Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Corinne McKay

This fourth installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series features Corinne McKay, French-to-English translator and current president of the American Translators Association (ATA). If Corinne’s name is familiar, it may be thanks not only to her visible role in the ATA, but to the fact that she is a regular contributor to The Savvy Newcomer and also the author of what many consider to be the quintessential guide for aspiring freelance translators, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. Read on to discover why you could say Corinne was born to translate, how her time spent in Nepal and Switzerland ended up benefitting her translation work years later, and why the formula for freelance success may be simpler than you think.

A birthday to match her calling, and her long-term dedication to the profession at large

In 2002, I had a master’s degree in French literature, a baby, and the desire to find a job where I could use French and work from home while my daughter was little. I quickly gravitated toward translation, and found my calling (proof: my birthday is International Translation Day!). In those early years, I really relied on my local translators’ association—the small but mighty Colorado Translators Association—and on the contacts I made in ATA. I became ATA-certified in 2003 and attended my first conference in 2004, and then began moving up the volunteer ranks, serving as Colorado Translators Association president, ATA French Language Division administrator, and finally joining the ATA Board in 2012.

Mountaineering and the unlikely connection between time spent in Nepal and a French book translation

My favorite project from the past several years was being selected by Mountaineers Books (a US-based publisher of outdoor adventure literature and guidebooks) to translate two mountaineering memoirs. The first was Ang Tharkay and Basil P. Norton’s Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay, and the second was Erhard Loretan and Jean Ammann’s Night Naked: A Climber’s Autobiography. These projects were fascinating from a few points of view: I was able to combine my love of and interest in languages and mountains (my husband and I spent four months in Nepal after we got married, and he’s also half Swiss, so I’ve visited many of the places mentioned in Erhard Loretan’s book), and I was able to help bring to life the words of two authors who are no longer alive. Ang Tharkay died of natural causes, and Erhard Loretan was killed in a mountaineering accident. So that was gratifying: to be contacted by Ang Tharkay’s family members who had never really heard his story before. Night Naked was also shortlisted for the 2017 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature; although it didn’t win, it is actually an honor—to me at least!—just to be nominated, and I was proud that it was the only work in translation to be nominated.

A word of advice on success, from the person who wrote the book on the topic

So much of succeeding in your first few years as a freelancer is just showing up. You need excellent language skills; you need to be a good writer (or speaker!); you need to target specializations that are marketable and that you know a lot about and/or enjoy researching and reading about. But in addition to that, you just need to do the boring, tedious, repetitive work that allows you to develop a steady base of regular clients who send you work, so that you can spend your time working rather than looking for work. I get so many emails from translators who say something like, “I’m so discouraged! I’ve sent out 25 emails to potential clients and only two have responded! What am I doing wrong?” To which I respond that during my first year as a freelancer, I contacted over 400 potential clients (and tracked them on paper… I still have the index cards to prove it!) and still, it took about 18 months until I was earning anything close to a full-time income. If your mindset is that you would be so great at this job, if only someone would consistently funnel you a steady stream of high-paying, interesting work, then you should find an in-house job instead of trying to be a freelancer. That sounds harsh, but it took me a long time to accept that very few translators enjoy marketing or looking for work in general; but an ability to force yourself to do that is what differentiates the happy and successful people from those who are just translating what lands in the inbox.

A work in progress: On constantly honing one’s skills and discovering new territory

I always ask clients for feedback on every translation. Some of my clients have in-house translation departments, or the clients themselves speak enough of both languages to give feedback. I stress that even if their feedback is negative, it helps me improve. I also commit to ongoing professional development: taking Coursera classes in my specializations, participating in ATA webinars, and attending lots of sessions at the conference every year. I’m currently working on improving my interpreting—in a sense, that’s not difficult, because I’m starting from close to zero!—but it’s a good way to maintain and improve my spoken French, which is a critical skill since I work with lots of direct clients who don’t speak any English. My “baby” daughter who was my motivation to start a freelance business is now a sophomore in high school, so I’d like to actively pursue interpreting when she goes to college in a few years.

For clients not already knocking on her door, an experiment in handwritten notes

I have a pretty active web and social media presence, so I’m fortunate in that a significant percentage of my clients have found me online. I also actively network with other translators and we refer work to each other. Finally, I try to send out at least one marketing contact every day or every few days to a client I don’t know but would like to work for. My primary marketing method is warm emails, but I’m currently experimenting with handwritten notes. I can report back on how that goes!

Image credit: Pixabay

Corinne McKay, CT is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator and the current president of ATA. She has worked as a freelancer since 2002, translating for the international development, corporate communications/content marketing and non-fiction book sectors. Corinne also writes and teaches for other freelancers; her book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator has sold over 11,000 copies, and her blog Thoughts on Translation was voted the best blog about translation in the 2016 ProZ.com community choice awards. She will serve as ATA president through 2019.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Frieda Ruppaner-Lind

English-to-German and German-to-English translator Frieda Ruppaner-Lind is among those intrepid linguists who count their experience not in years, but decades: in her case, three of them. Indeed, translation has existed for at least as long as the Rosetta Stone, but few would disagree that the act of translating itself has never changed more than it has over the past few decades. For that reason, there is a certain respect for our colleagues who have experienced the rapid evolution firsthand.

Frieda, whom we interview in this third installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” series, may not have chiseled her translations in stone, but she did once use a DOS-based CAT tool!

Read on to hear her thoughts on the importance of research in translation, why we could all stand to read more, and a sometimes-overlooked resource translators should secure before working with direct clients. You can also learn more about her specialization in technology, medicine, and business in her 2015 interview with Caduceus, a publication of the American Translators Association’s Medical Division.

On finding a career in language and going solo

Growing up in Germany near the Swiss border, not very far from France and Italy, it was taken for granted that people spoke at least French, understood Swiss German, or spoke some English. Throughout secondary school I studied French, Latin, and English and discovered that my talent for languages far exceeded the one for math and sciences. Several years later, with a degree in translation and after moving to the US, I worked in-house for a large manufacturer for one year and then embarked on a freelance career.

Her favorite thing about translating

Doing research! This is one of the most interesting aspects of our work—not only does it help us produce quality translations, but we also learn so much about new technologies, procedures, and broaden our horizons.

Advice for newcomers: learn, network, and plan ahead

  • Learning never ends. Keep your curiosity for learning new things and be a voracious reader—you never know when and how your work can benefit from that. And don’t forget—network with colleagues, join groups, chapters, etc.
  • If you are looking for direct clients or already have some, have a game plan. Learn about them and their products and make sure you have a couple of qualified colleagues that can cover for you and/or edit your work.

Ways to improve one’s translation skills

I love to read, whether books, magazines or online. I also subscribe to a medical newsletter in German to learn about the latest procedures and technologies. In addition, I attend ATA and regional conferences and workshops.

How she gets clients, or the value of being visible

I have long-standing relationships with a few agencies and network with other English-German colleagues—I either recommend them or they recommend me. My best direct client found me in the ATA directory, as have most of the agencies I work with.

Her favorite venue for networking and why

It’s still the ATA conference and our chapter conference. You meet both colleagues and agencies and get out of your comfort zone.

The value of belonging to professional associations

I am a member of ATA, a regional ATA chapter, and the German BDÜ (German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators). The main benefit is networking and exposure to potential clients.

Translation tools of the past and present

I have had many favorite CAT tools over the years. My first one was XL8 and it was DOS based! Now I am dating myself. In fact, the first translation I worked on in the US ended up being the first and last I ever did on a typewriter; I then purchased an Apple III and had to go to Germany to get the German version of Apple Writer III. This was in the early eighties. (Without computers, I probably wouldn’t have remained in this line of business.) I am now happily using Trados Studio and sometimes memoQ and love the additional apps for Studio.

Image credit: Pixabay

Frieda Ruppaner-Lind has been a full-time English-German freelance translator for three decades. She is a graduate of the Translators and Interpreters Institute at the University of Heidelberg with a degree in translation for English and Spanish and is ATA-certified from English into German and German into English. Her main areas of specialization are technology, including medical technology, and related areas. She has been active in ATA both on the regional and national level for many years as chapter president, ATA committee chair, and ATA board member in addition to giving presentations at regional events and the ATA conference.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Maryam Abdi

In this second installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series, Maryam Abdi, Somali-English translator and interpreter specializing in law, reminisces about how and why she ultimately chose a career in translation and interpreting (T&I) over law school, the elements of successful entrepreneurship for translators and interpreters, why she encourages new translators to think beyond their passions when it comes to specializing, and the pros and cons of working in a language of lesser diffusion.

Law-school hopeful turned translator-interpreter

In my third year of university, I interned at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and I found myself—like many aspiring lawyers—stuck doing clerical work. I wanted to get a “taste” of the legal profession before making the big investment of attending law school. I figured the best way to get my feet wet was to work as a court interpreter and legal translator. I had an excellent grasp of my language pairs (I grew up bicultural and bilingual) and proceeded to research how to become a freelance translator and interpreter. To launch my translation career, I applied to translation agencies while simultaneously working on my translation and interpreting skills.

After several months of experience, I enrolled in the California Court Interpreters Program to take the exam and get registered as a court interpreter. The learning curve was steep, since I was building my interpreting skills from scratch. It was challenging, but I loved the process every step of the way, because I was determined to succeed. After I graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a year of interpreting and translation experience under my belt, I came to the decision to not go to law school. At the time, the market was flooded with new law school graduates, and jobs for attorneys were on the decline. There was high demand for my skills as a Somali translator and interpreter, and the outlook of employment in the translation industry was very promising.

Two passions are better than one, and recognition for her pro bono work as a translator-interpreter

In primary and secondary school, I would spend hours teaching myself languages. In university, I decided early on to pursue a career in law. What I love about working as a court interpreter and legal translator is being able to combine my two passions: law and languages. Besides the perks of being location independent, I find the most gratifying part of my work is helping Somali speakers navigate the legal system and exercise their civil rights. I’m passionate about language access for persons with limited English proficiency. Since 2009, I’ve been volunteering my interpreting and translation services to pro bono attorneys representing victims of human rights abuses. One of my proudest moments was being awarded The State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel Certificate for Pro Bono Legal Services for my interpreting and translation volunteer work. In one year, I volunteered over 100 hours in my spare time while running a full-time translation practice.

In hindsight, the importance of entrepreneurial skills for translators and interpreters

Instead of trying to figure things out on my own, I wish I would’ve reached out to more freelance translators in the beginning to learn from their experiences. Some of the biggest challenges I dealt with early on stemmed from my lack of entrepreneurial skills. Universities prepare students to become employees and don’t teach the skills necessary to run a business. The number of freelancers, contractors and temp workers is on the rise worldwide. According to the personal finance company Intuit, by 2020 more than 60 million members of the US workforce alone will be contingent workers; full-time jobs are on the decline. Translators who strive for success and longevity in their careers must aim for mastery in their profession and learn to negotiate, build a network, sell, and effectively communicate with clients.

Advice on how to avoid pitfalls in one’s early career and choose a specialization—wisely

Besides working on the mastery of translation and interpreting skills (which is a lifelong pursuit), my tip to newbies is to carve out a lucrative niche for themselves so they can find quality clients. On average, a lot of new translators spend too much time tweaking their website, designing business cards and agonizing over their rates; these are all important components of running a successful translation business, but they aren’t what should be focused on initially.

Instead, translators and interpreters should test their specialization to see if there’s sufficient demand for their language pairs in their specialization. This requires them to “listen to the market” by talking to others with the same language pairs, project managers or potential clients in order to gauge demand. Choosing a specialization haphazardly by following a passion is how many translators find themselves struggling to find clients. It’s difficult to create demand. Strategically selecting an area of expertise takes more work up front, but helps many translators avoid “dead-end” specializations and clients that don’t have the ability or the desire to pay for quality translation services.

The challenges and rewards of working in a language of lesser diffusion, and the growing competitiveness in T&I

I work in a niche language. Unlike widely spoken languages, there are limited resources available in the Somali language. For example, most of the dictionaries are outdated and haven’t kept up with modern Somali. This poses a challenge for many Somali interpreters and translators who want to improve their language skills. In the beginning of my career, I tried to enroll in interpreting and translation certificate programs, but realized they were all created for more prominent languages. I also noticed there was a limited number of online and offline courses available to translators and interpreters of languages of lesser diffusion. Although this may appear to be a disadvantage, working in a less common language has helped me think outside of the box when it comes to maintaining my interpreting and translation skills.

Over the years, I’ve created a number of glossaries for my specialization that I’ve shared with other Somali interpreters and translators. Creating glossaries and reference guides has significantly boosted my translation and interpreting skills. Collaborating and consulting with other Somali translators in my specialization and having my work reviewed by colleagues has also been tremendously helpful in refining my professional language skills.

I also try to learn from other industries as much as possible, especially from my target market. I do this by taking continuing legal education workshops, which have dramatically improved my background knowledge in my niche. The barrier to entry in the translation industry is low, and the profession is only going to get more and more competitive in the near future. I have found that high-value clients want to work with translators and interpreters who are experts in their industries. Simply being “good enough” as an interpreter or translator isn’t sufficient to break into the premium market. By taking continuing education courses created for my target market, I’ve not only positioned myself as an expert in my specialization, but I’ve improved my professional language skills.

Maryam Abdi is a registered Somali court interpreter and the owner of Expert Somali Translations, a boutique firm offering Somali > English translations and cultural consulting services to legal and government sectors. Maryam holds a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is a recipient of the State Bar of California’s Wiley M. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services, for her volunteer work as an interpreter and translator for victims of human-rights abuses.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Rosario Charo Welle

There is much to be learned from our colleagues, but it can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with the “pros.” For that reason, we at Savvy have done the work for you and are excited to announce our new interview series, “Linguist in the Spotlight,” where we pick the brains of experienced translators and interpreters and bring their stories right to your screen. We hope their stories and sound advice will inspire you and perhaps even encourage you to ditch the fear of introducing yourself at an upcoming event.

We kick off the series with an interview with Rosario Charo Welle, ATA Spanish Division Administrator and English-Spanish translator with more than 20 years of experience translating in the fields of education, marketing, public media and communications, and health care. Charo shares the story of how she pursued a career in translation despite (and in some cases, thanks to) some of life’s greatest obstacles; her favorite tool for reviewing her own work (you might be surprised!); her favorite project to date; and one thing she wishes she had known 25 years ago.

A serendipitous start: From a personal loss and an intercontinental move to future gains

What got me started in Translation and Interpreting (T&I) was my exposure to foreign languages and becoming bilingual while living in my native Dominican Republic. While I was in high school, I studied English as a second language at UNAPEC Academy of English. I remember how the passion for languages sparked as I found myself excelling at my English lessons. After high school, I pursued a degree in Modern Languages at the Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago. Two years later, a sudden personal loss forced me to put my career on hold. Meanwhile, I worked for an NGO where my duties included translating environmental documents. It was then that I fell in love with the intellectual challenge of taking a Spanish text and going through the process of conveying its meaning in English.

Hence, in 1993, I started my first translation business in partnership with my sister, who was also bilingual. However, we dissolved the business that same year, this time due to happier circumstances that brought me to the United States. In 2000, after a seven-year hiatus, I resumed my translation calling and accepted a job as the in-house translator for my local school district. There, I worked as a translator, community interpreter, and cultural liaison. I served as an interpreter trainer for the district’s Special Education department, and set the district’s standards and guidelines for translation, which included creating formal glossaries. I learned the ropes of translating and interpreting in the areas of education, communications, and marketing. Eight years later, I felt ready to become a freelancer again, and began translating for direct clients and collaborating with colleagues. From 2008 to 2012, I was a part of the language access department of Children’s Medical Center Dallas. I worked for them on an hourly basis and gained valuable experience through the translation, editing, and proofreading of health-care documents used primarily for patient education.

On her favorite project, and the underestimated challenges of translating for education

One advantage of specialization is that it gives translators and interpreters the freedom to choose projects they find meaningful. I am fortunate to work in fields oriented toward nurturing, empowering, informing, educating, and caring for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Therefore, I have participated in many meaningful projects. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Sesame Workshop’s Little Children Big Challenges Community Guide. It gives me great satisfaction and a sense of pride to have contributed as a Spanish proofreader to the production of a resource that has reached and impacted a large segment of the communities in the United States.

Translators and interpreters working in education and community relations understand that, while texts in these fields may seem simple to an outsider, many are complex and challenging. That is, rendering the intended meaning within the appropriate context for the receiving audience is an involved process that entails a thorough understanding of and insight into the subtle differences between the source and target languages and cultures. This particular experience was rewarding in several aspects, including the opportunity to work on a diverse team of recognized professionals for a widely renowned nonprofit organization.

What keeps her invested, a common misconception, and the successful translator’s nature

My favorite aspect of translation is the intellectual and creative challenge of transforming the source text into meaning for the audience that will receive my translation. This leads me to touch on the common misconception that if one is bilingual or a polyglot, then one can automatically become a translator. This is far from the truth, since, in addition to the ability to speak more than one language proficiently, there are other attributes that, I dare say, should be second nature when performing our jobs. These include curiosity, perspective, creativity, critical thinking, research skills, and a passion for learning and for other cultures, to name a few. The combination of these elements facilitates the translated message in such a way that the author and the reader become inevitably engaged in the dialogue. Consequently, in my process, I involve analysis, research, critical thinking, creativity, and ethics to convey meaning accurately and without bias.

One of her favorite tools for reviewing translations

Translators and interpreters of the 21st century enjoy many advantages, thanks to the Digital Age. We can utilize software and applications that make us more productive and marketable. There are some that have become almost indispensable for my day-to-day work and help me deliver quality and accuracy. One of my favorites is the ReadAloud text-to-speech tool, which allows me to implement excellent quality control when editing and proofreading. Particularly when it comes to large volume of words, this app (which is compatible with Windows 10) relieves the tediousness of reading nonstop. For instance, it reads my English content to me aloud while I carefully and simultaneously read the Spanish translation in search of omissions, typos, redundancies, and conceptual and syntactical inconsistencies. I especially like that it reads the content directly from my clipboard without the need to paste it into the application. This app is functional and essential.

Advice for new translators, and her plans for the future

What I wish I had known when I started out (besides having the same level of proficiency in my two working languages), is that it was fundamental to invest time and effort from the very beginning in formal training. Whether it is majoring in T&I, completing a certificate of studies in T&I, or becoming certified, anyone who wants to start in the industry should consider seeking venues to acquire professional training. After I was already working as a translator in the United States, I realized the need to formalize my skills if I wanted to brand myself as a professional. I found the American Translators Association and its Spanish Language Division, whose many mentors led me to local T&I trainings and the translation program at New York University. Investing my time in formal training has made a big difference in my career. And, as a lifelong learner, I am already planning to pursue a graduate program that will further enhance my translation skills.

Image credit: Pixabay

Rosario Charo Welle is a freelance Spanish-English translator and editor, serving direct clients and partnering with colleagues. For the past 17 years, her working expertise has been concentrated in the fields of education (Pre-K-12), public media and communications, marketing, and health care.

A member of ATA since 2001, she is the current Administrator of its Spanish Language Division (SPD) and leader of its Leadership Council and committees. Charo graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Communications from the University of Denver and holds a Certificate in Translation Studies from New York University. Email: charowelle@veraswords.com.

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.