Blog Archives

Deck the Halls With Bows to Holly

holly_mikkelsonFor those who may not know her, Professor Holly Mikkelson at the Monterrey School of International Studies, is a state and federally certified court interpreter, and is accredited by the American Translators Association. She has been a consultant to court interpreter regulatory and training entities such as the California Judicial Council and the National Center for State Courts, and has published extensively on court and community interpreting. She is a member of the American Translators Association, the National Association of Judiciary Translators and Interpreters, and the Conference of Interpreter Trainers. She has spoken at conferences and presented workshops throughout the country as well as internationally and was the recipient of the Alexander Gode Medal from the American Translators Asscociation in  2011, its most prestigious award, for outstanding services to the Interpreting and Translating professions. She has graciously agreed to share her thoughts about the industry with us.

How does the field of Interpreting you’ve come to know over the years compare to your understanding of what it was when you first became involved with it, in 1976?

It has been revolutionized! Although my training at the Monterey Institute had focused on conference interpreting, I started my professional career as a court interpreter because it was what was available for someone whose only working languages were Spanish and English and who wanted to stay in California. Pay was determined by each court locally, negotiating with individual interpreters. We worked trials alone, all day; even though I knew standards were different for conference interpreters, being a submissive sort I accepted the working conditions without protest.

I found out about the California Court Interpreters Association (CCIA) in about 1978 when they started holding conferences to help people prepare for the new certification exams that California was starting to give. The standards for those exams were abysmal, but over the years they were revised to better reflect the quality requirements of the actual job. The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam was developed shortly after California’s, and I took the first one without realizing what a big deal it would turn out to be (otherwise I would have been a lot more nervous!). I managed to pass that exam, though I’ve never worked in federal court.

Since I joined the CCIA, scores of new professional organizations have been founded to represent the interests of interpreters in different sectors, and I have joined just about every one except for those catering to specific regions. Thanks to the efforts of these organizations, interpreters’ working conditions have improved considerably. There has also been a proliferation of publications and training programs for interpreters, though much still remains to be done in that regard. Partly because of the civil rights movement and partly thanks to the advocacy of our professional organizations. New laws and regulations to enforce language access policies have changed the landscape in this country, and have incidentally expanded employment opportunities in our field.

Today I would say that our profession has matured tremendously, and higher standards are being imposed all over the country (again, much still remains to be done). As someone who started out doing  translations on a typewriter and interpreting without the benefit of portable simultaneous equipment, I am in awe at the progress we’ve made.

What is the most significant advance you’ve seen in the profession in the last 10 years? What do you think we will see in the next five?

As I mentioned above, the proliferation of research publications and textbooks and the growing influence of professional associations such as the ATA, NAJIT and the IMIA have propelled our profession forward at a rate that is only possible with the concerted efforts of many, many colleagues. I am grateful to all of them for their sacrifice and hard work.      The other area that has revolutionized our field is technology, not only with respect to the communicative interactions for which we interpret (video conferencing, etc.), but also in the applications we have available to enhance our own productivity. I have to say, though, that I’m something of a dinosaur when it comes to adopting new gadgets in my day-to-day work. I think the next five years will bring even more astounding innovations that will make our jobs easier.

Do you see any interaction in the horizon with professional associations or institutions abroad?  What do you think we can teach them and what could they teach us?

I do see a lot of collaboration ahead. Court and medical interpreting are receiving more and more attention around the world, and we can teach our colleagues in other countries a lot based on the hard lessons we’ve learned (such as setting standards for exams, implementing legislation, etc.). In particular, Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Union has spurred many countries into raising the bar for ensuring language access and quality interpreting in these sectors. Some of our European colleagues have reached out to their counterparts here to learn more about how to proceed.

Here in the U.S. we can learn a lot from colleagues in countries such as Australia, Sweden, Norway and Canada that have relatively long histories in the area of public service interpreting, and from the traditional conference interpreting organizations and programs in Europe. As countries in Asia become increasingly aware of needs in foreign and indigenous languages and develop new systems to accommodate them, we can learn from their innovations as well.

The best way to keep up with what is going on in the world is to read the myriad professional journals devoted to various aspects of interpreting and to attend conferences in other countries. Even if we can’t attend in person, the proceedings of those conferences are often available on the Internet.

As an educator, what qualities, in addition to professional attributes, do you think are important for an interpreter to cultivate?

It’s hard to think of any quality that I wouldn’t characterize as a professional attribute: integrity, concern for accuracy, continuing professional development, and strong interpersonal relations are all qualities that interpreters should cultivate.

Do you have any new projects in the works that you can share with us?

My son and daughter-in-law have taken over the customer service and new product development departments of our Acebo publishing business. I’ll still be involved in everything, but I’m hoping they’ll add some fresh ideas to help the business grow in the future. He’s a federally certified court interpreter and she’s a project manager who has degrees in translation and business administration, so they have lots of relevant experience to bring to the table. They’re also digital natives, so when we finally finish the next edition of The Interpreter’s Companion (still a work in progress), we’ll have it available in formats people can use on electronic devices.

Ten Things You Must Not Do to Your Colleagues


  1. Do not give advice freely, even if you think it would be helpful, unless you are specifically asked for it.  It is far better to just lend an ear. Most people just need a sounding board to express their thoughts and come to a decision about events in their lives, professional or otherwise.
  2. Do not refuse to share resources.  If you can help to make an assignment come off better with the product of your research, don’t hold back. It will make you look better to your colleague and the team better to the audience.  Remember that if your partner is not up to par for some reason, you will be judged together, not necessarily separately.  I am not, however, by any means condoning interpreters who consciously fail to do their part.
  3. Do not increase on-site drama by making unnecessary comments about the assignment, players, conditions, etc. If it’s a tough gig, you have enough on your hands without revving up the emotions, which will not improve anything  and only serve to put everyone more on edge.  Strive to put everyone at ease, focusing on the positive.
  4. Do not give work recommendations unless you are fully in agreement with doing so. Do not cave-in out of embarrassment.  It is better to blush once, if necessary,  than to have a permanent red face over possible fallout.
  5. Do not show off, either by hogging the microphone, speaking of past assignments, dropping names, etc. You don’t need to forcefully demonstrate how good you are.  Others will form their opinion of you based on your unaffected performance.
  6. Do not be late. There are very few, if any excuses in my book for this, and it speaks volumes about you both professionally and personally. You may be the best interpreter in the world but if I can’t count on you when I need you, it doesn’t matter.
  7. Do not show up unprepared. Even if you don’t have specific direction as to how to study for an assignment, there is always some generic research that can be done to help you navigate more easily through a difficult job. If you have a reputation for prepping, it will precede you favorably with both clients and colleagues.
  8. Do not gossip. Either about colleagues, clients or assignments.  There is absolutely no upside to this and you will be classified by others accordingly.
  9. Do not share personal information regarding clients, fees, payment practices & conditions. The scales of justice are not balanced on your shoulders.  Each professional needs to sort this out and you are not the arbiter.
  10. Do not force yourself into the lives of others, be it clients, colleagues or otherwise.  If you are interested in a relationship, put your best foot forward and show it but don’t overdo it. The Universe is at least as smart as we are and will choose who we should be with at any particular time for our own good. Remember that everything happens for a reason.

I look forward to  hearing about your own list of Don’ts and experiences in this regard.



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

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!

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.

“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!

Three Fears Interpreters Face and How to Deal With Them


Regardless of your skill level and familiarity with the profession, we have all faced the following at one point or another in our career:

  1. Challenges to our experience/credentials
  2. Performance anxiety
  3. Objections to the interpretation

It is important to plan how to respond, in advance, so you won’t be caught off-guard and fail to put your best foot forward.

With regards to experience, have an elevator speech down pat, which is concise and to the point, for the different environments in which you work or plan to work.  It should underscore any pertinent education, certifications that you hold, as well as the work record that you have in that setting.  If you do not have a viable story to tell, your first priority is to research how you can acquire the needed expertise. If you are starting out, you can observe professional interpreters at work in court. You may take basic or advanced courses depending on your level.  If there are none offered in your area, I would highly recommend the short 2 -3 week options at the National Center for Interpretation at the University of Arizona to get some hands-on experience. Subsequently, you can sit for examinations to gauge your proficiency, and after that, you must engage in constant practice/learning to upgrade your expertise.

Performance anxiety cannot be discounted in this job as oftentimes we are thrust into situations where we need to interpret without adequate resources to prepare and not knowing what we are stepping into. The best way to deal with this is to always be in a “learning mode” that will enable you to increase your knowledge and vocabulary in your working languages and to do your best to acquire any available materials for the job at hand.  Attorneys are often hesitant to provide documents which can hurt their case if they get into the wrong hands so it is helpful to educate them as to the fact that you are an officer of the court, bound by confidentiality and that your ability to see the documents in advance, will only help their case by making the interpretation smooth and flawless, especially in the case of technical testimony.  Science has proven that the brain is susceptible to persistence and dedication and that learning, especially if imbued with passion, creates new synapses in the brain, allowing you to improve your output. Furthermore, it “connects new information with what you learned in the past.”[i]

Read about a great resource to learn from elite schools, about a myriad of subjects online and for free, at:

Find out what an established interpreter has to say about fear here.

Do not take objections personally. Remember that in a legal setting, one of the roles of an attorney is to bring up to the jury any information he feels could help his case.  You must not let your emotions get the upper hand, causing you to experience feelings of unfairness, anger, fear or helplessness if an objection is leveled at your interpretation. This emotional reaction takes place in your reptilian or instinctive  brain which was designed for survival.

According to best selling author, Dr. Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School, before these feelings get out of hand, you must STOP[ii]:

S- Stop

T- Take 3 deep breaths and smile

O- Observe what is going on

P- Proceed with mindfulness

If called upon, collect your thoughts and deliver your explanation to the challenge calmly, in a positive and confident manner so as not to undermine the trust the players in this scenario have in you. If you are wrong, correct the record professionally and move forward.  Do not get stuck on a mistake or misunderstanding that may trigger more pre-programmed negative responses.

Keep abreast of new developments and best practices by following the opinion of interpreting industry leaders,  reading literature about the profession and  joining local and national trade associations where pertinent issues are regularly discussed.

Share with us if you feel there are other fears that are more common and how you deal with them.

[i] Chopra, D. & Tanzi, R.E. (2012) Super Brain, New York, Random House, Inc. pp.44

[ii] Dave Povero (Director), Christina Morano, Director (2012) Super Brain With Dr. Rudi Tanzi, (PBS Video) Inky Dinky Worldwide, Inc. (Producer).

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.

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