Thursday, October 31, 2013

Job growth for translators and interpreters: Reality or mirage?

When you are an interpreter or translator, or both, and you learn that translation and interpretation made it into the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first time in the 2004-2005 edition, you feel excited about it. Indeed, it was a happy event –a sign that our profession is being acknowledged as such.

Then, when you learn that the 2012-2013 edition of the same Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that the estimated number of jobs in T&I in 2010 was 58,000 and that the job outlook in the field for  2010-2020 is for growth of 42%, which is much faster than average, then you start to feel very optimistic about the changes in the field and what the future will hold in terms of career opportunity and especially the possibility of making better wages
Finally, when even a local TV channel airs a piece produced by CNN Money saying that interpretation and translation is one of the fifteen fastest growing occupations in the nation (which happened this week), you go “wait a minute.”  Where are those jobs? Am I missing something?  In my October 18 post, I reported massive staff interpreter layoffs at a local hospital.  Yet, respectable organizations like the U.S. Department of Labor and CNN convey bright news for interpreters and translators.  As I pondered in my post, was that massive layoff of healthcare interpreters a mere hiccup?  Is there hope for jobs in our profession?
Obviously, I assume the projections of the Department of Labor are reliable, but the reality on the ground feels very different.  As an interpreter and translator, and above all as an interpreter and translator trainer, I remain optimistic that the profession is indeed growing, that interpreters and translators will be in greater demand, and that this tough job market will get better.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Medical interpreting: merely a hiccup?


I recently read an article titled The death of healthcare interpreting in the Netherlands, which describes the decision from the Dutch government not to pay any longer for interpreting services in healthcare settings. The reason: officials believe it is the patient’s responsibility to be able to communicate in the official language.
One could remain unconcerned and believe that that would never happen here at home.  That would be wrong.  Let me tell you, something similar has happened very close to home; that is in Indianapolis, Indiana. This time, it was not a government decision but a hospital system decision.  As recent as last week, the interpreter service supervisor, and a good friend of mine, lost half her interpreting staff to hospital-wide layoffs. Unlike the Dutch government, this hospital will continue to pay for interpreting services, but not to the individual interpreters but a telephone interpreting agency. The hospital’s language access service had been carefully established and interpreters were carefully selected, trained and evaluated. They offered in-house workshops for interpreters, and were working to improve language services by bilingual providers who work without an interpreter with limited English proficient and deaf patients. All of this is almost gone!
 I don’t have anything against interpreting agencies; like everybody else, agencies are trying to earn a living.  I understand that, but two things about this situation bother me. First is the fact that interpreters get paid a fraction of what agencies charge their clients.  That is how agencies make their money.  I understand that as well.  But the second thing that bothers me is an even bigger problem. When a hospital, or a hospital system in this case, gives up responsibility for language access services to a third party, who assures that meaningful access to services are really being provided? Is the interpreter on the other side of the line a truly qualified professional? Is the interpreter adhering to the ethical canons of the medical profession? Is the interpreter’s rendition accurate? Who can provide an answer to all these questions?   Not the patient, not the provider, and not the agency.  Let’s keep in mind, the interpreter is, by and large, the only party in a medical encounter who knows what is going on. Let’s also keep in mind that telephone interpreters work from home in most cases. Who checks on the quality of their work?  Agencies, in the best of cases, do random checks of the interpreter’s rendition. If nobody else but the interpreter knows what is going on during a medical encounter, who will complain about a poor rendition or the message not getting across?  Of course, one can argue that interpreters are interpreters whether they work for an agency or a hospital. It is worth noting, however, that wages for interpreters in the medical/health care field are overall lower than wages for interpreters in legal settings. If interpreters are paid agency wages, then their rates can become significantly lower.  Not very enticing for a good interpreter! So, who are the agencies getting as interpreters?
While I understand that the economy is doing poorly in general, I do not understand that a service as important as access to services would be awarded to a third party without oversight for quality control by the medical provider. Are medical interpreters doomed to work for ‘the middle man’ at a fraction of what the ‘middle man’ gets for the services the interpreter provides, while at the same time the quality of services is not assured? I find this idea rather disturbing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Juvenile court: the stepchild of court Interpreter training

Once again, my poor blog has come second –fourth or fifth rather– after a book proposal project, the beginning of the school year, a trip to Europe, interpreting in the courts and sheer time off. But, here I am, back to it!  This time, I’d like to write about juvenile court and the training of interpreters in juvenile court issues.

I am not going to beat around the bush; let’s just face it, the juvenile court system, juvenile delinquency, and children in need of services are areas of the law that do not receive attention in court interpreter training. Here in the United States, legislation has established a particular language to refer to children less than eighteen years of age. What is that rationale for that? It is simply that the law does not want to compare the actions of children to those of adults. When adults commit actions that violate the rules that make life in society possible or more livable, we consider them crimes.  Juvenile law avoids placing the “criminal” label on an individual who has most of their life ahead of them.  Stigmas may be deeply damaging and hard to remove; we know that all too well.  There are also children who require structure, guidance or a safer environment to thrive.
The challenges interpreters face in juvenile court stem from at least three sources: 
  1. the type of cases juvenile courts hear,
  2. the parties involved in the various type of cases or proceeding,
  3. and of course, terminology, including the abundant and frequent use of  acronyms.

In Indiana, where I’m based, juvenile courts hear the following cases dealing with youth:
  1. Delinquency
  2. Child in need of services –CHINS– (abuse and neglect cases mainly)
  3. Paternity
  4. Interstate compacts (dealing with Indiana youth in other states)
  5. Parent participation hearings in delinquency and CHINS cases
  6. Detention hearings (when youth are removed from the home or arrested)
  7. Protective orders dealing with people in relation to youth (court orders to keep youth safe)
  8. Misdemeanor traffic offenses
  9. Driving a vehicle while intoxicated
  10. Guardianship proceedings for CHINS
  11. Cases concerning involuntary drug and alcohol treatment
  12. Cases where youth need to be committed to a hospital for mental health need, and
  13. Termination of parental rights (TPR cases)
Interpreting in delinquency cases requires knowing the types of offenses heard in juvenile court; that is status offenses and delinquent acts.  Status offenses are delinquent acts committed by someone under age eighteen. Adults by definition cannot commit status offenses.  Status offenses include:
  1. Truancy (not going to school without being suspended, expelled, or having withdrawn from school.);
  2. Runaway or running away (leaving home without a good reason and without permission from the parent or guardian.);
  3. Incorrigibility, habitual disobedience or ungovernable (continually disobeying the reasonable and lawful commands of parents or guardians.);
  4. Consuming or possessing alcohol as a minor (also called underage drinking);
  5. Curfew violations, and;
  6. Repeat firework violation (discharging fireworks such as bottle rockets, roman candles, fire crackers, sparklers, and ground spinners. I challenge you to find the equivalents in your language!)

Delinquent acts are acts that would be considered crimes if they were committed by an adult. Depending on the offender’s age, an act is viewed as a status offense or as a delinquent act.  For example, using a fake identification card to obtain, drink or transport alcohol without a parent or guardian is a status offense if the person who commits it is under age eighteen. Over the age of eighteen, the acts are considered infractions or misdemeanor crimes and are under adult court jurisdiction. Juvenile cases such as drug dealing usually go directly to adult court if the offender is sixteen years of age.  That is to say that the case is waived to adult court; an interesting use of the verb to waive.

Interpreters in the juvenile court system must not only know this specialized language in American English but also be able to find equivalent terms in the language of interpretation. In some instances -- let’s take the term truancy as an example -- the target language may not have an equivalent term for a specific delinquent act but a phrase that describe the act or the person who commits the act, i.e. truancy. Thus, providing a definition of truancy becomes challenging.  In Spanish, the following expression may be used to refer to truancy:  irse de pinta, hacer nobillos, hacer la rabona, faltar a la escuela, or ausentismo escolar.  It is worth noting that the concept of truancy focusses on the fact that a student skips school without a valid reason and does not take into account what the student does instead. Is the student up to no good while not in school?  It’s likely, but it is not the main concern of this concept. Ausentismo escolar –a rather high register term–  is about the only one from the previous list that could be easily used in a statutory context and meet the formal character of the language of the law.  The challenge increases when trying to find an equivalent for ‘truant’.  In this case, one would have to resort to an explanatory modulation –a translation technique whereby an explanation of the meaning of the term is provided due to a lack of a single term in the target language. If truancy can be rendered by ausentismo escolar, truant cannot be rendered by ausente escolar; its translation into Spanish will require an explanation along the lines of estudiante ausente sin razón / justificacion; a lengthy clause that would be challenging to use in an interpreting situation.  A better equivalent must be devised in this case.

A second challenge is knowing “who is who” in the juvenile court system and what their functions are.  Some of the key players in the juvenile court system include intake officers, probation officers, judges or magistrates, prosecutors, guardian ads litem or court appointed special advocates (GAL/CASA), service providers (mental health services, and child protective services, for example), case managers of various types (including family case managers –FCMs), and mentors.  Of course, by and large the use of acronyms rather than complete names is the norm rather than the exception. Finding equivalents for all these terms into the target language adds to the challenge.

As stated before, terminology is a major challenge for interpreters in the juvenile court system. Throughout this post, one notices the language used to describe the juvenile court and juvenile cases.  Here is list of key juvenile terms the interpreter must know and their counterparts in adult court. 

         Juvenile Court                                    Adult Court

1.     Delinquent Act                                     Crime
2.     Taken into custody                              Arrest
3.     File a petition                                       File charges
4.     Denial or Not True,                              Not guilty plea
 (youth denies the allegations)          
5.     Admission agreement or Truth            Guilty plea/Plea agreement
(youth admits to the allegations)     
6.     Fact finding hearing                            Trial
7.     Found/adjudicate delinquent               Found guilty
8.     Disposition/dispositional hearing         Sentencing
9.     Detention                                             Incarceration
There are also other terms specific to the juvenile court system that must be mastered but for which equivalents are unclear or not readily available. This link leads to an appeal document that includes clarification between juvenile and adult court terminology. See footnote 1 particularly.
Last June, during the Critical Link conference held in Toronto on the campus of Glendon College of York University, I was pleased to see on the program a presentation on the challenges for court interpreters in juvenile court.  The presenter highlighted almost point for point the issues I have raised in this post.  Court interpreting training and education should include at least one module on the juvenile court system and its challenges.  It is not acceptable that interpreters use adult court terminology when working in the juvenile court system. This system includes processes, procedures and a language carefully drafted to reach its goals. It is high time that interpreter education pays attention to an entire system that has been, for all intents and purposes, neglected so far.  The Child Information Gateway of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an array of resources for the English-Spanish language pair, including an English-Spanish/Spanish-English glossary of child welfare terms. There are other resources developed mostly by government agencies, however most of them are fragmentary and some of them need to be reviewed and updated. Interpreter training in this area of the law is desperately needed.

I am pleased to announce that I am working on a lexicon of juvenile court terms for the English-Spanish language pair based on the Indiana juvenile court system, and which includes terminology for both CHINS and juvenile court cases. I have the support of several colleague interpreters, but would need institutional and financial support to promote this project and make it available to key players.