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

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

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

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

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

Ka-ching in more ways than one

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

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

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

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

Language Rich Europe

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

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

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

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A Linguist Particle?

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Comedy Central Interpreting Experiences – Part I

I occasionally see requests from our language forums for contributions of funny instances that have occurred at work.  I am never able to remember them off the cuff so I made a special effort to create an ad hoc list to share with you.  I recalled several stories, although I am generally of a serious nature, because they have taken place over a period of + 30 years.

In retrospect, I realize that  the anecdotes mentioned here could have been avoided if I had been more mindful and not on automatic pilot when they took place.  I have duly learned my lesson.

Once upon a time when I was a young housewife, I had a dinner party planned for a Friday evening, when a good client called with a last minute request for an interpreter late that afternoon.  We were not able to find someone else to cover due to the short notice so I went.  It was a very sad case of a young woman who had gone on her honeymoon to Mexico. Her husband, who had a cardiac condition, had suffered a heart attack and died.  There must have been a good eight attorneys asking questions.  It was late in the day, there were no signs that the depo was winding down and my guests were scheduled to arrive at home for dinner at 7:00.  While I was interpreting I was wondering to myself what I was going to do (fatal misstep!). My client proceeded to ask the witness what they were doing when he had the heart attack and she answered that they were making love.  The next question was “Were you engaged in foreplay?”  I thought about how to interpret that into Spanish in an elegant/efficient way and I was successful.  The woman answered after pausing to think. Still on automatic pilot thinking about the dinner, I blurted  out, “We were kicking”.  I only realized my error when the attorney turned around quizzically and said to me “Mrs. de la Vega,  that’s a strange way to go about it, don’t you think?”  The witness had used the verb for “kissing” in Spanish but I inadvertently turned into “kicking”.

Another time, in that same vein, I was interpreting for a plaintiff who was suing a doctor for malpractice. She testified about a number of terrible mistakes that had been made by the physician that resulted in the death of her child.  She was then asked when she had decided to sue Dr. Padrón.  When I interpreted the question to her, I committed a Freudian slip and unwittingly changed the doctor’s name to “Cabrón”, which means sonofabitch in Spanish. None of the attorneys spoke Spanish and the words sound so alike that they never noticed.  I only realized what I had said when she stared at me incredulously and the little “tape recorder” in my brain played back my answer. Without batting an eyelid, I simply repeated the question to her, substituting the correct name.  She visibly relaxed and answered, probably thinking she had heard wrong.

One of my all-time favorite war stories happened when I was interpreting at a meeting of the World Boxing Association.  Roberto “Manos de Piedra” (Hands of Stone) Durán,  considered by many to be the greatest lightweight of all time, was reading a tortuous, flowery speech sprinkled with all kinds of obscure boxing terms about his achievements in the ring.  I asked my male booth partner to speak to him during a break and get a copy of the text that he was speed-reading out loud.  My partner came back and told me that Durán had insulted him and said he didn’t need to be giving the interpreters anything, that it was  up to us to do the job right without any help. I immediately got up to try my luck with him and the guy fell all over himself to get me the copy, hitting on me in the meantime.  When I came back to the booth with the papers, my colleague asked how I had gotten them, and not realizing the mics were on, I answered, “because Manos de Piedra is a dirty old man”.  There was a lightning-like response as all the press and the attendees wearing headsets roared with laughter, while the honoree looked at them nonplussed. Needless to say, as soon as we were done, I exited the building through the emergency stairs so as not to run into anyone.

I will save the rest of my treasure trove for another day so that we can savor an additional chuckle and trust that you will all be inspired to take a walk down memory lane and share your comical tales with me.

Interview With Prize-Winning Translator in Cuba

Dr. Lourdes Arencibia

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

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

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

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

¿Cómo te iniciaste en el campo de la traducción?

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

¿Qué tiempo llevas ejerciendo la profesión? 

Pues como ves, más de cincuenta años consecutivos.

¿A qué tipo de traducción te dedicas mayormente? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¿Cómo te sientes después de recibir ese galardón?

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

¿Lo esperabas? 

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

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

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

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

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

¿Qué te pareció el congreso de la FIT? 

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

¿Qué proyectos tienes en el tintero en estos momentos?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I trust you will enjoy my chat with Lourdes.

How did you start out in the field of translations?

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

How long have you been practicing your profession?

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

What type of translations do you usually do?

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

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

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

Do translators in Cuba often work for clients abroad?

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel after receiving this honor?

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

Were you expecting it?

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think of the FIT Congress?

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Interpreting Journal Club; Save the Date and Participate

Carl Jung

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

What am I talking about?

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

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

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

FIT 2011 on Interpreting

Eclectic 5th of July Celebration of the English Language

I really meant to do this post yesterday, July 4th, in the U.S. but between attending a traditional parade with the family, having them over for dinner, watching the fireworks and getting ready to leave for the airport a few hours later, I had to give it up.  I thought my post had lost its relevancy and I would have to wait until next year.

At this posting, I am writing from Caracas, Venezuela where I am interpreting at depositions. Much to my surprise when I arrived, I found out that today is their equivalent of July 4th.  It is the country’s date of independence and this year they are celebrating the bicentennial. They started celebrating yesterday when Hugo Chavez returned from his cancer surgery in Cuba.  As a student of business I found in interesting that bond yields had sharp gains from speculations that he might be forced to step aside due to health reasons.

I feel like I am in a time warp and that my Independence Day deadline has been extended, so here you have it.

For a hilarious abbreviated history of the English language, click here.

When I came to this country I was 8 years old and it was a wonderful experience for me and my then three brothers, which quickly turned into four.  We came from a tropical island (Cuba) to New England, which to us was nothing else but “Davie Crockett” country where we experienced snow, and living in close proximity to the woods where my brothers and I went camping, sledding, built teepees etc. With the characteristic exuberance of youth, nothing fazed us.  We were very proud of our initial “F” grades in school before we mastered the language because we thought it stood for “Fine”. I remember going to a speech therapist to recognize the difference between a “sheet” we slept on and the product of our bowels.  It didn’t bother me to have my friends laugh with me as I diligently practiced to commit the sounds to memory.  I wanted to learn the language so badly that I spent every spare minute reading everything from fairytales to Nancy Drew to the Encyclopedia Britannica, resorting to a flashlight under the covers after lights out.

At this tender age  I learned words by reading that one does not commonly use. For years I thought thigh was pronounced like “fig” starting with a “th”. I will always remember how at the “grown-up” age of 21 when I was starting to interpret, a judge asked me to stay for a moment after a hearing to see how I was doing.  He asked me how everything was working out and I answered him very seriously that things were somewhat  “awry”, pronouncing it to rhyme with “story”.  I had always loved that word but had never had the opportunity to actually say it.  I was very chagrined when the judge was barely able to suppress a smile and told me with a twinkle in his eye, “you mean awry” and he pronounced the “ry” as in rye bread…  Live and learn. That is the name of the game.  I went from writing short stories in cursive during elementary school for extra credit, to teaching myself to type my term papers and college newspaper articles on an antique typewriter that my mother purchased in a garage sale.  This all paved the way to my doing translations later and my writing this blog now.

English is a beautiful language and we must all do our part to keep it from losing its venerable form. I read a wonderful  article I want to share with you in this regard, by a fellow blogger.

Please share your language stories with me and tell me how you see the status of the English language.  Is it going downhill?

A Conference Interpreter Offers Insights About Inherent Language Skills

Ewandro Magalhaes

I am thrilled  to introduce a friend and well known conference interpreter who will be an occasional, hopefully regular contributor to Musings. His writing is delightful because it is anecdotal and  entertaining as well as informative.  I know that you will recognize the value in it.  His perspective from the conference angle of a professional working outside of the U.S. will serve to round out our appreciation of  the current status of our industry. Enjoy…

Ewandro Magalhães is a seasoned conference interpreter, author and interpreter trainer. He holds a Master’s in Conference Interpretation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is a former contractor with the U.S. Department of State, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization of American States and several other international organizations. He is the author of Sua Majestade, o Intérprete – o fascinante mundo da tradução simultânea (Parábola Editorial, São Paulo) and an active member of TAALS. A national of Brazil, he has worked in four continents and now lives with his family in Geneva, Switzerland, following his appointment last year as Chief Interpreter of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN agency for ICTs. Ewandro is a gifted writer and presenter with a passion for learning and disseminating knowledge.

As an intro to his post:
Think bilinguals have a natural edge in interpreting? Well, think again. In a recent article featured in the ATA Chronicle (May 2011), Ewandro Magalhães explores how the virtues or limitations of our languages configure and discipline our way of thinking and how we function as interpreters. Beware! What you know may be working against you in the booth. Click here to learn why!

Whimsical Language Post

 Today is my birthday, so as a present to myself,  I get to write about light-hearted, fun, or just interesting stories that are  language-related which I have recently come across. On the subject of  interpretation, I have written in recent posts about the interpretation of body language and the language of smell and forensics.  We can now add to that dream interpretation.  At first glance, this could seem like any quack could set himself up to do this in an Arab country or anywhere for that matter. However, it is not as simple as that in the UAE.  In Islam,  it turns out that  dream interpretation is only permitted if it is done by a trusted scholar, pursuant to an UAE fatwa issued in 2008! Furthermore, certain interpretations have been standardized.

I found the following article about Grosjean’s new book, Bilingual: Life and Reality, to be very insightful.  I encourage you to click on the links with excerpts from different chapters.  His blog on bilingualism from a psychological standpoint is also very original and will be of interest to all linguists.

As I have gotten flowers today, I felt I needed to know more about the language of flowers and I find myself  in complete agreement with the metaphysical stance of the last sentence in the article referenced.

I will close by sharing with you the next book choice on my summer reading list that promises to be  informative, fantastical and entertaining!  It’s called In the Land  of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent.  Click here for excerpts.

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