Century College Translating and Interpreting Certificate/AA: A Day in the Life

By Kristen Mages

Century_college_logo_lrgIf you fall into the vast majority of the population, you may never have heard of Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. I hadn’t either until I recently moved back to the Twin Cities and was looking into options for studying interpretation as a career. That’s when I stumbled upon Century College’s Translating and Interpreting (TRIN) program, which came highly recommended to me by my new boss at a large pediatric hospital in the area.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that the TRIN program at Century College has been around since the fall of 2009, when it was created to help meet the increasing demand for professionally-trained interpreters in Minnesota. As one of two such programs in MN, the Century program is unique in that it offers two tracks of study. There is a 30-credit certificate program and a 60-credit Associate in Applied Sciences Degree. All of the classes are language-neutral, meaning that any language pairs are acceptable for students, and all classes are taught in English. Language reviewers are brought in periodically each semester to give feedback to students on language specific elements of their work.

Classes are offered in a variety of formats. Some, such as Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Skills of Interpreting, are evening classes held on campus. For these, you must be either physically present at Century or at one of its partner schools, located in more remote areas of MN, where an ITV (Interactive Television) system is used. Other classes are entirely online, and yet others are a hybrid of the two formats. By offering a variety of options, Century College enables students to study in the TRIN program while holding down a day job or raising a family.

As I already have a Bachelor’s degree, I opted for the certificate program. The first step was to take the introductory courses and get to know my classmates and professors. From the onset, I knew I had made an excellent decision in choosing Century. Classes were small, ranging from 7-20 students, which allowed for us to develop close relationships witheach other. One of the best parts of the program was getting to know the other students since we all came from such different walks of life. We were pretty evenly split between students born in the United States and students born in other countries, and the languages among us included Spanish, Arabic, Hmong, Russian, and Korean. Some of us had previous university education, even master’s degrees, while others had never attended college. Some of us had chosen translation and interpretingas our first career while many others were coming back to school after working in other fields or raising a family. And finally, some of us had already been working in the field as freelancers while others had never interpreted a single encounter. Despite all of these differences, we were united in one common goal: developing ourselves professionally so as to become trained interpreters ready to take on the challenges of a rapidly evolving field.

At the end of the first semester, each student is required to take the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in both of their working languages. We were required to score an Advanced High or Superior on both in order to continue in the program. Admittedly, we were all a little nervous about this. But in addition to working on interpreting and translation techniques in our first semester, we had also learned how to be confident in our abilities.

As students advance through the program, they are able to personalize their courses to their particular areas of interest, whether that be inthe medical field, legal field, educational arena, or all of the above. In each higher-level class, the Century College language lab is utilized, and we quickly became proficient in using both recording programs such as Audacity and Sanako. Additionally, a frequent assignment is to go out, observe and interview working interpreters in the courtroom, classroom or another setting. We would then write reflection papers on what we learned and share it with our classmates.

Toward the end of the program, students are placed in internships according to what setting they plan to work in. This is an opportunity to gain some real-world experience and of course, a great way to connect with potential employers. Another wonderful networking opportunity for students is the Student Success Day TRIN panel that takes place every semester. For this event, the TRIN program brings in a panel of speakers to answer students’ questions and share the triumphs and challenges of being an active interpreter or translator in the field. These panelists include interpreter services managers at hospitals, hiring personnel from translation agencies, freelance interpreters running their own businesses, etc. Oftentimes this panel features Century TRIN program alumni who share their firsthand experiences of transitioning from being students to full-fledged professionals.

Besides the diversity in in the classroom, another excellent part of the program is the TRIN potluck at the end of the semester. You have never seen such a spread of food as everyone proudly brings a dish that represents the culture they most identify with! Plus it’s a great opportunity for all of the different levels of students to meet up and chat in a relaxed setting.

Overall, the Century TRIN program has been exactly what I wanted! It has enabled me to take my career to the next level by equipping me with the necessary tools to do my work well and connecting me with many valuable resources in the area. I feel more than prepared to fully enter the field after I finish my last semester this fall!


About the author: Kristen Mages is a TRIN student and freelance interpreter based in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, with a B.A. in Honors Spanish and Communications. She then went on to live and work in the Dominican Republic for two years. Upon returning to the United States, she began the TRIN certificate program at Century College. She has completed two semesters of the program and will take her final classes as well as complete her internship in the fall of 2014. When not studying, she works as a freelance interpreter in various medical and educational settings. She is a member of the Upper Midwest Interpreters and Translators Association (UMTIA) and NAJIT.