An Interview by Marsel de Souza
Marsel de Souza: I would like to start by discussing the topic of the Advanced Skills and Training session you are presenting at ATA’s Annual Conference in San Francisco. You will be talking about Sight Translation Skills for Translators and Interpreters during this sold out event on November 2, 2016. What can attendees expect to take away from this presentation?
Holly Mikkelson: This is a language-neutral session, so we’ll be working with English text, and first I will talk about the applications of sight translation. It increases translators’ productivity and enables them to use dictation or voice recognition software so that they can translate more efficiently. It also enables them to get a better sense of the flow of their translation, because an oral rendition of a written text always helps you decide whether you’ve made the right choices – if you just read it to yourself, you won’t get that additional perspective. I also will aim at interpreters who want to learn sight translation techniques, either because they need it for court or medical interpreting, or because as conference interpreters they sometimes have the text of the speech in the booth or get it very shortly beforehand. So there are a lot of applications for sight translation in interpreting. I will go through some basic exercises to enhance the underlying skills of sight translation to improve oral delivery, text analysis, and problem solving skills.
MdS: The next topic I would like to discuss with you is court interpreting. I see from your academic work that you have significant experience and contributions to that field. The second edition of your “Introduction to Court Interpreting” is due to come out in November. Can you say a few words about the book and give us an overview of what’s new in the second edition?
HM: It’s intended for either individuals reading for self-study, or teachers using it in an introduction to Court Interpreting anywhere in the world, so it’s generic. It’s not specific to any country, although many of the examples are drawn from the U.S. because that’s my own experience. In addition to just updating it and reflecting on research that has come out over the last fifteen years, the main innovations include a chapter on interpreting from law enforcement that includes jail and prison interpreting, and also the transcription and translation of recorded conversations. There is also a chapter on remote interpreting, which often happens in the context of a defendant being in custody. And I’ve also added a chapter on professional development issues and continuing education.
MdS: You just mentioned continuing education. This is a topic that came up very often in the responses to the survey of members that the ID conducted last year. Since you have significant experience with interpreter and translator education, what advice would you give to interpreters who wish to work as court interpreters in terms of continuing education opportunities?
HM: Are you assuming that they have already been trained as interpreters and they want to specialize in court interpreting?
HM: If I had a group of people who already had quite a bit of interpreter training and experience, I would discuss the ways in which the modes of interpreting differ in a court environment. There are two different sub environments: in-court interpreting of proceedings in real time and out of-court interpreting for lawyers and their clients or for other kinds of legal matters that aren’t formal court proceedings. So the approach to interpreting is slightly different in those two different sub-environments. I would familiarize them with those environments, with practical applications, why you would be interpreting in a given situation, what you would expect, the terminology that would come up in that context, and they would practice interpreting in that style based on that approach. Obviously there would be a lot of emphasis on legal terminology and concepts – basic criminal and civil procedure, a little bit of comparative law and more theoretical things like the pragmatic aspects of interpreting courtroom testimony. All those things would be reinforced as we go along in practical exercises. And there would also be emphasis on the aspects of ethics that are different for court interpreters.
MdS: Still on the topic of court interpreting… you are a federally certified court interpreter. Can you give us an overview of this certification? What are the requirements? Who can take it?
HM: Unfortunately, right now it’s only available in the English-Spanish combination in the U.S. federal courts. There are fifty states in the U.S., most of which have their own certification programs, but the federal program covers the entire country and is valid in any federal jurisdiction. It starts with a written exam that tests basic written skills – not production skills – passive understanding of written English and Spanish, reading comprehension, vocabulary, certain issues of English or Spanish usage, grammar, proverbs, things like that. And there is a best-translation section. The whole written exam is multiple-choice, machine scoreable. You take that exam at a testing center and your results are provided immediately. If you pass that exam, then you go on to the oral exam. This is a sight translation into and out of English, consecutive interpreting with questions in English and answers in Spanish which have to be interpreted bidirectionally, and then there is simultaneous interpreting, which is exclusively into Spanish because in court all of the proceedings take place in English and are interpreted simultaneously into Spanish for a defendant or witness who doesn’t speak English.
MdS: Would you like to make any final remarks before we finish?
HM: I do want to emphasize the importance of professional associations for providing continuing education and for maintaining high standards, contributing to certification programs, and making sure that what is being tested is actually what interpreters do in the real world.
MdS: Great, Holly. Thank you very much.
Holly Mikkelson is Professor of Professional Practice at the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. She is a certified translator and court interpreter who has taught and practiced translation and interpreting for over four decades. She is the author of the acclaimed Acebo interpreter training manuals as well as numerous books and articles on translation and interpretation. She has consulted with many state and private entities on interpreter testing and training, and has presented lectures and workshops to interpreters and related professionals throughout the world.
Interviewer: Marsel de Souza, Interpreters Division Assistant Administrator
Abstract editor: Helen Eby, Interpreters Division Leadership Council member
Photo courtesy of Holly Mikkelson