The annual cost of being a professional trilingual interpreter

I recently received the following request in my inbox: “If you know of any events or organizations I can get involved with, that would be great as well (I joined Mano a Mano).” I figured instead of answering just one person, this information could be helpful to other trilingual (ASL, Spanish, English) interpreters as well, hence why I’m posting the answer as a blog. And as I started to think of the various organizations I’m a member of, and the others it would be a good idea to be a member of, I realized that, in the vernacular, it ain’t cheap!

Here is a list of the professional organizations a trilingual interpreter might be a member of, links to their websites, and the membership dues for each. I’ve included figures both certified and non-certified interpreters.

  • RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf). This, of course, is the organization that provides national certification (between ASL and English), and it doesn’t hurt that their newsletter, the VIEWS, has won some awards. Annual dues for certified members are $160.00 and for associate (non-certified) members they are $130.00.
  • RID Affiliate Chapter. To be involved in professional, sign-language interpreting issues at a local level, it’s a good idea to join your state chapter of RID. Affiliate chapter dues run about $35.00 a year.
  • Mano a Mano. This is the first and only organization specifically for trilingual interpreters in the United States that I know of. They don’t offer certification, but thanks to a collaborative effort with the NCIEC (National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers), registering yourself as a trilingual interpreter in the national database is FREE! Click here to register. Joining as a bona fide member, whether you’re certified or not, will cost you $25.00 a year (or the equivalent of only five iced venti soy chai lattés from Starbucks).
  • ATA (American Translators Association). With membership in the ATA and access to their quality newsletter, the ATA Chronicle, you will gain insight into the world of translation and interpreting beyond American Sign Language. I feel it’s important for trilingual interpreters to be aware of news and information related to spoken language interpreting, since a portion of our work touches upon it. The ATA certification is the preeminent standard for translation in the United States, and while it’s commendable if you do aim for it, the reality of it is impractical. Translation requires a different type of theory, training, and practice than does interpreting. Also, don’t let the name of the organization fool you. The ATA is welcoming to interpreters, and the ATA Chronicle frequently has articles of interest to trilingual interpreters. Annual dues are $160.00.
  • ATA Affiliate Chapter. This is where the good stuff happens. I don’t know how other ATA state chapters work, but the one in Florida has frequent socials and puts on several workshops a year. Affiliate chapter dues will be about $35.00 a year.
  • NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators). This is the only organization, besides the IMIA (see below), that I know of that is wholly inclusive of both sign language and spoken language interpreters. While not all trilingual interpreters engage in legal interpreting, the camaraderie of the membership is magnetic and the contributions on their email group are invaluable. NAJIT also produces good articles in its newsletter, Proteus, and while it does offer legal certification, I must admit that the court certifications offered by the National Consortium of State Courts (NCSC) and the Federal Court Interpreter Exam (FCIE) are more recognized. If you’re an active legal interpreter, dues are $105.00 per year, and associate membership is $85.00 per year.
  • IMIA (International Medical Interpreters Association). I’m not an IMIA member (I lean toward legal and conference interpreting)… yet. While RID offers specialist certification for legal interpreting (the SC:L), the IMIA recognizes the importance of interpreting standards for medical interpreting. I’ve heard rumors that it’s even advocating for ASL-English medical interpreting certification, either through RID or its own methods. Annual membership is $60.00 a year.
  • NCIHC (National Council on Interpreting in Health Care). This is another medical interpreters’ association, suggested to me by a friend and colleague. According to her, the NCIHC is also inclusive of sign language interpreters. Individual membership is $45.00 a year. (Added 5/9/2013)
  • WASLI (World Association of Sign Language Interpreters). The interpreting situation in the U.S. isn’t the best, but you have to admit that we’re still in a position to help other countries around us. One way of giving back is by becoming an individual member of WASLI. Not only will you be supporting efforts to professionalize the field of sign language interpreting around the world, you’ll also receive WASLI’s newsletter, which informs you about what’s going on with our colleagues in foreign lands. Membership dues vary depending on your country of provenance, but for the U.S. it’s $25.00.

There you have them: my recommendations for organizations that will make a well-rounded trilingual interpreter. If you’re certified and do some legal interpreting, you need to budget $650.00 a year, and if you’re not RID-certified (your state may have its own certification) and focus more on medical interpreting, you can set aside $600.00: useful figures in case you need to advocate for a differential!


Filed under Interpreter Training (Capacitación)

Deaf people can get interpreters, and businesses don’t have to be sued

It’s a common story. I’m on an assignment, and my deaf consumer mentions in passing how he went to the doctor the other day. Out of curiosity I ask: “Did she provide an interpreter for you?” I already know the answer: “No.” The fact is, despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which requires places of business to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing people go without their accommodations (one of which is sign language interpreters), not only at doctor’s offices, but also lawyer’s offices, meetings with real estate agents, at job interviews, at public events, and so on.

Sure, it’s easy for interpreters and other hearing people to tell deaf people: “But it’s your right! You could sue!” But they’re not the deaf person who has a million other things going on in their life, which may include finding a job and feeding a family, and who, moreover, may be thinking, “What kind of relationship will I have with my doctor/prospective employer/etc. if I threaten to sue them, even if it is to demand my basic right?”

Thankfully, some deaf and hard of hearing people have stood up to fight. Bringing lawsuits and ADA complaints against places of business definitely works, but here we are, 12 years later, and people still struggle to get their accommodation. This is what led me to think: There must be a better way. There must be a way for businesses to happily provide an interpreter when one is requested, which is conducive to also having a good relationship with their deaf and hard of hearing consumers.

Like many other states,  the Florida Legislature passed the Telecommunications Access System Act in 1991 to provide telecommunications services for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. This service is funded by a monthly surcharge billed to all telephone customers in the state. Thanks to this service, deaf people can conduct business over the phone, call family members, and make an emergency call when needed, just as a person who can hear does. This is the spirit of the ADA: to provide people with disabilities equal access.

While a solution has been implemented for equal access to telecommunications services, however, a gap has been left when it comes to equal access to community services.

My proposed solution is a surcharge added to the Local Business Tax Receipt (a.k.a. the county business license), or a similar vehicle, which will be used to fund the provision of sign language interpreters for community services. To my knowledge, no such service of this kind exists anywhere in the country, yet to every deaf person I come across and express the idea, the thought of hassle-free, equal access in the community excites them.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Interpreter agencies do not go out of business. The county fund is simply a way to pay for services; therefore, there is likely to be more business. The county may also hire freelance interpreters directly.
  • Because there is a fund, there is also a way to get Deaf Interpreters on assignments when needed, instead of also having to fight for this.
  • The fund could also be used for other types of accommodation, such as CART services.
  • The fund may also be used, perhaps, to pay for training for hearing and deaf interpreters, to meet the demand.
  • Government services, such as county hospitals, the Social Security Administration, etc., do not purchase business licenses, and therefore would follow their usual process for providing interpreters.
  • Because anyone who purchases a business license would be contributing to the fund, then any place of business would be entitled to an interpreter for their consumers, even if they have fewer than 5 employees, or otherwise do not fall under ADA jurisdiction. (A lawyer might have to confirm this.)
  • Also because there is a fund for interpreting services which businesses contribute to, businesses would not have to worry about the extra expense of providing interpreters to interview and train prospective deaf or hard of hearing employees, which opens up job opportunities for them. Note: there may have to be a cap on the number of hours per year that an interpreter is provided for training, meetings, etc. for deaf employees, before the place of business has to take over the cost.

I’m sure I’m too blinded by the benefits of this type of service model that I do not see clearly the negatives, besides the obvious surcharge to businesses. I think businesses, however, would rather pay a small fee and be covered whenever an interpreter is needed, than to be sued down the road. Regardless, whatever negatives there are, they should be resolved in order to keep the overarching two-pronged principle of this idea: (1) for deaf and hard of hearing people to no longer have to fight for a basic right, and (2) for places of business not to be burdened by unexpected expenses.

Please feel free to share and comment on this idea. I’m attaching a letter that I wrote to the Mayor of Miami-Dade County proposing this very idea, but which never received a response.

Letter to Mayor of Miami-Dade County

Letter to Mayor of Miami-Dade County


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La despatologización de la sordera

Los artículos contenidos en este libro han demostrado que existen dos perspectivas contrastantes en cuanto a las personas sordas y su relación con la sociedad mayoritaria de los Estados Unidos. Estas dos perspectivas diferentes son parte de dos sistemas de valores culturales diferentes: el de la ideología oyente y el de la ideología sorda. Nos hemos esforzado en los artículos anteriores de describir al pueblo sordo de una manera consistente con su propia ideología y con las medidas exactas y actualmente aceptadas de la antropología y la sociolingüística.

La perspectiva ideológica oyente de que las personas sordas que se identifican con la comunidad sorda son aisladas, discapacitadas y patológicas no nace de un análisis cuidadoso, científico, antropológico y lingüístico; sin embargo, el hecho es que los oyentes son lentos y muchas veces renuentes a renunciar sus valores culturales en cuanto a los sordos, a pesar de que sean perniciosos y represivos para ellos.

Por eso están en conflicto los valores culturales básicos de las sociedades de los sordos y los oyentes: porque se basan en perspectivas contrastantes sobre la naturaleza de las personas sordas. El poder, el dinero, la movilidad social ascendente, etc., de la sociedad estadounidense son básicamente controlados por los que tienen la autoridad, en concreto: la cultura mayoritaria oyente; y esto resulta en desigualdades para los sordos, ya que el acceso al éxito social y económico está controlado por una cultura con una ideología que tiende a considerar a las personas sordas como inferiores.

Uno no puede negar que, durante los últimos cuantos años, se ha mejorado la actitud no sólo hacia los sordos, sino también la lengua de señas estadounidense, y que ha habido algunos beneficios económicos para las personas sordas. No obstante, todavía están lejos de ser iguales a los oyentes en la sociedad estadounidense. Uno sólo tiene que analizar la legislación que afecta a los derechos de los sordos para ver que todavía se clasifican como discapacitados, y casi nunca se clasifican con otros grupos minoritarios. Es muy improbable que alcancen la igualdad, al menos que la sociedad oyente deje de considerar a la sordera como una patología: o sea, al menos que dejen de clasificar a los sordos como discapacitados.

Si analizamos detenidamente el concepto de «discapacidad», y sus repercusiones, llegamos a una conclusión bastante desagradable. The American Heritage Dictionary (1976) define la palabra en inglés handicap, o «discapacidad», como «deficiencia, especialmente la deficiencia anatómica, fisiológica o mental que impide o restringe el logro normal». Si nos dejamos llevar por la clasificación tradicional de los sordos como discapacitados, los destinamos al fracaso porque nunca lograrán —ni tampoco siempre quieren «lograr»— la «normalidad» de lo que es ser una persona oyente. La mayoría de las personas sordas, por lo tanto, siempre serán, según las normas de la sociedad oyente, «deficientes», o sea, con la «falta de una calidad o elemento esencial; incompleto; defectuoso». (The American Heritage Dictionary, 1976).

La clasificación de los sordos como discapacitados es perjudicial para ellos. El perjuicio más grave es el hecho de que llevar la clasificación de discapacitado significa llevar la etiqueta de inferioridad. Realmente importa poco cuánto dinero provisional proveemos para la ayuda social a las personas sordas si aún las clasificamos como ciudadanos de segunda con la etiqueta de discapacitado. El dinero no permanecerá para siempre, o posiblemente por mucho tiempo, y cuando ya no esté, la etiqueta social de inferioridad asegurará que los sordos serán, seguramente, ubicados de nuevo en su lugar inferior «apropiado» (Woodward 1980). Las prestaciones económicas deben estar acompañadas por un cambio de valores si la ayuda social ha de beneficiar a las personas sordas.

Además de ser perjudicial para los sordos, la clasificación de ellos como discapacitados también es perjudicial para las personas oyentes. Es más sutil, pero quizá más serio. Al etiquetar a los sordos como discapacitados, rechazamos su cultura, valores y autoestima. Al decir que son discapacitados, realmente estamos diciendo que son inferiores. Al usar el término «discapacitado», nos colocamos, ya sea de manera consciente o inconsciente, en el lugar del opresor. Decimos que las personas sordas tienen una «deficiencia, especialmente la deficiencia anatómica, fisiológica o mental que impide o restringe el logro normal». De esta manera dejamos claro que las personas en el mundo sólo pueden salir adelante si siguen las reglas de los oyentes y sólo a la medida que pueden ser como oyentes. Cuando mandamos a los niños sordos a los médicos antes de tratar de encontrar a adultos sordos y oyentes con quienes se pueden comunicar, convertimos la sordera en una patología, una enfermedad, que nuestra ciencia siente la necesidad de erradicar.

Uno sólo tiene que examinar una comunidad como la de la Isla de Providencia para ver cuánto hemos patologizado la sordera. Obviamente, los providencianos oyentes saben que las personas sordas no pueden oír; sin embargo, no tienden a clasificar esta diferencia como un déficit. No consideran la audición como una cualidad tan «esencial» como lo hace la sociedad estadounidense. Además, las investigaciones sobre la actitud hacia los sordos en la Isla de Providencia muestra claramente que no los consideran «defectuosos»; en cambio, la sordera se tiende a aceptar como un hecho. No hay un movimiento para encontrar una cura o una solución tecnológica para una persona que no oye. Al contrario, los oyentes en la isla buscan maneras sociales de relacionarse con los sordos. Las personas sordas no tienen que hacerse oyentes para salir adelante. Los padres de niños sordos no se preocupan con médicos o con audífonos o con convertir a sus hijos en personas «normales»; se preocupan de comunicarse con sus hijos y asegurar que los hijos se pueden comunicar con otros. Se debe reiterar que la situación en la Isla de Providencia no es perfecta para los sordos, pero esta actitud más positiva de los oyentes hacia los sordos de seguro ayuda con la integración de los sordos a la sociedad mayoritaria.

Si nosotros en los Estados Unidos de verdad hemos de aceptar y tratar a las personas sordas como iguales, tenemos que despatologizar la sordera, lo que significa rechazar el modelo médico que nuestra cultura tiene hacia la condición; excepto, este modelo está bien arraigado en la tradición cultural de los estadounidenses oyentes. Los cambios a nuestras creencias no se realizarán de la noche a la mañana, ya que las perspectivas patológicas hacia la sordera dominan la sociedad oyente estadounidense de muchas maneras sutiles, las que probablemente sólo rara vez se notan conscientemente, pero que sin duda tienen un efecto subconsciente profundo.

El ímpetu para los cambios en las actitudes hacia las personas sordas debe originarse tanto de la comunidad oyente como la sorda. Como se señaló antes en este libro, el cambio social significativo para la comunidad sorda no se puede diseñar sólo por personas oyentes. Las personas sordas que tienen un conocimiento íntimo de su propia comunidad deben participar de la planificación lingüística y social, y los oyentes afiliados a la comunidad sorda que han de participar de esta planificación, deben también estar muy informados sobre las variedades lingüísticas y los valores de la comunidad sorda.

Cualquier persona interesada en los cambios de actitud debe también entender por qué las personas oyentes han desarrollado estas actitudes negativas que tienen. Para entender esto, necesitamos (1) más estudios interculturales sobre las creencias y actitudes hacia las personas sordas y las lenguas de señas, y (2) una revisión detenida de nuestras propias actitudes negativas y cómo son apoyadas y reforzadas por nuestras instituciones sociales, especialmente por las instituciones que consideramos sagradas de una forma u otra. Dos de estas instituciones son la ciencia y la religión. Ya hemos indicado algunas de las características del modelo médico-científico de la sordera, el cual propugna la intervención con dispositivos tecnológicos, como los audífonos, o «curarla» a través de intervenciones quirúrgicos. La tradición religiosa dominante en los Estados Unidos comparte un enfoque similar hacia la sordera. Los pasajes de la Biblia judeocristiana que se refieren a la sordera y a los sordos tratan a la sordera como una patología, como algo que se debe curar, normalmente por Dios. Esta tradición bíblica judeocristiana apoya, refuerza y da justificación sobrenatural a la perspectiva patológica de los oyentes estadounidenses hacia la sordera. Muchas de nuestras instituciones sociales también tratan a la sordera de la misma manera.

Quizá la tarea más difícil para la sociedad estadounidense en su búsqueda de despatologizar a la sordera, será la de evaluar, cuestionar y rechazar de una manera objetiva tales valores en tales áreas como los que se han descrito arriba. Como Hsu, un antropólogo, observó tan acertadamente: «Muchos estudiosos occidentales, especialmente los estadounidenses, tanto han sumergido sus emociones en la bondad absoluta de sus propias formas de sociedad, etnicidad, pensamiento y religión, que es difícil para ellos cuestionarlas, aún con análisis científicos». (Hsu 1972:245). Sin embargo, si no cuestionamos nuestros valores actuales, quedarán como están; y las personas sordas seguirán siendo desiguales en nuestra sociedad, la que ostenta valorar el igualitarismo.


Hsu, F. 1972. American Core Value and National Character. En F. Hsu, ed., Psychological Anthropology. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, Publishing Col, Inc.

Morris, M., ed. 1976. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Woodward, J. 1980. Cyclic Politics: Sign Language and Deaf Education. Una ponencia presentada en el ciclo de conferencias sobre el lenguaje y la política de la educación, State University of New York, Binghamton, March.

Original en inglés: «On Depathologizing Deafness», por James Woodward, publicado en el libro How You Gonna Get to Heaven if You Can’t Talk with Jesus (1982), por el mismo autor, Silver Spring, Maryland: T. J. Publishers, pp. 75-78.

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Filed under Translations: Spanish (Traducciones al español)

Three things that will make you a better interpreter

Becoming an excellent interpreter is like a constant game of Whac-A-Mole. Once you nail a skill down, another problem area pops up. The good news is that if you keep playing, you won’t have to hit as hard anymore, and you’ll figure out the pattern so that it’s easier for you to stay on top of your game.

Woman playing Whac-A-Mole

Photo taken from Wikipedia page on “Whac-A-Mole” on August 11, 2012.

It’s important to remember that everyone starts out at a different place, but the goal is still achievable. If you only speak one language, becoming a world-renowned interpreter is going to take a while. Don’t give up. To help you on your quest, here are three tools that are helping me along the way, and so I figured I’d pass them along to you, too:

  1. Observe. Always keep an eye out. I don’t know if it’s mirror neurons or what, but the simple act of paying attention to the world around you does wonders for your linguistic and interpreting skills. In my translation courses at UTB, we learn about parallel texts. The idea is that if you want to know how to translate say, a birth certificate, from English to Spanish, you look at original birth certificates in Spanish to see what words are used, how they are used, what the style is, and what the format looks like. So when you translate, your product seems natural.

    Similarly, if you want to know how to interpret medical information from English to ASL, look at how deaf people sign when they talk about medical issues. Make note of the vocabulary used, the facial expressions, the spacial markers, etc. Sign language interpreters see people use ASL all the time, perhaps every day, but there’s a difference between seeing someone sign and paying attentionto the way they sign.

    Follow this same advice for other areas. If you admire the skill of a certain interpreter, observe them in action and make note of how they manage the interpreting process. Ask questions if you’re curious about anything. Improve your delivery in English by paying attention to the way people speak and say things. Aim to be clear and concise in your interpretations.

  2. Measure yourself against yourself. When it comes to measuring your progress, look behind you, not ahead of you. If you compare yourself against someone who has been interpreting for 30 years, the road ahead of you can seem daunting. Therefore, when thoughts of “I’ll never make it” enter your head, replace them with this question instead: “Am I a better interpreter today than I was at this same time last year?” If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track so keep moving. If the answer is no, see point #1 above and lay out a plan to make some changes.
  3. Don’t deceive yourself. You know those movies where, after a long journey, the crew finds a damp cave full of gold and other treasures; they think they’ve made it, that is until they suddenly realize that it’s a trap, but one guy is too excited to pay attention or care so he dives crazily into a pile of rubies, and then the cave begins to tremble angrily, dooming everyone inside? Don’t be that guy. Remember the Whac-A-Mole. Sure, you’ve probably gotten really good at a lot of things, but as soon as you think there are no moles left is when one will pop up to bite you. Even if you are the top dog, isn’t it a bit brash to think you’ve learned everything there is to know in the world? Polish up on something you haven’t tried in a while. And more importantly, start helping out other up-and-coming interpreters. Don’t leave your crew to die in the cave because you hastily thought everything was over.

I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to share it with other interpreters, and don’t forget to add to it the tools that have helped you along your own journey.

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A mi querido hijo gay hipotético

Encontré esta carta en el sitio Reddit esta mañana de un padre renegando de su hijo, y me partió el corazón. No es la primera vez que veo algo parecido, ya que como vivimos en Utah, sucede mucho. Tuve amigos en la secundaria a quienes les pasó lo mismo de primera mano, pero esta mañana es la primera vez que lo encuentro después de haberme convertido en padre. Mi hijo está viviendo en la panza de su mamá; así que, obviamente aún no conocemos su orientación sexual. Sin embargo, la carta que leí esta mañana me hizo pensar en qué diría la carta mía si la noticia de que mi hijo es gay me llegara a sorprender. Pues aquí va:

Querido hijo gay hipotético:

Eres gay. Obviamente ya lo sabes porque anoche nos lo dijiste en la mesa de comedor. Te pido disculpas por el silencio incómodo que siguió después, pero es que estaba masticando. Es como cuando estamos en un restaurant y el mesero se acerca en medio del mordisco y te pregunta cómo estaba la comida, sólo que en esta metáfora tú eres el mesero, y en vez de preguntarme sobre la comida me dices que eres gay. No sé por qué sentía la necesidad de explicar eso. Creo que necesitaba encontrar una manera graciosa de repetir el hecho de que eres gay… porque así me suena en la cabeza en este momento: «Mi hijo es gay. Mi hijo es gay. Mi hijo es gay».

Que esté perfectamente claro: Te amo. Siempre te amaré. Ya que ser gay es parte de quien eres tú, amo que eres gay. Sólo estoy tratando de asimilar la idea. Si sentiste algo de tristeza en mi silencio anoche, es porque me sorprendió que estuviera sorprendido. Lo ideal sería que ya hubiera sabido. Desde que eras un embrión, mi intención siempre ha sido conocerte como la persona que eres de verdad y no a quien espero que seas. Y sin embargo, me tomó por sorpresa la noticia anoche cuando estabamos cenando. ¿He mencionado la palabra «sorpresa» lo suficiente en este párrafo? Una vez más: ¡sorpresa!

Bueno. Que quede claro cómo van a ser las cosas por aquí:

  1. Nuestro hogar es un lugar de seguridad y amor. La vida te ha repartido una carta difícil. Aunque a las personas LGBT se aceptan más y más, sigue siendo un camino difícil de caminar. En el mundo vas a sufrir odio e ira y confusión por ser quien eres. Eso aquí no pasará. Tienes que saber con todo tu ser que cuando entras por la puerta de tu casa, estás seguro y eres amado. Tu mamá está en total acuerdo conmigo respecto a esto.
  2. Sigo siendo, y siempre seré, tu mayor protector. Sólo porque eres gay no significa que eres menos capaz de cuidarte o defenderte a ti mismo. Dicho esto, si necesitas que me ponga a tu lado, en frente de ti, que te redacte cartas, firme peticiones, defiende tus derechos, o cualquier otra cosa, aquí estoy. Por ti me iré a la guerra.
  3. Si vas a invitar a muchachos a la casa, ahora vas a tener que dejar la puerta de tu cuarto abierta. Ni modo, mijo. Así es la vida. A mí no me permitían estar solo con una chica en mi cuarto con la puerta cerrada, así que tampoco puedes con chicos.
  4. Vamos a retomar esa charla que tuvimos sobre el sexo seguro. Sé que va a ser incómodo para los dos, pero es importante. Primero tengo que investigar un poco, así dejémosla para unas cuantas semanas. Si tienes preguntas o dudas antes de entonces, avísame.

Eso es todo por ahora. Puedes tomar esta carta como un acuerdo. Si alguna vez falto de cumplir con cualquier compromiso expresado en ella, sácala y hazme responsable. Terminaré con esto: No estás roto. Eres completo, y bello. Eres capaz y compasivo. Tú y tu hermana son lo mejor que he hecho con mi vida, y no podría estar más orgulloso de las personas en las que se han convertido.

Con amor,

Tu papá

P.D. Gracias a unas decisiones claves de la Corte Suprema y la Ley de Matrimonio Igualitario de 2020, te puedes casar legalmente. Cuando tenía tu edad, eso era sólo una idea. ¿Qué chévere, verdad?

Traducción del original en inglés, “Dear Hypothetically Gay Son“, publicado en el blog de ask your dad el 7 de agosto de 2012. Traducción al español publicada en este blog con permiso del autor.

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Preparing for the BEI Trilingual Interpreting Performance Exam

The Interpreter’s Rx, a resource originally designed for training Spanish-English medical interpreters, can instead be used to help you prepare for the trilingual-interpreting performance exams given by the Texas Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI). Currently, these exams—the “Trilingual Advanced” and the “Trilingual Master” —are the only known standardized performance exams to test a candidate’s abilities in interpreting English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. Unfortunately, very few if any materials have been produced to train trilingual interpreters for either real-life interpreting situations or trilingual certification exams. However, people interested in becoming professional, trilingual interpreters can make use of materials designed for spoken language interpreters and adapt them to practice skills that also involve ASL.

According to the 2011 Study Guide for Trilingual Interpreter Certification Candidates, both the Trilingual Advanced and the Trilingual Master performance exams consist of four parts; they differ mainly in the complexity of the languages and settings presented and the speed of the speakers or signers. Descriptions of the four parts are given below, as they appear in the Study Guide.

  • Part A  Three-Person Interactive: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of a conversation among three people and render the spoken English into ASL and spoken Spanish, the ASL into spoken English and Spanish, and the spoken Spanish into ASL and spoken English.
  • Part B  Expressive Interpreting: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of spoken Spanish and render it into ASL. It is important that your rendition be into ASL, and not into signed English.
  • Part C  Receptive Interpreting: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of a presentation in ASL and render it into spoken Spanish.
  • Part D  Sight Translation: In Sight Translation (sometimes called “Sight Interpreting”), the source language is written rather than spoken or signed language. At the beginning of this part, you are instructed to (1) read and sight translate a short, written English document into spoken Spanish, and (2) read and sight translate a short, written Spanish document into spoken English.

There are two immediate challenges in the design of this exam for the average interpreter. The first, of course, is that the candidate cannot know beforehand the type of setting or topic for each of the parts. However, the Study Guide does indicate that for the Trilingual Advanced exam the content is based on “the language found in routine educational and social service settings” and some examples are “K-12 educational and administrative interactions and information, professional development seminars, application for services, and counseling sessions.” For the Trilingual Master exam, the language is more complex and is based on “high-stakes settings, such as medical, mental health, quasi-legal, and educational settings.” Some examples for this exam are “patient information forms, legal proceedings, meetings with medical specialists, and special education meetings.”

The other significant challenge for candidates is that some of the techniques required to complete the interpreting tasks are seldom taught in interpreter training programs. For example, Part A requires the candidate to interpret simultaneously into the first target language and consecutively into the second target language. While most interpreters do learn simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting, except for a few workshops to date, they rarely get the chance to practice combining these two methods into one interpreted situation. Candidates will also likely struggle with Part D, because sight translation is not a well-known part of the interpreting curriculum.

Fortunately, there’s The Interpreter’s Rx, by Holly Mikkelson. The book, with accompanying audio CDs, is designed to train Spanish-English medical interpreters in the three modes of interpreting: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting. The sight translation section consists of actual forms and documents that a medical interpreter might encounter on an assignment, the consecutive interpreting section consists of interactions between English speakers and Spanish speakers, and the simultaneous interpreting section consists of presentations given in English and Spanish. Candidates who use this resource will not only develop their skills in the three modes of interpreting, but also acquire a significant vocabulary in English and Spanish of medical terminology. The book includes a bilingual glossary and bilingual diagrams of the body.

To prepare for Part A of the exam, you can focus on the consecutive interpreting section of The Interpreter’s Rx. When you hear English, interpret simultaneously into ASL, and then interpret into Spanish. When you hear the Spanish response, interpret simultaneously into ASL, and then interpret into English. Keep in mind, however, that the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams will also include a person using ASL, which you should interpret, for example, simultaneously into English, and then into Spanish. You will have to find different source material to practice this skill.

Use the simultaneous interpreting section to help you prepare for part B. Pick a presentation given in Spanish and listen to the audio; interpret it into ASL simultaneously. A transcript of the text is included in the book; be sure to read over it and look up any unfamiliar vocabulary before you start interpreting. This is not cheating: you’re developing specialized medical vocabulary and learning how to refine your skills in simultaneous interpreting.

As has been mentioned, The Interpreter’s Rx was designed for Spanish-English interpreting; this article is merely suggesting its use because it’s a way to prepare for the exams and for real-life trilingual interpreting situations, given that no known materials exist for practicing all three languages combined. As such, there is no source material in ASL to help you prepare for Part C. For this part, you may try using many of the ASL source videos available for practicing simultaneous interpreting into English, and interpret them into Spanish instead.

Finally, use the sight translation section to help you prepare for Part D. In this case, The Interpreter’s Rx is an ideal practice resource because on the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams, Part D only involves Spanish and English.

By following along in the The Interpreter’s Rx and thinking of ways to include practice in ASL, you will be well on your way to mastering the modes of interpreting. The book will also give you ample practice in medical terminology, but as you know, the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams may involve other settings. Once you are comfortable with the modes of interpreting, seek out other materials to practice terminology related to other settings. For example, Holly Mikkelson has also produced The Interpreter’s Edge, a resource for Spanish-English legal interpreting that has helped many interpreter attain Spanish-English court interpreter certification.

It is hoped that in the future specialized materials can be developed specifically for trilingual interpreters. In the meantime, be creative and make use of the resources that are currently available.


Filed under Interpreter Training (Capacitación)

Interpreting is like…

Two veteran interpreters arrive at an assignment with plenty of time to spare. The client greets them and then invites them to a cup of coffee before the day’s activities begin.

“I’ve always been really fascinated by the work that interpreters do,” says the client. “How do you do it?”

“Well,” says one of the interpreters, “it’s not so difficult. Interpreting is like a bridge, and interpreters travel back and forth across the bridge delivering the messages between the two languages.”

Everyone took a sip of coffee and let the image play for a while in their minds.

“My colleague is right to an extent,” added the other interpreter, “but I don’t agree entirely with that analogy. After all, engineers do not say ‘a bridge is like interpreting’. Interpreting is so much more. Sure, one may cart the word house across without much complication, but what about delivering a foreign remark such as eating beetles for breakfast? Certainly the interpreter must make some modification or clarification, or else lose her audience. The interpreter cannot simply replace one word with another. She must find something similar, something familiar to the listener on which to anchor the interpretation. No, interpreting is like dismantling and rebuilding a statue: the same elements are there, but the figure is somewhat different.”

The client listened attentively.

“That may be, that may be,” replied the first interpreter as he took a sip from his cup, then set it down. “However, that cannot entirely capture the essence of interpreting. After all, sculptors do not say ‘rebuilding a statue is like interpreting’. Interpreting is so much more. Perhaps a word like reconvene can be deconstructed and rebuilt with all its parts intact, but what about a rhythmic fragment such as beautiful, baby-blue bells? Something will have to be added or taken away in the process to make the interpretation seem natural and convey the same feel, or else the result will be unsightly. The interpreter must find something similar, something familiar to the listener which can frame the interpretation. That is the sad truth about interpretations: they either sound horrible, but preserve the elements of the original speaker, or they sound pleasant and natural, but commit a few betrayals along the way. They are either a beautiful and unfaithful woman, or an ugly but loyal one.”

The second interpreter, a woman, took offense. “I understand your point, but one cannot relate the beauty and fidelity of women to interpreting. I’ve met uncomely women who seem to have forgotten than they even have a husband and, better yet, beautiful women who act as one with their companion. Interpretations cannot be likened to a woman and her fidelity—or to a man and his for that matter. No, interpreting is like…”

“…it’s own thing?” interjected the client.

“Yes.” The interpreters let the word slide slowly out of their mouths in unison as it made its way to the center of the small table, where its realization grew until it engulfed all three participants.

The client continued: “It seems not one metaphor is big enough to fully explain what you do and, surprisingly, I think now that interpreting is like finding metaphors for interpreting. You must find something similar, something familiar in order to help me see what you know and I do not know.”

“That is true,” said one of the interpreters. “We cannot teach you the other person’s language or culture, but we can, for a moment, show you what it is like.”

More people started to arrive; the room began to bustle with activity in preparation for the day. The three pushed away from the table, satisfied with the morning’s conversation, and got to work.


Filed under Stories (Cuentos)