What I Care About

By Helen Eby

hand-577777_1280What have I learned over the last few months?

I care about people.

María Díaz. Wow! She was one of my students in a class in Woodburn. She was a nurse in Mexico, and came to the US because her son needed medical treatment. She knew no English when she came, but she had been managing five clinics in Mexico. She went from being in charge of the medical treatment of many people to having no understanding of the world around her while her son was in and out of doctor appointments. However, she never gave up. Almost thirty years later, she showed up in my medical interpreting class. She had worked in the kitchen at a restaurant and at a paintbrush factory, had taken ESL, and was now a case manager at a clinic. Read her story here: http://blog.gauchati.com/story-of-immigrant-interpreter/

Emerlinda. She grew up in rural Mexico. Her parents only let her go to school up until 6th grade. She was working at a childcare center, and I was using space in the center to teach interpreters how to write better. She jumped in and joined us, despite the fact that she hadn’t written anything for a class in over 40 years. In my class, I teach people by getting them to read good literature and write paragraphs based on what they think about the readings, and then we discuss grammar topics based on what they’ve written. Before I knew it, Emerlinda was explaining to the class what her “Teacher Chola” had told her in 4th grade, and was telling one of the other students how to understand stories by Cortázar, one of the great Argentine authors. Dictionaries don’t really help us understand certain things. Emerlinda had the cultural background to understand this, which John was lacking. I would have loved to take her into a college Spanish literature class to explain this story! In a few months, she had improved her writing significantly based on what we were doing. She was telling others how important it was to read. When her husband made it difficult for her to attend our sessions, I left a suitcase full of books at the center so she could read during lunch breaks. Nothing could stop Emerlinda once she had been bitten by the reading bug!

Emily. She just got back from getting her Masters in Interpreting in Spain and she signed up for my medical interpreting class in Woodburn. By the luck of the draw, she also asked the ATA for a mentor, and they assigned her to me! Wow! She’s awesome. We are working on how to help her to launch. Just helping her connect with local people, local needs and opportunities, and having lunch for a few hours once in a while is a privilege. And it sure is weird to teach someone else a class about what I learned by experience, while she studied it in a Master’s program, and one of her professors is the author of the book I’m teaching from! Emily and I have become friends. She wrote a document based on her Master’s research for a group of members of the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI) to take to Washington DC in April (read more here).

Cynthia. She just graduated from college. She has a major in Linguistics and a minor in Spanish. She has so much to offer, and I have so much to learn from her! She’s my daughter, and I want to support her as she starts on her own path – it’s her path. She is already starting to tell me what I should be doing better… and she is right, almost all the time.

The Savvy Newcomer team. This team is amazing. I’m not going to go down the list (except for Cynthia), but each person is truly amazing and has taught me something special. Together, we work together and make great things come together for the benefit of others.

There is always something special in everyone around us. Every job we do is for someone who deserves our respect. If we do our jobs with that in mind, thinking of María and of Emerlinda, who still remembers what Teacher Chola taught her, we will do our jobs differently.

And then… I did something totally insane.

This summer, I organized a Training of Trainers for The Community® International here in Oregon. Twenty highly qualified interpreters came, fifteen of them from Oregon. After that, I walked with a lighter step. Now, if anything happens, I rest assured in the knowledge that we can work as partners and we can work together to solve problems. If a health issue comes up, one of my colleagues can teach my class. As a trainer, that is a huge relief! Knowing that others also care about training interpreters in Oregon is wonderful, too.

This training event would never have happened without support. It was, again, a team effort. Who helped out?

  • Western Oregon University. They wanted to reach out, and help ASL interpreters and spoken language interpreters to reach out to medical interpreters in Oregon together.
  • An organization that coordinates quite a few healthcare providers scattered throughout Oregon contacted me to offer support. The medical providers told us they needed us to be available to train staff and interpreters throughout Oregon, and Western Oregon University gave us a significant break in the cost of the space.

It seemed impossible. But with these partners, the impossible happened. We brought the training down to a cost that interpreters could afford, and they came to a retreat. It was awesome, and now we have a team that cares about others. We’ll see where it goes from here: http://blog.gauchati.com/tcitot-agenda/

Interpreting is teamwork. Even when we interpret, we are a team with the person we interpret for. When I say, “The interpreter requests a clarification,” it means, “I need your help to get your message across clearly. You and I are on the same team.” In simultaneous interpreting, of course, we have a partner in the booth who is tremendously supportive. We also are a team with the person who helps set up the project.

Translation is teamwork. I usually send a list of queries to my client: “Where you said this, I thought you should have said this, and translated it this way for now. Is that OK, or should I change it to something else? Please let me know. And you have a typo here. Please clarify.” The clients love it. Of course, there is also the reviser – a translator who is just as qualified as I am and who can tell me, “Helen, this is a better way to say it.” Or, “Helen, your translation is too literal; I think you’ve traveling into Calque-Land here. You may want to travel back to the land of good writing.”

We don’t ever work alone. We are a team. But, back to the original issue: people matter. The people I work with and work for really matter. When I train interpreters, blog about my work, and lead The Savvy Newcomer, I keep people in mind and I do it all with their support.