By Farah Arjang.
Over the past 15 years as an ATA member, I have never regretted any time spent intentionally or unintentionally with ATA’s leadership and as member of the audience at the board meetings. I remember the first time I ever attended an ATA board meeting as a member of the audience in 2010, when I was living in California. At that session, I witnessed a professional interpreter trying to convince the ATA Board of Directors to include interpreters more visibly in the organization. The questions posed and presentation made by a passionate ATA member who had taken the time to come to the board meeting, was an eye-opening experience for me. It helped me think of many more questions and gave me confidence that the board does its best to responsibly listen to its members’ needs.
The weekend of April 30, 2016, I had the opportunity to be a member of the audience at ATA’s board meeting held at the Embassy Suites, right across from ATA Headquarters. I only had time to attend Saturday’s lunch and afternoon session, but it was such a great experience that I feel as if I had spent a whole month with the board members! Not only did I learn from the discipline and seriousness displayed by the board members, I also witnessed their hard work and professionalism in sticking to the agenda and being prepared with what they were reporting. Though I did not have any background information about most of the topics discussed in the session (because I did not have access to any of the reports beforehand), I could still follow the conversation. Intelligent questions raised by board members answered some of the questions in my mind as the conversation ensued.
Whenever I crossed King Street in Alexandria, VA, I would always wonder where ATA HQ was and what the inside the offices might look like. My interest in visiting the ATA offices was fulfilled that day too. Walter Bacak, ATA Executive Director, kindly offered a tour of the facilities after lunch. I was impressed and felt at home immediately.
At the Saturday afternoon session, I particularly enjoyed the report Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo gave about the Public Relations committee and how its members are working hard to create more visibility in the media.
Reports from the Certification Committee were interesting too. They shared the experience of the first ATA certification exam allowing members to use their own computers, a potentially new practice in testing. ATA exams are still only done with pen and paper, even though most professional translators only translate on computers and use the Internet and online dictionaries as their major resource for research.
During the afternoon break, I had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Faiza Sultan. We decided to look into starting a new division for a Persian group of languages with sub languages such as Farsi, Dari and Kurdish. I also expressed my concerns about the lack of testing or certification for the Persian family of languages, given that the demand for these languages is growing tremendously. The lack of certification in these languages is creating chaos and confusion in the market and with end users as well.
At the end of the board meeting, there was a 20-minute time slot built into the agenda for non-board members, or the audience, to express matters of concern. I took the opportunity to share my chapter’s and language pair’s (English<>Farsi) wish lists and asked for ATA’s support. My remarks received great attention from the board, so much so that I received a happy hour invitation to join David Rumsey, the President, Corinne McKay, the President-Elect, and Christina Green, ATA Director, who also serves on the Membership Committee, immediately after the board meeting to discuss matters more closely.
All in all, it was a remarkable experience and it gave me the opportunity to learn more about this incredible organization that has been carrying the torch to professionalize a trade that has long existed among speakers of different languages, and yet has a long way to go in North America.
As much as we might consider ourselves professional linguists, there are regrettably many more unprofessional mere bilinguals who are working in our industry. It is my opinion that the number of translators and interpreters lacking formal education in translation and interpreting is high, especially in the US, where there are hardly any college level programs on offer to the large number of language enthusiasts. Many other countries in the world have undergraduate and graduate degrees in translation and interpreting and actually train in these disciplines. I don’t see as many programs like those here in the US. In my opinion this handicaps our profession and therefore must be addressed before we can find a remedy for it. The art of translation and interpreting has existed since human beings began exploring other communities to trade goods and exchange ideas. Nevertheless, today, just like all the other disciplines taught at the university level, I believe the translation and interpretation field deserves a spot in the curricula of higher education.
Farah Arjang Vezvaee is a professional, English<>Farsi language pair freelance translator and interpreter. She has been working in the industry for more than 25 years as a linguist, supervisor and manager, and runs a language center specializing in Farsi/Dari. In her years of working in the translation community, Ms. Arjang has had the opportunity to serve many international organizations including the Olympic Committee and the World Bank, to name a couple. She has also served the Department of State, US Supreme Court and the Congress on the national level. Ms. Arjang has been a member of ATA for more than 15 years and currently serves as the Vice President of NCATA, the DC, MD, and VA chapter of ATA and is a member of the ATA Interpreter Division’s Leadership Council.
Images by Farah Arjang