Skip These Seven Hassles for a Serenely Successful 2017

 

 

devils-bridge-in-kromlau-germany_n 

  1. Skip the stressful “offer “ of  insulting rates and oppressive terms .

Introduce yourself with you rates and  terms backed up with your certification and training. If being offered an assignment , ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing of your rates and terms  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

 Stress Buster : Develop a couple of templates of polite  responses for  when unacceptably low     rates are offered. Save them in your drafts and you will avoid the irritation felt when  writing a new one every time.

   2  Skip the embarrassment of being taken advantage of.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of hearing that the prospective client that wants you won’t pay what you’re worth.

Look up their website and see how they promote themselves to the market If they claim to have the lowest rates then how do you think they make a profit.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

  1. Skip the stress of a job with terminology and procedures that stump you.

Don’t accept an assignment you have never done before until you have observed the interpreted proceeding in person or reviewed a few source and target translations of the same subject matter. Do this until you are comfortable that you can perform quality work.

  1. Skip the stress of hassles caused by a client uneducated in your work.

Look for the red flags waving: when translator and interpreter is used interchangeably, when your availability is asked without  identification of the proceeding, whenever a translation has no word count or deadline…  And my favorite when you are asked to be at a location over 100 miles away in a half an hour.  Decide the value of your time required in “babysitting” this kind of client.

  1. Skip the embarrassment of being labeled as unqualified and unprofessional.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of payment disputes.

Send your rates and terms ( learn what these are) in writing and ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing.  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

Assess the client agency by their reputation among their employees and contractors. Listen and weigh both the accolades and the complaints. Complaints reflect poor management and instability and that leads to non-payment of freelancer’s invoices .

And Now for the Musical Portion of my Closing Argument.

As  court interpreters, we have to be ready for all kinds of terminology. Speaking styles too. A register that rises to the level of Shakespearean sonnets , or drops to a Mafioso style threat.  We have to render it duplicating the tone, style and meaning. So, we study and prepare. I enjoy sitting in on trials and study how the lawyers speak especially during opening and closing.singer-on-stage

But none of that prepared me for the lawyer who sang during his closing argument.

I was interpreting the trial for the defendant. It was a car accident and my client was the insurance company. It was all so standard that I don’t remember the details or most of the testimony.  The opposing counsel was well prepared and consistently …normal sounding during litigation. Nothing stood out during  voir dire or cross or even  the deliberations over the charge to the jury. A bit of drama during that would have tipped me off.

I wasn’t even distracted by the Plaintiff’s father who wore in a full Marine dress uniform throughout the trial. He sat behind his daughter, a high school senior.

I was interpreting the full trial for the defendant, a middle aged man from Honduras. He was calm, polite and…normal.

I remember being aware that since we were at closing arguments, all that was left, time wise, was jury deliberations and then I’d be released.  Frankly I was probably thinking about dinner plans.

For closing, both lawyers restated the high points of the case that reflected well on their client. And the lawyer for the plaintiff, as usual, proceeded to follow the defense with a second closing.  In this one he reminded the jury of the testimony presented showing how his client was very close to her father and that her father had been very worried  about her ever since  this accident.  And that her father was an honorable member of the military.

The lawyer stopped right in front of the jury, looked right into their eyes and asked them,

“Who today isn’t aware of the contributions of the military to our country?  It just makes me think of the song,  Some Gave All by Billie Ray Cyrus

Then in a pretty nice baritone voice he sang these words:

“All gave some and some gave all / And some stood through for the red, white and blue / And some had to fall / And if you ever think of me / Think of all your liberties / And recall, some gave all.”

He caught me off guard for a second.  I may have shown surprise on my face. But I got right to work interpreting ….not singing…. the lyrics. I avoided eye contact with the defendant and I focused on the wood grain of the table while interpreting simultaneously. But out of the corner of my eye I caught my client’s jaw drop.  There was no reaction from the Judge and the jury didn’t applaud.

I have been surprised by literary testimony that included poetry and recitations from religious texts. I guess I can add interpretation of live singing to my own repertoire, so to speak.

I’m just glad he didn’t choose Achy Breaky Heart.

(Some Gave All. (C) 1993 Mercury Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc)

When to Buy into a Client’s Complaint.

The longer you freelance in this business, if you make the effort to keep getting training, you can count on five things to happen.
1. Your performance will get better and better.
2. What was once difficult will be easy.
3. Your confidence will get more and more solid.
4. You will enjoy the work every time.
5. You will also face a client’s complaint about your work that will take you right back to how nervous you felt when you were just starting out.
UnhappyrockScanSo when faced with a complaint about your work, when do you stand up for yourself and when do you just move on? The answer is when you know, without question, which of the following is true:
1. You did not make any mistakes or
2. The client is right and you made an error in your performance.

The only way to know is if you are distinctly aware of your performance by practicing constant and honest self-assessment.   Interpreters need to listen to what they themselves are saying and rely on the instant recall of the last interchange. Most professional interpreters have retention of the prior several seconds. All interpreters should truthfully acknowledge a check list of their own weaknesses, which most clients object to, including heavy accents, pronunciation and grammar mistakes and being late. Translators need to practice good time management and make mental notes of their word choices and the options they can choose from. We also need to invest in a good proofreader since fresh eyes can make or break your reputation. We also have to know the regulations and expectations of competitive professional interpreting or translation. That is the only way we can know if we made a mistake and were to blame or not.

I’ve learned that most interpreters and translators usually know when there was a grey area in their work product. We also know when our performance is at risk because of the environment or setting we are working in. An example would be when the interpreter faced with screaming attorneys and witnesses all talking over each other. The freelance translator can be uneasy when given a barely legible copy or a deadline that is moved up from the original one. But we do have the right to tell the client of the risk to our performance and ask that it be remedied. And we, as freelancers have the right to turn down any job.

But there is still the probability that the client is wrong in their accusation. My profession has an inexcusably low percentage of end user knowledge of the fundamentals skills required to be an interpreter and /or translator as well as our process and regulations. The biggest culprit is the client who feels they are more fluent than a licensed trained and qualified translator or interpreter.

Honest self-assessment can lead to fewer mistakes in your control. It happens to all of us. Every now and then a mistake slips into our normally impeccable work product. I have three more posts about this. One tells what happens when the client discovers a mistake, how to resolve it when you did make a mistake and how to handle the client wrongly claiming you made a mistake when you didn’t.

The Document Translation Gold Mine for the Court Interpreter.

A lot of us claim to be translators or interpreters but not both. For many years I too, only claimed to be a court interpreter and I would only accept in person assignments for legal or law enforcement proceedings. Then I discovered the treasures that translating legal documentation provided.
FtBCtyjailScanThe fact is the terminology that stumps us the most is legalese. Not the rantings of an emotional witness but terms like: “The Plaintiff prays” and “Requests for Admissions “and “General Denial”. The most abundant source of this is the continuous stream of legal documents produced in the discovery phase of the civil lawsuit. Most of my colleagues consider the pre deposition, pretrial phase as a lawyer’s only domain so they don’t even investigate what happens before we step in, when the parties face each other. I believe the best preparation is knowing as much as possible about what happened before I step in and what is expected to happen afterwards. So I studied these phases from the attorney’s point of view and I discovered all the words that had ever stymied me. Since then I have never been even delayed in providing an accurate translation of those terms.
I incorporated these assets into a continuing education course I developed on civil discovery for licensed court interpreters and translators in Texas. From the start to when the class finished, comments like “That’s what that means”, or “That’s what they are talking about” echoed around the room.
Whether in court or a deposition, we can be handed such documents, as exhibits, and asked to sight translate them. So, studying samples first is key to seamless sight translation. In depositions, questions may contain phrasings taken directly from these standard forms but the interpreter may not be handed a document to refer to. Recognizing the document title, the interpreter can then know the terms associated with that document and their meanings and usage. Documents such as Plaintiff’s Original Petition, Original Set of Interrogatories and Verification of Employment can show the foundation for the questions and objections we hear and must be familiar with.
Then I made another amazing discovery of my own. I volunteer at the Harris County District Clerk’s Historical Documents room at the civil courthouse. This room houses court records dating back to the 1700s; through the period Texas was a part of Mexico, then a Republic and then after joining the United States as the 28th state of the Union. I index and transcribe evidence and court transcripts, the earliest written in quill pen. Some, originally written in Spanish, were translated over 180 years ago. Our court system has followed the same processes with the same legalese for centuries. I found Plaintiff’s Original Petitions, Charges to the Jury and Summons as old as the Republic of Texas. They contain the exact same phrasings of those used today.
So, try translating legal procedural documents. Study and practice with them. Your interpreting skills will grow and your performance will shine.

Riding the Register Roller coaster

parrot scan0001Court Interpreters are expected to know the correct word and phrase and usage for whatever we hear spoken by the questioner and by the respondent. So we study specialized terminology for specific industries. Even entry level interpreters learn the legalese used by the attorneys and Judge throughout each proceeding.

But beyond those fundamental terms, you could still be caught off guard by the unique words and phrases used by a witness who has had minimal formal education in their native language. They are communicating the way they are accustomed to and not necessarily in the same tone and word choices typically heard in the judicial setting. Another transformation in language happens when an expert takes the stand and you are interpreting full trial testimony for the Limited English Proficient (LEP) plaintiff or defendant. You will be swimming in very official, formal terminology and phrasing.

These distinctions in communication are called Register. Identifying it and duplicating it is another skill court interpreters must master. Register is a highly documented component of the field of linguistics. The professions we serve in the judiciary and law enforcement learn about register as part of Q&A procedures.

A professional court interpreter never passes judgment on the speaker 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 our oath.  Canon 1 of the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility [State of Texas regulations] states that we do not change the tone or register of the speaker. Learning about register is how you prepare yourself to recognize different registers and interpret accurately and completely while maintaining the register of the speaker.

  There are five levels of register and each is spoken in identified settings by specific relationships of people.

1.  Static.   This is a register of wording or phrasing that never changes.  You do not state these in a lower register or simplify them. Examples would be a Pledge of Allegiance or the   Miranda Rights.

2. Formal.  This register is used when the wording carries weight and importance in its delivery. Formal register is used for speeches, sermons, rhetorical statements and questions, pronouncements made by judges, announcements.

3. Consultative Register. This language is formal but it is accepted comfortably as the societal standard for polite and professional language. It is used when strangers meet, communications between a superior and a subordinate, doctor and patient, lawyer and client, lawyer and judge, teacher and student and a counselor and client.

4. Casual Register. This is the informal language used by peers and friends. It frequently includes slang, vulgarities and colloquialisms. This is “group” language. Speakers must be a member to communicate in this register. People who use it are close friends, teammates, in chats, emails, and letters to friends.

5.  Intimate Register This is the register of private communications. It is reserved for close family members or people who are intimate.  This register is heard between husband and wife, intimate partners, between siblings, and parents and children.

 

In our line of work the most common levels are Static, Formal and Consultative. When your interpreting is flowing along in those three levels, if one of the speakers jumps into a Casual or Intimate register, our flow, especially is interrupted. 

 

I can sense an oncoming change of register when a speaker is getting irritated. If they were speaking in a Formal register they will drop to Casual seemingly to show disdain for the questioning or the responsiveness. Or if they were feeling very familiar and unthreatened and then get irritated they will jump from Casual to Formal to display an imposed distance and ending the relaxed closeness they were exhibiting. 

 

You will also see a body language shift that signals the change in register. The speakers’ posture and attentiveness display shifts when they change register. Often during in person interpretation settings, respondents will turn their bodies away from the questioner and face me directly. They will suddenly respond “yes or no Ma’am” directly to me, when the questioner is male and they had been responding with “Sir” up to that point. The standard rule for interpreting is to continue saying exactly what the speaker is saying so the gender shift will be reflected on the record. But this is a sign that the questioner has irritated the respondent. To see this happen, watch a few interrogation videos and you will see the shift and you will hear the change in register spoke.  Actors are taught to display this with the dialogue they are given.

 

 Skill Building Tools   Expose yourself to examples of registers as expressed in your language pair. If Casual is what you hear most, immerse yourself in Formal. Develop that vocabulary. Stay attuned to the speaker and your interpreting will flow.

Exercise: Link the Register to the Speaking Event

 

Bailiff speaking to initial jury pool prior to voir dire.

 

Judge giving Jurors their Oath.

 

Testimony: Conversation during lunch hour between coworkers about upcoming layoffs.

 

Testimony: Police taking report at scene of vehicle accident.

 

Testimony: 911 call audio recording of assailant and victim in a domestic violence altercation.