"Don't Mince Words"
Translation and Interpretation graduates know their profession means telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- or at least giving a specific accounting of what's being said by those they are being charged to explicitly follow
By Lee Rasizer, CCA Public Relations Coordinator
Having a firm grasp on more than one language may allow you to see exotic locales or communicate with others around the globe. An education that can aid in getting certified as a translator and interpreter potentially opens up a whole new world, one that remains foreign to most individuals.
Christine Shwe War learned that lesson first hand.
A 2010 graduate of CCA’s Translation and Interpretation program, the native of Burma (Myanmar) was reared in a household in a country squeezed between India, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.
Still, it wasn’t until she decided to scale down her full-time job as an engineering technician in the oil and gas industry here in the United States to become a part-time translator/interpreter that she was able to witness first-hand things she never thought were possible.
“It’s been very interesting,” Shwe War said of her post-CCA journey. “I’ve had opportunities to explore places and things that not everyone gets exposed to, like the judge’s chamber – not everyone can go there. Intensive care. Jail. Prison. So I’ve been going to a lot of interesting places that I’ve never been before. It’s one of the privileges that interpreters have.”
She has to be sure that she keeps up with immunizations to remain healthy. She has prosecutors or defense attorneys that accompany her to lockup. But the thrill equals the precautions, and it’s served to increase her own involvement in her own Burmese community while cutting down her hours sitting behind a desk, one of her early goals.
It’s now a rarity if she doesn’t have some outlying professional association with the Denver-area Burmese population through her various interpreting jobs, which also include parent-teacher conferences, human services work, and consultations from around the country.
“I’m still excited to go places and find out more,” she added. “I’m still learning and taking one bite at a time.”
Two other CCA graduates of the Translation and Interpretation program were quickly hired at University of Colorado Hospital to parse through English and Spanish languages in large part because they had those academic qualifications on their resumes. And while their jobs take them to different corners of the medical world, Susana Arjona and Cynthia Anderson find themselves sometimes called into some dark places where it’s their job is to remain even-keeled among chaos.
“It happens all the time,” Anderson said. “Patients get rushed to the emergency room and don’t have anybody with them and need somebody, so we just get them medical attention and we help them communicate what’s going on. We see everything from patients being diagnosed with cancer and you have to to be sensitive but also be able to tell them exactly what’s going on; issues that are up for surgery; signing the consent; and interpreting for the health professionals who are making sure patients are aware of the risks they’re going through.
“It’s all the time, non-stop, that we see that,” she added. “It’s really interesting and you learn so much. I go from an OB clinic where you learn all about that, to an eye clinic or radiation, so it’s a constant learning experience.”
No pressure, but at a hospital the difference between life and death, recovery or misery, could come down to a misunderstanding in translation. A fully serious demeanor meshed with experience combats the extra adrenaline.
“There have been a few hairy moments,” Arjona admitted. “Someone attempted suicide in the emergency room. He must have been 20 or 22 and he came in with his mother and the anger, emotion and pain, that was very hard to look at from a distance and be a professional there. The mother was angry, the son was depressed, and it’s very hard to not step in and say, ‘Listen, don’t be angry at him – not now – he’s bleeding. Let him alone and maybe let your anger go later.’ It can be very hard to just interpret and not step in.”
At the same time, that’s part of the ethical considerations that are taught in Community College of Aurora’s Translation and Interpretation program. And, frequently, there are few grey areas, whatever mode of interpretation is being employed. Simultaneous interpretation is done while a person is speaking and the interpreter talks at the same time. Consecutive pauses to wait for the person that is being translated to stop conversing before jumping in. Sight translation is oral translation of written text.
Practical exercises in all those various forms are done at CCA and meshed with lessons about the evolution of modern translation; why summary interpretation is no longer used in courts; full-disclosure laws; and the differences between interpreting settings, which also could include conferences or escorting foreign visitors.
“I love it,” said Anderson, who augments her hospital job with some work in local schools. “I have a passion for it and, every time I can, I just use this ability to help others.”
The program takes root
The Translation and Interpretation program at CCA has been in place since Fall 2009 and filled a vacuum in the marketplace since a similar, full-fledged certificate program still fails to exist within the rest of the community college and university systems in the state.
The process at the college started from scratch, initially with the hiring of Yuliya Fedasenka-Cloud, a Belarusian with background in translation that included a Master’s degree and interpreting experience in her home country at the Minsk Prosecutor’s Office and the Academy of Sciences.
She immediately tried to put her stamp on the CCA curriculum, borrowing, in part from overseas models in concert with Ana-Martin Mejia, coordinator of the college’s World Languages program.
“When I moved to the U.S., a lot of the things in the European countries that are considered standard practice for interpreters had not yet been achieved in the U.S.,” Fedasenka-Cloud explained. “Interpreting is not as well-known as a profession and there’s a lack of trained professionals in the field. And as we hear now from the news, Great Britain is struggling now because of that. Courts face a struggle with languages other than Spanish because of that lack of trained interpreters that are easily available.
“In American hospitals and many facets of life in our society, which seems to go unnoticed, a lot of times there’s a lot of problems because relatives, friends or neighbors have been used as interpreters when they shouldn’t be.”
The overriding goal was to make the CCA curriculum diverse in terms of languages offered to reflect the nature of the Aurora-area population. In order to do that, a plan was hatched to use subcontractors that would help provide language-specific feedback for students doing their assignments. Fedasenka-Cloud uses her own connections, LinkedIn and interpreter networks to track down American Translators Association-certified individuals to assist in that process.
“The program seems to be growing as word of mouth spreads more,” she said.
There already had been a move at CCA toward fast-track programs that got learners back into the workforce quickly. So, the initial focus was developing classes and intense recruitment of students.
Four basic classes were initially adapted, having to do with basic concepts, the business of translation and interpretation, consecutive interpretation, and simultaneous interpretation. The model has been since tweaked, with courses in ethics and sight translation added.
The core student signing up for the program fall mainly into two groups: those that merely spoke two languages; others that interpreted or translated but lacked formal training.
“Everyone who knows two languages cannot be a professional interpreter,” explained Shwe War, the Burmese interpreter who works in numerous settings around the Denver area. “They need to learn the code of ethics. In a medical setting, family members are not allowed to interpret because there may be a bias or could be an omission or addition, so they don’t in a professional setting allow family and friends to interpret for the patient -- same in the courts.
“The court interpreter has to be certified, qualified and if you know the offender or victim personally, you can’t interpret. You have to withdraw.”
Early results regarding CCA’s impact on its graduates in the program have been promising. A 2011 study by the college’s Office of Institutional Research showed that an “above average” rate of employment had greeted graduates within one year of completing the program, which encompasses two semesters and 16 credits.
Eighty-eight percent of respondents obtained jobs based on those figures compared to 72 percent amongst overall Career and Technical Education (CTE) students at the college. The 2012 study is now in the works, with Translation and Interpretation now working from record enrollments.
Fedasenka-Cloud has her own anecdotal evidence of the program’s impact – her graduates. A blind Somali student she’s taught landed a job. Other graduates she’s contacted are employed in the courts, medicine, schools and other locales.
“It’s a much better oiled machine at this point,” Fedasenka-Cloud maintained. “Now the curriculum has been established. The materials have been established and I have a greater ability to predict what the students are going to need and that falls into usually a couple options that I already have predefined in my magic packet.”
Like many amateurs who are bilingual, Shwe War would provide help to friends and relatives as they tried to navigate American life, in their case while speaking and writing only Burmese.
But shortly after making the decision to add translation and interpretation to her professional life in 2010, she attended all the conferences and trainings she could to increase her proficiency and knowledge.
One of the things she took away, however, was that Burmese was considered an “exotic” language and had no accompanying certifications. CCA’s program helped provide that extra piece of education that made her marketable and allowed her to provide credentials that still get her hired, she said.
Shwe War now belongs to numerous professional associations, including the American Translators Association and Colorado Association of Professional Interpreters. She’s also registered by the state’s Judicial Service as a legal interpreter and, because of the dearth of Burmese translators, actually turns down some assignments due to her 20-hour per week outlay of time for that pursuit.
“We’ve been working very hard to keep this program open to all languages to fulfill that need for languages other than Spanish, because where we definitely lack in trainings is training for languages other than Spanish and we’ve been able to provide a lot of training and feedback to interpreters in other languages,” Fedesenka-Cloud said. “It’s probably easier for those graduates to find jobs because it’s a different equation as far as supply and demand for languages other than Spanish compared to just Spanish.”
Even so, Arjona and Anderson are living proof that Spanish translation doesn’t have to be a dead-end road.
Anderson was born in Honduras and once informally translated for American members of the Peace Corps as a youth. But after moving to the U.S. and raising a family, she sought to interpret as a means to make an income. She’s adamant that CCA’s training helped her find her hospital job and other side jobs interpreting because she gained professional training.
Arjona was born in Spain, then spent formative years in Ireland. She still translates books for a publisher overseas but after coming to CCA, she got two jobs without “even looking.”
“Especially in the hospital, they’re not hiring people that don’t have some sort of qualification. I certainly wouldn’t be working here if I hadn’t earned that certificate,” Anderson said.
Among the languages that have been offered to students at CCA the last four years have been Korean, Japanese, Amharic, Somali, Russian, Romanian, German, and, of course, Burmese.
A professor from an out-of-state college checked Shwe War’s work and provided feedback during her time at CCA, an experience she said gave her “confidence.”
“We had a lot of practice in the classroom,” she recalled. “The teacher really pushed us and we felt really confident after that.”
Many students in the program are given the suggestion to take courses on medical and law terminology or paralegal and criminal justice classes to expand the knowledge base in concert with the translation and interpretation curriculum. One such student now works in the courts in Denver, Fedesenka-Cloud said.
Shwe War knows that drill, and her assortment of assignments, combined with her part-time schedule, keeps the translation and interpretation jobs fresh.
“I like seeing new things and it is interesting,” she said. “It’s why I keep taking those assignments.”
CUTLINES (From top): Christine Shwe War boosted her professional credentials when she earned a CCA certificate. She poses in front of the Aurora Municipal Court Building following a hearing in mid-March 2013. Susana Arjona and Cynthia Anderson love the variety of medical scenarios in which they find themselves on a daily basis at University of Colorado Hospital. Both received certificates at CCA, as well.