Much to learn from Mexican interpreter program.

August 30, 2016 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the first legal interpreting workshop for Mexican Sign Language interpreters in Mexico City. It was a three-day event attended by sign language interpreters from all corners of Mexico.  With the arrival of the new oral trial proceedings to their country, now Mexican interpreters will play an essential role in the administration of justice. Until recently, the country followed a written proceedings system where interpreters were rarely needed, but now, with a system similar to the one in the United States, interpreters will participate at all stages of a court proceeding; moreover, because Mexico kept their traditional substantive law system, based on Roman, French, and Spanish Law, interpreters will also be needed in all proceedings before a Notary Public where a party does not speak Spanish.

Certainly, Mexico is not the first or the only country switching to this more agile and transparent legal system, but what I saw during the workshop showed me a different, and probably better way to incorporate interpreting into the legal system, and provide a professional service by good, quality interpreters.  What Mexican Sign Language interpreters are doing should be adopted as an example by many other interpreter organizations everywhere.  Sign language, foreign language, and indigenous language interpreter programs could benefit from a strategy like the one they are now implementing in Mexico.

Like many countries, including the United States, Mexico is facing problems familiar to all judicial systems: shortage of quality interpreters, ignorance by judges and administrators, lack of a professionalization system that eventually will only allow interpreters with a college degree.  Unlike most countries, and even foreign language and indigenous language interpreters in Mexico, sign language interpreters are trying to achieve all of those goals by partnering with the courts and academia.

The workshop was the brainchild of a judge from Mexico City’s Electoral Court who identified the need to provide deaf citizens a way to exercise their political rights.  The judge devoted her experience, reputation, time, and connections to the project, and after some effort, the Mexico City Electoral Court, Mexico’s Supreme Court, the Mexican National University (UNAM) and some district judges came on board, together with the sign language interpreter associations.

The workshop was held at three different venues in order to get all interested parties involved, and to send a message to Mexican society that the effort was real. On the first day, at the Mexico City Electoral Court, interpreters learned about the Mexican legal system and its recent changes. On the second day, interpreters attended an all-day session at the postgraduate degree school of the Mexican National University (UNAM) where more practical presentations dealing with interpreter problems and participation in a court hearing were discussed. It was refreshing to see how interpreters were able to convey their concerns to some of the highest authorities within the Mexican court system, accomplishing two things: that their voice be heard, and that judges be aware of how little they know and understand of the interpreters’ role in court.  During the second day of the workshop, a program to develop a curriculum for Mexican Sign Language interpreters to get formal education and obtain a diploma after a year of studies sponsored by the Mexican National University (UNAM) and perhaps Madrid’s Complutense University (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) got its kickoff. The idea is that eventually, this program will allow sign language interpreters to learn the law, court procedure, and court interpreting by attending a combination of virtual and classroom sessions for one year, so that at the end of the year they be ready to take a certification exam that will first test their bilingualism, so that only those who have demonstrated proficiency in both languages move on to the interpreting portion of the exam.  Once an interpreter passes the exam, their name will be added to the list of certified court interpreters they judiciary will have and use to determine who is fit to practice in court.  Eventually, the goal is to develop a degree in Mexican Sign Language Interpreting so that all interpreters working the courts have a college degree.

Finally, the third day of the workshop was held at the building of Mexico’s Supreme Court, where one of the Justices addressed the attendees who spent the time learning about the professional and business aspects of the profession. The day ended with a mock court trial where interpreters participated with the help of law students and professors.

I still believe on addressing the private bar directly bypassing court administrators, but in my opinion, the example set by Mexico’s sign language interpreters is a lesson that should be applied elsewhere. Having justices and judges of the highest level, together with college deans and professional interpreter associations generate a plan of realistic action that goes beyond the demagoguery so often practiced by government officials who never had the desire to help in the first place, would change the “balance of power” that court interpreters are suffering in many places, including many states in the U.S. where ignorant administrators pretend to run a court interpreter program with their eyes set on the budget and their backs to court interpreter needs and the administration of justice.  Having the highest authorities within the judiciary to listen, understand, and support interpreter initiatives (that are nothing but efforts to comply with a constitutional mandate) would go a long way, and having the most prestigious universities in the land to volunteer to sponsor a court interpreter education program with an eye on eventually turning it into a college degree, would solve many problems we see today in all languages.  The Mexican approach encourages the interpreter to professionalize by fostering the direct client relationship between courthouse and interpreter, eliminating once and for all the unscrupulous intermediary that charges for the service, keeps most of the money, pays interpreters rock-bottom fees, and provides appalling interpreting services.

I invite all of you, my colleagues, regardless of where you practice: The United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico and elsewhere, and regardless of your type of interpreting: sign languages, foreign languages, or indigenous languages, even those Mexican interpreters who practice as foreign or indigenous language court interpreters, to consider this Mexican strategy. I believe that it has a better chance to work than those other tactics interpreters have attempted to follow for such a long time.

I now ask you to opine on this very innovative strategy adopted by our colleagues in Mexico with the full support of their authorities and academia.

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§ 3 Responses to Much to learn from Mexican interpreter program.

  • André Csihas, FCCI says:

    Hi Tony!

    Just wondering: What exactly constitutes the “Mexican interpreter program”?

    I ask because here in the U.S.A. we have the State or the Federally Certified Court Interpreter programs due to the great linguistic diversity in our country, and by law, everyone must get a fair shake at the judicial system if accused of a crime; however in Mexico the predominant language is Spanish with the obvious exceptions such as the indigenous languages of the country and on an extremely limited basis, the occasional case of someone who doesn’t speak Spanish with enough fluency to require an interpreter, so, where does the Mexican interpreter program come in?

    Way back in June 2014, I wrote the following entry to your blog:

    “André Csihas, FCCI

    June 11, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I just returned from “el D.F.” and already there are books regarding the “Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales” in major libraries, so the system is in the process of shifting as you so well put it.
    The conference interpreters’ role is obvious, however your article brought to mind an interesting question: In which languages / language pair would court interpreting apply in Mexico?
    Here in the United States due to tremendous ethnic diversity we have, certified court interpreters can work in various language pairs, usually English and another language, but how does that apply to Mexico? Will there be a Spanish-Náhuatl or a Spanish-Yucatec certification?
    I very much enjoy reading your blog and find it a valuable tool for the furtherance of our profession.

    André Csihás, FCCI”

    To which your reply was:

    “Rosado Professional Solutions
    June 11, 2014 at 9:50 am
    Thank you André. Although the certification requirements and process are in the planning stages, the idea is to offer accessibility to all litigants. The goal is to eventually cover all language combinations, including indigenous languages.

    My question: Is all this still valid?

    Muy agradecido y con afectuoso abrazo,

    André Csihas, FCCI

    • Dear André,

      Thank you for your comment. Did you read the entry? It narrates things unheard of in any American program: Judges spearheading the movement towards accessibility, a plenary session with a Supreme Court Justice and a full day of activities at the highest court in the land; sessions at the oldest university in all of the Americas where a college-level program for interpreters was discussed, including a transitional period where interpreters will be able to get into a diploma program sponsored by the post-graduate school of the university, coverage of all activities on national TV, and so on. This is a program to make anybody proud and to serve as a model to emulate elsewhere. Finally, if you pay attention, from the very beginning the post states that these events involved interpreters of the other widely used Mexican language you did not mention: Mexican Sign Language. I appreciate your participation as it gives me another opportunity to spell out the great things they are doing on the Mexican courts. Thank you.

  • André Csihas, FCCI says:

    Thank you, Tony and yes, I did read the entry, however ultimately, I think it’s more a matter or justice and fair understanding of the law, rather than “… a program to make anybody proud…”

    All of us will automatically “be proud” if justice is carried out with the full understanding of the law because the bottom line is the fair and understandable access to the judicial process, isn’t it?

    ¡Un millón de gracias!

    André Csihas, FCCI

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