My fruit bowl is full. This morning at 8am, I stepped out of my apartment and was greeted by a cheerful, light-handed sun and the air was unambiguous and clear-hearted allowing me to bee-bop through it to the market on a fruit mission. When I returned, I looked at the weather forecast. 19 degrees. Being that I was raised on cornbread and fahrenheit, I considered the fact that the utterance “It is 19°C” has very little meaning for me. If I found myself in a closet angstfully trying to decide what to wear, and a cheerful ruddy somebody popped in and said, “It’s 19 degrees outside,” I might come out of the closet wearing snow boots and a tank top with a distressed expression on my face.
Seleskovitch’s théorie du sens, (or Sense Theory—I don’t know why everyone thinks it’s okay just to say stuff in French as if the whole world OF COURSE understands French—but I digress), contends that interpreting is contingent upon being able to parcel out units of meaning based on prior knowledge or experience. As such, I might have a bit of a difficult time interpreting our 19 degrees statement. Or, at the very least, determining how such information relates to the rest of a speaker’s line of reasoning.
Conclusion: maybe I should take up Celsius as a hobby. I’ll start today: 19°C now equals that marvelously senseless Saturday in Ouro Fino when I, for a moment, let go of the words and began to experience meaning.
A colleague of mine from my Master’s of Conference Interpreting program at Glendon College shared this video with me regarding the withdrawal of funding for healthcare interpreters in the Netherlands. It really does a great job at getting to the heart of why medical interpreting is valuable. And it does it with grace and humor and in only one minute and six seconds. So take a look. It you’d like more on the subject, read through this post written by one of my-gosh-it’s-wonderful-to-have-her-as-a-trainer trainers, Michelle Hof.
My Healthcare Interpreting professor put forth an excellent question: What do you like about interpreting? What led you to be an interpreter. You might expect these answers but I thought I’d go ahead and declare my love to the world.
The linguistic sport. The feeling when you’re keeping up , you’re disappearing, everyone is understanding, you’re remembering obscure terms. Oh this is nice.
The human connection. Being able to smile at someone in surgery or use dialect-specific language to help a patient feel more at home. Just feeling useful, like I can help in some way is a gosh darn gift.
The constant education. The never-ending research. Learning about the actual subjects we are interpreting.
Not being at a desk! I love that I’m often on the go between departments or buildings. This might change with more remote interpreting. I’ll have to learn how to pace in a small space.
My colleagues. I have had some rad colleagues. Yep I’m talking about you NYULMC. See this post for more on wonderful coworkers.
Now for the whole gushy history.
Like many in this field I didn’t set out intending to be an interpreter. In high school I liked English, writing. Many teachers praised my writing, and others used it to practice with their red ink pen. I didn’t want to let down the people who believed in what I wrote nor did I want anyone criticizing something so abjectly personal—or at least what felt very personal to an adolescent.
So I found my way to Spanish. I liked tinkering with the words, trying to get into a flow. And it was a foreign language so no one expected me to be good at it. So the story of Spanish and I began because it was safe, but stuck around because of the amazing people and art that it’s allowed me to meet along the way. For example, while living in the Dominican Republic, I met women more loving and open in a way so distinct from the Southern US; men who danced and kissed other men; children who smiled and fluttered and ran to buy sodas for guests from the corner store. You know what I mean. You’ve been there too. And you know how it makes your heart feel.
A stroke of luck in College introduced me to interpreting formally. We had a professor who was also a professional interpreter and rustled together some grant money together to teach a rag-tag bunch of French and Spanish students the basics of simultaneous and long consecutive. It was quite a challenge. Nerves, adrenaline, performance—in fact, it was the perfect substitute for the division I soccer world that I had quietly exited the year before. I don’t remember being particularly good at interpretation. But I wasn’t flagrantly bad at it either.
Following college I worked to get into the medical interpreting field because it seemed to be the best way to stay in contact with Spanish. Living in Athens, Georgia it was the most prominent interpreting setting around. I didn’t know any court or conference interpreters.
But interpreting evolved from a great job into a career commitment for me for two main reasons. The first is that, one day long ago, someone asked what God is to me. I probably say something different every time this subject comes up but this time I said quite without thinking, “It’s the space between two people. That’s where the Divine might be.”
Much later I reflected and thought, “How natural that I would become an interpreter!” As an interpreter I get to sink my hands and heart into that divine space and try to get to know it, learn from it, and contribute to it daily.
The second reason is because I tried working as a Web Editor in an office in front of a computer the whole stinkin’ day and it doesn’t work for me. Nope. Not one bit.
If you’re an interpreter reading this blog, you could tell me what you like about interpreting as well so that I can say ooooh, ya, that too! Or if you’re a chef or an accountant tell me what you love about that.
The interpreting realm is a-buzz for me as of late. I want to lay it all out here, so if you’re not a part of the interpreting world or you aren’t my grandmother Mimi you may find this a bit boring. I’ll try to be as spicy as some of you know that I’m capable of being, but this may only be digestible by coffee or interpreting first-class geeks. (Which geeks, by the way, has apparently reached the Portuguese specialty coffee lexicon! Who knew?!)
This past June I attended the InterpretAmerica Summit organized by co-presidents Katherine Allen and Barry Slaughter Olsen just outside of Washington DC. That was loads of fun as I had the opportunity to learn about and actually meet the creators of many new remote interpreting platforms such as Babelverse and Capiche.pro; interviewed with the new “netflix-style” training initiative by Michelle Scott (who is super sweet by the way) of Voices for Health; and finally had the opportunity to meet the hard-working Andrew Clifford, director of Glendon College’s Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI)—program in which I am currently, happily involved upon which I will expound for sure throughout the semester. Meanwhile, you can find out more through Andrew’s blog about the program. At the conference, Andrew introduced me to students and professors in the Portuguese-English track of the MCI, and I met conference organizer Katherine Allen and her sweet, chill daughter. Fast forward several months later, and I find out that the mismita Katherine Allen is my Healthcare Interpreting professor! Very fun.
It was really neat having the presence of the signed language interpreting community. I’m actually now following a great blog, Street Leverage by Brandon Arthur which is focused on signed language interpreting but is equally interesting and valuable for the jabbering interpreter type as well. As the conference opened, the first presentation was signed for us all which was truly exciting to see. Booths were also available in the back for spoken language interpreters to hop in and play around with. I, of course, saddled up to the figurative horse, had a bumpy little joyride, and dismounted reaffirmed in my conviction that there is always lots more to learn.
The next conference I attended worth reporting on from an interpreting standpoint was actually a specialty coffee conference. I always meet the best folks at coffee events which I end up attending more frequently than one might expect because my partner Byron works in the industry as a coffee genius—title he doesn’t know he has until he sees this post. The Feira Internacional de Café (International Coffee Fair) in Belo Horizonte had the appearance of a typical conference and I got to see my lively friend Marty Curtis who taught a CQI cupping course that I interpreted this past April in Perú. This, along with meeting many heavy-hitters in the Brazilian coffee scene that I had heard about but had yet to meet, made me very happy indeed.
I have to say, however, that a highlight of this event for me had to do with a small booth in the back of a large conference room populated by two super-friendly and, as I was to find out, very talented and well-prepared conference interpreters and master’s of their own interpreting business Tradus B&B. Canary Islands born María Barrera and Brazilian Larissa Benevides delivered into English excellent renditions of the presentations, nailing industry-specific terminology that can be quarrelsome. I was so glad I had the opportunity to appreciate their linguistic maneuvers.
This leads me to a question I brought up to my Conference Interpreting Professor Michelle Hof, trainer at La Laguna and widely read author of the Interpreter Diaries (thank you Andrew for putting together such an amazing faculty) about how to best capitalize on opportunities to witness conference interpretation live. I was at first trying to listen to the source language (i.e. the speeches given on stage) and the interpretation into English at the same time to try to see what the master’s of the booth were doing with it all. I was able to catch some of each enough to appreciate the quality of the interpretation, however, it became a bit noisy up in the ole noggin as you can imagine. So then I focused on just listening to the Interpretation which gave me little insight into the interpretation process but knowing a good bit about the industry and terms that typically trip people up, I was able to again get a sense of the high quality of my new friends in the booth. Additionally, it was nice to walk in an end user’s shoes or, perhaps sit in their seats for a bit. I then moved on to shadowing the speeches to try to click into the rhythm of the speakers in my B and hopefully eventually C languages, Spanish and Portuguese respectively. It has been at least four months since I’ve actively interpreted in the workplace, on top of which I’ve been in a bit of a Spanish-language desert here in Brazil, thus it was a delight to hear a well-delivered live speech in Spanish.
I subsequently described this experience to Michelle, and she suggested that at this point, it might be best to really focus in on the speech itself: How is it structured? Where is the speaker trying to go with it? What is the speaker’s personality? This suggestion really drives home the point that a large part of the work is getting inside the speaker’s head. So the next time I attend another rockin’ coffee conference you will find me in my caffeine-powered, x-ray capable, cerebral spaceship ready for exploration.
It’s time to attempt to help each of you to understand the floating globs of magic that you have each been during this chapter of my life. Together you add up to one huge magic show that’s worth being alive for.
On a professional level, practicing within this department has been an experience that I never thought possible. Schedules are so well-organized, dispatching so seamless, communication so thorough and warm, hospital staff so respectful and aware, department leadership so positive and accessible, and you–my colleagues–so professional, motivated, open and seeking.This might as well be an ingredient list to running a highly fruitful interpretation department. To miss being at work while away on vacation is an all-together new sensation.
The opportunity to work as a freelancer, the gift of being able to technically choose day after day whether to work or not, and then observing myself choose yes and yes and yes over and over again has been enormously satisfying, motivating and freeing. This system reflects my values. It’s the philosophy I like to apply to everything from flossing to marriage.
Beyond the accolades with which I would most certainly decorate the department, Laura the person has fallen in love with each one of you. I would bail you each out of jail, or donate a kidney to you, or travel with you to far away places (particularly if you have a useful language in your combination for zee destination). Your belief in me, your trust of me, has solidified the notion that I might be, at a minimum, a pretty decent person and possibly even a good interpreter. You are responsible for inspiring me to get my master’s degree in Conference Interpreting. You have each accompanied me into the understanding that this specific realm of communication work known as interpretation is what I’d like to spend the rest of my life fiddling around with.
Whether you meant to love me so much or not I cannot know. In any case, that is certainly how I feel and I am grateful.
Recently I was interpreting for a coffee cupping course. During lunch, the following conversation occurred between me and one of the students who I had really come to enjoy.
Him: So, how long have you been speaking Spanish?
Me: Oh gosh, like ten years.
Me: But what? You think that my level should be better for having done this for ten years?
Him: [Plainly, uncharged] I just think that you should be more fluent.
Me: [Change of subject.]
Moral: You win some you lose some.
Later I thanked this young man. Our conversation had pulled that infamous ego right out, bringing her into plain view. Guerilla warfare with one’s self is quite exhausting. My vision now clear, my foe in sight, I could take a rest from my post. She and I then sat next to each other for a bit, our animosity turning to the indifference of an upper east sider and a crown heightser on the A-train.
Maybe one of these days, just like in the famous WWII tale, we’ll lay down our arms all together and play a bittersweet game of fútbol together if only for a few hours.
On the way to the airport, suddenly I feel the presence of the Spanish, not just the Spanish but every conquerer, all of us conquerers, the conquerer as a force that survives in it’s heavy buildings and crumbling ledges. The taxi driver asks if we’ve been through this part of Lima before. I interpret keeping the notes of sadness I perceive in his voice to myself, not sure if they’re mine or his. The driver continues to skim the depth of this place us: a comment regarding bygone indigenous building methods, current poverty in the area, and mass graves near the cathedrals, a meter wide where bodies where thrown in during the war.
Through the window I see Indigenous everywhere. Faces that say: we fought, we tried and now this is what is. Crowded buses, loud trucks, society. My academic brain kicks on. The indigenous resistance must have been valiant. I try to recall the names of the great caciques. I can’t. The radio continues it’s steady parade of oldies in English indifferent to time, mood and geography. I return my gaze to the faces.
This is the place I love. I am not this place but I love it. A self-awareness of sadness manifests. I am sad. No, I just haven’t had any coffee I decide. And then I realize, we all drink to forget.
If you are an interpreter, in love with a terp, or are interested in becoming a terp as soon as you finish your cereal, I highly recommend subscribing to Lourdes de Rioja’s wonderful video blog A Word in Your Ear. This beautiful lady prods, asks and celebrates the interpreting profession and those who act it out day after day. Here’s her latest homage to lo cotidiano of an interpreter’s life.
Here is a visual representation of what it means to be an experienced, calm-under-fire terp. The interpreter continues her work as Chavez blasts a Fox News reporter. Again, no easy access to the name of Chavez’ interpreter, so she will have to remain just that–Chavez’ interpreter.
I am alone in the Sunday, winter darkness attempting to shadow the President in my B-ish language before I’ve even educated myself as to how to properly pronounce decalage. If there’s anyone else out there who has found themselves in this particular situation, this little post is for you. Happy Sunday, please enjoy. If there was any mention of the interpreter anywhere on the page I would credit him here, but unfortunately rtve has left him in the anonymity. Thank you whoever you are.
Discurso íntegro de Barack Obama tras ser reelegido. Source: rtve