Señor juez, necesito intérprete… y vivo en México.

August 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Queridos colegas,

La interpretación judicial ha existido en los Estados Unidos por varias décadas. No es un sistema perfecto, pero mejorando cada día, ha permitido que aquellos que no hablan el idioma del país, en este caso el inglés, puedan hacer valer sus garantías individuales consagradas en la constitución norteamericana: “En todo proceso penal, el imputado tendrá derecho a… ser informado…de los cargos que se le imputan… a confrontar a los testigos de cargo… y a ser asistido en su defensa por un abogado.” (Sexta Enmienda de la Constitución de EE.UU. 1971) Estos derechos se extendieron a las otras ramas del Derecho en la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964 (Artículo 2000 fracción “d” del Libro VI y Capítulo VI de la Constitución Federal) y en lo que compete a quienes no hablan inglés, los mismos fueron implementados mediante la creación de la figura del intérprete judicial en la Ley de Intérpretes Judiciales (Art. 1827 Título 28 del Código Federal de los Estados Unidos) En los últimos años, con la formación de la Unión Europea, la “globalización” y la transición de varios países latinoamericanos al sistema de juicios orales, la posibilidad de que dos personas se encuentren ante la justicia exigiendo que se respeten sus derechos se ha incrementado de manera inimaginable.  Entre los países que decidieron cambiar al sistema de juicios orales se encuentra México; una nación que hasta ese momento histórico había seguido la tradición del Derecho Romano y el Derecho Franco-Español consistente en procedimientos judiciales fundamentalmente seguidos por escrito.

México es un país enorme con gran diversidad de lenguas autóctonas, una población inmigrante de importancia, y millones de extranjeros que convergen en ese país todos los años por motivos de negocios, culturales y de esparcimiento. Además, es vecino de los Estados Unidos con quien comparte la frontera por tierra más grande del mundo y sostiene una relación comercial bilateral multimillonaria.

Cuando México decide adoptar el sistema de juicios orales, también decide, por mandato jurídico constitucional para con su población indígena (Art. 2 Apartado A Fracción VII de la Constitución Política de los EUM) y la Declaración de Derechos Humanos para todo aquel que no hable el español (4ª. Garantía) eliminar la barrera del idioma en todo proceso jurídico oral proporcionando un intérprete judicial.  Esta serie de decisiones coloca a México en una situación única en la que jueces, abogados, intérpretes y todos quienes participan en la impartición de justicia, se ven en la necesidad de aprender al mismo tiempo un nuevo sistema.

México siempre ha contado con intérpretes de primer nivel lo que permite que la demanda de servicios de interpretación en el sistema judicial (al menos en lenguas europeas y asiáticas) se satisfaga con elementos de primera; sin embargo, la mayoría de este talento lingüístico nunca ha interpretado en un proceso judicial.  Como muchos de ustedes saben, las diferencias entre la interpretación de conferencia y la interpretación judicial son substanciales más no insuperables.  El aprendizaje de nueva terminología, un protocolo distinto, y técnicas de interpretación diferentes como la traducción a la vista sin haber inspeccionado el documento con antelación, la interpretación consecutiva corta, y la interpretación simultánea completa (con exclamaciones, equivocaciones y trastabilleos del orador) hacen de esta nueva realidad mexicana un verdadero reto bienvenido por aquellos intérpretes mexicanos ya famosos internacionalmente.  Asimismo, la posibilidad de trabajar en otras situaciones atractivas intelectualmente y económicamente, constituyen un buen augurio para el éxito de este gremio ante un nuevo desafío profesional.  Los Intérpretes mexicanos que además de trabajar en el sistema judicial de su país deseen trabajar con abogados norteamericanos que acuden a México para declaraciones bajo protesta en casos civiles, entrevistas de testigos y víctimas, o para iniciar la defensa de imputados en el sistema estadounidense colaborando con abogados mexicanos desde el inicio de un proceso de extradición, podrán obtener la certificación federal norteamericana para poder fungir como intérpretes en actuaciones jurídicas celebradas en México, con la certeza que su interpretación podrá utilizarse en los juzgados norteamericanos por ser intérpretes certificados en la Unión Americana. De la misma manera, una vez que cuenten con esta certificación judicial o la certificación de la ATA, traductores y transcripcionistas mexicanos podrán trabajar desde México y simplemente autenticar el producto de su trabajo mediante comparecencia ante la autoridad judicial norteamericana. Actualmente los despachos jurídicos estadounidenses gastan una fortuna llevando intérpretes certificados desde los Estados Unidos para practicar estas diligencias.  Una vez que los intérpretes mexicanos se certifiquen, inmediatamente se constituirán en un mercado lingüístico muy atractivo para los bufetes de los Estados Unidos, además de que contarán con una ventaja sobre aquellos intérpretes que sin ser mexicanos actualmente viajan a México con los abogados: Los intérpretes judiciales mexicanos podrán trabajar legalmente en México sin violar las leyes de migración.

Es importante resaltar que la certificación federal norteamericana no es fácil de obtener, pero con su preparación profesional y académica, muchos intérpretes de México lo lograrán. Es por todas estas razones que el 7 de septiembre impartiré nuevamente un taller en la Ciudad de México. Durante esta sesión de un día completo abordaremos tanto la terminología y el procedimiento, como el protocolo y actual desempeño del intérprete judicial.  Mi experiencia y formación académica me permiten presentar los dos sistemas judiciales y de interpretación de una manera única. Trabajaremos con materiales especialmente preparados para el sistema de juicios orales en México, mostraremos videos de actuaciones judiciales en los nuevos juzgados mexicanos,  y demostraremos aspectos prácticos desde preparación y protocolo en caso de juicio, hasta dónde debe posicionarse el intérprete durante una audiencia oral.   Les pido a quienes deseen saber más detalles sobre el taller que se comuniquen con los organizadores al siguiente correo electrónico: georganne.weller277@gmail.com  Asimismo invito a aquellos colegas de países donde se ha implementado el sistema de juicios orales, que actualmente viven en los Estados Unidos y cuentan con la certificación judicial federal, a que se preparen en el nuevo sistema de juicios orales, aprovechen la experiencia que ya tienen, y haciendo valer su derecho a trabajar legalmente en sus países de origen incursionen en este campo y contribuyan al desarrollo de la profesión en sus naciones.

Queridos colegas mexicanos, les invito a participar en este taller, y a ustedes y a todos los demás colegas que se vean en esta situación, a mi parecer ventajosa, les pido que nos compartan sus opiniones sobre esta nueva opción profesional.

The new world of interpreting: Are some staying behind?

August 26, 2013 § 12 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Modernization is part of human nature, it’s always been around. From the cavemen who used the first tools, to the invention of writing, to the discovery of new territories, and to the technological advances of the 21st. century, humankind has always strived to be more comfortable, more competitive, and more modern. Sadly, as modernization is in our DNA, so is the desire to resist change. How many wars, social unrests, and atrocities have been committed on the name of “tradition” and to protect the status quo. Fear is a bad advisor; it never stops progress but it slows it down.  Historically people have opposed change arguing that it will bring upon us calamity and disaster. This has never happened. No doubt the primitive hunter feared agriculture as its results took longer than it took to hunt a prey. Veteran sailors feared navigation far from shore because they could fall into the void. Artisans feared the industrial revolution because there would be no more jobs.  All those fears proved to be unfounded. You see, humans are adaptable by nature. We adapt to the circumstances that surround us and make the most of it; that is how progress happens. That is how we measure it.  The interpreters of the League of Nations panicked with the arrival of simultaneous interpretation during the Nuremberg trials and they fought against it when the newly-created United Nations decided to adopt the new technology to have more efficient real time communication during sessions and negotiations.  I think we are going through a similar period right now.

Those from my generation remember the old TV sets that broadcasted in black and white for a few hours every day, the transatlantic flights on airplanes that had to stop somewhere to refuel between America and Europe. Oh, and we were witnesses and users of then state-of-the-art technology like record players, 8-track players, cassette players, walkmans, and CDs.  We watched movies at the theater, on Betamax and VHS cassettes, and we went to Blockbuster making sure we had rewinded the tape after watching it.   What about computers, calculators, contact lenses, microwave ovens, and many other things. They all came and went. They all fulfilled their purpose and we are now better off without them.

The digital era has brought tremendous changes to the way interpreters do business and work nowadays. We now fill up our work agendas, get paid, and prepare for a job at a speed and with efficiency never imagined.  I am enjoying the ride. Unfortunately, some colleagues are not.

Not long ago I was interpreting for a conference that required many languages so there were many booths. The equipment was state-of-the-art. We had consoles that rewind the presenter’s speech, and we had a TV monitor in the booth that received images from cameras in the room that we could operate with a joy stick to see the faces of those asking questions even though they were facing towards the stage and all we could see from the booth was their backs.  Before the start of the first session of the first day of the conference, I heard the two colleagues from a different booth asking the tech person to “please remove that thing from the booth.”  They argued that “it (took) too much room and (they) really didn’t need all those videogames to do a good job.” I have known these colleagues for a long time and their work is excellent. They are some of the best in their language pair. Unfortunately, after overhearing the comments above, and after going by their booth and seeing that they did not have any computers or tablets, I couldn’t help to compare them to other colleagues with the same language combination that I had recently worked with and were taking advantage of all the technology. I felt frustrated by their decision to get rid of the technology, but I also felt sad because I knew then that unless they change, pretty soon they will not be working. Others with similar skills and better technology will take their place.

For some time I have noticed how the gap is widening between those of us who are embracing technology and those wonderful interpreters who resist and fight the change. I still run into colleagues who give you dirty looks when you arrive to the booth and plug in your I-pad. Just this year I have worked with people who are bringing paper dictionaries to work.  Not long ago an interpreter complained to me that the agency was trying to send us all materials to a dropbox instead of emailing them (never mind we were talking of huge files) Another one remarked that it was “distracting” to see me “playing” with the I-pad in the booth and taking notes on the pad instead of “using paper and pencil.” I tried to explain that I was online researching a term to help her with her rendition but she didn’t give me a chance to explain.

Unfortunately these are not isolated cases, and many of these colleagues are really good.  They don’t understand that comments like: “please call me. I hate to do this by email” hurt them with the client. They do not see that the person from the agency is 20 years old and expects you to use Viber, WhatsApp, and Wikipedia.  I am concerned because we may be on the verge of losing very good professionals because of their stubbornness. And it is not just the interpreters. It is some of our professional organizations as well. I work all over, so I am a member of professional organizations all-over the world. Some of them have embraced technology quite well, but others are resisting the change. We still have professional organizations, and some agencies for that matter, which refuse to take electronic signatures, that want to see a FAXED copy of your ID, or that refuse scanned documents. Organizations that “need” to approve your comments in a professional chat-room; “need” a signature to change your address on the directory, or demand copies of your certificates and diplomas.  We have organizations led by the same people who resist change that are becoming irrelevant before our eyes and don’t see it.

My friends, I worry that good capable people may become obsolete because of their resistance to modernization. I can just imagine how good they would be if they “dared” to use technology. The great Charles F. Kittering once said: “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” He was right. I would love to hear your thoughts on this very delicate but essential issue.

Hispanic, Latino, or None of the Above?

August 19, 2013 § 4 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

A few weeks ago I saw a poll by the Gallup polling agency stating that most people from Latin America couldn’t care less whether they get called “Hispanic” or “Latino.” The survey indicated that most of them identify primarily by their country of origin rather than by one of these terms. Of those surveyed, 70 percent answered that it didn’t matter; about 10 percent preferred “Latino” and 19 percent opted for “Hispanic.” Men cared less than woman and young people didn’t pay much attention to these labels. The study went on to conclude that the terms were really interchangeable and therefore politicians and social scientists could select either one of these two terms.  The results of the poll, and specially the conclusions, worried me as I know that these two terms don’t mean the same.

Hispanic.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives its origin from the Latin hispanicus: From Hispania Iberian Peninsula, Spain, indicates that it was first used in 1584, and defines “Hispanic” as a noun and an adjective of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal. A second meaning is as a noun or an adjective of or relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States “…especially: one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin.”   

The Oxford dictionary gives the same origin, and defines it as an adjective relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Central and South America; relating to Spanish-speaking people or their culture, especially in the United States. It also defines it as a noun that indicates a Spanish-speaking person, especially one of Latin American descent living in the U.S.

The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “hispano,” in Spanish, as “español” (Spanish) Adjective relating to something or someone of Hispania, Hispano-American nations, or the population of Hispanic-American origin, living in the United States.

Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “hispano” as an adjective relating to old Hispania or the Spanish cultura, specifically to those Spanish-speakers living in the United States.

Finally, the Urban Dictionary states that Hispanic is an ancient adjective and noun that was mainstreamed as a political label in the United States in the early 1970’s. The purpose for the introduction of such an ancient adjective by the Nixon administration was ostensibly to create a political label solely for the purpose of applying the constitutional anti-discrimination standard of “strict scrutiny” to anyone who was labeled Hispanic. The label had the immediate effect of linking the entire population of the 19 nations that comprise Latin America, as well as, distinguishing the “Hispanic” colonial heritage of Latin American Countries from the “Anglo Saxon” colonial heritage of the United States.

Before the colonization of the Americas, a person had to be solely from Hispania-Spain and Portugal together- in order to be called Hispanic. Today, Hispania has 21 progenies: two in Europe (Spain and Portugal), and nineteen in the Americas (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela)

The dictionary leaves out Equatorial Guinea and continues:

“But there is more to think about: America is a country where one would not consider mislabeling a Scotsman an Irishman, for such would be an insult to the Scotsman, and vice versa; where one would not describe Canadian culture as being the same as Australian culture because such would be an insult to Canadians and vice versa.”

Latino.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary traces its origin to American Spanish, probably short for Latin American (latinoamericano) and gives as the date when it was first used 1946. It defines it as a noun for a native or inhabitant of Latin America, or a person of Latin American origin living in the United States.

The Oxford dictionary gives its origin from Latin American Spanish, and defines it as a noun chiefly North American relating to a Latin American inhabitant of the United States or a person of Latin American or Spanish-speaking descent.

The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “latino,” in Spanish, as an adjective that describes a person from Lazio (Italy) or relating to the Latin language, the cities ruled according to Latin Law, to the Western Church, and to the people from Europe and the Americas who speak a language that comes from Latin.   

Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “latino” from the Latin “Latinus” as an adjective and noun applied to the people and things from Lazio, to the people who speak a language that comes from Latin, and to the Western Church.

The Urban Dictionary states that Latino is an ethnicity of people who have origins in one or more of the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

From the definitions above we clearly notice that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are two very different concepts that encompass two different groups of individuals and cultures. You cannot refer to a Brazilian as Hispanic, and you cannot include the original people of the Americas in the Latino concept. Many of them don’t even speak a Romance language. They continue to speak Náhuatl, Quiché, Mixtec, Zapotec, Huichol, and many other languages native to the Americas.

In the United States Latino is often used interchangeably with the word “Hispanic”, although they are not the same. The term “Hispanic” refers to a person from any Spanish-speaking country, whereas “Latino” refers to a person from a country in Latin America.  A Latino can be of any race. For example, an Argentine can be Caucasian, and a Dominican can be Black. But they are both Latino.

In the US the word Latino is misused to name only people from Latin America. The Latin America was a term first created to mean “the part of America ruled by Latino countries, Spain and Portugal” in opposition to the Anglo-Saxon America, ruled by the British (now Eastern United States). In this sense, some parts of the United States are part of the Latin America because they were ruled by Spain and France at some point: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and portions of other States. I also wonder why they ignored French-Canada as it is not Anglo-Saxon. They speak French!

Latino is a person who speaks a romance language: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Aragonese, Aranese, Aromanian, Arpitan, Asturian, Auvergnat, Calo, Catalan, Corsican, Dolomite, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Extremaduran, Fala, Franco-Provençal, Friulan, Galician, Gascon, Istro-Rumanian, Ladino, Languedocien, Leonese, Ligurian, Limousin, Lombard, Megleno-Rumanian, Mirandese, Mozarabic, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Sardinian, Shuadit, Sicilian, Venetian, Walloon, and Zarphatic; or those whose cultural heritage comes from any country that speaks any of those languages.  Therefore, the term Latino is inappropriate and wrongly misused as it excludes many and includes some it shouldn’t.

The term Hispanic was an attempt to label a racial group created by the U.S. government to put all people who descend from Spanish speaking countries into one meaningless group. Hispanic is NOT a racial group. They can be white, black, Native-American, Asian, or any combination of these peoples. Hispanic countries are just as racially diverse as the United States, thus this term has no real meaning.

Next time you see one of those polls take your time and try to educate all people as to the absurdity of those terms and the way they are mishandled by the establishment.  Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.

When a translation is so bad that it is funny.

August 12, 2013 § 39 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Those of you who are regular followers of this blog know that I use original material for its contents. Today will be an exception as I decided to share with you a translation that is so bad that it has made it around the world provoking laughter and disbelief all over the planet.  I am sure that many of you have heard about it, and I have no doubt that some of you have seen it before.  It is an English translation of a Mandarin brochure given to a colleague while she was staying at this facility.  I do not know who translated it, and your guess is as good as mine; however, it is clear that regardless of who translated: human or machine, there was a total lack of knowledge of the basics of cross-cultural communication.

Let’s use this as an example of everything that can go wrong when you try to save money by hiring a bad “bilingual” individual or “employ” the services of a machine. It is also evidence of why it is necessary to understand the culture that permeates the environment of the target language.  Please keep all of these factors in mind as you read this “translation” even if you have to pause and compose yourself after laughing so hard.  And now, the worst translation ever:

Getting There:
Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests.

The hotel:
This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self.

The Restaurant:
Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you.

Your Room:
Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity! You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts.

Bed
Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers.

Above all:
When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.”

Please remember, this is a great example that you can use with your clients when attempting to explain the importance of a good translation, and also, it is a great text to take to your next party.  Please share with us any other examples of poor translations you may have encountered during your career, even if they are not as dramatic as this one.

When being politically correct hurts your rendition.

August 5, 2013 § 17 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

A few weeks ago I was on a plane from Atlanta to Chicago. We were ready to take off and I planned to prepare during the flight for an assignment I had that very same evening at my destination.  Then, as we were turning our telephones off to pull back from the gate, the voice of the pilot came over the speakers.  He informed us that there would be a delay because we had to wait for a last-minute passenger who had just booked a seat on our flight.  At that point I thought that we would probably be there for another ten or fifteen minutes so I turned on my phone and began to answer emails. About thirty minutes later the pilot informed us that it would take a little longer. By now some passengers started to question the rationale behind the delay; after all there were at least another ten flights from Atlanta to Chicago later that same day.  About fifteen minutes later the pilot announced that they were asking for volunteers to move from the front to the back of the plane because the last-minute passenger was in a wheelchair.  Some passengers volunteered and moved to the back, a couple of the airline’s ground crew members helped the passenger, who turned out to be an elderly woman, onto the aircraft and into her seat. We assumed we were ready to go.  Unfortunately, at this time the pilot announced that there was some bad weather over Indiana and our flight plan had been altered. The problem: because we had been sitting at the gate for more than an hour, we now did not have enough fuel to go through the new route we had been assigned, so the plane had to refill before take-off.  Re-fueling was going to take about thirty minutes so we deplaned. As I was exiting the plane, I overheard a couple of guys saying that although there were plenty of flights to Chicago, the delay was due to the fact that this elderly woman was covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and therefore, the airline had decided not to offend her by asking her to wait until the next plane where she would board before the rest of the passengers. The second person remarked: “it’s just that nowadays everything is decided based on its political correctness.”  I don’t know if these passengers were right or not, but that made me think of what we, as interpreters, face sometimes when somebody wants us to say, do, or omit something that should be said, omitted or done as part of the interpretation, just because it is not politically correct.

Some years ago, but already within this era of political correctness, I was working as a court interpreter in a criminal trial where a person was accused of murder. It involved Hispanic gang members and that meant that it involved plenty of nicknames.  As the trial progressed, and many witnesses testified before the jury, it became clear that a key player in this murder was a gang member known as “el negro” (the black one) who apparently had witnessed the killing.  All witnesses, one after another, kept referring, in Spanish, to “el negro” as a key witness for the prosecution.

Eventually, there was a recess for I don’t remember what reason, and during the break, one of the prosecuting attorneys, an Anglo woman who was not the lead prosecutor and did not speak Spanish, approached me and told me: “You know, I’d much appreciate it if you stopped referring to Mr. Sánchez (I made up the name for this posting) as <el negro> It would be better if you refer to him as the <African-American> so please do it. I don’t want to offend anybody” I looked at her in amazement. In all my years as an interpreter nobody had asked me to do such a bizarre thing before.  I explained to her that nicknames, just like proper names stay in their original language.  I even explained that it is common for Hispanics to give a nickname to an individual as an expression of sarcasm, thus, the tallest guy could be nicknamed “chiquilín” the fattest man could be called “el flaco” and so on. I even told her that as a prosecutor she should be concerned about the identity issue, and that the correct nickname could be the difference between acquittal and conviction. She understood that I was not to honor her request, but did not like my answer, and so we continued with the trial after the break.

After other two or three witnesses, the bailiff called the name of another witness who entered the courtroom. This was a tall young white man. He was ushered to the witness stand, placed under oath, and asked to have a seat. Next, the prosecutor asked the first question: “Can you please tell us your name and spell your last name for the record.” The witness complied and I interpreted for the jury. Second, the attorney asked: “Sir, do you go by any other name?” The white young man answered in Spanish: “Si, me dicen el negro” (Yes, they call me “el negro”) I interpreted for the jury as I looked at the prosecutor who had requested I be politically correct and refer to the witness nicknamed “el negro” as the “African-American” and with an inner sense of satisfaction I looked at him and then back at her as if telling her: “you see, I did the right thing. Referring to this man as the “African-American” would have been ridiculous and odd.”  From that day I always question political correctness in those situations. My belief is that when someone wants to have a politically correct event, they should talk to the speaker, not to the interpreter; after all, we interpret what others say. We are not the ones who are speaking.  I would like to hear your comments regarding this issue. Please feel free to share any stories you may have that are similar to the one I just told you about.

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