coLAB Weekend: Spanish B’s dig in

This write-up comes from coLAB Weekend participant and interpreter Jesse Tomlinson, based in Guadalajara, México. Find out more about Jesse.

IMG_20170805_135045What better time than the first weekend in August to practice interpreting and learn from colleagues? Conference interpreters Laura Holcomb and Lauren Michaels organized coLAB Weekend: a two-day intensive tailored to interpreters with Spanish as a B language. coLAB Weekend was led by prolific trainer and AIIC Mexico member Hilda Tejada. And what a weekend it was!

We all met on Saturday at 9am in the Glendon College MCI interpreting lab in Toronto, Canada. The lab is truly beautiful – a first-rate space for simultaneous interpreting training.


We (Laura Holcomb, Nicholas Ferreira, Sonja Swenson, Enrica Ardemagni and Jesse Tomlinson) began our “Retour into Spanish” workshop by deep-diving into Spanish as a working language and its structure with hopes of heading off common pitfalls such as speaking Spanish with an English structure and syntax. We learned and were reminded of interesting and useful vocabulary and collocations.


Here’s a sampling from my own notes:

stakeholders – partes interesadas

gig economy – economía de autónomos

engagement – involucramiento

expertise – pericia

rewarding – gratificante

rewarding – que compensa más

across – a lo largo y ancho

on-demand – por encargo

on-demand – a petición específica

freelancer – cuentapropista

second-hand embarrassment – pena ajena

overlook – soslayar

overlook – que hace caso omiso de

emerge – destacar

credentials – logros, títulos

breakthrough – avance

funnel – embudo

blue collar – obrero

white collar – trabajo calificado

One of many highlights from the weekend’s activities: very specific, personalized feedback on our interpreting skills!

MacintoshHDUsersFembotDesktopIMG_20170806_103730.jpgThank you Glendon College for the use of your interpreting lab for this exceptional experience!

Why interpreting anyway?

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.”

Art by Vero Gatti. Thanks Lauren.
By Vero Gatti. Thanks Lauren.

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.


Coffee & Interpreting Sanduíche

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?!)

Practice booths at the InterpretAmerica Summit.
From the practice booths at the InterpretAmerica Summit.

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; 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.

Panel on Technology & Disruption in Interpreting. Left to Right: Mayel de Borniol, Co-Founder of Babelverse; Jake Rohn, Co-Founder of ; Dan Gatti, Managing Partner, Innovative Capital Ventures.
Interpreting Technology & Disruption Panel. Jake Rohn of, Barry Slaughter Olsen of InterpretAmerica, Dan Gatti of Innovative Capital Ventures, and Mayel de Borniol of Babelverse.

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.

Marty Curtis demonstrating proper grinding technique for the CQI cupping course.
Marty Curtis demonstrating proper grinding technique cupping course.
Bidule equipment for the cupping course from the wonderful Giovana and Carlos at Universe Language Solutions.
Course Bidule equipment  from the super folks at  Universe Language Solutions.
Cupping course organizer Char who was an absolute delight! She took me to a beautiful water park in Lima.
Delightful cupping course organizer Char who took me to a beautiful water park in Lima.

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.

coffee week
My conference badge (Thanks Byron!) I might have gone a different direction with the English translation visitor?

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.