Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nevada Language Brokering 2

Continued from June 19.
“The Nuñez family is only one of more than 16,000 families in the Washoe County School District that speak Spanish at home. Each Spanish-speaking household has students who possibly translate for their parents. Schools provide some translation services, but children frequently end up translating instead.
Sixty percent of Hug High School students, where Katherine attends, are Hispanic. Despite the availability of translators at the school, each student’s situation is unique. Adult translators who are unaware of individual circumstances may lose just as much information as a student who picks and chooses what to tell his or her parents.
This impacts many schools because not all teachers speak Spanish. Therefore, the need for translators grows as the language is spoken more in Washoe County. Staff who speak Spanish might be asked to drop what they are doing to translate for a teacher or parent. Children are also signed out of school to attend appointments and act as translators for their parents.”
Here’s the situation in another family.
“Eleven-year-old Araceli Marquez knows she is expected to translate when her mother or father attends parent-teacher conferences at school, but that doesn’t mean she enjoys it. She is a fifth grader at Glenn Duncan Elementary School and has been translating for her parents since she can remember.
‘I guess it’s OK,’ Araceli said. ‘I don’t like it, but I don’t really hate it. I just prefer to say it straightforward.’
Araceli, like many other children who translate for their parents, said the meaning and feeling of certain phrases gets lost in the translation.
‘Sometimes what you want to say gets changed,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen. I try my best to change it so that it’s the same.’
Araceli began learning English when she was 4 years old. She picked up phrases from her older brothers and learned to read and write English at school. Even though Spanish was her first language, she prefers to speak English because she can communicate with greater ease and a broader vocabulary. But to communicate with her parents, she must speak Spanish.
One challenge Araceli faces when translating is not knowing enough Spanish vocabulary to communicate phrases or words that she understands in English.
‘Sometimes my teacher makes us use big words in sentences, and I can’t explain those words to my mom,’ she said. ‘I’d rather talk in English.’
Some Conclusions
1. Despite the availability of some adult interpreters, the use of children is very widespread in Reno public schools. The children are invaluable. As one parent says,
“There is almost always a person or child who can translate. We just ask them to interpret for us…If it is something simple then we can take care of it, like giving information, but often we will look for someone to translate. When our kids go to conferences with us, they will translate.”
2. The adult interpreters too aren’t necessarily Expert or Professional. For instance teachers are pulled out of class to interpret.

3. The child interpreters experience some difficulties translating; they especially mention vocabulary gaps. (But what translator doesn’t experience problems with vocabulary gaps?)

4. Despite the difficulties, apparently none of the children is incapable of interpreting at all or refuses to interpret.

5. That doesn’t mean they always like interpreting. The children interviewed would rather be able to conduct all communication in English.

6. They start interpreting at latest when they go to elementary school; that is, at around six years old.

7. Their remarks about what is ‘lost in translation’ show that their metalinguistic awareness of COMAL (Comparison of Meaning Across Languages) is well developed. COMAL is the very important ability of bilinguals to compare a translation with its original for similarity of meaning.

Rachel Breithaupt's report is very informative. For more, follow the link below.

Rachel Breithaupt. Lost in translation: Northern Nevadans learn to cope with language problems, sometimes even between parents and children. news, June 9, 2011.

For more about COMAL, enter comal in the Search box on the right.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fukushima Terps

There are foreign technicians involved in the work at Fukushima. They need interpreters. Last Saturday on his blog, under the heading Fukushima terps, Lionel Dersot gave a graphic account of the frightening dangers and difficulties besetting the latter. Here I’ll just note a few points that are of interest for this blog.

1. “They are mostly interpreters because they happen to speak two languages.” In other words, they’ve been recruited from among bilinguals who aren’t ordinarily Professional Interpreters.

2. They haven’t been briefed in advance.
“Most of them are learning on the spot, and sweating with that uneasiness that is a powerful depressing factor that you simply don't understand for a while what they are all talking about, starting with the people speaking your mother language…although I know that local technicians understand and are helpful… to raise the level of understanding of the confused terp devoid of an engineering diploma…
I know the argument of ‘no time’ which is true, but there is enough time for a one hour briefing. I know the puzzled look back meaning: ‘But you speak the language don't you?’, to which the urge to shout back a ‘It's the context stupid, the language comes next!’ bursts inside."
The need for interpreters to know and understand what’s being talked about is one of the factors least understood by lay people.

3. “They are all male, not for religious and social reasons… in a massively female profession.” An interesting topic, but too big to go into it here. And it mainly concerns Professional Interpreters.

Anyway, read the post in full. You can get to it via the Liaison Interpreting in Japan link on the right.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some Frictions in Language Brokering

From Reno, Nevada, comes a sensitive account that gives a realistic insight into language use by a family that depends on language brokering. The following sets the scene:
“Fifteen-year-old Katherine Nuñez sat on the old-fashioned sofa in the living room of her family’s tidy house. A painting of the Virgin Guadalupe faced the door, welcoming all newcomers into the casa. An El Salvador emblem was nailed into the pared just above the mantel, which was decorated with treasures and trinkets from the family’s native country.”
Katherine was three years old and spoke only Spanish when she came to the USA with her family. She began learning English when she started kindergarten at age five. Her mother, Josefina, still speaks only Spanish.
“The pair communicates in Spanish, which often proves difficult because Katherine prefers speaking in English. Katherine is unable to articulate some thoughts in her first language because English has been the dominant language in her life. 'It gets me aggravated, because if she spoke English, and if she had learned since we got here, I think her relationship with me would have been way better,' Katherine said…

Besides the typical problems parents and their teens encounter, the Nuñez family experiences additional challenges because of language barriers. 'Many things get lost in translation,' Katherine said. Katherine is a sophomore at Hug High School and often experiences translation problems. She speaks both Spanish and English with ease but feels that an idea’s meaning is frequently not communicated correctly in translation.

Josefina attends many parent-teacher conferences so they can work out missing homework and class-participation issues. Most of Katherine’s teachers don’t speak Spanish. Every time Josefina goes to the school to talk to Katherine’s teachers, someone has to translate. What might have been a minor problem regularly turns into a major complication and misunderstanding among Katherine, her teachers and her mother. When using a translator, Katherine feels she is being underrepresented and at times put down.

Two major differences between Spanish and English that Katherine mentioned are tone of voice and atmosphere. One of the most difficult differences between the languages for Katherine to deal with is sarcasm. She said that sarcasm comes out differently in English than when translated into Spanish. She enjoys being sarcastic and feels it is something she can’t do in Spanish. She said sarcasm frequently causes miscommunications when translating because her mother doesn’t always know what to believe.

Although some schools provide translators, Katherine said she prefers to translate because she can communicate the proper message. Translators are not aware of the individual circumstances or situations involved with the students, she said. That’s why the message at school gets lost.”
However, there’s another side to it.
“Many schools have translators available for parents who don’t speak English. Eddie Lopez, a parent involvement facilitator at Grace Warner Elementary in Reno, has a different view of translation than Katherine. Part of his job is to translate for parents at the school. He said that when kids translate, teachers run the risk of the kids selecting what they want to recount, resulting in withheld information. ‘We’ve come to find out that a lot of kids won’t fully translate so they need somebody that actually translates what they are saying,’ Lopez said. But often it’s not the child’s fault for not being able to translate correctly. Sometimes he or she might not have enough vocabulary to translate exactly what was first said.

Like any child learning how to speak, Katherine had trouble with vocabulary when she was younger. This was one of her biggest struggles when translating for her parents and speaking English at school and Spanish at home. ‘I’ve been translating since I was little,’ she said. ‘It’s a lot of pressure, actually, because I remember sometimes I couldn’t find the right words to translate, and my dad would get really frustrated. So would my mom. They would tell me that I needed to learn more because I wasn’t at the level I was supposed to be. … I was too young to translate, and they would get aggravated and make me learn more words,’ Katherine said."
As for Josefina,
"although she hasn’t learned English yet, she still recognizes that speaking another language is a great opportunity and blessing:
'It’s a great benefit, one who has two tongues,' she said [in Spanish]. 'To speak one language and translate for another is very good.'"
To be continued.

Rachel Breithaupt. Lost in translation: Northern Nevadans learn to cope with language problems, sometimes even between parents and children. news, June 9, 2011.

Lost in translation. This is a phrase that’s been around for a long time. But Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film of that name suddenly made it fashionable. Since then, hardly a day goes by without it turning up in the title of some article or newspaper report, to the point where it’s become ‘the mother of clichés’. Google now finds 51 million citations for it!

Image: Some of the Nuñez family. Katherine is on the left. Photo by Amy Beck.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Other Visual Language Interpreters

In my post of May 2, I hinted that I’d describe some other kinds of Visual Language (VL) Interpreters that I’ve worked with besides the Sign Language ones.

But first a correction. Oliver Pouliot, an Expert VL Interpreter in London, England, writes to tell me that I was quite wrong to say most Sign Language interpreters are children of deaf parents. (I might have added, or siblings of a deaf brother or sister.) He goes on:
”This is in fact not true - most sign language interpreters are second language learners of the language. Although the profession began with us, it has continued and grown mainly via people who have encountered sign language later in their lives. I am not aware of any official statistics, but of our group, I am the only native signer.”
Well, it’s true my experience with VL interpreters goes back to the 1980s, so no doubt I’m out of date. Indeed, in the United States there seems to be a certain resentment felt by interpreters who are the children of deaf adults (CODAs), because some of them have formed an association called Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP) and their members deplore
“the lack of respect IDP's feel… in regards to our wealth of knowledge of the language and culture, and the lack of appropriate settings for codas to learn the interpreting process.”
Anyway, in view of the correction, I’ll put what follows in the past tense.

I used to interpret sometimes at meetings of the Canadian Coordinating Council on Deafness (CCCD). The participants were a mixture of deaf and hearing people. I was hired as a Voice Interpreter (see the May 2 post): my job was to translate between French and English, the two official languages in Canada. Beforehand, I had expected to be working alongside Sign Language Interpreters, and I was aware that there were two sign languages used in the country: American Sign Language (ASL) in the English community and Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) in the French one. They aren’t mutually intelligible. What I didn’t realise was that a large proportion of the hard of hearing population did not know either sign language, indeed some of them were resistant to learning them. It’s hard to determine just what proportion of the hard of hearing are signers and I don‘t have figures for Canada. The figures for the USA, for example, are very unreliable: see the Ross E. Mitchell reference below. On the other hand, there’s an official estimate for Scotland: 57,000 people with severe to profound deafness, 6,000 whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language, i.e. just over 10%. Clearly the non-signers are as important as the signers.

So how was communication maintained with the non-signers? For them, two other kinds of ‘interpreting’ were made available:

1. Oral Interpreting. Contrary to what you might think from the name, it doesn’t use the voice. Oral interpreters cater for lip readers. They repeat silently what the speaker is saying, but with well-articulated, even exaggerated, lip movements; and they place themselves where their clients can see them clearly. It might be said that it’s not really interpreting but shadowing, because there’s no change of language. Never mind; they’re called interpreters.

2. Note-taking. In this mode, a hearing person takes notes of what's being said and the notes are displayed to the hard of hearing audience. At the CCCD, the note-takers wrote on overhead projector transparencies and there were two screens, one for French notes and the other for English.

This by no means exhausted the possibilities. There were forms of communication that I did not see, for example Tactile (touch) Interpreting, made famous by Helen Keller and her teacher-interpreter Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Nevertheless, there was enough to make the interpretation set-up extremely complex. Suppose somebody made a statement in LSQ. It would go through the following stages:
1. The LSQ was translated into spoken French by a Sign Language Interpreter.
2. The spoken French was shadowed by a Francophone Oral Interpreter and summarised by a French Note-Taker.
3. Simultaneously with 2, a Voice Interpreter translated the spoken French into spoken English.
4. An ASL Interpreter translated the output from the Voice Interpreter into ASL for the English signers.
5. Simultaneously with 4, an English Oral Interpreter shadowed the Voice Interpreter and another Note-Taker summarised again.
In theory, it should have been possible to translate directly from LSQ to ASL, but there were only very few interpreters who knew both; so most of the time we had to make do with the relay method in which the Voice Interpreter acted as a pivot. By some miracle, it worked. Of course, the CCCD could count on Expert Interpreters.

In this drawing of an Oral Interpreter at work, the interpreter sits facing a deaf person and shadows what’s being said by the people at the table behind. Source: The Itinerant Connection,

The group Oliver Pouliot refers to is involved in the European Master in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI),

Interpreters with Deaf Parents.

Ross E. Mitchell, et al. How many people use ASL in the United States? Why estimates need updating. Sign Language Studies, Volume 6, Number 3, 2006.

Statistics. Scottish Council on Deafness.

Helen Keller Biography. American Foundation for the Blind.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lost and Found

A post last week said the Followers panel had disappeared from this page. Thanks to a contributor to the Blogger Help Forum, I’ve got it back. The solution may be of help to other people too. It was to update my browser from Internet Explorer 7 to IE 8.

Glad to see you again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A New Study of Language Brokering

Publications about Language Brokering (LB) have been sparse of late, but here’s one. The author, Jennifer Kam (see photo), is new to me. It begins with a neat definition (the emphasis is mine):
“Language brokering is the communication process where individuals with no formal training (often children of immigrant families) linguistically mediate for two or more parties (usually adult family members and individuals from mainstream culture).”
The article is a good illustration of how LB research focuses on the sociological and psychological aspects of the activity rather than on the translating itself. The study examined the direct and indirect effects of language brokering on mental health and ‘risky’ behaviours among 684 Mexican-heritage youths from schools in Phoenix, Arizona. ‘Risky behaviours’ includes smoking and drinking alcohol. For more, see Reference below.

Jennifer A. Kam (School of Communication, Ohio State University). The Effects of Language Brokering Frequency and Feelings on Mexican-Heritage Youth's Mental Health and Risky Behaviors. Journal of Communication, Volume 61, Issue 3, pages 455–475, June 2011. Abstract at

Using linguistically mediate instead of translate is itself indicative of the social and psychological slant.

Journal of Communication thoughtfully provides translations of its abstracts in several languages, and this enables us to establish the following equivalences for language brokering.
German: Sprachvermittlung – actually a much older term than language brokering, but it often happens that old terms are given new uses.
French: médiation linguistique
Spanish: mediación del lenguaje
There’s also Chinese and Korean.

Image: Ohio State University.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Update on the Shafia Murder Case

Long-time readers who followed my posts about the Shafia family murder hearings in the spring of 2010 (to find them, enter shafia in the Search box) may perhaps be wondering what’s happened to the case since then.

Well, there was another preliminary hearing at Kingston, Ontario, last autumn. By then, there had clearly been concern to improve the working conditions for the court interpreters, something which I criticised last year. Better booths had been installed for the simultaneous interpretation, and they were better situated:
“Two translation booths, each capable of holding two interpreters, were erected on a large raised platform to the left of the judge. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of infra-red transmitters and receivers are in place, allowing everyone in the courtroom to listen to the simultaneous interpretation on wireless headsets."
Nonetheless, the start of the hearing was again troubled by interpretation woes; this time, not the fault of the interpreters but of the electronic equipment, so that recourse was eventually had to the traditional mode of in-court consecutive interpreting:
“A French-speaking Montreal police officer was the first witness. As she began testifying, it was soon obvious the French interpreter wasn't able to operate the equipment to ensure that English translations were transmitted properly. A technician rushed to the booth to help him, but after several failed attempts to sort out the problem, Lacelle [one of the prosecutors] suggested a low-tech solution. 'Your honour, I wonder if it might be more efficient to adopt the approach we had before,' she said. With that, the interpreter left the booth and stood next to the witness. He translated English and French by listening to the people on both sides of him.”
Which goes to show that SI equipment should always be tested immediately before the start of a session either by a technician or by the interpreters themselves. Even five minutes is long enough for it to develop a bug.

Anyway, a trial date was set for this spring. However, one of the accused decided to change his lawyer at the last moment, and the new lawyer asked the judge for more time to prepare. As a result, the trial has been postponed until, provisionally, October 11. Meanwhile the accused languish in prison.

They aren’t the only ones. In January, in Toronto, a judge of the Supreme Court of the same province, Ontario, refused the Crown's (i.e., the prosecution's) request to order separate trials for two men jointly accused of conspiracy to murder, because a qualified Arabic interpreter couldn't be found for one of them. As a result, the trial, originally set to begin in January 2011, won't start until January 2012. “The prosecution has had more than a year to find an interpreter,” the judge said. "A qualified Arabic interpreter should have been identified and arranged." But there’s only one accredited Arabic court interpreter for all Ontario and he’s not available for long trials.

The crisis in Ontario court interpreting has arisen because the province’s justice administration is running scared of a mistrial being declared due to poor interpreting. They've already had a bad experience. So now they insist on accreditation by means of a stiff examination. But they haven’t prepared the ground, as they should have done years ago, by getting together with the community colleges and the universities to sponsor adequate training programmes and by giving scholarships to promising candidates.

Rob Tripp. Translation woes snarl start of murder case. Edmonton Sun, October 5, 2010.
Rob Tripp is the crime reporter who’s been reporting the Shafia proceedings from the beginning, and who, in the course of them, has developed an awareness of the interpretation component. The three languages involved are English, French, and Dari (an Afghan dialect of Persian).

Patrick F. D. McCann. Canal mass murder trial delayed by surprise firing of lawyer. McCann & Lyttle, February 21, 2011.

Arabic interpreter shortage delays trial for a year. Empowerlingua, January 26, 2011.

The Shafia case has attained such notoriety that it already has its page in Wikipedia. There are also some posts on YouTube that are shocking for their presumption of guilt and their eagerness to assume it was an honour killing.

Image: An Expert Court Interpreter ‘listening to the people on both sides of her’ and taking notes. From www.,