Translators and Interpreters: The True Influencers

In this article, I will define influencers as those who make change happen, who are catalysts of the developments they seek. In translation and interpreting, that is up to the professionals in the field. This is true of any other profession, since the professionals understand their field best. According to the authors of The General Theory of the Translation Company, we need a bit more debate to move forward as a profession.

The translation profession has advanced since the early days of Saint Jerome and Marco Polo, through the celebrated interpreters of the Nuremberg trials, and the legislative and certification accomplishments our colleagues have led us through in the United States since 1964. At this point, nurses assume healthcare interpreters will be certified, judges assume that interpreters are certified, and contracting officers expect translators to be certified or be able to demonstrate equivalent skills. We have shown that we are professionals.

What are the new challenges that lie ahead, as we work with clients in today’s world?

Due to the limited resources many companies have today, there is a new emphasis on leveraging all the skills employees bring, including their ability to write in languages other than English. That means that translation is not always outsourced to professional translators. We will be asked to review the text that is either translated or written directly in the non-English language by the employees. To be ready for this task, it helps to pick up some editing skills from our colleagues in editing associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (for English) or the Spanish Editors Association (for Spanish). Being able to discuss the text from an editor’s point of view will help us in our conversations with clients.

Bilingual employees review our translations for suitability because they are in contact with the public who will use our translations. We need to learn how to respect their point of view and accept some of their input while defending some of our choices.

As interpreters, now that our work is remote, we have different scenarios than we were used to. For example, when we were trying to connect with the Spanish speaker in an attorney-client interview, we realized that the attorney would not be able to dial that specific number. I was able to solve the communication problem by translating a quick email, translating the email with the response, and so on for a couple of hours, the same time I had reserved for the appointment in the first place. I became a transterpreter.

When we are asked to rush through a translation, we need to help our clients understand the risks involved. Can we translate in our sleep? If we ask for help, and we work with a team, then we have to spend some time unifying the text. Partial deliveries of a project can mean that we have to go back and send updated translations. The more our clients understand these issues, the more they support us. I usually tell my clients I will charge them extra for worse quality. They limit the amount of rush translation.

When we interpret on a remote platform, do we ask how we will communicate that it is time for us to say something? Can we turn our cameras on to get their attention when we need to? Do we get the information we need ahead of time to prepare for our interpreting assignments? Even having the material that the attorney will read out loud during the appointment is helpful so we can sight translate and follow along.

How do we prepare to shine tomorrow? Do we watch our health and stamina level and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves? We do very poor work when we are overly tired, and our clients are the first to notice.

How do we manage to keep track of it all? When I studied to be a teacher, my professors told me I could delegate everything that would not have my imprint. Could someone else format our text so we can use a CAT tool? Can someone else do our bookkeeping? Can someone else help us with our website? Can someone else troubleshoot that computer problem we are having? Would that free up our time for translation and interpreting so we can make more money on what we do well?

Do we spend time interacting with our clients so we can know them better? That will help us serve them better and help us be the ones to define our role. By doing that we will learn about interesting learning opportunities at SCORE, at the Chamber of Commerce, at the Oregon Medical Association and other places that might not give us continuing education credits but will make us much better at serving our clients.

Clients are looking for professionals who are certified in what they do, continually improve their craft, and advocate for their profession. That is what accountants, engineers, attorneys and other professionals do. They love it when we tell them, “Sorry, that day I am meeting with some government officials to discuss the profession.” We, the practitioners, define our profession. We move it forward. We, the professionals, go to the halls of government and tell them how we do our work. The future of the profession is in our hands.

A language access timeline for interpreting on the West Coast

 

This post originally appeared on Gaucha Translations and it is republished with permission.

Interpreting is a professional field. What was once done by whoever was bilingual now has an established certification process. There are less and less reasons to work with unvetted providers. This timeline tells the story on the West Coast, where I live. I am from Oregon, where I am certified as a healthcare interpreter and a court interpreter. The story is told from an Oregon perspective. However, nothing happens in isolation. Oregon often works in partnership with the other West Coast states, or observes their work closely. What happens in the court interpreting field affects the work in the healthcare interpreting field. The story would not be complete without the federal context. Therefore, there are elements from all West Coast states and the history of court and healthcare certification is intermingled.

1964: Passage of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.

1974: Lau v Nichols, a case brought in California that was decided in the Supreme Court: This court case establishes that national origin includes language. When children arrive in school with little or no English-speaking ability, “sink or swim” instruction is a violation of their civil rights, according to the U.S. Supreme Court in this 1974 decision. Lau remains the major precedent regarding the educational rights of language minorities, although it is grounded in statute (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), rather than in the U.S. Constitution. At issue was whether school administrators may meet their obligation to provide equal educational opportunities merely by treating all students the same, or whether they must offer special help for students unable to understand English. Lower federal courts had absolved the San Francisco school district of any responsibility for minority children’s “language deficiency.” But a unanimous Supreme Court disagreed. Its ruling opened a new era in federal civil rights enforcement under the so-called “Lau Remedies.” The decision was delivered by Justice William O. Douglas on January 21, 1974. (quoted from Lau v. Nichols excerpts at Languagepolicy.net)

1978: Federal Court Interpreter Act: determined that The Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts shall establish a program to facilitate the use of certified and otherwise qualified interpreters in judicial proceedings instituted by the United States. NAJIT provides a listing of currently certified Federal court interpreters. Currently, this certification program is limited to Spanish.

1981: Complaints are filed with the OCR, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on behalf of clients at three different hospitals in Washington State, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The complaints allege that, by not providing service in a language their patients can understand, the hospitals are discriminating against patients on the basis of national origin. OCR and the hospitals sign voluntary agreements.

1982: MAA’s (Medical Assistance Administration of DSHS) reimbursement program decreases the hospitals’ share of financial reimbursement for those patients on Medicaid.

1989: Region X OCR issues a brief guidance on the need to provide qualified interpreter assistance if receiving federal funds. DSHS sends a reminder letter to Medicaid contracted providers that they must provide language access services to their clients

1989: WA State Court Interpreter Act creates court interpreter certification program under AOC and interpreter commission.

1991: WA State agrees to pay for interpreting services for Medicaid patients.

1991: Negotiations for consent decrees are the result of Evergreen Legal Service’s continuing complaints (and court dealings) that Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was not living up to its earlier agreed upon measures to provide translation/interpretation service. Reyes Consent Decree settles class action Title VI lawsuit and creates the DSHS interpreter certification exam.

1993: First certified WA DSHS Social Services exams.

1995: First certified WA DSHS Medical exam as part of the certification program for medical and social service interpreters.

1993: The Oregon court interpreter certification program was instituted by statute, and is now administered by the Oregon Court Language Access Services. An interpreter may be certified in Oregon by the State Court Administrator upon satisfactory proof that the interpreter is certified in good standing by the federal courts or by a state having a certification program that is equivalent to the program established under this section.

1995: Oregon and Washington, with New Jersey and Minnesota, founded the Consortium for State Court Certification. This came about as a consequence of findings and professional relationships established during research conducted by the National Center for State Courts between 1992 and 1995. (NCSC FAQs)

1996: California passed the California language assistance law and began administering its medical certification exam and its court administrative hearings exam

In the opening paragraph,  the California language assistance law says: As used in this article, “language assistance” means oral interpretation or written translation into English of a language other than English or of English into another language for a party or witness who cannot speak or understand English or who can do so only with difficulty. […] The cost of providing an interpreter under this article shall be paid by the agency having jurisdiction over the matter if the presiding officer so directs, otherwise by the party at whose request the interpreter is provided.

1996: The Federal Government passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which defines confidentiality. Contract health care interpreters are considered business associates and are required to comply with this law.

2001: The federal executive order 13166 was signed. EO 13166 requires Federal agencies to provide meaningful access to services to people with limited English proficiency, and to ensure that beneficiaries of Federal financial assistance also comply with this requirement. This is to ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are accessible to LEP persons and thus do not discriminate on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI’s prohibition against national origin discrimination. The Department of Justice provides detailed information on this topic, as well as resources to fulfill this guidance, at lep.gov.

Court interpreters are now required to show proof of continuing education every two years in order to maintain their credential.

2001: The Oregon Health Care Interpreter law was passed. This law defines qualifications for health care interpreters in Oregon, creates a registry for certified and qualified interpreters, and encourages the use of certified health care interpreters or qualified health care interpreters whenever possible to ensure the accurate and adequate provision of health care to persons with limited English proficiency and to persons who communicate in sign language.

2010: Bill granting unionization rights to interpreters rendering services to WA DSHS and their Medicaid clients, directly or indirectly passes. WFSE wins PERC election. Interpreters elect their first bargaining team.

2012: National medical interpreting certification programs NBCMI and CCHI were accredited by NCCA. See this comparison chart of interpreting certification programs in the Northwest.

2012: The US Department of Justice updates its Language Access Plan, clarifying the definition of vital documents and qualifications of interpreters and translators. There is more information on www.lep.gov.

2014: Oregon health care interpreters gave public testimony on HB 2419, a bill related to their profession, for the first time.

2016: Interpreter services provided by a health care interpreter certified by the Oregon Health Authority were specifically included in the Oregon Worker Compensation rules based on testimony submitted by Helen Eby, OSTI President at the time, in November 2015.

2018: Language defining the qualifications of interpreters and translators was included in the regulations for the Affordable Care Act.

2018: Bill grants unionization rights to interpreters working WA L&I and DES appointments. It also requires centralized online scheduling system for all executive branch state agencies.

2019: Bill granting Oregon healthcare interpreters the right to unionize, making the State of Oregon the public employer of record of health care interpreters, passes.

We have come a long way!

The field of language access has grown in professionalism, based on laws and court proceedings. We could not have done this without the support of those who came before us. Now we have to continue to grow in applying professional standards, so interpreters are united in their application and those who work with us know what to expect from a professional in our field.

2020: Approximately 700 certified and qualified interpreters on the OHA registry and approximately 150 certified and registered interpreters on the Oregon Court Language Access Services registry.  A search of RID members in Oregon yields 212 results when selecting all available certifications. There are approximately 1000 professional interpreters in Oregon, assuming no overlap. As a point of comparison, in 2013 the Oregon Health Authority listed 41 certified and qualified health care interpreters on its registry, compared to 700 today.

Related articles: The National Health Law Program published a Summary of state law requirements addressing language needs in healthcare on April 29, 2019.

Resources I consider very useful:

1994: The Interpreters Rx, by Holly Mikkelson, was published. This was written to support interpreters who prepared for the medical-legal exam, which is all that existed in California at the time. It was really testing for medical-legal evaluations.

2007: Eta Trabing published the Manual for Interpreters in School Settings. This is one of the earliest resources for school interpreting available.

Emails asking for translation or interpreting rates: Here’s how I respond

I often get requests for my rates from organizations that are trying to build a database of individual translation or interpreting service providers. An individual provider is a person who does their own work, also known as an interpreter or translator. Keep in mind that prime contractors (large language companies) can’t provide services without a sufficient number of subcontractors (individual translation and interpreting providers). We as the practitioners have a responsibility to steer this conversation.

The prime contractors often start with questions about rates, and their emails go something like this:

“I found your name on the website for Professional Association X. Are you interested in translating or interpreting for us?”

Note that there is no personalization. Nothing about your specific profile that stood out, nothing personal. They aren’t trying to build a business relationship with you; they just want data.

“If so, what rate do you charge by the [insert very small unit here]? Are you certified in [insert specific certification here]? Do you have any experience with [insert specific service]?

Sincerely, Person X”

At the end of these emails you’ll often see phone numbers listed in more than one city. So you know for sure that if you call, you won’t get Person X on the line! So how do I respond?

“Yes, I would be thrilled to translate and interpret for you! I charge by the [usual large unit, minimum number of units]. I am certified in [list all my certifications, not just the one they asked for]. I have experience in [providing specific service]. As a matter of fact, I have been doing that since [year], and my clients preschedule my services at the rates mentioned above.

For more information, please check me out at [LinkedIn, my website, etc.]”

This way, when someone contacts me back, I get to continue the conversation on my own terms. I make the next move and set the terms of the discussion. I own the story about my profession and get to answer the questions I wish they had asked instead of the ones they did ask.

Next time you get an impersonal client email that seems to be fishing only for numbers and data to add to a database, try this technique! Professionals set their own terms and set rates that work for them.

Connecting with translation and interpreting clients during a pandemic

COVID-19 has changed the way we connect. For public health reasons, networking events are no longer taking place in person. Since February 2020, people around the world have been recasting their connections. What used to be in person is now done remotely if possible.

What are we noticing?

I have been attending meetings with my local Chamber of Commerce, which has done quite a few things:

  • They switched their weekly live event (usually over 50 attendees every Friday) to a Zoom session every week.
  • They set up three trainings a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, for Chamber members to learn how to switch their business models to survive the new circumstances.
  • They moved as many networking meetings as possible to Zoom sessions, with the same schedule they had before.
  • They invited the Mayor for a Town Hall in English and another one in Spanish.
  • They are keeping members abreast of all developments, and set up tip jars, resources for starting up, and an amazing support service.

What have I learned through these sessions over the last three months?

  1. Be there. Show up and be involved with your community, no matter how your group meets. Yes, we are anxious to have coffee together, but can have at least this connection with some precautions.
  2. Go through your old, discarded list of contacts. As you look at it, you will remember some of the conversations you didn’t have the time to follow up on. Now is the time. Those people remember you too. Just send a couple of emails a week and see how it goes. Personally, I took all the cards I had collected and dropped them into an Access database. I am contacting a few of the people in that database a week.
  3. Take a few online trainings. Personally, I need at least 30 minutes between one online session and the next because meeting online is more intense than meeting face to face. I take those 30 minutes to take a couple of notes, maybe send a quick email, even stretch or have a cup of coffee. I like to start each session somewhat fresh.

How to participate in online events:

  • Focus on the content.
  • Participate in the chat. Then, select all the text in the chat (control-a), and copy it into a Word document so you can follow up on whatever you want to keep track on.
  • Keep in mind that in the chat you can send private messages. It is like passing secret notes in class and it is a lot of fun!
  • You are on candid camera, so pay attention to how you look. You are now part of the gallery show. You can, of course, turn your camera off or choose speaker view. Keep in mind that if you choose speaker view, the rest of the world can still see you so picking your nose is still a no-no! By the way, artificial backgrounds make your head look strange when you move at all.
  • In the chat, at least in the case of the Chamber of Commerce, the first thing we all do is write our name and email address so folks can get in touch with us later. Every online session is a networking session. That is how we collect cards today. Go for it! Add your phone and a short blurb about yourself. For example: Peter Pan, peterpan@youthful.com, keeping the world happy. Now we know who Peter Pan is, how to reach him, and what he does! Just remember, nobody likes an essay in that section…

There is a dizzying amount of online conferences, online networking sessions… Take advantage of a few of them. However, don’t forget to pick up the phone and call a friend, send a card to a client, call someone to ask how they are doing, write an email to your contacts and tell them how you are coping. Today, being human is expected. All calls start with “How are you doing?” and people actually want to know.

What do I want to keep from this era?

  • The flexibility in extending deadlines when my internet crashed, and everything took longer because of COVID. Nobody broke a sweat.
  • How nice everyone is, since everyone starts phone calls by asking how we are doing. I like being treated as a human being.
  • FaceTime stories with my two-year-old grandson every day! That lightens up my day.
  • The sense that we are in this together. The whole community is acting that way in so many ways. When one person is successful, the whole Chamber rejoices. When one interpreter gets quarantined because they were with someone who got COVID-19, everyone is sad. There is a huge sense of community.
  • The respect for people who are ill. “No, stay home, please.” It used to be, “Well, can’t you go interpret anyway?” (and probably catch whatever bug is floating around with a weakened immune system if you are not well, to add insult to injury.) Now, if only some interpreters didn’t have to pay a penalty for missing appointments… I would be even happier.

So, stay well. Take care of business every day. Remember, taking care of business includes:

  • Taking care of yourself. You are your most important asset. Never skip this.
  • Doing paid work, if that is on your schedule for the day.
  • Contacting sources of work. Always save some time for this!
  • Doing other things that will set you up to be a stronger professional. This should always be on your weekly schedule.

By the way, some say we will be interpreting remotely for the long haul and that remote meetings are the norm for the rest of our lives. As I interact with my neighbors at the Chamber, I am not so sure. We are tired of Zoom. We want to connect in person. We celebrate every meeting that moves from Zoom to in-person!

How we stay in touch might change based on the circumstances. We are still people and work with people we know, like and trust.

Stay connected. Be human.

Starting at square one as a translator or interpreter: What does it take?

From time to time we at The Savvy Newcomer receive questions from our readers that make for great blog post topics. This is one of them! Here’s a question from one of our readers who’s just starting to pursue an interest in languages and wants to know how to get started.

Q: Is there any advice you could give for someone who is starting out at square one, wanting to learn another language, with the end goal of interpreting? This may be a wild question, but I have always had an interest in other languages, and cultures, so interpreting and translation work are very attractive vocations to me. How would you recommend someone starting to make that career shift?  And do you happen to know what languages are in demand, or the most useful to know?  Are there any language schools you would recommend?

A: Thanks for asking! The Savvy Newcomer has a couple of posts that may be of interest (How to become a translator or interpreter, Translation/interpreting schools, Interview with student interpreters) but it sounds like you need a bit more direction on the front end as you consider learning a language and go about getting started.

One of the key requirements is a very strong language background. Interpreting and translation, based on quite a few testing results I have seen, require skills beyond the minimum requirements of Advanced High on the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) scale.

To reach that level, people usually have to get far beyond what can be accomplished in the institutional setting in the US. It generally involves at least a year in a foreign country, immersed in the language, not spending their time with the other US students who are there doing immersion programs but going to local choirs, doing some kind of local volunteer work, etc. beyond their academic work to get into the community.

However, even a very high ACTFL score is not a guarantee of translational action skills (the ability to convert the message from one language to another, whether orally or in writing). Interpreting and translation both require congruency judgment, which is an extra skill on top of that. It goes beyond being a walking dictionary. Asking any of us translators what a word means would leave us flummoxed. However, when we are given a problem to solve in context, our brains start clicking and we can be helpful.

Language proficiency is an essential prerequisite. Without language proficiency, there is not much basis for cultural understanding, according to the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) guidelines, and culture is part of the written code. For example, Americans have a tendency to sign a business letter “Pete”, but that would never fly in Argentina. It would be “Mr. Peter Brown,” and the letter would be in the formal usted (you). Anything else would just not go. So you need to understand the culture it is going to as well.

Interpreting and translating, though they purport to leave the person who does the language transfer invisible and not change the message at all, by necessity have to make these minimal adjustments so the message reaches the audience the way the original speaker or writer intended it to get there. Otherwise, it is disrespectful to the speaker or writer. We understand that and generally are doing what I would call “transcreation very light” invisibly. Clients do not like translations where this does not happen.

For example, if a client were to accidentally write “the ocean is full of fresh water,” they would call me out if I translated it that way. They would say I made a mistake in my translation. So I translate it as “the ocean is full of salt water.” I also send them a note, saying I translated it this way, and if they want it to say “fresh water” I can put it back but I would like them to be aware of the issue in the source text.

Of course, this does not apply to some translations submitted to the court as evidence. But even then, we translate so the courts can understand the writing. We typically do not reproduce grammatical mistakes to make the text illegible. It’s very hard to do, and we run the risk of overdoing it and making it a caricature… and getting sued.

So translation is more complicated than it looks. We have to consider a lot of things when you look under the hood, and we carry a lot of responsibility in the language transfer. We take it seriously. These are the opinions I’ve formed from years of experience and from conversations about these topics with my clients.

Readers, what questions do you have about getting started?

Image source: Pixabay