What is the New Court Interpreter to do after the Certification?

June 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Dear Colleagues:

Every month people get certified as court interpreters somewhere in the United States.  We all see the news reports stating that there is a shortage of court interpreters in the country, and yet, many of these newly-certified professionals do not know what to do, where to go, how to get started in their careers.

A well-known scenario is that of the new interpreter who goes to the courthouse looking for work and he is “front-desked” by all regular, “veteran” interpreters who already work there, fear the new-blood competition, and do their best to discourage the newly certified colleague with the hope that he or she will move on to another courthouse somewhere else.

Another everyday situation is that of the new interpreter who goes to the programmer, chief interpreter, administrator, or whatever other title she may have. The interpreter is greeted and welcomed because they need him, but the person in charge is from another time, a time when courts used to hire people not fully qualified to foster new interpreters. The result is that this new, potentially good, court interpreter learns from the worst available role models. Pretty soon the talent goes to waste as these new interpreters are exposed to all the defective practices that their supervisors endorse. Sadly, this interpreter will now join the ranks of those bad, allergic to study court interpreters who will spend the rest of their lives living from paycheck to paycheck without ever advancing their professional career.  A lot of talent gets wasted this way!

Some of us who have been around for some time in this profession are constantly trying to help these new interpreters (in courthouses, hospitals, booths, etc.) but there are not enough of us willing to help, capable of doing so, and with time to do it. That is why I decided to write a manual: “The New Professional Court Interpreter” that addresses all of these practical situations that are not taught in school.  My manual is very concise, extremely user-friendly, and it was put together with the idea of creating something useful to all new interpreters, regardless of their language pair. I know that this manual will benefit the new court interpreter who wants to work every day as a court interpreter; but I also know that it will help the part-time interpreter who will interpret during the summer, or those who can only work sporadically because of their language combination.  In fact, because “The New Professional Court Interpreter” covers ethical issues, research and case preparation tips, and protocol while in a courtroom depending on the type of court, this publication will be very useful to those practicing interpreters who occasionally work other type of hearings: administrative, civil, immigration, etcetera.

The manual has a practical focus; it is designed to help the interpreter with the everyday tasks of being a person who makes a living interpreting in court, and leaves all theory and technical issues for another day, a day that supposedly already happened in the lives of those who already achieved certification.  I invite you to purchase the book.  You can order it from Amazon, from Creatspace, or directly from my website by leaving a message with your information.  To order through Amazon go to this link: http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Professional-Court-Interpreter/dp/1477556966/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340884792&sr=1-1&keywords=the+new+professional+court+interpreter

I ask you to visit the websites, get the book, and share your thoughts about the topic in this space.

Continuing Education that Improves the Interpreter as a Professional.

June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

As an interpreter who also teaches continuing education I am especially receptive to comments and criticisms by colleagues who attend continuing education workshops. I pay attention to what they have to say, good or bad, about a class they took, whether it is a college-sponsored seminar or a privately organized presentation.  Many times I hear good things about the subject matter or the presenter, but it seems to me that the most popular complaint is that the classes are boring and they do not give anything to the interpreter that he or she can use to improve performance, access to the professional market, or plain and simple have a better income.

When I decided to teach continuing education for interpreters, transcribers, and translators many years ago, I made the decision to teach interesting topics that could aid the professional linguist in his or her career.  This is what I have done all over the United States.  Many of my students and workshop attendees have told me how they learned something that made a difference in their careers.  I have always believed that a good interpreter must know his craft, and must provide ethical service.  With this belief in mind, I have presented ethics and practical subject matters in different formats: One-hour to all-day presentations at national and regional conferences, multi-day workshops at colleges or privately sponsored events, and one-on-one tutorials.  By taking my seminars, colleagues have passed court interpreter certification exams, they have been hired as staff interpreters, and they have secured professional contracts with governments and corporations.

This Friday I will be teaching a court interpreter ethics class in Columbus Ohio at the invitation of the Ohio Supreme Court. The day-long seminar will cover many relevant aspects of ethical interpreting in the court system, will analyze the code of ethics at the federal and state levels, and will give local interpreters an opportunity to test their knowledge and comprehension of interpreter ethics while participating in useful and fun practical exercises.  The seminar, presented in English, will meet continuing education requirements for the Ohio court certification program and others.

On Saturday I will give a half-day presentation on Mexican legal terminology at the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT) IN San Antonio. The presentation will focus on Mexican Spanish legal terminology in Criminal, Civil, Family and Administrative Law. Those attending will get a better idea of the Mexican legal system, its similarities, and its differences with the American system, but more importantly, will teach them the methodology to research the meaning and significance of legal figures, terms, and principles.  The idea is that at the end of this presentation the interpreters will be able to better understand what they do, and will feel comfortable about taking Mexican attorneys and businesses as their clients.  Those attending this presentation in Spanish will receive continuing education credits in Texas, New Mexico, and other states.

I invite you to attend these classes and I encourage you to tell me what you would like to see as continuing education topics that I may teach in the future.

When the agency makes you do a voice-over with a bad translation.

June 22, 2012 § 12 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

The other day I was talking to some colleagues who do voice-overs for radio, television, and industrials. Soon, the conversation turned to those times when the interpreter gets the script for the voice-over or for a commercial just to learn that the original English text has been poorly translated.  Of course, depending on the client, and sometimes the accessibility of the director and producers of the piece, the interpreter can make some observations and request changes to the script so that the actual foreign language native-speaker can understand the commercial or the show.  There are cases when the producer requests a new translation before the shooting. This is the ideal situation.

However, many times when we bring this up, we face hostility from the agency and the production crew. We are often told that the script was sent to a translator, that it has been translated, and that you were hired to do the voice-over or as voice talent on the screen, and that is all.  One of my colleagues shared that a few days earlier, even after trying everything above, she had to shoot a commercial for an automobile using a translation of a script that was hard to memorize because the translated words did not make any sense.  In her target language a car is never “fresh” or “aggressive” and the stereo is never “very ready,” but as a professional, she had to do the T.V. commercial.

My question to those of you who do voice-talent work is:  Do we show our professionalism by doing the job, even with a bad translation, as long as we bring this up with the agency, the producer,  and the director? or, Is it our duty to protect the company that owns the product to be advertised, and should we stop them from becoming the laughing stock of the community they are trying to reach?

Cuando el Juez, la abogada, el policía, y hasta el perro, “hablan español”, disputan lo que dijo el intérprete, y el intérprete está en lo correcto.

June 16, 2012 § 9 Comments

Queridos colegas,

En más de una ocasión me he enfrentado a una situación en que todas, algunas, o aún peor, una de las partes en un proceso judicial hablan, o dicen que saben, español, y a pesar de que su vocabulario es más limitado que el vestuario de un nudista, y su dominio de la gramática del español es idéntica a la capacidad de un pez para correr por el campo, no dejan de interrumpir al intérprete criticando, corrigiendo, y aportando conocimientos tan sabios como la filosofía propagada por el gato que vive en el callejón detrás de mi oficina.

Seguramente, igual que con muchos de ustedes, mi carrera ha estado plagada de incidentes en que los abogados han disputado mi interpretación, no por lo que yo haya dicho, sino por haber interpretado lo que su cliente dijo.  Gramática inexistente, prosodia de tianguis,  vocabulario inventado… los he presenciado, escuchado y vivido todos.

A pesar de ello, hace algunos meses se dio en mi vida la famosa gota que derramó el vaso.  Me encontraba interpretando consecutivamente el testimonio de un demandado en un juicio federal de tipo administrativo en el cual, como pasa muy frecuentemente en este tipo de procedimientos, el Juez estaba haciendo la mayoría de las preguntas mientras los abogados participaban como espectadores.  El Juez hizo una pregunta larga, y cuando terminó, procedí a interpretar su pregunta al español; obviamente, inicié mi interpretación como siempre: ajustando la estructura gramatical del inglés a la del español para que la pregunta fuera correcta y entendible. Apenas había emitido cuatro sílabas cuando el Juez de una manera muy grosera me interrumpió y me dijo: “¡No! Interprete desde el principio todo lo que yo dije.”  Obviamente, a pesar de que me molestó muchísimo la manera en que este señor me interrumpió, respondí profesional y respetuosamente que estaba interpretando la pregunta, que apenas estaba comenzando a interpretar, y que la interpretación al español tiene que ser estructurada de acuerdo a la estructura gramatical de ese idioma.  El Juez insistió que interpretara en el orden específico en que él había hablado en inglés, palabra por palabra, a pesar de que esa ráfaga de palabras no tenía sentido.  Ni modo, lo tuve que hacer, y además, al terminar mi espantosa “interpretación,” el Juez volteó a verme y me dijo: “Por cierto, yo hablo español y así es como se dice lo que yo pregunté. Aprendí español con mi nana en la frontera.”  Estuve tentado a no volver a trabajar en ese lugar; afortunadamente mi carrera me permite seleccionar a mis clientes; pero después de pensarlo con más detenimiento, decidí no dejar que personas que hablan mediocremente el idioma en que nosotros trabajamos se apoderen de nuestra profesión.  Posteriormente tuve la oportunidad de explicar algunas reglas gramaticales a ese Juez, y tras convencerlo que no es lo mismo “negro gato” que “gato negro” se dio cuenta de la importancia de estructurar un idioma correctamente.  Yo les pregunto a ustedes: ¿Cómo han resuelto o tratado de resolver este tipo de situaciones?  No me refiero a lo que dijeron a medio juicio, estoy hablando de la manera en que corrigieron o intentaron corregir esa ignorancia. Me gustaría leer sus comentarios.

The Professional Interpreter: One Profession. One Real Profession.

June 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

It seems to me that a week never goes by without a colleague telling me that he or she was misunderstood, humiliated, obstructed, or underpaid while doing his or her job.  Some of them react with anger, others with frustration, a few seem resigned, but a growing number of our fellow interpreters have been reacting to these real-life situations by taking action, doing something about it. Finally, interpreters finding a solution to this “never-ending” comedy of errors where the interpreter is often an unwilling character.

As those of you who know me personally (and many others have figured out by reading this blog) know, I have always considered myself a professional at the same level as all those who we provide our services to:  Scientists, politicians, attorneys, diplomats, physicians, military officers, school principals; and I try to act that way when  I provide my interpretation services.  I feel that we should all consider ourselves a real profession, perhaps even a profession above many others as we are also a little bit of an art. For this reason, when I first heard of InterpretAmerica a couple of years ago, I immediately fell in love with the idea and threw my support (mostly moral I admit) behind the incredibly hard work that Katharine Allen and Barry Olsen are doing.

I attended InterpretAmerica last year. It was like a dream, something you can only find in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  The medical interpreters were there sitting next to the court interpreters, the military interpreters were having a conversation with the agencies; the equipment companies were there having a chat with the educational institutions, and the conference interpreters were sharing experiences, and learning, from the community interpreters.  This was unreal:  I saw everybody I know and work with in my different interpretation fields, all under one roof!  The colleagues from the east coast were there, so were those from the west coast, the European Parliament, the professional organizations, I saw board members and influential colleagues from ATA, AIIC, NAJIT, IMIA, and many more.

Next week, InterpretAmerica will hold its Third North American Summit on June 15 and 16 in beautiful Monterey, California.  Looking at the schedule and list of speakers, it looks like this will be the best summit so far. The speaker list includes colleagues like Sign Language interpreter Jack Jason (Marlee Matlin’s interpreter) Andrew Clifford from Glendon College, Renee Jourdenais from MIIS, my good friend Jonathan Levy from Cyracom with a military interpreting perspective that will probably be new to may in attendance, Barbara Moser-Mercer from the University of Geneva, and others of the same level.

Unfortunately, this year I will not be able to attend the summit due to professional obligations, but I will be checking in regularly with many of my friends who will be there.  As you know, I have devoted this blog to everything important and useful to our profession. This is one of the most important efforts in the history of interpretation in the United States. I encourage you to attend the summit, to exchange ideas, to take those ideas back home where you should share them with your colleagues.  And to those of you who cannot attend this year’s summit, I invite you to set aside the dates of next year’s gathering and go. In the meantime, stay in touch with those attending, and vote for InterpretAmerica in the Chase Bank campaign to qualify for a $250,000.00 grant.  I invite all my colleagues who are attending the summit, or have attended one in the past, to share their experiences with this movement  started by Katharine and Barry.

Is the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Defining the Concept of “Interpreter” Good for Judicial Interpreters? Part II.

June 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

After dealing with the bigger issues affected by the Alito decision affirming the definition of an interpreter in the Taniguchi case, I now direct your attention to the more practical consequences of the decision.   First, this was a decision by the United States Supreme Court about the court fees in a case involving legal translation. In other words, it does not affect anything outside the U.S., it does not affect any interpreters and translators in non-judicial settings, and it does not directly apply to any court interpreters and translators at the state and local jurisdictions.  Of course, what I indicated above will stop nobody from bragging about the affirmation of the interpreter concept by the Supremes.

It is really our legal interpreter and translator friends and colleagues who will be dealing with the aftermath of the decision. The parties in federal civil cases will be more reluctant and careful when retaining the services of a legal translator.  Private Law Firms will demand lower translation fees.  The answer to this situation should be a professional and aggressive legal translator who will not give in to the desired adjustment.  We have to keep in mind that private law firms charge substantial fees for civil litigation, and they charge all costs separately from their fee. In other words, the translator will be paid with the client’s money, not the attorney’s. It is also a good idea to ask for a down payment and to draft a contract that clearly states that translation services shall be paid upon presentation of the invoice, regardless of the attorney’s plan to “recover” from the other party. That is the lawyer’s problem, not the translator.

When the attorney requesting translation services is a CJA, the interpreter must ask him to first obtain approval from the trial judge. Once the judge has signed a minute order, the translator can provide her services and then submit her invoice to the court for payment.  In all other criminal cases when the court hires the translator to translate court documents such as presentence investigation reports or plea agreements, the translator should not worry. These services are covered by the law as it is part of the defendant’s right to actively participate in his defense and the right to access to the courts. This is important to keep in mind, as there will probably be cases when the Alito decision may create some confusion as to the services that have to be paid by the court.  Remember, in this case it is the judiciary who is paying for the translation services, not a private party who has paid, and now seeks that the judge order the other party to reimburse him the fees.

It is also important to keep in mind that as a practical matter, translation services, and transcription services, can be provided and paid by the government as expert services.  Please keep handy a copy of 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(e)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1920(6) in case you have to argue the law with a client.   Finally, keep in mind that for some time attorneys, judges, and private citizens will be extra careful when it comes to translation services, even interpretation services could be affected by this decision of the Court.  Protect your clients, work with them; a good potential solution could be a sight translation of the voluminous documents so the attorneys can decide what it is that they really need translated. A summary translation (like the ones prepared by our military translator colleagues) can also be an option, as it will help the attorneys decide what to translate.

Be very careful, be alert, remember, if you are a court interpreter, legal interpreter, legal translator, linguistics expert witness, or legal foreign-language transcriber, the Alito decision could affect your market. I invite you to share with us any strategies that you may be following to minimize the effects of the Court decision.

El intérprete independiente que no es emprendedor en los negocios pierde más de lo que se imagina.

June 1, 2012 § 3 Comments

Queridos colegas:

El otro día estaba almorzando con un funcionario de una agencia de interpretación que trabaja en todo el país.  Durante nuestra conversación recordamos otra época cuando yo frecuentemente prestaba mis servicios a esa agencia.  A media conversación le pregunté a este funcionario la razón por la cual en el pasado ellos me contrataban de manera regular para interpretar conferencias en cierta ciudad estadounidense, y después, cuando me mudé a esa ciudad, prácticamente me dejaron de contratar.

La respuesta me sorprendió en cierto sentido, y confirmó algo que yo había pensado por años.  La razón fue muy sencilla: Existe la idea de que no hay intérpretes de alto nivel en esa plaza.  Le pedí que elaborara en detalle, a lo cual respondió que las agencias se fijan en el mercado antes de contratar intérpretes para los eventos más importantes, y cuando no hay intérpretes que coticen honorarios a cierto nivel, en otras palabras, cuando todo el mercado cobra barato, esto se toma como síntoma de mediocridad y falta de calidad al nivel más alto.  No se trata de desperdiciar dinero, agregó mi amigo, se trata de contratar equipos elite para interpretar nuestros eventos.

Esto me hizo pensar y en seguida entendí.  Durante mi carrera he conocido intérpretes que no se preocupan por la parte comercial de la profesión, colegas que en algunos casos son muy buenos pero no saben promocionarse y no saben cobrar.  Estudiando detenidamente esta situación, encontré un común denominador a este fenómeno,  en los lugares donde una agencia de interpretación o una dependencia del gobierno local tratan a los intérpretes independientes como empleados, nuestros colegas se vuelven conformistas y pierden el deseo de mejorar su paga.  Yo he encontrado, e incluso convivido con colegas que no buscan trabajo, simplemente esperan la llamada de la agencia o del juzgado indicándoles las fechas en que los van a necesitar esa semana o ese mes, y estos intérpretes acatan este sistema.  No lo cuestionan, no buscan otras fuentes de trabajo.

En más de una ocasión he escuchado intérpretes, y algunos de ellos bastante buenos, que me dicen: “mañana no tengo trabajo porque la agencia, o el tribunal, no me llamó.”  Nunca un comentario de seguimiento dando a entender que van a buscar otro cliente para ese día. Nunca una palabra acerca de cancelar trabajo con esa agencia o juzgado porque pagan muy poco, y como todos sabemos, siempre pagan poco ya que tienen intérpretes independientes dispuestos y listos a trabajar por lo que sea.

Yo nunca entenderé ese conformismo de algunos queridos colegas, y sé que muchos de ustedes tampoco, sin embargo, pensé que sería interesante compartir con todos ustedes esta consecuencia del conformismo y falta de espíritu comercial. Todos ustedes que interpretan conferencias y eventos en todo el país excepto su ciudad, ahora ya saben que esto tal vez se deba a la apatía de sus colegas locales y al sistema utilizado por agencias, hospitales y juzgados en su estado. Me gustaría saber qué opinan al respecto.

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