July 20, 2021 § 3 Comments
Escort interpreting is a unique type of work. It is frequently exhausting, and often it is rendered under stressful or difficult circumstances. Long hours, picky clients, celebrities, noisy environments, could act as a deterrent to these assignments, but the interesting people, beautiful places, and memorable occasions pull interpreters into this work, sometimes provided as consecutive interpretation, and others as whispered simultaneous.
The difficulties above come to mind to many colleagues when considering an escort interpreting assignment, but what most interpreters rarely consider are the potential uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing situations we have to live through because of a word, gesture, or attitude of the client we are interpreting for.
Interpreters’ clients are humans, and they sometimes do or say the wrong thing at the least expected moment. Occasionally it is deliberate, often it is a mistake derived from ignorance and not bad faith; but several incidents are created by cultural differences that can be interpreted as bad manners, callousness, or aggressiveness.
As interpreters we must make quick judgements and decide how far we have to take these unintentional mistakes when interpreting.
Intentional insults, ironic comments, and disrespectful attitudes must be interpreted. That is why the client said it. The client wants us to convey that message with our rendition.
When the embarrassing situation is the product of an offensive comment or a remark our client made without noticing it, or perhaps due to the lack of understanding of the other person’s culture and traditions, we have to assess the relevance of the comment, and based on that judgement, interpret the remarks, soften them up a little, or even leave them out of the conversation. It is all a matter of relevance.
Irrelevant comments need not to be interpreted when uttered by mistake or out of ignorance. They add nothing to communication, and for no reason relevant to the discussion, they could create an obstacle to the success of the encounter. Let’s see examples:
One time I was retained to interpret an important business negotiation between the presidents of two Fortune 500 companies. During a reception before the first round of negotiations, the event’s host I was interpreting for approached the president of the visiting firm and his spouse; trying to be nice and welcoming, he greeted them, told them how much he loved their beautiful country, and asked them to recommend him a good beach for the summer. Nice conversation, right? The problem was that the visiting president’s country is land-locked! Instead of interpreting the question as asked, I simply asked for suggestions on places to see during a visit to their country. The question was irrelevant; nobody was offended, and everybody enjoyed the event.
During a formal dinner, my client was sitting next to a very important person from a not-so-wealthy, but very proud nation. Chatting about their children during dinner, the other person bragged about her children’s academic accomplishments, and how it would be easy for them to be admitted to the top university in their country. After listening to this narrative, that went on for several minutes, my client asked: “if your children are such good students, send them to my country so they truly get a good education.” I did not see a need for antagonizing the mother of these kids, so I softened the remarks, and said: “Your children are remarkable students, they could attend college anywhere they wanted to. They will get a great education.”
Under similar circumstances, remarks as the ones in these examples, and many others I have lived through, have been left out or softened up to make them more palatable to the other party. Comments irrelevant to the matter in question, such as: “I did not expect to find your country this clean,” “with such heavy traffic, I don’t understand why you don’t build better roads,” or “all I see on the streets are ugly old cars you never see in my country,” have been left out of conversations because they added nothing to the success of the encounter. Some say that when negotiating peace, a foreign envoy remarked in the presence of Russian Empress Catherine the Great that negotiations with a woman would never be fruitful; the comments were omitted by the interpreter, and peace was achieved.
As interpreters we have to be ready to react instantaneously when presented with these situations, and do our best to interpret what is being said, while recognizing the irrelevant, unintentional offenses, and leaving them out of the rendition. A rigid, inflexible interpreter would create chaos instead of facilitate the communication.
Please share your comments on this important, but rarely discussed peculiarity of escort interpreting.
July 6, 2021 § 2 Comments
Several weeks ago, federally certified Spanish court interpreters in the United States received a questionnaire from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts asking for opinions and suggestions for a new version of the certification exam. This was a welcomed move for two reasons: The government is thinking of updating the exam so it reflects the present condition of our society, and they thought about asking those who work in that environment: the Spanish interpreters.
I liked the idea of modernizing the test as a positive step by the USAOC, especially during these uncertain days of an almost post-pandemic America, and the confusion among exam candidates about the oral exam dates with an official version on the AOC website indicating December as the month of the exam, and rumors, and perhaps emails, circulating around stating the exam will be early next year. Now back to the exam:
The new version of the exam needs to continue the same proportions and format of the current versions, including two sight translation exercises: one from English into Spanish involving a quasi-legal document, and one from Spanish into English involving a legal document; two simultaneous interpreting exercises: a monologue in English at a normal speed of 140 words per minute in average, and a bi-directional dialogue of a legal or scientific direct examination of an expert witness at a speed of 160 words per minute in average. Finally, the exam should have one 15-minute-long bi-directional consecutive interpretation exercise with at least two somewhat long segments, at least one “laundry list” of items, and some idiomatic expressions and obscenities.
This means leaving the exam as it is in format, but updating its content to reflect the world where we now live. The exercises must mention technology, update situations and circumstances to reflect concepts like internet, computers, globalization. If the old version of the exam included situations involving a telephone or a typewriter, the new version should replace them with a cellular phone and a computer for example.
The exam needs to test beyond criminal law and procedure, exercises must include civil law and procedure, and some international law that falls under the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary, like extradition proceedings and international child abductions.
More important, the exam needs to mirror social changes, reflect gender equality, and include diversity of speech and culture. English dialogues should not be limited to the English spoken by white Americans; it must include the English spoken by African Americans and Hispanic Americans. It needs to expand its Spanish dialogues and idiomatic expressions beyond Mexico, and encompass not only expressions and cultural references to other Latin American countries, but it also needs to incorporate the Spanish spoken in Spain, and the unique Spanish spoken in the United States.
There are certain things the AOC questionnaire included that, although important, must stay out of this exam.
Legal translation is an important subject, but other than sight translation exercises, a court interpreter certification exam must stay away from testing candidates on translation. Translation is a different profession and it requires different skills, experience, and knowledge. A good number of court interpreters translate, but the government needs to develop a separate translation exam if it wants to certify translation skills. Translation needs writing, it needs an exhausting, extensive, comprehensive exam at the same level as the interpretation exam now offered. You cannot certify a translator through a section of an interpreting exam, and you should not expect interpreters to translate. These are two professions and they need two exams. Those of you who have taken translation exams in college or certification exams such as the one offered by the American Translators Association, know it is impossible to test translation skills by adding a section to a different discipline’s exam. This would not be appropriate as it would misguide on the actual skill level of the candidate, and it would not be fair to the interpreters, who have studied and trained as such, not as translators.
Including a section to test interpreters’ transcription skills was also floated around. Even though transcription may not be considered a different profession the way translation is, it also goes beyond the skills that need to be tested to become a certified court interpreter. It is a reality that federal courts require of transcription services, and some interpreters transcribe wiretaps, telephone calls, police interviews, and other voice and video recorded interactions, but most interpreters do not transcribe; they find it boring, time-consuming, poorly remunerated for the work involved, or they simply dislike it. Unlike consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, it is not part of what makes an individual a court interpreter.
Transcription is a specialized service and should be treated as such. If the Administrative Office of the United States Courts wants to certify transcribers, it should develop a separate test to be offered as an additional exam to those already certified as court interpreters who want to specialize. It cannot be part of an interpreter certification exam, and by the way, it should be remunerated in terms of time spent for a recorded minute, nut lumped with the full or half a day pay interpreters receive from interpreting in court.
Updating the certification exam is an excellent idea. Considering a certification for court translators and court transcribers is also a good point, but commingling these other disciplines with court interpreting is a mistake. There is plenty to be tested in a traditional interpreter certification exam; things could be added and improved without expanding to other professions. Let’s fix the exam, but from the beginning, let’s get it right.
I now invite you to share your ideas about the modernization of the court interpreter exam, and those interpreting modalities you believe must be included.