Tuesday, December 13, 2011

State Justice Institute (SJI) Sets Limited English Proficiency (LEP) among new Priority Investment Areas

In my August 23 posting, I mentioned that the American Bar Association House of Delegates tabled the proposed Standards for Language Access in Courts until its February 2012 meeting.  Apparently both the Chief Justice and Court Administrators' groups presented resolutions against the standards on the basis that they were too broad regarding language access outside the courts.  Undoubtedly, costs associated with language access services weighed in the decision.  The text of the proposed standards is no longer available on ABA’s website, and a description of the Language Access Standards Project can be found instead.
Despite this reversal, proponents of the standards are addressing the issues raised in hopes they will be approved in February. 
A recent development might increase the likelihood of the standards being approved, if the interested parties take advantage of it.  On November 30, 2011, the Board of Directors of the State Justice Institute (SJI) announced the Institute’s new Priority Investment Areas; two of which are Immigration Issues in the State Courts (for example; the impact of federal and state immigration law and policies) and Limited English Proficiency (for example; interpretation service plans, remote interpretation outside the courtroom, interpreter certification, and courtroom services (plain language forms, websites, etc.)). Established by Federal law in 1984, SJI was created “to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, facilitate better coordination between state and federal courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts.”  Through the years, SJI has supported initiatives in these two areas, including a graduate program in Bilingual Legal Interpreting in Charleston, South Carolina created in 1999 (today deceased, alas!) with funding sources including SJI.   From 2005-2011 SJI has provided funding to an array of related initiatives, including:
1.       Development and implementation of  court document translation standards, and to translate appropriate forms and brochures (Minnesota State Court Administrator’s Office, 2006) and translation of documents in small claims proceedings (Massachusetts Trial Court and Arizona Supreme Court, 2011)
2.       Implementation or enhancement of LEP services (County of Alameda Superior Court, California, 2007; California Administrative Office of the Courts and Vermont Supreme Courts 2011)
3.       Establishment of a court interpreter certification process and the improvement of court interpreter services (Vermont Supreme Court, 2007; New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, 2008 and 2009; and Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, 2008).
Grants have mostly been awarded to state courts and legal or judicial entities, but grantees also include the American Bar Association (two grants in 2010), the Center for Public Policy Studies (2009 and 2011), the Center for Effective Public Policy (2010), the Pew Charitable Trust (2006, 2007 and 2009), the University of Memphis (2006), and Florida International University (2005). (See above link for a brief description of the initiatives, grantee and amount awarded.)
SJI award-making efforts are structured in six main programs: 1) projects - the main SJI’s grant-program - that aim at improving the administration of justice in state courts; 2) technical assistance; 3) curriculum adaptation for courts and association to adapt curricula to specific educational needs; 4) partnerships that combine financial resources in the pursuit of a common interest; 5) strategic initiatives to address national court issues as the arise; and 6) support to educational programs for judges and court managers to attend out-of-state, court-related educational programs.
For the fiscal year 2012, the State Justice Institute requests $6,337,000 “to enhance its efforts to improve the quality of justice in state courts.”   A grant for the ABA proposed Standards for Language Access in Courts would fit in the project, curriculum adaptation (to include training in translation, for example), and partnership program categories. The above link leads to information on each of SJI’s grant programs, grant proposal requirements and deadlines. As pointed out previously, before setting Immigration Issues in the State Courts and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) as Priority Investment Areas, the State Justice Institute had supported initiatives in these two areas.  Let’s hope that its support will be even greater henceforth.  These grant opportunities need to be known more widely, and I trust this posting will contribute to get the word out. I also trust state courts will take advantage of these opportunities and will submit proposals that will enhance access to justice to Limited English Proficient individuals across the United States.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hispanics to Offset the Decline in Population in Many Places in the US

While it is not the direct objective of this blog to address immigration issues, I am sharing a link to an article that accounts on how Hispanic immigrants are settling in towns on the brink of becoming ghost towns.
In his November 13 article, A.G. Sulzberger of the New York Times, points out that "Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave".  It is very likely that some of these newcomers will require language access and other public services which could be perceived as an additional burden to society.  However, what those opposed to immigration fail to acknowledge is the positive impact that immigration can have even in some unexpected places.
At the era of globalization, the face of the globe is changing relentlesly.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Techniques of the Translation Process: A Webinar

I am pleased to announce a webinar on translation techniques that I will be facilitating on March 8, 2012 at 11 am EST US, 4 pm GMT /UTC, 2 am AEST Aus.

The webinar is intended for translators who would like to know more about the process of translating. The term ‘translation’ refers to the process of formulating an equivalent message into a target language as well as the result of such a process. The process of translating is generally viewed as a problem-solving exercise, but more often than not its study is merely a description of its stages and the competencies that come into play. Among these competencies is the ability to interpret the source text accurately and render such interpretation using the full communicative capacity of the target language.

The translation techniques  –understood as instruments of textual analysis– studied in this webinar are based on those proposed in 1958 by Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet in their Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais. While Vinay and Darbelnet’s theoretical principles have engendered sometimes virulent criticism in academic settings, the proposed translation techniques have been used to teach translation students in Canadian universities, adapted and applied to other languages including Spanish (but until recently were almost unknown in the United States and only little known in Great Britain), and have been revisited and augmented several times (1996, 2000, 2003), which no doubt attest to their relevance more than half a century after they were first developed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interpreting in a Legal Setting: A Guide for the Attorney

The Bench and Bar Committee of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) has recently made available a PowerPoint Presentation aimed at attorneys with important information on court interpreters and court interpretation, including a description of the legislation that guarantees the right to an interpreter for limited English proficient persons. As basic as it might seem, the presentation also describes the difference between translation and interpretation.  Hopefully, this will help some attorneys know how to request the right professional; an interpreter for oral renditions and a translator for written ones. Besides details on ethics and role of the interpreter, the presentation lists the qualifications interpreters should have, standards of practices of the profession and, very importantly, the challenges court interpreters face such as fatigue, speed of speech, and acoustics.  It also provides tips for working with interpreters and important elements attorneys should know about them, such as the interpreter’s role in court settings including depositions, interviews, and mediation.

While the information provided in this tool will be more useful for attorneys in states where the language access ‘movement,’ so  to speak, is lagging behind, there is no doubt it is a valuable resource for all. It is like a handy ‘road map.’ The only comment I have is that it would be worth elaborating a bit more on some of the topics; for example, on the certification process under the rubric ‘Qualifications and Standards of Practice’.  It would be good for attorneys and other interpreter service consumers to know, briefly, what it means to be a certified interpreter and what the certification processes entails. Equally important for all consumers of interpreting services is to know that a certified interpreter is a professional who has trained to acquire or develop the necessary skills and has taken written and oral performance exams to have these skills tested and certified by a specific certifying body. Having a certification (of participation in a seminar or other training activity, for example) or to be qualified by other instances do not mean being a certified interpreter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Proposed ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts Tabled to 2012

Rob Cruz, Chairman of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), recently informed NAJIT members that the American Bar Association House of Delegates discussed the proposed Standards for Language Access in Courts [Note: the text of the Standards is no longer available on ABA's web site, instead a description of the Language Access Standards project can be found. December 2011] during its annual meeting held during the first week of August in Toronto, Canada.   According to Cruz, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Court Administrators' group each presented a resolution against the Standards on the basis that they were too broad regarding language access outside the courts.   Despite efforts by the proponents of the Standards, it became clear that the Standards would probably not pass, Cruz said.
Nonetheless there is hope as they were tabled until the next House of Delegates meeting in February 2012.  Cruz considers that “the fact that the debate is ongoing is a tremendous positive [...] . After all, he said, the best Standards will be merely symbolic if funding is not addressed.”
To be continued… The struggle is not over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Definition of Terms in ABA Standards: A Snapshot of Court Interpretation

The proposed American Bar Association Standards for Language Access in Courts sets the ground for a homogeneous system of language access services in the US judicial system.  For those interested in understanding interpretation and translation services within the US judiciary, the definitions included in the ABA standards offer a wealth of information regarding the key players in the provision of language access services, court personnel, processes and procedures, and court-ordered services regarding language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons.  The very notion of limited proficiency is also defined.  These definitions, which are reproduced below, offer a snapshot of how interpretation has been shaped and is perceived in the US judiciary. 

It is worth noting that these definitions are intended for a broad audience and therefore were worded in a way accessible to most, but they also contain language and concepts that might be new for some of the persons these standards are aimed at.  Some of them are rather vague, like the definition of the term ‘certification.’   This vagueness may be due to fact that the document would be too long were it to include all the knowledge, skills, and abilities required from an interpreter.  It may be also related to the fact that at this point there are not standards of practice in this field, nor are there standards for the teaching of interpreters.  The term ‘credentialing,’ though, provides more information on interpreter qualification.  It includes a footnote containing a link to more detailed information on key elements for a successful language access program.  Two other terms that fit the bill are ‘bilingual’ and ‘competency assessment’.

Another definition that is worth commenting on is the term ‘cultural competence;’ a concept either unknown or neglected when referring to interpretation or interpreters.  The definition of ‘interpreter’ does not include cultural competence as a skill. Language and culture go hand in hand, and this is particularly true in legal language.  In an upcoming post, I will be addressing cultural competence, how it entered into court and health interpretation, and how it is now being recognized as an important component in the provision of language access services.

Under the definition of the term ‘interpreter’ there is an interpreter classification.  This typology, as evidenced by the Brennan Justice Institute’s report on language access in state courts, changes from state to state.  As for ‘interpreter functions’, also included in the definition list, interview interpreters are oftentimes interpreters who work for the prosecution and do not interpret for the record.  As for ‘proceedings interpreter’ and ‘witness interpreters’ in many state courts there is no such distinction.

Finally, the term ‘transcription’ reveals another task carried out by court interpreters.  The bulk of transcriptions court interpreters do relate to police monitoring procedures; i.e. wiretaps and video.  The definition includes a footnote that leads to a NAJIT (National Association of Interpreters and Translators) position paper on translation of transcripts of audio and video material.

If adopted, the proposed American Bar Association Standards for Access in Courts will be an invaluable tool that would allow a widespread knowledge of key concepts used in the fields of translation and interpretation.


Note:  These definitions are found in pages 5-10 of the ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts  [Note: the text of the Standards is no longer available on ABA's web site, instead a description of the Language Access Standards project can be found. December 2011].  They are included here for reader’s convenience.  The  URL's included in the original document have been turned into links in this posting.  Also some definitions are accompanied by a short commentary.  Comments are indented and in dark purple characters.

Bilingual – Using or knowing two languages proficiently.

Bilingual Staff – Individuals who are proficient in English and another language and who communicate directly with an LEP individual in their common language. This term is intended to be read broadly to include individuals who are proficient in multiple languages.

Certification The determination, through standardized testing, that an individual possesses certain knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Competency Assessment – The testing of qualifications, such as language competency.

Court – Any tribunal within an adjudicatory system.

Court‐annexed Proceedings – Court‐sponsored proceedings, such as arbitration, which are
handled by officers of the court.
Court Interpreter Code of Professional Conduct – The minimum standard of conduct for
interpreters working in a court. This is also referred to as the interpreter’s ethical code.

Note:  As I view it, the code of professional conduct or code of ethics not only guides interpreter’s behavior and ethics but also describes a professional activity. Since every activity evolves, the code of professional conduct or code of ethics should also evolve. In other words, it should be considered as a guide, keeping in mind that, like a law, a code of ethics is developed according to perceptions and needs of a specific time-period. But it does not contain answers for all situations and should not be followed in a way that restricts full use and expressions of professional skills. 

Court‐managed Professionals – Persons who are employed, appointed, paid, or supervised by
the court. These may include counsel, guardians, guardians ad litem, conservators, child advocates, social workers, psychologists, doctors, trustees, and other similar professionals.

Court‐mandated Services (also referred to as court‐ordered services) – Pre‐ or post‐adjudication
services or programs that are required of litigants in connection with a civil or criminal matter.
Court‐mandated services include treatment programs, evaluations, supervision, and other services required by the court.

Court‐offered Services – Pre‐ or post‐adjudication services or programs that are offered to litigants to resolve a civil or criminal matter. These may include alternative sentencing, mediation, alternative dispute resolution, mediation, arbitration, treatment programs, workshops, information sessions, evaluations, treatment, and investigations.
Court Personnel‐ Court‐managed, ‐supervised, or ‐employed individuals who work in court services and programs.

Court Services – The full range of court functions, including legal proceedings and other court operated or managed offices with points of public contact. Examples of such services include information counters; intake or filing offices; cashiers; records rooms; sheriff’s offices; probation and parole offices; alternative dispute resolution programs; pro se clinics; criminal diversion programs;  anger management classes; detention facilities; and other similar offices, operations, and programs.

Credentialing – The process of establishing, through training and testing programs, the qualifications of an individual to provide a particular service, which designates the individual as qualified, certified, licensed, approved, registered, or otherwise proficient and capable.6

Cultural Competence – A set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross‐cultural situations.7

Interpreter – A person who is fluent in both English and another language, who listens to a communication in one language and orally converts it into another language while retaining the same meaning.

Interpreter by Classification:

 Certified Court Interpreter An individual who has the ability to preserve the “legal equivalence” of the source language, oral fluency in English and the foreign language; the skill to interpret in all three modalities (simultaneous, consecutive, and sight translation); and the knowledge of the code of professional conduct; and whose ability, skill, and knowledge in these areas have been tested and determined to be meet the minimum requirements for certification in a given court.

Registered or Qualified Court Interpreter – An individual whose ability to interpret in the legal setting has been assessed as less than certified. This designation can either denote a slightly lower score on a certification exam or, for languages in which full certification exams are not available, that a registered or qualified interpreter has been evaluated by adequate alternate means to determine his or her qualifications and language proficiency.

Interpreter Functions:

Interview Interpreter – Interprets to facilitate communication in an interview or consultation setting.8

Proceedings Interpreter – Interprets for an LEP litigant in order to make the litigant “present” and able to participate effectively during a proceeding.9

Witness Interpreter – Interprets during witness testimony for the purpose of presenting evidence to the court.10

Interpretation – The unrehearsed transmitting of a spoken or signed message from one language to another.11

Interpreter Services – The services provided by professional, competent interpreters, including those provided for legal proceedings and services outside of the courtroom.

Language Access – The provision of the necessary services for LEP persons to access the service
or program in a language they can understand, and to the same extent as non‐LEP persons.

Language Access ServicesThe full spectrum of language services available to provide meaningful access to the programs and services for LEP persons, including, but not limited to, in‐person interpreter services, telephonic and video remote interpreter services, translation of written materials, and bilingual staff services.

Language Access Services Office – A centralized office tasked with coordinating, facilitating, and enforcing all aspects of the courts’ language access plan.

Language Access Plan – A written plan used to implement the language access services of a
court, which includes the services that are available, the process to determine those services, the process to access those services, and all of the components of a comprehensive system.
National variation exists regarding the name of this plan; some refer to a “language assistance plan” and others to a “policy for providing services to LEP persons” or an “LEP plan.”

Language of Lesser Diffusion – A language with low representation within a jurisdiction and for which interpreter services, translation services, and adequate language‐specific training is largely unavailable or very limited.

Language Service Providers – A person or entity who provides qualified court interpreting services, bilingual assistance, and translation services for individuals who are limited English

Legal Proceeding – Court or court‐annexed proceedings, including proceedings handled by judges, magistrates, masters, commissioners, hearing officers, arbitrators, mediators, and other decision‐makers.

Limited English Proficient Person – A limited English proficient (LEP) person is someone who speaks a language other than English as his or her primary language and has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English.13

Machine Translation – Software that automatically translates written material from one language to another without the involvement of a human translator or reviewer.

Meaningful Access The provision of services in a manner which allows a meaningful opportunity to participate in the service or program free from intentional and unintentional discriminatory practice

Note:  This concept is the object of Standard number two and is explained in detail in ABA’s document.

Modes of Interpreting

Consecutive Mode – Rendering the statement made in a source language in the target language only after the speaker has completed the utterance.

Simultaneous Mode Rendering the interpreted message continuously at nearly the same time someone is speaking.

Sight Translation – A hybrid of interpreting and translating in which the interpreter reads a document written in one language while translating it orally into another language, without advance notice.14

Multilingual Document Format – The practice of having multiple languages—one of which is always English—on one form for a translation.

Persons with Legal Decision‐Making Authority – Persons whose participation is necessary to protect their legal decision‐making interest and to protect the interest of the individuals they represent.

Persons with a Significant Interest in the Matter – Persons whose presence or participation in the matter is necessary or appropriate.

Plain Language – Communication that members of an audience can understand the first time it is read or heard.15

Recipient of Federal Financial Assistance—Recipients of federal funds range from state and local agencies, to nonprofits and other organizations. A list of the types of recipients and the agencies funding them can be found at Executive Order 12250 Coordination of Grant‐Related Civil Rights Statutes. Sub‐recipients are also covered, when federal funds are passed from one recipient to a sub‐recipient. Federal financial assistance includes grants, training, use of equipment, donations of surplus property, and other assistance.16

Register – The level and complexity of vocabulary and sentence construction.17

Relay Interpreting – Involves using more than one interpreter to act as a conduit for spoken or sign languages beyond the understanding of a primary interpreter.

Relay Interpreter An interpreter who interprets from one foreign language or sign language to another foreign language or sign language, and vice versa. Another interpreter then interprets from the second language into English, and vice versa. This is also referred to as an intermediary interpreter.18

Source Language – The language of the original speaker, which the interpreter interprets into a second language. This term is always relative, depending on who is speaking.19

Target Language – The language of the listener, into which the interpreter renders the interpretation from the source language. This term is always relative, depending on who is

Transcription ‐ The process of producing a written transcript of an audio or video recording,
where the recording is in a language other than English.21

Note:  As indicated in NAJIT’s position paper on transcription translation, there is no certification for transcription and translation of video and audio material entered as evidence in court proceedings, and training opportunities are quite limited. Recently, though Elena G. Rojas published her Investigative Surveillance Procedures for Transcription and Translation of Foreign Language Communication Intercepts published, edited by her own consulting firm Protrans Inc.

Translation  Converting written text from one language into written text in another language. The source of the text being converted is always a written language.22

Note:  As indicated in my July 14 posting, this is the first time the need for translation training is addressed, which is something I applaud greatly.  In the study I carried out within the framework of my doctoral studies in linguistics, it was clearly established that the tendency to translate literally is very prevalent in the legal field. The need for accuracy that is required in the translation of legal documents is often met by direct or literal renditions, resulting in texts that are odd, with limited expression, and even incomprehensible.

Back Translation (also known as Roundtrip Translation) – The translation of a translated text back into the language of the original text, made without reference to the original text.

Sight Translation – A hybrid of interpreting and translating in which the interpreter reads a document written in one language while translating it orally into another language, without advance notice.23

 Translation Memory Software – Software that stores and develops translated phrases for use in subsequent translations.

Translation Protocol – The process by which translations are evaluated for quality control ‐‐includes the process for creating and assessing consistent translations, evaluating translator qualifications, and reviewing the translation for accuracy.

 Translator – An individual who is fluent in both English and another language and who possesses the necessary skill set to render written text from one language into an equivalent  written text in another language.

6    National Center for State Courts, Consortium for Language Access in State Courts, 10 Key Components to a Successful Language   Access Program in the Courts, (last visited Apr.18, 2011).
7    U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, What Is Cultural Competency?,  (last modified Oct. 19, 2005)
8    National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Court Interpretation: Model Guides for Policy and Practice in the State
    Courts, Ch. 2 (2009) [hereinafter, NCSC Court Interpretation Model Guides].
9    Id.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Consortium for Language Access, supra note 6.
13  See Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Person. 67 Fed. Reg. 41455 (June 18, 2002).
14   NCSC Court Interpretation Model Guides, supra note 8, at ch. 2. The interpreter is generally provided with sufficient time to review the document in full before beginning the sight translation. The ‘without advance notice” here is to distinguish this process from tape transcription, a process that occurs in advance of the legal proceeding where the foreign language tape will be introduced into evidence.
15 Plain Language, (last visited Apr. 18, 2011).
16 Definition from DOJ Commonly Asked Questions and Answers Regarding Limited English Proficient (LEP) Individual.
17 NCSC Court Interpretation Model Guides, supra note 8, at ch. 2.
18 Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, Resource Guide for Advocates and Attorneys on Interpretation Services for Domestic Violence Victims (2009),
19 Adapted from NCSC, supra note 8, at ch. 2.
20 Adapted from id.
21 National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), Position Paper, General Guidelines and Minimum Requirements for Transcript Translation in any Legal Setting (2009),
22 NCSC, supra note 8, at ch. 2.
23 Id.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

American Bar Association (ABA) Releases Draft of Its National Standards for Language Access to State Courts

Several of my previous postings address the effort made by groups and individuals to overcome barrier languages in court proceeding involving Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons.  These efforts include the Court Interpreters Act of 1978, chief justice and American Bar resolutions, and executive orders (see February 4 posting). Despite all these efforts resistance to enforce such orders and resolutions still persists. The report on the study of Language Access in State Courts published by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2009 bears witness to the disparities in language access that exist in the thirty-five states included in the study.  The report reveals that many jurisdictions and state courts lack systems to implement and manage adequate and coherent language access services.
The American Bar Association has recently released the Standards for Language Access in US Courts, [Note: the text of the Standards is no longer available on ABA's web site, instead a description of the Language Access Standards project can be found. December 2011] which were developed through funds awarded by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID). The development of national standards for language access in US courts represents an additional step towards the goal of overcoming language barriers in court proceedings. The standards’ aim is to provide guidelines for courts and state court administrators across the United States in the design, implementation, and enforcement of a comprehensive system of language access services that suits the needs of their community. They were developed under the auspices of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID).  The Honorable Vanessa Ruiz, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, served as head of the project's steering committee and an advisory board, which was supported by and advisory board made up of a wide array of professionals, including court administrators, language access experts, state bar leaders and judges, practicing interpreters and translators, and advocates.

There are 10 ABA standards.  Standard one highlights fairness and access to justice as the fundamental principles that underlie the US judicial system. Standards two through ten relate to the way fairness and access can be achieved in cases involving Limited English Proficient persons.
Standard two, which refers to ‘meaningful access to justice’, clearly indicates that this access applies to ALL court proceedings and involves promulgating, or supporting the promulgation of, rules that are enforceable in proceedings and binding upon staff to implement these Standards.  Standard three refers to the need to identifying English Limited Proficiency (LEP) persons who might need language access services when dealing with the US courts. Standard four provides that competent interpreter services should be provided throughout all legal proceedings to persons with limited English proficiency. Despite the use of the adjective all, which should suffice, this standards includes the following list: proceedings conducted within a court; court proceedings; and proceedings handled by judges, magistrates, masters, commissioners, hearing officers, arbitrators, mediators, and other decision makers.  It also includes persons with limited English proficiency who are in court as litigants, witnesses, persons with legal decision-making authority, and persons with a significant interest in the matter. Standard five indicates clearly that language access services are not meant to be only for court proceedings but also all court services with public contact, including court-managed offices, operations, and programs.  It refers to technology through which these services may be provided.
Standard six specifies that courts should ensure that LEP persons have access to court-mandated services, court-offered alternative services and programs, and court-appointed professionals, to the same extent as persons who are proficient in English. This standard provides for an equal footing for all persons dealing with the US judicial system.  With standard seven, the need for translating documents is directly addressed for the first time, and standard eight refers to the need for training in translation.  Translation of legal and court-related documents is more often than not performed by interpreters who, except in rare cases, lack training in translation.  Translator training is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.  Standard eight addresses the need to ensure that language access providers are competent, and this includes translators.  Standard nine calls for all court officers and officers of the court (staff or contractors) to receive training on legal requirements for language access, court policies and rules, language services provider qualifications, ethics, effective techniques for working with language services providers, appropriate use of translated materials, and cultural competency. All these efforts should be coordinated throughout each individual state, which is what standard ten addresses.
It is worth noting the standards are dated August 2011. This is the date when they will be will be submitted to the American Bar Association House of Delegates for approval. Therefore, they are not yet to be considered ABA policy.  It is also worth noting that these standards is not a piece of legislation and will not have binding force even after approval by ABA. Decision makers at the state level may or may not follow them. However, the fact that these standards stem from the American Bar Association will be a persuasive element for legislators and decision-makers in the state courts to adopt them.
Another way to get legislators and decisions-makers to allocate resources for language access in state courts is through a complaint to the Department of Justice for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.

The news article in the section Interpretation in the News of this blog offers an example of this in Colorado.  The problem with this approach is that nobody wants to be the one to do it, as itis likely to create tension and ill-will.
As I have stated in previous postings, there have been significant changes in the field of interpretation since I first came to the United States.   As an educator concerned about issues of competence, I welcome initiatives that further the development of translation and interpretation in this country. 
Finally, I would encourage readers to listen to the May 26, 2011 recording of the Open Forum on Draft Standards.  This forum provides an explanation on each of the ten standards as well as such interesting details as the decision to use the modal verb “should” instead of “shall."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My first direct experience with telephonic interpreting

Today, for the first time I witnessed a court hearing in which telephonic interpreting was used.  As an interpreter I am familiar with this means of interpreting, and I even have a telephonic  interpreting services managers talk about it to my interpretation students, but it has always been more of an acquired knowledge than a real experience.  Telephonic and other types of remote interpreting have their supporters and detractors, but there is a consensus that when interpreters are not locally available, this means of interpreting is not only acceptable but also desirable.  But what about when qualified interpreters ARE available locally?
The court where I saw telephonic interpretation this morning has access to certified court interpreters managed by a full-time coordinator. However, for some reason, this particular court decided to use telephonic interpretation.  While the interpreter on the phone showed a high level of professionalism and did, in my opinion, an acceptable job, there are some elements that are worth comment.  Neither the interpreting agency nor the interpreter had background information on the case in question.  In this morning’s case, the interpreter only knew the subject matter jurisdiction of the calling court.  Is this enough information for the interpreter to provide fair language services to the parties in a ligation? At one point this morning, two court cases were merged into one.  Both case numbers were given to the interpreter, who assumed the numbers given were “card” numbers, which was how the case number was interpreted.  Did the interpreter hear “card” instead of “case”?  Perhaps in courtrooms where this particular interpreter usually works case numbers are written on a card.  Who knows? While there is some homogeneity in process and procedures in US courts, institutional culture does exist and is a vital element to take into consideration in interpreting.  While one can argue that this is not a serious error, it does prove that accuracy is being compromised. Due to a lack of feedback, the agency and the interpreter have no means to know the mistakes being made, so they can’t improve. 
Meanwhile, people in the gallery were looking everywhere in absolute silence, wondering perhaps what was going on. Officers of the court and the parties involved in the case were hardly moving and as soon as the telephonic interpreting session was over, the normal activity of the courtroom resumed, i. e. people talking softly, getting in and out of the room, attorneys checking their files, etc.  Whoever called the interpreting service forgot to let the interpreter know the interpreting session was over.  After a few seconds she announced she was going to hung up if her services were no longer required.  Very interesting experience!
After sharing this experience with my fellow interpreters, all of them working as contractors, outrage followed:  they were there, in the very same building, and in larger numbers than usual because of the supposed load of the day.   Was there a lack of internal coordination?  Very likely.  The core question here is why was a remote interpreting provider called?  The answer is very simple:  convenience.   Another important question is why do interpreters work for an interpreting agency? Also very simple: convenience.  Why do interpreters complain about agencies?  That’s easy:  agencies get a larger chunk of the revenue.  And why do agencies get a larger chunk?   That’s easy as well:  they invest efforts and resources in client development.   Jobs do not abound for interpreters and translators, so we need to act more like an agency – create partnerships with fellow interpreters and translators, and approach our work not only as a job but as the foundation for an exciting career.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stronger Advocacy for Language Access in the Courts

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) to Provide a Tool for Advocates
The growing recognition of the need for quality language services for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals has resulted in a widespread call for stronger advocacy, and more advocates, for the provision of quality services. Agencies, associations, groups, and individuals, including judicial and healthcare interpreters, are said to be advocates for the provision of quality language services to LEP persons.  But what does it mean to be an advocate? How do we go about it? To do advocacy, the best of intentions are very noble, but they fall short if it they are not backed by a good knowledge of the facts underlying a specific issue – the provision of quality language services in this case.  Advocates need the capacity to make a compelling case for quality services for LEP individuals by providing examples of the negative effects when they are not available. Likewise, advocates need to cite the positive outcomes that implementation of stronger policies will produce.  All this must be targeted to the interests and needs of the various constituencies involved in the decisions that affect services for LEP individuals.
As indicated in previous postings, much has been done to provide services of various kinds to Limited English Proficient individuals in the courts, and similar progress has been made in health care centers and the community at large.  During its 2011 Annual Conference, held in Long Beach (California), NAJIT announced that it would shortly make available on its website a document providing information on the who, what, where, why, and how of judicial interpreting in the US.  In explaining the reasons why the services of a qualified interpreter should be offered in legal proceedings, NAJIT’s document will include landmark cases, like the U.S. ex rel Negrón v. New York 434 F2d 386 (1970), linking language access with constitutional rights.  The document will also include information on the role and qualifications of judicial interpreters, and discuss the cost of judicial interpreting – including the social and monetary cost of NOT providing quality interpreting services to LEP individuals. 
With this document, that is expected to be available on the Association´s website within the next few days, NAJIT hopes to provide in a single place information that has until now been scattered and hard to find. Of course, effective advocacy requires specific skills and strategies, and preparing advocates could be an area an association like NAJIT can and should tackle.
In times where a great number of entities and individuals still resist complying with laws, rulings, and executive orders regarding language access for LEP individuals, advocates need good tools to make a strong and compelling case regarding the provision of quality language. NAJIT’s new document is an excellent place to look. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

National Council on Interpreting in Health Care Holds 5th Annual Membership Meeting

I created this blog during the 2010 holidays and have kept it in 'survival' mode.
However, surviving is not what this blog is intended for. Now that the school year is over and many professional associations’ annual conferences have taken place, I will be reporting more frequently on events that contribute to the development of translation and interpretation in the US.
My first of these postings is to congratulate the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) for a very successful 5th Annual membership meeting – the first for this blogger.  Held in New Orleans, May 19-20, 2011 just days after releasing its National Standards for Healthcare Interpreting Training Programs, the meeting was one where members truly got the opportunity to express their views on a wide array of topics. Of course, an important piece was the presentation of the standards of training, along with a checklist reflecting the three main areas included in them (knowledge, skills, and programmatic issues) as a tool for all interested parties to assess training programs. Ideally, NCIHC will remain open to suggestions to improve and update these standards as interpreting in healthcare evolves
Two other activities stood out during this 5th membership meeting: the Language Access Café and the Work Groups. The former provided members with the opportunity to learn about and provide feedback on aspects of language access in contexts as diverse as emergency and disaster response, pharmacy services, medical home services, mental health, and end of life. It is easy to forget how important language access is in moments of crises. First responders, for example, have only a few minutes before rushing a patient to a hospital or healthcare center. Language barriers make their task even more challenging. The Work Groups at the NCIHC meeting provided an outstanding opportunity for members to provide feedback on NCIHC projects such as certification, training for trainers, policy, and technology.
As I indicated in a previous posting, NCIHC has a five-step strategy to contribute to the development of the healthcare interpreting profession; the fifth step being certification. Certification in court interpreting came before education and training. This was how the urgent need for qualified interpreters was addressed, but it seems that NCIHC has taken the time to analyze alternative ways to go about it and has come to the conclusion that certification should come after education. As an educator, it only makes sense to me that certification, i.e. testing, should come after education and training.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Standards for Interpreter Training in Health Care just released

After a few weeks of silence, I am back with exciting news on medical interpreting in the U.S.

The National Consortium on Interpreting on Health Care (NCIHC) has just released the National Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs, which sets guidelines for formal preparation of bilingual and multilingual individuals who wish to enter the healthcare interpreting profession.  While these standards are expected to change as the profession evolves, they are intended to provide a common and consistent base of knowledge and competence aspiring health care interpreters should have.

These guidelines benefit program developers and administrators, trainers, interpreter candidates, consumers of interpreter services, and anyone else concerned about interpreter quality.  The standards are articulated around the areas of program content, instructional method, and program operation.  They address knowledge and skills that should be taught, teaching and learning methods that can be used, and issues related to the operation of programs, including program design, admission requirements, instructor qualifications, and student assessment.

The Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs is the fourth of a five-step strategy set forth by NCIHC to contribute to the development of the healthcare interpreting field. The strategy started in 2001 with the publication of a conceptual paper on the role of health care interpreters. It continued with the National Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care, published in 2004. Next came the National Standards of Practice, released in 2006; followed by the National Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs, which were released a few days ago.  The next and final step is certification, where efforts are already being made.

These are exciting times for healthcare interpreters and the interpreting professional in general in the U.S.   Click here for the NCIHC Naional Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Language Access in the Courts. The story continues….

States propose creation of a Court Improvement Program (CIP) for LEP Services
My previous post described  Executive and Judicial branch orders to provide access to the courts, and other public settings, to limited English proficient individuals. The post also described the reaction by states to the various laws and executive orders.
As noted before, the August 16, 2010 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to state court chief justices and court administrators regarding language access for LEP persons generated a wave of reactions; the wake of which is still visible. Of course, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) commended Mr. Perez for his letter, acknowledged that the provision of effective language services is often overlooked, and urged involved parties to take into account the guidance in the letter. Meanwhile, states are cutting back on interpreting services and keeping an eye on court interpreting money to deal with their fiscal and budgetary constraints.  As a result, Limited English Proficient individuals may end up paying for interpreting services.  

In a response to Mr. Perez dated November 24, 2010, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators lay out their views regarding the Language Access for LEP persons initiative.  The letter reflects talks between representatives of the three bodies and follows up on several initiatives states proposed to fulfill their responsibilities.  In this letter, states make their case for two types of support from the Department of Justice.  First, the chief justices request the Department of Justice send a letter urging state legislators to support and fund LEP programs. According to the justices, at the state and local level LEP programs are competing with priorities such as police.  Second, they propose the creation of a $15 million Court Improvement Program (CIP) for LEP Services to fund “innovative programs and approaches to provide access to justice for LEP individuals appearing in state courts.”  With this support, states should be able to increase, not cut, support for language access for LEP persons. They also suggest that LEP individuals who can afford language access services pay for these services, which would liberate “much needed funding.”

Since the obligation for the states to provide language access to the courts comes from the federal level, the states seem to be telling the federal government should share this obligation. Is this a legitimate claim by the state courts or just a way to avoid or delay compliance with their obligation?  Has Mr. Perez reacted to this letter? Is the Department of Justice willing to have LEP people pay for language services provided in the state courts?  This remains to be seen.  In the meantime, interpreting services continue to be needed, and I hope interpreters and translators all over the United State will continue to strive to further their professional skills and contribute to the development of this nascent field.