his i-phone went off, Harry languidly opened one eye,  methodically scratched his parts and peered through the blinds that faced  the Atlantic Ocean and the 395 causeway on South Beach.  Traffic was barely starting to crawl but he knew he had to move fast to not be caught in the crunch when everyone starts to head towards downtown. He had to be at the federal courthouse by 8:00 for a big trial in which he was going to be interpreting with a new hire.  Although he would never admit it, Harry had developed a ritual over the years to haze new interpreters at the courthouse and demonstrate his seniority, or so he thought, because  he technically didn’t have any. Today’s game was particularly exciting because although she was touted to be a very good interpreter, she had almost always worked in conference settings. There was no way she could have hoarded the amount of legal trivia Harry had proudly amassed in his brain over the last twenty years, and he felt certain some of these obscure terms would be showcased in today’s proceedings.  He relished in anticipation the “deer in the headlights” look on his prey’s face when it was her turn to interpret them and craftily planned what his response would be.


Halfway around the world, it was 1:00 p.m. Ana was well into her day’s work, interpreting at the Global Forum to Eradicate Child Pornography being held at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid.  She was hoping she would not run into her friend Kirsten during the lunchtime break, who was working the German booth. Understandably so, because although she justified it to herself because her friend had told her their relationship was on the rocks, Ana was having an affair with Kirsten’s boyfriend, Eric. She was afraid that during an argument between the two of them, that uncomfortable truth would come out and she would then have to deal with it. It could hurt her reputation in the circuit as well as affect her output. But in the meantime, he was great in bed and she had had quite a dry spell after her own breakup over a year ago.  Ana was unrealistically hoping that the two Germans would soon come to a cordial or at least  civilized separation, in accord  with their intrinsic nature, so that this detail would never come to light. After all, from her Teutonic experience, scanty as it was, they were not nearly as hysterical as Latinos. And that was something she did know a lot about.

Hong Kong

Lastly, all the way around the world in Hong Kong, it was 7:00 p.m., and Bo had finished his interpreting work held at the posh Kowloon Hotel, at interviews grilling potential translators for the attorneys that had brought him there from San Francisco.  As the image of the scintillating skyline of neon-lit skyscrapers receded on his way   to Happy Valley on the tram, he realized how exhausted he was. It had been a long day and he was shouldering a delicate responsibility in advising his clients on the selection of a linguist for this all-important case. He had hoped he would be asked to do all the work himself which entailed flying regularly to HKG, a lucrative gig with the added benefit that he could also visit his elderly grandmother and mentor, but that did not seem to be in the cards unless he swiftly took matters into his  hands and manipulated the outcome of this trip for his own  benefit. It would be relatively simple to do, as luckily none of the attorneys spoke Mandarin, and after all, the justification was they would be getting himself, the best professional available, who was thoroughly familiar with the case.

                                                            Continued here

“Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New”- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

imagesAt this writing, our country is facing severe uncertainty, as we flirt with a continued government shutdown, whose repercussions will be felt around the world if America is unable to meet her financial obligations for the first time in 200 years.  It will be interesting to see how these events impact the T&I sector, which Common Sense Advisory had forecast will be at 34.7 billion dollars worldwide in 2013 for outsourced language services, half of which is in North America. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, our industry is expected to increase 29% between 2010-2020, topping Healthcare and Social Assistance at 28%, despite the fact that the latter has the gigantic and aging baby-boomer population fueling its growth.

What is the takeway from this crisis both individually as well as collectively?  That we must move towards a viable plan for fiscal responsibility so that we are not spending more than we are making.

The third quarter, at the latest, is when our small businesses, be they language services providers or otherwise, should be planning for the following year by comparing projections to actuals to see if our business strategies for the year worked.

The most important figure arguably is the net income/net loss, which is total revenues minus total expenses. If the business has been in effect for several years, this is good indicator of the trend it is taking.  For reference, according to Common Sense Advisory in 2011, 24% of language service providers (LSPs) have been in business 1 to 2 years, whereas only 4% have been in business over 30 years. Sixty nine percent have 2.5 employees and only .4% have 101-500.

Substantial digging has to be done to uncover the reason for the NI (net income).  We should look at the number of clients this year vs. other years, what clients did not give us business this year, and who our most important customers are, in terms of profit, so that we can devote more attention to them or get any money that has been left on the table. On the other hand, sometimes, we may have clients that give us a lot of work (revenue), but the cost of goods sold is too high because their work is conditioned on a very low price point or because doing business with them is expensive due to their inefficiencies and payment practices or the customer service they require. We must be realistic and drop these clients who are a liability because they are negatively affecting our all-important bottom line, despite their sales volumes or contribution to the top line.

We must also be proactive.  If you want to improve the NI, you must obviously change something.  When you work on the budget, see what new strategy may make a difference in the following year, assuming it is affordable. Some items to consider might be hiring an employee to make your recruitment, scheduling, invoicing and sales more efficient.  Other considerations could be to weigh whether additional training might make you more marketable, or if the benefits of setting aside dues to join trade associations and attend their events make it appropriate. The latter will also help to keep you abreast of changes and issues in the industry and connect you to colleagues you can collaborate with.

Make executive decisions for next year now,  that will be commensurate with a long-term wellness plan for your business rather than just starting the equivalent of a “fad diet” that will not have a lasting effect.

Let me know your thoughts as to other considerations or advice upon reviewing your year-end income statement and balance sheet.

Food For Interpreting

ucm_300131“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is currently 1:00p.m.  We are going to break for lunch.  Please be back in your seats promptly at 2:00 p.m.  so we may continue hearing this witness’s testimony.  Remember not to discuss any details concerning the case with anyone.  This court is now in recess.”

The race is on because there is no time to walk to a neighboring restaurant, do battle with the lunch crowd, order, eat and walk back.  The only choice is to buy something from the vending machines at the courthouse, gulp it down, answer pending messages and emails, and make it back to the courtroom.

Not an optimal option but we rationalize it, buy a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, a soda and a doughnut for the late afternoon blues, which we can have with a coffee to give us some energy later.  This is a situation I daresay many interpreters encounter rather often, which may be compounded by getting home in the evening, exhausted after a long day, and pulling out a frozen meal “healthy”, or not, to save time and rest up for the following day. Especially if we have to prepare for the coming testimony.

In this short and trite but telling example, we have a listing of some of the worst foods we consume in the United States, on a regular basis:

Processed foods (sandwich) Researchers have found that the risk of heart disease is 42% higher among people who regularly eat processed meats.

Soda Nearly half of surveyed Americans drink 2+ glasses a day.  An average can contains 10 tsp. of sugar, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and represents many health risks in addition to an increase in obesity, in a country where more than one third of the population suffers from this condition.

Potato chips  In addition to causing you to tip the scales, the regular consumption of potato chips will cause a spike in blood pressure from the high sodium content, a rise in cholesterol due to the trans fats from deep frying and the saturated fat. Other researchers are saying that the carcinogen, acrylimide, created during the deep frying process, puts you at a risk for cancer.

Doughnuts  a compendium of trans fat, sugar and refined flour, with a high fat content and around 300 empty calories, to calm a sweet tooth and purportedly increase your energy level.

Frozen meals  do not usually contain enough calories or vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritive value by being frozen. The meals have a high sodium content that make them dangerous to health.

Many of the foods discussed here have a high sugar content.  Read this link to understand more fully the drowsiness that sugar creates and what that entails. Another substantial portion has an elevated sodium content which causes high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. For an overview of how these  effects  are produced, read here.

As interpreters we need to be at the top of our game because we never know what the next assignment will require and our brains need to be able to swiftly collect our resources and deliver them as soon as it receives a signal to act. We cannot afford to be lethargic on the job. Moreover, we are often involved in stressful circumstances which raise our blood pressure so we must try to eliminate foods that will increase our blood pressure further. Our level of energy and state of health depend to a great extent on the food we ingest.

Read up on what comprises a healthy diet and learn how to interpret the nutrition labels on food. They are extremely helpful in formulating what we include in our meals. Strategize what you are going to eat in advance so you won’t be caught off guard by circumstances and will have other options.

Share with us any other suggestions for healthy eating in difficult circumstances.

When Books and the Internet Won’t Cut It


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!

An Appeal to Hispanic Professionals to Become Bone Marrow Donors

images-6These things only happen to others…

It was October 25, 2011. As I waited in the hematologist’s office to get the results of the bone marrow biopsy that would provide the answers to the random and debilitating symptoms I had been experiencing for a month, I was not concerned.  I do remember wondering why hematology (the study of blood) was paired with such an ominous title as oncology (the study of cancer) in his degree hanging on the wall but I did not take it personally. I am far from being a worrywart. I have always been relatively healthy, a vegetarian of many years, I was into wellness, a regular yoga practitioner, and so on. I had my bases covered. Furthermore, I knew everything happens for a reason and works to our benefit if we can wait long enough to connect the dots.

It was going to be a simple answer.  Maybe anemia because in the last few months I had been very busy and not taking the time to prepare food as I should have.  I was in a hurry to get this doctor’s appointment done.  It was late afternoon. I had to pack my bags for a business trip, prepare for a meeting with the client there the next day, go to the drycleaners, in short, I had a limited period of time to get these things done.

I glanced over at my daughter who was on her iphone, from the corner of my eye,  feeling guilty that she had taken the time to accompany me to what was a routine doctor’s visit when she had her own responsibilities to attend to.

Finally,  the doctor ambulated  back into the examining room, lab report in hand. At last, this show was on the road.  It was only 3:00 p.m. so I still had time to make my rounds if I hurried. He looked at me impersonally and in a smooth tone, the result of years in practice no doubt,  he told me that I  had been diagnosed with MDS.  He rattled  off an incomprehensible name for the acronym (and I do medical interpreting for a living). He  went on to say in one breath that he suggested I start chemotherapy immediately and contact the cancer center of my choice to schedule a bone marrow transplant within three months, that being the only cure for this disease, which quickly degenerates into leukemia left untreated. My brain mercilessly slammed  the brakes on my hitherto, now trivial stream of consciousness. I felt I was floating in a void, looking at myself from afar.  The only thing I had understood from the last three minutes of his dialogue was “leukemia”, and “cancer” and I noted sheepishly in my internal dialogue, that the only thing I knew about  leukemia was that it was a  disease of the blood, whose spokesman in the 60’s had been the entertainer, Danny Thomas, father of Marlo Thomas, who had founded St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Period, end of story.

Analyzing my choices.

I glimpsed at my daughter again, whose face was motionless and deathly pale, in contrast to her fingers that were full of life, moving in a blur, tapping the iphone’s keyboard without respite.  I remember being amazed at her speed. She had always declined my suggestion to study typing to help her with her assignments in school.  Funny what detours our minds take under stress. After reflecting, her only comment to the doctor was how long does she have to act and how do you spell myelodysplastic syndrome, which she used to google the condition and text my son.  I’m sure she agreed with me that there was no point in beating this horse to the ground at that moment when  we had, at best, a very simple grasp of the basics. I knew the only course for me was to internalize the information to plan how to proceed. This was easier said than done as I was not a fan of allopathic  medicine (mainstream drug and surgery therapies) and this was the only alternative I was being offered to survive.

I still held out that the doctors could be wrong in my case because I had gotten rid of the joint aches and pains that had been plaguing me by visiting a physical therapist, but the doctors I went to at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, that specialize in bone marrow transplants, assured me that the “disease was cooking very fast” and I had to act immediately to forestall the possibility of developing acute leukemia which would reduce my chances of a successful transplant that was required within the next three months.

My children wisely never went head-to-head with me.  They simply acknowledged that in the end, whatever I did was my decision, but we should have a plan B, in case my theory was wrong.  We contacted the Icla da Silva Foundation, who is the world’s largest registry of potential bone marrow donors, affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program a/k/a Be the Match Registry®. Testing kits immediately went out to my four brothers and several friends and colleagues who volunteered to send a sample of their DNA to see if their bone marrow was such that they could be potential donors. I did not know at the time how important inherited factors of ethnicity and genetics are in this process.  Nor did  I know that 70% of patients are unable to find a match in their family and that furthermore, minority populations are sorely underrepresented in the registry, where Hispanics comprise only 10%.

Two weeks had not passed when a virtual “carny” pulled a lever and the roller coaster cranked up. I had not gotten any results back from the testing when I ended up in the hospital with one opportunistic infection after another, seriously impacting the possibility that I would be able to undergo a bone marrow transplant within the prescribed period, assuming I could find a suitable donor.

Fast forward.  We heard in the nick of time that I had been blessed that my youngest brother was a match.  I was able to grab the last available slot to do the transplant procedure at the end of January 2012.  I made it out of the hospital on December 25, 2011 and prepared to immediately travel by car to Tampa.

Back to “The Others”, a psychological horror film, unlike its famous awarded Spanish predecessor, because of its real dimension.

The equation has changed now.  “The others” are no longer an unknown portion of the population, unconnected to me.  Not that they were ever truly unconnected but that is how my linear consciousness interpreted it to make it easier for my brain to process the information.

Now “the others” for me in this context, are those Hispanic patients in the same circumstances I was facing, who do not have a match and their time is running out. I have met some of them vicariously through their stories on the internet and some personally, who were not able to secure an ideal match because of the reasons outlined above and their transplants relapsed.  This is for them. I am focusing on the U.S Hispanic population to narrow the scope of this paper, because I am a part of it and we represent 16.7% of the U.S. population, making it the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority according to the July 1, 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Nonetheless, all ethnic groups are facing the same constraints to varying degrees.

What is the issue?

Due to a lack of relevant education, and subject awareness, there is a prevalent fear of donating physical organs in  the Hispanic  culture and thus an extremely low level of stem cell and bone marrow donations. Many subsequent recipients, myself included, have been fearful previous to needing donations, despite the fact that my children have regularly given blood.  If not for the several transfusions I have received during the course of my illness, selflessly, from complete strangers through a blood bank, I would be dead. And I am among the 1.1 million (.02 of the total Hispanic population in the U.S.) that  is over 25 years old and holds a post graduate degree, according to the July 1, 2011 U.S. Census.  What can we expect from those who have not had the opportunity to attain that degree of education yet? Only 10% of the bone marrow donor registry is Hispanic and of that 10% only 47%, roughly half, is typically available when called to donate.  What does that say for the chances of “The Others” for which a BMT to give them a donor’s healthy bone marrow to produce their blood cells is their only hope?

Because of the relatively small volume of blood disorders among  Hispanics, considering other cancer research, pharma, which has a vested interest in profitably allocating the marketing budget for their products, has not sponsored large scale studies to identify the psychological traits discussed above.  Those traits are compounded by others documented in a Brazilian study, which states that among uneducated males, the spinal cord was confused with the bone marrow and fears of paralysis, impotence and death were expressed. Also of not coming back from anesthesia should a traditional surgical extraction of bone marrow be performed.  I have personally undergone the latter procedure for biopsies on several occasions under an anesthetic agent called Propofol/Dipravine and it is not only almost painless but you retain no memory of the proceeding. Furthermore, 80% of donations are currently done through stem cell collection in comparison to  the surgical extraction of bone marrow, and the collection does not require an anesthetic of any type.

What is the solution?

The solution is for Hispanic professionals to start working for the future setting an example by donating and bringing more donors in with this information to counteract long standing myths. Consider that as of January 2013, in the US  there were approximately 18 million Latinos on Facebook, and 1 million , of which only 50% will make themselves available, on the non-profit National Marrow Donor Program® of potential donors, which has been renamed the Be the Match Registry®. Don’t wait until a person close to you is stricken,  take the first step and Be the Match®.

Am I Making the Right Decision?

imagesThis question is not the exclusive purview of philosophers and mental health practitioners. It has always been a hot topic and many of us chew our nails to the nubs while making decisions that involve a major issue in our life such as relationships, health care, family problems, the purchase of a house, etc. After we reach a conclusion, we oftentimes continue to second-guess it, especially when as now, circumstances are aggravated by difficult economic times that have a bearing on many of these situations.

In the T&I profession there are key decisions as well, that impact our lifestyle and need to be confronted. Among others, they include questions such as educational choices, what work aspect of language to focus on, what is best for me, a freelancer or employee position?  What remuneration should I seek? Is there value in volunteering my services to a trade association, etc.

Being a rational MBA and a long-time spiritual seeker, I have one foot planted firmly in both of these camps, and I follow a balanced procedure I devised that I would like to share with you as it has proven invaluable to me over the years. Start out by not believing everything you think prior to undergoing the process.

  1.  The first step is to research the matter.  The most generalized search you will do will be probably be on Google but rather than typing in a simple phrase, learn the search conventions for advanced searches which are very simple to do and will save you a lot of time. Please note that there are similar tips for advanced searches on other platforms such as additional search engines, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.
  2. Make a short list of the pros and cons of each solution.  Remember that comparing options will increase your confidence.
  3. Identify a qualified friend as well as a devil’s advocate to discuss the alternatives. Remember that advice from others usually comes from the intellect.
  4. Listen to your gut/intuition to determine what feels comfortable and resonates with you.  Remember that in the end, you know better than anyone else what is best for you.
  5. Be aware that the world is in constant flux and you will be able to reassess many of your decisions should you decide they are not working for you in the future.
  6. Realize that experience is one of the main filters our brain uses to make decisions.  It therefore stands to reason that you focus on positive experiences and try to reduce or eliminate internalizing  negative ones so that your “database” is populated by optimistic, affirmative information.
  7. I cannot overstate the importance of a regular simple meditation practice of 15 minutes twice a day to clear the cobwebs.  It will help you immensely to analyze all of the above, in addition to having many other benefits.

Bear in mind that whatever you ultimately decide will be the best resolution you could have reached. It may not be completely apparent why in the short term, but in the end I can assure you that it will be an experience you had to undergo to fulfill some as yet possibly unidentified need in your path.  I am convinced that nothing in life is random.  It just may take a while to connect the dots but there is an Intelligence superior to ours guiding our steps and our prior understanding of all the details does not contribute to the desired outcome.

I hope you will agree that this is both a relevant and fascinating topic. I look forward  to seeing your comments and benefiting from your opinions and experiences.

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.

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”

It was only when the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac, that I was jarred awake from the fitful slumber I had fallen into shortly after we took off. I was very tired from a trial that had taken much longer than expected, leaving me precious little time to prepare for this assignment which I knew was going to be a bear. It was a very sensitive case involving alleged malfeasance by government officials in the host country, during the construction of a power plant. As if to confirm my as yet unfounded suspicions, our party was met at the jet bridge by two armed uniformed guards with a military jeep to take us to our destination. I forced my mind to stop racing despite the memories that came flooding back of when I left my homeland under similar circumstances, at the age of nine.

The colleague that had been chosen to work with me, because I refused to submit to full days by myself, especially in these circumstances, looked good on paper.  He was a government interpreter seemingly with a lot of experience.

The following morning, after the advocates for both sides set the tone by arguing about everything under the sun before even starting to take testimony, we finally settled into a rigorous pace of work. That is, after the other interpreter showed up, almost an hour late. My colleague, whom I’ll call Raúl, did not exhibit any sign of camaderie whatsoever throughout the time that we worked together for several days.  He was shifty-eyed, had a loud, raspy voice and a pretty thick accent but he did his job briskly and efficiently, supported by unwieldy stacks of documents that I had never laid eyes on and which he explicitly refused to share. If he wanted a break, he would just stop talking, notwithstanding the juncture that we were at, get up and amble out of the room to smoke. After his turn was over, he would settle back in his chair, a notebook on his lap and his eyes fixed sullenly on me, waiting for me to make any mistake he could report to his handlers.

While he interpreted, I took copious notes of hitherto unheard terms, and I was able to appreciate that this man had all the “required” interpreter traits. He was very fluent, focused, able to manipulate the registers, and seldom had to ask the court reporter to repeat any questions, which spoke to his good memory.

Nonetheless, it brought back to mind a long-held conviction of mine, that in order to be successful, interpreters must embody not only these “hard” skills, but also the “soft” skills that are seldom mentioned.  Raúl had no intuition to speak of.  He could not tell that the attorneys, even his employers, resented his unwarranted interruptions to take a break, which could happen during key testimony.  He had no empathy for the witnesses, who were very nervous and would ramble on, to which he responded by brusquely shoving his open palm two inches from their face, or for me, knowing I was handicapped by not having many of the documents he was hoarding. He was not respectful to the whole group, arriving late more than once. In short, he didn’t have the people skills we need to interact successfully in society.

As an employer of interpreters, I have often had the experience of bilingual clients who are familiar with language nuances, preferring the less linguistically-talented interpreters who are personable, to the pros who don’t have the abilities to deal positively with others. Food for thought. I think it is easier to perfect language skills than emotional skills unconsciously ingrained over a lifetime.

A Healthy Dose of Sense and Sensibility=Responsibility

responsibility-poster1I believe that the hierarchy and macrocosm of nature, should be reflected in its many microcosms, one of which is the interpreting profession.  Accordingly, to be successful, the values exhibited at the apex must be mirrored in the other.

Today I am going to write about responsibility.  In life, I feel our duty is to fulfill our potential as a human being. Correspondingly, in our work, we must strive to achieve our full latent talents for what we do. We can’t stop trying until we feel comfortable with what we have attained, likely never, and easily a lifetime. The important thing is to enjoy the moment, our status quo now, assuming you are trying to improve yourself and not resting on your laurels. But we should not live thinking of the future, of a time when you expect to have accomplished more. As the classic oldie “Turn! Turn! Turn!” says, “There is a time for every purpose.” By following that advice, you will avert frustration by comparisons, and the waste of much energy regarding something you have no control over.  This energy could be employed productively in the present, not to mention the fact that we have no guarantee that the future will ever arrive.

Consequently, we must endeavor to do each assignment as well as we can, being truthful to ourselves and others regarding our effort. It will all come out in the wash anyway.  Always try to do more than is expected of you, expressing the creativity and diversity of nature. As in life, on the job, tell the truth about yourself and others, no white lies. But use your judgment, if something is ultimately unimportant, but it could hurt others, be responsible, don’t bring it up.

At the end of the day, we are all interconnected although we may not realize it at a given point in time.  I remember that concept being driven home in business school, talking about something as simple as a shirt sold at a department store here, where the yarn is from one place, parts are sewn in another and it’s assembled in yet a different location. In the end, people from all over the world that we’ll never know,  collaborate to make many of the items we use everyday. The similarity I see to our lives is that nothing happens randomly.  The world shapes our lives. Those we come into actual contact with, more so than in the example above, help to shape us.  We learn life lessons from the people we least expect to, whether we are aware of it or not, at the time.  That’s why, when we work with colleagues, if it’s with people we like, wonderful, enjoy it.  If it is someone we dislike, or look down upon for whatever reason, do not waste the opportunity to interact with them by complaining.  They have been put on your path for a reason, and it is up to you to figure out what you should learn from them. That is the importance of and why we must help to care for others. We all have a unique and valuable role to play on earth as well as in our sphere of business. If we were able to connect the dots, we would know what that purpose was not only for ourselves but for others as well. A rising awareness, in time, will help us to recognize these truths.

Yoga teaches that as we advance in consciousness, one of the signposts is that we begin to detach and to witness our actions as we are performing them, and can thus modify them for the better.  It brought to mind how when you reach a certain level of proficiency in interpreting, you begin to witness your own renditions live, in both consecutive or simultaneous, and can begin to focus on improving them in real time.

In short, that is our task, to continuously attempt to make our lives the best they can be, and consequently our careers, because this will represent a boon not only for ourselves but for our environment on all levels. If you see something is wrong or off track, fix it.  Don’t wait for others to intervene.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Why Do I Love Interpreting? Let Me Count the Ways…


A stimulating didactic experience

Firstly, because I am the epitome of the eternal student, I am enamored of the fact that it is such a stimulating experience that I construe as didactic. I’m constantly working on something new so I’m always learning as I study different industries and processes to formulate glossaries, or when travel is required, which is an education in and of itself. Luckily, from my research I have learned that this intellectual activity leads us to forge new synapses in our brain that among other favorable effects, fend off many symptoms of aging. I enjoy the feeling I get of being settled and prepared when I report to work, with the conviction that I have done my best to learn the subject matter. To further this feeling of calm, I always strive to arrive early with ample time to anticipate surprises. I am very punctual so this is something that dovetails with my nature. It is very important in our industry, because many people are dependent on us, from conference attendees to judges and attorneys who cannot proceed without us. I am grateful to my Dad for having instilled this trait in me and my siblings because it has always stood us in good stead. When we were children, he would drive us to church on Sundays and wait for Mom, my four brothers and I in the car, way ahead of time, while we got ready. The ritual was he would honk the horn only once, and woe to us if we were not ready to leave promptly. When I got married in Miami, “Little Havana” back then, he paid no heed to “Cuban Time”, which is always at least an hour after standard time. When we arrived at the church, naturally there was no one there. He insisted we walk down the aisle anyway because punctuality is “de rigueur”. It was only at the end of the wedding, when I walked out, that the pews had been filled. Nonetheless, I value the concept.

Interaction with other players

I take pleasure in the interaction with other players at interpreted events. Making new acquaintances, be they colleagues, employers, judges, presenters, litigants, etc.; creating bonds that will strengthen my network of relationships. We never know, when we could be of assistance to someone else, or they to us. I remember helping an American court reporter once by making a comprehensive list of dozens of proper names and addresses in Spanish, of individuals, companies and institutions mentioned during testimony that took  several hours. It was not always easy to do because at the same time, I was interpreting complex testimony. This allowed her to concentrate on the record and not have to chase different witnesses during a recess or after hours, to get the spellings. She was very grateful and soon thereafter recommended me for a well-paid assignment. I am not encouraging you to help others with the expectation that they will reciprocate, but when someone does you a good turn you often naturally want to return the favor.


I like the recognition of being selected to do particular jobs based on a track record, that in turn was the result of a long- term solid endeavor to improve my output. I enjoy the satisfaction of being asked to come back, of having contributed to an effort, of having helped others to understand something that is important to them.

It’s a positive feedback loop

I appreciate feeling energized and mindful when I work and it is all engendered by the above. It’s a positive feedback loop. When we focus on constructive, favorable actions, they create the memories which are the filters for experience, the building blocks that dictate how we perceive occurrences in our life, based on how we have assimilated past events.

Please share with me what you like, or to the contrary, in a constructive way, what you don’t like about the profession. I look forward to your comments!

%d bloggers like this: