Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Sox Win the World Series (With Help from Interpreters)

Today, for the second time in four seasons, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, providing a tremendous source of joy and celebration for millions of fans spanning several generations.

And they did it with a little help from their interpreters.

Yes, professional interpreters are instrumental members of a great number of baseball teams in the United States these days. In fact, it would be difficult for major league teams to even consider contract negotiations with many international athletes without some sort of language assistance.

For example, Daisuke Matsuzaka, starting pitcher for the Red Sox, is constantly accompanied by his interpreter, Harvard graduate Masa Hoshino, who does a wonderful job of enabling fans throughout the United States to hear Matsuzaka's comments in English at major press conferences.

There is no doubt about it. Professional sports teams depend greatly upon communication to execute strategies on and off the field. For this reason, interpreters are key in teams across the nation with increasing linguistic diversity.

Unfortunately, the important role played by interpreters is not always appreciated or understood by all teams in professional baseball. After a collective bargaining agreement in 2002, the Yankees ended up firing various employees, including the interpreter for pitcher Orlando Hernández. (Note: they haven't won a world series since).

While getting rid of dead weight is to be applauded in some cases, interpreters are not a luxury, but a necessity, when it comes to enabling teams to communicate effectively with their non-English-proficient athletes.

Readers can look forward to reading more about interpreting for professional athletes in the forthcoming book, From Our Lips to Your Ears: How Interpreters Are Changing the World.

Special thanks to Boston Globe reporter Gordon Edes for providing a helping hand in putting me in touch with some of these interpreters. His SoxCast is available here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Changing the World, One Life at a Time

Many readers may be familiar with the wonderful work of Hablamos Juntos, an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to bring national attention to the issue of language barriers to health care.

Some may be familiar with the fascinating compilation of true stories collected about interpreters by HJ. I am proud to announce that the From Our Lips to Your Ears project has received permission to publish stories such as this one from the Hablamos Juntos collection. Special thanks to Yolanda Partida and her team for enabling these stories to reach audiences far and wide.

In particular, the following story, shared with permission here, is an excellent reminder of why the work of interpreters is of such tremendous value to the world.

A moment worth of work, a lifelong memory: Patients value interpreters' help

A woman came into the hospital to have her baby. Being unable to communicate with her, the staff in the Labor and Delivery called me to provide interpretation services.

Unbeknownst to all of us, the woman’s husband had left her the day before. Being upset as well as afraid, she begged me to stay with her during the birth.

The next morning after my shift was over; I went home, never to see her again…so I thought.

Several months ago, I encountered the same woman again, this time in Wal-Mart. She introduced me to her son James.

She had named her son after me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies

The From Our Lips to Your Ears project was featured in this month's bulletin from the International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS). Special thanks to IATIS for helping others learn about this opportunity!

The next IATIS conference will be held in Melbourne, Australia, July 8-10, 2009. The Conference theme will be Mediation and Conflict: Translation and Culture in a Global Context.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thanks to CCIO!

Members of the Community and Court Interpreters of the Ohio Valley received flyers from the From Our Lips to Your Ears project at the fall professional event today. Special thanks to CCIO for helping get the word out!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Language Loss

Today, Columbus Day, as we imagine what the linguistic landscape of the Americas was like prior to massive colonization, it seems of particular importance to share this message from the Center for Endangered Languages at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The world’s languages are dying out

In the United States, 165 Native American languages are still spoken.

  • 74 almost extinct (handful of elderly speakers) (45%)
  • 58 with fewer than 1,000 speakers (35%)
  • 25 with 1,000-10,000 speakers (15%)
  • 8 with 10,000+ speakers (5%)

The largest Native American language is:

Navajo 148,530 speakers

(just for comparison:)

Danish 194,000 speakers in this country
Tagalog 377,000 speakers in this country
Hungarian 447,497 speakers in this country

In the world, approximately 6,000 languages are spoken...
...of which only about 600 are confidently expected to survive this century.

Interpreters, read more fascinating information on language loss by visiting the Center for Endangered Languages. If you or a colleague speak an indigenous language fluently and are interested in a master's program for contributing to the field of linguistics with regard to an indigenous language, please click here to learn more.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hebrew<>Amharic Interpreters in Israel

Today I am posting remotely from Israel, where I am attending a landmark workshop on cultural competence in health care with several colleagues, all with the goal of better serving this country's highly linguistically and culturally diverse population.

In an early post back in July, I had mentioned a wonderful project to train Hebrew<>Amharic interpreters to provide professional medical interpreting via telephone to various clinics throughout Israel.

This course was the first of its kind in Israel. The program was the initiative of Dr. Anat Jaffe, Head of the Endocrinology Department at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, and Professor Miriam Shlesinger, Head of the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at Bar Ilan University. The two worked in close collaboration with "Tene Briut" coordinator Pekkado (Yossi) Gadamo; epidemiologist Dr. Eltchee Seffefe; linguist Dr. Embesse Tabbere; and Michal Schuster, a Bar Ilan doctoral student, whose work centers on intercultural issues in healthcare delivery.

The From Our Lips to Your Ears project is slated to receive contributions from interpreters in Israel, and it is hoped that many of the interpreters from this project will share their stories too.

Friday, October 5, 2007

International Medical Interpreters Association

The IMIA kicked off their annual conference today with a bang! Literally, the explosion of a generator in the garage of the Boston Sheraton did cause some commotion, but the conference continued as normal.

Observant readers might have also noticed that the results of a survey were recently released regarding interpreter compensation by the IMIA. The survey showed that 25% of respondents work as interpreting service administrators, 40% work as staff medical interpreters, and 29% work as freelance medical interpreters.

More updates and information will be shared at the IMIA conference from representatives of the medical interpreting community, including a panel on medical interpreter certification that will take place tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Interpreting the Unspeakable

Anyone who has ever interpreted material that could be described as "rough", be it a graphic description interpreted via telephone during a 911 call, a child abuse report interpreted at a local police station, or for victims of domestic violence through a counseling program... all of us who have interpreted in those settings know firsthand how tough it can be - emotionally- for an interpreter to render the words of a person who has been a victim of a crime, abuse, or both.

As interpreters, repeating those words in first person inevitably takes its toll on us as we mentally conjure images of the speaker, trying to reflect the meaning as accurately as possible while faced ourselves with the often heart-wrenching thoughts of what the person must be going through, or what she or he experienced in the past.

Now, imagine what it would be like to interpret for victims of torture every day from 9 to 5. Not exactly a job for the faint of heart.

Yet, that is exactly what Annmarie Fox does each day in her job as an interpreter, primarily for African Francophones, at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in the United Kingdom.

In an essay regarding her work that first appeared in Context (a magazine for family therapy and systemic practice), she writes:

"Graphic descriptions of torture, intense emotional distress, loss, rape, bereavement and displacement are very difficult subjects to listen to and then to find appropriate and adequate words to render them into another language. Then there are the associative images - the more eloquent and articulate the narrator, the more powerful and intrusive are the images."

Born in Transylvania and raised in Israel, Annmarie is an interpreter for French and Hungarian.

And, she also debunks the common myth that interpreters can be likened to machines, that they are somehow "unaffected" by their work.

"I have a profound empathy with some of the clients - this is because of my own family history of persecution, because in my time I have also been a refugee in another country and because my working language at the Foundation is not really the language I was brought up in. I can identify with and understand many of the problems and emotions."

Many interpreters I've spoken with over the years admire other areas of interpreting and wonder what it would be like to work in those fields. Court interpreters have expressed to me how they admire the concept of "cultural brokering" so common in the field of health care interpreting.

Likewise, health care interpreters sometimes wonder how a court interpreter can listen to so much legalese and admire the fact that they actually find this work enjoyable.

Several conference interpreter colleagues have expressed their amazement to me about the sheer diversity of call types that a telephone interpreter might receive in a typical day's work.

And telephone interpreters, who mostly perform consecutive interpreting, often express that they admire the conference interpreters' simultaneous interpreting skills, among other things.

One wonderful thing about our field, in my opinion, is the profound levels of mutual respect and admiration that we frequently have for each other's work as interpreters, all of which is challenging and rewarding in its own unique way.

However, I believe there would be even stronger consensus that the work of Annmarie Fox should be regarded with a special awe and respect. Having dabbled in many fields of interpreting, I have a deep appreciation of what it takes to excel professionally in each and every one of them, but I cannot imagine the personal fortitude and the strength of self it would take to do Annmarie's job.

I also cannot imagine how fulfilled she must be, knowing that she is helping individuals on such profound and personal levels to deal with traumatic events each and every day, so that they can work through them and continue living meaningful lives.

Annmarie is definitely helping to change the world, one life at a time, in a very important way. She is a prime example of what the From Our Lips to Your Ears project is all about.

You can read more about Annmarie, and access her full essay, here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Interpreters in Literature

I wrote in a recent post about Jesús Baigorri-Jalón, the author of Interpreters at the United Nations: A History, a former staff interpreter at the United Nations stationed in New York, who also authored La interpretación de conferencias: el nacimiento de una profesión, de Paris a Nuremberg.

Jesús is one of many wonderful people in the interpreting profession that I have been fortunate enough to meet as a result of this project.

As I mentioned previously, Jesús has also written a wonderful paper on interpreter characters in fictional literature, which is likely of interest to many interpreters.

Now, with permission from the author, I am happy to share this paper here as a free download for readers. Click here to go to the main From Our Lips to Your Ears project page to download the file, and enjoy!