Interpreting: Spanglish Example of the Month

As many English<->Spanish interpreters know, especially those of us who work in the US, interpreting Spanglish and anglicized versions of Spanish words can be a signficant challenge. Many non-English speakers do speak enough English to throw English terms into their Spanish-language speech, which makes things interesting, to say the very least.  Even if you live and work in an area where you are surrounded by Spanish and Spanglish (as Judy is in Las Vegas, NV), many of these can can still throw you for a loop. Having grown up in Mexico City, we pretty much know how Spanish speakers can potentially mispronounce English-language terms to come up with all kinds of indecipherable things, but here's one that really was a challenge. And perhaps it wasn't even Spanglish. We don't really know what it was, but here it is for your reading pleasure. Note: the following is in both English and Spanish.

At a deposition. The attorney, Ms. Higgins, is the English speaker, and the deponent, Ms. Ríos, is giving testimony in Spanish..  Mr. Urr is Ms. Ríos attorney. All names have been changed. Judy is the interpreter.

Ms. Higgins: On the afternoon of April 10, where were you going?
Judy (interpreting): En la tarde del 10 de abril, ¿a dónde se dirigía usted?
Ms. Ríos: A la Willy-Willy.
Judy (interpreting): To the Willy-Willy.
Ms. Higgins: I am not familiar with Willy-Willy.
Judy (interpreting): No conozco la Willy-Willy.
Ms. Ríos: ¡Pues la Willy-Willy! En la Decatur esquina con Tropicana.
Judy: Well, the Willy-Willy! On Decatur and Tropicana.
Ms. Higgins: I don't know a store with that name.
Judy (interpreting): No conozco tienda alguna con ese nombre.
Ms. Ríos: Pues no sé, licenciada, pero yo voy a cada rato. Muy buenos precios.
Judy (interpreting): Well, I don't know, counsel, but I go all the time. Great prices.
Mr. Urr, interrupting: For the record, my client is talking about the Goodwill store.
Judy (interpreting): Quiero hacer constar en actas que me cliente se refiere a la tienda Goodwill.
Ms. Ríos: ¡Exacto! La Willy-Willy, o Goodwill, o como le digan. ¡Es lo mismo!
Judy (interpreting): Exactly! Willy-Willy, or Goodwill, or whatever it's called. Same thing!
Ms. Higgins: I would never have guessed that. OK, let's continue talking about what happened when you went to the Goodwill store.

During depositions and all other legal proceedings, things happen very quickly and you have very little time to react. In retrospect, Judy did have a hunch (based on the address the deponent provided) that the Ms. Ríos was referring to the Goodwill store, but definitely knew that a hunch (or a guess) was not an acceptable option. We think this worked out beautifully -- an attorney who had knowledge of the case clarified everything for the record and we went on with the deposition. After it finished, there was much good-natured laughter about Willy-Willy.

We would love to hear your best examples of Spanglish or other challenging interpreting situations, dear colleagues!

Interpreting Profanity in Court

Interpreting in court is not for the faint of heart. During the course of their careers, judicial interpreters will hear and interpret many things, and sometimes those things can be disturbing. One of the hardest things for some newcomers to court interpreting to master is the fact that they have to interpret everything that is being said, even if it's difficult, offensive, heartbreaking, incorrect, etc. Judy trains future legal interpreters at several universities, and one of the most frequent questions she gets from interpreters-to-be is: How do you handle profanity? What if someone drops the F-bomb or says something worse than that? 

The short and simple answer is: you interpret it. You will probably encounter less profanity than you think, but at some point, a defendant may curse, or attorneys may curse at each other, or a witness may start cursing at a defendant. Judy had to interpret at a deposition a few years ago where a few attorneys screamed at each other for what seemed like an eternity (it was only a few minutes, actually). She had to interpret that for the non-English-speaking deponent, who was shocked by the language being used by all attorneys, including his attorney. 

We've heard some stories, which perhaps are urban myths, that some interpreters, rather than interpret what's being said when it comes to profanity, will say: "Your Honor, the ________ is using profanity." In our humble opinion, that is not really an option. When you are in court, you take an oath that you will interpret everything, unless the judge instructs you not to, and you must do that. It doesn't matter if the language offends you-- you are there to interpret it. Of course, you do technically have the option to recuse yourself from the proceedings and hope the court can find another interpreter, but that's not a good solution in the long run, and it also won't make you popular with colleagues and court staff. 

So our advice to future and current court interpreters: be prepared for profanity, and interpret it. You might actually have to do some research into how to render some terms in the other language (this may be cringe-worthy for some), as these renditions can be trickier than you think. 

Business Tip: Indicating Validity of Quote

Happy Friday, dear readers! Before we head off into our holiday weekend here in the US, we wanted to share a quick and easy business tip that can have major impact on your workflow.

It's about something relatively simple: including a specific date on your price quote that indicates how long the quote is valid. This is especially crucial for time-sensitive projects for which you might have to reallocate time from other work. Please note that this applies to direct clients, as most agency clients traditionally ask linguists to sign the agency's purchase order (to which you can, of course, also make changes and/or additions).

Consider the following scenario: your client calls on June 28 and says she needs the translation of a contract by July 5. This is a bit tight with the holiday weekend, but you are willing to make it happen (with surcharges, of course), as she is a great client. In your quote, it's essential to include that you need the client to confirm the project by a specific time and day. Otherwise, it could happen that you never hear from the client, you take on other projects, and then on July 4 (Independence Day!), she calls you to tell you she wants the project by the original deadline, July 5. That's obviously not a good scenario, so you should do everything you can to prevent it.

Here are a few ways to do that.

In your price quote, include something to the effect of (please note that we are not lawyers, so if you want specific legal advice on the language to use, please contact an attorney):

The present price quote is valid until ____________ at ____ am/pm. This quote shall be null and void unless the client has confirmed it in writing by signing at the bottom of this document by _____________. 

In order to meet the client's deadline, this project must be confirmed in writing by ________ at _____ am/pm. The translator can only guarantee the agreed-upon delivery time and date of ______ at ____ am/pm if the client sends back the signed price quote by ______ at am/pm. If no confirmation is received by that point, this quote shall be null and void. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you have any other and better ways of handling this? We have found that putting all these things in writing make for much smoother business transactions and for happier providers and clients.

Free SDL Webinar on June 27: The Art of Networking

Networking at the BP17 conference in Budapest, Hungary.
Please join us for another free webinar on in-person and virtual networking, presented by Judy, and organized and hosted by our friends over at SDL. It's free for everyone, and you simply sign up with your e-mail address. Judy's last webinar for SDL on June 8 had more than 800 sign-ups (thank you!), and we would love to "see" you at this one as well. Consider signing up even if you cannot attend the live session, as all who registered will then receive a link to the recording a few days after the webinar.

Networking is such a crucial part of our profession -- and of any profession, actually -- yet as linguists we oftentimes neglect it. You can only grow a business if you grow your circle of influence, and Judy will share a few ways to do this, both offline (meaning in person) and online. One hour isn't nearly enough to talk about this important subject, but we will address many key points.

Here's the link again to sign up. Looking forward to it! 

Open Thread: Are Interpreters Superstitious?

This elk has been to several trials.
Today we would love to hear from our fellow interpreters, regardless of their field: do you have a good-luck charm? Are you superstitious about certain things? For instance, do you always use your left hand to hit the microphone "on" button in the booth? Or do you wear a favorite suit/scarf/pair of shoes/lucky underwear for high-profile interpreting assignments? Do you always start a new page in your notebook for each interpreting assignment? What are your quirks -- call them superstition or not?

In general, our manicure is one of our main secret interpreting weapons. Feeling good about our nails, as trite as it sounds, makes us feel confident. In addition, we do have some favorite items of clothing, in particular a black power suit for Judy that she bought in Vienna, and yes, some lucky charms in the form of small stuffed animals. The newest addition is this little guy (an elk) that Judy picked up in Oslo, Norway. 

Please share your stories with us, dear fellow interpreters! Just leave a comment below. 

Free SDL Webinar on Negotiating: June 8

Image created on
Please join Judy and a few hundred colleagues (if past webinars are any indication) for a free webinar organized by our friends over at SDL. This webinar has nothing to do with their software, but rather, this is a series of webinars on  both technology and business topics with well-known speakers from around the world that SDL offers for free to all colleagues around the world.  You just have to sign up and provide your e-mail address.

Next week, on Thursday, June 8, 2017, Judy will have the pleasure of talking about an important but seldom discussed topic in our industry: negotiating. How do you do it while making everyone happy? Can you? How can you get what you want and still make the client happy, too! Log on and find out. The full title of the webinar is: How to negotiate with potential and existing clients whilst maintaining good relationships.

Once again, here's the link for you. "See" you online?

Our Favorite Travel App

A few years ago, Judy had the opportunity to attend the (short-lived) Vegas version of the legendary technology conference South by Southwest, and it was a fantastic event. One of the best presentations was by Sam Shank, who is the CEO of an app we had never heard about until that point: HotelTonight. Sam spoke about some interesting graphics elements in HotelTonight and how they came up with their simple, yet powerful logo. Sam seemed like a nice guy, and Judy immediately thought about approaching him with the question: do you have international versions of your app? If not, do you want them? We can help! Approaching him took some courage, but he was very friendly and open, and turns out they were already working with our client and friends over at Smartling (who provide the awesome technology for multilingual apps) and their team of freelance translators, so we weren't going to pursue that lead, but we decided to check out the app.  Turns out it's fantastic!

It's available for all major platforms (we use the Android version), and the design is every design geek's dream: sleek, pretty, functional. Basically, it works like this: you can book tens of thousands of hotels around the world (unsold inventory), either for the same night or up to seven nights out. We wondered who waited until the last minute to book at hotel, and turns out a lot of people do. We used it when Judy and her hubby were stuck in a very subpar hotel in South Dakota and needed to find another one ASAP: HotelTonight delivered. We used it in Athens, Greece, when the entire city was inexplicably booked out, but HotelTonight came to the rescue. When we arrived, the hotel had no record of the reservation, though, but it got resolved and we received a HotelTonight credit for our trouble. Since then, we've used HotelTonight dozens of times in a variety of countries, including Hungary, and we have been very pleased. The only downside is that you cannot select bed type -- it's automatically assigned to you, but the deals we have found (up to 60% off the hotel rack rate) are so amazing it's worth it. 

We also love the clever copywriting and hotel descriptions (which can be notoriously boring on other sites and apps). Our favorite recent score: $120 a night for the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on a trip with our dad. Our clients also love the fact that we use HotelTonight to get good deals when travel is billed to them. So there you go: that's an overview of our favorite travel app. And for the record: they are so not paying us for this post. On a final note, one of our dear colleagues is translating the app into German; we can't wait to see it.

Workshop in Los Angeles: What's a Check Interpreter?

Not *this* kind of check. We think. Receipt from Oslo.
On June 10 in Los Angeles, our friends at the Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California (AIJIC for short), are offering a workshop that sounds so intereresting that Judy booked her slot and her airfare within a few minutes of receiving the announcement. Now, we go to a lot of conferences every year and invariably learn a lot, but it's rare that a topic is so new that we've never really learned anything at all about it. Well, this is one of them. The title of the workshop is: Check Interpreter and Ethical and Practical Dilemmas, and the first half of the workshop will be presented by the great Esther Hermida, while the second half, focusing on ethics, will be led by Genevive Navar Franklin, who is a co-author of the ethics manual for California interpreters and thus a perfect person to teach this. They are both federally certified Spanish court interpreters, and the workshop is language-neutral. It's held an Embassy Suites right across the street from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and there's a free shuttle for those flying in.

Now, what's a check interpreter, really? It's usually an interpreter in judicial proceedings who gets retained by the other party to check on the interpreter who is doing the actual interpreting for either the defense or plaintiff firm, primarily in civil matters outside of court. This puts everyone in an uncomfortable position, as the interpreters most likely know each other and certainly are colleagues. When should you speak up? What are your obligations? What exactly is expected of you? Until now, the few times Judy had been retained as a check interpreter, she only made one or two corrections on the record of terms that were clearly not interpreted correctly, and her fellow interpreter agreed. Still, these situations are awkward, and it would be fantastic to have some guidelines. Hence, we are quite excited about this workshop!

The cost is $150 for non-AIJIC members and $125 for members and includes those coveted California CIMCE (continuing education credits for California interpreters). Please note that we are not the organizers of the event, but rather we are just fans! Please contact AIJIC with any questions you may have. See you in LA June 10? Don't forget sunscreen. It's always sunny in Southern California.

Watch This: 4 Essential Interpreter Skills

What does it take to be an interpreter? Well, we won't really have space to list everything here, so for the sake of brevity we'd like to point out a few key skills that, in our humble opinion, interpreters should have to be successful.

These skills go beyond the obvious language skills, memory skills, etc. We purposely picked a few things that we can easily illustrate with videos of... pofessional athletes. Yes, really!  This might sound like a stretch, but please hear us out. We oftentimes hear the -- very applicable and correct -- analogy that interpreting is similar to theater, that you have to perform whenever it's showtime, that there's no way back once you've started speaking (or acting), and that there's no safety net. So: what do interpreters have in common with a tennis player, a cross-country skier, a ski jumper, and a gymnast? Have a look.

1) Interpreters must be fast. 
Interpreters must think on their feet all the time, and they need to speak, think, and process things very fast -- much faster than non-interpreters. Sometimes we feel like we are constantly sprinting, and we are, but there's not always a clearly defined finish line. We like watching videos of all things speed-related right before big interpreting assignments to get our blood flowing, and we particularly like this compilation of best finishes by Petter Northug, one of the best cross-country skiers in the world. He's a two-time Olympic champion from Norway, and you can probably see that it gives him great pleasure to beat anyone from Sweden (big rivalry).

Ready to pick up some speed? Watch this.

2) Interpreters must be precise.
Not unlike Olympic champion gymnasts, such as Aly Raisman, interpreters must be very precise, especially in judicial settings. You need to nail every twist and turn, err, every sentence just so in order to enable communication and keep the register and tone. From the outside looking in, we've oftentimes heard that interpreting seems like magic, and while it's not, it is an art to master. When we need a little reminder of how important precision is, we remember that we have one (just one!) thing in common with American gymnast Aly Raisman: we are very precise (but we are afraid of the uneven bars).

3) Interpreters must be passionate.
We are both quite passionate tennis players (Judy is a former NCAA Division I tennis player), so to illustrate passion and dedication, we could not think of a better example that perhaps the best tennis player of all time (male or female): American Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles--the most in the open era. It's very rare for any one athlete to dominate the sport as much as Serena does. Just like Serena, interpreters must be passionate about what they do, because it requires a lot of dedication and commitment to be a truly great interpreter. Get inspired by Serena:

4) Interpreters must be fearless. 
In a way, interpreting is an act of faith because you never truly know what's coming at you next. It's like jumping off a cliff without being 100% sure that there's enough water underneath for you to dive into. Or it's like jumping off a huge ski jumping hill at a speed of up to 60 miles an hour. Yes, interpreters, on one level or another, have to be fearless (but prepared, of course). It's normal to feel some nerves before important interpreting assignments, but you have to believe that you can do it in order to start. Once you've started, there's no way back. No one knows this better than ski jumpers, such as Austrian world champion Stefan Kraft.

Basic Listserv Etiquette

Happy Friday, dear colleagues and readers! Today's quick observations revolve around mass e-mail lists, usually organized and hosted by a professional organization. These are known as listservs, and they are a very valuable tool for translators and interpreters. We are members of myriad listservs hosted by many T&I organizations, such as ATA, NAJIT, Universitas Austria, and others. We have found these listservs to be very enriching, on both a professional and personal level.

Unfortunately, throughout the years we have noticed some very disheartening trends, including rude and completely inappropiate messages, personal insults, and everything in between. Perhaps it's a reflection of our society in general that civil discourse has deterioriated, but we still believe that most of these interactions can and should be positive. That being said: we do think some of the tone used on listservs is getting worse these days, and we'd like to share some thoughts on the topic. Ready for some tough love?

  1. Your colleagues and potential clients are reading what you post and respond. Keep in mind that responses and/or posts will go out to everyone on the listserv, which can be in the thousands. This is not the place to pick fights, air dirty laundry, or have unreasonsable disagreements with anyone in particular. Take those offline or contact the person in question directly. We don't frequently respond to posts, but we read most of them, and we always take note of unreasonable and disrespectful posters and make sure to not work with them -- and many other linguists do to the same. 
  2. Know your technology. Oftentimes we see linguists post along the lines of "Please remove me from these mass e-mails, they are stupid and annoying." Such a message is not only not appropiate to send to the entire community, but it also reveals a lack of understanding about technology in general and listservs in particular. You don't want to be known as the person who struggles with basic technology. In general, listservs are opt-in only, and the user controls how they want to receive messages. An "unsubscribe" link is usually conveniently located at the bottom of messages, but you have to unsubscribe yourself. No one can do it for you.
  3. Be helpful. The idea behind listservs is, in part, to strengthen the community from within by sharing information, resources, interesting articles about our profession, and to help solve tricky terminology issues. If you can contribute, be sure to do so -- but agree to disagree. There are many ways to skin a cat or to solve translation puzzles, and it's important to respect others' solutions. We've often found that arguing over who is right makes linguists seem petty and close-minded, and remember: those reading might become clients, and petty and close-minded are not good traits. Sorry about the tough love here, but we've literally seen (and read) it all, including colleagues being banned from listservs by the moderators (yes, really) for bad behavior. This is undoubtedly bad for your reputation and for your business.
  4. Think before you post. Translators spend a lot of time by themselves, so sometimes the almost-human interaction that listservs provide can be a very welcome distraction. That being said, think before you fire off a response in anger. You will never be able to take it back, and do you want, say, 3,000 of your colleagues reading something you wrote while angry? Don't do it. If you wouldn't say it to anyone's face, there's no reason to type it. The same rules of basic human decency still apply online, and you can't hide behind an anonymous e-mail address --although incredibly, some do.
  5. You don't have to read everything. Some of the complaints that are frequently aired is that "I don't find this interesting." Well, that's reality: you won't find everything that's posted interesting, but someone will. It's not about the individual, but about the community, and if you don't find the subject line interesting, don't read it. Our tip: switch your message delivery options to "daily digest" instead of getting each individual message or set up an e-mail rule on your Outlook (or whichever program you use) to send all listserv messages into a special folder so they bypass your inbox and you can read them at your leisure.
So that's it; a short summary of some things we think we can all do to make listservs even more enjoable for all. We'd love to hear your comments. 
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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