What is happening to my brain?

I can remember how to say “Compass Rose” and “boatswain” in Spanish at the drop of a hat, but I cannot remember what I ate for lunch 2 days ago.

I can recall every word of a 2-minute narrative by a witness and render it fully into English, but I cannot recall what someone said to me (or what I said to someone) a week ago.

Because I am an interpreter!

Well, I am no neuroscientist or neuro-anything, but it doesn’t take much to realize my brain—and, by extension, my memory—does not work like most other people’s brains. Why? Because I am an interpreter. It’s that simple. I have been using my brain in ways that people who are not interpreters will never use theirs.

Scholarly articles on the bilingual brain are fascinating. In fact, they make me wonder how we can ever do what we do. One such researcher, Narly Golestani, from the Brain and Language Lab at the University of Geneva, has mapped the brain of interpreters during simultaneous renditions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs), confirming what most of us already know intuitively: “Simultaneous interpretation is an extremely demanding task that requires exquisite control of the language system in order to comprehend and produce speech concurrently in two different languages.”[1] This, of course, can be said of consecutive interpreting, although the concurrency of the process is somewhat different inasmuch as we must be perceiving or understanding the message in one language, retaining that information while converting it to another language, and within seconds be producing the converted message.

Beyond language

Golestani told Geoff Watts, a former biomedical researcher-now-journalist, during a visit he made to the Geneva lab: “There’s been a lot of work on bilingualism. Interpretation goes one step beyond that because the two languages are active simultaneously. And not just in one modality, because you have perception and production at the same time. So the brain regions involved go to an extremely high level, beyond language.”[2]

But why do I remember some things so well, and forget others so easily? Well, neurological research has found that we store information in two different parts of the brain. “It appears the hippocampus provides temporary storage for new information whereas other areas [of the brain] may handle long-term memory. Events that we are later able to remember appear to be channeled for more permanent storage in the cortex (the outer layers of the brain responsible for higher functions such as planning and problem-solving.)”[3] Could it be that I have nurtured my brain’s cortex more than my brain’s hippocampus, so I can store all that vocabulary and other linguistic data I need to perform my job as an interpreter?

Rapid and short-lived or slower and long lasting?

Susumu Tonegawa from the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics in Japan has conducted research that “points to the existence of complementary memory systems. One allows rapid memory formation but has limited capacity, and thus needs to pass information that should be retained to another system that is longer-lasting but slower-acting. This frees space in the hippocampus that can then be reused.”[4] And there you have it! My memory’s storage capacity is not unlimited.

“Psychological studies of human memory make a distinction between Short-Term Memory (STM) and Long-Term Memory (LTM). The idea of short-term memory simply means that you are retaining information for a short period of time without creating the neural mechanisms for later recall. Long-Term Memory occurs when you have created neural pathways for storing ideas and information which can then be recalled weeks, months, or even years later. To create these pathways, you must make a deliberate attempt to encode the information in the way you intend to recall it later. Long-term memory is a learning process. And it is essentially an important part of the interpreter’s acquisition of knowledge, because information stored in LTM may last for minutes to weeks, months, or even an entire life.”[5]

Because we are interpreters!

I always say that if I do not need to remember something in order to do a better job as an interpreter, I won’t. I really don’t need to clutter my brain’s cortex with useless memories, like what I had for lunch 2 days ago. Well, maybe it’s not that simple, but as an interpreter, I know for a fact I need a lot more language-processing information in my long-term memory than people who are not interpreters, so I will purposely let any trivial recollections fade away from the short-term memory in my hippocampus.

So if anything like this is happening to you, don’t worry. We are not absent-minded. We’re interpreters!

[1] Narly Golestani, Barbara Moser-Mercer, Alexis Hervais-Adelman, et al. Brain plasticity in interpreters. http://virtualinstitute.fti.unige.ch/home/index.php?module=clip&type=user&func=display&tid=4&pid=3&title=brain-plasticity-in-interpreters

[2] Geoff Watts. The amazing brains of the real-time interpreters. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141117-the-ultimate-multi-taskers
[3] Simon Makin. Where does the brain store long-ago memories? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-does-the-brain-store-long-ago-memories/
[4] Ibid.
[5] Weihe Zhong. Memory Training in Interpreting. http://translationjournal.net/journal/25interpret.htm


By Janis Palma, federally certified English<>Spanish judiciary interpreter
This article first appeared on https://najit.org/

Interpreting in Immigration Settings: Be prepared, don’t be swayed

When working on an immigration case, the last thing attorneys want to worry about is an interpreter who is not competent or professional. We asked an immigration attorney Leonid Garbuzov for his input on what makes a great immigration interpreter. Below are some of his suggestions about what attorneys and judges expect from the interpreter.passport-315266_1280

  1. Be Prepared

Nothing is worse than an interpreter that comes unprepared. Always bring a pen, paper and a legal dictionary.  Brush up on your legal terminology.  Don’t be late and don’t schedule other assignments for the same morning or afternoon as your immigration hearing, as you never know how long you will be there.

      2. Learn Your Terminology but Don’t Be a Know-It-All

While you should not expect the attorney, immigration officer, or the judge to explain legal terminology, you have to be sure that you understand the subject matter.  One illustrative example from my experience was an interpreter who mistranslated a question about an immigrant’s potential ties with “guerrilla organizations”, and asked whether he ever belonged to a “gorilla organization”.  When in doubt, it is better to ask.  If you realize that a mistake has occurred, you have to notify the judge, hearing officer, or the attorney immediately, and explain and correct the mistake.

      3. Do Not Add or Take Away From What’s Being Said

Another mistake is when an interpreter tries to add personal comments in order to make the subject matter easier to understand.  While the hearing officer, the client, or the attorney may not always be clear, it is not the interpreter’s job to “second-guess” and help them.  In one instance, when a client of mine with a serious mental impairment could not respond to an immigration officer’s questions, the interpreter tried to tell him that he was answering incorrectly, and even attempted to suggest what the correct answer should be.  Such conduct by an interpreter is never appropriate.

       4. Be Confident

Finally, it is important to not get riled up and to keep a professional demeanor.  This is especially important when an attorney—particularly the one who speaks the same language as the client – decides to challenge the accuracy of your translation.  It is important to know that these challenges are not uncommon and that they do not necessarily mean that an interpreter made a mistake or a misstatement.  An interpreter must remain undeterred by these tactics, must keep his/her voice clear, and must continue to interpret to the best of his/her ability without being swayed by these challenges.    

By Leonid Garbuzov of Garbuzov Law Firm, PLLC, special for IEO

IEO offers a comprehensive course developed by professional immigration interpreters and immigration attorneys. Immigration interpreting presents unique sets of challenges and requirements, so it’s essential for any interpreter to learn the protocol and legal concepts to understand and succeed in this field.    

Revolutionary Interpreters

On July 4th, Americans will celebrate the 239th anniversary of their nation’s independence from Great Britain. And like many other historical world events, interpreters were key in making it happen. This is in large part due to the collaboration between the colonies and the native tribes during the revolution, though interpreters for languages such as French and German were also elemental. Here are just a few figures whose interpreting ability aided American independence.

James Dean
As a young man, James Dean (no relation to cinema icon) was sent to live amongst the Oneida, a people of the Iriqouis Confederacy. He quickly and skillfully learned their language, along with other Iriquois tongues, and became an interpreter for the Patriots during the war. He also played a large part in negotiating land deals between the Native Americans and the colonists.

Haym Salomon
Haym Salomon, born in Poland, immigrated to America and worked as a financial broker in New York City while financing the Revolution. He was captured by the British and was pardoned because of his ability to interpret for the German-speaking troops that sided with the British. Ever the Patriot, he used this opportunity to free prisoners captured by the British and persuade  German troops to desert.

John Montour
The son of an interpreter, John Montour carried on his father’s legacy. This was facilitated by the fact that his mother was Delaware, a tribe native to the Delaware Valley. In 1778, Montour lived with the Wyandot in the Sandusky River Valley. Having this connection with the Wyandot allowed the Americans to cross their territory and march against the British in Detroit. His ability to communicate with Native American tribes proved instrumental before, during, and after the revolution, even if his loyalties wavered.

James Lovell
James Lovell was a member of Congress and the Committee of Secret Correspondence, a committee assembled to gain French aid during the revolution. He acted as an interpreter for the French officers arriving in Philadelphia, the seat of the Second Continental Congress.

Alexander Hamilton
Apart from being the Secretary of the Treasury during the Washington administration and decorating the American ten dollar bill, Alexander Hamilton served as George Washington’s French interpreter. With France as an ally, transparent communication was crucial.

Interpreter Education Online Wins 2015 Corp! Magazine 2015 DiSciTech Award for Innovated Online Interpreter Training

Interpreter Education Online (IEO) was awarded Corp! Magazine’s prestigious 2015 DiSciTech Award in the Digital category for its innovative online interpreter training model.

IEO is the first interpreter trainer to receive the award.

The DiSciTech awards are presented to Michigan companies and educational organizations that are leading the way in science, technology and digital initiatives through innovation, research and applied science. IEO’s use of technology allows it to reach students from across the globe. “Our online courses allow anyone with an Internet connection to take part in our training. Furthermore, Skype allows us to administer testing in real time to anyone in the world,” said President Jinny Bromberg.


Jinny Award


This award is a testament to IEO’s dedication to offering quality interpreter training and testing in a variety of languages to a broad demographic.

Since its inception, IEO has been committed to equipping interpreters with the tools necessary for quality language service. Today, IEO is proud to not only work with individual students, but also collaborate with state courts and healthcare organizations to provide quality training and testing to interpreters. IEO also works with Language Service Companies by testing their new applicants and helping companies maintain quality assurance for their clients. As IEO continues to grow, it is determined to ensure that the standards of professional interpretation are consistently upheld by its students.

Founded in 1998, Corp! Magazine informs, intrigues, and entertains business owners and top-level executives by providing features, news, and profiles.   Corp! Magazine’s print edition reaches more than 30,000 business owners, executives, and managers throughout the State of Michigan.

CHI Performance Exam Dates

If you missed the window for the CHI performance exam in July and August, the next window spans from October 20th to November 8th (9 weeks away). IEO’s 12-Week Preparatory Course* not only fulfills and exceeds the required 40 hours of training prior to the exam, but also provides you with the tools necessary to pass, including language-specific interpretation exercises in each of the three modes evaluated by an instructor. Our course is accredited by CCHI and is currently listed on CCHI’s list of prerequisite training programs.

To find out more about the CHI exam, such as where you can take it, click here.

To learn more about our 12-Week CCHI Preparatory course, click here.

*”12-Week” refers to the duration of course access, not necessarily the amount of time required to complete the course.

Violations of Interpreter Ethics

The consequences of violating the code of ethics as it applies to interpreters can be grave. Nonetheless, and unfortunately, the fact of the matter is ethical violations do occur in the language industry. These instances raise concerns about the rigidity of the qualifications for becoming an interpreter and perhaps point to certification as a requirement in the future. Here are some examples of interpreters that have committed ethical violations within the past few years:

-Last month, a Spanish-language interpreter was accused of soliciting bribes from the people she was interpreting for, allegedly claiming she would use the money to bribe immigration officials. If convicted could see up to 20 years in prison.

-Also in July, an interpreter was accused of stealing the identity of the elderly woman she was interpreting for and charging around $1600 to her credit card.

-In 2011, a refugee living in Canada was nearly deported back to her native Kenya because of interpreter inaccuracy.

-A trial in the Cayman Islands was delayed twice because the first interpreter was unable to remain impartial and the second admitted to inaccuracy of interpretation.

-A man incapable of signing pretended to know sign language and interpret for Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service.


Want to avoid making mistakes such as these? Sign up for our ethics courses for legal and medical interpreters!


Know of any other examples of violations to the interpreter code of ethics? Feel free to share on our Facebook page!

August is Mandarin & Cantonese Language Month!

The 2011 U.S. Census ranked Chinese speakers as the third most populous behind Spanish and English speakers. And given the steady increase of Chinese speakers in the U.S. over the past decades– the number now is more than four times greater than that of 1980– it’s safe to assume that Chinese will remain immensely prevalent in the decades to come. The highest concentrations of Chinese speakers, whether speaking Mandarin or Cantonese, can be found in major cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, though large populations can also be found in cities such as Chicago and Washington D.C.

In recognition of these languages, we’re offering 10% off any IEO course, test, or Skype lesson for both Mandarin and Cantonese during August!

And don’t forget, our buy 3 single topic units get 1 free deal is going on until August 15th. Check out our STUs here!

*Language month discount and free STU offer cannot be combined.

Buy 3 single topic courses, get a 4th one free!

Due to popular demand, we are having our winter holiday sale during the summer! When you purchase 3 single topic courses, you’ll get a 4th single topic course free!*

Are you a certified interpreter who needs continuing education? Our single topic courses for medical, legal, and ASL interpreters are approved for CEUs. You can mix and match, purchase your courses now and take them later, and even use your free course towards your CE requirement!

Choose from the following:

Legal Courses

– Autopsies
– Controlled Substances
– Firearms
– Intellectual Property (IP) Law
– Physical Evidence
– Traffic and Vehicular Accident
– Types of Motions
– Court Interpreter Ethics
– CI Techniques
– SI Techniques
– ST Techniques

Medical Courses   

– The Cardiovascular System
– The Respiratory System
– The Reproductive System
– The Nervous System
– The Musculoskeletal System
– The Endocrine System
– The Digestive System
– The Healthcare System in the U.S.
– Healthcare Interpreter Ethics
– CI Techniques
– SI Techniques
– ST Techniques

*Free course must be taken without instructor evaluation.

Offer expires August 15th


Santa Promo

IEO + World Cup = Everybody Wins!

Are you disappointed that your team didn’t make it to the World Cup Final? Nervous about the outcome between the two teams that did — Germany & Argentina?

There’s no reason to be afraid of losing because IEO’s latest offer makes everyone a winner! Simply visit our Facebook page and tell us who you’ll be rooting for in the World Cup Final.  And if you purchase anything from our website during the month of July, you’ll get 10% off!

It’s that easy!