Tablets for Interpreters: The Device You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission by the authors (incl. the images)

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more.

The latest tablets offer a host of streamlined tools for interpreters, even in high-stakes settings like court and conference interpreting. How can interpreters take advantage of these tools for business tasks, assignment preparation, and consecutive and simultaneous settings?

Come along with us for a tour of some of the tools we recommend. After reading this you’ll have a better idea how to incorporate tablet technology into your workflow.

Glossary Management

A glossary is an important part of any interpreter’s toolbox. Building a list of useful and important terms during the preparation phase can really help you get up to speed on the topic at hand. And once you have a glossary for that topic or, say, a specific conference or client, it’s much easier to build it up over time. Obviously, electronic glossaries are much easier to maintain and expand than paper ones. However, this doesn’t preclude you from printing your electronic glossary for an assignment, if you so wish. (But you might as well just use your tablet.)

While we won’t go into the details of what you should put in a glossary, we can show the different approaches that exist in terms of glossary management software. The most basic approach would be creating a table within a Word document, but we don’t recommend this as it’s simply too rigid to work with over time. Similar criticism applies to spreadsheets (i.e., Excel files), which seem popular among interpreters. However, they are not very flexible, and there is the potential risk of getting your terms mixed up when something goes wrong during sorting. If you still prefer spreadsheets, some mobile apps1 you can use include Microsoft Excel (available on iOS and Android, free for basic use), Google Sheets (free on both platforms), or Apple Pages (iOS only, free with your device).

Alexander prefers dedicated apps that work more like databases than spreadsheets. They tend to be more robust and provide more options for working with data. One example is Interplex, which has a long tradition on Windows computers and is co-developed by Peter Sand, an interpreter and member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Interplex is also available on mobile devices (iPhone, iPad) and lets you synchronize data through Dropbox.

If you’re looking for a web-based solution, make sure to try Interpreters’ Help. In addition to robust glossary management features, such as reverting back to older versions when something goes wrong, this app is also quite social-savvy when it comes to collaborating with other users and sharing your work on the “Glossary Farm.” Interpreters’ Help has a companion app for iPad, called “Boothmate.” Android users should check out Memento Database, a very user-friendly way to manage not only glossary data, but also all kinds of other information (like client contact information or a to-do list).

On top of standard spreadsheet features like filtering, sorting, or rearranging terms, database-driven apps allow for faster searches and give you more control over importing existing glossaries and exporting your data—not to mention the additional possibilities to go beyond just words by adding images, video, or audio. It may sound strange at first, but think about it: for highly technical topics like medicine or engineering, visualizing terms can make a lot of sense. As does recording the pronunciation of a difficult term in a short audio clip, or making a video glossary for sign language. There are a lot of potential uses. If you want to give it a go, I recommend using an easy-to-use app called Airtable. It brands itself as a mix of a spreadsheet and a database, is available on the web and mobile devices, and 
can be used collaboratively. (See 
Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

There is one more aspect where electronic beats paper hands-down. You may have already worked on a shared Google Doc with somebody else online, but did you know that Google also has an online spreadsheet tool (aptly named Sheets) that you can use to collaborate on glossaries with remote colleagues? (Leonie Wagener, a Germany-based conference interpreter, has published a tutorial on AIIC’s website about this.2) The benefits of this approach are obvious. You can split up the workload of bigger conferences (e.g., by speaker or by language), you get valuable input from others, and there’s a built-in chat to discuss issues with the team. Everybody contributes, and everybody ends up with a solid glossary.

Even if you work on your glossary solo, it’s a good idea to add terms during the assignment. After all, we often get the best terms from the people for whom we work, and we know the terms are relevant. This also means less work when you get back to the office, as there’s simply no need to go through all the scraps of paper with scribbles on them that you usually bring home.

Freelance Business Tasks

For freelancers, tablets also offer a modern way to take care of administrative functions, even while you are on the move. Prepare estimates, invoice jobs, do bookkeeping, and keep up on marketing tasks—non-billable work that traditionally had to wait until you got back to the office—are now easily taken care of during long lunches or on the ride home.

For example, interpreters can use their mobile phone or tablet to send job invoices before they leave the building while the job details are fresh in the mind of both the freelancer and the client. This encourages prompt payment and cuts down on email exchanges to correct or explain invoices. Applications such as Quickbooks and Expensify allow you to snap a photo of an expense receipt for automatic filing and categorization, thus avoiding lost receipts and menacing piles of receipts awaiting entry.

For your social media marketing, try using Feedly and Alltop to track new content on your favorite websites and blogs, and Buffer to quickly schedule social media posts that share your favorite articles or promote your own content. (See Figure 2.) Mailchimp, a service for email distribution lists, allows you to view and send your email campaigns and monitor their delivery statistics almost in real time.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

And speaking of email, it can be overwhelming at times, so why not try a few email apps for tablets that bring new ideas to the game, such as snoozing incoming email, read receipts, or sending messages later. If you’re intrigued, take a look at Newton (Android, iOS) or Spark (iOS).

Digital Note-Taking

Alexander: In some ways, using a tablet and stylus (a digital pen that mobile devices recognize on their touchscreens) to take consecutive notes digitally instead of on paper is the holy grail of “tablet interpreting,” although it may not immediately seem superior to the old way of doing things. I think it’s simply a lot of fun to try out!

The perfect hardware combination for this, in my opinion, is an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. But unless you already own those two, don’t go out and buy them just to see if digital note-taking is for you. Instead, work with the tablet you already have. If you don’t own a stylus yet, borrow one or buy an inexpensive option. For example, Wacom’s Bamboo styluses are very affordable and widely available.

Incidentally, Wacom also provides a free note-taking app: Bamboo Paper. As almost all note-taking applications, it works with the familiar notion of notebooks organized on a shelf or in a library. When you open up Bamboo Paper, you’ll see one or more blue notebooks that you can rename to your liking. Tap on a notebook to open it. At the top of the screen, choose your favorite writing utensil (e.g., ball pen or felt pen), stroke width, and writing color. An eraser is also available. Now you’re good to go! I don’t recommend taking interpreting notes straight away. Instead, you might want to start slowly by doodling to get a feel for how the app works. Move on to jotting down a shopping list or short text, and when you feel more comfortable, try taking notes for a short test-style speech from Speechpool or the European Union Speech Repository. If you get hooked, then digital note-taking is probably for you. Great note-taking apps for iPad are Notability and Noteshelf. (See Figure 3.) They both integrate with lots of styluses, including the Apple Pencil, and they support cool stuff like audio recording.

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Holly: I haven’t tested digital note-taking on recent Apple products, but I’ve had great results on Android tablets and my current sweetheart, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (laptop/tablet hybrid).

Samsung tablets use the Android mobile operating system and come with a free app called S-Note that meets all my note-taking needs. For example, it offers continuous page scrolling (no searching for a button to go to the next page) and automatic deactivation of hand recognition (ensuring your palm doesn’t mark or move the digital paper, allowing for a natural hand position for writing). Samsung discontinued the Note line of tablets that featured a pen-size stylus that nested neatly into the body of the device, but there are many compatible stylus options to suit any preference. Just look for the one that feels natural for you and play with the settings in your note-taking app to get the type of stroke you like.

Another option, if you want to do all your computing and note-taking on one lightweight device, is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or a similar laptop/tablet hybrid—many manufacturers are following Microsoft’s lead in this space now. (See Figure 4.) For notes, DrawBoard PDF, intended for viewing and annotating PDFs, has proven to be perfect for consecutive notes, which don’t need to be organized or stored later. Just create a new document (selecting your preferred “paper” color and texture) and start taking notes. When clients require destruction of notes, it’s as simple as deleting the file.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Much More than for Entertainment

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more, replacing their laptops with feather-light tablets. Professional devices are much more than an overpriced entertainment device. For example, Alexander uses his iPad Pro as his main computer for almost everything, from referencing documents in the interpreting booth, taking notes on consecutive assignments, and writing blog posts and editing podcasts. Holly brings her Surface Pro 4 to assignments as a tablet and mobile workstation—even running two full translation programs—and connects it to a dual-screen desk setup when at the office. Prices for basic devices start at just a few hundred dollars, so it’s a great time to try out tablet interpreting.

App Roundup

Apple iOS      Android OS      Windows
* Access using mobile browser

Glossary Management
Interplex: ••
Interpreters’ Help*/Boothmate: 
Airtable*: ••
Memento Database: 
Microsoft Excel*: •••
Google Sheets*: •••

Business Tasks
Quickbooks Online: •••
Expensify: •••
Feedly*: •••
Alltop*: •••
Buffer*: •••
Mailchimp*: •••

Bamboo Paper: •••
Drawboard PDF: 
S-Note (Samsung only): 

  1. Apps: Ubiquitous shortened form of applications, mobile device programs.
  2. Here’s the link to Leonie Wagener’s article:

Holly Behl is an ATA-certified Spanish>English translator and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter. She has been experimenting with interpreting applications for tablet technology since 2013, with reports available on her blog, The Paperless Interpreter ( Contact:

Alexander Drechsel is a staff interpreter at the European Commission’s Interpreting Service. His working languages are German (A), English (B), French, and Romanian (C). He is also a bit of a “tablet geek,” and and regularly shares his passion and knowledge with fellow interpreters during training sessions and online at Contact:

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Services and Specialization

This post is the third (read the first post here and the second post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

What services should I offer?

Many translators provide more than just translation services. Since many are self-employed, it can be helpful to offer related services in order to differentiate yourself, serve customers’ needs, and bring in extra income.

Here are some of the many ancillary services translators may offer:

  • Bilingual editing: Reviewing another translator’s work by comparing the source and target texts for accuracy and consistency, and checking the target text itself for precision, structure, and flow.
  • Monolingual editing: Reviewing a non-translated document for all of the above-mentioned characteristics.
  • Transcreation: Translation of a text that involves recreating part or all of the document for use in the target language and culture.
  • Proofreading: Reviewing a monolingual or translated document for proper writing conventions, including grammar, spelling, sentence structure, agreement, and punctuation.
  • Transcription: Creating a written transcript from a spoken audio or video file (may be mono- or multilingual).
  • Interpreting: Orally rendering communication from one language to another (
  • Content/copywriting: Writing text (creating new content) for advertising or marketing purposes.
  • Localization: Adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (
  • Copyediting: Reviewing raw text for issues such as errors and ambiguities to prepare it for publication in print or online (
  • DTP (Desktop Publishing): Formatting and adjusting the layout of a document for publication in print or online.

When deciding what services to offer, you may want to consider tasks you have performed in the past—perhaps a previous employer had you interpret, or colleagues and friends have asked you to provide summary translations of newspaper articles or other documents. You may have been the go-to proofreader for your office or done some desktop publishing as a side job or for other purposes. Along with your past experience, think about particular strengths you may have that could pair with certain services: If you are a good creative writer, then transcreation may be up your alley. If you have a keen eye for mechanical errors and grammar, perhaps you are well suited to proofreading and copyediting services. If you prefer to work with the spoken word, then interpreting is more likely to be for you.

You may also want to consider your current software and hardware setup when deciding what services to offer. Translators often use an array of software tools to assist them as they work. These will be addressed at length in a later post, but translators often use CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, editors may use computerized proofreading assistants, and transcribers often use audio editing software and transcription applications to aid in their work.

What should I specialize in?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to specialization is, “What area do I know a lot about?” Many translators focus on just one or a limited number of areas of expertise rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having and stating specialization(s) gives your clients confidence that you are knowledgeable about the material you are translating, and it can even help you command higher rates as a result.

Specializing can be as simple as having had a previous career in the legal field or volunteering as a candy striper in the hospital for many years. Some ways to develop your specializations or continue to learn about them include attending university classes (online or in person), following journals on the subject matter, and reading in order to develop specialized glossaries.

A few common specializations in the translation industry include:

  • Medical (e.g., clinical trials)
  • Legal (e.g., partnership agreements)
  • Business (e.g., sales proposals)
  • Marketing (e.g., brochures)
  • Software (e.g., computer programs)
  • Tourism/hospitality (e.g., guidebooks)

When you are just getting started, you can choose to indicate your preferred subject areas by listing specializations on your business card, résumé, and/or LinkedIn profile, or you can choose to work with more general topics until you have gained more experience and feel comfortable stating a specialization.

Readers, do you have any other services or specializations you offer that weren’t mentioned here, or tips on how to decide when you’re just getting started? We’d love to hear them!

Image source: Pixabay

Interview – Robyn Dean on Ethics: Metaphors or Values?

Robyn Dean

Robyn Dean

Reblogged from the ATA Interpreters Division blog with permission from the author (incl. the image)

In preparation for the ATA conference, Marsel de Souza interviewed Robyn Dean, the Interpreters Division’s guest speaker at the ATA 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco. This interview focuses on the following sessions and much more:

  • Returning to Ethics: A Meta-Ethical Analysis of Community Interpreters’ Codes and Standards of Practice
  • Critiquing and Deconstructing Metaphors: A Normative Ethical Framework for Community Interpreters

She will also be participating in a panel on interpreting ethics:

  • You Did What? Making Sense of Conflicting Codes of Ethics, Part I and II.

The details on these sessions can be found at this link.

Read about the interview’s key concepts in the following abstract. Read the full transcript below

Robyn does not see a conflict between the ethical codes in interpreting. Instead, she believes that the diverse sources of information interpreters use to make decisions on ethical issues can cause confusion.

Sociolinguistic perspective Ethicist perspective
Explains behaviors with metaphors. Interpreters are:
• bridges
• conduits
• members of teams
Metaphors describe behavior without judgment and evaluation.
This perspective uses:
• values
• principles
• consequences of an action
• rules
These constructs are used to evaluate that behavior in light of the values that the setting and our profession offer as important.

Metaphors are really limited in their helpfulness. We should be asking “what are community interpreters responsible for?”

For years, our field has held to the value of “allowing service users to interact with each other in the most natural form that they can, without interruption or interference.”

The team member metaphor seems to be advancing the idea that the values of the setting matter to interpreters in light of their decision making. We have to consider the consequences of forfeiting one value that is important to us as a professional for another value that is also important to us. This is part of what Robyn will explore at greater length in San Francisco.

One thing Robyn found as she did her PhD research is that interpreters can’t speak the ethical language of the people they’re often collaborating with. Poorly constructed ethical thought (such as through the devices of metaphor) stunted interpreters’ ability to think critically about, reason through, and evaluate decisions.

The ethical decision making framework Robyn will discuss in San Francisco includes the concepts of conflicting values and professional principles as well as how to include the values of the setting in our decision-making. This framework also incorporates questions about responsibility for professional values and consequences of behavior.

Robyn has written about observation-supervision, a technique based on what medical professionals call problem-based learning. She can refer readers to articles on observation-supervision, which she has developed with a team. Scenarios are certainly helpful in some regards, but they’re also very static, they fail to present sufficient information for discussion, and people make assumptions about things that may or may not be true.

Robyn would argue that our profession should consider modifying the certification process, borrowing from what many other practice professions do. Performance tests can be coupled with other evaluation opportunities, such as portfolios, for certification. Performance tests that are just one-off tests only do so much to measure a person’s effectiveness. Portfolios are another way of getting access to the effectiveness of an individual’s skill set. Going back to the idea of supervision, if a new practitioner passes their minimum competencies, then the interpreter would be allowed to practice under the supervision of a certified practitioner. If we adopted such a design, then  interpreters who have passed a proficiency exam would work under the supervision of others and would have to regularly engage in supervision or reflective practice sessions. Then, after a certain number of hours of work under supervision, the interpreter would be able to apply for certification, which would allow them to work independently.

Robyn Dean has been a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for over 25 years specializing in health care. She has over 20 publications, all of which focus on the theoretical and pedagogical frameworks used to advance the practice of community interpreters. She is currently an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she is the lead instructor for the Institute’s postgraduate degree in health care interpreting. She also teaches courses for postgraduate degrees designed for sign language interpreters in Europe.

Interviewer: Marsel de Souza, Interpreters Division Assistant Administrator

Abstract editor: Helen Eby, Interpreters Division Leadership Council member

Robyn Dean on Ethics: Metaphors or Values?

Marsel de Souza: You will be delivering a number of talks at the ATA Conference San Francisco. You will be discussing conflicting codes of ethics in a two-part presentation. What can interpreters do to navigate this multitude of codes successfully?

Robyn Dean: Thanks for allowing me the time to talk with you – I am happy that we are having the opportunity to expand on some of these topics in advance of the conference.

What I would characterize as the conflict of ethical codes is not so much that ethical codes themselves conflict. Rather, I think it is that where interpreters get ethical material – that is, guidance or information about what they should or should not be doing in a given setting or context in Community Interpreting (CI) – can be confusing. And this material can come in different formats. The main goal for my two presentations is really to help interpreters understand material on ethics that’s coming from different places and formats. The people who have contributed to CI and ethical thought have been sociologists and sociolinguists; it’s important to note that the devices sociologists use are different than what ethicists use. What can be confusing is that when sociolinguists write about CI, they tend to use devices in their field, such as metaphors, to explain behaviors – “interpreters are like bridges,” “interpreters are like conduits,” “interpreters are like members of the team.” People start using metaphors as a way of describing in a very broad sense what an interpreter’s behavior has appeared to be when it was observed. Ethicists, however, would not suggest that metaphors be used as a way of guiding and evaluating the right action or the ethical behavior. You use constructs such as values, principles, consequences of action, and even rules. These are the devices used for evaluating a behavior, not just describing behavior. In other words, metaphors describe behavior without judgment and evaluation but these other constructs are used to evaluate that behavior in light of the values that the setting and our profession offer as important.

What I think interpreters find confusing, whether it is material from ethical codes, standards of practice, commonly used books in the field, is the mixing up of terminology and devices between these two different approaches. Describing behavior and evaluating behavior require the use of very different devices. So what my talk will hopefully do is help interpreters make that translation – pun intended – between the ethical material that perhaps sociologists and sociolinguists have been deriving and talking about over the years (usually through metaphors) and try and put it within the context of ethical thought – how you evaluate decisions, not just how you describe decisions. In my talk, I am going to set forth the framework about how to begin to do that within our profession.

MdS: You described the evolution of metaphors to refer to interpreters. In the beginning, there was the “helper” and “conduit” metaphor, and it seems to me that the current term is the “team member.” Is this the current state of play?

RD: I would argue that this has a lot of power in the sign language interpreting world and in the spoken language interpreting world as well, yes.

MdS: Do you think that this is a satisfactory metaphor right now? Or do you think that we will be eventually shifting to a more appropriate metaphor? What is the next step in this evolution?

RD: Metaphors are really limited in their helpfulness. I don’t think metaphors should be used – though they have been used – as a way of documenting the history and development of CI. But of course, I’m coming specifically from the sign language interpreting (SLI) field. A series of metaphors has been used to document the change in ethical thought within the field over several decades. I would say is that in order to go forward we have to stop that – [laughs] – and instead begin to articulate these thoughts through ethical constructs. We should be asking, “What are community interpreters responsible for?” If indeed interpreters are working like members of the team when they work in community settings, then they seem to be saying that interpreters have some responsibility to the values of the setting they walk into. In essence, I think this is what this team member metaphor is trying to convey.

What do people really mean when they say, “the interpreter was acting as a member of the team”? It’s hard to identify the actual behavior, because metaphors are intended to be “meta” of above. Did it mean that the interpreter reached in and helped the surgeon remove the cancerous tumor? Probably not! It probably meant that the interpreter was behaving in a way that revealed the values of the setting, perhaps in ways that might have conflicted with the values traditionally associated with interpreting.

For example, if an interpreter has the value in one hand from interpreting that says to us “allow service users to interact with each other in the most natural form that they can, without interruption or interference” – that’s been one of the values in our field for years. The metaphor we have used to refer to that concept has been “interpreters are conduits”, “we’re merely bridges”, “we’re the voice box of others” – that’s the way people come to talk about that. But if we translate that from a sociological realm into a values-based realm it’s referred to – I would argue – as allowing people to engage with each other in a natural way that discourages interference from the interpreter. That’s a typical value we have as community interpreters. But sometimes that value can come into conflict with other values of the setting. I’ll use sign language as an example: it is not unusual for deaf people when they are ‘listening’ or watching the interpreter to nod their head. IN this instance, nodding their head does not mean ‘yes’, it means ‘I’m with you’ or ‘I understand what you’re saying.’

If a doctor were engaging that deaf individual in a conversation about informed consent – “do you want this treatment?,” “this is what this treatment’s going to look like,” “here’s what this alternative treatment would look like,” etc. – and if the deaf person were nodding their head, the doctor might reasonably assume that the deaf person was agreeing to whatever treatment was being proposed. So one very well known value in the medical setting is informed consent. If I, as the interpreter, don’t have the sense that this deaf individual is necessarily agreeing with the doctor but merely understanding the doctor, and at the same time the doctor is assuming agreement, then the value to allow people to behave as they naturally would without interference is forfeited. Another value, the value of informed consent trumps this value in terms of immediate importance. Now, in light of the team member metaphor, one could argue that I am responding to the values of the setting, in this case medicine.

This becomes generalizable to the values inherent in community settings. The team member metaphor and its use in the field seems to be advancing the idea that the values of the setting matter to interpreters in light of their decision-making. That is a quick example of the ways in which we can understand the ‘team member’ metaphor, which I will go into greater detail during my presentations. I will also expand beyond this metaphor to talk more generally about how practitioners of CI can adapt these devices from the field of sociolinguists to the field of ethics. In the field of professional ethics, it is very common to explore value conflict or what Aristotle referred to as ‘Incommensurable Values’; it is a natural component of decision-making. We have to consider the consequences of forfeiting one value that is important to us as a professional for another value that is also important to us. This is part what I will explore at greater length in San Francisco.

As a direct response to your question of “where we go from here?” I will suggest that we stop using metaphors as a way of talking about professional ethics and instead we identify as practice professionals. In other words, as practice professionals, we understand the unique contextual factors that are necessary for being able to make good and effective and ethical practice decisions.

MdS: It seems to me that as we evolve through the metaphor spectrum we don’t really have a clear-cut distinction between one metaphor and the previous one. It seems to me that in many situations without any culturally critical aspects involved, you can have the interpreter as a conduit, but they may need to put on the team member cap depending on what comes up, so you would have a kind of combination of metaphors.

RD: Yes. I agree with that, it’s confusing. But in part, it is confusing because of the way you have explained it – through metaphor – putting on one cap versus another. Imagine if we were talking to a clinician and we were describing our behaviors to them in these ways. They would have no clue as to what we were saying, “Sometimes I’m a conduit and sometimes I’m a member of the team.” However, what they would understand is value conflict. For example, “Sometimes I prioritize values such as this, and sometimes I have to prioritize values that come from the setting such as informed consent, patient safety, patient education, etc.” So I don’t disagree with your characterization of constantly changing caps in the spirit of describing behaviors. That’s what we’re doing from a sociolinguist’s standpoint. How do we begin to talk about those things differently – as they do in the field of professional ethics? One thing I found in my PhD research is that interpreters can’t speak the ethical language of the people they’re often collaborating with, and that’s a problem. And the other problem I found is that poorly constructed ethical thought (such as through the devices of metaphor) stunted interpreters ability to think critically about, reason through, and evaluate decisions. If I am talking about values that are forfeited versus values that are prioritized, then that makes me both aware of and responsible for one of the values in a given decision that is forfeited. That sets me up to now wonder if there is anything I can do to mitigate those negative consequences. But if I talk in terms of ‘Which cap am I going to wear? The conduit hat or the team member hat?’ There’s no opportunity for me to ask ‘Was that a good decision or what were the negative consequences of that decision?’ If I am merely understanding my behaviors as moving between caps, when is there an opportunity to say ‘I shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘Maybe I should have done that’, whereas value conflict automatically forces you to move into the place of ‘So what are the consequences of forfeiting that value?’

MdS: You mentioned the word ‘ethics’ a few times. You said that community interpreters and sign language interpreters are constantly faced with decisions they have to make based on values and this involves ethics. In one of your sessions in SF you will be discussing an ethical framework. Can you give us an overview of this framework?

RD: What I’ve said thus far is an introduction to that framework; this idea of value conflict and professional values as well as the values of the setting being included in our decision-making. The other part of the framework are questions about consequences of behavior and responsibility for professional values. One important aspect of decision-making noted by ethicist James Rest was that it’s not that practitioners make poor decisions; it’s that they fail to understand the situation accurately to be able to find a fitting response. He referred to this as a professional’s ‘moral sensitivity’. What he suggested practitioners often lack is a developed sense of ‘moral sensitivity.’ I would agree with him and argue that interpreters are to be blamed per se, but it is the nature of community interpreting – we are called in to be a guest in everybody else’s home – to use a metaphor [laughs].

As a result, there are lots of things that are true about that setting and that we should be able to consider as important to our work without even knowing they exist because we’re not as familiar with them. Obviously, interpreter training would advance interpreters’ ability to identify those salient factors. So part of the ethical framework I’ll be talking about refers to the importance of understanding those contextual factors, being able to talk about them in theoretically-based ways, but then to be able to move into this idea of ‘How do we understand the consequences of our decisions in light of this context and how do we follow through on our responsibility to the values?’

An additional important aspect that I will talk about in terms of this ethical framework is the importance of interpreters to be willing to quickly respond to resulting demands that emerge out of values that get forfeited.

MdS: Let’s talk about education. Last year the ID conducted a survey of members covering multiple topics. One of the questions was about ways of helping our members develop. A significant number of respondents mentioned education and certification programs. Given the dilemmas and challenges you described, what advice would you give if you were to assist in the design of an effective CI training program?

RD: I’ve already done this to some degree and I have written about a technique based on what medical professionals call ‘problem-based learning,’ and the technique that we’ve developed – and we can refer readers to articles on this topic – is referred to as ‘observation-supervision.’ In addition to all the important lectures and didactic materials that are made available to interpreting students, I would argue that experiential learning, getting direct access to community settings they will eventually work in. By observation, I do not necessarily mean observing interpreters but actually just listening to the native language of the country – in our case, English – listening to two English speakers in that particular service setting and getting access to that. We’ve done that in both medical and mental health – these are my two areas of expertise. As an educational approach, we send interpreters to follow clinicians in psychiatry in with their English-speaking patients. What the interpreter observers are expected to do is collect material through completing a form that identified the important factors about that practice setting, about the interaction, about the individuals, etc. Then with that completed form, with that information, they join group meetings of maybe 8 to 10 other practicing interpreters who are also doing observations. All have the chance to present the material that they have observed, while maintaining confidentiality. Then, as the instructor leading these sessions, we use this practice material in a hypothetical nature, like ‘What if that patient or defendant or employee had been deaf…how would you handle this? What kinds of decisions did you make, and where in this situation would you have taken action?’ This way, we begin to develop interpreters’ abilities in essence to be better at ethical sensitivity and ethical judgment, — to be better able to know what typical service settings look like and how to begin to behave effectively in those before they start working in them. I would argue that more experiential learning opportunities would be very helpful for interpreters in that regard. This type of educational approach we write about repeatedly is called different things, such as case conferencing…

MdS: …reflective practice.

RD: Exactly. And all those techniques are intended to allow the interpreter to use the practice setting material – whether it’s because they’ve interpreted or because they’ve observed it – as a way of starting from the conversation. One of the problems with using ethical dilemmas and scenarios is that they don’t allow the interpreter to pick up on – by way of experiencing it – the really good nuance that you only get by being there. Scenarios are certainly helpful in some regards, but they are also very static, they fail to present sufficient information for discussion, and people make assumptions about things that may or may not be true. I’ve written about this problem with using ethical dilemmas as a tool in another article that I’m happy to share with readers.

MdS: You are a Certified American Sign Language Interpreter. Again, one thing that many respondents to the survey mentioned was certification opportunities. Can you speak a few words about this Certification?

RD: Sure. Our national organization in the U.S. is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). RID has been certifying interpreters since the 1960s and 1970s. We’ve had several iterations of our certification test. The test is designed as most tests are – as a performance-based test passing interpreters at minimum competencies. That is, if you pass, RID is not necessarily saying that you are therefore able to work in any service setting or you’re necessarily going to be good in a particular setting – they’re merely saying that you meet the level of minimum competencies expected from a certified interpreter. If readers are interested in how we conceive of a certification, I think it is important to recognize this idea of minimum competencies.

The other thing I would argue that our profession does not do well and I would encourage other professionals to consider, again, borrowing from many other practice professions, is that performance tests can also be coupled with other evaluation opportunities, such as portfolios. Performance tests that are just one-off tests only do so much to measure a person’s effectiveness. Portfolios are another way of getting access to the effectiveness of an individual’s skill set.

The other component that I would like to see happen in certification is related to this idea of supervision. That is, if a new practitioner passes their minimum competencies, then the interpreter would be allowed to practice under the supervision of a certified practitioner. If we adopted such a design, then newly certified interpreters would work under the supervision of others and would have to regularly engage in supervision or reflective practice sessions. Then, after a certain number of hours of work under supervision the interpreter would be able to apply to be certified, which just means to work independently. What can help to assure quality is not just through a performance test, which, of course has value, but it doesn’t answer whether or not interpreters are good at dealing with and navigating – especially in community settings – the social and setting-specific practices within that setting.

Our national organization is one of the very first in the world to have established an ethical code and certification for CI. The problem with being the first is that you don’t always do it the best, so I would suggest that people learn from that. Right now, we have the competency performance test and we also have a component where you’re given a series of three, four, or five scenarios and are asked to say what’s the ethical thing to do. Again, I find that not to be very reflective of people’s good critical thinking skills and therefore should not be used as a component of the test, but instead, looking to other professions, use this idea of supervised practice as a hurdle a practitioner would have to get over in order to practice independently. So it would be good as a quality assurance process.

MdS: I think we’ve come to the end of this very instructive and insightful conversation. Thank you very much, Robyn.

The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting: A Multifaceted Resource

By Helen Eby

Routledge Handbook of InterpretingOne of my resources is The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, edited by Holly Mikkelson and Renée Jourdenais. Its twenty-seven chapters cover a remarkably broad spectrum of topics relating to interpreting, with the following sections: historical perspectives, modes of interpreting, interpreting settings, and issues and debates. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field, sometimes two, each of whom has devoted careful research to the work.

For this review, I chose the chapters which I had seen discussed objectively the least in other settings. The book is meant to be read one chapter here or there, as a reference book. The chapters I referenced for this review focus on non-professional interpreters and quality.

In the professional listservs I participate in, members discuss issues that affect our profession. The issues of non-professional interpreters and quality are discussed there, but the participants often only give one side of the story. The discussion in these chapters, however, provided a fresh, unbiased look at these issues.

Chapter 26: Non-professional interpreters
As interpreters, we believe that some uses of non-professional interpreters put patients at risk. Situations like the following, from my professional experience, come to mind:

A young mother came to a medical appointment with her seven-year-old son ready to fill in as interpreter because his baby brother had a broken elbow. He had interpreted before. He was visibly relieved to be able to be a little boy and make paper airplanes with blank pages from my notepad. The adult daughter of another patient almost didn’t allow me to interpret for her father at a dialysis appointment. I had to reassure her that I was properly certified and would allow her to correct me as needed. She enjoyed her role as a daughter for the first time in many appointments.

When people depend on untrained interpreters for high-stakes appointments, there can be significant negative consequences. Logistically, professional interpreters simply cannot be everywhere at all times. Because of that, many of us started as non-professional interpreters before we became professionals, providing important services to our communities. For example, from 1986 to 1988 I interpreted for customs and immigrations officers, as well as in church settings, in almost all countries in Latin America. That was before I was ever trained.

In the section on non-professional interpreters, Aída Martínez-Gómez acknowledges this fact. Non-professional interpreters are, she says, “individuals with a certain degree of bilingual competence who perform interpreting tasks on an ad hoc basis without economic compensation or prior specific training” (Martínez-Gómez 2007, em. original). Interpreting started as a non-professional endeavor, and she brings this to light.

An honest, unbiased discussion of this issue is refreshing. This chapter does not advocate for non-professionals to be assigned responsibilities in areas of high risk, but simply acknowledges that we simply wouldn’t be able to get along without them. As a matter of fact, most of my interpreting students got their start by interpreting for friends and neighbors before they decided they wanted to take a class to learn how to do it “the right way.” Those interpreters are often very well prepared to learn how to be professionals, and are highly dedicated to excellence!

Chapter 23: Quality
In their discussion of quality, Ángela Collados Aís and Olalla García Becerra argue that there are so many ways to evaluate quality that it is very difficult to come to a consensus. Most measures of quality are dependent on what interpreting ethics are applied to the situation. The court setting is adversarial and highly scripted, as well as being recorded, so all court interpreting codes of ethics emphasize accuracy and impartiality, because what the interpreter says in English is the record. The medical setting is cooperative, so the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) Code of Ethics includes advocacy, while accuracy is still extremely important.

While there is an ideal level of quality to which all interpreters should aspire, Collados Aís and García Becerra explain that there are factors preventing this level from being reached. We need to understand that. Quoting another study (Collados Aís et al. 2007, 215), they propose a categorization of quality, “establishing four blocks of priorities in expectations:

Block 1: sense consistency and cohesion
Block 2: completeness, terminology and fluency
Block 3: diction, style and grammatical usage
Block 4: intonation, voice and accent

“In other words, subjects attribute more a priori importance to factors related to content and message fidelity than those related to form.” (Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, em. original)

Some barriers to quality are related to poor advance planning, such as not knowing what the appointment is about, not knowing how long it will last, or being in an environment in which the interpreter can’t see or hear clearly. Quality can’t be achieved unless interpreters know what is expected of them before the appointment. Unfortunately, this is often neglected.

In Summary
I reviewed these two chapters because they stood out to me with their fresh look at critical issues. If you read the book yourselves, you will find much more information. Additionally, at the end of each chapter there is a list of suggested reading and a substantial bibliography.

I carry the book on my Kindle and don’t expect to read it cover to cover. Then again, who knows? It is an excellent reference any time I have a question about an interpreting topic.

Thank you, Holly and Renée, for your excellent work putting this together! We, the interpreters, trainers, and policy makers of the interpreting world can’t thank you enough! Everyone should have this book on their shelf, in their Kindle, or somewhere.

Aída Martínez-Gómez. 2007. “Non-professional Interpreters.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 26.
Collados Aís, Ángela, E. Macarena Pradas Macías, Elisabeth Stévaux, and Olalla García Becerra (eds). 2007. Evaluación de la calidad en interpretación simultánea: parámetros de incidencia. Granada: Comares. (Qtd. in Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, “Quality”.)
Collados Aís, Ángela and Olalla García Becerra. 2007. “Quality.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 23.
Mikkelson, Holly and Renée Jourdenais (eds). 2007. The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting. New York, NY: Routledge. Kindle edition.

Interpreting 101: An Interview with Student Interpreters

By Kimberley Hunt

Interview with Student InterpretersI had a chance to catch up with three interpretation students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). As part of the T&I program at MIIS, interpretation classes are mandatory for the first semester to give students a taste of the profession. After that, students can continue pursuing interpretation as a career. Anna Bialostosky, Elizabeth Crowell and Michael Ross are bidirectional French-English interpreters about to graduate. They have all spoken French and other languages for many years, and have lived in Paris, Perpignan, Aix-en-Provence and Nîmes as teachers, students and travelers. They talked with me about the beginnings of their careers, some of their practical experience, and advice for prospective interpretation students.

How did you first become interested in interpretation?

MR: I hadn’t even really thought about interpretation. I didn’t know there was a difference between translation and interpretation until I looked at MIIS, and even at the very beginning, I still thought I just wanted to be a translator. It wasn’t until we were required to take interpretation classes that I thought maybe it would be a nice way to vary my career.

AB: Interpretation appealed to me because it’s a little bit more social, and I thought it would be lonely to be by myself all day long. I also liked the aspect of getting to work in a lot of different subject areas.

EC: There’s also a performative aspect to it, and being a musician, that appealed to me. It’s like being on stage, with the pressure but also the excitement of having to perform on the fly.

What do you find the most fulfilling about interpreting?

AB: I find it to be really exciting. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of getting up in front of people and doing consecutive interpretation. I also find it to be sort of like a puzzle, and it’s very satisfying when everything comes together.

MR: It’s nice to connect directly with your end user. For example, with translation, particularly if you’re working with an agency, you never come in contact with the person who’s actually going to use your work. With interpretation, however, you get to work directly with them.

How did you train your brain when you first started simultaneous interpretation?

MR: We started with shadowing, where someone speaks in English and you repeat everything that they say in English immediately afterwards.

EC: We also started with doing two things at once. We would listen to a speech while drawing a picture, and then we’d have to repeat the speech in the source language. Then we listened to speeches while counting forwards and backwards. We slowly worked our way up to listening and interpreting at the same time.

AB: When we began simultaneous interpreting, we started with personal stories, which have a narrative and are a little easier to follow, as well as fairy tales, since they’re familiar to most people.

EC: We also worked with postcards, which was a lot of fun, because you have the image in front of you and can follow along with what the person is saying to activate your memory.

What is your practice schedule like? Do you practice alone or with each other?

EC: Eight hours a week [of consecutive practice on class materials] is the goal. Some professors say four hours of practice for every two hours of class, others say four hours every day, including classes and real-life opportunities. We also practice with other people in other languages, since it’s very good practice for taking relay. For example, we have a German colleague and she’ll take a speech in German and simultaneously interpret it into English and then we’ll take the English and interpret into French.

AB: We also go vice versa into English so she can interpret into German, which is really great, since it puts extra pressure on you to be very clear and go straight for the meaning when you know that someone is depending on your interpretation.

Do you go back and listen to your practice interpretations?

MR: One of the most important things about listening to your practice interpretations is making sure to animate your voice. Sometimes I might stagger through an interpretation, with lots of pauses in the text, and it’s really unpleasant to listen to.

EC: You have to make sure your tone matches the tone of the original speaker. You can’t sound like someone just died when they’re saying they went to Disney.

AB: If I concentrate on making myself sound expressive and sound like I’m communicating, then I’ll be able to get the ideas better and be idiomatic instead of sounding like Eeyore. No one wants to listen to an Eeyore interpreter.

What sort of interpreting experience have you had outside of the classroom?

MR: Some of the more colorful things we’ve done include taking a trip to a waste management facility in Monterey. We went on a tour with one of the managers and had the experience of walking around while consecutively interpreting and making sure to stay close to the speaker so they don’t get 20 feet ahead of you.

EC: We dealt with some of the issues you can face in that context, like ambient noises, as there was a lot of big equipment and trucks driving by. It was also a windy day, so we had to make sure the pages of our notebooks weren’t flying everywhere and we knew where we were in our notes. Those are good things to practice dealing with.

What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in becoming an interpreter?

AB: Be flexible and creative and be ready and able to adapt to various types of information or incongruous information. I wish I had gone to mechanic school or law school, or I wish I had learned how to fix a car in French or English. Take every opportunity to learn something new and be really curious.

EC: It’s definitely a field where specializations pay off. If you happen to be in another profession and want a career change, interpretation and translation is a good choice because that type of specialized knowledge is rare and invaluable.

All in a day’s work for MIIS interpreters! Thank you Anna, Elizabeth and Michael for your valuable insight into the life of student interpreters. If you have any questions for them, please leave a comment below or email

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