Language Access in the Spotlight – Meet Yasmin Al-Kashef & Piyawee Ruenjinda

As we are all trying to navigate our way through the disruptive changes that have taken place in our lives in the past year, it is particularly important to highlight the efforts of those making a difference in the day-to-day. In this article, the focus will be on two interpreters from Oregon working on language-related initiatives within their communities and networks.

Yasmin Al-Kashef is an Arabic interpreter, originally from Egypt, where she obtained her B.A. in English and Translation and M.A. in Translation and Linguistics and worked as a conference interpreter. Yasmin recently traveled back to Egypt to defend her dissertation as the final requirement for her Ph.D. in Interpreting Studies. Her dissertation looked at variations in individual interpreters’ styles in the various modes of interpreting.

In Oregon, Yasmin is an ATA-certified translator who has also worked in localization and healthcare interpreting briefly. She is now a registered court interpreter with the Oregon Judicial Department, where most of her work is focused on translation and court interpreting.

In our conversations, Yasmin highlighted some of the challenges that healthcare interpreters face in their profession and she hopes to direct her efforts on training for Arabic interpreters in the U.S., focusing on the practical rather than just theoretical aspects of interpreting. Inspired by the Paris Interpreters Practice Sessions (a program for conference interpreters), she has begun her work with a court interpreter practice group for peers to interact and practice together. She hopes to highlight the importance of education as a lifelong professional development endeavor beyond the goal of passing certification exams.

The study group meets virtually and, using videos of court proceedings found online, interpreters take turns acting as speakers, work in pairs, and give each other feedback, as well as discussing challenges. Yasmin emphasized the importance of making these sessions a safe space for peer training, where interpreters can feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback and just practicing. Such practice can also help ease anxiety and bring performance back up to speed when interpreters are out of practice for some time.

Yasmin reports receiving very positive feedback from study group participants and that these have helped Arabic interpreters not feel isolated when they do not know others in the profession. In locations where there are not many interpreters for a specific language, this practice also provides an opportunity for newer and more experienced interpreters interact and discuss practical aspects and to know what to expect during assignments. In the future, Yasmin hopes to compile resources for Arabic interpreters, as well as to speak at professional conferences in our field.

Piyawee Ruenjinda is a Thai interpreter who obtained her M.A. in Thailand, where she had also worked in management. Piyawee found the interpreting profession after coming to the U.S. and participating in organizing and leadership development workshops in her city. Her experience at these workshops provided her with perspective on the marginalization of immigrants who lack formal education and have limited English proficiency (LEP). This sparked her interest in working with the community, and she then took a medical interpreting course.

Being from a community with a language of lesser diffusion, she described the relief that many LEPs expressed with having someone who spoke their language and understood their culture. Many had often been sent interpreters who spoke other languages from the area, which they had difficulty understanding. Many had been refugees from nearby countries who had grown up in refugee camps and had learned Thai but were not fluent in medical terms. She found that such issues often caused immigrants to not seek medical care and often “lay low.” In that sense, she also acts in her role as an advocate, bringing awareness to providers about language differences and informing community members about language services, as well as helping connect people with services.

Piyawee points out that the medical interpreting field could benefit from more structure, including a mentoring or observer program similar to those available to court interpreters.

With respect to COVID, Piyawee indicated that most in the Thai community receive news and information from Thailand and from information shared on their social media networks. She highlighted the many challenges that freelancers face, which translate into challenges in ensuring effective language access. For this reason, she also contributes by advocating for the profession with regard to fair pay rates and status of the interpreting profession.

Do you have someone in the profession who inspires you or you feel is really making a difference? Tell The Savvy Newcomer about them! We would love to hear other stories and celebrate our colleagues.

Author: Andreea Boscor