Algunas clases de terminología jurídica para intérpretes que se están impartiendo aquí y allá podrían estancar la profesión.

July 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

Queridos colegas,

A veces cuando abro mi buzón electrónico o cuando visito una red social en internet me encuentro con anuncios de clases de terminología jurídica para intérpretes que dejan mucho que desear.  Primero debo dejar bien claro que hay talleres y cursos excelentes y profesores magníficos que siguen ayudando a que suba el nivel de la interpretación judicial en español; sin embargo, a veces cuando leo el programa del taller que se ofrece, o veo el currículum del instructor, se me pone la carne de gallina.

Sin duda, la interpretación jurídica en español es pionera de nuestra profesión en los Estados Unidos.  Sin embargo, es cierto que conforme la interpretación jurídica en español ha progresado y evolucionado, la profesión se ha enriquecido con la llegada de especialistas en derecho y en interpretación.  Esto, aunado al cada día más intenso comercio entre los países de habla hispana y los Estados Unidos, y a las actividades de las organizaciones del narcotráfico, ha dado lugar al surgimiento de especialidades de interpretación jurídica. Ya no basta con saber cómo se dice algo en inglés y en español según un diccionario bilingüe.

Ahora es necesario saber cómo se dice algo en el inglés jurídico americano y en el español jurídico del país de donde provienen nuestros clientes.  En el estado actual de nuestra profesión, es necesario entender la figura jurídica y el procedimiento legal para poder interpretar correctamente, utilizando el vocabulario jurídico adecuado.  Ya quedaron atrás los días de la terminología inventada y de consultar el diccionario bilingüe ignorando el diccionario jurídico, la legislación y la jurisprudencia.

Por ello me permito decirles a todos ustedes que son intérpretes jurídicos en español, que tengan mucho cuidado al elegir un taller o aprender cierto vocabulario.  En nuestra realidad contemporánea, los abogados de los países de habla hispana se han educado sobre nuestra profesión, ahora son más exigentes, ya no es como antes, y la única manera de conservar o conseguir el buen cliente será utilizando la terminología jurídica verdadera y aplicable al país en cuestión.  Ya pasaron los días de la terminología genérica acuñada de buena fe pero en la ignorancia jurídica.  Me gustaría conocer las opiniones de aquellos que se dedican a la interpretación jurídica, especialmente las de quienes trabajan con abogados de países de habla hispana, y no únicamente con extranjeros que sin conocimiento jurídico alguno pasan por el sistema de impartición de justicia de los Estados Unidos como partes de un proceso, o acusados de la comisión de un delito.

Negotiating a contract with a client who does not know what we do, or the culture of its counterpart.

July 26, 2012 § 9 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Not long ago I met a potential client from a European country who wanted to hire the services of several interpreters for an event that was to take place in a big city in the United States.  The client explained their needs and the agenda, and I asked the usual questions necessary to determine competency in the subject matter, and our professional interpretation fee.  The client explained that they needed all interpreters from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm. The agenda of this event included presentations, business negotiations, field inspections, and social events, specifically two formal dinners.

I prepared a written estimate that included information about the top-level interpreters to be used during the event, a description of the way we would provide our services, and our daily fee, including overtime charges.  Because of the time difference between Europe and America, I had to wait until the following day to get an answer from Europe.

The client stated in her response that the fee was excessive because there were “…several hours during the day when no interpretation services would be required…” and the two dinners were “…gourmet food that the interpreters would eat…” and because of this “…wonderful meal…” they expected the interpreters to work for free during the two dinners, as they would be “…eating and will only interpret when needed…”  The client ended her letter emphasizing the fact that it would be during these dinners that most of the commercial deals with the American counterparts would be closed, as it “…is common practice among businessmen to close a deal late in the evening over a nice glass of brandy…”

In responding to the client, I pointed out several facts that were obvious to me, but apparently were not part of the decision-making process of this client.  I explained that when an interpreter is hired from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm, the interpreter is on the clock all the time as he or she is available to the client for the duration of the event.  I explained that the interpreter would have to decline other jobs during the days of the event, and therefore, even if she was not in the booth during “down time”, she was still there, incapacitated to make money working somewhere else during those hours.  Furthermore, I explained that interpreters cannot sit down and enjoy a meal during the event, because we have to talk to work, and you cannot eat and interpret at the same time.  I stated that working those crucial dinners after a full day of interpreting would be extremely difficult, as the interpreters would be exhausted by dinner time, and for that reason, they needed to be compensated at our overtime rate.  Finally, I also mentioned that we could probably adjust the overtime fee not by lowering our rate, but by restructuring the agenda based on the culture of the American counterpart.  Basically, I told the client that the schedule would probably be adjusted by the Americans anyway, because they would want to eat dinner earlier, and in fact, there would not even be a restaurant open for dinner at the time the client wanted to schedule the meal.

After the client talked to the American counterpart, she realized that indeed, the Americans wanted to end the day much earlier than the original European plan, and she learned that restaurants do not serve dinner that late in most cities in the United States.  Because of this explanation and suggestions, I was able to keep the contract, get paid what we deserved, and the event was successful.  My strategy worked; however, talking to some colleagues just a few days ago, I heard how some of them would have just lowered their fee, or worked the dinners at their regular rate instead of overtime rate, some of them stated that sometimes you have to make concessions to keep a good client or a big event.  I disagree with this way of thinking, and I would like to hear what you would do in a similar situation.

School and Grade System in Mexico. For all Interpreters who struggle with this issue.

July 23, 2012 § 24 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

During my years as an interpreter I have been asked many things about Mexican Spanish, culture, way of living, etcetera; but by far, the most popular questions have consistently been about the Mexican educational system and its equivalency with the American system.  I have seen very capable colleagues from countries other than Mexico struggle with the interpretation of a simple phrase like: “Solo terminé la secundaria,” so today, I decided to put in writing, once and for all, the Mexican educational system.

The educational system in Mexico starts at the age of two, however, education is not compulsory before the child turns 6.  Also, the educational system ends with the 12th. Grade, but compulsory education ends after the 9th. Grade.

These are the equivalencies between Mexico and the United States:

School System:

Preschool = Kinder o Jardín de Niños, sometimes: Educación Preescolar   (2 to 4 years of age)

Kindergarten (last year before elementary school) = Pre-primaria.

Elementary School = Primaria (1st. to 6th. Grade. Children from 6 to 12 years old) Compulsory.

Middle School or Junior High = Secundaria (7th. to 9th. Grade. Children from 12 to 15) Compulsory.

High School = Preparatoria (10th. To 12th. Grade. Children from 15 to 18).

Community College =  Carrera Corta (2 years degree)

College = Universidad (4 to 6 years depending on the degree)

Master’s = Maestría

Doctorate – Doctorado

 

Diplomas or Degrees:

Elementary School Certificate = Certificado de Primaria (Compulsory)

Junior High or Middle School Diploma = Certificado de Secundaria (Compulsory)

High School Diploma = Certificado de Preparatoria (Also called “Prepa”)

A student who finished High School completed the Bachillerato and is called Bachiller.

A student who has an Associate’s Degree completed a Carrera Corta and he gets a Diploma.

A student who gets a Bachelors Degree completed the Universidad and has a Licenciatura

A student who gets a Master’s Degree finished a Maestría and is a Maestro.

A student who gets a Ph.D. finished a Doctorado and is a Doctor, or a Doctor en Filosofía.

A Colegio is not a college. It is a private school even if it is an elementary school. (a public school is a escuela)

A College where they do not offer Master’s and Ph.D. programs is called a Escuela. Escuela de Arquitectura (School of Architecture)

A College where they offer post-graduate education is called a Facultad. Facultad de Medicina (Medical School)

In Mexico, schools grade their students with the following scale (Some schools use different systems but this is the prevailing scale):

MB or Muy Bien = A

B or Bien = B

S or Suficiente = C, D

NA o No Apto = F

A student’s grade average is calculated on a scale from 1-10

A Promedio de 10 would be the equivalent to a 4.0 GPA

On the other hand, to refer to a 10 as a 4.0 in Spanish would be disastrous. Be careful!

I hope this will help the next time a Mexican client says: “Solo terminé la secundaria,”  and you interpret it as: “I just finished middle school.”

Something bad is happening with the federal courts in some states.

July 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Not long ago I had dinner with some colleagues that work in the federal court system.  As it always happens with interpreters, we ended up talking shop.  Of course, as you all know, this is pretty standard in our profession; however, I was shocked by some of the comments I heard. I learned that despite the fact that the state has over 20 court certified interpreters, the federal courts in Colorado are now hiring non-certified interpreters for all services with the exception of court hearings; and that is not all, I also heard that the CJA attorneys are only approving vouchers for the time “actually worked” by the interpreter. Forget about the full day and half a day rates.  I also found out that, ignoring the fact that Chicago has around 15 certified court interpreters, the state of Indiana is hiring non-certified interpreters for hearings, and they are even pairing them with certified interpreters.  We all know that each district is its own world, and they set their own policy, but somebody told me that this is happening with the blessing of higher authorities.  This is worrisome.  I support the idea that if you want to like our profession for a long time, and if you want to make a good living, you need to diversify and interpret conferences, legal, medical, and everything else you can think of.

I oppose the position of some independent contractor colleagues who only see themselves as court interpreters and refuse to step outside the box; however, I am very fortunate to live in a place where the court only allows certified court interpreters,  but if what I heard is true, I am saddened and frustrated by this information because the certification exam is not easy, because there is a huge quality gap between the interpretation level of certified and non-certified court interpreters, and because the attorneys and judges are going along with the budget guys, giving up the quality of a certified court interpreter in order to save a few bucks.  I ask you to tell me if this is what is happening in your area, and if so, what in your opinion can be done to educate the defense bar, the federal bench, and the U.S. Department of Justice so they stop calling all these non-certified interpreters, and let me be very clear that when I say non-certified I am including the consortium certified interpreters because there is no distinction between them and those with another certification or without any certification, they are not certified to work in the federal system.  It is that simple.

When the professional and honest translator or interpreter saves time and money to the client.

July 13, 2012 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

One time a first-class translator friend of mine contacted me to see if I would be interested in collaborating for a big legal translation project of many court and expert documents from a ten-year long procedure in Mexico.  The case was now being litigated in a federal court of the United States, and the American attorneys needed to know what exactly had happened with the case in Mexico.

The project seemed different and interesting, so I accepted the invitation.  A few weeks later I received a mountain of documents that were the equivalent to one-half of the documents obtained from Mexico to this point. My colleague received the other half.  I started reading the Mexican file and I soon realized that my colleague had received the older documents and I had the newer pile.  After many days of reading and researching, and applying my legal background, because being an attorney sometimes comes in handy, I concluded that there were many missing documents, probably the equivalent to three more years following the most recent document I already had. I also realized that most of what I had read had been reversed by an appeals court and at this moment in time was irrelevant to the case.

As I was arriving to these conclusions, my translator colleague contacted me, told me a similar story, and we decided to meet in person to compare notes. After several hours of combing through the documents, we both decided that we needed to talk to the legal team and explain what we knew.  A meeting took place, and it was decided that the rest of the documents had to be ordered from the Mexican courthouse, and that we should stop the translation until the new documents arrived, so we could again, analyze the new pleadings, and determine what needed to be translated.  At that time I realized that our hard work as legal translators had saved time and money to the attorneys. The fact that we shared what we had with the legal team, gave them the elements needed to decide what should and should not be translated.  I understand that my formation as an attorney gave us the possibility to understand better these pleadings, but the same could happen in any other field.

I believe that it is important that the legal translator be honest with the client.  In this case, we protected our client, and guaranteed an attorney-translator/interpreter relationship for years to come.  It is during these situations, when it could be so easy to translate thousands of useless pages, and still get paid, that in my opinion the real professional steps up to the plate and decides to let go.  I was very fortunate to work with such a professional colleague who understood just as I did that the most important thing is to remain professional and honest with your client.  I invite you to comment on this situation.

Esos glosarios jurídicos que andan por ahí.

July 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

Queridos colegas,

Uno de los aspectos más interesantes, y a la vez más complicados de nuestra profesión es el vocabulario.  El contar con la terminología correcta puede ser la diferencia entre una victoria y una derrota en la cabina.  Afortunadamente en esta era digital y cibernética, los intérpretes contamos con diccionarios que nos acompañan en nuestras computadoras y I-pads, con los recursos que existen en internet, y con algunos glosarios magníficos que son el resultado del trabajo de muchos colegas extraordinariamente capaces.

Sin embargo, también existen infinidad de glosarios mediocres que son pésimos y divulgan la ignorancia en lugar del conocimiento.  Así es como me he encontrado con “glosarios” que contienen barbaridades del tamaño de la “República de Polandia” por Polonia.

Muchos intérpretes son muy cuidadosos con estos glosarios, pero cuando las agencias y las dependencias del gobierno empiezan a distribuir estos glosarios de calidad ínfima, y exigen que dicha “terminología” sea utilizada por el intérprete, entonces sí estamos ante un problema muy serio.

Hace algunas semanas recibí un correo electrónico de una dependencia de gobierno de un estado norteamericano el cual adjuntaba un glosario que había sido elaborado por un despacho de abogados que aparentemente se especializa en Derecho Administrativo. Obviamente, leí dicho glosario y me encontré con una serie de barrabasadas que no tienen nombre.  Además del error, desgraciadamente bastante común, de traducir términos jurídicos en inglés utilizando palabras tomadas de diccionarios en español que no contienen terminología jurídica, me encontré con palabras que no existen, al menos no existen en el Diccionario de la RAE, como “acosamiento” por “harassment” (en vez de acoso) o que jurídicamente tienen un significado diferente como “guardián” por “guardian,” (en lugar de tutor) etc.

Obviamente yo no voy a utilizar el vocabulario de ese glosario, y quisiera que nadie lo utilizara, sin embargo, la disyuntiva es: Alertamos al resto de los intérpretes para que no vayan a usar estos glosarios, platicamos con la dependencia del gobierno acerca de lo delicado que es el “recomendar” un glosario cuando se es parte del gobierno, enviamos una carta a los autores del glosario, o simplemente ignoramos el glosario y nos quedamos callados para no crear enemistades con otros.  Por favor escriban sus comentarios.

The American Founding Fathers and their Foreign Languages.

July 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

On this Fourth of July all Americans celebrate our independence.  We know that on this day we recognize the immense wisdom and unlimited courage of a group of men who lived in the same right place at the same right time.  Although most of us will spend the better part of the day watching baseball, having a hot dog, and attending some local fireworks tonight, I thought it would be interesting to talk about a little known aspect of the founding fathers’ lives: Their knowledge of foreign languages.

It is undisputable that they were all bright, well-educated, and visionary heroes who crafted an idea and implemented a concept never attempted before: a country with no monarch where the people were in charge.  We have read about their political, diplomatic, scientific, and military qualities, about how gifted they were. It is time to review their knowledge of foreign languages.  George Washington did not speak any other language. No doubt because of his very little formal education and humble beginnings he just spoke English.  Abraham Lincoln would fit the same bill. The emancipator was a self-educated attorney with a very modest upbringing and he never learned any foreign languages either. These two American heroes did not travel abroad in their lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State under Washington, and our third President spoke English, French, Italian, Latin, and he could read Greek, and Spanish. Benjamin Franklin, America’s first diplomat and well-known genius spoke English, French and Italian.   Our second President: John Adams spoke English, French and Latin. President James Madison spoke English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew.  James Monroe spoke English and French.

Although Samuel Adams and John Hancock did not speak any foreign languages, Hancock, the wealthiest of our founding fathers, and perhaps the most generous, founded a Professorship of Oriental Languages and Hebrew in Massachusetts.  All in all, 21 of America’s 44 Presidents have known at least a second language, and if you consider that America’s first Nobel Peace Prize recipient: President Teddy Roosevelt spoke French and German,  then we can say that two out of four Presidents sculpted on Mount Rushmore spoke a foreign language.

This may not be the most relevant aspect of a hero’s life, but it is a good way for a linguist to wish all of my friends and colleagues, together with their families, a happy Fourth of July!

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