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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.

A Stimulating Conversation With Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche


I have just finished reading Found in Translation, the new book  which has just come out by Nataly and Jost, and is already lined up for a third printing!  I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the T&I sector. Having worked in the industry for so many years and always striving to keep up with new developments, I now realize that until I read the book, I only had a miniscule idea of all the ways our profession affects global events ranging from personal issues,  to business, to governmental affairs and everything in between. It is a “must read”, a very enjoyable read and it will broaden your horizons and allow you to speak authoritatively to promote what we do. Read on to learn what we discussed:

1. What new fields do you see opening up for our profession with the advent of the digital age? Have you noticed any type of interpreting that has become obsolete over the years?

NK: The digital age is helping the fields of translation and interpreting both evolve, although it’s also making things more complex. For the last few years, I’ve been interested in real-time online translation, which is somewhat of a hybrid between interpreting and translation. It occurs in real time, but is in written form.

Market data from Common Sense Advisory indicates that all types of interpreting are growing, but especially on-site interpreting. There is always a lot of buzz about video and telephone interpreting, but they are not growing as swiftly as one might expect. On-site interpreting has not become obsolete. Quite the contrary – it’s one of the fastest-growing services in the market.

As for types of interpreting that may become obsolete, some people believe that consecutive interpreting eventually will, since simultaneous is so much faster, even though some studies show that the quality of simultaneous is often inferior to, mostly due to the speed.  Most of our studies show that when it comes to language services, speed trumps everything else for most applications and settings.

2. What is on your “wish list” for technological advances/devices for the profession?  How close are we to any of them?

JZ: In general I think we’re on the right path with how translation technology is developing. For a long time we were stuck in the same old paradigms of translation memory and termbases, but in the last couple of years development has started to move in more interesting areas.

One area that I think is particularly interesting is a more intelligent analysis of the data in databases such as translation memories. This results in many more possible matches, also called subsegment matching. The other area that I expect great things from is a close integration of machine translation into the more traditional technology. I don’t mean the typical “pretranslation” by machine translation that is post-edited by a translator, but processes by which the data that the translator has collected can “communicate” with external machine translation data to achieve more helpful results.

On the project management side of operations, I think we will see more efficient models to allow for direct contact between the translation buyer and the translator. This in turn will challenge LSPs, or language service providers, to find creative ways to bring added value to the table.

3. How can we bring together language associations  around the world to help their members leapfrog the learning curve in those places where the profession is very young or has not developed significantly?

JZ: This is an interesting question. First, we can learn what went wrong when translation technology initially entered the market 15 or 20 years ago. It was a painful experience to convince all the different stakeholders—translation buyers, language service providers, translators, and educators—of the value of those technologies. Those stakeholders who adopted the technology at the beginning—primarily translation buyers and larger language service providers—found that their needs were naturally accommodated more in the ensuing development process.

How could clearer communication have made this process go more smoothly? That’s an essential question to answer and then apply so we can do a better job at introducing new technology and helping other industries get over similar humps (for instance, perhaps some of the more technology-skeptical interpreters could learn from the translators’ experience).

Our profession is actually still underdeveloped in some ways in the U.S., where many members of the translation and interpreting industries have a non-industry-specific educational background. Many places in Europe and South America are ahead of game. I believe our emphasis should be on more accessible tertiary education in the U.S. that prepares for the actual work in the real world.

Associations can play an important role in helping to build and promote such programs.

4. After reading your book and the successful instances of translation crowdsourcing for well-known publications such as The Economist, do you think it can  spread to traditional sources of income for translators?

NK:  Crowdsourced translation has been a source of income for freelancers and agencies for many years now. Already, many companies pay for professional editing services and volunteer translator community management. It just isn’t a very big area, which is why so few people ever see those projects. We published a report that reviewed more than 100 different crowdsourced translation platforms, but many of those were not with name-recognizable companies. Many start-ups in the high-tech space use this method.

However, it’s important to remember that crowdsourced translation is not free. Also, saving money is not the primary motivation for using this model. Many high-tech companies do this just because their online communities begin to request it. In some cases, their users simply begin translating content without them even asking to do so. As a result, some of this activity springs up without the company’s permission or even their awareness at first, as it did in the case of the Economist.

5. Have you noticed any pronounced differences in work categories between the U.S. and other parts of the world , for interpreters and translators?

JZ:  In many parts of the world outside the U.S., translators and interpreters have a stronger standing because they are seen as “real” professions. In the U.S., with its generally low level of language learning, anyone with a smattering of any second language is perceived as capable of engaging in translation and interpretation. We hope that our book can serve to change that.

6. How can we increase the number of potential interpreters in the feeder, in view of the large number of retiring baby-boomer interpreters around the world?

NK:  Some educational programs for interpreters report to me that their graduates cannot find work. Other sources are telling me that there is a shortage of interpreters. Much of it depends on geography, setting, and language combinations.

For example, the U.S. has a shortage of interpreters for languages of national security. Locations that receive large refugee populations also typically struggle to find enough medical, community, and court interpreters for new arrivals. The challenge is not unique to the U.S., of course. Countries around the world face similar challenges.

The fastest way to attract more young people to the field is to improve remuneration, but that alone is not enough. The profession as a whole needs to become more developed and mature. Education and training programs are lacking for many areas of the field, especially in the United States, but we’re seeing more and more emerge each year.

7. From your experience, what advice would you give to those considering becoming interpreters and translators, who want to make it to the top as quickly as possible?

NK & JZ:  We can answer this one in unison – don’t be afraid of technology!  It really is your friend.  Technology, training, and passion for languages are really the three key ingredients for success.

Readers, please join the conversation and tell us if you have read the book and what you think of it.  We would love to share your experience!

In addition, take note to login to http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1493052/xl8book, on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 12:00 (PST), 15:00 (EDT), when our colleague, Barry Olsen, will be interviewing Nataly Kelly from Irvine Auditorium at MIIS.

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