Interpreter Saves Day

France’s President Francois Hollande delivers a speech to the National Diet in Tokyo on Friday, June 7, 2013. Mr Hollande was left red-faced in Tokyo on Friday after a slip of the tongue that saw him confuse his Japanese hosts with the Chinese. During a news conference, Mr Hollande, speaking in French, referred to the Algerian hostage crisis in January in which 10 Japanese nationals died, saying he had “expressed the condolences of the French people to the Chinese people”. A quick-thinking female interpreter fixed the verbal gaffe as she gave her simultaneous translation, rendering the sentence as it had been intended.

The ten worst things an attorney can do to a court interpreter – Part 1

New post on The Professional Interpreter

The ten worst things an attorney can do to a court interpreter. Part 1.
by Rosado Professional Solutions

Dear colleagues:

I know that many of you read and contributed to the first posting of this series that dealt with the bad things that judges do to court interpreters.  Well, it is now time for the lawyers to be on the spotlight.  Several years ago I was retained by an attorney (I had never met before) to interpret for a petitioner during the final hearing of a divorce proceeding (final orders, permanent orders, final decree hearing, depending on the place where you live) The attorney contacted me the day before and agreed to pay my urgent fee usually charged for events requested on short notice.  “…It will be really quick…” he said, “…the respondent isn’t even in the country.  We’ll be in and out…”  So we appeared in court the following morning, the judge took the bench and the hearing began.  After the attorney made his arguments to the bench, the judge asked the petitioner how long had he and his wife lived together in the United States.  The petitioner answered in Spanish that his wife had never been to the United States. After a few more questions, and while the attorney was sweating bullets because of this “unexpected” development, the judge dismissed the case stating that he lacked jurisdiction over the parties as they had never lived as a married couple within his county limits. Of course, I interpreted everything to the petitioner but it was clear that he did not understand.  During the judge’s oral decision that turned into a scolding to the lawyer, the attorney turned to his client and whispered in Spanish: “luego te explico” (I’ll explain later) Once the hearing ended and we were in the hallway inside the courthouse, the attorney approached me and asked for my invoice telling me: “…Give me your receipt so we can get the money from my client and you get paid. I don’t think that he will be willing to pay for anything once he understands what happened…” So the lawyer asked his client for my fee, I got paid cash right there inside the courthouse, and the attorney asked his client to go to this office with him so he could explain what had just happened and the reason why “this judge” had decided not to divorce him “yet.”  Well, under any standards this is a horror story that we as interpreters sometimes have to live through; however, this is not a posting about the worst ten things that attorneys do to their clients. This is about the ten worst things they do to us interpreters, so horror stories like the one I mentioned will have to wait for their day on center stage.

Once again keep in mind that I will focus on the attorney, intentionally leaving the clerk’s worst 10, witness’ worst 10, and so forth for future articles.  I am writing this with a therapeutic perspective, trying to add some possible solutions to these problems while at the same time creating empathy and inviting a good healthy laugh when relating to these horror stories. I also want to underline that most of the attorneys I work with are real professionals I have worked with for years. Those who fit this article are not on my list of regular clients. Unlike with the judges, we as interpreters get to chose the attorneys we work with, and that is a big difference.  Because of the length of this posting, I have decided to publish it in two parts. This is part one. Part two will be posted next week.

Here we go:

1.     “You are going to charge me all that money just for talking?”  Those lawyers who do not have the slightest idea of what we do and firmly believe that because we speak two (or more) languages we are pocketing easy money.  A quick solution would be to stay firm and tell him that we are not just talking, that we are interpreting, and simply say that this is what you charge, that you provide a professional service, and that you will not bargain with them.  Long term solution: Talk to the attorney and explain your services in depth. Make him see the advantages of having a real professional interpreter and run by him the potential problems and complications when the service is poorly provided.  With certain clients you can even adjust your fee because of the work volume they represent.  If all these efforts fail, just fire the client; do not accept any work from him.  Remember, a cheap client will be a bad client in all other aspects of the professional relationship. Move on.

2.     “Here, take these papers and explain them to my client.”  There are attorneys that think of us as their servants, paralegals, co-counselors, and many other things.  They seem to think that it is a waste of time for them to be around when you are going to be doing “all the talking.” A good short term solution is to ask them with great emphasis if what they mean is that they want you to sight-translate the documents and to tell their client that they will answer any questions after you finish translating. Repeat the last part to the defendant before you start translating, and refuse to answer any questions.  For a long term solution you can explain what your legal and ethical boundaries and obligations are, what is exactly a sight translation, and suggest that these documents be read in advance at the detention facility or the law office (depending on each case) If hired by the court, you should ask the coordinator/supervisor to talk to the attorneys in order to avoid these situations in the future.

3.     “Your Honor, that is not what my client said”. It is common for the Attorney to speak the native language of the defendant. This is usually one of the main reasons a non-English speaker goes to a certain attorney.  You and I know that there are many lawyers who think they speak the foreign language even when their level is way below fluency .Any attorney will tell you that it is impossible to know what a client will tell the judge, and they often say something that will hurt them, especially those who come from a different culture.  Because of the attorney’s knowledge of the foreign language, he will usually learn the disastrous answer given by his client before the words are interpreted to the judge, and many times they will try to blame the poor answer on the interpretation by saying that their client didn’t say what the interpreter said, or by arguing that the question was not interpreted correctly.  One time a lawyer interrupted me in open court arguing that his client had not said what I interpreted, that she was Cuban and therefore I was not qualified to understand and interpret her answers. What I did next is a good short term solution:  Simply state on the record that you stand by your interpretation or rendition, and if necessary state your credentials.  A more durable solution would be to make sure judges and attorneys know and understand that we are the language experts in the courtroom, that when we make a mistake we admit it and promptly correct it, and that our preparation and credentials go beyond speaking two languages.  We should always interpret what the client says, even when the attorney wanted them to say something else.

4.     “I know I had to pay you long ago, but I cannot pay you because my client hasn’t paid me yet.” It is common for the lawyer to think that “we are in this together” and assume that it is perfectly fine to delay our payment when their client hasn’t paid them.  Unfortunately for those attorneys, we have no client-provider relationship with their client. Our legal relationship was established by a written (ideally) or an oral agreement to interpret during a certain specific event at a certain rate.  This legally binding agreement is not conditioned to a foreign event such as the attorney being paid by his client who happens to be a third party in this interpretation contract. To solve the problem as expeditiously as possible when you have no written agreement, talk to the attorney (he knows that his payment has nothing to do with you) and negotiate payment; maybe if you give him two weeks to pay; you can also take partial payments if you trust the lawyer, but never wait until he gets paid. Many clients never pay their attorneys when they did not get everything they thought they would get from the case. If you have a written contract, stick to it. Send it to a collections agency or take the lawyer to court if necessary. Remember, this is how you make a living and you earned the money. The long-term solution for all services in the future, especially when you do not know the Law Firm very well, has to be a written contract detailing payment, default of payment, and collection costs. In my experience all attorneys sign it when asked to do so. We have to be smart and take advantage of the legal protections that exist.

5.     “Sorry Judge, but we are late because the Interpreter took forever reading the plea agreement.”   Some attorneys want to save themselves a trip to a detention center by informing their clients about a potential plea agreement when they see their clients in court. I have had many lawyers ask me to read a plea agreement or a presentence investigation report just minutes before a scheduled hearing.  I cannot count the times that I have read these documents in holding cells and jury boxes. Then, after reading the always long and exhausting documents, most attorneys answer their client’s questions.  Of course, reading these documents really means sight translating them because they are written in English.  As you know, this is a difficult task and it takes time to do it right; add to that the time the attorney has to spend answering questions from the defendant and sometimes convincing his client to take the offer because that is the best possible outcome of the case.  When done properly, we are talking of hours of work, and I haven’t even mention the time it takes for the jail to bring the defendant to the holding cell.  Of course it is true that while we are working our tail off doing this sight translation, most attorneys are just sitting there doing nothing. I am sure it is extremely boring and frustrating to see how the time goes by and the time for the hearing approaches, but it does not justify to blame the delay on the interpreter who has been working hard all this time.  It is the attorney’s obligation and responsibility to defend and advise his client, they know how long it takes to go over those documents, and they know that it should be done on an earlier date. Such a situation can be avoided by talking to the lawyer as soon as he requests the sight translation and telling him that the process will take time and most likely will not be over by the time the judge calls the case. Now it is the attorney who has to decide what to do: request a continuance, be pushed to the end of the docket, change the hearing to the afternoon, etc., and if he ignores the suggestion, as an officer of the court you can always answer the attorney’s complaint by stating on the record what just happened. This will cover you in case of a formal complaint or investigation by the court.  The better long-term solution would be to always agree with the private attorney to do these sight translations days before a hearing, and for the court appointed attorneys and public defenders you should talk to the courthouse’s chief interpreter or administrator and ask them to require these documents to be read to the defendant ahead of the hearing date.

These are my first five. Next week I will post the other five. In the meantime, I invite you to share your stories, anecdotes and opinions regarding this frustrating but essential part of a court interpreter’s professional practice.

Conflict zones: the first hurdle

Interpreters in conflict zones received the support of forty members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in a Declaration signed on 29 April 2010 in Strasbourg. The signatories are from all the political groups; the Declaration may be signed by other members between now and the next session in June.

This is the first international document that publicly recognizes the difficult circumstances under which interpreters work – far from the gaze of the media or society – and signals a political will to take action. This is the first step on what remains a long road ahead. However the leap from zero to one is greater than the leap from one to infinity.  It will now be necessary to convert the support of this group of members into a commitment from the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee to carry out a study and submit a resolution to the Plenary of the Parliamentary Assembly. This was the mandate entrusted to the Interpreters in Conflict Zones Group by the AIIC Assembly in 2009.

The task ahead is daunting, but this development augurs well for the future. The Declaration calls for the protection of interpreters’ neutrality and impartiality akin to the safeguards in place for Red Cross workers and what makes it significant is not simply the number of supporters but who they are. Signatories include the chairman of the Assembly’s leading committees such as Political Affairs (Björn von Sydow, Socialists, Sweden), Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Christos Pourgourides, EPP, Cyprus) and the Honoring of Obligations of Members (Dick Marty, ALDE, Switzerland).  Members from more than twenty countries and all the political groups in the Chamber signed the Declaration, including the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the largest groups (ALDE 1, Socialists and EPP 2).

It would be remiss of us not to emphasize the probity and political courage of the initiator of the Declaration, Dick Marty. He was the author of the 2007 report on the CIA’s secret detention centers in Council of Europe member states. It remains one of the Council of Europe’s most influential reports, and it was instrumental in convincing the US electorate to look afresh at the human rights aspect of the country’s defense policy, a political taboo at the time.

There is an ethical and human rights dimension to how interpreters in conflict zones work, the recognition and respect they are given and the conditions of their employment. We are not there yet but one day we will be able to negotiate terms and conditions if we keep up the pressure. This is our avowed aim although we are clearly not attempting to change national defence policies. We can happily set our sights lower.

This Declaration is a major public endorsement for the recognition, not just of interpreters in conflict zones, but of the whole profession throughout the world. Opening up to our colleagues in the world’s hot spots has brought general recognition of the wider profession. This is a valuable lesson and it should encourage us to pay closer attention to court, community and sign language interpreters.

If we achieve our aim at the Council of Europe the ultimate target beckons: the United Nations General Assembly. Such a proposal is no more improbable than the AIIC Resolution on Interpreters in Conflict Zones appeared back in January 2009. It is the very target our clear-sighted members set us in Nice.

You can read the full statement on the Council of Europe web site in English or French.
Eduardo Kahane is member of the AIIC Interpreters in Conflict Zones Group.

English version by Phil Smith

1 Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

2 Group of the European People’s Party

Information from :

Interpreters in conflict zones: the limits of neutrality

Our association has more than once wondered if the time had come to reconsider our profession and its – our – place in the world. The need to do so has never struck me with such force as when beginners or outsiders ask apparently taxing questions about our responsibility and the moral conflicts it could lead to. They might be about translating a profanity or replacing a solecism with something better or perhaps more politically correct if we are to play the sublime role we claim as facilitators of dialogue or even messengers of peace.

It is as if our kingdom were not of this world. In our discussions about the future of the profession our collective imagination has reached no further than if and under which conditions we should accept new technology and video conferencing. And yet we live in a world that – apart from our comfortable cocoon – is filled with appalling conflict in which every day people lose their lives in the most atrocious circumstances. For proof just look at the headlines in the daily papers, where they are identified by name: Darfur, Baghdad, Tikrit, Kerbala, Kabul, Beirut, Sderot, Gaza, Ramallah, Algiers, Madrid, New York, Colombo and until recently, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Srebrenica.

If our calling as neutral facilitators precludes our including these events in our examination of the profession and even bars their entering our thoughts on professional ethics, I wonder if that same calling has imposed a vow of silence on us in the face of the kidnapping, exploitation and murder of our colleagues who work in these conflict zones. I’ve been collecting press cuttings of interpreters killed whilst working; they now fill a shoe box. Only the International Federation of Translators (FIT) has recorded how many have been killed. Two hundred and sixteen. Just in Iraq. After the military, they make up the largest group of civilian victims of this conflict. Allowing for a few honorable exceptions – and if they exist I’m unaware of them – these interpreters have not featured at all in our publications, or triggered demonstrations of solidarity from our committees, assemblies or council or received any practical support.

The most recent example is Ajmal Naqshbandi.  He interpreted for the Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was kidnapped by the Taliban and freed in an exchange. Neither the interpreter nor the driver was worth exchanging and both were killed. They were just run of the mill Afghans. In their case it would appear there was no reason to depart from the rule “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”. The interpreter was kept as a hostage for weeks yet did not even merit a show of solidarity from his colleagues throughout the world. However the people of Italy did take to the streets for him, with the support of the European Federation of Journalists. His fellow interpreters maintained silence. Was this silence neutral? Was it occasioned by lethargy or self-interest?

I cannot believe it was a corporative reaction: as they aren’t members of the association they are not part of the known world. I think our imperceptiveness is not corporative, although it may be for some, but a matter of concepts. We believe that true interpreters – we – who come from this democratic society and belong to this self-styled universal association occupy a reserved space between cultures where we act as neutral agents, as guarded and discreet vectors of international understanding. Should our guardedness and discretion extend to a lack of solidarity? I refuse to believe it should. Perhaps we ought to reassess some of the ideas that we have so far considered accepted truths.

The notion of the unsullied interpreter who extracts the essentials of a message and transforms them into another language without sharp edges and roughness in the interests of communication and on the fringes of the contexts and intentions that exist well beyond the act of communication is a recent idea – what are 60 years? – that sits awkwardly with the profession’s history and with the world we live in. Until very recently interpreters were members of the diplomatic service and army. They were essential members of scouting parties that gathered intelligence from disputed areas or the enemy camp. And that is exactly what happens now on the frontline. Where else are the interpreters working in these known conflict zones kidnapped and killed? Are they occupying a neutral space between civilizations? Or are they simply serving the intelligence-gathering interests of those who hire them

Incompatible narratives

In this connection I find the concepts on narrative in social theory and in translation as developed by Mona Baker[i] from Manchester University particularly useful. Baker makes extensive use of the conceptual models of Somers and Gibson[ii] (1994) that help her classify a narrative as a mental tool that is used to frame reality. She identifies different types of narrative: ontological, public, conceptual and meta narrative. She then uses them to question the notion of discourse used in translation theory.

In summary – and in the hope of doing her work justice – we can say that “ontological” narratives equate to the way we perceive our personal history and place in the world. “Public” narratives move between institutions like the family, trade unions or political groups and comprise concepts such as “the role of the father” or “freedom of speech” etc. “Conceptual” narratives are ideas developed by researchers or the scientific disciplines that are ultimately taken up by society at large, such as “class struggle” or “clash of civilizations”. Following Somers and Gibson, Baker finally says that “meta narratives” or “master narratives” (a concept developed by Lyotard[iii]) are broad categories of interrelated concepts that include our personal or academic routines such as ideas on “progress”, “the human spirit”, “enlightenment”, “industrialization”, and then go on to include the more modern concept of “war on terror”, not on terrorism, which is something else.

Baker adds “accrual” to these categories, a concept developed by Bruner[iv] (narrative accrual) and goes on to posit that the selective appropriation of certain facts and narrative accrual allows the spread of master narratives of, inter alia, progress, enlightenment, global terror and western democracy.

“It goes without saying that narratives do not travel across linguistic and cultural boundaries, and certainly do not accrue and develop into global meta narratives without the direct involvement of translators and interpreters”. (I would like) “to draw attention …to the way in which our own conceptual narratives in translation studies seem to be at odds with narrative theory… and with documented involvement of translators and interpreters in a variety of conflicting narratives.”[v]

The narratives used in translation and interpreting studies are well known. They are our daily bread. Our starting point is our good intentions. Our work of mediating and facilitating dialogue must inevitably lead to a successful conclusion. But the naïve notion that we occupy neutral territory, in a no-man’s-land that has formed between two narratives falls to pieces if our job is to collect intelligence about the area, worm information out of a prisoner or someone from the other side who has been wounded, or if we work for a cause we find morally repugnant. Or do we not find it genuinely repugnant? Do we not even ask ourselves the question because we are shielded by the conceit of being neutral mediators? Was Hitler’s interpreter neutral? Was Stalin’s? Or de Gaulle’s, Churchill’s or Franco’s? Did they also ply their trade in the interstices between two narratives? Or where they committed to a message and a cause? The Taliban who murdered Ajmal Naqshbandi because of his complicity with the hostile western world are intellectually consistent. Can the same be said of the western interpreters who believe in his and their own “neutrality” but who do not defend it, and who say nothing to end his captivity or prevent his death?

“…I would argue that by over-romanticizing the role of translation and translators as peace giving enablers of communication, we abstract them out of history, out of the narratives that necessarily shape their outlook on life, and in the course of doing so we risk intensifying their blind spots and encouraging them to become complacent about the nature of their interventions, and less conscious of the potential damage they can do… No one, translators included, can stand outside or between narratives. Hence, a politically attuned account of the role of translation and translators would not place either outside nor in between cultures. It would locate them at the heart of interaction…”[vi]

 Neutrality as violence

Clearly a professional and impartial attitude when interpreting does not suffice if the situation calls for more. The testimonies of interpreters recruited for the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) during the territorial dispute between Serbia and Croatia in 1991-1992 are instructive in this regard. The Croat interpreters who answered the call for interpreters were volunteers. Their testimonies have been collected by a Croatian social psychologist who conducted research into the trauma they may have suffered because of the need to be “neutral” when interpreting during a war. The findings are presented by Zrinka Stahuljak[vii] in her article “The violence of neutrality: translators in and of the war (Croatia 1991-1992)”.

The interpreters, despite having volunteered to work for the ECMM, thought they could meet their obligation of collecting war testimonies with the impartiality that was demanded both by the EC observers and their own sense of professional ethics. But they remained volunteers, patriots in the cause of assembling accounts that would ultimately show that the Croats had right on their side in their conflict with the Serb zone. They saw themselves as “ambassadors” of the Croat cause. Despite their wish to act neutrally when interpreting eye witness accounts, they admit that in their free time between deployments, they were able to talk to the observers and explain things as they saw them. What is more, they admit that their views even slipped into their interpreting in some cases, and they even sometimes replied on behalf of the witnesses, incidents that brought reprimands and even one dismissal from the EC observers.

The task of interpreting the horrors of war and being seen to be neutral was proof of emotional strength that was rewarded with the slim hope that the interpreted accounts would finally be used to support their cause; what is more it was condemned by the Croatian army with accusations of treason for serving the interests of the European Union that was suspected of favouring the Serbs.

The violence of neutrality of the title is not the violence of denying interpreters the vacant and neutral spaces between discourses – as they do not exist – but the violence of denying them any space at all. Reviled by both the Croat and Serb narratives and suspected of partiality by the observers, the interpreters were defenseless, lacking not just a space between languages but also between societies and lives.

In conflict, not only are the interpreters unable to find the neutral spaces or linguistically neutral spaces but the combatants do not recognize them either. Of the five interpreters who worked for Stalin between 1939 and 1945 three died at the hands of the political police the NKVD, the fourth under interrogation by Beria. The fifth, Berezhkov, survived Beria’s grudges and lived to old age thanks to Molotov’s protection.

The rising number of kidnapped and murdered interpreters in the powder keg that is the Middle East is also linked to their being identified with one of the sides; the victims’ claims of neutrality count for little. As they have scant exchange value they are killed according to the tactic of “burning ones bridges” which is part of a deliberate strategy aimed at severing all possible lines of communication. There are no empty or neutral spaces between the Taliban narrative and that of the coalition in Afghanistan or Mastrogiacomo’s readers in the Italian daily “La Repubblica”.

Clearly the plight of interpreters in conflicts is not comparable with the more comfortable situations we encounter daily in the developed world. But we have just observed that the celestial chatter above the place occupied by the interpreter between two messages and his exalted task of guarantor of dialogue and bringer of peace cannot apply universally and even less where they are most needed, in armed conflicts and where the distance that separates dialogues is an abyss.

A change of this magnitude in how we see our work and its place in the world is tantamount to a paradigm shift.   Analysis and academic research will not bring about this change. It will only happen if we all work together. A world in conflict needs greater solidarity and fewer “peace ambassadors”. We will not grasp by its horns the raging bull of intolerance and death if we stay behind the barrier marked neutrality, even if the neutrality is purportedly linguistic. We must enter the public arena and take part in the dialogue and have no fear in nailing our colours to the mast.

It may be anecdotal, but our silence about Ajmal has been deafening. If he can be the trigger for serious and profound consideration his sacrifice will not have been completely in vain.


[i] BAKER, Mona: Narratives in and of Translation, en SKASE JOURNAL OF TRANSLATION AND INTERPRETATION, Vol 1 – 2005, Nº 1 y TRANSLATION AND CONFLICT. MEDIATING COMPETING NARRATIVES. 2006, Routledge (Taylor and Francis)

[ii] SOMERS, Margaret R. y GIBSON, Gloria, 1994: Reclaiming the Epistemological ‘Other’: Narrative and the Social Constitution of Identity” en Craig Calhoun (Ed.), SOCIAL THEORY AND THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY. Oxford UK & Cambridge USA: Blackwell, 37-99, (quoted by Baker).

[iii] LYOTARD, Jean François,1979, La Condition Postmoderne, Collection Critique, Les Editions de Minuit

[iv] BRUNER, Jerome: 1991: The Narrative Construction of Reality. CRITICAL INQUIRY 18(1), 1-21- (quoted by Baker).

[v] BAKER, Mona: Narratives in and of Translation, Ibid.

[vi] BAKER, Mona: Ibid

[vii] STAHULJAK, Zrinka; 1999: The Violence of Neutrality in and of the War (Croatia, 1991-1992), COLLEGE LITERATURE 26(1): 34-51, Special Issue, Cultural Violence.



TYMOCZKO, María, 2003: Ideology and the Position of the Translator: In What Sense is a Translator “In Between?”, in María Calzada Pérez (Ed.): APROPOS OF IDEOLOGY – TRANSLATION STUDIES ON IDEOLOGY – IDEOLOGIES IN TRANSLATION, Manchester: St Jerome Publishing, 181-201.

BRUNER, Jerome, 1986: ACTUAL MINDS, POSSIBLE WORLDS, Cambridge, Harvard UP

English version by Phil Smith


Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know

by Gio Lester on Friday, September 21, 2012

Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know

– by Gio Lester

During a conference assignment, not too long ago, I was confronted with a very uncomfortable situation. Unbeknownst to the team of interpreters, the company that had hired us made arrangements for recording our work. Fortunately, it was not our first time in those waters, and we knew how to tread them.

But I remember the first time I found myself in that situation. It was over 20 years ago, here in thefull-gio_in_booth-fin1-300x222.jpg US, and I could not understand why my colleagues were so upset. Well, I got an ear-full and learned a valuable lesson. I am bringing that up for up because many novices are unaware of the important groundwork already laid for them with regard to professional standards and copyrights.

So, let’s get straight to the point: Why isn’t it okay for the company that hired you to record your voice? Well, a few things happen to the sound of your voice on its way to the CD.



According to the ASTM International* guidelines (F-2089-01, section 10.13, page 7), “Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product.”  The bit about “adding a future” surprised me a little. I was at first concerned with misspoken numbers and the like, then that phrase caught my attention to the purpose of the recording, possible future uses, etc. This reminded me of the Henrietta Lacks who had her cancer cells (HeLa cells) collected, used for research, distributed and commercialized all over the world without her consent or knowledge or financial benefit.

But I still was not sure of what my rights were or where they stemmed from. Researching the AIIC (Association Internationale des Interprétes de Conférence) website I found the full explanation. Knowledge really is a powerful weapon. In the interpreters’ case, when a recording is involved, the key words are “consent” and “copyright.”

Most times, the person working directly with the interpreters at the event is not aware that recording our voices is a violation of our rights, and they simply think they are keeping their customer happy without any further consequences.

Through AIIC I learned that “The performance of conference interpreting is protected by international law.” And the Berne Convention stipulates that when committed to fixed media of any nature the performance of the conference interpreter becomes a translation and its author has exclusive rights. The protection of the author’s copyrights is the main purpose of those rules.

Does that mean recording and/or transcription of our work is forbidden? No. Both ASTM and AIIC are clear on that point — here enters the second key word, consent. ASTM (F-2089-01, 10.13, page 7) states “When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved… all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.”  Furthermore, AIIC’s standard contract has language that addresses the issue by stating that the interpretation is provided “…solely for direct and immediate use by the listeners; no recording may be made, either by the listeners or anyone else, without the prior consent of the interpreters concerned.

So we go back to the HeLa cells case discussed above in which consent and knowledge were missing. ASTM International and AIIC are working to prevent third parties from benefiting – financially or otherwise– from the work of interpreters without their consent or knowledge.

Once all parties involved in a contract are aware that recording will take place, special accommodations can be made to ensure that it is all done properly – from the speaker’s speed, terminology research, type of equipment used, to the languages used (I have had presenters insist on speaking “Portuñol” – a Portuguese/Spanish hybrid – and my colleagues in the Spanish speaking booth walked out). There is also an added fee owed the interpreters for the transfer of copyrights to the client.

How did my recent assignment end up with regard to the translation? I sent all the reference material I mention above to the agency that hired me and we renegotiated my fee.

Knowledge is power.



*ASTM International is the former American Society for Testing and Materials.

1. Publication ASTM F-2089-01 – 10.13; pg 7 –

10.13  Recording of the Interpretation—Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product. When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved. For all of these reasons, all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.

2. AIIC:

Information about Medical Interpreter Certification

The National Board is looking to ensure patient safety for Limited English Proficiency patients the only way possible: by preparing capable and well trained professional medical interpreters to meet the upcoming demand. All who are interested in becoming part of this work force of Certified Medical Interpreters  should become familiar with the information on this page.

The links below are essential to anyone seeking certification by the National Board:

CMI Candidate Handbook :

Oral exam data:

Written exam data:

Visit their website at and explore the FAQs and Getting Certified sections.

Bilingual English-Spanish blog on issues important to the professional interpreter.

I picked this up from ATA information and thought it would be useful for interpreters and clients alike.  Tony Rosado is inviting comments and reports on personal experiences in similar situations on LinkedIn, American Translators Association.

— Doris Ganser

logo American Translators Association




The Professional Interpreter

Cuando el Juez, la abogada, el policía, y hasta el perro, “hablan español”, disputan lo que dijo el intérprete, y el intérprete está en lo correcto.

June 16, 2012

Queridos colegas,

En más de una ocasión me he enfrentado a una situación en que todas, algunas, o aún peor, una de las partes en un proceso judicial hablan, o dicen que saben, español, y a pesar de que su vocabulario es más limitado que el vestuario de un nudista, y su dominio de la gramática del español es idéntica a la capacidad de un pez para correr por el campo, no dejan de interrumpir al intérprete criticando, corrigiendo, y aportando conocimientos tan sabios como la filosofía propagada por el gato que vive en el callejón detrás de mi oficina.

Seguramente, igual que con muchos de ustedes, mi carrera ha estado plagada de incidentes en que los abogados han disputado mi interpretación, no por lo que yo haya dicho, sino por haber interpretado lo que su cliente dijo.  Gramática inexistente, prosodia de tianguis,  vocabulario inventado… los he presenciado, escuchado y vivido todos.

A pesar de ello, hace algunos meses se dio en mi vida la famosa gota que derramó el vaso.  Me encontraba interpretando consecutivamente el testimonio de un demandado en un juicio federal de tipo administrativo en el cual, como pasa muy frecuentemente en este tipo de procedimientos, el Juez estaba haciendo la mayoría de las preguntas mientras los abogados participaban como espectadores.  El Juez hizo una pregunta larga, y cuando terminó, procedí a interpretar su pregunta al español; obviamente, inicié mi interpretación como siempre: ajustando la estructura gramatical del inglés a la del español para que la pregunta fuera correcta y entendible. Apenas había emitido cuatro sílabas cuando el Juez de una manera muy grosera me interrumpió y me dijo: “¡No! Interprete desde el principio todo lo que yo dije.”  Obviamente, a pesar de que me molestó muchísimo la manera en que este señor me interrumpió, respondí profesional y respetuosamente que estaba interpretando la pregunta, que apenas estaba comenzando a interpretar, y que la interpretación al español tiene que ser estructurada de acuerdo a la estructura gramatical de ese idioma.  El Juez insistió que interpretara en el orden específico en que él había hablado en inglés, palabra por palabra, a pesar de que esa ráfaga de palabras no tenía sentido.  Ni modo, lo tuve que hacer, y además, al terminar mi espantosa “interpretación,” el Juez volteó a verme y me dijo: “Por cierto, yo hablo español y así es como se dice lo que yo pregunté. Aprendí español con mi nana en la frontera.”  Estuve tentado a no volver a trabajar en ese lugar; afortunadamente mi carrera me permite seleccionar a mis clientes; pero después de pensarlo con más detenimiento, decidí no dejar que personas que hablan mediocremente el idioma en que nosotros trabajamos se apoderen de nuestra profesión.  Posteriormente tuve la oportunidad de explicar algunas reglas gramaticales a ese Juez, y tras convencerlo que no es lo mismo “negro gato” que “gato negro” se dio cuenta de la importancia de estructurar un idioma correctamente.  Yo les pregunto a ustedes: ¿Cómo han resuelto o tratado de resolver este tipo de situaciones?  No me refiero a lo que dijeron a medio juicio, estoy hablando de la manera en que corrigieron o intentaron corregir esa ignorancia. Me gustaría leer sus comentarios.

Demand for translating, interpreting services is growing

Kansas City Star, The (MO) – Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Author: MARK DAVIS, The Kansas City Star

Translation and Interpreter service is increasing in demand
Translation and Interpreting services are increasing in demand

Try this but wait until you are alone; it could seem odd to onlookers.

Turn on the radio and find the news or a talk show.

Listen carefully to every word you hear, then repeat them out loud.

If you can keep up with the broadcast, you’ll have a sense of Isabelle Olesen’s job.

She’s a simultaneous interpreter, which means everything that she hears in English comes out in French, her native language.

French Conference Interpreter and Translator at Accent French Translation, Inc.
French Conference Interpreter and Translator at Accent French Translation, Inc.

Olesen, a Kansas City resident, doesn’t work at the United Nations. She interprets business seminars, sales meetings, training sessions and similar events.

It means sitting in a booth at the back of the room, broadcasting the French version of what’s happening in English. Her audience — those in the room who need a French interpretation of the presentation — wears headphones.

Language has become big business in the world of business. The recession has only slowed its growth.

And as sales-hungry businesses increasingly turn to foreign markets for new customers, their need for help with new languages and cultures will mean more business. President Barack Obama’s pledge to double U.S. exports in five years will further expand the need.

“The more combines that are being sold, the more cars that are being sold, the more electronics, computers and the like — all this drives demand for more information in what we call local language,” said Don DePalma, founder of Common Sense Advisory.

His firm estimated that companies, individuals and governments globally will spend $26 billion this year to change their words — spoken and written — into the native tongues of their target audiences.

The total does not include the work that companies rely on their own employees to do. For example, Cerner Corp. has 22 translators and interpreters on staff, including seven in Kansas City and others in Ireland, Germany and France.

Most of the industry’s work involves translation, the industry’s term for changing written material into another language. Interpretation involves spoken words.

Doris Ganser has been doing both in Kansas City for 35 years. Her company, Transimpex , earns two-thirds of its revenue from translation work and one-third from interpretation.

Doris Ganser from Transimpex
Doris Ganser from Transimpex

Most of the translation is for business clients. Her company’s name combines the words “translate,” “import” and “export.”

Translators can work directly with companies or through the advertising agencies or printing companies that the companies use. Translators also often find work through translation agencies, such as Transimpex , that serve as a project manager for the client and hire from the available pool of freelance language workers.

A translation service’s access to freelancers gives it the ability to work in any direction. For example, Exact Words is helping a French company translate material from its plant in Hungary into French and English, said Shenon Bone, president of the Olathe-based firm.

“There’s no limit to the language directions we can work with,” Bone said.

Sets of eyes

instruction-manualThe effort to convert a user manual, assembly instructions, contract or other document into a second language follows a path of checks and rechecks to ensure accuracy.

First, the preference is to find a translator whose native language is the same as the target language, what the final document will be in. That means the translator is familiar with slang and other informal usage, as well as cultural meanings and habits of those who’ll read what’s produced.

The same is true for interpretation of spoken words. For example, the English phrase “soap and water” is reversed in Spanish, as “water and soap.”

Ideally, the translator also has lived with the language and within the culture of the document’s original language to understand its subtler meanings and practices.

Most of the time, however, being fluently bilingual is not enough.

Translations of medical, legal, engineering and other documents require a technical knowledge of the subject. Technical accuracy can even become the overriding factor in choosing a translator.

Lenexa-based Icop Digital Inc. sells its mobile video equipment to law enforcement buyers overseas. It stopped using translation services, President Laura Owen said, because the few mistakes they made were too many. The equipment generates evidence used in court proceedings, allowing no room for any errors, Owen said.

Now the firm searches first for technical expertise and then for the language match.

For example, a Florida professor with whom the company works handles some of Icop’s translation work for markets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He was raised in the Middle East, so he meets the preference for being a native speaker of the target language.

Finally, Icop sends its translated materials to its dealers in the target markets as a final step.

Owen said the company wanted to be sure the translation was acceptable in all markets that would use that material. That means balancing formality and familiarity so that each market can easily understand the translation but that neither regards it as dipping into unacceptable slang or other language.

“The way Spanish is spoken in Mexico is 180 degrees from Spanish in Colombia,” she said.

Translation services routinely use editors in addition to translators on a project. The editor meets the same standards as the translator but provides a check on the words. Editor and translator, however, usually work independently of each other and deal directly with the service’s project manager.

Ganser said she was the third set of eyes at Transimpex .

“I sign off on everything,” she said. “I put a lot of hours in.”

Medical meaning

Understanding technical terms is critical with medical interpretations. It is why even bilingual doctors rely on interpreters.

Truman Medical Center employs 17 Spanish interpreters who have gone through rigorous screenings, said Shane Kovac at the Kansas City area hospital. They receive more than 180 hours of classroom and clinical training to become health care interpreters. Part of the reason is that medical terminology is difficult to express in a second language. Speaking the language isn’t enough.

“Look at us. We speak English, and we can’t pronounce all the medical terminology and explain things,” Kovac said.

Cecilia Abbey, head of interpretation and translation at the University of Kansas Hospital, said even knowing the right words didn’t mean the patient would understand them. Abbey has to be able to explain the words, too.

Sometimes she encounters a medical term new to her. She tells the patient that the doctor or nurse used a word she doesn’t understand and will ask for an explanation. Abbey then interprets that explanation.

Abbey said a few providers at KU Hospital could work without an interpreter but only after proving their mettle as interpreters. Their skills are tested the same way any other interpreter’s would be. They also shadow interpreters as part of the process.

Kansas City’s medical community is a big consumer of language services. KU Hospital handled 31,749 interpretations in the past year, an average of 87 a day. About 80 percent of that helped Spanish-speaking patients understand hospital staff and vice versa.

Most of that work is handled by three interpreters on staff, including Abbey, and a half dozen contract interpreters. One interpreter handles American sign language.

Truman Medical Center employs not only 17 Spanish interpreters but also two who interpret Arabic, two who interpret Somali, and one who does both.

Kovac said the mix reflected the patient language needs that the hospital runs into most frequently. Of 51,000 interpretations in 2009, he said, 10 percent were in Somali and 12 percent in Arabic.

But the array of language needs is much broader than either hospital’s staff can handle.

“We have had a request here for British sign language,” Abbey said.

Whenever interpreters can’t handle a patient’s spoken language needs, they’ll call an interpretation phone service. Both hospitals have specially adapted phones with two handsets, one for the patient and one for the medical staff, so both can hear and talk with the interpreter at the other end.

In the first half of September, Abbey said, she dealt with Russian, Arabic, Nepalese, Somali, Burmese, Vietnamese, Swahili, Hmong, Karen, Laotian, Italian, Mandarin, Chuukese, Korean, Kirundi, Portuguese and Cantonese interpreters for patients.

Personal needs

Although governments and businesses are the big users of translation and interpretation services, individuals may need them, too.

Bone, who owns Exact Words with her husband, said a child adopted from a foreign country might bring along school records and other papers that need to be translated for use in America. Marrying a foreign national also can trigger translation needs, she said.

The Mid-America Chapter of the American Translators Association has nine corporate members who are based in the Kansas City area. Two others are based in St. Louis. Its 118 individual members include several locally and others from Spain and elsewhere.

The national association also provides contact and detailed professional information about its members online at www.atanet .org. Users can search for providers based on their own ZIP codes. A recent check found 20 interpreters and 29 translators, many of them the same individuals, within 50 miles of downtown Kansas City.

For most work, however, distance isn’t an issue.

The local list included Olesen, who recently moved to this area from Chicago but normally travels to the conferences where she provides simultaneous interpretation.

By the way, that radio trick really is a way to test your skills at the difficult work Olesen does. Don’t feel bad if you fall behind the broadcast fairly quickly.

Even professionals have to work in tandem with another simultaneous interpreter.

“Typically an interpreter will not interpret more than a half-hour at a time,” Olesen said. “It’s extremely exhausting.”

Language services glossary

  • Translation: Changing written information from one language to another
  • Interpretation: Changing spoken messages from one language to another.
  • Simultaneous interpretation: Repeating a live presentation for listeners in a different language.
  • Consecutive interpretation: Assisting a running conversation between speakers who don’t share a common language.

Where to find translation and interpretation help

  • The American Translators Association at
  • Mid-America Chapter of the American Translators Association at

Plenty to sort out Interpreters helped patients and staff at the University of Kansas Hospital handle language barriers 31,749 times over the last 12 months. That’s an average of 87 patients a day. Most patients needed someone who understood Spanish, but interpreters handled many other languages, too.

Patient’s language Percent of total interpretations Spanish 80.0% American sign language 3.0% Russian 3.0% Vietnamese 2.6% Burmese 2.0% Somali 1.3% Mandarin 1.3% Arabic 1.0% Nepalese 0.8% Swahili 0.7%

Source: University of Kansas Hospital
Section: News
Page: D1
Provided By: The McClatchy Company
Index Terms: Cerner Corp.; Icop Digital Inc.; Truman Medical Center; KU Hospital; American Translators Association
Location(s): Kansas City; Ireland; Germany; France; Hungary; Florida; Egypt; Saudi Arabia; Middle East; Mexico; St. Louis; Spain; Chicago
Personal Name(s): Don DePalma; Doris Ganser; Laura Owen; Shane Kovac; Cecilia Abbey
Record Number: f8ca39ad0d7ecc0075eb996fe9c9e72b
Copyright (c) 2010 The Kansas City Star