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Not Lost in Translation
June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles
  • Thursday, November 16, 2006
  • By Stephen Ornes
  • Originally posted on Technology Review

As computer programmers develop new techniques for translating texts between languages with different alphabets, they are increasingly turning to a science that seems to have little in common with the conventions of grammar: statistics.

Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released the results of its yearly evaluation of computer algorithms that translate Arabic and Mandarin Chinese texts into English. Topping the charts was Google, whose translations in both languages received higher marks than 39 other entries. A machine-calculated metric called BLEU (BiLingual Evaluation Understudy) used scores from professional human translators to assign a single, final score between zero and one. The higher the score, the more the machine translation approximated a human effort.

“If you get a good score, you’re doing well,” says Peter Norvig, Google’s head of research. “If you get a bad score, then either you did poorly or you did something so novel that the translator didn’t see it.”

The Google team, led by Franz Och, designed an algorithm that first isolates short sequences of words in the text to be translated and then searches current translations to see how those word sequences have been translated before. The program looks for the most likely correct interpretation, regardless of syntax.

“We look for matches between texts and find several different translations,” Norvig says. “You take all these possibilities and ask, What is the most probable in terms of what’s been done in the past?”

By comparing the same document (a newspaper article, for example) in two languages, the software builds an active memory that correlates words and phrases. Google’s statistical approach, Norvig says, reflects an organic approach to language learning. Rather than checking every translated word against the rules and exceptions of the English language, the program begins with a blank slate and accumulates a more accurate view of the language as a whole. It “learns” the language as the language is used, not as the language is prescribed. (Google’s program is still in development, but other publicly available webpage translators use a similar method.)

“This is a more natural way to approach language,” Norvig says. “We’re not saying we don’t like rules, or there’s something wrong with them, but right now we don’t have the right data … We’re getting most of the benefit of having grammatical rules without actually formally naming them.”

Lost in translation
June 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles

Stewart Lee
Originally from The Guardian, Tuesday 23 May 2006

In 1873, the British scholar and traveller Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain visited Japan. He recorded his views of the nation’s music in his subsequent book, Japanese Things: Being Notes On Various Subjects Connected With Japan. “Music,” he wrote, “if that beautiful word must be allowed to fall so low as to denote the strummings and squealings of Orientals, is supposed to have existed in Japan since mythological times … but (its) effect is not to soothe, but to exasperate beyond all endurance the European breast.”

Today this view seems shameful; we can see that it was not, as Chamberlain assumed, that Japan had no musical ability, but that it had no musical tradition that a Victorian professor could recognise. The Japanese musical vocabulary was simply utterly alien to him.

Similarly, a commonly held contemporary British view is that the Germans have no sense of humour. But can this be possible? Can there genuinely be a nation incapable of laughter, or is it just that the German language of laughter differs so greatly from our own, that it appears non-existent?

Our attitude to the Germans and their supposed lack of a sense of humour is best understood through the example of the joke known to comedy professionals such as myself as The German Child. It goes like this. An English couple have a child. After the birth, medical tests reveal that the child is normal, apart from the fact that it is German. This, however, should not be a problem. There is nothing to worry about. As the child grows older, it dresses in lederhosen and has a pudding bowl haircut, but all its basic functions develop normally. It can walk, eat, sleep, read and so on, but for some reason the German child never speaks. The concerned parents take it to the doctor, who reassures them that as the German child is perfectly developed in all other areas, there is nothing to worry about and that he is sure the speech faculty will eventually blossom. Years pass. The German child enters its teens, and still it is not speaking, though in all other respects it is fully functional. The German child’s mother is especially distressed by this, but attempts to conceal her sadness. One day she makes the German child, who is now 17 years old and still silent, a bowl of tomato soup, and takes it through to him in the parlour where he is listening to a wind-up gramophone record player. Soon, the German child appears in the kitchen and suddenly declares, “Mother. This soup is a little tepid.” The German child’s mother is astonished. “All these years,” she exclaims, “we assumed you could not speak. And yet all along it appears you could. Why? Why did you never say anything before?” “Because, mother,” answers the German child, “up until now, everything has been satisfactory.”

The implication of this fabulous joke is that the Germans are ruthlessly rational, and this assumption leaves us little room to imagine them finding time to be playful. But be assured, the German sense of humour not only exists, it actually flourishes, albeit in a form we are ill-equipped to recognise.

In December 2004 I accompanied Richard Thomas, the composer of the popular stage hit Jerry Springer The Opera, to Hanover, where he had gained a commission to develop an opera about a night in a British stand-up comedy club. We wrote the words in English and Richard then collaborated on a translation with a talented German comedy writer called Hermann Bräuer. There were two initial problems with this comedically, one cultural and one linguistic. First, the idea of stand-up is somewhat alien to the Germans. They have a cabaret tradition of sophisticated satire, cross-dressing and mildly amusing songs, and there are also recognisable mainstream, low-brow comedy tropes in the form of vulgar popular entertainers. But the idea of the conversational, casual, middle-ground of English speaking stand-up comedy is unknown to the Germans. Indeed, initial attempts by the Hannover Schauspielhaus set designers to render a typical British comedy club floundered as they attempted to formalise the idea of a stand-up venue, and it was a struggle to explain that we needed to reduce the room to a bare black box rather than attempt to give it a cabaret stage vibe.

Second, this instinct to formalise a genre of comedy we accept as inherently informal is not indivisible from the limitations the German language imposes on conventional British comedy structures. The flexibility of the English language allows us to imagine that we are an inherently witty nation, when in fact we just have a vocabulary and a grammar that allow for endlessly amusing confusions of meanings.

At a rough estimate, half of what we find amusing involves using little linguistic tricks to conceal the subject of our sentences until the last possible moment, so that it appears we are talking about something else. For example, it is possible to imagine any number of British stand-ups concluding a bit with something structurally similar to the following, “I was sitting there, minding my own business, naked, smeared with salad dressing and lowing like an ox … and then I got off the bus.” We laugh, hopefully, because the behaviour described would be inappropriate on a bus, but we had assumed it was taking place either in private or perhaps at some kind of sex club, because the word “bus” was withheld from us. Other suitable punchlines for this set-up would be, “And that was just the teachers”, “I was 28-years-old” and “That’s the last time I attempt to find work as a research chemist in Paraguay.”

There is even a technical term used by those who direct comedy on camera to describe this one-size-fits-all mechanism. Eddie Large is gasping for air as a hot dog falls into the end of his snorkel. The shot widens to reveal Sid Little, whose sausages are flying into the air out of his hot-dog buns because he is using too much ketchup. Pull back and reveal. But German will not always allow you to shunt the key word to the end of the sentence to achieve this failsafe laugh. After spending weeks struggling with the rigours of the German language’s far less flexible sentence structures to achieve the endless succession of “pull back and reveals” that constitute much English language humour, the idea of our comedic superiority soon begins to fade. It is a mansion built on sand.

The German phenomenon of compound words also serves to confound the English sense of humour. In English there are many words that have double or even triple meanings, and whole sitcom plot structures have been built on the confusion that arises from deploying these words at choice moments. Once again, German denies us this easy option. There is less room for doubt in German because of the language’s infinitely extendable compound words. In English we surround a noun with adjectives to try to clarify it. In German, they merely bolt more words on to an existing word. Thus a federal constitutional court, which in English exists as three weak fragments, becomes Bundesverfassungsgericht, a vast impregnable structure that is difficult to penetrate linguistically, like that Nazi castle in Where Eagles Dare. The German language provides fully functional clarity. English humour thrives on confusion.

Third, for the smutty British comic writers, it seemed difficult to find a middle-ground between scientifically precise language describing sexual and bodily functions, and outright obscenity. There seemed to be no nuanced, nudge-nudge no-man’s land, where English comic sensibilities and German logic could meet on Christmas Day and kick around a few dirty jokes in a cheeky, Carry On-style way. A German theatre director explained that this was because the Germans did not find the human body smutty or funny, due to all attending mixed saunas from an early age.

Later on in my stay I found myself explaining to the dramaturg of Hannover Schauspielhaus why English was a great language for comedy, with its possibility for confusion of meaning and the flexibility of its sentences. “There is no need for you to be so proud of yourself,” she explained in precise and accurate English, “it is not as if you personally invented the English language. You merely inherited it by the geographical accident of your birth.” I laughed, and everything finally fell into place.

The geographical accident of Germany has denied Germans the fun we have with language, and it seemed to me that their sense of humour was built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context. I looked back over the time I had spent in Hannover and suddenly found situations that had seemed inexplicable, even offensive at the time, hilarious in retrospect. On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. “You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,” one of them said. “That is because you bombed them all.” At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor. Since watching jokes I co-wrote for our German production withering in the translation process, all their contrived weaknesses exposed, I have stopped writing jokes as such, and feel I am a better stand-up because of it. I try now to write about ideas, that would be funny in any language, and don’t rely on pull- back and reveals and confusion of meaning. Germany kicked away my comedy crutches and taught me to walk unaided. I am hugely grateful to the Germans. Since you asked, the stand-up opera went OK, and sooner or later we’ll stage it in Britain, in English, where it will make a lot more sense. To paraphrase Simon Munnery, a British comedian so rigorous in his intellect he is almost German, there is much we can learn from watching the Germans. Not as much, however, as they can learn from watching us.

Are you kidding?
Some Germans tell us their jokes …

Andrea Foss, 46, Schleswig Holstein

“What is romantic?” “I don’t know.” “When a man strokes a woman tenderly with a feather.”

“What is perverse?” “I don’t know.” “When the chicken is still attached.”

Tabea Rudolph, 26, Stuttgart

There are problems in the woods. The animals of the forest are always drunk, so the fox decides to ban alcohol. The following day, the fox spies a rabbit hanging out of a tree, clearly wasted. The fox ticks him off, and carries on his way. But the next day he sees the rabbit drunk again, and gives him a final warning. The next day, the fox does his rounds and there’s no sign of the rabbit, but he notices a straw sticking out of a stream. Wondering what it is, the fox scoops it out, only to find a very drunk rabbit on the other end of it. “How many times do I have to tell you that animals of the forest aren’t allowed alcohol?” says the Fox. “We fishes don’t give a toss what the animals of the forest aren’t allowed to do,” says the rabbit

Gerhard Bischof, Bad Toelz, 57

A man jumps out of a plane for the first time. At 3,000m he tries to undo his parachute, but the cord fails. At 2,000m he tries to open the emergency chute but that doesn’t work either. At 1,000m he bumps into a man wearing blue overalls, carrying a spanner. “Can you repair parachutes?” asks the first man. “‘Fraid not,” says the other. “I only do boilers.”

Wolfgang Voges, 56, from lower Saxon

Three priests hold a meeting to discuss where life begins. The evangelical priest says, “No question about it, life begins when the child is born.” “No, no,” says the Catholic priest, “it all starts when the sperm meets the egg.” “You’re both wrong,” says the Rabbi. “Life begins when the children have left home and the dog is dead.”

Japanese subtitle service offered for Korean movies
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Seoul City has started showing Korean movies with foreign language subtitles, including Japanese for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

In cooperation with CGV Theater, one of the country’s largest cinema chains, the city has offered the foreign language service at five theaters since 2009.

This month the Japanese language subtitle service began first at a CGV branch in Myeong-dong, a popular shopping district in downtown Seoul, especially among Japanese travelers.

The first movie to be screened with Japanese subtitles is “Mama,” a drama about mothers and their children, the city said.

Last year, the city showed 19 Korean movies subtitled in English, attracting 35,000 foreign residents and travelers.

Following the Japanese subtitle service this year, the city plans to offer Chinese subtitles soon for the growing number of Chinese residents and travelers, officials said.

For more information, call CGV Theater at 1544-1122 or 120 Dasan Call Center, a city-run telephone counseling center.

By Lee Ji-yoon (

Forgotten community needs Bible translations in Europe
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Europe (MNN) ― When you hear “unreached people groups,” you probably think of tribes in Africa and Asia, or of small communities of rural people. But seldom might Europe cross your mind.

It’s easy to think that in Europe, anyone who can afford a Bible can access one in their own language. But there are dozens of languages used by one marginalized community that have no Bible translation.

The Deaf population in Europe consists of roughly 900,000 people, according to a 2010 report. Across the continent there are about 70 different Sign Languages used. Many are still without the Gospel message.

Bible translation projects are underway in over 20 Sign Languages in Europe through various agencies, but many others have yet to access the Word.

“Being blind separates you from things, but being Deaf separates you from people,” Bruce Smith, president/CEO at Wycliffe Associates told Christian Telegraph last year. “We want to make sure that being Deaf doesn’t separate you from God.”

In an effort to reach this unreached community, Wycliffe Bible Translators is embarking on a survey regarding the European Deaf community. Currently, Wycliffe needs more language surveyors for work in this area, especially those who can specialize in the survey of Sign Languages.

Pray that these surveyors would become available. Pray also that as the survey data comes in, it will be useful in directing Wycliffe on how best to reach this neglected community with the message of Christ.

Wycliffe has Bible translation projects in progress for Deaf communities across the globe. Watch a short video about this work here.

Emerging Markets and the Economics of Internationalization
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Uncategorized
Author: Spencer Thomas
Published: June 22, 2011 at 5:22 am
Internationalization, abbreviated as i18n (for the 18 letters between “I” and “n”), is the means of adapting computer software for different locales.Often, requirements for entering new markets include localization, a process that compensates for regional differences in a product, and translation. Companies at times overlook internationalization, which best prepares a product for localization by flagging potential locale issues. These are all major considerations a business needs to consider when looking to expand to a global market.
As the world economy becomes more global, it is important for business to understand how to stay on top. Companies are always looking for ways to stay competitive in an environment that isn’t always fair and has recently become open to countries like China, India and Brazil.

Projections show that the US GDP (currently the highest GDP in the world) will fall to third by the year 2050 behind emerging powerhouses China and India (the US is projected to fall behind China in terms of GDP as early as 2018). Brazil is projected as a distant 4th, but coming on strong. Granted the numbers are projecting 40 years out, and such things are volatile, but the idea remains in principle.

According to a presentation in March by Nitish Singh, Assistant Professor of International Business at Saint Louis University, China and India are producing 500,000 scientists and engineers per year. Obviously, this gives greater opportunity for domestic companies to outsource their software development projects, but it also means that there is an educated market emerging for domestic companies to sell to.

Domestic markets are no longer en vogue for American companies, they need to think global. On the other side of the coin, with growing international companies also comes higher value for international currency and subsequent lower value for domestic currency.

In much the same way, but to a lesser extent, that US consumers will buy stuff in Mexico due to the favorable exchange rate, buyers in China and India will be more inclined to buy American products due the depreciated exchange rate of the dollar. You could call it the light at the end of the tunnel in what has been a tough domestic economy in recent years. For a more in depth look at how international markets are emerging, read Philip Guarino’s article on Elementi Consulting’s site.

Read more:
World Tourism Organization supports Global Leaders for Tourism Campaign
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Jun 22, 2011

UNWTO Member States attending the 90th session of the UNWTO Executive Council have expressed their support for UNWTO’s activities aimed at positing tourism higher in the global political and economic agenda (June 19-21, Mombasa, Kenya).

Chaired by the Minister of Tourism of Italy, Michela Brambilla, the 31 council members, representing UNWTO’s full membership worldwide, welcomed the “Global Leaders for Tourism Campaign” which, together with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), is promoting the socio-economic importance of tourism to heads of states and governments around the world.

Against this background, Ms. Brambilla stressed her support for “UNWTO’s efforts to improve tourism communications to the wider public” and underscored “mainstreaming tourism through awareness raising” as an “ongoing challenge.”


In his report to the Executive Council, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai confirmed that while recovery in international tourism is underway, significant challenges remain. “Vigilance is still a must in the face of persisting uncertainties, such as high unemployment and increased public austerity. Today we must add the implications of the political shifts in the Middle East and North Africa and the tragic events in Japan and their impact on tourism,” he said.

UNWTO expects international arrivals to grow by 4% in 2011, slightly above the long-term average. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa, which is temporarily affecting travel flows, as well as the events in Japan, are not expected to significantly affect the global forecast.


The Council furthermore welcomed the UNWTO study “Tourism Towards 2030,” which will provide forecasts for international tourism up to 2030, updating the existing long-term study, “Tourism Vision 2020.” The main findings will be presented at the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly (October 8-14, Gyeongju, South Korea), and will constitute the main theme for the general debate at the assembly.

The UNWTO Executive Council also endorsed the progress of the “UNWTO Working Group on the Protection of Tourists/Consumers,” which is focusing on the harmonization of issues directly linked with the rights and obligations of tourists and stakeholders.

Standards Issued for Healthcare Interpreter Services
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: February 19, 2011

All U.S. healthcare organizations must be able to talk with patients about their care in a language they can understand, according to new Joint Commission standards.

That involves hiring interpreters, ensuring proper training, identifying patient communication needs, and keeping a written policy that emphasizes respect of cultural values, according to a white paper written by the Commission “in conjunction with Language Line Services” — a telephone-based interpretation service.

The white paper notes that the company’s “customer regulatory readiness program” — “much of which is free” — includes consultation, support, and instructional materials.

The standards are being implemented in a one-year pilot phase, according to the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that surveys and accredits hospitals.

More patients with limited English proficiency are seeking treatment at U.S. healthcare institutions, and these facilities have tried to accommodate them by adding bilingual staff, hiring interpreters, and using telephone and video conferencing interpretation services, according to the white paper.

Yet they haven’t been able to keep pace with the “growing needs of an increasingly diverse patient community” — nearly 3,000 unexpected deaths, catastrophic injuries, and other sentinel events have been tied to communication breakdowns, the report said.

In addition, patients with limited English proficiency “suffer a greater percentage of adverse events as a result of such language breakdowns,” the report noted.

This happens because hospitals typically rely on patients’ family members and untrained bilingual staff for translation, the agency says.

So the Joint Commission created a set of standards for ensuring that all patients can receive appropriate information about their care, which calls for healthcare organizations to:

  • Define and confirm staff interpreters’ qualifications
  • Document interpreters’ proficiency and training
  • Identify each patient’s communication needs
  • Keep a written policy on patients’ rights that includes being respectful of cultural and personal values

The white paper offers tips for ensuring compliance with the new Joint Commission standards:

  • Implement a language plan that establishes access at every patient point of contact
  • Implement ongoing training and education for interpreters
  • Update existing protocols to incorporate the language standards

The Joint Commission says it will conduct unscheduled accreditation surveys every three years to monitor compliance with the standards.

Hospitals that come up short risk jeopardizing the accreditation process, incurring unexpected costs, and taxing limited resources, the report said.

It noted that the greatest consequence of failing to enforce the standards is the “potential delivery of substandard care that could lead to irreversible harm caused solely by the inability to communicate.”

Primary source: Joint Commission
Source reference:
Arocha O, Moore DY “The new Joint Commission standards for patient-centered communication” Joint Commission 2011.
Matter of interpretation
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News
Danbury court interpreters face daily challenges
Libor Jany, Staff Writer
Updated 11:47 p.m., Thursday, May 26, 2011

DANBURY — The other day in court, John Lombardi sat at his desk at the foot of the judge’s bench, listening intently as the prosecutor ticked off the names of those on the day’s docket.

Whenever the prosecutor called the name of a non-English speaking defendant, Lombardi strode over to the defense table.

For the rest of the hearing, the former high school Spanish teacher hovered next to a defendant, translating legal abstractions in Spanish, his voice mingling with those of the judge and prosecutor, as he delivered a running play-by-play of what was being said.

Lombardi is one of only three full-time interpreters — two Spanish and one Portuguese — and one part-time Spanish interpreter for the Danbury Judicial District.

“We are involved in interpreting from the very first moment the judge introduces the defendant all the way up to the sentencing. They tend to forget we’re there,” Lombardi said. “(Our role) is to place the non-English speaker in the same position as the English-speaking person in judicial proceedings.

“We try to maintain the register of the speaker at all times,” he said.

Many in the state’s legal community say court interpreters play an integral, if unheralded, role in the judicial process.

Their workloads have grown in the past decade with the influx of more languages and dialects, even as their ranks dwindled, further straining Connecticut’s overextended court system.

“We are here to simply help both the court system and the people who can’t speak English well enough to fend for themselves,” said Jose Werneck, the court’s only Portuguese interpreter, who was a lawyer in his native Brazil.

Legal experts say that the recent growth in the state’s immigrant population will likely provide fresh challenges in ensuring due process for non-native speakers, which case law says is protected by the Fourth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, the Danbury Judicial District handled 4,515 requests for interpreters — up from 4,262 the previous year — according to a National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators report.

Ninety-seven percent of the requests were for Spanish or Portuguese interpreters, the report said.

Nationally, there was a 13.8 percent increase last year in interpreting events in 94 federal courts.

“I believe nationally there will be an increase in interpretive services (because) immigration is really a lot of times driven by the economic situations in other countries,” said Sabine Michael, a director for NAJIT, who is based in Arizona.

“We are a country of immigrants. There is always going to (be a need for interpreters),” she said.

The demographic shift is reflected in the courts, legal experts say, where more than 60 languages are spoken.

Michael said she would like to see courts do away with the practice of using only one interpreter during long drawn-out trials — often necessitated by staffing shortages — because it can lead to interpretation errors that could alter the complexion of the trial.

“A big factor in interpreting is fatigue,” Michael said. “Anything that takes longer than 45 minutes, ideally should be done in a team.

Interpreters don’t summarize.

“We interpret everything verbatim,” she said. “All that takes an enormous toll on the interpreters.”

Mistakes can arise, though in Danbury, court officials say there has not been a case in recent years that was overturned because of an interpreter’s error.

Most experts agree that navigating the subtleties of regional dialects can be baffling for even the most qualified interpreters.

“Arabic, as with Spanish, has many different dialects, colloquial variances,” said Milena Savova, academic director of the New York University‘s translating and interpreting program. “You need to have interpreters that are fluent in the area’s dialects. Because you can’t have an interpreter from Morocco and a defendant from Egypt. They will not understand each other.

“You may encounter a defendant or a witness who may speak in a dialect or may use a slang word that you are not familiar with … you must know how to deal,” Savova said. “You cannot think in the terms of `probably,’ because (the defendant’s) life, whether this person goes to jail or not, may depend on this sentence, on this very word.”

Programs similar to the one at NYU have sprouted in the past few years, giving potential interpreters a clear path to earning credentials.

“Depending on the level of the court system, there are different levels of certification,” Savova said. “Interpreters need to be well-trained (and) highly skilled in order to be able to faithfully translate this very complicated and nuanced matter.”

Furthermore, Savova said, interpreters “must be familiar with ethics, with court procedures (and) with the whole legal process.”

“I think there’s a high demand because court interpreting is not only (involved in criminal cases). It can be personal injury, it can be malpractice, it can be a housing dispute,” she said. “Every time there is a legal proceeding where somebody doesn’t speak English.”

Connecticut, as a member of the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, offers certification exams in Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and Russian, and tests interpreters in their ability to interpret both simultaneously and consecutively, and to translate on sight.

Certified federal interpreters make $376 a day, while those who lack certification are paid $181 a day, according to the NAJIT website.

Contract interpreters are paid $15.93 an hour, while those appointed by the court earn around $50,000 a year, said Alejandra Donath, court planner for Connecticut Interpreter and Translator Services.

In Danbury, as at other courthouses around the state with only a handful of full-time interpreters, the judicial branch relies on a legion of freelance interpreters to fill the gaps in service.

Forced to drive to distant courts throughout the day, freelance interpreters often walk into the courtroom with only peripheral knowledge of the case to which they have been assigned.

Their compensation is dwarfed by that of contract interpreters in states like Michigan, where they make $150 an hour, or those in Nevada who earn $120 an hour. Furthermore, they can often lack the requisite training and temperament.

Rosemarie Chapdelaine, an attorney in the public defender’s office in Danbury, recalled the case of a female defendant who would clam up during trial because she was intimidated by the carousel of contract interpreters.

“They were louder in their tone, they were faster in the way they spoke and my client was afraid of them. She would shut down,” Chapdelaine said. “So I think sometimes personalities can impact (the interpretation). I think sometimes you either want a completely neutral personality or you want a friendly personality. But you don’t want a really strong personality, because if it comes through, it can actually make some individuals nervous.”

Attrition has been a problem for years, Donath said, as experienced interpreters go to the private sector and health care industry, where better-paying jobs are available.

“We’re always looking. We’re always in need of interpreters,” Donath said. This year, they have identified the need for Portuguese interpreters.

Interpreter and Translator Services has stepped up its efforts to recruit certified interpreters (Haitian Creole, Albanian, Portuguese, Polish, Vietnamese and Spanish interpreters are needed), often through embassies and state and national interpreter associations.

The judicial branch spent $2.6 million on interpreters statewide in fiscal year 2006 and will spend $3.9 million in 2011, according to estimates released by the External Affairs Division, even as, officials say, the total number of interpreters — part-time and full-time — is expected to continue to decline, from 76 in 2006 to 58 in 2011.

While they often become intimately familiar with the cases they work, Michael said, interpreters are not allowed to dispense legal advice.

Not that that stops some defendants from confiding in the interpreter, whom they see as an ally in the courtroom, said Javier Lillo, another Spanish interpreter and eight-year veteran of the court in Danbury.

“It’s very difficult for us to ignore what they’re telling us,” he said. “The human tendency is to harbor them, guide them through the judicial system.”

“Trials are the most challenging thing an interpreter has to face (due) to the nature of having to interpret complicated legal terms, but sometimes (also) because it’s very emotional,” Lillo said. “We’re human beings, of course, so (we) can’t (always) put aside our feelings.”

Best Careers 2011: Interpreter/Translator
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News

As one of the 50 Best Careers of 2011, this should have strong growth over the next decade

By Alexis Grant

Posted: December 6, 2010

The rundown:

Pharmaceutical inserts, instruction manuals, and textbooks—these are just a few of the documents that translators rework in English or other languages. At courthouses around the country and conferences throughout the world, interpreters help people of different tongues communicate. While both interpreters and translators convert one language into another, interpreters work with the spoken word, and translators the written word. But choosing this occupation means learning more than a foreign language; you also must thoroughly understand the subject you’re communicating about. You’ll relay not only words, but complicated concepts and ideas, as well as the cultural subtleties that accompany them.

Click here to find out more!

Interpreters and translators specialize in a variety of fields, including medical, judiciary, literary, or sign-language. About a quarter are self-employed, and many translators work from home.

[See a list of The 50 Best Careers of 2011.]

The outlook:

Excellent, although prospects vary by language and topical specialty. Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to increase 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Labor Department. Demand is driven by an increasingly global economy, as well as an increasingly large population of non-English speakers in the United States.

Interpreters and translators held more than 50,900 jobs in 2008—although the actual number is likely much higher because many people in this field work sporadically. Urban areas, especially Washington, D.C., New York, and cities in California, provide the most employment possibilities, especially for interpreters. Interpreters and translators of Spanish should have solid opportunities because of expected increases in the Hispanic population in the United States, and demand is also expected to be strong for interpreters and translators specializing in healthcare and law. Interpreters for the deaf should continue to have favorable employment prospects because of low supply, while conference interpreters and literary translators can expect competition because of the small number of jobs in these specialties.

Other languages in demand include Asian languages—Chinese, Korean, and Japanese—as well as Arabic, Farsi, and indigenous African languages. So, too, are European languages like French, Italian, and German.


Salary varies greatly depending on language and subject matter. Interpreters and translators who speak languages that are in high demand or underrepresented in the field often have higher earnings, as do those who communicate about complicated topics. In 2009, the median annual salary was $40,860, and the median hourly wage, $19.65. Interpreters and translators in the bottom 10 percent earned less than $22,810, while those in the top 10 percent earned more than $74,150.

Upward mobility:

Once you’ve gained enough experience, you can transition to a more difficult or prestigious assignment—like conference interpreter—or start a translation agency.

Activity level:

Low. Most translation work is done on a computer, so many translators work from home or at an office. Interpreters work in a wider variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and conference centers, and may travel for the job.

[See a list of the best creative and service careers.]

Stress level:

Moderate. Expect to work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules. Since many interpreters and translators work on a freelance basis, your schedule may vary, with weeks of limited work interspersed with weeks of long hours.

Education and preparation:

You’ll need to be fluent in at least two languages (including your native tongue). Though some interpreters and translators grow up in a bilingual home, it’s not necessary. Some interpreters and translators need a bachelor’s degree to find work, while others complete job-specific training programs. Formal programs are available at colleges nationwide and through non-university training programs and conferences. Federal courts require certification for interpreters of certain languages, as do state and municipals courts.

Interpreters and translators benefit from strong research and analytical skills, as well as a reliable memory.

Real advice from real people about landing a job as an interpreter or translator:

Interpreters and translators should master three skills: communicating in a foreign language, writing in their native language, and developing expertise in a field like law, engineering or physics—whatever topic you want to translate. You’ll likely need a degree in that field to understand it well enough to talk or write about it, which means you should expect to have a dual major in college or at least a major and minor: one in the foreign language, the other in your specialty.

Spending time abroad is valuable for aspiring translators. “Master your own language. You have to be a brilliant writer in English … You translate difficult things, like pharmaceutical inserts and physics textbooks and emergency medical procedures. So that requires you develop expertise in a technical field … Consider [in-demand] languages like Chinese and Arabic and Russian, and Urdu or Pashto if [you’re] courageous. Or Korean … [But] it’s really more important to find a language you’re passionate about.” —Kevin Hendzel, spokesman for the American Translators Association

First in Translation
June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under News

A unique new center in LAS prepares students for a booming field.

Tough economic times can be hard on recent college graduates. As Elizabeth Lowe describes it, however, there’s such a recession-defying demand for students coming out of a new, tiny center on campus that employers are calling to say, “Thank you.”

Signs of the growing need for foreign language translators and interpreters are literally on display. Behind those humorous Chinese-to-English street sign translations in China, for example—“Slip and Fall Down Carefully,” or “Do Drunken Driving”—is a serious effort by the nation to accommodate tens of millions of foreign visitors whose numbers have nearly doubled since 2001. (China has since sought to curtail prominent translation gaffes.)

Lowe, director of U of I’s new Center for Translation Studies, notes that the U.S. federal government has more than 10,000 jobs for linguists that they cannot fill, and the U.S. Department of Labor predicts a 22 percent increase in corporate translators over the next eight years.

“I’ve had people come to me from the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, from various organizations in the European Union, saying, ‘We’re so glad that you’re starting a program. We desperately need people. We can’t fill our jobs,’” Lowe says.

While part of the trend comes from increasingly globalized national and economic affairs, it’s also a matter of law. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that requires federal agencies, and those receiving federal funds, to ensure that people who are not proficient in English can access their services. Many local and state laws require similar provisions.

Translators and interpreters are needed in security, nongovernmental organizations, courts, health care, international publishing (the Center for Translation Studies partners with Dalkey Archive Press, an independent publisher on campus), and—in a “huge” area, Lowe says—the software industry, as companies such as Microsoft adapt their products for worldwide consumption.

The U of I’s School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics, along with top administrators, created the Center for Translation Studies in 2007, making Illinois the first major research university in the country with such a program. Students who enroll in the program must be proficient in a foreign language, but they may remain in their major of choice while earning a general certificate in translation that qualifies them for more specialized programs.

Lowe says they hope to add a master’s program in interpretation (translation is text-based, and interpretation is oral).

For now the center is relatively small. Teaching duties are spread amongst Lowe, two lecturers, and a visiting professor housed in the Foreign Languages Building. Other professors may also teach courses that count toward the certificate. Roughly 50 students are enrolled in the program at any one time.

Though the program is young, Lowe can already recite success stories. One graduate landed a job with the European Union, and two others received Fulbright Grants to teach in Turkey and Austria. One is publishing her translation of a Korean novel, and another plans to become a medical interpreter. Another is teaching language in Teach for America, a highly coveted position for college grads that places them as teachers in underserved schools.

U of I senior Samantha Duckett enrolled at Illinois uncertain of her future but became focused on translation after a touch of serendipity. As a sophomore she was meeting with her academic advisor when the fax machine beeped and out came a flier for the Center for Translation Studies.

Intrigued, Duckett switched her major to international studies and is now on track to earn the translation certificate by spring 2011, with the ultimate goal of becoming a conference interpreter at the United Nations.

The Center for Translation Studies teaches a variety of languages, Duckett says, adding that the staff is networked, experienced, and teaches modern techniques. (One of her few criticisms is that the center could do more to publicize itself.) She hopes to earn a master’s degree from the center when its graduate program begins.

Even as demand blooms for translation and interpretation, the center is adjusting for challenges that already are looming in the industry. One of these is computer translation applications, which, until now, have been the source of many of the confounding and humorous translations seen on doors, street signs, and menus everywhere. The American Translators Association reports that police in London, England, used computer software to translate a sign warning pickpockets that they are being watched by undercover police. To Spanish speakers, the translation read, “The pickpockets are kept. Police of the inner deck that works in the area. In July three the pickpockets received prayers of the prison over of four years.”

While computer translations will undoubtedly improve (they are a subject in the center’s course offerings), Lowe predicts they will always lack an element that only human translators and interpreters possess. Translation and interpretation has been called an art in which you’re also conveying cultures, current events, and prevailing moods that are difficult to put into words.

Marketers in Germany created a billboard selling shaving cream that played off the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. Their pitch line, “I have a cream,” made at least one Internet site of translation bloopers, and revealed how translations need more than proper grammar and syntax to convey the right message.

“Meaning changes constantly. And knowledge is changing constantly,” Lowe says. “There’s no way that a human programmer or a group of human programmers can be feeding the computer all that data as fast as knowledge is generated. The human translator will never be replaced.”

By Dave Evensen
Winter 2011

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