Blog & Information
By Tram Bui, Administrator of Southeast Asian Language Division (SEALD)
The typical role of a professional association is to enable individual practitioners to collaborate, learn from each other, and speak with a (hopefully) unified, collective voice. For 60 years, the American Translators Association (ATA) has been the voice of translators, and more recently, interpreters practicing in the US. Over the years, divisions were formed to make collaborations easier among linguists who speak particular languages or who have a common topical interest.
I lead a group that has petitioned the ATA to form a South East Asian Language Division, and our request has been accepted. Most professional linguists who work in these languages have learned their trade with limited access to formal skills training and have not had the opportunity to collaborate with their linguistic and cultural peers. Many, if not most, have earned a post-secondary degree, either at the bachelor or graduate level, but have struggled as they sought to provide services professionally. Most have been troubled when observing other linguists, who were providing services for a fee, fall short of industry standards. Both clients and the profession suffer when this happens.
Our Goal: Our vision is to promote professional practice standards that are consistent with the ATA’s stated norms and values. We want to do this in a forum, and in an adapted way that encourages learning with a culturally relevant approach.
Our Challenge: In the US, despite a large number of immigrants from this region who are monolingual and who often have a common experience of refugee status, there are relatively few members of the ATA who use these languages professionally. Most linguists who practice in these languages do so independently, without a connection to, or awareness of, a larger collective. There are several reasons for this, and in end, professionalism and job prospects suffer.
Our Request: If you work in a South East Asian Language, please join us! Whether you want to learn or share your experience with others, you have a place in our division. If you are an ATA member, regardless of your working languages, please consider supporting our new division by voting for its formation. We hope to attract more linguists to the ATA, particularly those practicing a language used in any of the ASEAN countries. The major languages in these SE Asian countries are Burmese, Hmong, Lao, Indonesian, Khmer, Malay, Nepali, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. Finally, if you have ideas for content that can be shared or be adapted, we would love that too.
We RISE when we UPLIFT each other.
Thank you for your consideration.
Tram Bui is a NBCMI Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI- Vietnamese) with over 15 years of experience. She was born in Saigon, Vietnam and emigrated in 1975 as a political refugee. She now lives in Arizona. She is a voting member of the American Translators Association (ATA), an active member of the Arizona Translators and Interpreters Association (ATI), Interpreters Guild of America (IGA), and the National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare (NCIHC).
She can be reached by email at: email@example.com
I have been an interpreter for approximately 5 years. I had just moved to Huntsville, AL, where I currently live. I had finished my Masters degree, and had been doing some translation work for private clients while in college. I figured I would continue to do that, so I looked up language service agencies in Huntsville and emailed them my resume. One of these agencies contacted me back 20 minutes later, to ask me if I was interested in becoming a medical interpreter. I said yes… and the rest is history.
Q: What was your first interpreting job?
I first started interpreting in outpatient settings. My first assignment involved pediatric oncology.
Q: How do you prepare for assignments?
I try to find out as much as I can about the appointment. Normally the first thing I do is look up the address and find the best way to get there. Knowing what type of clinic or facility I will be working in (for example, a neurologist’s office), I think about three things: symptoms (what kinds of complaints patients might have), diagnoses, and medication. Based on this, I can review key terminology, and even carry it in my notebook for a quick glance. The last thing I do is pick what clothes to wear. I think how we present ourselves still has an influence in how seriously we are taken as professionals, although some think it shouldn’t.
Q: What was the funniest/most interesting experience on the job?
I’ve had many interesting appointments, but I will never forget going to a urologist with a male patient. It turns out he was there for a consultation about sexual dysfunction! This was something I knew very little about at the time, and I also feared the patient might be uncomfortable having a female interpreter. Fortunately, the patient had a really good attitude, and trusted that I was a professional. That appointment really made me think about gender roles in various cultures, and how we need to be sensitive and professional in these cases.
Q: What was the saddest experience on the job?
The saddest experiences I’ve had were generally end-of-life cases. I understand why that area of work is not for any interpreter, and we must be very self-aware and know our own limitations. In the end, I come out stronger and better as a professional, but it is always sad.
Q: Which social media do you use, if any? If you do, what are your most favorite pages/accounts/groups to read?
I use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They all serve different purposes. I follow groups for interpreters and translators on Facebook. On these groups, people share articles of interest, but more importantly, they ask questions. I help answer them when I can, but I mostly learn from other answers. I keep LinkedIn updated for possible clients and fellow interpreters and translators. I also look at the job postings, not necessarily because I’m looking for a job, but I like to stay in touch with the job market (Indeed is another good platform for that). I like to follow professional organizations from all over the country, such as CCHI or ATA on Twitter. I find out about conferences and other events, as well as opportunities for professional development. I also like to follow translators like Xosé Castro and Jeromobot because they are very good at marketing themselves and their work, and I think I can learn from them.
Q: What are your favorite movies/literature in your target language? Can you recommend something to our readers?
I may be biased here because it is where I come from, but I think everyone should read some storytellers from Argentina, such as Jorge Luis Borges, or Horacio Quiroga. If you are into poetry, I think Mario Benedetti (from Uruguay) is a must.
Q: What advice would you give to an up-and-coming interpreter?
Get involved in the industry. Join professional organizations and be as active as you can. You can make some important connections that way, and more importantly, advocate for our profession to get the recognition it deserves, and for professional interpreters and translators to be valued and appreciated. I am part of at least one regional and one national organization, and they are very enriching experiences.
Q: How did you prepare for your certification exams? What was the most difficult? What are the differences between CCHI and NBCMI certification exams and preparation? Can you share resources that helped you prepare?
There isn’t much we can share about the exams themselves (the content is confidential), but the single best resource, generally speaking, is the candidate handbook, which is available for both exams. I didn’t take any classes specifically to prepare, but I know there are some available. Both exams have a theoretical component: we have to study anatomy and physiology, and especially ethical principles and standards of practice. Both exams are heavy on ethical content.But there is also a practical component, having to do with interpreting (and translation!) skills. You can study the protocols and procedures on a theoretical basis, but then you just have to PRACTICE. When it comes to skills, both exams require good consecutive interpreting skills, including note-taking. I practiced taking notes and interpreting while watching the news, or shows that I enjoyed. I even took notes while talking to my husband! It’s all about taking advantage of every opportunity: if you’re going to watch TV or talk to people anyway, you might as well use those situations to get better. I also used these opportunities to practice simultaneous interpreting, which constitutes one of the differences between these exams: so far, the NBCMI exam does not include a simultaneous interpreting component, while CCHI does. It is important to understand the differences between these two modes, and when to use each. Other than that, my preparation was rather similar, as the exams have more similarities than they have differences.
Q: What do you do to develop your professional skills? Webinars, conferences? If the latter, which conferences do you prefer and why?
I try to take advantage of every resource available. If I don’t find the topic engaging, I try to find something else to read or another webinar to watch. I have also been attending the conference held by the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators (TAPIT) for several years, and I recommend it to anyone in the Southeast and beyond. I also like to attend big scale conferences like the IMIA or ATA Conferences, because they are generally an occasion where interpreters, healthcare providers, and agencies meet, so there are many perspectives to hear. And of course I learn a lot from attending and organizing our conference with the Interpreters and Translators Association of Alabama!
Q: Is there anything you feel lacking in educational options out there? If you were to choose the topic for a new webinar or course, what would it be?
I think we don’t talk enough about quality control or quality assurance for interpreters. The topic is raised for translation, but not for interpreters, and it is quite complex, as it is not easy to measure, and it is not only in the results, which are typically not durable. In case of translation, you have a document to review. When we interpret, our words are gone as soon as they’re spoken, unless they’re recorded. It is necessary to talk to interpreters about how to monitor our own performance at all stages of the assignment.
Q: What would you like changed or improved in the industry?
There are many things I would like to see changed. I would like agencies to treat interpreters fairly (they don’t always do), I’d like interpreter rates to have a legal minimum established, although I know it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. I would also like certification (in any setting, for translators and interpreters) to be a requirement. The law is not clear enough about what “qualified” means, and that opens the door to many people without enough education to act as interpreters and translators.
Q: What is the most important to be successful as an interpreter, in your opinion?
I think the most important thing is humility, in two senses. One is cultural humility. We have to be sensitive to cultural differences but we are not anthropologists. I don’t believe interpreters should try to “explain” other cultures, as within each cultural group there is also a great deal of individual variation. We can merely point out possible cultural differences, be aware of their existence, and help healthcare providers be sensitive to them.
We also need the humility to stick to our role as interpreters. We may have other ways in which we think we can help, often with the best intentions, but they are not part of our role. The main way we help LEP patients is by putting them on equal footing with English-speaking patients. We must monitor our will to intervene or put the spotlight on ourselves. Things go smooth when each party does what they’re trained to do, and nothing else.
This 4th of July, we remember some quotes by famous Americans about our beautiful land of immigrants.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
―Emma Lazarus, writer and translator
“America has always been a symbol of hope, tolerance and diversity —and these are values we must work very hard to uphold”.
―Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani Yoghurt
“Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.”
―Tim Cook, CEO
“As you know, I’m an immigrant. I came over here as an immigrant, and what gave me the opportunities, what made me to be here today, is the open arms of Americans. I have been received. I have been adopted by America.”
―Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and politician
“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”
―John F. Kennedy
“I am the grandson of immigrants from Japan who went to America, boldly going to a strange new world, seeking new opportunities. My mother was born in Sacramento, California. My father was a San Franciscan. They met and married in Los Angeles, and I was born there.”
―George Takei, actor
“I arrived in the U.S.A. in 1935, to San Francisco. I got the boat from China, and I didn’t even speak English. I could read a little, perhaps write a little, but that was all. It was a 17-day journey, and I learnt to speak English from the stewards.”
―I. M. Pei, one of top America’s architects
“I call myself Zimerican. I was born in the Midwest to Zimbabwean parents. My father was a professor at Grinnell College in Iowa.”
―Danai Gurira, actress
“I came here to the US at age 6 with my family from the Soviet Union which was at that time the greatest enemy the US had, maybe it still is. It was a dire period, the cold war, as some people remember it. And even then the US had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees. This country was brave and welcoming and I wouldn’t be where I am today or have any kind of the life that I have today if this was not a brave country that really stood out and spoke for liberty.”
―Sergey Brin, founder of Google
“I came to America because of the great, great freedom which I heard existed in this country.”
“I come from a part of New York that was almost entirely immigrants. I was born in America, but all of my friends’ parents, everybody’s parents, including my own, had come to America from Europe. ―Christopher Walken, actor
“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”
“I have an immigrant mentality, which is that the job can be taken away at any time, so make sure you earn it every day…immigrants come here they have no safety net-zero. I landed here with $500 in my pocket. I had no one here to pay for me.”
―Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo
“I liked the America of Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – it was all a dream, of course, but a very alluring dream for a young man from China.”
―I. M. Pei, one of top America’s architects
“I was born in Europe… and I’ve traveled all over the world. I can tell you that there is no place, no country, that is more compassionate, more generous, more accepting, and more welcoming than the United States of America.”
―Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and politician
“My folks came to U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.
―Leonard Nimoy, actor
“My mother was an activist, so was my father. They came from a generation of young Somalis who were actively involved in getting independence for Somalia in 1960. So I remember when I was five how busy our house was. People would come in the middle of the night, meetings after meetings, and protests and all that. I grew up in the midst of all of that. And she instilled that in me. The fact that nobody can take your self-worth unless you give your consent. I am the face of a refugee. I was once a refugee. I was with my family in exile.”
―Iman, fashion model
“One more thing I would say with regard to immigration generally: There exists on the subject a fatal miscomprehension. Unemployment is not decreased by restricting immigration. For unemployment depends on faulty distribution of work among those capable of work. Immigration increases consumption as much as it does demand on labor.”
“On my father’s side, I’m descended from immigrants, one of whom was a Syrian refugee from the Armenian genocide, and my mother was an immigrant from Germany whose visa had expired and, for a year and change, was undocumented here in the U.S.
―Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit
“Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
―Robert F. Kennedy
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
―Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources–because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”
―Lyndon B. Johnson
“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”
― George Washington
“The truth is, immigrants tend to be more American than people born here.”
―Chuck Palahniuk, writer
“To this day, my father worships JFK and LBJ for what they did to have the laws changed so that his family could come. I was 12 when I came, and I remember thinking it’s truly a different world. You know, you go from bicycles to cars, from shopping in the village market to supermarkets and from Chinese to English. We did not know the alphabet. So we started from step one, and it was a culture shock on top of a language barrier. We were each given an English name, hence — I’m David. And my father did it very simply, Dae He is D-A-E, and he just thought David was the closest thing. My training has been entirely American, while culturally I am a large part Chinese.”
―David Ho, scientist, heavily influenced the understanding, investigation and treatment of HIV/AIDS worldwide
“We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they had seen before, to get rid of the things that divide and to make sure of the things that unite.”
“We showed up here with the equivalent of $50 and a piano. We came halfway around the world without money, without a set job, no place to live and couldn’t even speak the language. What saved us was my father being a musician and slowly meeting other musicians and gigging on weekends, everything from weddings to you name it to make money.”
―Eddie Van Halen, one of the most well known hard rock musicians
“When [my family] came from England during the war, people said, “You are welcome here. What can we do to help?” I am a beneficiary of the American people’s generosity, and I hope we can have comprehensive immigration legislation that allows this country to continue to be enriched by those who were not born here.”
“When you get to know a lot of people, you make a great discovery. You find that no one group has a monopoly on looks, brains, goodness or anything else. It takes all the people – black and white, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant, recent immigrants and Mayflower descendants – to make up America.”
“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
―Elie Wiesel, the writer, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor
Notice from Michigan Supreme Court:
All uncertified interpreters are required to take and pass a written exam before they may take the oral proficiency exam. The 135 multiple-choice questions are designed to measure basic, general English language proficiency, and court and ethics knowledge. This helps to predict whether candidates are ready for the oral exam. Candidates for all languages take the written exam at the same time. At this time, there is no fee to take the written exam.
The next written exam will be given at the Hall of Justice in Lansing on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Approximately two weeks before the exam, you will receive your registration confirmation, the scheduled time of the written exam, and travel information and parking directions. This information will be sent to you by email.
The application deadline is June 29, 2018. Your application must be postmarked or faxed no later than June 29, and will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
The following links may be helpful in preparing for the exams:
Overview of the written exam, sample questions, and resources (exam registration form is found on page 19)
Links to videos that demonstrate interpreting and how to handle some situations (right side of page – Video Clips)
If you require special accommodation due to a disability, you must request the accommodation in advance. In order to do that, please contact Denice Purves at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: No person will be allowed to take the same written exam version more than once within a
When interpreters prepare for interpreting exams, we practice interpreting. But what are we doing to practice controlling our test anxiety? As someone who’s taken many interpreting exams (and didn’t pass them all) and prepared many interpreters for exams, there are a few things I’ve learned about managing test anxiety. Test anxiety can affect your performance in an exam to the extent that you fail, so it’s worth considering.
Anxiety can come in the form of fear, no matter what the stakes may be. When I took my healthcare certification exam, as a seasoned healthcare interpreter I was sure I’d pass. But there was that lingering thought: What if I actually fail? What if I’m exposed as a fraud and I realize I’m not actually competent to do the work I’ve been doing for the last decade? When I took my court certification exam for the second time, I just wanted to get it over with and couldn’t bear the thought of failing again. When I took my grad school exit exams, the weight of knowing that I wouldn’t graduate if I didn’t pass felt physically crushing at times. Sound familiar? I’ve got some tips to get you through it.
Practice: When you sit down to do your interpreting practice, take the opportunity to practice your anxiety management as well. As much as possible, practice in a setting that is like the testing environment. Somewhere where you’re not too comfortable. In grad school, this was easy for me because I practiced in the interpreting lab, which was the very space I knew I’d be taking my exams. But in addition to the physical testing environment, I also made an effort to get into the mindset of exam day, and I’d go through all the things I might be feeling.
When I was preparing for my court and healthcare certification exam, I didn’t have the advantage of practicing in the actual physical space where I’d be taking the test. But you can do some things to emulate the environment, like sitting up straight at a table, timing yourself and recording yourself, making sure that you are doing your practice without stopping. That means no stopping and starting 30 seconds into the practice, five thousand times, whenever you feel you’ve messed up! Yes, practicing the same small part over and over can be a helpful part of practice, but your practice should include simulating the test, which means doing the interpretation from beginning to end in just one go.
Before you begin your practice, take a deep breath. Engage in something that works to calm yourself. Whatever it is, do it every day, every time you practice, well BEFORE the day of your exam. That way, when exam time comes, you’ll already have trained yourself to calm your nerves.
Noting things: Not taking actual notes, but just making mental notes to yourself about what’s happening when you feel anxious, in an objective way. I have a lot of trouble falling for that “hook” – that thought that yanks me into a downward spiral of panic. For example, when I start thinking “ohnothistestisimpossible and Idon’tthinkIcandoit and Ican’tdoanythingright and Ican’tcontrolmybreathing and nowmymouthisdryandmyheartisracing and everyonewillbedisappointedinmewhenIfail and they’reallgoingtolaughatme, I need a figurative hammer to smash that downward spiral. Simply stating in my mind what is happening does the trick for me. So instead of falling for that hook, I simply tell myself, “Now I’m taking a test.” That’s it. And it breaks that cycle so I can focus on the task at hand.
Self-compassion: Having a positive mantra can be helpful. When I’m trying to find some positive aspect of a difficult situation, mine has been, “I’m learning so much.” I use it a lot since I always seem to be learning so much, stumbling up some kind of steep learning curve. But self-compassion isn’t necessarily positive self-talk. Self-compassion is simply recognizing what you’re feeling in any given moment, and that it’s okay. When I feel my heart begin to race as I sit down in front of that mic, I can simply tell myself, “Right now I’m having a moment of anxiety.” This has been more helpful to me than resisting the anxiety, which seems to intensify it. Leave room for some positive self-talk, but also leave some room for, “This is really difficult,” and even, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Practicing on the day of the exam: I’ve recommended in past posts to not practice the day of the exam, and that’s something that works for me. I don’t want anything undermining my confidence on exam day. On the other hand, I’ve heard other trainers recommend that you practice with something that is easy for you on exam day. Surely this is to boost your confidence. If that’s the case, I’d practice with something you know is easy for you because you’ve practiced with it before.
When I took my healthcare and court certification exams, I didn’t practice on exam day. When I took my exams for grad school, I did shadowing on my exams days (there were four), just to have the feel for listening and speaking at the same time. I also had the habit of shadowing every day before I began my practice, so that worked for me.
Practicing interpreting is a necessary part of what we do to get better. When we have the skills to confront our anxiety, we can overcome it on exam day.
By Liz Essary
This article first appeared on www.atanet.org
Besides being an interpreter and a translator for over 20 years, I have also taught public speaking courses and presented at interpreters’ symposiums and other professional meetings.
Speaking in public requires a high level of involvement with the subject matter and the preparation of the adequate delivery, depending on the objective and the occasion.
Communication facilitated by interpreters is a dynamic process, not a mechanic one. Interpreters aim at transferring the “meaning.” Since it occurs in a group context, the opportunity of a connection is automatically established.
Interpreters can greatly benefit from speech making skills and strategies on how to manage their nervousness in public.
As interpreters, we face many situations; we meet a variety of people with different backgrounds and understanding of the language exchange. This may occur before the actual interpreting session and once assignments have been completed. We represent an agency or ourselves. Whether functioning as a medium of communication or as cultural brokers, we are in a position to enhance our professional image and degree of effectiveness through the acquisition of speech building skills.
Here are some of the skills interpreters can benefit from:
- Focusing on the purpose of the meeting – this step helps with staying on track
- Organizing the ideas/concepts in a logical manner
- Varying the tone and pace to keep the attention going
- Providing visuals, if necessary or helpful – this step strengthens the retention degree of the information.
- Interacting and involving others in the conversation – this step helps in making sure everyone is on the same page
- Complying with time limitations
- Displaying confidence by concentrating on our objective
- Communicating in an ethical manner – interpreters have a powerful profession and can, therefore, exercise an influence
This is a work in progress. There is always something new to learn and abilities to refine. Of course, there is also the element of nervousness that we want to get under control. These skills enhance the degree of credibility and a trust-developing connection. The end result is a more gratifying experience for the interpreter and a lasting memory in the minds of the people encountered.
How can we reach a level of comfort? We can start by allowing a degree of tension that can energize us. We can also draw inspiration from previous encounters. Experience makes us stronger. By adopting a process of visualization, we can envision the encounter to be a gratifying learning opportunity.
Will my voice tremble? Will all eyes and ears heavily concentrate on me? What if I forget something? What if they ask me a challenging question? Most of us have heard one or more of these little voices inside our heads before walking into an unknown scenario.
There are also techniques we can adopt to decrease the level of tension:
- Write down your fears. Then, look back at the list and scratch out, one by one, the fears that will not likely produce a catastrophe or another terribly embarrassing moment.
- Mentally practice the answers to inquiries you can anticipate.
- Utilize relaxing techniques: prayer, breathing exercises, muscular or mental relaxation are some examples.
- Have on speed-dial someone who can give you a word of encouragement.
- Focus on the moment as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Engage in opportunities to talk and share with other interpreters. This is one of the most effective ways to realize we have similar concerns and that we can draw strength from one another.
I like the approach to nervousness that comes from cognitive therapy, which allows us to transform a negative thought into a positive and constructive one.
According to the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy (2009), cognitive therapy is a short-term form of remedy to treat a variety of psychological and psychiatric conditions. We can identify distortions or perceptions resulting into negative thought patterns; then we can work on changing our gloomy thoughts into optimistic ones. Anderson (2014) points out that we can visualize the best part of the day, or encounter, and be thankful of the event.
How can I apply cognitive therapy to intimidating scenarios? I build a mindset that allows me to focus on the positive side of the experience. I know I am capable to doing a good job and answer potential questions. I continue to engage in opportunities for professional development; so I have acquired knowledge and confidence. The encounter will go well. I will research the areas I discover I know less about. I will be even more prepared the next time around.
If you tend to be a perfectionist, and I will personally welcome you to the club, remember that we are the ones who tend to be more conscious of our movements and register correctness. A less than perfect exchange is not the end of the world (I am not referring to the interpreting session per se, of course). A slightly disappointing event can still help us put things in perspective and accept the frustrating moment as part of life, yet with a possibility of an even better outcome the time around.
By Rita Pavone
This blog first appeared on www.najit.org
Join our webinar on Public Speaking Skills for Interpreters by Rita Pavone on May 22.
If you can’t make it, the video recording will be available after.