What we learned as interpreters in 2018.

December 27, 2018 § 16 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Now that 2018 is ending and we are working towards a fruitful and meaningful 2019, it is time to assess what we learned during the past 12 months. As interpreters we are constantly learning, and from talking to many of my colleagues, this year was packed with learning opportunities. In 2018 I worked with magnificent interpreters and many of my dearest colleagues.

Our profession had positive developments this year: The Spanish Division of the American Translators Association held a very successful conference in Miami, Florida, where those of us in attendance could see many friends and colleagues doing great things for our professions. It was an eye-opener to experience first hand how a professional conference organized by one of the divisions of the American Translators Association, working together with the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF) and Florida International University (FIU), put together a conference we can unequivocally call professional, full of content, at an excellent venue, and attended by true professional interpreters and translators who could freely exchange opinions, attend workshops and presentations, and enjoy an environment free of predatory agencies, product pushers, and colleagues chasing after newcomers to convince them to work for insultingly low fees. Unlike the better-known ATA conference, this event truly felt like a professional conference, not a trade show. In fact, I invite all those Spanish language interpreters and translators who are ATA members, and think that the Fall conference is way too expensive, to attend this conference instead. In my opinion, if you have to decide between the ATA conference and the Spanish Division conference, it is a no-brainer: pick the smaller, more professional Spanish Division event.

Once again, the interpreting profession continues to advance in Mexico, as evidenced by the Organización Mexicana de Traductores’ (Mexican Translators Association, OMT) very successful conference in Guadalajara, The Autonomous University of Hidalgo’s University Book Fair and content-packed conference in Pachuca; and the every-year bigger and more successful court interpreter workshop and conference for Mexican Sign Language (LSM) that took place in Mexico City once again. The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) took its world congress to Valencia, Spain for its best attended conference in history. Workshops and presentations were first-class, and as it is traditional with IAPTI, colleagues attending the conference had the opportunity to interact with their peers from around the world. The largest U.S. contingent attending a IAPTI conference to date, enjoyed the benefits of interacting with colleagues who literally live all over the world. They noticed the difference between attending a conference in the United States with interpreters and translators from many countries, all of them living in the U.S., and IAPTI where all of them live in their respective countries. The benefit you gain from talking to a Polish interpreter who lives in Poland enriches your personal knowledge of the profession more than speaking with a Polish interpreter who lives in New York City. Besides the characteristic IAPTI’s philosophy and agency-free conference, I was happy to see a well-balanced program full of Interpreting workshops and presentations. Finally, like every five years, the Asociación Española de Traductores, Intérpretes y Correctores (Spanish Association of Translators, Interpreters and Editors, ASETRAD) held its conference in Zaragoza, Spain. This congress was by far the best all-Spanish language conference of the year, and just as I do every five years, I invite all my Spanish speaking colleagues to save the time and money to attend the next gathering five years from now. I was involved in other professional conferences and seminars of tremendous level where I was honored to share experiences and exchange ideas with many professional colleagues. Thank you to all my colleagues who attended my presentations, workshops and seminars. It was a pleasure to spend time with all of you in 2018.

This past year saw big changes in healthcare interpreting in the United States with a major struggle between the two leading certification programs. Fortunately, what looked like the beginning of a big conflict, ultimately subsided, and better-informed interpreters are now deciding what to do with their professional future. The year brought positive developments to the largest court interpreter association in the United States. After a major set back at the end of 2017 when two pillars of the court interpreting profession resigned from the Board of Directors, NAJIT went back to capable, experienced professionals, electing a new Board that fits tradition and expectations. Unlike 12 months ago, the association goes into 2019 with a group of experienced and respected Board members and a promising future.

The year that ends in a few days saw the growth of our profession in the field of Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI). I had the opportunity to work several assignments remotely, and both, technology and work conditions were as they should be. I also heard from many colleagues who continue to struggle and endure abuse from some agencies who push video remote interpreting (VRI) in less than favorable conditions.

Not everything was good. 2018 took from us some of our dear friends and colleagues. I cannot reflect on the year that ends without remembering three dear and admired colleagues who passed away: Juan José Peña, a pioneer in the American Southwest, mostly in New Mexico. For years, Juan José was a trainer and examiner for the New Mexico State Court Interpreter Certification program; he was the first staff interpreter at the federal court in Albuquerque, and he selflessly helped new interpreters in New Mexico and elsewhere. Carlos Wesley, a powerful and gentle presence in the Washington D.C. metro area for many years, and an examiner for the federal court interpreter certification exam. Esther Navarro-Hall, a kind, selfless, talented colleague who impacted our profession and the lives of many interpreters worldwide as a professor at MIIS, regular trainer all over the globe, habitual presenter at professional conferences, Chair of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) in the United States, and humanitarian, promoting help and assistance to those impacted by natural disasters everywhere. Our lives and profession are better because of them.

Unfortunately 2018 will forever be remembered as a low point in the history of the profession in the United States. It was its darkest hour. I am referring to the inexcusable fiasco that impacted hundreds of interpreters, and continues to do so, because of the ineptitude of government officials, their selected contractors, and the cover up, misinformation, and lack of response that followed for many months: The 2017 oral federal court interpreter certification examination. We go into the new year with many unanswered questions, with no accountability, and with uncertainty for many who took the test, and patiently await to this day for an examination date more than a year after taking the exam. 2018 will be known as the year when ineptitude destroyed the credibility and reputation of the until then most trusted interpreter exam in any discipline in the United States.

The biggest shift in American foreign policy in decades and its impact on our profession continued in 2018. Events held in the United States for many straight years left for other countries because of the uncertainty of American immigration and trade policy. It proved very difficult to plan a big conference and invest a lot of money, without the certainty that attendees from certain countries will be admitted to the United States for the event. International government programs that require of interpreting services were at an unprecedented low, and changes of personnel in the administration, at all levels, impacted the work available to interpreters in the diplomatic, international trade and private sectors.

If not for the federal court interpreter certification exam disaster, the biggest stain of 2018 would be the conspiracy by most multinational and domestic interpreting agencies to do whatever necessary to overturn a California Supreme Court decision that protects independent interpreters by giving them certain rights that greedy agencies oppose, as compliance with the court decision would diminish their ever-growing margins. These agencies are actively pursuing the overturn of the decision by lobbying for legislation against interpreters. Apparently these efforts are led by a lobbyist who, ignoring any conflict of interest, and with the blessing of the largest interpreter and translator association in the United States (either by action, omission, or both) is trying to get Congress to exclude interpreters from the groups protected by the California Supreme Court decision.

Said conspiracy took us trough a research path that showed us how some of the Board members of this “translators and interpreters” association actively support agencies’ efforts, including a Board member who stated he would not even excuse himself from a vote in cases of conflict of interest. Statement that we will surely revisit come election time.

Throughout the world, colleagues continue to fight against low pay, deplorable working conditions, favoritism, ignorant government program administrators, and other problems. More European countries are now facing outsourcing of interpreting services for the first time.

Once again, interpreters around the world faced attempts from special interest groups to erode our profession by lowering professional standards creating questionable certification programs, and offering pseudo-conferences and webinars to recruit interpreters for exploitation while hiding behind some big-name presenters, many of whom have agreed to participate in these events without knowledge of these ulterior motives.

Of course, no year can be one hundred percent pariah-safe, so we had our “regulars” just like every single year: 2018 was full of para-interpreters trying to “take over” the market by charging laughable fees under shameful working conditions in exchange for miserable services.

As you can see, dear friends and colleagues, much changed and much stayed the same. I choose to focus on the good things while I guard against the bad ones. I now invite you to share with the rest of us your learned lessons (good and bad) of 2018.

I wish a Happy and Productive New Year to all my friends and colleagues!

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§ 16 Responses to What we learned as interpreters in 2018.

  • em says:

    Tony, your thoughts on CCHI’s “English-to-English” oral examination research study?

    • I just know what everyone knows about this project. Because I do not have enough information on the scientific aspects of the test, I cannot give an informed, responsible opinion. On the other hand, I wonder why this would be needed. Associations that group interpreters who perform at a higher level than CCHI’s all over the world have never needed such a test. This is just speculation, but the only valid reason that comes to mind is that the academic level and professional skills of so many of their prospective interpreters are so low, they need to verify they can even comprehend the message. Many people without college-level education may be the motivation, but I cannot tell for sure.

  • Alina Salvat says:

    Good afternoon Tony. Aside from the agency of which you refer, other than not becoming a member of this agency and, thus, not providing income to them, is there anything else that we Interpreters can do? Also what about states that grandfathered in some if not all of their Interpreters? I ask because I have seen, as I’m sure you have also, an example of a consecutive interpretation done by a “Master”s” level Interpreter and I was beyond appalled. This is also the type of situation that helps perpetuate the myth that anyone who is bilingual can interpret. What can be done about this? I’m sure this state is paying their Interpreters poorly, especially their Spanish Interpreters. All of that said, I do with you and yours a wonderful New Year’s Eve holiday.

    • Thank you, Alina. Happy New Year.
      Grandfathering, administering exams in stages so more people pass, creating “occupations” such as “justice system interpreters” to have a “legitimate” reason to use para-professionals, and lowering standards to the point of not been able to do a decent consecutive rendition, are all motivated by money. Quality is not important if you can hide mediocrity behind an “official” program or credential. You must educate your clients, point these ineptitude to them, compare experience, credentials and performance between you and this crowd, and (this is very important) do not waste your time going after clients that pay poorly, offer bad work conditions, or see you as a laborer in an “industry”. Professionals look for clients that value them: reputable corporations, high-end agencies, private law firms, reputable medical doctors in private practice, and so on.


    History continues to prove that the Interpretation/Translation system of qualifying is archaic and paralyzed, in terminology and protocol. It is absolutely necessary to include Linguistics into the I/T’s curriculum before practicing. I’ve shared words that should NOT be translated, and used as the originals. Why? Because of UN/International agreements. The qualifying tests are even substandard to a Driving License Test.
    2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the abolition of the United States Information Service which provided buildings, books, films, etc. NOT to learn English, but to facilitate the immigration of professionals to the US. Probably the best education for an interpreter.
    Happy New Year 2019!!!!!

  • Thank you Tony for one more of your fantastic blog entries. Thank you for keeping us all updated on important, often unknown, aspects pertaining our profession. The content also offers a great opportunity to plan our professional development, to be aware of the challenges out there and to feel proud of the career path we chose to follow. You’re an icon in the international arena. Our global Intepreter and Translator profession is fortunate to have professionals like you. Here in Houston, we were fortunate to partake in your great workshop thru the Houston Interpreters and Translators Association (HITA), and many look forward to more opportunities. Muchas gracias! Wishing you a fantastic, bright and unique 2019!

  • Susana Gee says:

    Tony, one of your best post, so thorough and to the point. Our profession is lucky to have you.
    I was fortunate to pass the FCICE but am wondering what was the point? The level of favoritism leaves newcomers such as me out in the cold, even when we are one of a handful of certified interpreters in the area yet the “language skilled” interpreters are the ones who get all the assignments. However, I will continue to push forward. On a different topic, what are your thoughts on the InterpretAmerica conference-Lenguas coming up in January in Mexico City?
    Happy New Year!

    • Dear Susana, unfortunately, you are not the first colleague to tell me that federal court schedulers are not including newly certified interpreters at the time they assign cases in their district. I will soon publish a post dealing with this situation in more detail.
      Every January I publish a list of the professional conferences I recommend for the year. I also give my reasons to do so. Although I never tell my colleagues not to attend a specific event, I explain the general criteria I follow to leave a conference off my list.

    • Rafael A Rodríguez says:

      I second that thought, Susana. Even an experienced interpreter in the federal courts has to run other businesses unrelated to the profession to survive in Miami. Reason?
      Happy new year, everyone.

  • P Diane Schneider says:

    In 2018 I was contacted by an agency “back East” ostensibly seeking to extend the areas where it offers its services. I was asked my rates and when I responded they offered $16.00 per hour. I informed them that the current minimum wage in Seattle for unskilled labor is $15.00. They did not respond.

  • Erika Ordóñez says:

    Excellent post, thanks for reminding us of the importance of our profession.
    It was an election year in Mexico, and I was really dissapointed in the quality of the para-interpreters who accepted a lot of assignments they were not capable of doing, and how the consumers accepted these poor interpretations without any question. Anyway, not all, as you wrote is bad, SLI is now better known, more important, more requested, and that was a good point this year in the profession. Thank you for being part of the training program for the Sistema Harvard Organization alumni; your speech was interesting and encouraged them to continue studying so they become professional Interpreters soon.
    There is a lot we need to learn, to advance and to improve, I hope 2019 will be a great year to continue doing our best in every assignment we get. Abrazos!

  • Thank you for summing up 2018.

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