Walking Away In Mid Sentence.

MayagirlbacklScanHas someone ever walked away from you in mid conversation or hung up on you on the telephone? Have you ever done that to someone? It must have been caused by anger, disagreement or frustration. Whatever the reason, the result is information is not communicated. It is also considered very rude and that can result in a deterioration of the relationship.

Today we spend so little time speaking face to face or even on the telephone. It is almost all by email or texting. We can apply the same behavior to these communications. Reading and responding to only part of an email is cutting off the sender from the rest of their message. Fortunately, until you tell them that you only read part of what they wrote, the rudeness factor doesn’t come into play. But the problems associated with acting on incomplete information are worse than a slight. They can cause you to miss or be late to an important meeting, not have all the details to make a decision or not know about a change in your role or responsibility. The list of consequences is proportional to the reasons you are contacted in the first place. And when it is revealed that the email was dismissed or considered not important enough to be read completely, that business relationship is jeopardized.

But what about those long winded emails that never seem to get to a point? They are definitely considered more of an imposition than valuable information. Like I tell the authors whose books I edit, a little honest self-assessment goes a long way. The cure for the habit of pouring words into a message is to first break down your points with bullets. Then put the critical instruction first. Limit or dispense with the niceties and do that cold turkey. Close by telling the respondent to respond with any questions they may have. If you are a hard core babbler, show the message to a friendly critic. If it wins their approval then you have a template.

As a freelance court interpreter, I know my clients are very busy and they are doing me the favor of giving me an assignment. Sometimes a legal secretary, paralegal or court clerk doesn’t provide me with all the details I need. So, my follow up email is succinct. I ask only for what I need to know. As short as one sentence with greeting and closing.

I felt the irritation first hand when I had sub-contractors who repeatedly didn’t read my assignment emails, replying with questions I had already answered. After I responded a few times in short answers including a reference to the already stated information, most people were cured. But others didn’t catch on. These people took up more of my time and became labeled high maintenance. Giving excuses for not having read my email made matters worse. My time was spent providing work, so I replaced them with less demanding freelancers.

My goal is this post will be 510 words or less. Thanks for reading. Please comment.

Craft or Commerce: Which One Wins in Your Work?

I was reading about a pair of successful musicians who spoke about balancing the management of the business end of their bookings and  keeping their songs and performances sharp and entertaining.

They used the quote Amishfather&sonScan “Commerce comes second to craft” and it struck a chord with me. I can hear a chorus of agreement with those words when applied to almost any business. If you have a faulty product (your craft) then your commerce (profit) is not guaranteed. I bet it is a very popular quote to use at annual meetings and the like. Advertising agencies would really put a nice spotlight on their corporate clients with those words.

It is especially true in the field of judicial interpreting and translation. In order to take pride in your work we have to keep improving. But training is new to our field, it is not considered mandatory and is not always accessible. We have to test the self-imposed boundaries to self-discipline. We have to search for and make time for training opportunities.

And yet the ugly truth is that getting hired is not always contingent on a high level of skill in this business. We can find agencies and clients who will assign us a job based on our rate and availability and never ask about our training. And another fact is that they have no standard way to asses our skill level until we are actually working. This void is not found in a lot of industries where training starts with higher education and then is part and parcel of the career path. That is the standard most industries look to when they measure a professional skill. So let’s rise to that expectation. Show high respect for colleagues who pursue training. And consider the high value of the agency or client that asks for your credentials and tests you. They are holding you to a higher standard.

But in a market that does not recognize our craft as a discipline, craft comes second to commerce. There is more focus on how much we will charge than on our qualifications or earned certifications. The concept that some bilingual lawyers or legal staff have that they can gauge our interpreting skill defies the foundation of our craft.

We have to find a balance. I suggest we hold true to placing craft over commerce even if other colleagues, agencies or clients don’t. I also suggest organizing your promotional material be it your website or professional media presence with concrete details that support your actual skills. List training, conferences, earned certifications (State or National licenses and/or professional organizations) and tests passed. This will give the client a standard to measure you by. And your craft will be what they remember you for and the commerce will be a good result of your effort.

Spanglish, Chinglish and Konglish: There’s a name for that.

80sBoatppleScanAn interpreter or translator can be easily tripped up by distinctive wordings that appear to be a mix of both the source and the target language. These wordings are based on the speaker or author merging his or her grasp of two languages and using a term from one language as if it were a component of the other. Our flow can be interrupted when the speaker or text author uses the vocabulary learned in their single language household or social group.
There is a name for this! It is called Second Language Acquisition. In fact it is an entire component of the field of linguistics. I taught a graduate class on this subject for a University of Houston program for Bilingual Educators. Translators and interpreters should take a look at these elements of communication because you will be seeing it in documents and you will hear it spoken.
A professional interpreter or translator never passes judgment on the speaker or author by labeling their language as correct or incorrect. It is our job to learn all the different ways a person may choose to communicate so that we perform in accordance to the highest professional standards.
Second language acquisition elements can dominate the communication patterns of dual language speakers in certain geographic regions. Interpreters in Houston are used to hearing the English term for feeder road used interchangeably in Spanish and English as “la feeder” or ”feeder”. I have seen it in Spanish source texts written as fider. East coast Spanish interpreters hear La Gua Gua for bus because of the predominance of the Puerto Rican use of this term. I invite you, dear readers, to comment and report examples in other languages.
In industrial employment settings, sub groups also demonstrate transference patterns. Names of tools, equipment, materials, employer titles or specific places on a job site (lunch tent) may have very different version that have no resemblance to the dictionary translation.
Job duties and procedures can be expressed by converting the English name (noun) for the equipment into a verb and using that word for their job title or description.
These are examples of Second Language Acquisition Transference.
transfer: influence of similarities and differences between the TL (target language) and a SL (source language) that has been previously (perhaps imperfectly) acquired.
Here are some problems that transference causes which impede the LEP from successfully acquiring the second language:

negative transfer (interference): cross-linguistic influences resulting in errors.
underproduction: learner produces few or no examples of the second language. This is often caused by conscious avoidance of difficult wordings in the second language.
overproduction: learner develops a habit of repeating a transference wording more so than native speakers of the second language.
miscomprehension/misinterpretation: When relying on native language transference the second language is not thoroughly comprehended nor used correctly resulting in production errors:
Why is the linguistic explanation important to Judicial T&I professionals? Because it defines how the speaker or author came to use this untranslatable term. Lawyers and Judges benefit from knowing these elements of the communication process. Lawyers can better represent their client when they know how their witness communicates naturally. Judges benefit from knowing that the testimony is intact and not altered by mistranslated evidence or misinterpreted testimony. Translators can use Second Language Acquisition elements in their translator’s notes.
I will follow up with specific suggested procedures to follow when you face SLA elements in your work. Look for the post: What To Do: Spanglish, Chinglish and Konglish.

Road Wise

MG countryroadScanOne of the most common proceedings I interpret is the vehicular accident deposition. The line of questioning is pretty standard.  The responses are a bit more varied. But here is one response that I have heard three times now. And every time I hear it, I smile quietly to myself.

Question: What street were you driving on when the impact occurred?

Response:   XYZ Street.

Question: How many lanes are there on XYZ Street?

Response:  Two. One in each direction.

Question:   What lane were you driving in?

Response: The middle one.

The Unique Ability to Focus

distractalbqScanInterpreters are obligated to listen and render a verbatim of what we hear. This is a uniquely challenging occupational task, because it is unnatural for humans to ignore what we see people do and suppress reactions to what we hear people say. Even at the subconscious level humans react to this stimuli.

I saw a CBS Sunday Morning segment on autism and it mentioned a study on attention at The Mc Govern Institute for brain research at MIT http://mcgovern.mit.edu/ . Brain scans showed standard neuro stimulation when we faced a person and they faced us or looked away. Whether a witness is looking at me or not is the least of my concerns in a legal proceeding.  I am even ignoring the discerning stares of the Judge, the jury and the attorneys.  But it was news to me.  that, beyond my control, my brain is reacting to the physical behavior of others.  I realized we interpreters are highly adept at controlling our conscious reactions and we stifle subconscious reactions. We don’t act on them. If we do, we will lose focus.

You can witness proof of interpreters excelling at this process of focus, when an untrained bilingual disputes the interpretation provided by a professional interpreter.  The challenger will emphasize and spend time expressing their dissent.  They display excitement over their detection. They look at the others around them soliciting support for their opinion, avoiding eye contact with the interpreter. They emphasize their bilingualism. Their tone is challenging and self-justifying. The last thing they do is to repeat the words they are challenging. But since that isn’t their priority or focus, more times than not, their recall is faulty and they admit not being able to repeat the words verbatim.

Meanwhile, the interpreter’s demeanor is the opposite.  The interpreter is subdued because he or she is sorting through their metal hard drive of what we heard spoken and what we interpreted.  Even during this interruption, that is our focus.

Our sole center of attention is on the words spoken.  We have no personal agenda. Legal interpreters have no vested interest in the outcome of the case. We have no bias. Our task is all consuming and difficult enough as is. The message is a ticker tape of words running across our minds.

Shutting out external stimulation is a real skill.  What caught your eye in the photo from the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico?  The gas balloon looming in the horizon or the teeny tiny lizard we found on the launch field?  

What we do is a process of hearing without feeling any emotional reaction to what is being said. We focus on the words, tone and register that we hear so intently, that we perform machine like. Some of us call it being in the zone. And it does become more automatic the longer you perform and develop the skill.

But at least our brains still sense all the stimuli even though we don’t react to it.

Good to know.

Wording Trends: The Motorized Vehicular Accident, Discovery and Litigation

DianeyellowMGScan      Questions about cell phone use are now standard in these kind of cases. I say motorized because people driving heavy machinery use their cell phones while driving. I’ve seen park landscapers on the phone while driving commercial sized mowers. I’ve seen people on their cell phones while driving combines in fields. Vehicular-pedestrian accidents happen when the pedestrian is on their cell too.
Cell phone use is so common now that we reference it in the comprehensive phrase “being on your cell phone” that includes all the functions performed on a cell phone. People can do any of these tasks with their cell phone: talk, text, read emails, respond to emails, listen to voice mail messages, view maps and other content and listen to music. Did I forget anything? If so, please let me know. I want to be ready to interpret those words.
Attorneys word their questions in a variety of ways. But as accident causes evolve, new vocabulary and phrasing appears. In order to provide the best representation of their clients, lawyers get more and more specific in their questions so the respondent doesn’t overlook a fact not referred to in the question. So, I am already seeing the trend of the all-encompassing question “Were you on your cell phone?” or “Were you using your cell phone?” being rephrased by specifying cell phone functions. Interpreters should become familiar with all the different service providers, the different brand names and styles of phones and the and setting options.
Additional vocabulary for this line of questioning includes, distraction, line of sight, paying attention and focus. All of these terms would be conjugated into the simple past, the present, imperfect indicative, and the conditional tenses. You are going to use the subjunctive for the questions about instructions, necessity, urgency suggestion, preference, possibility, regret and doubt.                                 For examples of accidents and the process of resulting lawsuits and comprehensive training take a look at this excellent book.
The Interpreters Guide to the Vehicular Accident Lawsuit. By Josef F. Buenker

The Inevitable for Freelancers .The Client Decides if You Get the Assignment.

R1-03652-018A     The closest a freelancer comes to dictating a full schedule of assignments is the cattle calls some agencies make to get an assignment filled. This is when they send out a mass email inquiring about availability which they admit is based on the first to respond will be the first to consider. The pivotal word in these inquiries is consider. The client (usually an agency) will take into consideration your rate and the reputation of your performance with that agency. Once your rates and terms are favored, inevitably what occurs next is if you are personally favored by the scheduler. Granted the more professional the agency, the less this behavior takes place. But in the high pressure job that schedulers face every day; the freelancer who is low maintenance and reliable is recalled fondly.

Learn the professional tone of how your client does business and work with them in that same tone or better. This rule is applied across the full range of clients from a single individual who contracts you to a small law firm or a multinational firm through a court system or agency. In each situation your performance and behavior decides how they judge you. Are they so busy that your repeated questions would bother them? Do you need to have them send back your invoices to be corrected? Do you expect them to research your assignments for additional information you need? These are common complaints among schedulers.

How much power does the attorney or judge have in deciding who is assigned to interpret? That depends on the feedback given to the attorney by his or her secretary. If the court is hiring you directly the judge can tell his or her court clerk who to use or not to use. Agencies do get some feedback but mostly, only when it is bad. The agency is most likely going to act on bad feedback if the relationship with the client is on the line. The more professional agencies take into consideration the context of the complaint about the freelancer and interview both parties before acting. If an agency passes on a complaint about you and is going to limit your assignments, be honest if you were improper or unprofessional. If you weren’t, ask to have it investigated with the client telling them that you want to rectify the situation. If it is not proven to be poor interpreting performance, the agency can easily avoid assigning you with that attorney or Judge and everyone is happy.

The Inevitable for Freelancers. Assignments can be canceled or postponed.

CourtDomeCertain types of cases have defendants that are encouraged to stop the litigation or discovery process and come to a financial agreement or a punishment agreement.  In civil law this is called to settle, In Criminal law this is called to take a plea.  Procedures that are scheduled in advance will be canceled when a plea is entered or when the two parties agree to a settlement.

So you should consider the potential cancellation of a deposition or hearing or trial in civil court and a hearing or trial in criminal cases.  Part of being professional is being prepared to protect yourself financially from such losses.  At the same time, being a good professional means knowing how to not antagonize a client by penalizing them for performing in the best interests of their client.  So, know that these types of assignments can be cancelled at any time by the attorney, the court or the agency.  And learn what your market standard is for a minimum charge for a cancellation during a certain time frame.

Assignments can be postponed.

       In civil court, a trial can be postponed if the Judge decides to order the parties to go to mediation.  Interpreters may not be necessary during mediation.  The parties may come to an agreement and settle as a result of mediation so you will lose the assignment altogether.  Or they may not settle and the trial would be rescheduled.

         It is important to hold on to your client and not make over burdensome demands but preserve your financial integrity.  You have to know the possible change of direction the legal process can take that can turn a postponement into income producing assignment or a loss.  You should have a postponement policy in place that you ask the client to agree to, in writing, when you first accept the assignment or enter into a contract with your client.  It is considered unprofessional to notify the client of a change in terms or fees after you accept an assignment.  But much like what the parties experience in the outcome of a mediation, you are going to have to accept less of your goal fee and the client is going to have to pay more than they hoped they would.  This is a situation when you should blend familiarity of your market standards with flexibility in your terms.

The Inevitable for Freelancers. The Market Sets the Standards.

R1-03649-0000          Don’t set your fees and terms of payment without finding out what the market charges and requires.  The vast majority of law firms, court administrators, Court Reporting firms are familiar with the standard range of fees and terms.  Some courts have set fees, otherwise you tell them your rates and terms.  They also know the value of experience in legal settings, certifications and training because that means you are reliable and self-sufficient.  T&I agencies for the most part, set limits on what they will pay you.  The good ones follow what is considered fair rates.

If you ignore the market fees and terms, you run the risk of charging too much and making unreasonable demands for your work.  Or if you charge too little and are too flexible in your terms you open yourself to the disrespect of not being paid on time or worse, not at all.  Learn the standard behavior and terms of your market.  Your market is defined by your geographic location, your language pair and those who share the same credentials, experience, training and reputation that you have.  As in any profession, if you are just starting out you can’t expect to charge the same as someone  who has a long list of tests passed, training  and ten, twenty or thirty years of experience.  But you can prove yourself as reliable, competent and fair.  We all started at a lower rate, paid our dues and rose in rank.  That is the path of a freelancer.

Three Sheets To The Wind. The Challenge of Idiomatic Expressions

The culprit, views en route - Copy


In the state required court interpreter orientation courses that I teach, rarely have my students seen the inside of a courtroom; much less do they know how to interpret according to regulations.  I interpret on a daily basis and I continue to study the craft in order to keep my skills at the highest level possible.  But it is also important to me to make what I teach is valuable to the students.  As an instructor, it is good to be reminded of what you didn’t know how to do when you first started.  And I really enjoy hearing those questions that you yourself asked a long time ago.  Interpreting experiences serve as great examples to use when explaining the answer especially when there is no set standard.

One of the students in a recent orientation class asked about how to interpret the idiomatic expression “Three sheets to the wind.”  Since, I consider it risky to interpret idiomatic expressions, I started to give him my short answer, “You don’t.”  Then I remembered how it felt to have rules piled on me without reference and reasons.  I have decided to avoid interpreting idiomatic expressions   based on my oath as well as the integrity of due process, in spite of hearing interpreters debating, almost proselytizing translations of idiomatic expressions.

Several years ago I took a class on interpreting idiomatic expressions for Spanish and English given by some veteran interpreters.  They defined expressions in English and then offered an equivalent idiomatic expression in Spanish as acceptable translations.  Very quickly Spanish speakers from Central America disputed the expressions presented which were spoken in a South American country.  The class dissolved into a volley of numerous variations declared emphatically with national fanfare between those trainers and the students.  I left knowing none of those translations would hold up in court and wishing I could get that hour back.

Legal interpreters have an obligation to maintain the exact statement rendered.  Attorneys and judges are speaking according to their own regulations and their task to represent their client.  Witnesses have the right to be heard in their own words.  Nobody else has the right to change those words.

There are three points of criteria that I apply to idiomatic expressions.  Each one of these has to be filtered through being held to our oath.

1.    Can you be absolutely certain that you know the meaning of the expression?  Probably not.  Idiomatic expressions are based on subjective experiences and therefore are subjective.  Anyone who consumes alcohol can say that there was a time when they felt like they were “three sheets to the wind” but the fact is they all would not have each been equally inebriated.  So this example is particularly quantitative and you run the risk of altering the measurement intended by the speaker.

2.    How can you prove that your translation of the expression is totally and completely correct?  If there is published proof of your translation, don’t get too comfortable, because there is probably published proof of a different translation.  The term Idiomatic Expression is defined as sayings that have a meaning different from the meaning of the words in the expression.

3.    Will a possible misinterpretation of an idiomatic expression alter the testimony?  The answer to that question is always yes.  Any misinterpretation alters testimony.

So far, in my experience, few translations of idiomatic expressions survive that criterion.  It doesn’t matter if the idiomatic expression is used in the question or the response; I believe it is too risky if you attempt to translate an idiomatic expression.  You can still comply with court interpreter procedural standards and not disrupt the proceedings when encountering the need to avoid translating an idiomatic expression.  I will explain this in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, please note that this is an issue for judicial interpreters and translators.