May 13, 2013 § 8 Comments
Many times during my career when working as a court interpreter I have been told by some colleagues that they do not enjoy court hearings where attorneys argue the law. They say they much prefer to interpret witness testimony because the hearing is about the facts of the case and not about the law. More than once, when I have asked a court interpreter what was the hearing she just finished about, the answer has been: “I don’t know, legal things, boring stuff.” Some others have told me that it was “…lawyers arguing…and I didn’t understand…”
I have always approached my work with the idea that you cannot interpret what you do not understand. To me it seems impossible to do a good job when you cannot interpret in context, when you do not know where the speaker is taking the argument to. I understand that not all court interpreters went to law school and some of the issues litigated in court are difficult to understand even for lawyers and judges. I am also aware of that “blank” our mind seems to produce after we finish working. In fact, for my own sanity I am glad it happens. “In one ear…out the other…”
This is not what I am referring to in this posting. I am talking about the minimal legal knowledge a court interpreter needs to have to do a good job. I also know for a fact, because I have a law degree, that the more you understand the proceedings, the better your rendition, because you will be able to follow the trend of thought, to anticipate the speaker’s next move, and to employ the correct terminology and vocabulary. I believe that court interpreters should at least know as much about the law as a paralegal. We need to understand the issues to be litigated in a motions hearing so we can do a good rendition. We also need to understand the process during that hearing; we need to know what is allowed and what is not. Court interpreters should do their homework and prepare for a trial or hearing, but on top of that they should know rules of evidence and rules of criminal and civil procedure. It is easier to interpret a trial when you actually know why the attorney is objecting to a question and how he is objecting to it. In my experience it is this type of knowledge that lets you develop a strong relationship with the big law firms, with the key players in the legal world. Court interpreting is as much a part of that world as it is of the world of linguistics. Unfortunately, some colleagues do not seem to realize it
It is for this reason that during the NAJIT Annual Conference in St. Louis Missouri I will be presenting in Spanish: “Evidence. A comparative Study between Mexico and the United States.” During the presentation I will walk those attending trough the evidentiary process in the legal system of the two countries where the people we more often interpret for either live or come from. We will cover topics such as discovery, admissible and inadmissible evidence, types of objections, exceptions to the hearsay rule, different burdens of proof, judicial notice, best evidence rule, and many more. I invite you to attend the presentation on Sunday, May 19 at 11:00 am during the NAJIT conference in St. Louis. I hope to see you there, but even if you are not able to attend, please tell us if you believe that court interpreters should know the basics of the law, and specifically procedural law.
May 7, 2013 § 5 Comments
Good professional interpreters are usually consumed with taking care of their clients, improving their skills, managing their agenda, and marketing to new clients. This takes a lot of time and energy, and it is essential to succeed in this career. Unfortunately, sometimes during their career some interpreters may experience other aspects of the profession that are less pleasant, more time-consuming, and very stressful.
Our professional tools are our brain, mouth, and a language combination. We can make mistakes, we are susceptible to questioning and second-guessing by others, and in out litigious society we are exposed to lawsuits that can leave us with no career, no resources, and a tainted reputation.
There are many circumstances that can affect our career as professional interpreters, but at this time I would like to focus on two of them:
When our work is subject to criticism and questioning by our peers or by a counterpart in a legal setting. We all have faced situations when in the middle of a court hearing a judge, attorney, witness, litigant, and even a juror, have interrupted our rendition to correct what we just said. Most of the time we were right and they were wrong. On occasion, because we are not machines, and because nobody can possibly know all regional expressions, these voices do us a favor as they correct our mistake and allow justice to be served. These are the scenarios we usually face when doing our job. It sounds simple and straight to the point: Either we are right and we say so in order to keep the process moving along, or we are wrong, and in that case we correct our error. Unfortunately this is not how it happens in the real world. Out there we have to deal with attorneys who are not happy because their non-English speaking client or witness is not saying what they wanted them to say, so the first thing they do is to cast a doubt over the rendition of the interpreter; there are those cases when the non-English speaker passionately defends his “translation” of a term even though we know for sure that he is mistaken. Sometimes the problem may be the judge who does not speak the foreign language, but out of fear of offending the non-English speaker decides to question the interpreter and sometimes even to adopt this person’s rendition of a word or term that you know is clearly wrong.
The second situation I want to mention to you is when a case does not end the way that one of the parties wanted it to conclude and the blame is totally or partly placed on the interpretation. The court decision is appealed on grounds of inadequate interpretation, or even worse, the interpreter is sued for damages by this losing party. How can we defend our work when our rendition is questioned and the case goes on appeal? What can we do to protect ourselves in case somebody takes us to court for damages? There are preventive measures that we can take as interpreters to diminish the possibility of having to defend our work, our assets, and our reputation. There are also steps we must follow in case our professional work is questioned or attacked in court.
These complex issues have to be addressed, and as true professionals we must be prepared in case this happens to us. For this reason, I will present: “How to Defend Your Interpretation and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter in and out of Court” during the NAJIT annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri on May 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm. I invite you to go to the conference and I encourage you to attend this presentation where we will discuss these sad but possible scenarios and we will explore the different preventive measures that we should always take in order to avoid an adverse outcome, as well as the path to follow once our rendition or our skill has been formally questioned in a court of law. I hope to see you in St. Louis.
May 3, 2013 § 8 Comments
Hace algunos meses platicaba con una colega y ella me sugirió que escribiera algo sobre los apellidos en español. En esa ocasión hablábamos de la gran confusión que generalmente se desata en algunas culturas debido a la costumbre ancestral y a la práctica jurídica en muchos países de formar el nombre de un individuo en español con dos apellidos: el paterno y el materno. Por unos días pensé cómo abordar este tema y tras un poco de reflexión, decidí referirme al origen y significado de los apellidos en la lengua española.
El apellido es el nombre antroponímico de la familia con que se distingue a las personas. Por tanto, la identificación o nombre de una persona en la tradición hispánica está compuesto de: nombre de pila (o simplemente nombre, pudiendo ser más de uno) apellido paterno y apellido materno, ordenados por intercalación; Es decir, el primer apellido de una persona es el primer apellido de su padre y el segundo es el primer apellido de su madre.
La mayoría de los apellidos, según el origen, se pueden dividir en:
Apellidos derivados de oficios
Los apellidos patronímicos están muy difundidos y son aquéllos que han sido originados por un nombre de pila / nombre propio. En la antigua Corona de Castilla y en países que fueron sus colonias, se utiliza principalmente la desinencia “-ez”. Por ejemplo, del nombre de pila Lope deriva López. Sin embargo, algunos apellidos patronímicos no se transformaron y simplemente existen como el nombre que los originó, y que, en algunos casos, ha caído en desuso (como pueden ser, entre otros, Alonso, Bernabé, Bernal, García, o Simón). Otros apellidos patronímicos se forman por sintagma preposicional: Del Frade o Del Frate (‘hijo del fraile’), Del Greco (‘hijo del griego’), De los Reyes, etc. Un apellido no patronímico por excelencia es “Expósito” o “Espósito”, que a menudo se daba antiguamente a los infantes abandonados de padres desconocidos.
Los apellidos toponímicos son los más difundidos en el mundo hispano. Derivan del nombre del lugar donde vivía, procedía o poseía tierras la persona o familia asociados al apellido. Muchos se encuentran precedidos de la preposición “de”, “del”, “de la” o simplemente son gentilicios. Los apellidos toponímicos son muy numerosos en español y forman casi el 80% de los apellidos navarros y vascos, en particular aquéllos que siguen a un sobrenombre (por ejemplo, ‘Otxoa de Zabalegi’, o sea, ‘Otxoa (nombre propio medieval el lobo de Zabalegi’). Algunos apellidos toponímicos son: álamo / Alameda, Barcelona / Barceló, Navarra / Navarro. También se aplica a los accidentes geográficos, o cosas de la naturaleza, de todo lo que el hombre ve y conoce sobre la faz de la Tierra: Cuevas, Hoyos, Montemayor, Montes, Nieves.
Asimismo, los nombres de la flora: árboles (Olmo, Palma, Robles); de flores, muy frecuentemente adoptados por los judíos conversos y los moriscos, (Clavel, Flores, Rosales); de edificaciones o partes de éstas (Castillo, Palacios, Paredes); de animales (Toro, Vaca, Cabeza de Vaca, Águila, Aguilar, Aguilera, Cordero); de partes de una ciudad (Calle, Fuentes, Puente); y de los colores (Blanco, Pardo, Rojo, Verde).
Los apellidos derivados de oficios o profesiones son aquéllos que derivan del oficio o profesión que ejercía la persona o familia asociada al apellido. Algunos apellidos de oficios o profesiones son: Alférez, Carpintero, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Verdugo, Zapatero.
También tenemos los apellidos de apodos o de descripciones: aquéllos que derivan de una descripción o algún apodo de la persona o familia asociada al apellido. Algunos apellidos de apodos o descripción física son: Aguado, Alegre, Barriga, Cabello, Calvo, Lozano, Pequeño.
Algunos apellidos compuestos como San Basilio, San Martín, Santana, o en general aquellos que comienzan con San, Santa o Santo o Santos nacieron entre otros casos, en épocas de la Santa Inquisición española, cuando los sefardíes, moriscos, gitanos y otras etnias tuvieron que huir y cambiar de apellidos usando estos compuestos. Un caso particular es el de Santos, de origen judío español, que debido a la persecución de la Iglesia Católica, forzó a quienes llevaban este apellido a emigrar a Italia y este apellido se italianizó Santi. Otro ejemplo de un apellido español italianizado que es Borja y que cambió para Borgia
Los apellidos castellanizados son aquéllos que no tienen un origen hispano, pero que con la influencia del idioma castellano fueron transformándose con una grafía o gramaticalmente a lo más parecido en la fonética española. Son castellanizados algunos apellidos de procedencia indígena, siendo común que algunos apellidos fueran adaptados a otros ya existentes debido a que tienen una fonética similar. Algunos ejemplos son: Farías, de origen portugués (Fariao); Gallardo, procede del francés (Gaillard); Jara, del árabe “lleno de vegetación” y Moctezuma que proviene del emperador azteca.
Espero que la próxima vez que su ejercicio profesional los lleve a una situación donde surja el tema de la formación del nombre en español, esta breve enunciación del origen de los apellidos les ayude a explicar y a aclarar cómo se integran nuestros nombres.
April 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
I recently finished reading “Thoughts on Translation,” Corinne McKay’s new book. It is a compilation of some of her most popular, interesting and well-written posts in her industry-acclaimed blog of the same name (http://thoughtsontranslation.com/) I personally know Corinne as a friend and colleague from a period of my life when I lived in Colorado, her home base. I know first-hand of her commitment to the profession as a well- respected colleague, top-notch translator, and active professional who serves as a board member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and was, during my days in the Denver metro area, a very popular president of the Colorado Translators Association (CTA)
The linguistics family has many members, and I have always considered interpreters and translators as siblings in that family tree, with interpreters being the older sibling because long ago there was interpretation before humans began writing. I know that many interpreters, like me, spend part of their professional career translating, and many translators devote part of their time to interpreting, so that in itself should be a good reason to venture yourselves into the pages of “Thoughts on Translation,” even if you are primarily an interpreter. Interpreters, translators and our other “linguistic cousins” such as transcribers, proof-readers, editors, voice-over talent, dubbing actors, and localization experts have much in common; we work with languages. Now, if you add the ingredient of “freelancer” to that mix, you will come to realize that many times what is good for the translator is good for the interpreter and vice-versa.
“Thoughts on Translation” is directed to translators, but many articles in the book deal with issues common to interpreters and translators. In chapters 1 and 2 Corinne is really talking to all freelance linguists as she explains what it takes to become a successful freelancer in our sibling professions. Tips on how to market your services, setting realistic goals, and membership in professional associations are universal in our careers. On latter chapters she touches upon essential topics like the freelance mindset, how to deal with difficult clients, and how to use online resources; all relevant to the professional interpreter. Finally, she writes about money! Those of you who regularly read my posts know how important it is, in my opinion, to deal with these monetary issues without feeling guilty or uncomfortable because you want to make a good living. The book is very well-written, entertaining, funny, and of course, extremely useful. It constitutes a great tool for those who are just starting as professional interpreters, and it is a good resource for all of my veteran well-established friends and colleagues who, from time to time, need a text to quote in a particular situation.
I encourage you to read “Thoughts on Translation” available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/) Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/) and In Trans Book Service with our dear Freek Lankhof (http://www.intransbooks.com/) I also invite you to share your thoughts regarding how books by translators can be a useful resource for interpreters.
April 23, 2013 § 16 Comments
I constantly read about all the changes that modernity is bringing to our profession. I read of the new technological developments and I hear the voices of anger and fear from many in our profession. I must tell you that I fully accept and embrace these changes because they make our work easier and better: Who wants to go back to the days before computers and on-line resources when we had to drag along a library to the job? Is there an individual who longs for the days of endless consecutive interpretation before simultaneous interpretation equipment was introduced and developed for the Nuremberg Trials and the United Nations? We need to keep in mind that as interpreters we work with languages, and as all linguists know, a language doesn’t stand still. Language constantly evolves; it reflects our ever-changing human society. It is not like we didn’t know that languages change when we first decided to enter this career. I think that those who complain that there is too much new technology in the world of interpretation, and the interpreters who get angry when a new scientific term is created or the legal terminology of a country changes, should pause and think that it is not only their professional world that is being altered; they should think of all the engineers who gladly embrace new technology for our collective benefit, all the physicians who hurry to learn about the new discoveries published on the most recent science publication, all the attorneys who hit the books to learn the newly enacted legal reforms. I am glad that medical doctors don’t get mad when a new vaccine is announced. I am thankful that they embrace change and learn for the benefit of society. Dear colleagues, our profession is no different, we should face technological changes with the same attitude all other professionals do. And by the way, it is also the right business decision as modernization will not stop, it will not slow down, but it will surely leave us behind if we don’t adjust and embrace it.
Just like many of you, I have been doing more remote interpreting than ever before. At the beginning of my career I had my share of telephonic interpretation for the big agencies as many others did. After I developed my own clientele and as I became better-known I didn’t do much of this work for many years. There were a few exceptions and now and then I did the occasional business negotiation with a foreign counterpart that was done over a speaker phone, the court arraignments by video that some State Courts in the U.S. have been doing for about a decade, and the depositions by video with an attorney asking questions from a different location. Then we get the economic crisis and the need to rethink procedures to save money during difficult times. This is when a few years ago the immigration courts began to hold master hearings by video from the detention centers, and the federal court system decided to implement the Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) now widely used to cover most of the outline areas of the United States.
Of course, I have done all of the above assignments and I am familiar with the technology employed, but we were still talking about events where the job was to interpret for one person, usually for a short period of time, generally in regard to a single topic well-known by the interpreter, and with the parties sitting down around a speaker phone or in front of a PC-type video camera. It was when I started to get requests to do conference interpreting from a facility different from the site of the event that I understood that the trend was irreversible. If I wanted to stay relevant I had to adapt.
I went down career memory lane to my previous assignments and selected those elements that I had learned doing all the jobs mentioned above. As I was doing it, I began to remember other experiences that would be helpful: Broadcast interpretation of live TV events that I did in the past such as award ceremonies, presidential debates, and political conventions came to mind. These were assignments that I had worked aided by a TV monitor and oftentimes from a different studio and even a different location after all.
Remote conference interpreting has been around for some time and it continues to grow. I have been able to solve some of my concerns as I have worked more of these assignments. It is obvious that a good sound system and a great technician are key to a successful remote interpretation. I have also learned that the broadcast quality is as important as the sound equipment. Sometimes the equipment is fine, but if the broadcast is poor you will suffer in the booth (or studio) and sometimes it is up to the events going on in the Solar System. Once I had a hard time on an assignment in the United States where the presenter was appearing by video from Scotland. Due to some solar flares affecting earth the transatlantic broadcast was choppy and the image and sound were very poor.
It is important to mention that remote conference interpreting is very appealing for our clients because it will always be more cost-effective than flying a bunch of interpreters to an event, paying for their hotel, ground transportation, meals, and travel time. It also benefits the interpreter as it allows us to do more work without so many travel days, and it puts us on a global market since the interpreter’s physical location will matter less. You can go from one job to another and still sleep at home. You can even do two half-day events on the same day.
At the beginning one of my biggest reservations about remote conference interpreting was that I would not be able to see the speaker or the power point on the screen whenever I wanted, or even worse, that I would never see those asking questions from the audience. Like many interpreters, sometimes I relay on facial expressions to determine meaning and to understand difficult accents. I have learned that the solution to all of these concerns can be found on the camera director. This is the person who sits in the video truck or the video room and switches from one camera to another. A good conversation with the director and his camera operators on the day before the conference starts can be extremely helpful. I have explained to them the importance of seeing the power point on the screen when the speaker changes slides, the advantage of seeing the speaker as he addresses the audience, and the absolute need of having on screen the person asking a question while he is speaking. This has made my life so much easier!
Of course, not all directors are the same, some are better than others (as I recently learned during an event on the west coast when the director did not work one weekday and the interpreters noticed it immediately, even before we were told that we had a different director for one day) and there are certain things that we miss with remote interpreting (like a world-class chefs’ cooking event I did last year where there were constant references to the smell of food that we could not experience from a different location) but I am confident that as technology advances, we as interpreters prepare better for this new challenges, and the market leaves us no other work alternative, the wrinkles will be ironed and we will be praising remote conference interpreting just as we now do with simultaneous over consecutive. I would love to read your opinions and experiences regarding this very important professional issue.